Writing Excuses 10.10: Q&A with the I Ching

Wesley Chu joins us for a literal shake-up of our structure for one episode. We had loads of fun with this one.

The I Ching is a collection of poems which you consult with numbered sticks. You ask a question, shake a random stick from the cup, and the corresponding poem holds your answer. In writing The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick used the I Ching to make plot decisions at crucial points. We decided to turn that, and our format, on its head, so we used the I Ching to ask us questions.  Understanding exactly what the I Ching was asking was at least as much fun as answering the questions we inferred.

Here are the I Ching’s questions.

  • Although he reached a great position, Wise Liu did not care for earthly things. He brewed instead the pills of heaven, forging immortality in his earthly crucible.
  • Marriage is a blessed union indeed, when done in accordance with Yin and Yang. The dragon and the phoenix coil together, uniting in a sweet dream of love.
  • All names in Heaven are unique, and even earthly things cannot be the same. Your future is set within the book of fate, which never confuses praise and blame.
  • Emperor Ming slew his one true love, but a shaman took pity, and eased his heart with dreams of roaming upon the moon, his beloved mistress forever at his side.
  • Two scholars went to the capitol for examinations. One passed, and stayed. One failed and returned, carrying a letter from his friend. He fell ill, but eventually, thank Heaven, came home.


Important Cultural Note: The I Ching is far more complex than we’ve been able to describe in this podcast, and is worthy of a lot more attention than we were able to present to you in this ‘cast.

Want more Wes Chu? Wes didn’t say a whole lot in this episode, possibly because he was exhausted from the grilling we gave him earlier. This episode was recorded directly it AFTER recording a guest episode with him that will be airing in coming weeks.

Audio Notes: Many of you have complained about the audio quality of the show, especially in the last few months. We went to significant additional effort and expense to make this latest set of sessions sound better. If you like the changes, please let us know.



Competing fiercely to become Spring’s queen, the garden flowers blossomed to their full beauty. Who will win the golden crown of glory? Among them all, only the peony stands out.

The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, which was available on Audible when we recorded this episode, but which is NOT available as of this write-up.

25 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.10: Q&A with the I Ching”

  1. I’ll be honest, I haven’t noticed any sound quality issues, other than sometimes one or more podcasters is louder or quieter than the others. I didn’t notice it on this episode. :)

    (If it makes a difference, I listen both from a browser and also from mp3 copies I’ve downloaded, so I can listen on my phone, notebook, or other devices when I don’t have internet.)

  2. The audio quality has only been an issue for me this season (and I thought it was a gating issue). This is the first episode that did not appear to have the issue.

    Thank you for working on this.

  3. I’ve noticed the audio issues in the past few weeks, and I have to say, this is a vast improvement. The amount of noise (both digital and background) on each audio channel has been vastly reduced, and the sound balancing between the podcasters is excellent. Thank you for taking the extra time to do this. (Personally, I’m somewhat amazed that the four of you keep doing this podcast pro-bono, especially for such a long time.)

    I love this take on the standard Q&A format – quirky and a bit all-over-the-map as it was, it’s definitely not short on content. Indeed, I don’t recall any of you ever mentioning the professional jealousy aspect before. (Understandable, it’s something that’s kinda hard to be frank about, given that etiquette tells you that the proper thing to do is just crush it into some dark corner of your mind and hide it from everyone and everything. Personally, I’d have trouble admitting to feeling jealous, on the off chance that I’m actually the only one who is and that it’s a personal character flaw rather than a generally felt-and-suppressed emotion.)

  4. 1. This time i didnt heard the background white noise, so its great news :)
    Thanks for taking time and effort solving this.

    2. From Spain. We were (equally) happy to have both Brandon and Pat signing and on a panels.
    And we will be happy to meet with the rest of the cast if we have the chance at some point in the future.

  5. Didn’t think I’d like this episode; thought it might be filler.




    Two of the questions and the advice that followed were germane for me. I just got a 3 book deal, with an option on a 4th (Yaaaaaay!) and haven’t told my writer friends yet. Didn’t even tell my brother (who writes); I just told Mom and Dad, trusting they’d pass it on. I know we all promised we’d be happy for each other if any of us got published, but to wave that in the face of my still-struggling, still-getting-rejected friends and compatriots just seems like rubbing salt in the wounds.

    What do I do?

  6. What, no 3 ancient coins? No hexagrams? How can you let the universe touch you without ancient coins and hexagrams?

    Oh, well, sticks. Okay. And here, without further ado, is the transcript! Yes, the words of the universe (or at least the I Ching) and our fearless podcasters’ meditations and contemplations taken right from the book of changes itself.


