Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

First Page: The Slave’s Daughter

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.


Genre: Historical Fiction

Set at the turn of the 16th Century in the Chosun Dynasty of Korea.

 

Jang Nok Su, a slave, seduces the Cho-nah and goes on to become a feared royal concubine. But to keep her place as Cho-nah’s favorite, she must subtly eliminate her rivals in court using trickery and manipulation…before they eliminate her.

 

 


First Page:

I sat bound in a wooden cage, carried on a sedan through the streets of Dosung. Guards kept the people at bay. Some came with stones in hand, others shouted their grievances, but all fell silent and still upon seeing me. Though my royal dangui had been exchanged for the white robe of a felon, I still had the smooth skin and shining black hair of a fifteen-year-old, less than half my real age. It was one thing to ridicule the Cho-nah’s concubine from the other side of a palace wall, but in person, they had to show respect.

 

Kim Hyo Son was already dead. I begged Buddha to spare my sister and her children. And if Sin Bi failed to reach the mountain temple, my ghost would never let her rest. In that mountain temple, when I was six, my story began…

 

* * *

 

Clouds blurred the moon. Mother led Ki Su and me up the trail, warning us of low hanging branches and extruded roots well before we met them. When the flickering braziers of the monastery came into view, I clutched my sister’s sleeve.

 

“It’s a Tokebi’s campfire,” whispered Ki Su, walking her fingers like a spider up my back. “It’s going to eat you.”

 

“Ki Su-yah,” said Mother, “stop scaring your little sister.”

 

Two smaller pagodas flanked the main temple. From one pagoda came a chorus of snoring monks. The temple itself was not large, perhaps the size of three common rooms put together, and the doors were painted blood red. Three clay statues stared at me through a netted window.

 

Mother knelt to our level. “You must never speak of what you see here.”

 

“Yes, Ohma-ni,” we said.

 

She removed the twin jade rings from her forefinger, hiding them in a pocket inside her sleeve. The doors creaked open. A man peered out at us. I had never seen a monk before, his shaved head and bland clothes were something to behold. “Ahjuma-ni, why do you come at night?”

 

“My oldest is here to receive Buddha’s blessing.”

 

“Ah yes, I remember Ki Su. The little one must be Nok Su.”

 

Ki Su and I bowed.

 

The monk led us inside to a life-sized statue of Buddha sitting in meditation. Mother knelt on a flattened pillow and kowtowed before Buddha, turning her hands upward, showing her empty palms. The monk held a necklace of prayer beads, pushing a bead through his fingers after each bow. I lost count after twenty or so, distracted by Ki Su who lost the color in her face. I wondered what occupied her thoughts, and suddenly feared that the statues in the room might come to life. Did she see one move? I held her hand, she tightly gripped mine. “Ohma-ni, I remember this place. The day Oppa-”

 

“If Buddha is to be moved,” said the monk, “your Ohma-ni must pray with sincerity.”

 

Oppa? I wondered what our older brother had to do with this.

 

* * *

 

Mother pursed her lips to keep from grunting. The monk instructed Ki Su and I to help her stand and kneel until she completed her one hundred and eighth kowtow. The monk counted the final bead. “Your devotion to your children and fervor of prayer is impressive. Now that your mind is cleansed, take to heart the most important lesson: we are all Buddha.” He bowed and left us.

 

“He’s wrong,” I said innocently. “I am Jang Nok Su.”

 

“Ohma-ni,” said Ki Su, deadpanned, “I remember the day Oppa left. We did this the night before, exactly the same.” Mother embraced her. Not wanting to feel left out, I joined them.

 

Sadness hid behind mother’s smile, an expression worn by people staying positive through trying times, an attempt to trick tears into retreat. “Ki Su-yah…you’ve been sold.”

 

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

27 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 05:42:31

    I like a lot about this. I have no knowledge of the locale, culture or historical period, so I can’t comment on authenticity, but it FELT real, at least to me.

    I think the brief intro works, but part of the reason it feels necessary is because the part that follows feels quite slow. (That said, I’ve been reading Romances lately, with their emphasis on getting into the action fast – I think your pacing might be more accepted in historical fiction). There were times when I didn’t quite understand what was happening – why DID they have to go to the temple at night? why did the mother take her rings off? why did Ki Su lose the colour in her face after twenty beads? – but overall I was interested and engrossed.

