There and Back Again: South Korea

Well, that was a trip that ended way too soon. Second time back in Korea and I expected to be a little less enchanted. Nope – there is still so much more to discover and fall in love with. From bustling Seoul to rustic Jeju, the quaint streets of Busan to Jeonju with its old-world charm, every part of South Korea had something unique to offer. It’s a country so rich in culture and history – albeit tumultuous – it’s not hard to see why the locals are so fiercely proud of their home.

I’ve only been back in Singapore for two days and already I’m missing Korea’s crisp, cool autumn air, the sight of maple and gingko leaves brightening up every street, immaculately dressed men and women, the distinct character of small towns and the crackling energy of bigger cities, and readily available clean, healthy Korean food (why is it so hard to find some kimbap or kelp around Singapore??).

Suffice to say, I’m missing Korea big time. For now, while I continue my hunt for kimbap (recommendations welcome!) or seriously consider making it myself, here’s a recap of the trip:

(Click on the arrows for more pictures!)

Can you tell that fall is my favourite season? What’s yours?

Ahhh, Jeju Island. I fell head over heels in love with it the first time round and the feeling hasn’t waned since. Situated at the southern tip of Korea, this island relies mostly on its tourism and agriculture industries. It is the polar opposite of metropolitan Seoul. The roads are long, narrow and winding, and shops close by 6pm in fall. Streetlights are sparse, and winds are strong. Waves crash against pitch-black basaltic rocks that make up the island after Hallasan, the island’s volcano became extinct after its last eruption in 1007 A.D. Eulalia grass grow tall along the roads and bend in the chilly sea breeze. Apple, pear, and tangerine trees are heavy with their autumn bounty. Mornings are frosty and tranquil, which makes a bowl of piping hot abalone porridge perfect for starting off the day.

Sunset in Jeju is a sight to behold. The light there is soft with the promise of tomorrow, and it makes you look forward to another day while being thankful for this one.

People who know how much I love the sea have told me I’d love Busan. And I did. I love this quaint little town by the coast, with its cultural village filled with street art and cute cafés, and even an ancient temple by the sea.

I can’t stop thinking about these two places. They are so surreal in their beauty, so timeless and serene, I could just stay there all autumn and drink in every sight and sound – the rustle of dry leaves, elderly couples on leisurely hikes, the way the sun filters through pine and maple leaves, turning them golden and amber, and this jolly monk singing English oldies along the hiking trail:

I loved Everland the first time I was there, and the second time did not disappoint. The gardens, the rides, the zoo, excited kids running everywhere, parents with their adorable babies, the souvenir shops… Everything I love about amusement parks, Everland has it. Plus, going in fall means there are some pretty spectacular views since Everland is situated on a mountain.

Myeongdong was a lively labyrinth of food carts and street stalls selling idol merchandise, apparel, souvenirs, and more – all juxtaposed against higher-end department stores, boutiques, and fancy cafés. We ate as we walked and tried to take street photos as surreptitiously as we could.

The highlight of our last day in Korea and a splendid finish to our trip: Changdeok Palace. Palaces have always enchanted me, and Changdeokgung’s beauty speaks for itself. I literally dreamed about this place the night after I returned, because it felt like there were so many stories to unearth there. It made me want to rewatch Scarlet Heart: Ryeo (which I raved about around this time two years ago) and write a story filled with palace politics, treason, betrayals, assassination, and romance … oh wait, I’M ALREADY WRITING ONE*.

*Speaking of which, I’m just four scenes away from the THE END. This trip has re-inspired me to work harder and faster on this manuscript, but while I’m excited to finish draft one at last, I also don’t want it to end because painful as it is to get the words out, the process of exploring a new world, premise, time and place is so much fun! 

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, thank you and I hope this post has whetted your appetite for South Korea if you haven’t been there already. GO. Then come back and fangirl with me over its beauty and culture.

