Today, we’re talking with Jeannie Lin, author of “Butterfly Swords.” Jeannie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my ten thousand question interview! (For the REST of this interview, go to the Historical Novel Review site!)
J.L:The very first exposure I got to the Tang Dynasty was through a Hong Kong series about Wu Zetian (Empress Wu) and then a sequel about her daughter, Princess Tai Ping. The series portrayed these women both as human and legend. I became fascinated with what it would take to be a woman of power in these times. The more I studied about the period, the more fascinated I became with the art, accomplishments, and social nuances of the time.
What research resources did you find most helpful? Library, Internet, travel, personal contacts?
J.L:All of the above. Though I’ve only traveled to China once and it was long before I realized I’d be writing a book. My dream is to go and take a Silk Road tour some day. I have books and books and books. (see picture) The internet, of course, has been fabulous. In recent years, more has been published about the Tang Dynasty. I’ve also made numerous connections with sword practitioners, travel writers, and other China history enthusiasts like yourself.
About how long did it take to write “Butterfly Swords” from your initial idea through research, writing, polishing, etc? (And for additional points to help those of us still dreaming, how much time passed between your agent’s representation offer and publication?)
J.L: Butterfly Swords took I’d say about a year to write, including all the polishing and such. It was a finished manuscript after three months, but there were many rounds of revisions after that. Once my agent offered, it was sort of in end game. I had the Golden Heart nomination and editors were reading. My agent offered in April of 2009 and I sold July 2009.
This is something I like to ask just about every writer I talk to because I find the varied responses fascinating: Every author works in a different way – would you share how you approach writing a novel? The way you set out the plot, your workplace, anything that contributes to the process. J.L: I start out by plot-dreaming. (Hey, that’s the first time I’ve used that word.) Like right now, I’m spinning ideas about two characters in my head. It’s a Romeo and Juliet type story where they actually had to get married. But their families are still at war with each other. So since they do start the care for each other, it actually keeps them apart because they know their respective families will try to exploit that. So I’m stirring ideas around. I see how they meet, I see some conflicted moments they have. I see vague shadows of the other characters.
There’s no plot there yet, but eventually I’ll sit down and do a general outline. Twenty-four chapters, three scenes each. Ha! Writers never say anything that concrete, do they? I’ll write the first three to five chapters without pressure. Then I’ll set aside two weeks and Fast Draft through most of the rest of the book. Then I slow down a bit at the end again. With this process, it takes me about two to three months to complete a manuscript. But then I revise like crazy. Writing is revising for me.
Obviously you have “Butterfly Swords,” and “The Taming of Mei Lin.” I read in one of your other interviews that you do have other stories in this mileu. Are you working on them now? (Pleasepleaseplease.) J.L: The two other manuscripts are actually contracted and finished, except for editorial revisions. There are also two more short stories coming. One is complete and one is in progress.
If not, what are you planning for your next book?
J.L: Well, there’s that Romeo and Juliet story. There’s also a paranormal series in the works. Fingers crossed.
In addition to your writing, you are an author of several blogs and participate in several writing groups. How do you balance your writing with other pursuits?
J.L:From my teaching and professional experience, I’ve learned how to schedule things in. I also type REALLY fast. After all that, I ask myself, “How much do you want this?” J
You’ve been all over the place marketing Butterfly Swords , do you have any fun marketing suggestions that have worked well?
J.L: Fun suggestion…keep it fun for you! Remember that you are writing a book that most likely people similar to you will want to read. So I just dug inside myself – if I was my own super fan, what sort of things would make me excited about this book? For me it was the nostalgia of wuxia, the promise of romance and adventure. And the swords. If you see the launch celebration prizes, they’re all based on the ultimate geekery that went into Butterfly Swords.
You mentioned in other reviews and a recent newsletter that Butterfly Swords will only be available in stores through the end of this month. After that, we’ll be ordering copies through Amazon. Why is that?
J.L: The reason the book only has one month in bookstores is that it’s part of a category line: Harlequin Historical. These books have multiple releases a month and are only in the bookstores for one month before they’re moved off to make room for the new month.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve been pushing so hard for this month. Afterward, the book can only be ordered online.
So, if you want a free copy of Jeannie Lin’s book, please leave a comment either here or on the Historical Novel Review site. If you want to enter into Jeannie’s competitions, please got to her site for the launch celebration rules.