    Also in the archives.

  7. Hey, I really liked my first Writing Excuses podcast.

    I think it would be a really interesting to explore the entropy and how it affects the recorded knowledge our race tries to preserve and accumulate to combat entropy.

    Where is it coming from? How can we best preserve truth and knowledge? Where can it be found?

    Anyways, I’m glad I found this place. It’s kinda strange that I found out about this through a very small indie game company. We were trying to pry out some more details about the lore of their game and they mentioned you, Brandon Sanderson.


  8. Okay, that was cool. Now I want a copy of the I Ching to generate a load of short story premises. Or maybe I’ll do one for every verse in the “Advice for Travelers” section of the Havamal.

    As for the audio: I never found it bad or distracting, it was just white noise behind your voices, but I did notice it and also noticed how great this episode sounded.

  9. @Gabe: Congratulations!

    I don’t know you, your family, or your compatriots and peers, so I can’t speak to this specifically, but I kind of feel like the right approach is to say “Woo hoo! I got a publishing deal” and invite friends out to dinner or something to celebrate (assuming that’s a thing your budget can absorb.)

    If you say nothing, you might eventually find yourself saying “I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want you to feel bad about YOUR career,” and the obvious take-home from that statement is “Oh. Gabe thinks I should feel bad about my career.”

    It’s easy to be a poor sport in success by lording your accomplishments up over others. It’s exceedingly difficult to help others be gracious and congratulatory and to feel great for you, but it’s my belief that you have to give them the opportunity to rise to the challenge.


  10. Just finished the episode – thank you so much for fixing the audio. It was great to listen without the distracting hiss.

    It’s easier to celebrate success when you focus on why you’re writing. I do it to reach readers. So if I write a story and people like it, I’ve succeeded. When your audience grows too large, you can lose some of that personal connection. My challenge is to learn to write more for my own enjoyment, so that I can take criticism better – it won’t feel like personal rejection.

  11. What a terrific way to do a Q and A episode!

    On a tangential note: in my writing I’ve mucked about with various divining tools like the I Ching and Tarot apps. That’s been fun, but my knowledge of them is limited — I just don’t have a feel for their intricacies and imagery. So as an experiment, I assembled a big list of concepts, people, places, tropes and so on, and made my own idea deck: http://www.forgeryleague.com/collidercards/

    So far I’ve found it pretty darn useful. Last night a single card (“Sampling”) sparked a particularly fruitful short story brainstorm. At some point I’d like to provide a way for people to customize their own decks as well.

  12. The clarity of the audio in this episode is substantially better, and the ‘echo’ aka ‘talking in jar’ type effect that occured in a few episodes is gone. The only fault I can still hear on my end is the way the volume yoyo’s up and down. I don’t know if there is an easy way to equalize the volume at your end – you guys do enough in providing such great content.

    I sometimes listen at work during my break or at home when the kid is studying, and set the volume to an acceptable level, but then it drops a bit where it is too low, or goes up where it is too high, and that increase/decrease is just enough to be disruptive to the experience.

  13. I listened to the episode again as I walked tonight and there was no volume issue on my cellphone. It appears the up/down volume issue I mentioned was actually related to the ‘auto leveling/sound enhancing’ functions of the HDMI/LED TV I am using as a monitor.

    Second when I heard the discussion about ‘professional jealousy’ my first thought was “I wouldn’t be jealous.” I realized a moment later, that as an unpublished author I might be confusing being ‘below the fray’ with being ‘above the fray.’

    Finally, I think you missed a really great opportunity for a writing prompt. As I listened to you trying to trying to extract meaning from the I Ching, I considered that only a group of authors would be creative enough to come up with those interpretations. Then I was struck by how funny it would be to see a group of psychiatrists, our politicians in Washington (actually it might improve this particular process) – or any other group attempting to arrive at a conclusion based on a similar esoteric system.

    Thanks for another thought provoking episode.

  14. Thanks Howard. Yeah, I better man up and let us all face it. Ugh. I’ve got one friend on the verge of quitting and if this pushes her over the edge I’ll feel pretty bad. Still, its not like this will stay hidden forever.

    I actually started writing blog content on what it feels like to be on the brink: to have an agent (JABberwocky, in fact) and a deal and the wonder/hope that accompanies a shot at being a writer. I’ve chronicled the steps I’ve taken, the project, the process, the neurosis and the elation.

    It’s a crazy time, but I was a hopeful for so long, I want all the other hopefuls to see that it can happen and to read about what it feels like when it does.

