Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Paperless? Who, me?

So here's the deal: I won NaNoWriMo. Yay me.

But the novel itself is far from finished. I get the feeling the word count'll be 120-150K by the time I'm through. A beast such as this requires some planning. My pantsing days, I've come to realize, are long over. 

Second, while I've based books and stories on historical events before, Charlie Ward is the first project I've ever based on a person: Frederick Townsend Ward, an American sailor and soldier-of-fortune from the 1850s. I moved the setting into outer space and made the titular character female, and Charlie Ward: Interstellar Soldier-of-Fortune was born. 

My productivity since November ended has been abysmal: I think I've added a mere 5,500 words to the manuscript since December began. (Blame final exam prep.) My MC is currently slogging her way through the frozen mud of the Crimea a gigantic Earth-like planet where the Crimean War a great interplanetary war's going on between Russia, Turkey, France, and England four mighty planets battling for territorial supremacy and a warm-water port mineral rights and economic posturing. 

As you might expect, it's proven difficult to remain faithful to the source material and still portray futuristic space combat realistically. That, and I know jack-squat about the life military. Yesterday I had to call up an old high school buddy who was in the army to get help with the lingo, abbreviations, and politics. 

That means I've had to take a lot of notes for this story. Fred Ward's life (with a few strategic embellishments). Military abbreviations and SOPs (that aforementioned buddy of mine sent me the whole dang U.S. Army field operations manualall 213 pages of it). An entire fictitious regiment and its captain, lieutenants, sergeants, and forty-odd privates, all with first and last names, disparate personalities, family histories, and unique homeworlds. The political climate of the eighteen or so planets I've had to invent for the purposes of this story, not to mention their masses, rotation speeds, meteorology, ecology, economics, culture, sociology, biology, and geology. Technologies out the wazoo, like a Podkletnov device for anti-gravity, a negative-mass particle generator for warp drive, MAHEM guns for ship-to-ship combat, a skyhook, robotics, communication devices, antipersonnel weapons...sheesh. And I haven't even gotten to the bit about ground warfare yet, or mining technology, both of which I'll need to mention in some detail for the first big land-battle sequence to make sense. 

Notepad just wasn't going to cut it this time, and I knew it. 

So I made the quantum leap to Evernote.

And it is simply splendid.

Click the pic to expand it and take a good, hard look—everything's right where it needs to be.  On the left are my separate notebooks, organized however I like them. I only have one notebook so far, for this particular story. Inside that notebook are five notes: some research I've done on space warfare, a page devoted to random snippets of quotes and dialogue, a discussion of planets and stations that populate this galaxy I'm building, a list of Charlie's unit on Achore (which is visible there on the right, as it's the one selected), and a rough outline of the story. 

Formerly, I kept all this crap in one single Notepad (.txt) file, and had to scroll up and down and poke through it every time I needed a bit of information for a story. No more. It's all in one place, organized and easily accessible. "Convenient" is simply not the word to describe it. "Heaven-sent" would be more like it. 

I'm going to take a day here after finals week ends (and I'm not busy in Seoraksan National Park or the nearby city of Sokcho over in Gangwon Province, or down in Gunsan in North Jeolla Province with my buddy Beau) and transfer EVERY FREAKING ONE of my Notepad files concerning the Revival series and Mugunghwa (my historical novel) onto Evernote.

Next step: find out what Scrivener's all about. I'll do a post about that soon, too. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

6 splendiferous books I read in 2014

Jamie Todd Rubin, of whom I am now a steadfast devotee, just did a similar post on his wicked-cool blog, so I thought I'd do one of my own. I didn't read quite as many books as I wanted to in 2014 (between two moves, Miss H going home, two semesters at Sejong University, a train trip through the Japanese Home Islands in February, and an overland transect of Indochina in summer), but at least I made it into the double digits. Some of the titles I picked were real jim-dandies.

Without further ado: 

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
I'd read Heart of Darkness, and appreciated it for all it was by itself. But there was something about Conrad's oeuvre—his flair for painting vivid pictures of the exotic corners of the earth, and the colorful folk who people them (born of his own experience as a sailor)—that captivated me. That same flair wasn't lacking in Lord Jim. Conrad tackles questions of duty, conscience, guilt, penance, and moral courage, all while weaving a colorful tapestry of both human and natural scenery in Indochina and the South Pacific islands. A heck of a good read, and an absolutely flabbergasting ending. It'll either reaffirm or destroy your belief in karma. 