Addendum: If you haven’t read Jeannie’s prequel novelette to “Butterfly Swords,” you can buy “The Taming of Mei Lin” wherever e-books are sold: Amazon, Kobo, Harlequin. Stay tuned! The winner of our giveaway will be announced this evening.
Butterfly Swords is not the sort of book I think of when I look at Harlequin Romances. I expect lots of hot and heavy breathing, but no whistling blades arcing into flesh. I certainly don’t expect Tang dynasty China. Yet Butterfly Swords carries itself with all the confidence of its warrior class heroine through scenes both sensual and blood-stirring, and all of it set within a tumultuous period of China’s history: the later Tang Dynasty (760s). The story does tweak history a bit in that the rebellion described is loosely based on the An Lushan rebellion, but the book’s events are fictional. In that sense, Butterfly Swords is an historical romantic fantasy.
I read most of the book in one sitting, enjoying the flow and power of the author’s language. Then I decided I had read it too quickly to do it justice in a review, so I sat down a few days later and picked it up again. Darned if I didn’t get halfway through before remembering why I had decided to re-read it! It grabs and pulls in ways I can’t begin to describe. I can only appreciate the skill used.
Consider the following scene where the heroine Ailey has agreed to a friendly duel with Ryam, the hero. If he wins, he will receive one kiss. If she wins, he has to take her to her family home in Changan.
Ryam couldn’t resist the promise of a kiss to keep him company on the cold journey back to the frontier. It might even be worth the risk of facing Imperial soldiers again – not that he intended to lose.
Ailey stood across from him, poised and still. She shook the hair from her eyes with a slight toss of her head and her braid whipped over her shoulder. When she focused again on him, the young woman disappeared and a warrior stood in her place.
The fight started here, at the moment of decision, long before his sword ever reached striking distance. Ailey radiated more determination than many a seasoned fighter. She bowed formally, bending slightly at the waist with her eyes trained on him. He considered, for a brief moment, whether Ailey had been bluffing all along.
‘Ready?’ he murmured.
She flew at him.
In a flash of silver, the butterfly swords cut tight lines through the air. He deflected in two sharp clashes of steel, surprised by the strength of the attack.
‘I thought this was a friendly match – ‘
The next swipe of her blade whistled by his throat.
Ailey pushed inside his defense without fear, without caution. For a second she darted within arm’s reach. He considered simply grabbing her and wrestling her to the ground. Pin her beneath him. The image lingered dangerously. Definitely not honourable.
He had to jump back to avoid her knee as she drove it upwards.
‘I can’t take you to Changan if you kill me.’
He twisted her next attack aside only to have her spring back, eyes dark with intent, a hint of green sparking within them. She left no room, no time to recover. His heart pumped hard as instinct took hold of him. According to her rules, he could only defend and not attack. He side-stepped and angled the strikes away. Ailey knew what she was doing, keeping him close so he couldn’t use his reach against her. She danced around him with deadly elegance, matching him toe to toe. The rhythm of it almost sexual.
Better than sexual.
‘Ten,’ he announced.
‘Show me what you have,’ she retorted.
The book had one surprising moment for me. The heroine’s first goal is to return to her family and reveal the treachery of her fiance, the treacherous General Tao. With the hero’s help, Ailey meets with her father and discovers that he’s aware of the General’s political ambitions. Her father requires her to marry Tao anyway and for some reason, the book’s path from then on took me to unexpected places. Not that I minded; I was simply surprised. The plot does move a little slowly as the hero debates whether he can have the life he wants with Ailey. After he concludes that he can’t, the villain captures Ailey. After a book’s length of errors, our hero decides to stand up for himself and what he wants. The actions he takes at that point moved me and fulfilled what I want from a book. Since this is a romance, you know you get a happy ever after. I won’t tell you how, but I can tell you a border guard’s love and desire for an imperial princess is satisfied in a realistic, but unsappy fashion. Make no mistake, this is not your mother’s Harlequin. This is the sort of romance that has crossover appeal (potentially) to both sexes, to readers of straightforward history and to the fantasy crowd who tend to love history.
Stay tuned tomorrow as I’ll have a free copy available!
I feel like I’m introducing a star and am just a wee bit giddy. By now you’re all familiar with “The Taming of Mei Lin.” I’m delighted that the author, Jeannie Lin, has agreed to do a guest blog today!
Victoria and I belong in a group that she started for authors of Asian novels and we often discuss issues specific to writing Asian characters and subject matter for an English language audience. One of the tricky challenges is how to represent the cultural background of the characters authentically.
