Write-a-thon Week 6: An Early Start!

Well, to date I’ve been giving myself Sunday off for each week of the write-a-thon, and being sadly unproductive on Monday, at least during the last few weeks, but today, my mind was still deep into the question of geomantic warfare from where I left off last night, so I continued on today, and actually got to an ending I’m semi-confortable with… at least, it’s better than the ones I was working towards before today.

“Geomantic warfare” makes it sound like a story full of exploding volcanoes and earthquakes, but that’s not what I ended up writing. In fact, I have a feeling it’s perhaps too quiet, and it needs a little more excitement and shaking up. But, in any case, I can think that over later. Right now, I have finished a draft and I am going to give myself a little space from the story. The later version might end up being a redraft, or it might end up involving working in some more action. I’m happy to report that all of the action takes place in what is now my current neighborhood, in Bucheon, except that it’s set 113 years ago, in 1894, before Japan’s victory over China in the Sino-Japanese war was secure, and in an early stage of an early cartographic campaign by the Japanese to make accurate military maps of Korea, Manchuria, Taiwan, and parts of China.

The challenge of the story was:

(a) to envision a counterfactual history(*) in which the amusing claim made by some Koreans that iron spikes that the Japanese drove into the stone of various mountains was intended as a facet of geomantic warfare, a kind of “bad acupuncture” directed at the gi — for which we Westerners usually use the Chinese pronunciation of the same word, “chi”— of the Korean nation as a whole,

while:

(b) not writing a story that took for granted the kinds of flat, nationalist, and predictable stereotypes that are likely to appear in such a story, namely, “Korean=good, Japanese=evil.” While I don’t dispute that the Empire of Japan was indeed villanous for Korea at the time, and for the next fifty or so years, having individual characters who are mere extensions of this villany seems to me both boring and all too supportive of the kind of anti-Japanese sentiment that it seems to me is all too widespread in Korea today, crippling any non-negative discussion of Japan in public.

[(*) At least, if you don’t believe in geomancy, it’s a counterfactual history. Those who do believe in geomancy, however, would either regard this as an alternate history — not counterfactual, since they believe geomancy works in the story as well as in the real world, but is used for a slightly different result in this story — or, if they were insulted by it, as pro-Japanese propaganda, which it isn’t, but I’m not expecting people who believe in geomancy to be overly open-minded about nuanced depictions of Japanese characters in a historical Korean setting.

In fact, I like the way this story straddles counterfactual and alternate history. There’s nothing that explicitly demonstrates the geomancy actually works, even if most, or possibly all, of the characters involved happen to believe in it. In a sense, I feel like this is in some way a more science-fictional take on the idea of geomancy, from within a version of the belief system includes a belief in geomancy.]

Writing the ending was a killer — I still don’t feel it’s quite right, though it’s not the twistiness, but rather the execution of the last scene or two that I’m not sure about. There’s also a subplot about a mistake the main character made a long time ago, as a young man, which may be unnecessary or even just clutter, I’m not sure, though I like the plot and I hope I can make it stick.

Anyway, here are the stats:

“The Broken Path?: 2686 words
Weekly Total: 2686 words
Write-a-thon Total:
81,797 words

I think next that tomorrow I’ll put in some time working on “A Killing in Burma” — a story I’ll be redrafting from the start in a much more stylized, episodic, and dare I say comic book-like style. I also have a research book that will be arriving next week, which I need before I can do my final draft of the flash (or maybe 2,000-word) piece I’m thinking about writing regarding some of the private letters of Price Sado (Sado Saeja), the Korean prince whose was executed by his father by being locked into a rice chest and left out in the hot sun. If there’s not a ghost story in there somewhere, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Depending on how long “Sado” and Burma” turn out to be, I may also need to work on something else — perhaps “Peaches and the Flower Underground” or whatever it will finally end up being called.

That’s my plan for the week. We’ll see how long it takes me to get to 15,000 words, since, looking carefully at my Write- a-thon goal, I noticed that I made two different claims: that I would write 15,000 words a week, and that I would write 90,000 words over six weeks. I dunno, I feel like if I can push myself to actually write 15,000 words each week, I’ll have done something really spectacular, or, rather, if I fulfill only one goal and not both, then I’ll feel like I somehow cheated. So anyway… there it is.