    There’s a few nitpicky things – I think in the cloud-blurred moonlight a blood-red door would just look black. It wasn’t clear who was speaking the first time Oppa was mentioned. (“Ohma-ni, I remember this place…”) And you’ve got quite a few comma splices that should be tidied up. Also I didn’t like “deadpanned” in the context you used it – I’m used to seeing it as someone trying to keep a straight face through a joke, not in a traumatic situation.

    But overall, I’d read on. I don’t know much about the time period and it seems intriguing, and I like stories about women who find power even in oppressive situations. Your writing needs a bit of editing (for things like the comma splices) but otherwise seems readable and appealing. Thanks for sharing it!

    PS – I think part of the challenge of writing first person from a very young POV is that you can’t really explain things to the reader (b/c the character doesn’t understand them either). You can add details with an added narration from the older voice of the same character (“I didn’t understand then, but I’ve now come to realize that…”) but this creates distance from the story. I don’t know what the solution is, and I’ve never written from a similar POV. Maybe subsequent commenters will have suggestions?

  2. Deb Nam-Krane
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 07:10:47

    Having studied Korean history (and been raised by a Korean father), the emotional affect of the mother seems wrong. But I would probably still read it as I’m intrigued.

  3. Lil
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 07:14:31

    I’m fascinated.
    I know absolutely nothing about this time and place, so I can’t tell how accurate your depiction is, but the world you are creating sounds very real and convincing. I long to read more, and I sincerely hope that one day I will be able to.

  4. A Korean Reader
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 07:51:27

    I am not sure I understand why you have decided to alternate the use use the generic Korean terms for “Brother” or ” Mother” with “Ohpa” and “Ohma-ni.” Were you trying to establish the foreign feel of this? Will you be keeping up with these random phonetic Korean titles?

    There is no standard for romanization of Korean words, and your choices for dealing with the titles is distracting to me, as a person of Korean heritage.

    Also, while I understand for those who aren’t Korean the use of random Korean titless helps establish the “flavor” of the era and culture you’re trying to evoke, I’ll be honest – I feel uneasy. I’m wondering how you plan to appropriate the culture to tell your story and if you , as an author, have the cultural background to write the story without being exploitative.

    I would actually advise against using “Korean” to try to make this hinge on being Korean. Focus on explaining the setting and culture rather than using random titles.

  5. Wahoo Suze
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 10:19:45

    I’m intrigued, but you’ve got *** twice within your first page. If you’re going into a flashback one paragraph into your story, maybe you need to start somewhere else. And you definitely shouldn’t have a second time shift (if you’re using the *** the same way both times) on the first page.

    If you’re not using them the same way, then I’m really confused.

  6. Mary
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 10:24:05

    Okay…I am half Indian (from India), and so maybe Buddhism differs from country to country, and although the bowing and making offerings is definitely a thing, I feel like using the phrase “begged Buddha” seems off somehow…like it’s not something I can imagine a Buddhist saying. BUT…as I said, could be a cultural difference, etc. It’s just in the Buddhism I’ve always known, the chanting/bowing is to show respect, but Buddha isn’t a God so I’ve not really heard of people praying in that way. Praying in Buddhism is meant to help with meditation, and finding nirvana, NOT asking a deity for help/guidance. However, it’s entirely possible that by the time Buddhism reached Korea, that had changed. I know there are different branches of Buddhism.
    That’s just a nitpick, though. The writing, etc. seems fine…except this:
    “Ohma-ni,” said Ki Su, deadpanned, “I remember the day Oppa left. We did this the night before, exactly the same.”
    Deadpanned does mean blank-faced, but it is generally used in reference to comedy rather than trauma. Even if it is technically correct, it is such an unusual context that it will probably jerk the reader out of the story.

  7. Caro
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 10:48:58

    There’s a lot to like here. You’ve got a solid voice that intrigues me – like this:

    walking her fingers like a spider up my back

    an attempt to trick tears into retreat

    Nice touches.

    You also use your descriptions well in letting the reader feel a sense of unease:

    Three clay statues stared at me through a netted window.

    doors were painted blood red

    I am also intrigued by the unique setting. I don’t know much about Korea at all, and love historical fiction, so I would definitely keep reading.

    My problem is the three scene breaks make the pacing jerky.

    I wanted more of the first part – I wanted more of her in the first part. You also give me quite a bit of stuff to chew on in this first scene – for example:

    Kim Hyo Son was already dead. I begged Buddha to spare my sister and her children. And if Sin Bi failed to reach the mountain temple, my ghost would never let her rest.

