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On writing "Hikaru no Joe"


(Caminante's old gift art to me, because it will never stop being hilarious)

Ahhhh, I can't believe Hikaru no Joe is finally done! I started it nine months ago by sending the first chapter to [personal profile] caminante as a silly gift fic. She had first introduced me to the term "coffee shop AU" while explaining what online fandom looks like these days since my first and only foray ten years ago when I posted a few Utena and Fushigi Yuugi fanfics on fanfiction.net.
 
Since then, we've introduced each other to different shows and spiraled into fandoms together, but our Hikaru no Go writing work was always at the core. My corny pun-filled 2,000 word chapter turned into a complete retelling of the whole series laden with subtle canon references and heartfelt character studies that came directly from hours of chatting about Hikaru no Go at coffee shops all over Korea and weekly sleepovers at caminante's apartment.
 
Let's do a final wordcount of the amount of fandom-related writing I've done in the past nine months (so, excluding writing monthly articles for a teachers' newsletter and lyrics for a weekly songwriting challenge):
 
Hikaru no Joe: 31,552
Macchina: 8,278
Waya no Paduk: 11,033 (jointly-written)
Aji: 2,505
TOTAL: 52,368 words
 
Caminante always took the lead with planning our travels together during our year teaching in Korea and almost every weekend was booked with plans to see some beautiful town or festival balanced with days when we would grab take-away food and eat on the floor while watching episodes of Sherlock or Adventure Time or Avatar: The Last Airbender. Since she'd already lived in Korea for two years when I arrived, she also life-beta'd for me by making my transition to life in Korea as smooth as possible. So I always knew she was super organized and super intelligent and selfless with helping others, but then she channeled all that along with crazy-good proofreading skills into this coffee shop AU. I'm still taken aback by how happy I am with this fic as a result of our combined efforts.

I've never had a beta before, but I am completely spoiled by having C. beta all my writing. She spent hours poring over each of my sentences and fixing all my grammar and wording over multiple drafts. It was the best one-on-one writing workshop ever. My writing has grown by leaps and bounds through consistent practice but also from C's critical eye and encouragement. She understands how to gently explain her suggestions so they never land hard and balance them with plenty of praise and squeeing. I am also absolutely terrible at time management in general, so the fact that this fic even got published in nine months is thanks to C. for going into Taskmaster Mode and whipping me into shape by holding me to deadlines and occasionally sequestering me in her kitchen office to write.


(Seriously, Best Beta Ever: All I'm saying is, not only did she custom-design and order this mug for me and had it shipped from the US to Korea, she also woke me up on weekend mornings when I stayed over with freshly made coffee in this mug)
 
The original premise of the series is a board game, which seems just as arbitrary as coffee, but it hooks you by fully exploring what it means to be means to be truly passionate about go. It's not enough to be sympathetic to the idea that there are hardcore go players out there--- the series really strives to make you personally invested in the game itself and its inner workings, as well as each character's relationship with the game. As C. and I decided to keep working on more chapters, we realized that in order to retell Hikaru no Go in a faithful way, we'd have to make coffee work as more than just an AU trope. It needed to be as meaningful to our characters as go is in the series.
 
That's how we wound up researching and chatting daily about the history of espresso and Italy and drink preparation and barista tournaments. I spent hours reading about espresso machinery and watching videos on drink preparation, to the point that I could probably hold my own as a barista, despite never working in a coffee shop. I began to wonder what it really meant to change Sai from a Heian era Japanese go master to an 18th century Italian master barista and I wrote a 8,000 back-story for him to flesh out his new background and motivations. It was important to both of us that everything in the story rang as true and realistic as possible.

It's true that we took this project very seriously, but for two intelligent, geeky ladies with plenty of time on our hands in Korea, this was a such a fun thing to dive into together. Just like all our favorite TV shows, at the heart of this was friendship. We became much closer friends as a result of living together in Korea in general, but I feel so thankful and awed by how well we supported each other in our creative projects.


(We also supported each other in shared dorkiness.)

I am most proud of C's decision to write fiction for this first time this year as a result of all this mutual fandom-ing. We eased in by co-writing Waya no Paduk for the Blind Go challenge, which ended up being our tribute to all things Korea, and then she wrote a hilarious "5 and 1 things" ficlet about Ko Young Ha, culminating in "Middlegame," her amazing feminist manifesto fic about Nase Asumi!
 
The Hikaru no Go fandom community is so welcoming and close-knit, and I'm so glad to have met so many wonderful people within it. I've been bogged down by writing nonstop to participate in more of the events and conversations, but I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone better now that this massive project is over. Thanks to Caminante's efforts in friend match-making, these lovely things happened/will happen: in just a few days, I'll be meeting a fellow fandom friend, [personal profile] meguri_aite , from Russia before I leave Korea. She and her friend decided to vacation in Seoul partly as a result of reading Waya no Paduk, and her visit overlaps my time in Korea by just two days! Also, C's best friend, [personal profile] zaelle , started reading the manga and writing Hikago fic too and the three of us formed a writing group! I think at one point, we were writing and beta'ing all of each other's fics concurrently to meet a deadline and I've never felt more pushed to write since finals week at college. AND, C. and I are going to hang out with [personal profile] your_insomnia in New York in November. So many new friends!
 
I'm moving back to New York in exactly a week and saying goodbye to so many things that have made this year special. I know I'll continue writing and C. is coming to visit me in just a few weeks, but finishing Hikaru no Joe was part of closing this chapter of my life. Still, as Touya once said, "This isn't the end. There is no end." I'm trying as hard as I can to appreciate each moment for what it is. I'm not waiting for my real life to start in New York and this year in Korea won't be just a dream or memory; I'm living my life right now even as I move countries, finish stories, and start new ones.
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