Dune by Frank Herbert
A friend bullied me into reading this. I'd caught snippets of the 2003 TV miniseries with James McAvoy, and heard bits and bobs around the Internet from those teeming millions of slavering fans, but never really considered it to be up my alley. Well, I wasn't wrong; I don't think I'll be continuing with the series. But I can easily see why this book has been called the greatest masterwork of the science fiction genre. Herbert does a spectacular job of world-building, touching on economics, politics, sociology, religion, and biology, while never losing sight of the overarching narrative nor the gigantic cast of characters, giving each one enough limelight as he or she deserves. It was so well done that I didn't even realize it was an allegory about oil politics in the Middle East.

I have to admit, the shai-hulud were pretty freakin' awesome.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
Don't get me wrong: I absolutely hated this book. But I can hate a book and still acknowledge its intrinsic worth. I'd like to give you a synopsis of this door-stopper, but I'm afraid it's...impossible to describe. Even William Gibson, the noir prophet, the father of cyberpunk, the man who coined the term "cyberspace," the first winner of the science fiction "triple crown" (the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award), and the author of the masterful Sprawl trilogy (which I have yet to read), doesn't quite understand what Dhalgren is about, and admits as much in his foreword. Whoever did the jacket copy couldn't quite verbalize it, either. But therein lies the book's pull: it teases you into believing that you have the story and its deeper meanings pinned down, then erases them and lays something completely different over them, until you wind up with a palimpsest of cultural significance and societal commentary that's impossible to sift into a nugget of moral truth. Even the title's meaning is left up to the imagination. It's a book that reads like a poem (and indeed, Delany was a prolific poet), and is just as enigmatic and florid. I hated it because I wasn't smart enough to figure it out. 

Kowloon Tong by Paul Theroux
I'd read plenty of Theroux's travel writing, but never his fiction. This was my first taste. (I intend to read Saint Jack and perhaps The Lower River at some point in the future.) A chilling tale of Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, as told from the viewpoint of Bunt, a milquetoast business owner and British citizen born and raised in the city by his domineering mum. The bad guys are sinister, their motives devious, and even the innocent are guilty of something. A book I could hardly put down, thanks to its faithfully-reproduced setting and sizzling characters. 

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux
A bit of a cheat to stick in two books by Theroux, perhaps. But this title is nonfiction, at least. A follow-up to Theroux's epic journey through Asia by train in 1975 (chronicled in The Great Railway Bazaar), Ghost Train is Theroux retracing his former route 33 years later, as an older and wiser but just as curmudgeonly man. So much has changed since he last came this way that he has to change his line of march; chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan force him to deviate through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan instead; Vietnam is no longer divided in two, and he may now travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Kunming, China, in an uninterrupted line; and he stops off at a few disused gulags in Russia, just because he can. He meets old friends and makes new ones along the journey, seeking, as he himself says, trains...and finding passengers. 

The Korean War by Bruce Cumings
I'd wanted a straight, no-nonsense, battle-by-battle account of the war, and I didn't get it. What I got was an examination of the social context, geopolitical causes, and back-room wheeling and dealing surrounding the war, and a scathingly revisionist one at that. Cumings takes the United States sharply to task for, among other things, assisting Syngman Rhee to quell the Yeosu Rebellion and thereby stifling true democracy in the nascent Republic of Korea; committing the No Gun Ri Massacre; and for making no effort to understand or sympathize with thousands of years of established Korean cultural norms and traditions before slashing a line down the 38th Parallel and calling it even. The book was tough to swallow—especially as my grandfather fought in that forgotten war, and almost certainly lost some buddies in the process—but on the whole, I'm glad I read it. If you want an unvarnished account of the political, social, and cultural fronts of the Korean War, this is the quickest and simplest book to read. 

There, that's done! As you can see from my new widget from Goodreads at the bottom right of this page, there, I'm knee-deep in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (fantastic; "Me Imperturbe" is my favorite poem so far) and The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. Miss H and I are reading that one together. She's never read any Vonnegut (gasp!) and I needed to read more, and I figured TSoA was as good a place as any to resume.

