Quirky Characters

Quirky CharactersDSCN1779
Confession #1: I started writing a novel because I thought blogging was (a bit of) a waste of time. One blogger, looking back on a series she had just finished writing in her spare time, said that her word count added up to a staggering 70,000, novel length! That was 2007.
Well, if I was going to devote that kind of time, I vowed, it would have to have more permanence than a few dozen blog posts. Yet here I am blogging (occasionally). Authors must have a web presence, which means that instead of thinking about my fictitious characters mired in their ficThai Basiltitious situations, I have to carve out a little time to think of something to say to you, my esteemed blog readers.
Confession #2: I have quite a few quirky habits. Take food combinations: Asian pear and cabernet sauvignon? Honeydew melon and Thai basil flower buds? Fresh mint and banana? Ahhhh … I could write whole blog posts about each but I won’t. This ain’t a food blog.
In a writer’s life quirks exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to flesh out characters. Imagine a fussy man who “babysits” his bacon, or a woman who suffers from “banana anxiety.” Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s OK. Just make of it what you will. Go ahead and soak your cereals in milk overnight or squirt sriracha sauce on your cottage cheese. But don’t blog about it.
Use it.


Tea Philosophy

Tea time 2016

Here is a slightly edited excerpt from Journey in Search of Korea’s Beauty, by BAE Yong Joon, containing an uplifting view on drinking tea. I have rendered the last sentence as a poem, although it appears as prose in the book:

The Venerable Choui, the Korean “sage of tea,” wrote in Ode to the Tea of the East that drinking tea alone was godly, as it was in the realm of the divine and the profound. Two people drinking tea was victorious, as it was refined and tranquil. Three or four people were “pursuing,” as it was in the realm of mirth and enjoyment. Five or six people were “wide,” and more than that were “giving,” as it signified the sharing of food.

I prefer to drink tea with at least one other person, a like-minded companion if possible. When I do drink alone, I do not go to great effort but if I have at least one person with me, I am motivated to put more care into conveying the flavor and aroma of the tea. I think that:

One person drinking tea can achieve meditation;

Two people, communication;

Three, shared sympathy;

And four, harmony.

        — BAE Yong Joon

More on tea, this time from me, in the months to come.

Mad Dash


I have to get it done.

Someone’s waiting for it.

I promised.

I always do it.

Nobody else can do it.

Nobody else will do it.

It’s my job.

I’m good at it,

Heck, I’m brilliant at it.

But it’s teachable, OK?

It keeps piling on.

The more I do the more they want.

Just when I think it’s finished, there’s more.

I want to do lots of things.

Must squeeze those in:

Gotta rest,

Gotta exercise,

Gotta eat,

Gotta read,

Gotta be there for the boys.

Must do it well.


Must get their thanks.

What if I didn’t do it?

What if I didn’t do the laundry this weekend?

What if I let everyone fend for themselves?

No schlepping baskets down the stairs,

No shifting loads: washer to dryer,

Dryer to basket.

Actually it’s the other way around:

Gotta have method.

No folding in front of the TV,


Using my time well.

So what if we have dirty laundry?

Maybe I could do my own

But then they’d be small loads.

Waste of water.

But wouldn’t it be nice just one weekend without laundry?

Time to write,

Go out,

Take it slow.

Watch life unfold.

Do nothing.

Let the world flow by.

Now wouldn’t that be nice?


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Handkerchief in the breeze

The station left behind

Lines of clothes in the sun

Backs of houses say goodbye

Water towers name the towns

Wild flowers everywhere

Clouds above, tracks below

Wind and dust and letting go


Rows of corn in a field

Herds of cows on a hill,

An owl perched up a tree

A deer still in the shade

Stream rushing under bridge

Children racing for a bus

Wheels chugging over steel

Down my face run the tears



The Whole of the Moon


“I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered I guessed and I tried
You just knew
I sighed
… but you swooned!
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon”[2]


Vincent Van Goth was in the lunatic asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence when he painted one of his most iconic oeuvres, Starry Night, in the pre-dawn swirl of a June 1889 morning. He caught the crescent moon rising. How do we know?



In the leftmost image, the waxing (growing toward full) crescent curls like a D, whereas the waning (decreasing toward the new moon) curls like a C.

Unlike the sun, which always rises in the morning and always sets at night, the moon rises at all hours of the day and night, approximately one hour later each day as it goes from new to full and full to new again. The phases we see on earth are caused by the relative positions of the moon and sun in our sky.

When the moon rises in the east just as the sun set in the west (or sets in west just as the sun rises in the east), they are in perfect opposition and we see a full moon.

When the moon rises in the east at the same time as the sun, we see no moon at all. It’s the new moon, the first day of the lunar month. By extension, the crescent moon we see in the western sky on the next few days is referred to as the new moon. It traveled through the daytime sky, unseen by us, until the sun set and lit a small section of the orb, leaving the rest in shadow from our terrestrial point-of-view.



As time passes and the moon rises progressively later in the day, we come closer and closer to the full moon. After that point and for the next two weeks, the moon will rise after the sun sets, again progressively later until it rises just before dawn and appears to us as a thin crescent curling like a C – Van Gogh’s moon in Starry Night.

