I have Suzannah Rowntree, author of Ten Thousand Thorns, with me today. Well, not really because … we happen to live on different continents. But with the wonder of the internet, she is here, with me on my blog …
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WHEN DID YOU THINK ‘LET ME SET THIS FAIRY TALE IN CHINA’ AND WHAT BROUGHT IT ABOUT?
Haha! OK, I’ll be honest with you: it was while I was watching a movie called THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM with my sisters. I know, a lot of wuxia fans detest that movie as a lamesauce American homage to the genre, but then again, it does have that epic Jet Li/Jackie Chan duel in it, and none of the great Chinese wuxia films have that, so. I’d always loved these adventurous, fantastic, and beautiful martial arts films (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and HERO must be the ones most familiar to Western viewers), but it was while I was thinking about the philosophical underpinnings to Taoism as they cropped up in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM that I got the idea of telling Sleeping Beauty in this style. It occurred to me suddenly that in China, a princess wouldn’t be cursed to sleep for a hundred years: on the contrary, she would meditate, not sleep, and it would be this wonderful spiritual blessing. Or would it?
This would also give me the opportunity to write a Sleeping Beauty retelling that was absolutely chock-full of kung-fu action scenes. I mentioned the idea to my bro the same evening, and from the look of awe and anticipation that crossed his face, I knew it was a winner.
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THE WISE SAYINGS – HOW AND WHERE DID THEY COME FROM? DID YOU MAKE THEM? CAN I STEAL YOUR BRAINS? WERE THEY INSPIRED FROM SOMEWHERE?
I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t make them up myself. I don’t have that level of brains! I just spent a lot of time trawling through collections of Chinese proverbs online. Aren’t they marvellous? I did this because my Chinese beta reader told me that one’s martial arts master is supposed to speak in wise riddles, which the disciple is then supposed to figure out for himself. And if you can figure out what your martial arts master is saying, that proves you’re worthy to be his disciple. I thought the best way to get that effect and make it authentic would be to pepper his dialogue with gems of Chinese wisdom.
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HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE TEN THOUSAND THORNS?
The actual writing wasn’t too bad, though with other projects in the mix it took about a year from beginning to end. I took a month to write the first draft, a month to write the second draft, and another month to apply the edits suggested by my first-round beta readers. It usually doesn’t take me this long to do edits, but I had a Chinese
beta reader whose critique was very challenging and far-reaching. He gave me amazing help.
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WHAT WAS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE?
I tend to plan on a macro level. I’ll start with a concept and some research. I watched a lot of Chinese films and read two very long classic wuxia novels to prepare, which took me months. I also watched the director’s commentary for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (yes, I spent a lot of my “work” days watching entertaining foreign films. I did not feel guilty about this at all).
I kept detailed notes of interesting things I noticed that seemed relevant to the story’s theme or a fun part of the martial arts story world: blood brothers, shocking betrayals, intense tea nerdery. Once I had all these details under my belt, I was able to construct a basic plot outline that expressed the theme and drew on all these elements that I enjoyed, hopefully also weaving them into something new. Then it was just doing the writing itself, which I usually do in a boring manner from nine till five with the assistance of silence and a succession of cups of tea.
One thing I did do differently for TEN THOUSAND THORNS was to adopt a slightly different writing style than usual. It’s a bit more pulpy, a bit more humorous, and draws on the diction (in English) of Chinese friends and literature.
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I WAS REALLY IMPRESSED BY THE TITULAR ‘THORNS’ – DID THE IDEA FOR WHAT THEY WOULD BE SPRING INTO YOUR MIND OR WAS IT A TAKE ON THE FAIRY TALE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO?
Aha! That particular concept just came packaged along with the genre. Once I connected the dots between Sleeping Beauty and wuxia, it was obvious what I was going to do with the thorns. The Chinese proverb “crouching tigers and hidden dragons” itself refers to the fact that you can never tell when someone or something will turn out to be highly dangerous and/or well-trained. Just watch any wuxia film and you’ll see that this is true. And that’s all I’ll say about that 😉
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WAS THERE A PARTICULAR SCENE THAT YOU REALLY ENJOYED WRITING?
Oh help. All of them? This novella was pure joy from beginning to end. Maybe I particularly loved the scene with the old lady at Wudang, and all of Iron Maiden and Clouded Sky’s duels in the first half. They had such fun interactions.
