Wuxia Novelist: A Writer's Blog

Wuxia Novelist: A Writer's Blog looks at the broad range of issues encountered by me as a novelist working in the Chinese wuxia (heroic fiction) genre. I have, however, a very broad background and this blog will not narrowly focus on one genre of literature, rather I will consider books, movies, and ideas that relate to my life as a writer. For more information about my background please visit my author's website: www.thedragongateinn.com or www.facebook.com/WuxiaNovelist

Location: United States

Check out my author's website: www.thedragongateinn.com for everything you could ever want to know about me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Out of the Fog?

Well that was quite an interesting fog. We get them like that up here at the Dragon Gate Inn when fall transitions into winter, and in the spring and summer…it’s a nice place, here in the jianghu.

Following that random thought about the nature of historical fantasy, I was going to write about my attitudes toward writing in this genre. As you probably know by now my academic background was fairly extensive in the field of history and that I turned from it, not completely but far enough that neither I nor my former colleagues would consider me a practicing historian.

That’s okay because I’m not, I’m a storyteller. Yet, so are historians. Then the difference must be in either the stories we tell or, perhaps, in how we tell them. Historians base their “stories” on “reality.” Obvious problems there – our old friend Zhuangzi had a field day with such ideas and definitions.

Perhaps, it’s better that I just write about what I think I’m doing and let you all decide for yourselves how I relate, if at all, to the historical side of this “historical fantasy” equation.

The key to understanding my approach lies in the “Author’s Statement” found in the front matter of my novel, Dream of the Dragon Pool – A Daoist Quest. It reads:

The adventure you are about to embark on is based upon an 8th century Chinese understanding of reality, while many of the characters, incidents, and locations in the story appear in Chinese historical records, some are yet to be discovered, and others may never be. It is up to you to decide if any of this matters.

There are two main points here: 1. the story is based on “an 8th century Chinese understanding of reality.” 2. “It is up to you to decide if any of this matters.”

When I’m writing my medieval China stories, I try to write from a medieval Chinese understanding of reality. There’s a well known axiom in historical research that people act upon what they perceive/believe to be real, not what necessarily is factual. The medieval Chinese believed in the existence of dragons, all kinds of dragons including the Blood Dragon that you will meet in my novel. They also believed in the existence of ghosts, of swordsmen, and shamanesses with great skills and powers. Their world was different from ours and when their beliefs cross into areas that we have decided are purely imaginary, we call those worlds “fantasy.” So for the general public, this type of story would be “historical fantasy” – a “make believe” world based in some historical time and place.

Yet, I wonder which world is more “make believe” – a world where people make up definitions, like “historical fantasy” or “history,” and don’t realize that these definitions are subjective, yet deem them “real” – or, a world where people believe reality can take on many different forms and existences and act accordingly? But I’m not here to make judgments. I’m just trying to explain my way of writing “historical fantasy.”

So, back to the point, I try to represent the world as the people of the place and time I’m writing about understood it – and I guess that’s the historian part of me. I try to take their perspective on how that world works and tell stories about it – and that’s the storytelling part of me.

And here’s where the second point is relevant: it is you, the reader, who decides if this works or not. And a step further, if this presentation, this story speaks to you in any way or not.

It took me many years to discover that as Picasso said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” Yet, Zhuangzi would find the idea of “realizing the truth” rather amusing.

In the next blog, I will write about an amazing Japanese anime film that I just saw. I want to see it again before I attempt to write about it.


The Innkeeper

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Random Thoughts as the Fog Descends

Random Thought #1

The rush of early November’s great news regarding my novel, Dream of the Dragon Pool, is beginning to subside. Recent news of foreign rights interest in the novel has helped to sustain the rush, but I’m trying to follow Buddhist advice and keep a calm attitude in the face of it all. I was going to write “in the face of either good or bad news,” but that doesn’t actually fit the situation. Writers will of course be elated when their work is recognized, and that would be good news.

But what would be bad news?

Your book was banned from the state libraries? That could be very good news, just think of the publicity! I’m not stating hopes here, just the facts. You got really bad reviews? Well, I’ve been told that bad reviews can be useful for they will drive some readers to find out for themselves. I know around here, people don’t hold much to movie reviews. If they find the trailers and the plot descriptions of interest, they go and find out for themselves. And, of course, how many “word of mouth” best sellers and hit movies have there been! I remember someone telling me how the anime world snuck up on U.S. movie reviewers. “Snuck up”? Aren’t the reviewers supposed to know what’s going on? Apparently another case where “talking the talk” doesn’t sync up with “walking the walk.”