    I’m assuming Kim is her brother-in-law? So he’s dead, her sister and children are at risk, and someone named Sin Bi is on a quest. Wow. A lot to deal with when what I’m really intrigued about is her being bound in a chair and staring down the crowd. I loved that and wanted more so I could center myself in her. Then the flashback would have had more impact for me emotionally. I would have connected to her as a child quicker and had more empathy. Not sure you really need the third scene break. Yes, time has passed, but it would be fairly easy to inject a transition sentence instead of a scene break.

    Quibbles – as Kate mentioned this –

    I held her hand, she tightly gripped mine. “Ohma-ni, I remember this place. The day Oppa-”

    Threw me off. Who says this? Her sister or the main character? This is where I got a bit confused about what was going on. I also didn’t think deadpanned was appropriate. And finally…

    “My oldest is here to receive Buddha’s blessing.”

    …confused me also. I thought Oppa was her oldest? Or at least Ki Su was. But then the mother prays and gets her wish – to sell her youngest?

    But I would have definitely read on. Good job.

  8. Sylvie Fox
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 11:04:32

    I really enjoyed this. I’ve read a lot of Korean historical and this seems mostly authentic. My only question is about the title of the book. My impression is that being a concubine is mostly desired by the potential concubine’s family (at least, if not the young girl herself) because of the rise in status, especially if the concubine can produce a living heir. So the slave part is a little confusing. Especially with the introduction about seduction. But I would definitely read on.

  9. SAO
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 12:53:53

    I find the idea of a book set in ancient Korea to be intriguing, however, I was unable to really get into this.

    I found the gaggle of characters and scenes in the first few paras to be way, way too much. Cho-na, Kim Hyo Sun, Ki Su, Ommi, Topeki, too much was thrown at me at once.

    Next, you whip-saw from a plot summary to an opening that seemed to take place after the summary (it looked to me like she was no longer the favorite when paraded in the cage) and then to before the story begins, when she is 6. I couldn’t really get in to any of what was going on, since by the time I figured out what was going on, we were in a completely different time period.

    The result is that I didn’t finish the page with any idea of who Jang is, what the beginning of the book is (are you starting with her as a 30+ royal concubine in a cage? or as a 6 year old?)? Without the summary, I’d have been clueless as to what the book is about.

    I just returned from a vacation to a Buddhist country (one very different from Korea) and I was struck by how your depiction of praying differed from what I learned and observed, but I can’t say I’m an expert. I probably wouldn’t have commented on this, but others had some of the same impressions I did.

    I thought you could show a bit more of what they are feeling. It sounds to me like Ki-Su is scared (rightfully so) she’ll be sent away, but rather than showing a tenseness of her shoulders, a clutch of Jang’s hand, you have her speak, deadpan. And you have yet another new name. So, I felt like I was being told of Ki-Su’s realization that a big change is coming, not feeling it. Plus, in this scene, Jang’s feelings are completely absent. Shouldn’t she feel the emotion in her mother, the slow realization of Ki-Su and feel something is wrong?

    The synopsis struck me as Jang was ambitious and chose to join a dog-eat-dog world with a bunch of women just like her. I wasn’t entirely sure why I should care that Jang wins. I think you need to refocus this. I can’t suggest anything without adding stuff that might not be in your book, so this is just an example,” Jang eagerly sought the coveted position as royal concubine, only to discover that it didn’t bring safety for her or her family; in the dog-eat-dog world of Cho-na’s harem, only the cleverest — and slyest survive.” Here, you still have the ambition and the stew of rivalry, but with the addition of a motive for Jang, you grab our sympathy.

    As a side point, I’d really like to know if the mother or someone else did the selling.

    Anyway, I think by starting with one scene and focusing on the feelings of your characters, you’ll have a great start to an interesting book.

  10. Violetta Vane
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 14:08:47

    Very interesting premise. The segue between the intro and the flashback is choppy and info-loaded though—I feel like the reader wants to spend more time in the present POV and experience some rich sensory and emotional detail before being thrown back into the past.

    I’m strongly against using foreign-language honorifics and family names and so on when a translated word could simply be used. For European languages, it sounds cheesy, like a Frenchman saying “Mon dieu!” in France just to remind everyone he’s French. For Asian languages it sounds cheesy and gives me an unpleasant exoticized/fetishized feeling. Sprinkling oppas seems just as bad as sprinkling -chans and -kuns in Japanese stuff. Asian languages and cultures aren’t uniquely untranslatable.

    The stuff about Buddha also seems weird to me, as a (Mahayana) Buddhist. My immediate question is… which Buddha? What’s the iconography? Is this Shakyamuni Buddha? Maitreya Buddha? Amida Buddha? Or maybe a Bodhisattva? Some (not all) Buddhists do pray in the sense of asking for divine intervention, but it’s not as simple as “begging” to an undefined Buddha. But representing Buddhism is incredibly hard and usually awfully done in genre fiction, so kudos for doing it at all.