UPDATE (Sunday night):

I updated the writing tracker in my sidebar, and you can see the effect of deadlines on productivity. There are three that I can see:

    1. having goals is a help, since it forces more constant productivity — the activity in the last six weeks is much more than in the weeks preceding, though, of course, part of the reason is a back injury that kept me from the computer for a while. Still, I know I’ve been more consistently productive lately than I have at any time since Clarion West, a year ago.
    2. deadlines force a spike in writing activity on the day of the deadline. That’s easy, everyone knows that, but the spikes are noticeably visible on the chart. You can tell which day is Saturday, the last day for my weekly deadline.

tight deadlines produce a weak recovery from the previous deadline.After each spike, you see a drop in productivity that spans longer than the day off… productivity builds erratically throughout the week and spikes at the following deadline.
I’m not quite sure what to make of all that, but there it is.

The other thing I noticed is that I didn’t include my small effort to work on Chingu-ya! in my total wordcount for Week 5; somehow, that number got dropped. I’ll count it in later, but I don’t feel like going back and adjusting my posts right now, so it’ll have to wait. In any case, for those curious, my current word count for the last 5 weeks and one day is actually:

Write-a-thon Total: 81,928 words

No, not a great difference, but it’s only fair!

Monday Update:

“A Killing in Burma?: 2467 words
Weekly Total: 5155 words
Write-a-thon Total:
84,395 words

The first chunk of this redraft of “A Killing in Burma” — which is a rather different story in many ways from the thing I originally drafted, months ago — all but flowed out of me. That’s promising, since the part I wrote is far different from anything I drafted in the previous version, about a character who hadn’t even yet appeared, and in a setting that was significantly different. (The original setting was in Myanmar during a collapse of the SLORC regime, while the new setting is forty years later, about three years after a much later collapse of SLORC, and after a neo-Khmer Imperial intervention in the region. Yes, neo-Khmer. Spanning Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, some of Vietnam, and finally, a good chunk of what was Myanmar… a whole new nationalist political economy, a whole new kind of scary.

In any case, it’s going well, and I am happy to say that tomorrow, I should be fulfilling the first of my quotas, the one stipulating that I write 90,000 words in 6 weeks. I’ll continue writing, however, until I’ve got at 15,000 words done for the week; I may write more if it takes more to finish whatever story I’m writing then. But I have at least five more sections planned for “A Killing in Burma,” so I suspect I won’t be getting to Prince Sado during the Write-a-thon. We’ll see, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

I am indebted to the inspiration afforded me by the album Molam Dub by Jah Wobble. A friend gave me a copy, and that’s what I am listening to now, but it reminded me both of how great the album is, and how inspirational I find it, so I ordered myself a copy on Amazon.com. Laotian traditional music, remixed as dub… quite appropriate for a story set in the outskirts of a futuristic Neo-Khmer Empire.

Monday Update #2:

I wanted to watch a move, but while washing the dishes late at night, an idea for a poem jumped into my head.

I’ve got a semi-working draft done. It’s titled “Korea is Not One Country,” and all I’m going to say is that it’s a response to the claim I sometimes hear among both foreigners and Koreans that Korea is an extremely homogenous society, or that “everyone” in Korea believes X or thinks Y or agrees with Z.

It’s 534 words long, so, here come the new stats:

“Korea is Not One Country?: 534 words
Weekly Total: 5,689 words
Write-a-thon Total:
84,929 words

Tuesday Update:

Finally, I woke up early enough to get to the library and sign out a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Myanmar, so that I could get some research done and some half-remembered cultural details into my story. I’ve got two sections done, and I fear this is going to be another novella, probably much more than the hoped-for 8,000 words. Probably closer to 11,000, though, as always, we’ll see.

