ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords is happy to have author E.E. Ottoman here today. Ottoman’s recent release Song of the Spring Moon Waning was recently reviewed and is one of my highly recommended stories.
Book Giveaway: To go along with E.E. Ottoman’s guest blog, we are giving away one copy of Song of Spring Moon Waning. To enter, just leave a comment, as well as your email address or method of contacting you in the body of the email. By leaving a comment and entering, you are agreeing that you are over 18 years of age. Contest ends 3/15.
I asked E.E. Ottoman to talk a little bit about the inspiration for this magical story, and the ancient Chinese setting because I felt that it came across not only as authentic but artistic as well.
I wrote Song of the Spring Moon Waning in the winter of 2012-2013. When I started I had it in my head that I was going to write a fairy tale. Not a retelling of a fairy tale, although I love those, but a story in the style of a fairy tale with all the imagery, and motifs of a fairy tale where the protagonist learned something about his or herself by the end. I debated where and when to set it but the only thing that felt right was Medieval China.
Now for full discloser, I study history. When I was writing this I was in graduate school for history. I don’t though study Chinese history. I study Asian American history, and although I focus on the Chinese immigrant community I only look at that community in the United States and then in the late 19th century or early 20th.
Song Dynasty China, which is what Song of the Spring Moon Waning is based on, is not only a totally different country from the one I study, but also many hundreds of years too early. I had taken some classes on Chinese history though and for one of them written a research paper on same-sex relationships in Chinese history. I had also done significant research into the lives and roles of palace eunuchs for another project before I started working on Song of the Spring Moon Waning. So the ground work for that was already laid out.
Still having done one or two research projects in no way made me qualified or ready to portray an entire society and time period.Which meant that in order to write Song of the Spring Moon Waning I had to do a lot of additional research.
Lucky for me studying history at a major university did give me the upper hand in doing historical research. I had access to academic databases, I could and did check lots of books out of the university library. Plus my advisor at the time WAS a historian of China and even more lucky for me focused on the Imperial examination system.
A lot of the research I did was pure factual: how did the examination system work in the Song era, what did people wear, what did houses look like, how where dreams thought of and interpreted, was there a Song Dynasty equivalent of fast food?
I did my best to find the answers to all these questions and any other details that came up while I was writing. I tried to do as much fact checking as I could using the resources I had.
That meant I did a lot of research up front, but also as I wrote I was constantly stopping to check details. A large part of my editing was also fact checking, although I’m sure from a straight up history perspective the story is a long way from being error-free.
Song of the Spring Moon Waning isn’t just a historical though it’s also a fantasy story. So in order to better understand how fantasy elements could be combined with a historical Chinese setting I started watching loads of wuxia tv shows and movies.
For those of you who don’t know wuxia is a genre of art and fiction that revolved around a chivalrous martial artist figure. According to Wikipedia:
“Modern wuxia stories are largely set in ancient or premodern China. The historical setting can range from being quite specific and important to the story, to being vaguely-defined, anachronistic, or is only used as a backdrop for the action. Fantasy elements, ranging from fantastic martial arts to ghosts and monsters, are common elements of a wuxia story but not a prerequisite. However, the martial arts element is a definite part of a wuxia tale, as its characters must know some form of martial arts. Themes of romance are also strongly featured in some wuxia tales.”
Song of the Spring Moon Waning is not a wuxia story since neither of the main characters are martial artists. It does combined a premodern Chinese setting, fantasy elements and a strong romance. Also learning about modern wuxia stories allowed me to better understand the way Chinese history and fantasy are combined in Chinese media itself.
China — especially premodern China — can often be portrayed in US media as a mystical or magical place but it is almost always in a distinctly Orientalist and therefore racist way. Because of this, I very much did not want to base my own story only on Western representations of Medieval China or Chinese fantasy.
Actually I’d say Hollywood is a really bad place to start for anyone who wants to write any sort of story based on any Asian culture. The faster you can forget any movie made or popularized in the US the better off you are. Luckily we lived in the computer age and it is easy to find good movies and shows made in China for a Chinese audience, even with English subtitles. That being said :: puts my historian hat on:: movies and tv is never a substitute for actual historical research ::takes my historian hat off::
I also read a lot of Chinese folk tales and tried to soak up the way that Chinese fairy tales are constructed and the kind of imagery that is used in them. I also can’t emphasize how amazing my friend Ginger was. Having grown up in China, she knew all different versions of various folk tales and kindly told me every single one in detail and let me ask questions about them. At the end of the day I took all this and combined it into a story that also had my own unique style and voice.
Song of the Spring Moon Waning, for all the fantasy elements, is very much a story about Wen Yu, about his struggles and insecurities and about his relationships with Liu Yi, how that relationships changes him and makes him look at the world in different ways.
I hate stories that tie everything up in the end and much prefer my fantasy and fairy tales to have the heroes going off to take part in more adventures. So that was exactly how I ended Song of the Spring Moon Waning. Wen Yu has learned to make his own decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions. Now he and Liu Yi are ready to face more adventures together.
Song of the Spring Moon Waning is part of the Jade Mountain series which also include Zi Yong and the Collector of Secrets, also published by Less Than Three Press. You can see more about it here. The third book in the series will pick up where Song of the Spring Moon Waning leaves off.
I am excited about it and I hope you all are too.
Thank you so much to Melanie for having me on her blog.
STRW: And my thanks to E.E. Ottoman for a fascinating look at the inspiration behind this remarkable book. I can’t wait for the next story to arrive. Remember, to enter the contest to win a eBook copy of Song of Spring Moon Waning, leave a comment below and an email address to I can contact you. The contest ends March 15th. Good luck everyone!