Sweet Soju, Anju

The first weekend of the New Year approaches, and in our home rests an unopened bottle of saan soju ready to celebrate. Why not crack it open now!? Well, for the first month of the new year, my partner and I are practicing restraint, drinking more modestly and saving most of our drinking for the weekends. (We do this periodically to pause and be mindful of what we consume, like pushing the reset button on a video game — which, by the way, thumbs up to #nintendoswitch for recently reigniting my childhood nostalgia this holiday season).

Returning from our holiday travels, we naturally ended up at one of our favorite sushi spots, Minori. It's been part of the neighborhood for several decades, beating out fancier sushi digs that come and go. We sit in the same spot we've been sitting in for nearly four years and are warmly greeted by the sushi chefs and owner (the wife of the eldest chef). They recommend the best-caught fish that weekend as we pour the soy sauce. I assume our names have probably become Mr. Sashimi Special and Ms. Salmon Roll by now, as they bring our beer and green tea and start preparing the "usual" for us. We pull out our notebooks and bounce back and forth between sketches and penned ideas to brainstorm a new film or novel.

On New Year's Eve, Minori gifted us a lovely bottle of saan soju. To help us "ring in the New Year," says the owner as she smiles. Upon receiving this gift, I am instantly struck with a feeling of humbleness to be thought of by these friendly neighbors; there is something so magical and kind about being thought of at all by people who care to remember you. It doesn't matter how long you travel or take to return, nor if there is an economic exchange that brings you together. It is a matter of loyalty, friendship, and combining cultures, about sharing a positive connection to one another. To be honest, I'm not sure why I was surprised at all by their gift. As my partner heads to the restroom before we leave, the owner unfailingly sneaks up beside me and whispers, "So, you married yet?" Then my partner returns to a free dessert orange. The owner winks at me and announces what she said is our secret — a secret he is very much aware of. Comically, this is now our routine.

I am excited to try this saan soju. What one could have assumed was sake upon first glance at a sushi restaurant is actually soju. The owners and chefs are all Korean and I love how they've stuck to their roots by presenting this to us for the New Year. That alone is a very dear moment to me, that we get to taste and drink in the way they taste and drink for such a celebration.

Understanding culture and travel is so important to me because it heavily influences my writing about magical worlds inspired by folklore and mythology from various countries. My recent novel that I #amquerying is called The Wirewood Grimoire. It was inspired by Korean culture (and anyone who knows me and my work well enough knows how much I value researching culture and adding moments, especially food-based scenarios, into my writing). Food is that pinnacle moment of relating to one another culturally. We speak through food in so many ways, learning acceptance and what joy feels like through our taste buds. The Wirewood Grimoire is a story that really reflects on nature, technology, and cultural balance. Our female protagonist witch, Azurra L.P. Crooks, opens up chapter one with typical pre-teen drama, disregarding her Korean mother's influence in the household and wanting to toss aside celebrating Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year. In Korean culture, the word anju is used to refer to food that is to be consumed with alcohol. This soju we received is meant to be consumed together and the eldest member in a group will pour your glass for you, and then in turn, everyone pours the drink for each other. It is a unifying moment. It is special and symbolizes togetherness and understanding.

To any creatives reading this, how do you weave in culture throughout your work? Do you weave it in at all? Is it always a culture you were raised with or do you research and explore other cultures outside of your own?

For myself, I love to write about all types of cultures. It is the best way to simplify my writing — to just write, and write well — regardless of what my characters look like or where they come from. When I travel some place new, or read a fascinating piece of mythology based in another part of the world, my heart jolts for joy with new possibilities for dynamic characters or odd, wondrous worlds yet to be built. Through research and getting to know our amazing neighbors, like our Korean sushi friends at Minori, we are learning how to feel and taste and experience that joy from customs we may have overlooked.

So, as this New Year begins, I promise to dive into more cultures, be it of my own background or of those new and unusual to me. To taste their food, research the language, and try a few new traditions I know little of, I'll possibly get a few new wonderful stories from it.

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