Now, before I head over to rewatch Scarlet Heart (any recommendations for other historical Korean dramas, preferably set in the Goryeo dynasty?), here are some souvenirs from the trip:

 

Till next time,

Joyce x

 

 

Refilling the creative well

So in the vein of Self-Care Week, I’ve gone back to watching dramas, something I’ve denied myself for a long while because I was too busy writing and plotting and basically being stuck in WiP head-space. (If you recall, the last drama I watched was Revolutionary Love.)

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And just after watching four episodes of BRIDE OF THE WATER GOD, I’ve thought up a whole opening scene and developed a rough outline for another WiP (it’s contemporary romance, that’s all I can say for now). Plus, watching something vastly different from what I’ve been working on has pulled me out of LAND OF SAND AND SONG world and into another. It’s such a refreshing and much-needed change of scenery, and I feel myself getting hydrated and nourished again.

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I’m such a sucker for pretty, romantic scenes like this. Can’t quit, won’t quit K-dramas.

Also, I’ve gotten started on this week’s short story!! I have the opening line ready and I’m so excited to get started.

It’s amazing what pulling your head out of your ass can open your eyes to. I’d been doggedly planting myself in story world, thinking that I have to read books and watch shows and listen to music that are in the same mood as the manuscript so that I wouldn’t get influenced in any other direction. But all it did was make me weary of that world I had created.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate LAND (at least, not yet). I’m still enamoured with that story and that world.  I just hate chasing word count.

So I guess this self-care thing is working out so far, and it’s actually feeding my brain instead of robbing it of the space and energy to write. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed lately, I recommend giving this a go. You don’t have to stop creating completely – just tone down the intensity and leave some time to do other things that make you a happy and nourished writer. Fill up your well if it’s running dry!

Thanks to everyone who responded to my last post – be it here, on Instagram, or through private message/email. You have no idea how uplifting it was to hear from you, to know that you’re in the same place but that you feel less alone after reading that post, to exchange words of encouragement because sometimes, that’s really all we need – to know that someone out there is listening and looking forward to the stories we want to tell. ♥

I Need a Break

This is something I don’t talk about normally. At least, not to people other than those in my inner circle. But I think it’s necessary to talk about the bad stuff as it is to celebrate the good stuff.

I think I need a break – from work, from writing – at least for a while. Like, step away completely for a week or so.

I feel like I haven’t caught a breath since April, when my dad was hospitalised for a bleeding tumour in his brain. Since then, I’ve just been taking care of him while trying to hit word count on the manuscript every single day. On top of the day job. On top of exercising twice a day. On top of recovering from my own partial thyroidectomy.

I don’t know why I do this to myself. It sounds almost like I’m punishing myself sometimes – that I need to exercise to “work off” my lunch (the only proper meal I have in a day), to write at least 500 words every day after getting home from the day job before going to bed and at least 1,000 words on weekends (free time? what free time?), that I need to get the manuscript done by a certain date and become a published author by a certain age. That I get so fixated on the finish line (although really, that thing is a moving target that will always shift just a little out of reach every time we come close to it) and I forget to enjoy the journey.

I might take a week off from work – but I get the feeling that I’ll just end up writing anyway. I can’t seem to take a break from writing or thinking about writing. Every minute I’m not writing, I feel like I’m wasting my life. There’s this voice in my head that goes, “Almost 28 years old and you still haven’t published your next book. How much more time are you planning to take to realise your dream?”

Which, I know, is completely unhealthy. We talk a lot about self-care, especially writers, who load a lot of unnecessary pressure on ourselves because damn we’re hard on ourselves sometimes. But often we don’t realise just how relentlessly we’ve been working or how hard we’ve been pushing ourselves until we get burned out. For the past few nights since hitting 60k on the novel, I’ve been crashing into bed early and taking naps on the weekend (something I NEVER do) because I’ve been so. tired. And this morning, I just experienced heart palpitations (which has occurred before).

I’m not writing this to offer solutions or preach about how we need to take care of our mental well-being, because heck, I’m just as clueless about this. I’m just here to share everything that’s been going on internally and hopefully – if you’re going through the same shit – make you feel less alone in this.

