Eight Days

The title of this post has nothing to do with how long I haven’t posted here — though it may well be 8 days — but with my newest story project. I’m finally writing a story about (edit: Crown) Prince Sado, aka Sado Saeja. He’s a particularly unusual case in the Joseon Dynasty, whose story is told in more (prosaic) detail here. As far as monarchs who lose their minds, he’s quite an odd (unusual) one. I haven’t managed to do much writing in the last couple of weeks — some last-minute-emergency-hurry editing has dropped into my lap, and I also attended a Medieval/Renaissance Lit conference in Seoul, and a performance by L’Orchestre de Paris — both of which I will blog about when I have time, along with a discussion of a story sent to me by a wonderful fellow in Japan. I direly want to write about those things. I just have no time. As you can imagine, I’m all but collapsing from exhaustion.

Deadlines loom, not only for my editing work but for the Fantasistent call for short stories in Asian settings. I figured I could probably write a pretty short account of the 8 days that poor Sado spent in his rice chest. Interestingly, most of the modern accounts show interest in the memoirs of his wife, Lady Hyegong, who recorded the case as she understood it in order to have the truth known. (For it was later claimed Sado had not gone mad in the way related here.) But me, I’m interested in Sado’s story, in what happened in the palace for those eight days he spent dying in the rice chest. In a way, I’m writing a ghost story about a man who is not yet dead.

(Maybe not surprising, considering my Inestimably Great Crit Group is currently reading and analyzing Geoff Ryman’s (in my opinion downright brilliant) novella “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter,” a tale set in Asia that is rife with ghosts. But I must declare that I’ve been planning to write about Sado for the Fantasistent call since I first heard of it.)

I should caveat this all with — I need to do more research. As soon as I’m not editing, I will be reading my copy of Lady Hyegyong’s memoir of 1805, which deals with the case of (edit: Crown) Prince Sado directly, so I can really get my facts straight. (I’ve read some of it, but not all.)

Anyway, here’s the opening paragraph or two of my current draft:

Muffled cries reek from the rice chest, each scream curling the bowels of the court. Every eunuch, every lady, every last slave shivers in dread, in black relief.

It is midsummer, the heat terrible already. But not so terrible that they could not sleep from it. Sweat should not cling to skins, pool on the floor beneath their sleeping mats. Their cushions should not be heavy with sweat or tears. Yet the voice, small, high, failing already this second night, sticks to their bodies in their silent sleeping rooms, sliding its slender, black fingers into the chambers of their hearts and then wrenching, squeezing until they ache and shiver and weep.

As I say, I’m exhausted — about to sleep — but I needed to bang out something. I hadn’t written any fiction in so long I was starting to get outright grouchy! Anyway, I managed 532 words tonight. A small achievement, but a start on things, at least.

After this and my revision of the other story for the Fantasistent call, “The Spike,” I’ll be revising another novella, for Tesseracts12. I haven’t figured out which one to sent to Tesseracts12, actually. I could rework “Winter Wheat” — though I think I need more reading and research to make that story work — or I could go nuts and do the rewrite on “Why Korean Eat Dog” that is lurking in the shadows , yapping occasionally, howling incessantly at me.

The coming holidays abound with tons of projects vying for my attention. But of course, travels, too, await. Whatever. Right now I’m not thinking more than a day or two ahead, because that’s all the editing and teaching allows me to do. If I can get my midterm grading all finished this weekend, I’ll be proud of my achievement. Poor Price Sado shall have to wait a few more days in his horrid, stuffy rice chest.

6 thoughts on “Eight Days

  1. I’m sure you know this already, but “saeja” is “crown prince,” and he’s usually referred to as Crown Prince Sado, not just Prince Sado. It’s a very important distinction; if he were simply a prince and not crown prince, he probably wouldn’t have been stuffed in the rice chest.

    Anyway, this post answers a question I was going to ask you about the Fantasist short stories. (Question: when they say “fantasy,” do they mean it in the narrow sense, as in “swords and sorcery?” Answer: I guess not.) Don’t know if I’ll get anything finished in time, but we’ll see.

  2. Charles,

    Thanks. I figured Saeja meant [crown] prince, though I wasn’t sure. The whole issue about being next in line — the expectations and the stakes and all — form a big part of the story I’m writing.

    And no, it doesn’t have to be swords and sorcery. The other story I’m working on is about a Buddhist monk who discovers an iron spike driven into Wonmisan and tracks it down to a Japanese mapmaker whom he fears is really a sorceror attacking his land geomantically.

  3. Oh, and silly me for not having caught this the first time: it’s actually “seja,” not “saeja.” It was needling away at me like (as Morpheus would say) a splinter in my mind, and I just figured it out.

    Sounds like an interesting story, by the way. If you need someone to read it… and maybe if I need someone to read my story…

    I’ll email you.

  4. Is that how they romanize it? Ugh. I hate it. The e looks short. I’m tempted to unilaterally spell it Saeja anyway, even if it is 세?, because this story is for Anglophones and I want them to be able to pronounce it. But yeah, Google supports your argument, by many more hits.

    Actually, I haven’t used the word in the story anyway. May not end up doing so, either. :)

  5. Yeah, actually, I don’t see any real need to use the word in the story. I was just making a note.

    Romanization does kind of suck, but what can you do? It’s just one of those facts of life.

  6. It might creep in, and if it does, the note will have been useful.

    Romanization sucks more when there’s two systems, neither of them designed for random non-Korean(/Chinese/Japanese/Whatever)-speaking schmoes to be able to pronounce. But yeah, it’s a fact of life.

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