Tag Archives: queen of the eight banners

Queen Cover

So, I’ve wanted a cover for my novella ever since I started putting it up to read on Wattpad last September, but finances are super tight and I wasn’t sure that would be possible.  Ideally, I wanted an illustration for my cover rather than stock art, but illustrated covers are by far the most expensive and my max budget for a cover at this point is $100.  So when I saw that Natasha Alterici had posted on Twitter that her freelance gigs had fallen through and she needed quick cash for her rent, I leaped at the chance to make one of my dreams come true.  And boy, am I ever glad I did.  Behold the awesome:

I have also been intrigued by Amanda C. Davis’ recent forays into designing covers for DIY practice.  She’s been tackling all kinds of covers, and I previously let her know that I was interested in her giving my novella a shot.  Am so glad I did that, too, because my laptop has been giving me all kinds of troubles, and there’d be no way I could do the cover design myself right now.  As soon as Natasha got back to me on the final cover, I sent it Amanda’s way.  Amanda posted her design/learning process here.

And here it is in all its gorgeousness:


Art by Natasha Alterici.

Design by Amanda C. Davis.

Queen of the Eight Banners

For long-time followers of the blog, you’ll know that I spent most of my early years here writing a novella entitled Queen of the Eight Banners.  I’ve done various posts about it, recording what drafting it has been like and what I’ve learned from the process of writing while battling the first years of my chronic illness.

Well, I set it aside in April of this year, not knowing what to do with it.  I’d pretty much resigned to just keeping it on my hard-drive, but I was also unable to fully “trunk” it in my mind.

Well, since September of this year, I’ve figured out something to do with it.

The experiment continues.

ETA: This post was auto-posted at the beginning of the month, but life has been so rough and health so bad I took it down until I was certain I could take Queen off hiatus.

Queen 1.0 Draft COMPLETE

So, I finished Draft 1.0 of Queen of the Eight Banners yesterday.  It was rather…anticlimactic since I know I’m going straight back into revisions either today or tomorrow.  Yet I’ll admit I’m also rather in awe since I’ve been working on and off on this “novella” since July 2011.  Did I really do it? Did I really finish? …Are you sure? Haha.

I thought I’d give a brief history of this draft, for my benefit–and perhaps yours.

July 31, 2011: First inklings of the story. Copied from my idea doc: “A queen falls ill, perhaps from biowarfare, and she must learn how to cope/survive/save her people that way.  Could a story about someone ill actually work?”

August 2011:  Story solidifies–at least I thought so at this time.  This is also the month a friend and I roadtrip and attend WorldCON in Reno, Nevada.  Energies are low, coincidentally.  I declare my intention to work on this story on the blog. 1k written.

September 2011:  I begin drafting in a Composition notebook long-hand rather than work on the computer, due to frustrations with that method.  I have very little idea what I’m doing or how to go about writing this story. It’s giving me so much trouble that I just start drafting scenes as they come to me rather than worry about how to write this thing in chronological order.  When I get stuck, I complain about it in my story notebook, and I see what I can do to untangle all the plot tangles via written brainstorming/complaining.

Otherwise, I’m doing a lot of research and trying to figure out how the balance works between history fact and fiction, research and imagination with historical fiction, particularly historical fantasy. I also realize that I don’t know the characters well enough yet and go back to the drawing board, both literally and figuratively. 3k written.

October 2011: 7k written.  I believe I’ve returned to the computer by this point, typing up what I’ve drafted by hand and arranging it in a Scrivener project before adding new content.

November-December 2011: Nothing written, but I haven’t stopped working/braining on it.

January 2012: 4k written. Here’s a slice from my life this month.  I continue to struggle with the story, its structure, its direction (how to get from point A towards the ending I have in mind), the balance of research and imagination, when to do research upfront, when to leave it for “fix it in post,” etc.

February 2012: 1k added.  A lot was happening this month, including Month of Letters.

March 2012: 2k written on Queen, though I wrote another 1k short story this month, as well.  I do finish part 1!  This is more of an achievement when you know that I was writing out of chronological order pretty much until now.  Once I finished part 1, I continue writing chronologically to finish the remaining parts.

April 2012: I break to do a short story. Nothing written.

May 2012: 1k.  I’m interviewed about Queen. I compare drafting a story to watercolor painting and feel better about the process thereby.

June 2012: 5k written and I finish parts 2 & 3. The original plan for the novella was a three-part story, but the more I write the more I realize the story won’t work without abc and xyz, so the story expands into 4 parts.

July-August 2012: I break to do the CFS blog series and I halt all progress on Queen of the Eight Banners.  However, writing non-fiction about CFS relieves a lot of internal pressure to get “everything right” and to write the illness “so it makes sense” in my rough draft.  Thank goodness.

