Soundtracks Part II (the non-soundtrack post)

October 18th, 2014Posted by Nancy

Blood and Chrysanthemums was not a music-enhanced writing experience in the same way the other books have been.  I listened to music while writing, of course, but the only specific music that related to the novel was a CD of classical Japanese music that I bought to listen to while writing the Fujiwara sections.

B&C was really about poetry and research. Lots of research. Lots of reading of early Japanese literary works such as The Tale of the Genji and The Pillow Book of Sei-Shonagan. Books about Noh drama, the yakuza, samurai, Hiroshima, the Heian court, wars, art, culture, contemporary Tokyo…. the list was long.  Oddly enough, the one that the was the most useful in giving me a way into the Japanese section was Pink Samurai: The Pursuit and Politics of Sex in Japan.  While I was reading that, I realized that since I was writing a book about a common trope in popular culture in the West – namely vampires – I could use the common tropes in Japanese popular culture to frame the story.  That allowed me to write each of Fujiwara’s sections in a different way, echoing the particular element I was using: a ghost story, a Noh play, a Heian court tale and so on.

I read a lot of poetry in translation as well, primarily work by Matsuo Basho and The Tales of Ise. I also had to write a good deal of poetry, plus portions of a Noh play, which was a thoroughly daunting process.  Fortunately, most of the poetry in the periods I was writing about was not haiku, but an earlier form which was not as rigid.

The other thing I needed to research was mountain climbing. For that, I subscribed to Climbing magazine (the only magazine I’d ever read with a section at the front listing who had died and how since the last issue) and relied on a reading list and advice from my brother, who lives in Banff.  My sole actual experience was going half-way up the climbing wall in the Banff gym.  Of course, having my brother live there made my Banff research quite enjoyable.  I wandered around town looking for places for Ardeth and Rozokov to live, bought my “Dead People are Cool” t-shirt at a local shop and made my husband pose by a lake to give me a visual context for a key moment in the book.

My home office at the time had a bulletin board where I posted images that related to my writing.  I thought I had a picture of it but it has vanished into a large box of unsorted photos. I did keep a number of the clippings and photos though.

Below is the lake, sans husband.

Lake 001

I pulled this picture from Climbing Magazine, as my rough model for Mark.Mark 001


I copied this from a book about the yakuza, because this was my mental image of Yamagata.  I admit that I shamelessly based Fujiwara on the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune.

Yamagata 001


If you’d like to find out more about climbing, either to write about it or, gods forbid, actually do it, there are lots of great books (anything by Joe Simpson is a winner) and online resources like this one from Lydia Yang to help you get started. I also recommend catching the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour if it comes to your area (I recommend this even if you have no desire to climb a mountain or row across the Atlantic but are perfectly happy to watch other people do it).

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