Sunday, August 3, 2014

On Seizing Serendipity (Guest post by Debra Atwood)

 Today I'd like to introduce a guest post by Deb Atwood, author of Moonlight Dancer, a timeslip novel rich in Korean history and the paranormal.  Here's the blurb:

A doll... a ghost... a love that transcends time.

Kendra JinJu MacGregor can resist neither the antique Korean doll in the dusty warehouse nor the handsome Hiro Peretti who sells it to her.

Once she brings the doll home, Kendra pays little attention to misplaced objects or her beloved dog's fear.  That is, until one terrifying night forces her to question her very sanity.  Soon, the ethereal, brooding NanJu manifests herself, and Kendra begins her travels through time to 16th century Korea into a history of conflict and intrigue.  For Kendra is about to discover the dark past of her ghostly visitor.

Now it's up to Kendra, with Hiro by her side, to interpret the past and prevent murder.  Everything depends upon Kendra's success, even -- she discovers to her horror -- her own life.

Deb Atwood has some fascinating research experiences to share with us.  Here's Deb, and her bio:

Deb Atwood

Deb loves Korean history and time-slip novels and feels a ghost is the perfect medium to bring history to life. She holds an MFA and resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and former shelter dog Nala. Deb’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies. Her time-slip novel Moonlight Dancer was selected as a front page Featured Review by Book Ideas.

Please visit Deb on Twitter here or at her blog.   She’d love to see you there!

To buy a copy of this wonderful book, click here.

On Seizing Serendipity

Serendipity with Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack.

You know the movie, right?

If the planets align or the fates allow (you choose), John C. and Kate B. aka Jonathan and Sara will find each other via a recycled $5 bill or an inscribed copy of Love in the Time of Cholera.

Silly you think? Kate is content (at least initially) to bow to destiny, a sort of que sera, sera on steroids approach. Not John. He hunts down every used bookstore in town, riffles through each Garcia Marquez tome in search of the novel bearing his love’s phone number.

In other words, he gives serendipity a nudge.

Those of us who write often take a page out of John’s book. (Sorry.) That is, we seize serendipity. In my own case, a desire to portray a strong woman in a neo-Confucian culture led unexpectedly to a dance, a battle, a bridge, and a myth.

The historical backdrop for my time-slip novel is 16th century Korea when Japan cast its covetous eye on Korea. The ensuing war pitted trained, merciless samurai against scrappy, inventive peasants. My favorite story involves a sea invasion in which Japanese invaders scaled a cliff wall to stage an attack. The Korean militia was vastly outnumbered, so following the direction of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, women donned soldiers’ uniforms. Under the moonlight at the edge of the cliff these brave women brandished torches and performed the traditional gang gang sullae dance. This display so frightened the Japanese that they rappelled back down the cliff wall, jumped in their boat, and sailed away. As my dad would say, “Never underestimate the power of a woman.”

Traditional gang gang sullae dance

Of course I had to use this story in my novel, but my first task was to locate that cliff. I read Admiral Yi’s diary Nanjung Ilgi. Alas, he made no mention of this event, so with a little authorial license, I chose a likely spot—the island of Jindo—in the southernmost province Jeallanamdo near Yi’s famous Crane formation battle. Ready to explore, my husband, daughter Hillary, and I traveled by train, then car to this remote locale. Interestingly, no Korean of my acquaintance has ever been to Jindo, and no Westerner I know had ever heard of this place.

That all changed on April 16th of this year when the ferry Sewol capsized, killing 304 people. One hundred seventy-two survived and were transported to Jindo for first aid and shelter. The waterways of Jeollanamdo are indeed treacherous, which the ingenuous Admiral Yi was able to exploit in his famous turtle boat battle against the Japanese.

No one would have predicted the Sewol disaster on that hot afternoon when husband, daughter, and I first rumbled along country roads in Jindo, nauseous from some questionable sushi in Myung Dong the day before. (Note to self: Never eat raw fish in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on a hot and humid afternoon.) Rumbling along that road, surrounded by high grasses tossing in the wind, I had no idea what I’d find.

Turns out, a remarkable natural phenomenon occurs in Jindo’s archipelago, a parting of the sea. Yes, it really happens. For one hour in the fourth lunar month, roughly May and again around July, the waters recede so that you can walk across a land bridge to a little island called Modo.

Archipelago off the island of Jindo

As is the case with many natural phenomena, this one comes with its own creation myth. I was delighted to discover the myth involves a streak of tigers, a family fleeing to safety on Modo, and a grandmother stranded and left to the mercy of the tigers. (Ditching Grandma is a pretty bad thing in a culture that venerates elders.) At any rate, Grandmother prays, and the Sea King conjures a rainbow path and parts the sea so she can run across the land bridge to her family. Here you can see a monument dedicated to the faithful grandmother.

Grandmother monument

What an unexpected gift was this find, so welcome after all the research that brought me to this point! I didn’t know it at the time, but this myth of the grandmother and the tigers, coupled with a true story of the war heroine NonGae, would figure into my novel Moonlight Dancer, would, in fact, provide the setting for the crisis that changed the life of my ghost NanJu.

So, a historic dance in a famous battle led me to a cliff, which overlooked a land bridge, which led to the discovery of a myth. Writers, particularly those invoking history, spend hours in research. Sometimes in the course of that research, if we’re lucky, a little serendipity comes our way. We’d be fools not to seize it.         


Thanks so much to Deb for this great post, which is true to the original (and often deviated from) purpose of this blog.  

The picture of the traditional Korean dance "Korean.Dance-03" originally by photoren - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

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