  11. Sylvie Fox
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 15:27:00

    @Violetta Vane: I just realized that I watch or read historicals in Korean so I never thought about the translation issue of Oma or Ajuma or something like that – since I already know what they mean. If the book is for a mainstream English speaking audience, I guess some explanation of Korean honorifics would be in order. I think, however, it would be so weird to read someone referred Older Brother or Younger Sister, because it reads as formal where often it really isn’t, but maybe not. But what do you do when there isn’t really a translation for something like Ajuma (excuse my bad Romanizations)? Interesting challenge for the author.

  12. Mary
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 16:28:40

    @Violetta Vane: “Some (not all) Buddhists do pray in the sense of asking for divine intervention, but it’s not as simple as “begging” to an undefined Buddha. ”
    Yes, this is what I was trying to say. I know that each ‘branch’ (a better word is escaping me) of Buddhism has different traditions/methods of asking for help, but I didn’t think any of them would use the term “begging”.

  13. Nadia Lee
    Apr 20, 2013 @ 19:58:27

    @Sylvie Fox: My impression is that being a concubine is mostly desired by the potential concubine’s family (at least, if not the young girl herself) because of the rise in status, especially if the concubine can produce a living heir. So the slave part is a little confusing.

    The slave part may be confusing to some not familiar w/ the history and culture, but it was doable. In the earlier days of Chosun, it was much harder because producing a royal child didn’t automatically elevated your status (kings were producing too many children), but things changed later on.

    So the most notable ones are:

    Prince Yeonsan’s Jang Nok-Su (died 1506, and I wonder if this is the character depicted here and if so, how the author plans to make her sympathetic as Jang greatly assisted Prince Yeonsan), who rose to the rank of Sukyong in 1503 and was executed by the literati and military who hated and eventually rebelled against Prince Yeonsan. (He is generally considered the worst despot from the dynasty, and the kind of stuff he did is unspeakable.) I’m somewhat thrown off by the mention that the men were nicer/respectful to her even though she fell as many men had contempt for her for her low status and what they considered low moral.
    Sukjong’s Choi Sukbin (not her name, but her last name and rank, as her name is unknown), who was the lowliest servant at the palace. She served Queen Inhyun, who was disgraced (later restored), was a rival to another concubine Jang Hibin. Cho Sukbin’s son eventually ended up inheriting the throne (Youngjo, who ruled from 1724 to 1776).

    @SAO: Cho-na, Kim Hyo Sun, Ki Su, Ommi, Topeki

    The issue is that the half of them aren’t even names. They’re honorifics/titles.

    Cho-na = Your Royal Majesty
    Omme-ni = Mother
    Oppa = Older Brother
    Tokebi = ogre

    I’m not sure why the author chose to use Korean words rather than plain English words, which would’ve made it easier for people to follow the story.

  14. Matt (author)
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 00:43:25

    Thanks for the replies everybody!

    A number of people were curious about my usage of Korean terms. I decided to use Korean terms consistently in three instances:

    – Any place there wasn’t an easily understood English equivalent. Oppa, for example, translates to older male (can be a brother, but can be unrelated) who a younger female (the speaker) is on affectionate terms with. And later I use a word called “jung” that means the emotional place between friendship and romantic love.

    – When naming an item unique to Korea. Such as a no-ri-gae which is a sort of pendant with braided tassels.

    – For official titles. The reason I did this is because I believe readers (or me, at least) have a lot of preconceived notions about what a king is—the image, the authority—and I want them to see a Cho-nah as something new: a king that doesn’t necessarily have absolute power, that is bound by Confucian law and compelled to obey his elders in the royal palace. I also consider mother, father, uncle and aunt as official titles because I want to convey the importance of elders in Confucian society.

    I mostly keep the Korean terms within the dialogue so the reader can orient themselves using the narration. When writing the story it was very important for me to stay deep in Jang Nok Su’s POV. She never would have met someone who was unfamiliar with Chosunese culture, and thus never would have had to explain what a Tokebi is, for example. And that means I have to trust the reader to figure things out on their own. It was a risk that I figured would put some readers off in the beginning, but ultimately I feel it makes the book more authentic. @Sylvie Fox was pretty spot on with some of the challenges I faced while writing.