    Anyway, thanks for the support and advice. I’ve been a long-time listener and fan and your advice has guided my journey to a degree I’m not sure I can repay. Love you guys.

  15. Aww, I’m caught up. Now I gotta wait for my next writing advice fix. The last couple of months I’ve been listening a few episodes a day.

    I’ve been writing serialized fiction online for a while, to create an external deadline each week to get me to write consistantly so I can improve my craft. I recently reached a point where I realized that I’d improved enough that what I wrote at the beginning was downright embarrassing. It was immensely discouraging and for a while I didn’t want to be associated with it- I didn’t share my writing with any of my friends because of this. I recently realized, though, that it could be a good writing exercise to dig myself out of the hole I’d become buried in. At this point I’ve fixed a lot of things and shooed out a lot of the derivative elements, but I still have waaay too many protagonist characters (9-13 depending on who you count), and at least four main antagonists with a silly amount of conspiracy between them, since I started out as a pantser with no concept of managing complexity, and I now want to try to untangle it, because I don’t want to just abandon the story when it gets hard.

    Do you have any advice on how to untangle this kind of multi-villian conspiracy thing without it seeming contrived (and without retroactively editing the stuff that’s already up)?
    Any tips for managing large groups of characters? I know I should split them up, but in my experience that slows down the pacing with scenes split between two groups.

    I know the questions don’t really fit with the theme of this month, but I wanted to get them out now that I’m caught up. I’ll have more pertinent questions in the future.

  16. I hate to tell you, but this isn’t the I Ching. You are using Kau Cim AKA Fortune Sticks. They are similar, but the I Ching doesn’t have poems like that. The I Ching is far more complicated than Fortune Sticks (though there is one way of using the I Ching with similar sticks).

  17. @Derth: It’s far too late to re-record anything, but we’ll get a correction posted. Good catch! (And bad on us for having the wrong name the whole time.)

  18. That was a fun episode. The one that tickled my memory was when you were discussing character names. I still remember how funny it was when I realized two hears after his first appearance that I had named my archaeologist Rob Graves. A similar thing happened with a main character that you’ll meet in the WXR offerings. I’m now a bit more deliberate about it, and so far I’m having more trouble with subtlety than telegraphing. Why didn’t they get that?

  19. Long time listener, first time commenter. Firstly, this is a great podcast. I stay current and re-listen to archived episodes. I enjoy and appreciate the openness and insights provided by the group. It’s obvious there’s real chemistry and affection among the podcasters and it comes through the episodes. So thank you (btw, I listen via browser on my iphone through bluetooth in my car and it sounds great).

    Ok, now imagine my enthusiasm when I see Wesley Chu is a guest and I just happen to be on the last chapter of the Lives of Tao. How great is this? I must have done something good in a past life. My favorite writing podcast has Wesley Chu who also happens to be Asian American with Taiwanese roots guest starring for the first time and even if the genre is not one I typically read, I’m happy to support an Asian American published author who’s not writing about Chinese roots ((definitely in the minority, no pun intended).

    Imagine my disappointment when the podcasters don’t say anything about Wesley Chu in the intro. I had to re-listen to make sure I wasn’t imagining the whole, dare I say it, snub. Nada. What he has written, his inspirations, favorite foods, where he shops, etc…

    Sure I read the exhaustion disclaimer, but still… well, I guess even monkeys fall from trees.

  20. @Derth — thank you so much! — I have used several translations of the I Ching, and it was making me a tad batshit not being able to recognize any of those verses!

    I feel much better now.

  21. In this episode it was mentioned that Darth Vader means “dark father” in German. Despite what Lucas may tell you, that is incorrect. It is indeed a loose Dutch interpretation of “dark father,” but in German it would be more like “dunkle Vater,” which would make an entertaining name for a villain.

  22. To be more specific, they used fortune sticks with the 100 Kuan Yin oracle poems. These are used in Buddhist temples.

  23. LOVED this episode! William Burroughs would have approved — the I-Ching and cut ups are akin in trying to tap into that “Third Mind” that Bryon Gysin talked about . Back in 1989 I wrote a version of the I-Ching for ancient floppy-based computers, which I recently rewrote for iPhone and Android. It pulls not just from the ancient texts, but from Pynchon, Elliot, Bob Dylan lyrics, Grateful Dead songs… it’s a bit of a genre-mashup itself. Listeners to this podcast might like it…

  24. I was first in line in Spain that day (the one whit the Hiper-fan girlfriend that even forgot English off excitement ), there was only one line for both of you, and I can tell you, all fantasy readers know and love Sanderson, but Name of the Wind somehow leaked into the mainstream in Spain.

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