Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Jo-ha-kyu: how to build a book

There's a Japanese dramatic structure called jo-ha-kyu.

This was first described by Zeamai in Fushikaden, a work on Noh drama structure.  This is often translated as Style and the Flower.  Style and the Flowering might be a better way of saying this, because it describes an aesthetic form of constructing many different kinds of dramatic actions, including martial arts, dance, music, theatre, poetry and literature.

Simplistically, it could be called "beginning, middle and end," but maybe more accurately one could say "beginning, break, rapid", because it's about the relationship and interaction of those elements.  It features a slow start, showing a state of peace, followed by increasing dramatic tension leading to a quick, crashing climax followed by a denouement that restores a state of peace.

There are many ways of describing dramatic structure.  All proceed from equilibrium through conflict to a restorations of equilibrium.  Whether there are two or three levels of increasing conflict and partial resolutions, whether there are interacting dramatic arcs, and how all these are balanced -- all of this depends on the writer and the story.

I didn't know about this particular structure until I discovered I use it.  It involves slowly describing a state of peace, an auspicious period of calm and balance, and then breaking that with growing tension, growing disquiet, increasing troubles, until the problem threatens to overwhelm.  Then -- crash!  Something happens.  Equilibrium is restored.  It may not be the same peace, the same balance, the same equilibrium, but the characters can take deep breaths and adjust to their new reality.

My books often take a long time to build that first fragile peace.  Settle in.  Come to know this world and those who populate it.  Watch for clues, the little clues that might show where this universe is going, how these people (and I use that word loosely) plan their lives.  Wait for it: here's the jiggle.  Here's the jerk.  Here's the quake the knocks the pictures off the walls, dumps the crockery on the floor, and shakes loose hidebound minds.  And here's the harmony again, precarious and sudden as is life itself.

A couple of reviews noticed this.  I haven't been sure what to make of that, because I don't write to any kind of genre, much less one that jumps into the middle straight away like a thriller or a mystery often does.  Lulling the reader and the character into the initial harmony is important to me because it's consistent with overall purpose of the books.  Set in a historical period of great change, it is as important to notice the periods of peace as well as the times of chaos, because it helps explain how the characters cope with that chaos by showing who they are.  In writerly terms, this develops character more than plot.

It both interested and amused me to discover that I was unwittingly using a Japanese literary structure I didn't even know about.  I see it happening in Book 7, which almost has a working title.

Here a picture I took of the Tamagawa today.   The red-topped stick on the left shows the official high water mark.  You can see where the steps end; that's the top of the levee.  The debris line is obvious; things on the lower levels aren't open yet, though somebody did bring a boat on a trailer to the boathouse area.  The golf driving range across the river is drying out and the grass will come back.  Heavy equipment is working on the race track across the river on the left. See how far away the big levee is over there?  And see how calm and placid the river itself is?

There's your metaphor.  That's the beginning.  The increasing rains and blowing wind raising the water levels, uprooting trees and sweeping flotsam downstream is the break.  The climax?  Will the levee hold or won't it?  Will the floodwaters spill over the top or not?  And now we have the denouement, as things return to equilibrium again.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Typhoon Hagibis

Typhoon Hagibis was huge, nasty and scary. 
What's amazing is how well prepared Japan is for this sort of thing.
It was predicted well in advance and followed closely.
And people took action.

What it looked like....

I don't know if this was the Tamagawa when the flood was nearing peak but it could have been. Looks like it, just down from my apartment.  This was taken maybe 5 hours before the peak if the time stamp is right.  The debris line today shows that we were within 5 feet of it sloshing over the upper levee and from there spreading across mostly flat land until it came to my door. 

Friday midday they announced that they were stopping the Shinkansen as of the next morning's first train for the duration.  This meant that I, along with thousands of others, had to choose between going somewhere Friday afternoon or waiting until everything got sorted out Sunday or Monday.

I decided to return.  I had a conference today, Sunday, that had been jiggered with but was still on for today, and I did want to go.  I missed the special buses running from Taisekiji to the trains, but no worries: it's Japan. There was a cab. There is invariably a cab.  The station was busy and there was a line, but I thought I could use the vending machine since there was one that took cash (I avoid the card ones because of fees).  Then I realized I already had Saturday tickets.  Maybe I could change them.  I figured I'd have to pay to do that, and maybe pay more to guarantee a seat, but that was the least of my worries.  So I got in the other line.

A passing staffer was helping people waiting in the line so I asked her if I could trade my tickets.  She took them and vanished.  She returned and told me to follow her.  At the entry booth, she handed them to another staffer who stamped them and waved me through.  Eight minutes later, I was in a comfortable seat on the nice Shinkansen, heading for Tokyo.  No extra charge.

Shinagawa was kind of a mess: it was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and the trains were going to stop running.  I would bet that an hour later it was significantly worse, and two hours later, much worse.  I made it home, no worries, just before it started to rain.   I turned on my little electric fire, set to pretty only, unpacked and generally cozied down.

Saturday, it rained.  And rained.  And RAINED.  I worked on my computer, checking the news often.  I found out it was much worse in other areas.  I kept waiting for it to hit.  Then I started seeing notices of evacuations, flooding, storm surges, roads washing out.  The day went on. The community loudspeakers warned of the impending typhoon and told everybody to batten down the hatches, more or less.  I had already done that.  It was POURING.  Buckets. 

Shortly after dark, my phone made the most appalling noise and I couldn't get it to shut up.  It was an emergency alert. (How did it know my number?  I never signed up for anything!)  The screen of my phone kept going dark before I could read the darned thing and it was hard to get it back.  I need to read more; this was annoying.