September 2012: Nothing written. I spend my time helping a friend prepare to leave for a 2+ year stint of Peace Corps.  I reread parts 1-3 in preparation to start part 4 and give myself a pat on the back for how much better things are coming together than I thought they were.

October 2012: I believe I start part 4 this month, thinking it will be the last part of the story.  I also decide to try out NaNoWriMo next month with an interactive fiction game set in the same world as my novella.  I spend a lot of time fleshing out the world in preparation, and that worldbuilding gives me a lot of ideas to make part 4 more interesting.  I also watch the Korean drama Arang & The Magistrate and take it as both inspiration and permission to play more openly with with historical/cultural mythologies in a historical fantasy setting.  (American authors get a lot of flack for writing other cultures, and even though I’ve done 2+ years of solid research in this time period, there’s still a lot of hot debate and scorn on our breed.  Watching the k-drama lifts a lot of the external pressure and gives me permission to take the world in more directions.)

I also realize the story is going to have to be five parts in order to work properly. (Cue mental face-palming over the length of my fiction.) 5k written, bringing the rough draft up to 25k.

November 2012: I take a break to do NaNoWriMo and work on the game, Legend of Little Fox, set in the same world.  It helps me get to know the world and two of the characters better.

December 2012: 1k written.  Vacation and health interfere.

January 2013: 3k written.  Most of my energy goes towards projects for others.

February 2013: I finish part 4 after writing 6k, mostly in daily half-hour chunks which is now my standard modus operandi.

March 2013: I reread parts 1-4 and am extremely frustrated by how rough parts 1 & 2 are and how close I am to finishing draft 1.0 but how much work is still left to do to get everything to come together.  There seems to be no real end in sight and I am losing patience. I remember Laini Taylor’s essay on exploratory drafts and give myself a break for doing the best I can way back when I started. Due to other life issues, I only get 2k written.

April 2013: I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo with a goal of 10k.  I write every day for half an hour and finish part 5 on April 15th after writing 5k. The “novella” clocks in at 41k which is much longer than my original goal of 25k (haha, oops?)

Today I’m taking the time to write this out to see how far I’ve come and for future reference when I write other rough drafts.  Then it’s time to revise!

Otherwise, if you’re wondering when I’ll be needing beta-readers, I won’t ask for any until I have draft 2.0 done.  I use an alpha-reader for my first drafts, but she works more as a cheerleader, encouraging me when I get discouraged, reading my drafts to flag confusing parts, and telling me what she likes about what I’ve written.  When draft 2.0 is done, I’m going to need a lot more feedback and fresh perspectives.

– – –

Here are some stats:

44 research documents, including old papers I wrote at university.

5 parts. 29 Scrivener scenes. 40, 762 words.

14 deleted scenes.  (These contribute to low monthly word-counts if I write something then automatically discard it. Half of these were automatic discards, the other half got deleted later along the way.)

The more it means, the harder it gets.

So, this past month I’ve been mostly MIA.  Most of that was/is due to burn-out. I’ve been doing a project with/for a friend of mine as she finishes up the school year and I have had little or no energy for projects of my own.

But in some ways the break has been good. Queen of the Eight Banners is a very hard story to write, I’ve found, because it is so personal and so important to me.  About a week ago I caved and made M. Williams read it over for me, just because I could not see if it was even working or not. My vision of what it needs to be compared to what it is is so skewed that I’ve been wanting to just give up on it.

Also, it is an intense story, and since I haven’t had much energy for it, I haven’t been able to give it what it needs.

But now I am rebalancing my life, my projects, my energy levels and health, and I’m going to pick it up again. I’m not going to stress about it (hopefully), I’m not going to worry. I’m just going to let it write itself, see where the story goes, what it needs, what shape it forms.

Let’s try this again.


Mongolian-Manchu (click to enlarge)

This is just a post to say I’m still working on things. Slowly, very slowly, but surely.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says something to the effect of, “Be not afraid of moving slowly. Be only afraid of standing still.”  I try to keep that in mind.

Health hasn’t been the best, been pretty low, actually. But this story will happen.

Anyway, to the left is me testing my scanner, trying to find a way to keep the page from getting shadowed. Also testing out my new free art program. And lastly, it’s a fashion test. Trying to get Ilha’s Mongolian-Manchu dress right, based off of 17th Century Mongolian and Manchu clothing. Oh yes, and traditional weaponry.  Manchu horseback archery is so fascinating….

On Characters (Qot8B)

So, on one of our truck-drive commutes to WorldCon, M Williams and I realized that we both have a particular weakness when it comes to writing our characters.

In role-play, the world setting is a backdrop to our characters. We know or learn the world pretty quickly and then we spend the rest of our energy focusing entirely on our character (or characters). We know them inside out, backwards and forwards. They become living, breathing, fleshy creatures with strengths, weaknesses, fears, talents, backgrounds, and so on.