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So if you have any advice or suggestions on how to just relax and kick back without worrying about wasting time or not hitting your goals, please share! In the meantime, I’m off to hit up a bookstore and maybe have a guilt-free lunch to kickstart Self-Care Week.

Take care of yourselves too, loves!

updates from the writing bubble

I’ll be honest here. The reason I haven’t been blogging for so long is because I’ve been completely consumed by two things:

  1. THE NOVEL

    I’ve been making steady progress (average of 3K words per week) on LAND OF SAND AND SONG (moodboard below!) since the start of May and am at 54K words now, neck deep in Act 2. *happy writer dance*

    It may not seem like that much, 3K a week. But factor in the day job, commuting, exercise and sleep (both of which crucial to the creative process), and a semblance of social life, that leaves only a few hours of writing time each day. All things considered, this slow but steady progress is something I’m rather proud of.

    While I used to beat myself up for not hitting word count every day (“Seriously, Joyce. Is it that hard to write 500 words?”), now I just set myself a vague goal of 3K to 4K a week. If I hit it, great. If I exceed it, even better. But if I don’t, NBD. I’ll just write more the next week to make up for it.

    Besides, word count is not the only proof that a writer is hard at work. There are a lot of things that a writer does when not writing. We could be brainstorming, fixing plot holes, digging deeper into our characters’ psyches, developing character or plot arcs. A lot of the writing process does not take place on the page per se, but in our heads. So even if the word count doesn’t reflect my efforts, as long as I’ve developed the story further (which inevitably makes for faster and smoother writing), I can sleep in peace.

    Be kind to yourselves, writers!!

  2. CUTIES ON HIHO

    I’ve been HOOKED on this YouTube channel, HiHo Kids. Ernie, Austin, Crystal, Clara, and GG are so flipping adorable and sweet I could watch them all day (and hope they don’t grow up too quickly)!

    I first watched the “Kids Describe…” series with this talented Japanese-American illustrator Koji Minami and was smitten at the way he interacted with the kids.

Isn’t Ernie an absolute bundle of joy?

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Awww, I just heart these two!

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Koji + Ernie = pure love

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Look at the love in Ernie’s eyes! The kids love and look up to Koji so much, it makes my heart so full.

This one brought tears to my eyes, especially when Crystal asked sombre questions like “What is the hardest part about growing old?” and “Are you afraid of dying?”

Aren’t they all just pwecious?

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Austin!!! Did you know that he wanted to grow his hair long because Koji used to have long hair too?

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THOSE CHEEKS!!! And that little bow-tie!

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And just as I was already squealing over how adorable Austin is, his baby brother Adrian came along and I just lkdfajsdklfjsdkla

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Have a great week, everyone! ♥

manuscript roundup + aesthetics

Ask any writer and she’ll probably tell you that she’s working on several projects at the moment, whether they’re still slow-brewing in the recesses of her mind or already splayed out in their messy 56782th-draft glory.

(Note: We’re not talking about the weirdos who devote themselves to one project at a time.)

The question, then, is which one we should work on. The one that keeps us up all night and creeps into our mind when we drift away, of course. But what if ALL those plot bunnies are simultaneously doing the can-can in your head?

can can dance

It’s the classic case of too many stories, too little time. I CAN’T WRITE FAST ENOUGH for all you ideas, so if you could just form an orderly queue that would be really helpful thanks.

Will you, dear readers, help me decide? Drop a comment, send a private note or text if you have strong opinions on which WiP I should focus on now, because they’re all calling out to me in my dreams.

 

NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND

Pitch: With the help of her long-lost childhood friend, Gemma has to piece together her fragmented memories of imaginary adventures in Neverland to find out what happened to her missing parents.

Genre: YA contemporary

Status: Complete (Draft 9), but final edits required (damn typos will one day be the death of me, I swear).

 

BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU

Pitch: In a world where memories can be deleted, stored, and exchanged, Isabel and Lucas visit the memory killer to erase their painful memories, only to find themselves starting to forget everything, including each other.

