SPECIAL INTERVIEW WITH JEANNIE LIN
Jeannie Lin is the award winning author of several historical romances set in China. Her emotionally charged and action filled books based in the Tang Dynasty have won rave reviews. And a thrilling combination that makes them a breathe of fresh air to the romance genre!
I could not wait to ask the author about her writing and how she came to publish in such a ‘niche’ genre.
1) What attracted you to become and author of historical romance? What particularly drew you to write about the exciting, sword-fighting Tang Dynasty? Will you write more Tang Dynasty books?!
People always say, write the book you want to read. I grew up watching Chinese martial arts movies (wuxia) with my family and checking out books about King Arthur and his knights from the library. What these stories had in common were warriors and chivalry and high drama. And swords! I’ve always liked swords. Then when I started reading historical romance, it was like the glue that bound everything that I loved together. I could have it all.
The Tang Dynasty was always my favorite period of history because of the amazing women that lived during that time: Empress Wu, Princess Pingyang, Princess Taiping – they made me want to learn more about the culture and time period where women could become so empowered.
Will I write more? Yes!! As long as people want to read them, I’ll have more stories to tell.
2) Can’t wait! Your latest, My Fair Concubine came out this June, 2012. Can you tell us more about it?
I had published two stories with a lot of angst and high drama about swordsmen and warlords and intrigue. I wanted to try something different and write a romantic tale that took place in the capital city of Changan and highlighted some of the high culture of the period. I had read how the practice of heqin, peace marriage, was used more during the Tang Dynasty than any other. What was really fascinating to me was that several of the princess brides weren’t really princesses. Many of my ideas come from little tidbits of historical research and then grow from there.
3) I notice some of your stories take themes from fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and the My Fair Lady storyline. Do you have plans to write another book based on a fairy tale premise?
I’d say the use of fairy tale is actually really slight in my stories. Even My Fair Concubine isn’t much of a retelling beyond the initial setup. Because my stories are in such a small niche for historical romance, I have to find ways to describe them quickly to readers. Archetypes such as “Beauty and the Beast” make for quick descriptors and allow readers to quickly match something unfamiliar with something familiar.
4) Makes sense! I have to ask.…writing books set in a more ‘exotic’ location than most historical romance must have been a challenge and a hard sell. Especially since the general American public is not familiar with Chinese history. Did you have difficulty selling your first book? What obstacles did you face? Do you have any advice for new/upcoming authors?
At the time I was trying to sell the book, I thought I was having a hard time. I had been writing for four years, finished three manuscripts (Butterfly Swords was my second) and queried it for a year, collecting close to a hundred rejections. It seems I’d get “close”, but then the final verdict was always that the book was too risky.
But the more I see of the book world, the more I realize there’s always some reason a book gets rejected. For some, it’s that the book doesn’t stand out in a very overcrowded genre, like Regency romance or vampires. For me, the unusual setting was an easy thing to reject on. I always told myself the true reason for every rejection wasn’t that the book was too risky. It was that my writing wasn’t good enough – yet.
So that’s my advice to aspiring or new authors: frame the problem in a way that you can do something about it. Success really is a head game – you have to create a way that you can win in your mind.
5) Why don’t you write in a more ‘popular’ genre? For example Jade Lee also writes Regencies. Do you think you might branch out into another genre?
I’m telling you, Tang Dynasty romance is the next big thing…
But seriously, let’s just say Jade Lee is WAY more talented and prolific than I am. Actually, I’ve met her and she’s a madwoman.
I’m not talented. I’m not prolific. Every time I write a story, I think “This could be the last one. They’ll take one look at this and I’ll never work in this town again.” So if I had one story left to tell right now, I’d want it to be the type of story we would all watch at my grandmother’s late into the night when I was growing up, the type of story me and my siblings and cousins used to grab plastic swords and try to act out. These are the stories of my heart. These are stories I feel all readers can fall in love with, but there’s no way they’d ever discover them unless I keep on writing them and putting more of them out there.
The short answer is no, because I’m stubborn and I don’t rely on writing income to eat. J
6) I believe you have lots of talent! I was wondering, were you born in America or China? Do you speak Chinese? Do you feel you background gives you a different perspective while writing?
I was born in America—California to be exact. I’m actually Vietnamese and do speak Vietnamese fluently, but not Chinese. (Though my hubby gave me Rosetta Stone Mandarin for Valentine’s Day) My great grandmother was from a wealthy Chinese family living in Vietnam and she was matched with my great grandfather in an arranged marriage after he passed the civil exams. The Vietnamese imperial system of the time was based on the Chinese system.
Because I’m Asian American, I feel like I’m speaking two cultural languages while writing. Actually, I guess I’m speaking two cultural languages while LIVING. You can’t really shut it off. I think growing up with a foot in each culture gives you a different perspective into both sides and the intersection can enhance and enrich both experiences.
I don’t want to just write western style historical romances that happen to be set in China. I want to bring in the type of characters and tropes you would see in Asian stories and blend them into stories that mainstream romance readers can enjoy.
7) Your books are very detailed and emotional. How do you start writing a book? Do you have to do a lot of research? Do you think you might do a novel in the Qing Dynasty –when Chinese are ‘introduced’ Westerners since this may have more cross-over appeal?