But for some odd reason, when we go to write a novel, we focus almost entirely on the world.  Flora, fauna, magic mechanics, society, history, warfare, etc. But when it comes to our protagonists, we know the barest minimum of what shape they hold in our minds.  Then we expect them to somehow enact a plot.

So we both came home from that commute with the determination to treat the characters in our novels with as much time and care as we treat the vivid people living in our heads from our role-playing.

Last week or so, however, I realized after writing about 2k of Queen of the Eight Banners that I did it again.  Firstly, that I ran away with the story idea without really knowing the world as much as I needed to. I was just so impatient to write the story. So I stopped and got my favorite library book on the topic and poured through it, developing the world.  Then I went to set Ilha my protagonist in that world and found that the world was richer than she was.

So this week I’ve slowed down again and have been focusing on her. Who she is, what makes her tick, where she comes from, what her goals are, what she’s afraid of–both in the world and in herself.

I’ve realized–patience is definitely a skill that transfers over to writing. That, and time. Time spent with the people, the world, the ideas.  I’m not the type who can just jump right in and write amazingly, though jumping in allowed me to see where all my holes were more clearly.

So, cool thing.  As I was researching the Jurchen coalition in the early 1600s for story fodder, I came across a Mongolian tribe that asked to join the Jurchen nation. As I described it to a friend,

They just trotted up to the growing Jurchen power and were like, “Excuse me, sir. We want to join our huge forces to yours. You see, there’s this enemy who wants our blood. And we are persuaded that you would be the perfect man to take them out for us. Oh yes, and we will help all your future endeavors. Oh yes, and did I say? We’re awesome?”

So I thought – wouldn’t it be politically savvy if Ilha were from this Mongolian tribe? It makes perfect sense to form a marriage alliance between such a powerful tribe and the Jurchen emperor.  So I tentatively noted that in the back of my mind.   Then I went to Wikipedia to jot down a quick succession of Jurchen/Manchu emperors, their wives, and the regents….

And Ilha, Dowager Empress’ historical equivalent – you guessed it – was from that exact Mongolian tribe I handpicked for her.  My eyes popped. But really, the tribe is politically perfect. Mongolian–so similar training and habits of the Jurchen people.  Marriage alliances meant adoption into the upper Banners and given Manchu status. And because the tribe volunteered to join, they weren’t split up. Huangtaiji/Hong Taiji let them rule their own people and made a whole section of his society just for them. They fought alongside each other, etc.  It really is truly awesome.  I love history. And politics. And politically savvy rulers.  Mmmmm…

In the mean time, my novel isn’t being entirely ignored. I’m allowing things to stew a bit, and there have been substantial additions. I realized as I was writing the last scenes where I am now that one of the newly introduced characters is from a third country that I didn’t even know existed.  (Yes, I was baffled, too.) Yet it fills world, economic and political holes in the world building, as well as bringing variety to my as yet small cast of characters.

I also ended up redrawing my old reference map so that now it has a functional mountain range as opposed to a decorative one.  It has a working river port city, and I got rid of  a grid of waystations that aren’t really necessary.  Oh yes, and that pesky third country now exists.

So now, who knows? Maybe there will be a third book in the world!  This one takes place in Melitene south of the mountain range in a land of forests, plains, and rivers. The next one, (a stand-alone prequel), takes place in Norlakhar in the deserty land above the pass.  And I suppose now there is potential for a third book set in the country I’m tentatively calling Galia, the country south of Melitene that’s positioned along the ocean and the river delta….

(This is a long post, if you haven’t noticed, but it will have to tide us over. I can’t make any guarantees about updates for the next two weeks. )

Queen of the Eight Banners

I’m starting a new story. Awfully shocking, I know. I tend to do this far too often. (But I do finish things, too! Honest!)

C.N.Holmberg dared? encouraged? me to get a story into Writers of the Future by the end of September so we can compete against each other–er, have a story in the same quarter together.

Months ago I started The Harvest Mask only to come to a screeching halt when I encountered a huge hole in my politics and worldbuilding.  Well, I’ve filled the hole…with a new story.  So, I’m going to write that story to lay the groundwork for the rest.  This story also spawns two more stories set in the same world. (In case I needed any more ideas….)

It’s a story that is also very important to me, so for all intents and purposes I’m going to be halting major work on my other projects to get a draft of this done.

I have been wanting to write about my chronic illness.  I just couldn’t figure out a story that wouldn’t be absolutely boring. Illnesses aren’t the most exciting things in the world.  Wake up, groan, feel ill, roll over and go back to bed. Next day, take two! Uh uh. Nope. Not exciting enough for me.

Well, now I’ve found a story that fits everything I need it to do!  It also breaks…so many literary rules that… well….

Tentatively entitled, “Queen of the Eight Banners.” Let’s see how this goes.