Something I always keep in mind when writing any character is the idea of deep culture versus surface culture. It was something first pointed out to me in my teaching program and it’s a good way of deconstructing what really makes a culture distinct.
Surface culture refers to the things that are outwardly visible and more easily identified by observing people from the culture. The clothing, the food, and the customs. These are the immediate things that come to mind when we think of other cultures. For Tang Dynasty culture, examples would include the silk clothing and hair styles. It would include etiquette such as bowing. Even folklore and mythology are part of surface culture.
Deep culture is harder to detect. These aspects go down to the belief systems that members of the culture hold common. You may start to get a feel for it after spending an extended period of time within a culture. Examples of this would be ideas about death and family. In Asian culture, it’s not uncommon to speak about previous lives or next lives. We even do this in everyday conversation of a non-spiritual nature.
It can be as subtle as the concept of time. For example, it’s understood among Asians that if you get invited to a wedding at 5pm, everyone knows not to show up until 7pm and, if lucky, you’ll eat around 8. Westerners have a very different concept of time. In Western culture, it’s respectful to be on time if not early.
Of course there are individuals within each culture. People who go against the grain know they are going against the grain, and it should show in their character. When I got married, my mother specifically told guests to observe “American time”. Mom is a business woman and hates it when people don’t respect schedules, but she also understands this cultural aspect, as shown by how she admonished my wedding guests!
When it comes to writing a historical novel, surface culture is easy to throw out there. We can dress them in embroidered silk robes. Put carvings of dragons in bas relief over temple walls. We can have our characters bow and observe proper status.
Deep culture is how writers truly create authenticity. If we describe these beliefs explicitly, then it feels unnatural, as if the book is lecturing rather than storytelling. The challenge is subtly weaving details of deep culture into the characters’ internal thoughts and emotions as we create their world view. No matter what your character’s ethnic background, this infusion of deep culture is what convinces readers that they are living, breathing people. This is true of Regency England, or the American West, or Tang Dynasty China.
When I’m reading a historical, this infusion of deep culture is more convincing than clothes or dates or facts and ultimately—way more satisfying.
Jeannie Lin writes historical romantic adventures set in Tang Dynasty China. Her short story, The Taming of Mei Lin from Harlequin Historical Undone is available September 1. Her award-winning debut novel, Butterfly Swords, will be released October 1, also from Harlequin Historical. Join the launch celebration at http://www.butterfly-swords.com for giveaways and special features. Visit Jeannie online at: http://www.jeannielin.com
A local corrupt magistrate has proposed marriage to Wu Mei Lin and it’s not an honorable proposal, but an offer to make her his second concubine. Though it will buy her family a certain amount of freedom, Mei Lin can’t do it. She promises she will marry the man who can best her in a sword fight, never foreseeing the number of brutes her estranged suitor will send against her and her family. Then one day a handsome stranger comes to town….
I really enjoyed this story, but not just because of the quality of writing or plotting or anything “writerly,” and not because the author is a friend. My enjoyment was for personal reasons.