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IF YOU COULD TIME TRAVEL – RIGHT NOW – TO ANY HISTORICAL TIME PERIOD, WHICH WOULD IT BE?
[A WORD OF WARNING – I HEAR JUNE 1348 IN ENGLAND IS A BAD YEAR TO PICK]
Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere in 1348. I even avoid fiction set during that time because I know it’s not going to end well, especially if it has ominous words like “domesday” in the title. No, I’d like to visit Jerusalem in 1183 to do research on my OUTREMER project. Saladin called it “a garden of paradise” and I would just love to see the amazing architecture and mosaics and fabulous clothes they all would have been getting around in.
THANKS FOR STOPPING BY, SUZANNAH!
When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, writing historical fantasy fiction informed by a covenantal Christian perspective on history.
If you like the fiction of CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, Stephen Lawhead, or ND Wilson, you’ll probably enjoy her stories too.
I’m dividing my attention between writing this and watching Batman: Under The Red Hood. This is my reward, because today … today I started a new job.
Yes, it is at another supermarket. Yes, it isn’t the most flashy of jobs. But it’s a job. It’s not a bad one and – apart from the French which I’m frantically scrambling to learn (!!!) – it’s a job that I’m mostly familiar with.
‘Mostly‘ because I’m now on a different continent and not everything is the same. Heck, even the traffic lights are different.
Which I discovered. To my cost. And pride. But I refuse to go over that particular story yet again.
I haven’t done much, I’m afraid. I’ve been consumed with …
realising that my French is incredibly rusty and also: terrible
trying to relearn and learn French
realising that French in Québec? Yeah. It sounds different to Metropolitan French.
immersing myself in French
panicking some more
Saying ‘to heck with that’
But the panic is over now (OR IS IT?!!!) and my pen shall be put to paper once more.
One short bus ride away from me (I know! I’m using public transport. My faithful Rusty is at home. In a different country. On a different continent. So.) is a glorious, glorious library.
I just feel like I should put that here.
LIFE, IN GENERAL
(I had to give up writing this post until I’d finished the Batman movie. My poor old heart-strings. *heavy sigh*)
I still don’t have a Canadian mobile number
it’s been unusually warm (TMI translation: I have sweated)
there have been butterflies everywhere
it started raining this afternoon
I can understand … something … of the sermons on Sunday
Whilst lately, Montreal has been full of blue skies and butterflies, I can’t ignore the often ominous warnings of …
I write. I write as hard as I can. This is the time to catch up on all the projects I haven’t finished.
And yes, I can hear select members of my family sniggering a continent away. My writing is a bit of running joke, you see. The joke being that I never finish a novel and have at least ten books on the go.
I would like to point out that a) Rome wasn’t built in a day, b) genius takes time, and c) there is nothing wrong with elongated multitasking. Nothing.
WHAT ABOUT THIS BLOG?
My aim is to go back to posting once a week – recountings of books, detailing what I’ve been up to (so far, I’ve set a house alarm off, explored some of Montreal, and have heard a report THAT THERE IS A LIBRARY NEARBY! WOOP!) and perhaps attempting to keep you enthralled with updates on my SO TOTALLY GOING TO BE FINISHED projects.
This tag is actually called ‘The Writer’s Tag’ but someone mentioned how much it looks like ‘The Writer Stag’ and this amuses me greatly. Thanks to Mirriam for tagging everybody, and so therefore tagging me.
WHAT GENRES, STYLES, AND TOPICS DO YOU WRITE ABOUT?
Genre: Fantasy – because you can borrow from all of history and throw in a dragon and it will be legit. I love history, but fantasy is unrestricted – if I want to mesh a Viking and Mongol culture together … I can. AND NO ONE CAN TELL ME NAY!!!
Styles: I do write some serious content, but humour always creeps through. I love funny things, and sometimes I find myself writing a line with true glee. Or struggling to get a joke that is HILARIOUS!!!! in my head onto paper. That’s less fun.
Topics: Oh – everything. I try to put themes and topics into my stories but my characters always refuse to participate. They see right through my puny attempts and go on tangents about wanting to be a medicine woman or something.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING?
Years. Years and years. I completed my first novel in 2014, but I have piles and piles of unfinished and finished short stories banging about from the time I thought revision was spelled with an ‘h’. (Dude. Think about it. It still makes sense.) I won first prize for gore once. I was bemused. Did no one else write realistically?