    Regarding Buddhism:

    The turn of the 16th century was an interesting time for Corea* (see note below on spelling) religiously. The Koryo Dynasty collapsed roughly a hundred years prior due to corruption in the Buddhist government. A Confucian regime took its place, and the Buddhists in the provinces were gradually pushed to the fringes. At the time the novel begins, Buddhism is seen as a taboo religion, though it is secretly practiced by common folk and many women who disliked the chauvinistic nature of Confucianism.

    @Mary is right in that Buddhism differs from culture to culture and that Nok Su’s begging Buddha seemed “off.” Nok Su spends most of her life rejecting the Corean Buddhist teachings. She believes that those who “want for nothing” end up with nothing, and the only way to survive is to take what you want. Thus she is not all that familiar with how Buddhism works, and what we see at the beginning is her having a moment of weakness.

    As for the authenticity of the prayer scene (where Nok Su’s mother is bowing), I can attest that this is how Corean Buddhists do it. I even tried it for myself, despite not being Buddhist, so that I could accurately describe the feeling. Your knees get really sore—and this is coming from a 28-year-old male. I have no idea how my fiancee’s 60-year-old mother does it.

    Thanks again for the replies! Those seemed to be the biggest issues, but I hope to reply to each comment personally to show my gratitude. Just give me a moment to collect my thoughts!

    *Corea was originally spelled in English with a C. It was changed during the Japanese colonial period because the Japanese didn’t like that C came before J in the English Alphabet. Petty but true. It might be an odd place for me to bring it up, but I’m hoping that it gets spread around.

  15. SAO
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 00:46:57

    @Nadia
    I’m not sure it matters whether the words are titles or names. When I read “mother,” I have an idea of who the char is. When you say “Omne-ni” or “Mary” or “Mrs. Kim,” I have to remember that the name/title refers to the mother. “Mrs. Kim” gives some information about sex, status, and relationship to other people with the last name of Kim); “Mary” reminds me that she’s a woman, but “Omne-ni” does nothing.

    What matters is how much I have to keep track of and how easy it is. While titles mean that there may be a name out there adding another thing to keep track of, the problem is the amount of stuff to keep track of. People famously complain about names in Russian novels because you have to remember that Stiva is also Stepan Arkadivich and Oblonsky and it’s not unlikely that all three are used on one page.

  16. Matt (author)
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 05:43:47

    @Kate Sherwood: And thanks for reading! I hope my comment above answers some of your questions. One I’m pretty sure I didn’t cover is why Nok Su’s mother removed the rings. The reason is because she didn’t want to offend the monks who shun material things (in theory). 6-year-old Nok Su wouldn’t be able to comprehend this reasoning though. Your absolutely right that it’s a challenge to describe the POV of someone so young. Ultimately I decided to simply describe what she sees along with her childish thoughts and trust the reader to figure things out. Otherwise I’d have to break the tight first person narrative.

    It looks like you’re not the only who’s unsure of who’s speaking in this dialogue:

    “Ohma-ni, I remember this place…”

    So I’ll have to slip in a tag there.

    @Deb Nam-Krane: I’m very glad you’re intrigued. Regarding the mother’s emotional response: My reasoning there is that slaves are taught from a very young age to not become attached to their families because they are often sold apart. Although Nok Su’s mother is attached to her children, as any mother would be, she’s attempting to put on a cool exterior to teach her children the “appropriate” way to behave when family members are sold.

    @Lil: Thank you! It’s been a whirlwind few months for me since I submitted this page to DA. I’ve recently begun working as an editor and my confidence has skyrocketed, so I’m thinking I might epub this book. Subscribe to the comments here and I’ll leave a comment saying when it’s out (should I choose to epub).

    @A Korean Reader: I hope my comment above clarifies my views on using Korean terms. You wondered about my cultural background, so here it is: I’m a Caucasian male born and raised in Canada. I was introduced to Korea’s history by the woman who became my research assistant for this book and who is now my fiancee—she’s a Korean and we met when she arrived in Canada to attend college. She showed me a k-drama called “The Immortal Yi Sun Sin” and it moved me unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I studied the history in-depth, learned to read and write Hangul. In short, I came to love Korea almost as much as I love her. And I did not write this book to exploit the culture. I just want to be a part of the wave that is bringing this beautiful tradition to this side of the pacific.

    I’ve studied Korean culture and history for about seven years now. This is the second book I’ve written about Korea—the first I had to scrap because I just wasn’t a good enough fiction writer yet. In preparation for this book, in addition to basic research, I read sources of Korean tradition including letters from ministers to the Cho-nah, and my research assistant gave me access to Korean language materials not yet available in the west.

