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“Saturn in Retrograde” has been accepted for publication!

This is the fastest I’ve ever received an acceptance of a submission: 6 days!  But it probably has more to do with deadline pressure than my brilliant writing:  Dreamspinner wants the anthology to be released in early June.

I’m very excited about it!  Not only did Saturn in Retrograde turn out to be something I’m rather proud of, but a release in June keeps me in the public eye.  It’s bad to go more than a year between releases, if you’re trying to build up a readership (or at least I’ve read that the “magic number” in the publishing world is a new release in not more than a year and a half, if you don’t want people to forget about you).  And although I did have a release in December (The Dogs of Cyberwar), and it garnered some nice reviews, it didn’t sell particularly well.  Seiðman will possibly be released this year, but I’m not sure yet.  So a new release in June is good.

In the meantime, I’ve been struggling with Shinosuke again, my re-telling of a 17th-century samurai love story.  I’ve written about five thousand words in the past two weeks, which is hardly a great pace.  It’s been pretty awful, in fact.  I was blaming the slow progress in the first week on having my attention focused on getting Saturn in Retrograde out the door, but I don’t have much to blame the slow progress of the past week on.  I have a handle on the manners of the period, now.  At least, enough so that I don’t have to worry about it constantly.  And I like the story.  But for some reason, it’s hard to write it.

I guess the only thing is to keep plugging away at it.

In other news, Dreamspinner Press is hosting a workshop for its writers in New York City this week and I’ll be there!  I’ll be hopping on board a train with my friend, Claire Curtis (who needs to be there for moral support — travel gives me panic attacks), Thursday, at 9:17am in that wretched time of day some more optimistic people like to call “morning” and returning Sunday night.  No doubt, I will achieve some kind of writerly enlightenment somewhere in the middle.

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Filed under Cyberpunk, Drama, Japanese, Romance, SciFi, Writing

How to Address a Samurai (Without Him Cutting You in Half) – Revisited

After finishing the first draft of a time-travel story I’ll be submitting to Dreamspinner early next week (after another draft or two — it seems one of my friends found my time-travel quantum mumbo-jumbo to be “all screwed up”), I’ve dusted off my tragic samurai love story from last winter and begun working on it again.

I thought I’d sorted out how I wanted the characters to behave, within their social ranks, but apparently not.  Looking at it with fresh eyes, I found numerous contraditions sprinkled throughout the story.  I also discovered that the characters were behaving rather like wooden fence posts in kimono.  There was so much formality in the character interractions, there wasn’t much room left for emotion or character development.

Fortunately, all was not lost.  The story is still good; the setting is still fascinating (to me); and the characters are interesting, if I can just get them to loosen up a bit.  One of the biggest problems was the Japanese words I’d sprinkled a bit too liberally throughout the text, especially hai (“yes”) and iie (“no”).  My decision to use these words had resulted in a very irritating rhythm in places, where they were simply repeated too often.  In English, a reader might not notice anything odd in the following passage:

     “You didn’t attempt to copy the artwork?” Senpachi asked.  The birds and flowers were conspicuously absent.
      Shinosuke flushed red again — something Senpachi was beginning to find endearing — and bowed lower.  “No, sensei,” he said, “I’m sorry.  I…they were beyond my ability with the brush.”
      “No matter.  Are you claiming to have memorized the poems, as well?”
      “Yes, lord!”
      “Well, let’s hear them, then.”

But when the Japanese for “yes” and “no” is substituted, it becomes a bit irritating:

     “You didn’t attempt to copy the artwork?” Senpachi asked.  The birds and flowers were conspicuously absent.
      Shinosuke flushed red again — something Senpachi was beginning to find endearing — and bowed lower. “Iie, sensei,” he said, “I’m sorry.  I…they were beyond my ability with the brush.”
      “No matter.  Are you claiming to have memorized the poems, as well?”
      “Hai, lord!”
      “Well, let’s hear them, then.”

Multiply this throughout the manuscript and it becomes damned irritating.   A simple word like “yes” shouldn’t draw so much attention to itself.  So I was faced with two choices:  1) Change all instances of hai and iie to “yes” and “no”, or 2) Leave them alone, but reduce their number.  For now, I’ve chosen the latter course.  For the most part, “yes” and “no” are seldom necessary.  Generally, they are implied by the context.  So the current draft of that passage now reads:

     “You didn’t attempt to copy the artwork?” Senpachi asked.  The birds and flowers were conspicuously absent.
      Shinosuke flushed red again — something Senpachi was beginning to find endearing — and bowed lower. “Sumimasen,” he said, “I…they were beyond my ability with the brush.”
      “No matter.  Are you claiming to have memorized the poems, as well?”
      “Hai, sensei!”
      “Well, let’s hear them, then.”

One might argue that replacing a small Japanese word like iie with sumimasen is cheating.  But since sumimasen means “I’m sorry,” it allows me to tighten the passage up a bit more, at the same time that I’m breaking up the haiiie rhythm.

There was also a lot of confusion in those early drafts about when to use first names and when to use last names.  So I’ve come up with the following rules that I’m trying to apply consistently throughout the text:

  • Shinosuke, the “boy” (he’s eighteen), is always “Shinosuke” to everybody, because of his youth.
  • Akanashi Senpachi, the samurai he falls in love with, is “Akanashi” (his family name) to everyone but himself.  This includes his friend, Toriyama, since men use each other’s family names when talking to each other, even if they are friends.  He’s also “Akanashi” in the prose, when the story is told from Shinosuke’s point of view.  About halfway through the story, however, he becomes “Senpachi” to Shinosuke in dialog and in the prose when the story is told from Shinosuke’s point of view, because lovers can use first names.  When the story is told from Senpachi’s point of view, he is always “Senpachi” in the prose.
  • Senpachi’s friend, Toriyama Kurobachi, is always “Toriyama“.
  • Servants are referred to by their first names, such as “Kaeda.”
  • The prefixes san (Mr. or Mrs.) and sama (“lord” or simply an acknowledgement of higher rank) are not used in the prose.  (My God, did that end up being cumbersome!)  In dialog, the two samurai (Senpachi and Toriyama) are referred to with the honorific sama by everybody, except each other.  When referring to one another, in the presence of others, they use -san; when alone, Senpachi calls his friend “Toriyama” and Toriyama calls him “Akanashi,” since they are close friends.
  • When the two samurai are addressed by something other than their names, they are called either sensei or samurai-sama.

Believe it or not, this is actually far less complicated than what I’d worked out earlier and it’s allowed me to go back and remove a number of confusing references.  There are still a lot of fuzzy points (Would the samurai refer to Shinosuke’s mother by her first name, because she’s a lowly seamstress, or as Daizaki-san, in honor of her late husband, who was a friend of theirs?), but already I can feel the prose perking up a bit.

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