Usually there’s a little hook or seed of an idea. A poem or a historical tidbit. Then I start daydreaming. I play “movie” scenes over and over in my head and some of them are REALLY crazy and out there. I discard a bunch of scenes until a few key moments stick. I call this my incubation period and, unfortunately, I have to do this for a long time before I get excited enough to write the story. In terms of research, I do pre-research to help feed the brainstorming. Then I do some specific detail research during the writing. Then after the first draft is done, I do more research to add yet another layer once I know what themes I want to present.
I’ve been getting questions about other dynasties a lot lately! Ming or Liao or Qing. Am I shallow if I say one of the big turn-offs for me about the Qing dynasty is the men’s hairstyles? Hey, I write historical romance. I have to think the heroes look good! Jade Lee somehow made the queue sexy, but it’s a tough one for me. Bound feet also present some issue if I want to have a heroine of Han ethnicity. One of the biggest draws about the Tang is the relative freedom that some women enjoyed. It’s tough for me to find that same freedom in the Qing.
Additionally, there are many political issues that need to be addressed in the Qing Dynasty – the Manchurians vs. the Han as well as the incursion of the West. I feel I wouldn’t do it justice without delving deeper into those issues so my brain finds it hard to bring out the romance with a fulfilling happily ever after. The only time I’ve dipped my foot into the Qing dynasty was for a steampunk that’s in development. For some reason, speculative fiction allows me to find some sense of empowerment in an era that I find depressing.
8) Did you find is a challenge to sell a romance book that was not set a typical time period? I notice you wrote a short contemporary novel which was not a romance called, Pieces of Paper. Will you write a contemporary romance in the future? Was writing in a contemporary setting easier to write than your historical ones?
I think it’s more of a challenge, but there are so many options for publishing now, if the writing is compelling and the author is tenacious enough, there’s a place for any story well told.
Though I love reading contemporary romances, but I don’t think I have the knack for writing them at all. It seems easier for me to come up with fantasies about the past than the present day. When I start thinking of contemporary romances, real life starts to intrude and then it’s no fun.
9) A lot of mythology in China’s history includes ghosts, spirits, magical creatures etc. Do you think you will write a romance book which incorporates these stories and make it into a Chinese paranormal based romance book?
Hmmm….that sounds like it would be awesome!
I’d like to try one day. Something epic. With swords. J
10) Yes! Okay, can you please give us a sneak peak into what books do you have planned for the future?!
My latest release is out this month (Sept). It’s titled “An Illicit Temptation” and it’s the novella sequel to My Fair Concubine. The story is only available digitally at this time.
The next project is another swordfight adventure about a thief-catcher and the sword dancer who keeps on evading his capture. After that I have a set of romantic mysteries planned around a fictional pleasure house called the Lotus Pavilion (which was mentioned in the short story Capturing the Silken Thief).
Thank you so much for sharing your time with us! It has been a pleasure to meet such a groundbreaking author.
Thank you for the in-depth questions!
Interviewed by Steph from the Bookaholics Romance Book Club
For Additional Information about Jeannie Lin you can check her out at:
On her website at:
Upcoming and Recent Books by Jeannie Lin
My Fair Concubine – June 2012 During the Tang Dynasty, the imperial court used a practice called heqin, or peace marriage, to form alliances with their barbarian neighbors. The alliance brides were officially recognized as Tang princesses, however often it was the Emperor’s niece, palace concubines, or daughters of high-ranking officials who were sent to the fronteir instead of a true princess with royal blood.
Chang Fei Long has been called back home upon the death of his father to learn that the family is swimming in debt. Before his death, his father arranged for Fei Long’s sister to become an alliance bride to regain favor with the imperial court. When Pearl begs for mercy, he can’t bring himself to force her into marriage and exile to a barbarian land. As a result, he has to come up with another false princess to go in her place.
Yan Ling is a servant at the tea house where Fei Long goes to brood about his troubles. When she mistakes his musings as a proposition for sex, she dumps a pot of tea on him and gets thrown out into the streets. Now homeless and destitute, Yan Ling begrudgingly accepts Fei Long’s offer to train her as a replacement princess.
The Dragon and the Pearl – Oct 2011 The Most Beautiful Courtesan of Them All… Former Emperor’s consort Ling Suyin is renowned for her beauty; the ultimate seductress. Now she lives quietly alone–until the most ruthless warlord in the region comes and steals her away…
Li Tao lives life by the sword, and is trapped in the treacherous, lethal world of politics. The alluring Ling Suyin is at the center of the web. He must uncover her mystery without falling under her spell–yet her innocence calls out to him. How cruel if she, of all women, can entrance the man behind the legend…
Pieces of Paper – March 2011 A Short Story Set In Tokyo A chance encounter brings a hint of romance to a young woman’s journey through the streets of Tokyo. This semi-autobiographical short story explores questions of identity and connectedness in the digital age.
Note: All of the author’s proceeds from the sale of this story will be donated to the Red Cross for the relief effort in Japan.
Butterfly Swords – Oct 2010 Journey to the very edge of honor, loyalty . . . and love
During China’s infamous Tang Dynasty, a time awash with luxury, yet littered with deadly intrigues and fallen royalty, betrayed Princess Ai Li flees before her wedding. Miles from home, with only her delicate butterfly swords for a defense, she enlists the reluctant protection of a blue-eyed warrior…
Battle-scarred, embittered Ryam has always held his own life at cheap value. Ai Li’s innocent trust in him and honorable, stubborn nature make him desperate to protect her – which means not seducing the first woman he has ever truly wanted….