I figured this was the first alert for evacuations: the "get ready, you might have to go" signal.  Of course, there's a nice website in about 6 languages that gives all that information and tells you where to go.  This is Japan, after all.  I wasn't on the "leave" section yet, but still, I didn't think it could hurt, so I packed up for a quick evacuation -- out the door in ten seconds.  I even put my rain-boots on.  They're kind of difficult.  Areas just up the river from me were on the "leave" list.  I figured my time was coming.  Soon.

Then...there was a jiggle.  A shake.  Another jiggle.  It can't possibly be...an earthquake.  Can it?  That would be ridiculous!  I wondered if the building might be coming off its foundations so I went outside to check everything.  All looked well.  Storm drains clear and running.  Gutters running.  Some leakage but not me, and nothing that looked urgent.  Wind blowing mightily.  I came back in to find my phone had gone off while I was gone.

It was an earthquake, yes, indeed.  5.7 off the coast of Chiba, not that far away.  Just because we're in the middle of a huge typhoon, right?  I got back on the computer, trying to translate that darned alert, while watching rain levels.  I finally got it and discovered I was right: the alert I couldn't read quickly was indeed a "get ready to leave on 5 minutes notice" alert, so I'm glad I guessed right.  I decided to get some sleep if I could.  I was now on the official "leave" list, but I figured they'd some around with loudspeakers like they do in the US, or blast the community loudspeakers.  Shelters were filling up, some were full.  I really didn't want to leave before I had to. 

Then I heard the rain emergency had been cancelled for Shizuoka, an hour south. Good news!  Then the noise...stopped.  I went outside and found the rain had slacked off almost completely. 

My phone went off again, this time with some happy-sounding music, subsequently identified as Flood Music.  THIS one was much easier to read.  The Tamagawa River had crested in Setagaya not far west of me.  Part of the difficulty is that the tides yesterday were the biggest of the month because of the full moon and predicted to coincide with the worst of the storm.  Not quite.  We were an hour or so past high tide at the crest, and perhaps two hours past by the time I could guess it would get to me.

I took off my boots and went to sleep. 

It was gorgeous this morning.  Trains were coming back on line quickly.  People were out and about.  I unpacked and went to a Temple ceremony, then my conference.  Things weren't quite normal yet.  I saw a couple of trees down.  Shops and restaurants were closed.  Somebody went around posting notices of cancellation on event posters.  Many places had closed by noon Saturday or even earlier and planned not to open until fairly late -- noon or later -- Sunday or even Monday.  People plan for this sort of thing here.

I wasn't the only person who wanted to see the river after I got home this afternoon.  I was probably the only one who forgot her phone.

There's the river channel and a bank, like a small levee.  There are park facilities and a boathouse  on my side, with a horse racing track and a golf driving range across the river from me.  There's a small levee outside of those.  Atop that is a biking and walking path.   Then there is BIG levee.  Atop THAT there is a second biking and walking path.  I'd guess it's about fifty feet from the normal river level to the top of the outer levee.  That is perhaps twelve to fifteen feet higher than the streets outside of that. 

I actually did the math on this part.  They predicted the river would crest at about 43.4 feet.  From the debris line I saw, it was about five feet from slopping over the top.  Nice work!

The soccer and baseball fields, the golf range and race track were all underwater, studded with detritus that had washed down stream.  The lower bike and walking path was still covered this afternoon. 

This is one of things to admire about Japan.  They plan for the very, very worst  -- nothing like this has happened since about 1958 -- and then allow a safety margin.  Yes, it sometimes seems too controlled and regulated, but when it's needed, it works.

Tamagawa, but I'm not sure where.

It was pretty amazing. 


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

ANOTHER GIVEAWAY, Wilson, Dragons in Love

Dragons in love?
Well, maybe.
Or maybe eagles.
Or humans.

See the dragon in the picture, above?  That's from the World Heritage Site in Kagoshima.

I am well into Book 7, as yet untitled, just as the Fall Gaijin Invasion starts in earnest.  Because of my publication schedule, the fall and spring -- times of maximum Gaijin Activity, conferences and other things I have to do that are NOT writing the new book -- are the times when I am the busiest.  So don't expect much from me. 

Writing books is HARD.

And things invariably go wrong.

Good things:

My little spider friend, an Adleson's Jumping Spider called Wilson because of his/her cute little eyes (8 of them; Wilson is also only half an inch long), is hanging around outside eating, I hope, ants and mosquitos (they do that.)  Wilson is quite responsive and bright.  We have discussions about where Wilson lives (outside) and where I live (inside.)  Look them up.  They're nice little beings.  Here's a picture but I can't upload it.  Trust me.  Wilson's cute.  And does jump!

Wilson's Cousin

My ginger is growing and the other plants are coming along.

It's cooling off so they'll have to come in soon.   Cooler is nice!

Canadian Thanksgiving is Monday.  If I can, I'll cook something celebratory.  I am gone tomorrow, Thursday, through Saturday and have a conference Sunday and I don't even want to think about how much time these delays will cost me in getting back to Book 7.

I need to imitate HRH Prince Irtysh, presently trying to figure out how to court HRH Otohime -- yes, dragons in love, or whatever they do, maybe -- and be urbane, sophisticated and invariably well-mannered.  And go roll around in my Lake of Jewels before I flame something.

Oh, I forgot about this!

THIS is a link that'll take you to a giveaway for Book 2, CHASING DREAMS!

Go read a book.  I'll go write one.