One more thing: I don't think I managed to even read 20 books this year. Horrendous ratio, not at all up to my standards in high school. I have some friends on Goodreads who read fifty books this year! It's all because I was bound up in Anna Karenina since October of 2013, and then a coworker gave me Dhalgren. Well, 2015's going to be different. I'm going to do 35 books, or I'll be a Rhode Island Red.

Until next time, fellow bibliophiles...

sardine can redux

A few of my more enthusiastic followers have been insisting that I put up a picture of my actual oneroomtel room, so you can get a good look at the floral print wallpaper. Well, here ya go. This is for you, Carrie and Virginia: 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

walking to Oksu

Hey there, blogsphere.

I'm going to start posting on this here blog more regularly. One of my Facebook friends put me on to Young Adventuress, and I tell you: it's hard to find a cooler travel blog. I've visited lots and they were all pretty insipid, or were glorified travel brochures, or spent way too much time trying to look cool instead of focusing on the important stuff like quality writing. YA doesn't bother too much about that crap. And she belongs to the same philosophical school of blogging that I do: nice, long, wordy, florid, descriptive, opinion-driven posts with scads of luscious photos, breezy language, profound ideas and whatnot. So hey, follow along. She's gotten some intense recognition for her blog 'cause she works darn hard at it. 

Anyway, she also offers advice for wannabe travel bloggers, and part of it is to blog frequently and build a platform (Instagram, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest...everything). Awful similar to the advice I keep reading for wannabe novelists, too. Build that platform, build that platform. Create ways to get seen and get contacted. 

So I decided to get serious. I now have a Twitter account, and I went through and revamped my Google+ pages (both my writer's page and my blog's page). As soon as I get home and get a smartphone I'll update my Instagram account and start posting photos regularly there and let you folks know how to find me. I've updated my contact info on this page, too—see the about me page just underneath the big title up top. 

So...what to post? I don't believe I've shown you nearly enough of South Korea or Seoul. So here's some pics from another long walk I took on Saturday, November 8. All told it was about 7.3 kilometers, or 4.5 miles, on a grey, misty day that couldn't really decide what it wanted to be and just sort of hung there like it was waiting for its ship to come in.

I love walking around this town. Since I started doing all these long walks last month, I've discovered so many strange and wonderful things hiding just around the corner. A couple of weeks ago I saw a guy sitting on a bench by the Jungang Stream with a big blue macaw on his wrist. No explanation, no signage, nothing. Just a guy and his parrot. This particular Wednesday, as I walked from my oneroomtel to my new favorite burger joint in Oksu-dong, Seongdong-gu (near Oksu Station on Line 3), I saw this—some kind of dredging operation going on near the northern bank of the Han River, about level with Seongsu-dong, not far from Seoul Forest. 

Looking east along the bicycle path on the northern shore. You can baaaaaarely see the incomplete Lotte World Tower in the misty distance, in Jamsil.

Looking west, downriver toward the Seongsu Bridge.

Han River Park beneath Gangbyeonbuk-ro (North Riverside Road) in Oksu-dong.

Now I simply must tell you about this burger place, kids. It's called Bartwo. It's a beer-and-burger pub, and one of the absolute finest places in Seoul to get a goddamn good burger. It's right at the interesection of Deoksodang-ro and Hallimmal 3-gil, just a few steps up a hill from Oksu Station (go out Exit 4, turn right, pass the Paris Baguette on the left, and walk up the hill; it'll be on the right at the T-junction). I've been there a few times and have never been let down. The owner, Jeremy, is a gyopo and speaks really good English. He's a friendly dude and he keeps his bar stocked with excellent West Coast craft beers like Ballast Point and North Coast, and some I'd never seen in Korea before (Widmer Brothers anyone?). The Bartwo draft beer is only ₩2,500 a pop and tastes surprisingly good. The extensive menu includes stuffed peppers, tortilla pizza, chips and salsa, hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Also these, the fried mandu (Korean dumplings) with homemade salsa, three for ₩7,000: 


The crowning glory is the Oksu Burger, ₩9,000. Beef patty cooked to perfection before your eyes, fresh red onion, lettuce, dill pickle (not sweet), tomato, melted cheese, fresh bun, a pile of fries, and all the ketchup and mustard you want. Add in the seasonal import beer (Sam Adams OctoberFest, ₩8,000) and the pickles I got as a side order (₩2,000) and my total bill came to ₩27,000 for one evening's debauch. 

How's that for a slice of fried gold?