Why should we, creative writers, care? Well, if our narratives include a crescent moon in an evening sky, it had better be setting, not rising.

If we include a crescent moon in a morning sky, it had better be rising, not setting.

And should our characters find themselves travelling at night, aided solely by moonlight, they had better use other means of seeing where they’re going for some substantial part of the month, even assuming an extended spell of clear weather.



As for the Full Moon in all its mysterious glory, may we all stop Wondering, Guessing and Trying.

Let’s Know, let’s Swoon and let’s Fly!

[1] Painting by Mike Schultz

[2] From The Whole Of The Moon, composed by Mike Scott (The Waterboys);  lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Complete lyrics here.

[3] Painting Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh,

[4] Source: Astropixel.

[5] By Sheree Canfield

[6] Moonlight Scene Near Leeds by Victorian-era artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw.

Which Palace? Or down the rabbit hole of research. Again.

Gate at the rear of Changdeokgung Palace

Which palace was used by the kings of Joseon[1] Korea in the mid-seventeenth century?

While researching this bit of information for novel 2 I came across the following pieces of possibly useful details:

King Injo (ruled 1623-1649):

King Injo as portrayed by Kim Jae-won in television series Splendid Politics
  • Grandson of King Seonjo, son of Grandprince Jeongwon, therefore not the son of the Crown Prince and not in direct line for the throne.
  • Came to kingship after a coup engineered by the ultra-conservative Western faction that resulted in dethroning King Gwanghaegun (reigned 1608-1623).
  • Injo had little authority during his reign, indebted as he was to the Western faction.
  • Reign marked by two Manchu invasions. The second invasion ended with Injo ceremoniously bowing to the Qing Dynasty[2] king and agreeing to send his first and second sons to China as hostages. They stayed there from 1636 to 1644, eventually bringing back to Korea a larger world view that included Catholicism and Western science.
  • Rejected his eldest son’s – Crown Prince Sohyeon – pleas for reform. Sohyeon died under mysterious circumstances in the king’s room, prompting many to conjecture that the king had killed him.
  • Injo appointed his second son, Bongrim, as Crown Prince rather than Sohyeon’s eldest son, Gyeongseon, a choice that had repercussions, including a heated debate on the length of time Bongrim’s (King Hyojon by then) mother should wear mourning attire after he died (more, indeed much more on this in Culture and the State in Late Choson Korea).


Crown Prince Sohyeon:

  • Converted to Catholicism while in Qing China.
  • His three sons were exiled to Jeju Island. Only one (not the eldest, Gyeongseon) returned to the mainland alive.
  • His wife, Crown Princess Minhoe, was executed for treason.

Mourning periods could be lengthy affairs in Joseon Korea and stretch to as much as three years during which mourners wore mourning attire:

  • untrimmed – coarse thick hemp (sometimes called burlap)
  • trimmed – coarse, loosely woven (thin) hemp
Funeral attire
From present-day traditional funeral

Photo found at http://sanchonhunjang.blogspot.ca/2005/11/sanchon-hunjangs-guide-to-korean.html

Seoul’s earlier names

  • Wirye-seong during the Baekje era (18 BC – 660 AD)
  • Hanju during the Shilla era (57 BC – 935 AD)[3]
  • Namgyeong during the Goryeo era (918 – 1392)
  • Hanseong during both the Baekje era and Joseon era
  • Hanyang during the Joseon era
  • Gyeongseong during the Japanese colonial era (1910 – 1945)

Palaces (finally!)


Gyeongbokgung Palace JYT 2015
Photo credit JYT 2010
  • Built in 1395 as the main palace of the Joseon kings, serving as their homes, the homes of their household and of the government.
  • Accessed through the Gwanghwamun Gate
  • Destroyed by fire (Japanese invasion) and left .abandoned between 1592 and 1867.
  • Rebuilt starting in 1867.
  • Demolished during the Japanese colonial era in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Restoration work has been ongoing since 1990.



  • Secondary palace established in 1395 to the east of Gyeongbokgung.
  • Destroyed by fire (Japanese invasion of 1592).
  • Reconstructed starting in 1609.
  • Burnt back down in 1623 during the coup that put King Injo on the throne.
  • Remained the site of the royal court and seat of government until 1868 (so I will assume that it was reconstructed soon after 1623)
  • Korea’s last emperor lived there until his death in 1926.


Huwon, the Rear Garden of Changdeokgung

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  • 78 acres of landscaped lawns, ponds, streams and woods.
  • Also known as Biwon, or Secret Garden.


[1] The Joseon kings ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910.

[2] Qing Dynasty and Manchu can be used interchangeably from 1636 onward.

[3] The Shilla, Baekje and Gogoryo eras overlap and are known as The Three Kingdom era.


one moonless midnight

Snow Stormone moonless midnight mark made tracks across the snow. he walked in a straight line, across the field, into the woods and out the other side. he kept going. he crossed the pond and found a bike. he jumped on the bike and got on the road, pedaling, the wind in his face, the black of the night thick with stars, with twirling snow, with static and silence except for the crunch of the snow under his wheels.