Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Secret ingredients

To explain or not to explain.

I've been working on the next draft of Sister Soul, and I'm wrestling with how much explanation I should provide regarding some Japanese mythology that adds an extra level of intrigue to the story.

The opening scene of my book takes place in L.A.'s Little Tokyo district on the first day of Nisei Week. The main character is watching a taiko drum performance while she waits for her dance performance to start. Things don't go smoothly, as one of the drummers falls into a trance and drums away to his own beat.

On its own, I think the scene is working to hint at some supernatural intervention. The taiko performance is something that's always popular at Nisei Week, so, on a surface level, I'm not reaching too much to include that in the scene.

But the mythology of how the taiko drums were created adds another element to the story that isn't necessarily obvious to people who aren't that familiar with Japanese culture. The maker of the first taiko drum is said to be Ame no Uzume, who used the drum to summon out the Amaterasu, the goddess of sunlight.

It so happens that, in my story, the goddess of sunlight plays an important role, and it's her absence that leads to much of the main conflict.

I've tried adding some hints to the myth among the characters' banter, but everything I've tried so far has felt awkward. So, I'm wondering if this is something I should explain, or if I should simply leave it as an extra information nugget that only a few people would understand.


What's Peanut eating? Ham.


  1. I would work it into the drummer's trance, if that's possible. Just slip into the narrative directly. You only need a few hundred words to tell the myth, right? That's how it's done in folktales: "So-and-so the drummer followed his own drumming into a trance. It has been known to happen before on taiko drums, ever since Ame no Uzume built the first one, to summon out the Amaterasu. Ame no Uzame was a magician..." or whatever. Think of the drum as an electron microscope or some other obscure piece of technology. How would you explain its use to a reader? You know I always think exposition should be as straightforward as possible to slow the story down as little as possible.

    I am not eating ham. I did have two heart-shaped cookies that Mary slipped into my bag this morning. They had pink frosting and bright read lettering. One said "hug" and the other said "kiss." Last night we had crepes with chicken, mushrooms, and asparagus with gruyere cheese bechamel. Note Oxford comma, just for you, Malasarn. Say hey to Big Red.

  2. Thanks, Scott. If you think including the information is worthwhile, I may play with it more. The POV is in third person, but it sticks close to the main characters, so I'd have to get the information out even though the character doesn't know it herself.

    The fact that Mary slips cookies into your bag is lovely. I checked in my bag, and all I found were some airline peanuts that I hadn't eaten during my flight back from Austin. We had asparagus last night, but it had no crepe blanket. It was just lying there, naked, on the plate.

  3. One of the best things I did in my books was add more mythology to Scales. It was actually Scott's suggestion, if I'm remembering right. I felt like it might just feel like "telling", but I did figure out how to work it in creatively and now it's one of my favorite parts of the book. It's what I read at my reading for the launch party, even.

    I think it's worthwhile to add anything into a book that might make it a richer experience for the reader. I always worry about BORING my reader, but in the end, and with some time away, I realize I should usually keep that stuff in.

  4. Thanks, Michelle. I've always loved mythology, and I think the tie-ins are interesting. Now to figure out a way to include that information!