  17. Matt (author)
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 05:45:26

    @Wahoo Suze: Yeah, I’m addicted to scene breaks. I definitely took the “Enter a scene as late as possible, leave as early as possible” advice literally. While not every page has multiple scene breaks, I feel it has more than the average book. And I’m glad you’re intrigued!

    @Mary: I hope my comment above answered some of your questions concerning Buddhism.

    A few people have brought up that they don’t like “deadpanned” used in that context. I’m using it as a synonym for inexpressive, but I’ll consider changing it…always kind of thought of “inexpressive” as a vanilla word, though. Hmm…

    @Caro: I’m happy you liked the voice and the descriptions! They were two of my weaknesses when I started out as a writer. Now it looks like the next thing I have to work on is limiting scene breaks…

    @Sylvie Fox: I’m very happy you enjoyed it. It looks Nadia answered your question about the title. It is frustrating that there are no exact, consistent romanizations of Hangul. What I tried to do was spell the word how it sounded (In the spirit of how the Hangul writing system was invented).

    @SAO: Ack, I’m sorry it didn’t hold you. Regarding your side note: Nok Su’s mother is a slave concubine of a nobleman. The jealous main wife sold the sister as well as the older brother.

    That is a lot of characters to throw out in the beginning, and a lot of terms that would likely be foreign to most readers. To be honest, if this were 100% fiction, I’d probably a lump a few characters into one, and if this were a fantasy I might do away with some of the terms, but I want to stay largely true to the history and the culture. These are a couple of issues that I struggled with for a long time (and still do).

    @Violetta Vane: I hope my comment above answers your concerns. Buddhism is an intricate religion with many incarnations that are not easily described. Since Jang Nok Su only knows one Buddha, and she doesn’t much care for his teachings, It’s difficult to show the reader the type of Buddhism practiced without breaking her POV. I tried my best to do it, though, so thank you for acknowledging that. And I’m glad you like the premise!

    @Nadia Lee: Yep, this story is about that Jang Nok Su. Alternately I was thinking about writing a story about Jang Hui Bin, but I felt readers would identify with Jang Nok Su’s rise from poverty. I also think she went to a far darker place.

    @Jane: Thanks for hosting! This was a wonderful experience.

  18. Nadia Lee
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 10:19:43

    @Matt (author): If you plan to use Korean terms, then you may want to be a bit more strict w/ how you romanize them. Cho-nah should really be Chonha 전하 and so on.

    I’ve not seen any records that portrayed Jang Noksu favorably. Most likely because she wasn’t a very gracious woman and fell so fast and so hard, and the fact that she was a shallow woman egging on a despot who was half-crazed and depraved. She also forced a situation to ensure that some woman who had the misfortune of stepping on her skirt to be executed (beheading), even though that woman was no threat to her politically or otherwise. So I think it’s interesting you chose her out of all the notable low-born women in Chosun. Choi Sukbin, for example, would’ve been more sympathetic than Jang Noksu as she not only overcame a lot of difficulties (it couldn’t have been easy to be a palace water girl/slave and serve Queen Inhyun and then have a prince who eventually became the king) but is also known for her loyalty. Or Jung Nanjung, who never became a royal concubine, but wielded more power than most royal concubines. (She started out as a daughter of a slave then became a kiseng herself before rising so high.)

    Anyway, good luck. I may take a look at your book when you publish it.

  19. Tia Nia
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 10:26:40

    I had the same reaction to “begging Buddha” and “deadpanned.” But a basic grammar error took me completely out of the story. Would you say “The monk instructed I”? No. You would say “The monk instructed me.” So why on earth would you say “The monk instructed my sister and I”? This is lazy writing and causes me to cringe. I hope you belong to a critique group, and I hope your critique group includes a grammar maven. Such a grammar maven should protect you from this kind of error.

  20. Gillyweed
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 14:24:21

    This was pretty good — I would definitely read more. I found the first paragraph intriguing but wished that the intro section was longer than two paragraphs. The conflict presented in the second paragraph seemed abrupt, like there were some paragraphs missing in between. It felt more like a blurb than a part of the story.

    Re: Tia Nia’s comment about “my sister and I” — I noticed that as well, but didn’t think it was a huge deal since the writing was more than capable and that kind of thing can always be fixed during the publishing process. I don’t think it’s all that constructive to focus on a single grammar mistake when the writing is otherwise competent. If that’s the kind of thing that your critique group is focusing on, then run far, far away. :)

    Re: Nadia Lee’s thoughts about Jang Noksu — I’m intrigued by the possibility that she could be an ambiguous heroine. Perhaps the author’s premise is that she’s been misunderstood by history? I can’t think of any right off, but I know there are stories where a real person tries to redeem himself or herself in the eyes of history, or at least tries to tell his or her side of the situation. I would be interested to read that kind of story.