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
Because I love stories. Because that love bubbles over until I have to write something down. Sometimes the magic happens – my fingers fly over the keyboard and the characters talk and events unfold seamlessly onto the page. But that doesn’t happen often; I have to work for it – but the stories …
I write because I love them.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO WRITE?
Much to my annoyance, at night. When everything is quite and all is dark (‘… silllllleeeeennnt niiiiiggghhhhttt ….’) and my mine is emptied of stresses and there is nothing but the words and I. You have no idea how much I resent this flaw of mine; I’d much rather write easily in the morning.
PARTS OF WRITING YOU LOVE VS PARTS YOU HATE?
What I love? Finishing. There is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing the story is finished; you’ve told it. It’s done. The end. It’s beautiful. A moment to be savoured.
What I hate? The bringing myself to sit and write. My mind leaps like an antsy frog on coals and has this kind of conversation:
ME: Little grey cells, shall we write?
BRAIN: Cool. Cool, cool, cool. Good idea. BUT WAIT YOU HAVE TO VACUUM BEFORE YOU DO THIS.
ME: … but … what?
BRAIN: CLEAN! DUST! WASH! ORGANISE YOUR BOOKSHELF! WASH YOUR CAR! ONLY THEN CAN YOUR WORDS FLOW. ONNNLLLY THEN!!
Me: Okay. That sounds like a good plan.
(spoiler: it’s never a good plan)
HOW DO YOU OVERCOME WRITERS BLOCK?
Nowadays? I exhaust my procrastination muscles, and then do a surprise leap into a Word Document. Takes time, but works like a charm. Sometimes. So a faulty charm, basically.
ARE YOU WORKING ON SOMETHING AT THE MOMENT?
Yes. Insalted is on draft 2.5 and The Mediocre Title That I Need To Change is ticking along alright. I’ve really let my creativity run wild on that one – there’s a crime lord dragon and the heroine’s kidnapping a husband.
Everyday activities, really.
WRITING GOALS THIS YEAR?
Finish editing Sandwiches
Prepare Insalted for querying. But finish it first. (That’s rather important, I hear.)
Finish the 1st draft of The Mediocre Title That I need To Change
I’ve been quietly editing Insalted for some time now. However, only recently did I bite the bullet and print the whole thing out.
There’s a lot of it. I don’t know if it’s my dramatic usage of paragraphs, the halts for Bolded Lists (I haven’t a better name for them), or if I’ve completely got the spacing wrong, but I’ve ended up with 334 pages to edit.
Usually, I just employ a liberal use of a pen, butchering this and scribbling out that. HOWEVER, with this manuscript, I have a better plan. As per usual, I butcher … but I also use highlighters and sticky notes.
I have four colours and these stand for a sub-plot, a mega-plot, background info, and THE ROMANCE THREAD.
(And yes. That deserves capitals. I’m quietly proud that this story HAS A ROMANTICLE ELEMENT!!!!)
Why Using Highlighters Is A Highlight of Editing:
You can look back on a butchered page and think: my gosh, this looks legit! Maybe I am a Proper Writer after all!
It teaches you to never underestimate the importance of the highlighter in validating your career choices.
You can actually keep track of each plot line – how much of this plot is in this chapter? Do I need more? Less? How much ROMANTICLE ELEMENT!!!! is in it?
If you are a visual person, you can sum up what happens per plot line at the beginning of the chapter, and strike it through with the appropriate highlighter. It looks very pretty! And is useful. That’s 100% my reason for using them.
My work space isn’t very tidy. I have several coloured labels that er, I thought were sticky notes when I bought them. (SPOLIER: they weren’t.)
Now, they hang about like I did around other earthlings, wanting to be cool and useful but never quite making it.
(HANG IN THERE, LABELS! YOU’LL FIND YOUR SPACE YET!!)
I have highlighters, sticky notes, pens, hair things, soap, books, tea, an empty purse, and a laptop for music just chilling on the desk with me.
It is clutter, but I am of the opinion that I work better with clutter than without. (I have no wish to test this theory.)
Recently, I butchered into the wee hours and … I felt like a Proper Writer. I was haunted and hunched over with a blanket about my shoulders, eyes stinging, hand wielding pen and highlighter with fervor.
It was a wonderful feeling; I am doomed to plenty more of it.
SIDE NOTE: I’ve discovered that THE ROMANTICLE ELEMENT!!!!!! comes more easily when I’m tired. I haven’t re-read what I corrected last night, but I’m sure that it’s all coherent.