Genre: YA magical realism

Status: Draft 1, page 217 (abandoned in early 2017 and I’m revisiting it now, but Act 3 does not want to reveal itself to me).

 

LAND OF SAND AND SONG

Pitch: After her chieftain father is ousted by rebel clans over a magical spring, 17-year-old Desert Rose seeks revenge by assassinating the person instigating the rebellion: the corrupt Emperor Zhao, who will stop at nothing to possess the elixir of life from the spring.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Draft 1, page 117 (WHAT FUN. MUCH EXCITES).

 

BLOOD PROMISE

Pitch: After her brother is captured for stealing fruits from the mercenary Traders who serve the fairies, April allies with a long-lost fairy prince and sets out on a rescue mission … only to find herself caught in a brewing fairy civil war where humans and changelings alike serve as pawns in the game.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Draft 6 (abandoned for two and a half years – it’s a hot mess, subplots all over the place, characters popping up in the middle of the story, convoluted story line, etc.).

 

 

LOVE POTIONS AND OTHER MYTHS (WORKING TITLE)

Pitch: The town of Blissville has the highest proportion of happy couples in the country. Dragging along her two best friends, “realist, not a cynic” Ravenclaw-girl Ruby Lou goes to investigate … and traces the source of all that romantic bliss down to a bakery owned by Henry Lee, a diehard romantic Hufflepuff-boy, who might just be Cupid in disguise.

Genre: YA contemporary romance

Status: Brewing, bubbling, simmering

 

A WORLD APART

Pitch: Sylvia is born with a condition that turns her insides to glass. To obtain the cure, she needs to find one of her doppelgangers in a parallel universe. Enter Wes, a runaway prince from another dimension, who is trying to save his war-torn kingdom HAHAHA I CLEARLY HAVEN’T THOUGHT THIS ONE THROUGH.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Fetus

 

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On meeting Alwyn Hamilton and resisting the siren song of Shiny New Idea

I know. I KNOW it’s been two whole months since I last blogged, and if you actually visit this blog and aren’t in regular contact with me you might have wondered if I died in a ditch somewhere.

No, I just died in my writing cave.

i need help

Because while I wasn’t blogging, I was busy working on that fantasy novel. Once or twice, I did feel guilty for not updating this blog and toyed with the notion of posting something. But I didn’t really have much to say that wouldn’t bore the lights out of everyone anyway. Plus, I feel even MORE guilty for doing anything other than writing that novel. Like, all this time I spend blogging can actually be spent upping my word count! Do I really need to blog?

But now that I’ve hit word count for the day, yes I can and yes I shall. (Need is a very strong word, after all.)

So updates:

  1. Meeting Alwyn Hamilton!!
    The most squeal-worthy one, of course, is that I got to moderate a session with ALWYN HAMILTON, THE ALWYN HAMILTON. Best-selling author of YA fantasy trilogy Rebel of the Sands, which I’ve gushed and swooned over everywhere!!!

 

Yes, so I got to meet her and pick her brain and she was incredibly sweet and candid as she shared about her writing process and journey to publication and I tried not to wet my pants in excitement.

(If you haven’t read her books yet, DO IT.)

 

 

 

It’s always so inspiring to see other writers living the life I’ve always wanted, and to know that they came from the same place before too (in a job they weren’t entirely committed to because they didn’t see it as their actual career). It makes me that much more determined to get to that place too.

So with that event done and dusted, I promptly went back to work.

 

2. Working on LAND OF SAND AND SONG

I’ll admit. I ALMOST caved in to the YA romance that was calling out to me as I ploughed through LAND.

But then I told myself that if I succumbed to this sexy new project – looking all glorious with its cutesy premise and alluring character arcs – I would be letting LAND down (what, you don’t regard your works-in-progress as actual sentient beings??) and making the mistake that many amateur writers make: write, get stuck, abandon, move to new project, get stuck, abandon… You see where I’m going with this.