Random Thought #2

I’m a member of the Historical Novel Society (www.historicalnovelsociety.org), which gave Dream of the Dragon Pool a really nice review last November. In a recent online forum back and forth, the members got into a discussion about defining “historical fantasy.” This was interesting to me because Amazon.com has placed my wuxia (heroic fiction) novel in several categories: epic fantasy (I like), alternate history (I’m surprised), and historical fantasy (which I had figured). I had no voice in these categorizations, though I must admit to joy (!) when my novel hits the top 100 best-sellers in any or all of these categories according to Amazon’s mysterious ranking formula – there are plenty of “explanations” of how Amazon’s ranking works, but I think publishers and the industry only pay attention to the top 10 rankings figuring the obvious, “they must be selling well.”

Random Thought #2a

Back to the main point here, so one member wrote in and asked if their work could be classified as “historical fantasy.” Now, although I see my work in the Chinese wuxia tradition – which is much broader than those who limit it to the contemporary Chinese authors’ Jin Yong and Gu Long, who actually represent only variations on a rather broad literary and cinematic tradition – I know that such a genre is not established in the Western publishing industry. So, my alternative classification, trying to make the unfamiliar familiar, would be “historical fiction,” or closer – sort of – “historical fantasy.” Keeping in mind, OF COURSE, that this blog is titled “Fish Traps and Rabbit Snares” for a very specific reason. Such “categories” are necessary for limited goals, like getting literary agents and publishers to read your stuff and bookstores and libraries to locate its shelf space!

Of course, in the contemporary publishing scene, if you sell enough, they could care less what you call it. That’s why I admire what anime, graphic novels, and manga have accomplished. Their supporters have gotten behind them with such force that they are calling the shots in the publishing industry – more power to you guys! I really don’t know if the wuxia genre will be able to achieve such status in the West. Of course, there are many anime, graphic novels, and manga that are obviously wuxia genre tales, so perhaps, we have already reached that level, but in a different medium. And it could be that’s what naturally suits wuxia.

Random Thought #2b

I’m still trying to get back to my main point, the identification of “historical fantasy.” So, the writer who asked the Historical Novel Society forum for a “definition” of the genre they thought they were writing in was answered by one writer who responded with,

I define ‘historical fantasy’ as something involving supernatural forces or mythical beasts in an otherwise historic setting.

And then a librarian wrote in,

For what its worth, this librarian thinks of historical fantasy as Mists of Avalon and books with mystical elements in them.

So I guess the writer and the librarian could be said to agree that historical fantasy has a historical setting with supernatural, mythical, or mystical elements. And I guess that’s as good as any “definition.”

Does a writer pick a genre, then check the definition, and write to that definition? Not the good ones. Good writing/writers is/are not limited by “definitions” – hint, “rabbit snares and fish traps.” They write. What comes out should naturally flow from within their innate inspiration.

Random Thought #3

As a writing teacher, I was frequently asked if writing could be taught. I think most writing teachers agree that the skills can be taught. Gabriel García Márquez, one of my favorite writers, says that writing is like carpentry. The writer creates with words like a carpenter forms with wood. Both artisans work transformations and for both there are a basic set of skills that informs how their materials are to be best manipulated. These skills can be taught. However, and you knew that was coming, there are differences in the finished product. Yet, who is to decide on the merits of these differences? We know that society has its “standards” - no matter how arbitrary they might be.

I think the most important standard has to be the artist’s own standard. All things change, all things pass. Today’s “standards” might very well look ridiculous to the next generation, or, in the U.S., to the next week’s reviews! Our old friend Zhuangzi figured that out thousands of years ago and maybe that’s why some of us are still writing about him.

Random Thought #2c

Which was supposed to get around to how I define… No, better, how I understand my historical fantasy. But this blog is already kind of long and the fog is getting really interesting…I’ll get back on this in the next blog.


The Innkeeper – lost in the fog, as usual ;-}

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A November Conspiracy?

Is there some sort of November conspiracy to make my novel a best-seller? In the last several days Dream of the Dragon Pool got a national book award, got featured on a national blog, and today, it gets a rave national review:

Wicked and nefarious enemies and wondrous adventure flow from this exotic and utterly enthralling tale., November 4, 2007


Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)

Written by Albert A. Dalia, a scholar of medieval Chinese history and culture for four decades, Dream of the Dragon Pool: A Daoist Quest is an amazing novel based on the historical death-sentence exile of China's beloved poet-adventurer Li Bo (also Li Bai, 701-762 A.D.). A fanciful tale of myth and wonder, told as traditional Chinese-style heroic fiction, Dream of the Dragon Pool follows Li Bo on his journey toward certain death in faraway Burma/Myanmar. Unconcerned about the threat of his imminent demise, Li Bo sees his travels as a quest for poetic inspiration. Along the way he befriends the emperor's most powerful shamaness, accidentally awakens the horrific Blood Dragon and its ghostly slaves, and stumbles into possession of the coveted and legendary Dragon Pool Sword after a dream visit from a Daoist Immortal. Wicked and nefarious enemies and wondrous adventure flow from this exotic and utterly enthralling tale.