Like Mei Lin, I have the same problem with my hair never staying out of my face. Neither Mei Lin nor I have ever felt particularly pretty, either. And then there was the following scene. It comes at the end of the hero and heroine’s sword fight:
“You’re good” he said. She parried and twisted his blade aside. “I don’t need you to tell me.” He grinned and pushed her further until she had to fight for balance. She wasn’t done yet. Boldly she ventured closer to where his longer blade would be less effective. Most practitioners weren’t comfortable there, but Shen Leung found her rhythm and flowed with her. The edge of his weapon broke through her guard.She stepped back, knowing it was too late. But he missed. The blade whistled past her ear. She stared at him in shock while he regained his stance and prepared for another advance. She had him. It had nothing to do with skill. They were closely matched in training, but there was so much more that went into a fight. The honorable Shen Leung was unwilling to hurt her. He didn’t realize it yet, but the battle was hers if she wanted it. With her new confidence, she could see all the openings. A warrior had to be ruthless and strategic. That was what she had been taught. He became a series of targets in her eyes. All she needed to do was catch another moment of hesitation and she would break through. And once she won… what then? Someone else would come. Another one of Zhou’s henchmen now that he was bent on revenge. Or maybe no one would ever defeat her or care to approach her with a serious marriage proposal. She’d have nothing but this speck of a town and the noodle stand. Shen Leung’s arrival had broken through the clouds. She might never feel this way again about anyone. They said he was a good man, a just and courageous one. She decided then. She met his attack edge on edge, loosening her grip slightly with the impact of their blades and the strength of his next attempt wrenched the hilt from her grasp. A collective murmur went through the crowd when her sword fell to the dirt. For a second, it almost seemed they had been cheering for her. Supporting the local madwoman. Shen Leung’s sword darted forward to stop just shy of her throat. She grew still beneath his gaze. He regarded her with admiration and something else, a fire she’d never seen before. He rested the tip of the blade gently against her collarbone, almost like a caress. “Do I need to draw blood, my lady?” he asked softly. He had already pierced her, deeper than he knew. It was Wang who broke the standoff. “Claim your prize, Master Shen!” “Prize?” The blade fell back. The exertion of the battle began to sink into her along with the oppressive heat of the afternoon. She wanted to wipe the perspiration from her face, but she didn’t dare move. She didn’t dare breathe as she watched Shen Leung’s reaction. “Take your bride,” Wang said. “From your battle, we can see your wedding night will be quite an adventure.” His cronies hooted with laughter. She considered blackening both of Wang’s eyes and perhaps breaking his nose as well. “Don’t be ridiculous, brother Wang,” Shen Leung looked embarrassed when he glanced back at her. “There will be no wedding.” Her chest squeezed tight. Heat rushed up her neck and flooded her face while he bowed once more. The noble swordsman didn’t want her. “Thank you for the match. Lady Wu is a formidable opponent.” He turned to leave. The cronies chanted their congratulations and ushered him toward the taverns to celebrate. Mei Lin was left alone, her sword fallen in the dust. The curious eyes of the townspeople bore into her while the cruel sun beat down upon her back.
It’s one thing to be sought after without wanting the attention. It’s quite another to make your choice as to where you will go and with whom, only to find out you’re unwanted. I’ve been in that situation and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. At the end of this scene which is also the end of Chapter One, I had wet cheeks. In short, I had a strong character identification within a few paragraphs. And isn’t that one definition of quality writing?
The fight scenes are filled with realistic action and the love scenes are tastefully done, but after the opening scene, what grabbed me most unexpectedly about this story was the humor. I noticed I smiled a lot while reading, which is always something I cherish. Making me smile or laugh aloud is a far more difficult trick than making me cry and Jeannie Lin accomplished both. I’ll share one of the fun situations tomorrow, so make sure you tune in. (I typed it up today and ended up re-reading the entire scene because it still makes me laugh.)
In closing, I wish more time had been given over toward character development and showing us the world these characters live in. Not because the story lacked those things, but because I could have happily lived there far longer. Fortunately, this was the first of at least two Jeannie Lin adventures set in the Tang Dynasty. “The Taming of Mei Lin” is the romance of a character who also appears in Jeannie Lin’s “Butterfly Swords,” but you don’t have to read Mei Lin’s story first; just make sure you do read them both. “The Taming of Mei Lin” is available from Amazon.com (via kindle), E-Harlequin, and on the Nook. “Butterfly Swords” will be in bookstores on October 1st, but you can order it from Amazon.com now.
Finally, make sure you head over to Jeannie Lin’s blog for other book and story coverage and to her contest page (select the linked picture to the right) for upcoming opportunities to win all sorts of prizes including twin butterfly swords!
Coming later this week, a guest blog from Jeannie Lin, author of “The Taming of Mei Lin” and “Butterfly Swords.”
I met Jeannie Lin about four years ago as of this coming October. We had both competed in a Miss Snark competition and I loved her entry involving a warrior princess on the way to her wedding and some serious kick-butt action. Since then, Jeannie won the 2009 Golden Heart award and I’ve been so delighted to rediscover Jeannie. She’s a terrific author and mentor and I couldn’t be more tickled that her book, “Butterfly Swords” will be released on the four-year anniversary of when we met – give or take a few days. (I’m SURE the publisher planned it that way. ;D)
Coming up in September, I’ll start a Jeannie Lin season involving give aways, a guest blog with the author, reviews of first her short story, “The Taming of Mei Lin” and then in October, “Butterfly Swords.” In the meanwhile, feast your eyes on this fabulous book trailer:
Then head over to the “Butterfly Swords” promotion page and sign up to win a free copy of “Butterfly Swords” among some other really cool stuff.