The majority of what I’d written in my previous, 4000-ish word draft was all one scene, and the particular scene I’ve drafted today is the reincarnation of that scene. It has a lot more atmosphere, the characters are more believable and less, well, hackneyed, and the story has much more of a “somewhere to go” than it did in my early version. I will, over the next day or so, be thinking about the relationships between Western i-Prop Coalitions (which, I may hint, have somewhat co-opted Western governments, since intellectual property is the only worthwhile property remaining by this time… land on an earth with a projected ecolifespan of 100 years tends to lose its property value), the old-and-recently-collapsed SPDICC (a later reincarnation of the present-day Myanmar government, the SDPC), the U.N., and the Neo-Khmer Empire (which arises in Thailand, not in Cambodia as one might expect, though that detail hasn’t yet been worked in).

Anyway, I still have a few more characters to work in, but I’m going strong at a current wordcount of 4,689 so far in the story. After editing, that’ll probably add up to 4,000 words, maybe 3,700. So I should be ending this at about 11,000 or 12,000. Anyway, today’s stats:

“A Killing in Burma?: 2,194 words
Weekly Total: 7,883 words
Write-a-thon Total:
87,123 words

Tomorrow, I’ll probably be fulfilling my overall write-a-thon quota, but I’ll keep writing till this novella is done, which is very likely to be somewhat over my weekly 15,000 word quota (and, at my current rate of production, might take until Sunday or Monday, barring any blockage or plot constipation). The strange thing? I don’t feel drained anymore… I feel energized again. Then again, that’s what I thought when I was at Clarion, writing y last story… but after that, I took a big break from writing. A few weeks at least. So I get the feeling I won’t be drafting anything new till after I get back from Japan. It’ll be good for me.

Editing, though, is another story. I’m actually thinking of cramming printouts of all — okay, not all, but a number of — drafts that need editing, and working through them on the various train rides I’ll need to take while in Japan. That, and my copy of Soseki’s I Am A Cat, should keep me busy for the long train rides across-country that I’ll be making.

NOTE: I made an error in calculation, earlier in the week. The numbers have been corrected.

2 thoughts on “Write-a-thon Week 6: An Early Start!

  1. Apparently they were using it as part of their land surveys, especially during the Colonial occupation. (Though efforts by the Japanese to use modern methods of cartography to map Korea date back as far as 1894.)

    The function of the iron spikes, I’m a bit fuzzy but that’s the rationalist explanation that’s usually offered. It makes sense, considering that rural Koreans, with no experience with such technology, would jump to that conclusion. The analogy with acupuncture is pretty easy to see right off the bat, and it does fit with traditional geomantic beliefs here. Some people even seem to believe, right now, that Japan *did* (successfully) use this method of geomantic attack to subdue Korea and harm the nation, which suggests how strongly the sentiment resonates with those old beliefs, along with the very fashionable anti-Japanese sentiment that pervades South Korean culture today. (As well as how desperate people are to find some excuse for the perplexing fact that Japan managed to colonize/victimize the obviously superior-in-every-way nation of Korea. This allows them to suggest that some evil magic was used, which seems odd to me since most discussions I’ve read suggest a fair bit of blame falls upon the actions — and inaction, and corruption leading to peasant discontent — of the monarchy and the upper classes, as well as an inherited legacy of anti-foreign hyper-Confucianist thought that encouraged isolationism and made the collision with the outside world so much more bewildering when it finally happened. Which, of course, is not to exonerate Japan, either.)

    However, when I read such accounts, my first impression was, what if the Japanese HAD believed in this craziness and HAD sent over people to spike the mountains? What if they HAD actually mounted a covert geomancy campaign against Korea? Crazier things have happened in history, and it was a fun thought-experiment, though I have to say at the end of the day that land-surveying makes a hell of a lot more sense.

    Mind, it doesn’t explain the iron spikes buried in spots in Seoul like under the Japanese-built government building in front of Gyeongbok Palace, which supposedly was placed perfectly to cut off the flow of energy from the mountains, etc. People acted shocked when nine thousand spikes were dug up after the demolition of the building. But I have to wonder if they were geomantic weapons, or just part of the materials normally used for construction at the time.

    Who knows?

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