Friday, November 2, 2007

From Pleasure Boat Studio!

National recognition for

Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press

USA Book News has just announced its National Best Book 2007 Awards

and two of our books have been singled out!

Speak to the Mountain: The Tommie Waites Story,

by Dr. Bessie W. Blake

(published under the Aequitas Press imprint)

has placed as a Winner in the

Religion: Christianity category.


Dream of the Dragon Pool: A Daoist Quest,

by Albert A. Dalia

has placed as a Finalist in the

Fiction & Literature: Fantasy/Science Fiction


We want to congratulate Bessie and Albert for these awards. It’s a great honor to win when we are up against books from Simon & Schuster, Random House, Harper Collins, Putnam-Penguin – all the biggies.

A complete list of winners and finalists in each category can be found at:

Jack Estes, Publisher
Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press
201 West 89 Street
New York, NY 10024
Fax: 888-810-5308

A Cloudy Day Suddenly Brightens!

Well, no sooner than I write that my publisher has limited funds for a publicity campaign than he pulls one out of his magic hat!

My publisher just notified me that my wuxia novel, Dream of the Dragon Pool - A Daoist Quest placed as an Award-Winning Finalist in the Fiction & Literature: Fantasy/Science Fiction category of the National Best Book 2007 Awards (http://www.usabooknews.com/bestbooksawards2007.html).

This should afford us a lot of needed publicity and give a big push to the English language wuxia literary movement - join us! ;-}


The Innkeeper

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Random Thoughts about Book Promotion on a Chilly Gray Day

A month or so ago, I purchased a copy of Steve Weber’s Plug Your Book! to help me in my efforts to promote my wuxia novel, Dream of the Dragon Pool – A Daoist Quest. Based on Steve’s advice, I managed to get a spot on M.J.Rose’s blog (Backstory) that features novelists who want to share “secrets, truths, and logical and illogical moments that sparked their fiction.” Well, I’m the featured novelist for Nov. 1st. I don’t know if my piece is particularly enlightening regarding what sparked my fiction, but you can find it at www.mjroseblog.typepad.com/backstory. Let me know what you think.

My publisher, Pleasure Boat Studio, is a small literary press; being small they don’t have a huge budget to mount promotional campaigns for all their books. So I’m the promotional, marketing, and PR department for my novel. It is an interesting role, as I’m probably in a better position than my publisher to gage my audience. Or at least, I hope so! One of the things I’m learning in this role is that manga and graphic novels are really where it’s at in our type of fiction.

So I’ve been busy writing to those publishers to see if any of them would be interested in publishing Dream of the Dragon Pool in manga or graphic novel form. Did you really think that a novelist’s life was just writing? Perhaps, if you hit the big time, but starting out it doesn’t necessarily work that way. The majority of published fiction writers are right out there promoting their books. Guess that’s why the daytime job is so important for us.

If you’ve visited my website, www.thedragongateinn.com, you’ve notice the Wandering Blades Grotto Store. I didn’t set that up with the intention of going into the book store business, rather I set it up as a statement of those books and movies that have influenced my brand of wuxia. If you drop in there, you’ll notice that I’m also a big fan of Japanese Anime and Japanese samurai movies. There’s a lot to learn from the Japanese take on “heroic fiction.” As they did in their history, they’ve been able to combine traditional ways with the most modern technology and themes in their storytelling.

Now, I’m speaking here totally from the storytelling point of view – as I do most of the time in this blog, for it is the subject that most interests me. I’ve found that their mix of the modern and traditional can be very stimulating to my storytelling imagination. Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿, Miyazaki Hayao) is one of my favorite anime producers. The man is a genius, a gentle genius who, in a very humble way, makes powerful statements about life. Princess Mononoke (1997) totally blew me away. I also love airplanes, so Porco Rosso (1992) with Miyazaki’s lovingly painted Italian seaplane is fantastic! And of course, Castle in the Sky (1986) and Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Talk about heroes and the jianghu, Miyazaki’s movies a full of such stuff.

I recently saw another amazing anime, Ninja Scroll (獣兵衛忍風帖, Jūbei Ninpūchō, 1993). Amazing ideas, great action, and some very interesting characters. All of these films are food for the mind! I highly recommend the work of Susan J. Napier if you want a bit of the academic look at Japanese anime. She is a very intelligent fan and thinker regarding this art form.

Thinking along the lines of Japanese inspired heroic fiction, now that the DVD is out, I’ve been enjoying repeated viewings of the movie, Transformers. Great wuxia! That film stands up to repeated viewings, the humor is great and each time I see it, I find more of it.

As for the manga/graphic novel world, if any of you have ideas about which publishers would be good to contact regarding my novel, please feel free to drop a note to the marketing department – ME!

Stay warm and stay in the Jianghu!


The Innkeeper