  21. Matt (author)
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 14:43:01

    @Nadia Lee: In the manuscript, I originally wrote Cho-nah as Chon-ha, but the “ha” at the end really bothered me because I could visualize so many people mispronouncing it as the “ha” in “ha-ha” and not “aww” as “ㅏ” is pronounced in Hangul. I’m not sure whether you’re a native Korean speaker, but as an outsider learning the language in adulthood, the biggest barrier I faced was the completely inaccurate sounding “official” English Romanizations.

    There are a lot of great stories in Korean history, aren’t there? When I went about creating this book, it was important to me not to simply retell a popular Korean story in English. I wanted to put a fresh perspective on something, and after researching Jang Nok Su, I saw that there hasn’t been many attempts to humanize her or to uncover her motivations. Even stories that portray Yeonsan as a tragic figure mostly paint her with a black brush.

    I’ve always had a difficult time finding test readers who are familiar with the culture, so I very much appreciate your input. Thank you, Nadia.

    @Gillyweed: Thanks! That pronoun error has been corrected in the manuscript. You’re right in that Jang Nok Su is telling her side of history. I don’t really want to give away more than that because I hope one day you will read it!

  22. Mary
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 16:38:22

    @Matt (author):
    Thanks for clearing up all the Buddhism issues! I really appreciated your response/knowledge. It’s just so often that people misrepresent Buddhism that it’s sort of a PANIC moment for me (:

  23. Nadia Lee
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 20:54:15

    @Matt (author): Yes, I can speak and read Korean natively, and though the vowel is “aaa”, it actually has a subtle H in chon-ha because of the way it’s written (since you said you can read Korean text, look at the actual Korean text and see how it’s written out) and spoken. (Watch a few really good historical dramas with actors and actresses with excellent diction, and you’ll notice the difference between 아 and 하.) An actress was mocked mercilessly for pronouncing it as “chon-ah 전아” as you wrote it due to poor pronunciation, though I cannot recall the title of the drama anymore (it was a very bad one).

    Yoensan was considered tragic by some because of his mother’s history and the fact that he grew up under Great Queen Insoo. Insoo was by far the most strict and educated woman at that time, not to mention politically savvy and managed to destroy everyone in her path. Given her personality, she probably didn’t approve of Yoensan’s artistic inclinations or manic outbursts.

    Then there was his tendency toward vulgar entertainment and disregard for the strict court rules. Noksu called him by his childhood nickname, which was forbidden. (Nobody could say kings’ given names out loud, and the Chinese characters for their names were banned from use.) She also helped him rape wives of court officials and even his relatives.

    Low-born women who were judged harshly tended to be non-king-producing ones. Meaning, their sons never got to be the king. Though Jang Huibin was considered “evil” by some (her mother-in-law hated her so much that she was expelled from the palace and couldn’t return until MIL’s death), because her son inherited throne, she wasn’t vilified as much as Jang Noksu, Kim Gaettong, Jung Nanjung, and so on.

  24. Matt (author)
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 15:20:14

    @Mary: No problem! And I appreciate your comments!

    @Nadia Lee: I get what you’re saying. My hesitation to use the proper pronunciation of Chon-ha stems from something that happened while I was getting critiques for the first Korea-related book I wrote several years ago. I had a name in there that was written as it is pronounced in Korean, but I guess it sounded funny to the English readers so they commented on how ridiculous they thought it was. Eventually someone pointed out that it was a Korean name and that there was nothing wrong with it, but the whole thing served as a distraction. When I saw “Chon-ha” on my computer screen, I thought, “Is that ‘ha’ going to distract some readers?”

    Maybe I’m over-thinking it. It looks like my altered pronunciation is distracting English-speaking Korean readers, so maybe I should just go with Chon-ha. Or maybe there is some other answer. Thanks for leading me to think about this issue.

    Yeah, Insu’s hatred of Yeonsan stems from his being a reminder of the one blotch on her otherwise spotless record as the “ruler” of Chosun—appointing his mother queen and then having to banish her because she struck the king. And when Yeonsan learned of the horrible thing Insu did to his mother while she was in exile, that’s when he snapped.