And – surprise, surprise – that’s not how writing gets done! The only way to finish a draft is to, well, FINISH THE DAMN DRAFT, no matter how shitty it looks right now.

The current WiP may look like me when I first wake up in the morning with my hair all over my face and my skin blotchy and eyes bleary and basically a giant mess; whereas the Shiny New Idea may look all seductive and make eyes at me from across the room. But I’d be an idiot to follow it out the room when it sidles close to me and asks if I want to go get some air.

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Prince Eric may be hot, but he’s also an idiot easily fooled by an octopus woman. Just saying.

Because guess what? That Shiny New Idea will lose its lustre halfway through LIKE ALL FIRST DRAFTS DO. It will gurgle and splutter and flop like a dying fish on land (WHO’S LOOKING SEXY NOW, HUH?) before you decide to take pity on it and toss it back to the sea.

So no, I’m sticking to the “I woke up like this” WiP, blotchy skin and all. Even if I sometimes feel like stabbing it, even when it blinks innocently back at me when I scream at it to work itself out, even when my brain produces word vomit instead of a stream of lyrical prose like I want it to.

And the good news is, writing has a funny reward system. The more you do it, the less stuck you get. The more word vomit you produce, the more momentum you gain, the less shitty the writing gets.

Oh, the word vomit will still happen from time to time. But eventually, that clears up to become prose that is somewhere between not-too-bad and lyrical. And then, finally, hopefully, one day we might look back on all that drivel we wrote and realise that we’ve actually written our dream book.

 

HANDS UP, those of you who are resisting “the siren call” (as Alwyn put it) of Shiny New Ideas at the moment! How are you staying loyal to your WiP? 

Drama Review: Revolutionary Love

Bear with me, folks. I need to rave about this drama.

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Revolutionary Love (2017) is the story of a pampered good-for-nothing third-generation heir, Byun Hyuk* (played by Choi Siwon) who is cut off from his family after causing too much trouble (mostly through misunderstandings) and has to — gasp — work for a living. Through a nifty twist of Fate, he meets Baek Joon (Kang Sora), a girl trying to make ends meet with part-time jobs. As their worlds collide and he falls head over heels in love with her, he grows out of his sheltered, privileged existence to take charge of his life.

*The name Byun Hyuk means “revolution” in Korean, thus the title Revolutionary Love.

It sounds like a recycled plot, but there’s a lot to appreciate about this rendition that makes it seem completely original and addictive. Nine episodes in and I AM CRAZY IN LOVE WITH THIS SHOW.

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Hot male lead notwithstanding (Choi Siwon, you are such a bias wrecker. Stop being so beautiful. No – stop smiling like that. GO AWAY), this seemingly lighthearted rom-com actually has:

  1. Great main characters with complex backstoriesrevolutionary love 3
  2. A lovable cast of supporting characters
  3. Intricately woven plot and character entanglements
    Fateful meetings! Power play! Betrayals! Double agents!
  4. Intense conflict and a plot that unfurls at breakneck speed
  5. Uproarious moments that make you cry with laughter
  6. WTH dialogue that also make you snort with laughterrevolutionary love siwon 2
  7. Heartbreaking moments when you hurt together with the charactersrevolutionary love 14.gif
  8. Detestable villains
    So you don’t feel bad for seeing them ruined.
  9. Character transformation, i.e. well drawn-out character arcs
  10. Did I mention that Siwon also does FANTASTIC expressions?
    This goofball may have topped the list for the Most Handsome Faces of Kpop, but he’s not also called the king of derp for no reason:
  11. siwon whutsiwon derp 6siwon derp 3siwon derp 2siwon derp 8siwon whateversiwon derp 5siwon derp 1Still, he can turn on the charm when he wants to:
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    His confessions (yes, repeated) get me all tingly!

     

  12. Fluffy moments and great chemistry between the leads
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  13. And last but not least, a pretty, infectious soundtrack that puts you in a soppy, giddily happy mood


BRB, off to drama-land!

siwon fangirling spazzing

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