    Is Dong Yi the drama you’re thinking of? I recall my fiancée saying that a lot of people were making fun of the main actress in that series. I was so excited when that drama came out because it was made by the same people who made Jewel in the Palace (you probably know it as 대장금), but I couldn’t get into it because it felt like an imitation.

  25. Matt (author)
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 13:22:47

    This is available as an ebook now.

    Description on Amazon:

    “Set at the turn of the 16th Century in the Chosun Dynasty of Korea.

    Jang Nok Su, a slave, seduces the Chon-ha and goes on to become a feared royal concubine. But the Highest Grand Queen cannot abide a slave sharing the royal bed, and pits her agents against Nok Su.

    To keep her place as the Chon-ha’s favorite, Nok Su must disgrace, control, or kill her rivals in court one-by-one using trickery and manipulation. She cannot be implicated. She cannot lose face or she will be cast out… Maybe even executed. Those are the rules of the deadly game played by palace concubines. ”

    Amazon links:
    US
    UK
    Canada
    Australia

    Thanks everyone for the helpful suggestions when this first page was posted last spring. I hope some of you subscribed to these comments and that you read and enjoy the book!

  26. wikkidsexycool
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 14:24:43

    Hi Matt,

    I didn’t comment on your first page, but I remember liking it. Congratulations on your book! I’d like to make a few suggestions if I may. First, the cover model is beautiful, but imho the cover has a sweet, almost anime look to it.

    If you’re going to create your own covers, its important to look at what others have been successful with. There are a number of stock photo sites that have sensual covers you may want to try.

    123rf, Big Stock Photo, Dreamstime and Deposit Photos are reasonable in cost. Istockphoto costs more, but their Vetta collection is stunning. Remember that readers first see your cover before they read your blurb, and an arresting cover can help pique interest. Here’s an example:
    http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-8571658-asian-woman-with-tattoo-on-her-back.php

    Or you could go with no one on the cover. The sites I’ve mentioned have photos of ancient buildings that may suit your book.

    Second, I believe your book should be higher in the rankings since it just came out. If you’re not on twitter, you should be. You have to promote your novel and have friends also re-tweet about your book. Some good hashtags to use are #Kindle #ebook #Amazon #romance.

    Also, recheck your main categories. Your book may be more suited for a multicultural category and most definitively it should be in historical romance, in order to have more people see it. Self published authors have two main categories to choose from (Major publishers get five). These are the most important in getting your book seen. If you don’t it will fall in the rankings and Amazon’s algorithm won’t pick it up. Once your book falls it takes a mighty effort to get it back up so that Amazon’s free publicity kicks in. But it can be done, and you’ve still got time.

    Writing is only half the battle. Now you must market it, and find your audience. What ever you do, don’t give it away for free. Kindle Select can help get your book seen, but only take perhaps up to eight to ten chapters (I don’t know how long your book is) and create a look-see which should generate sales for the actual book. I usually do a “sneak peek” in categories such as romance and African American romance. My abbreviated excerpts generate interest, which also generate sales (simultaneously using twitter to promote the free excerpts using hashtags #free #excerpts #historical romance, etc). I wish you all the best with this.

  27. Matt
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 15:57:00

    @wikkidsexycool: Hi! Thanks for the great advice!

    I actually designed the cover model myself in photoshop based on a drawing from a friend of mine. I wanted to make an original image because I saw a blog post (was it on DearAuthor?) that was making fun of a bunch books for using the same stock images on their covers, and that worried me a bit. It took me several months to learn photoshop to make that cover so I admit I’ve become attached to it…

    I think what you’re suggesting is a sexier, more provocative cover, correct? I worry I might be misrepresenting the book if I did that because, although the book does have a romantic hero—her first husband, a slave—the heroine chooses to leave him halfway through the book to seduce the Chon-ha and become a royal concubine. And from there the book takes a dark turn, so if I classify it as a romance, readers might be upset? Right now the categories I have it in are “Eastern Drama” and “Historical Thriller” to represent the second half of the book. I also have it in “Asian Drama & Plays.” If I took it out of Historical Thriller and put it in a more visible romance category, I’m not sure if that would be acceptable or not. Hmm…

    Wow, thanks for your advice about not giving it away for free. I was seriously considering that and may have dodged a bullet. I don’t regularly use social media, but you’re right that I need to get on twitter. I just don’t know how to build a following from ground zero. I was thinking maybe I could submit the book for reviews on places like DearAuthor.

    Giving away excerpts is a great idea. Seeing your website, I suppose I’ll have to set up a blog to do that. Anyway, thanks again for all this advice. You’ve made my day!

%d bloggers like this: