Pat here, welcoming back Jeannie Lin, author of Chinese historical romances and soon, a mystery set during the Tang dynasty. Jeannie started writing her first romance while working as a high school science teacher in South Central Los Angeles. Her first three novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal and The Dragon and the Pearl was listed among Library Journal's Best Romances of 2011.
Jeannie currently writes historical romances for Harlequin Historical and Harlequin HQN.
Jeannie, you’re a science teacher! What drew you to writing romance?
When I started my first book, it was actually a “West meets East” sort of fantasy set in a land based on ancient China. Yet as I was creating what I felt was an epic tale – double crosses, love triangles, dramatic deaths – I realized I didn’t feel anything on the page for my characters. I wondered, how do I fix that? How do I learn how to write emotion?
Well, the answer was on the other part of my bookshelf: in romance novels.
What was your first book, and how well do you think it characterizes your latest work?
My first published work was Butterfly Swords, a tale about a princess on the run from an arranged marriage and the blue-eyed barbarian she encounters along the way. The book was very much the book of my heart, there were sword fights surrounding an angsty tale of forbidden love.
But there was a lot I was afraid of when I was writing Butterfly Swords. I wondered how much cultural detail to include? How much would readers accept?
In many ways, my upcoming release, The Sword Dancer, was a second chance at writing a swordfight adventure. I was no longer afraid of making the story “too Chinese”, no longer afraid of taking more risks in terms of worldbuilding and culture and character. I don’t know if it works at all, but I felt that I didn’t hold back this time around.
I adore learning about different cultures and history, but your characterizations are what make your books so great. Which of your characters is your favorite, and why?
There are two: Ling Suyin and Li Tao from The Dragon and the Pearl. Something about that story really clicked for me. The book itself apparently was quite hit or miss with readers, but I do get the most fan mail regarding Li Tao and I always feel extra special when someone tells me they’ve enjoyed reading him. Ling Suyin is the heroine who was closest to me in age. She was smart and thoughtful (at least I thought so).
Writing the two of them together was just a pleasure. It was the third manuscript I had written (my 2nd published) and it was the first book where I felt I found my voice and my characters found their voice. They had a sort of maturity in their worldviews that really resonated with me.
You definitely write with the confidence of an experienced author, although I saw that in your first book. Which book, if any, was the most difficult for you to write, and why?
LOL. Whatever effing book is due next. I really hoped that things would start getting easier for me, but every book is a fight which is why every release is such a celebration for me. I’m not a natural writer. I’m not a fast writer.
Sorry, writing never gets easier! I have over fifty published novels and each one is the hardest I’ve ever written!
In attempting to conquer a book, what do you consider key elements of a great story?
Compelling characters. Characters with an “active inner life” to borrow a term I heard from Donald Maass.
I totally agree. Characters are the story as far as I’m concerned. Are there any trends you hope to see in romance in the next few years?
I gravitate toward authors who push the boundaries in their stories. I’d love to see more variety in storytelling and settings in historical romance, of course. I’m also a fan of science fiction, so some great futuristic, space opera type romances would be great.
Fantasy romance of an other-wordly sort! Yes! Other than fantasizing, what is the best part about being a writer? The most frustrating?
The best part is the high you get when you realize that people have read and enjoyed your story. The most frustrating part is trying to guess what will happen in the industry, then allowing it to affect your creative process.
Would you like to tell us a little about your book? And about the upcoming mystery series?
The Sword Dancer (ISBN: 978-0373297429 May 21, 2013 Harlequin)
follows an infamous thief-catcher as he chases a suspected thief and rebel (our titular sword dancer) in a cat and mouse game across the province. It’s an action/adventure story that gives a peek into the world of law and order in the late Tang Dynasty. I wanted to write a romance that was at first full of flirtation and antagonism which eventually leads to respect, passion and love.
The Lotus Palace, (ISBN: 978-0373777730 August 27, 2013 Harlequin HQN)
is the start of a new historical romance mystery series. It’s focused around an area of the imperial capital called the North Hamlet, or the Pingkang li. It was the pleasure quarter where scholars and officials mingled with elite courtesans, creating a unique culture that elevated and immortalized these women, praising them as goddesses, while at the same time enslaving them and making them subservient.
Changan, the Tang Dynasty capital, was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world which I felt would make it the perfect setting for a cast of colorful characters and an endless supply of mysteries they could solve. The Lotus Palace features an unlikely pairing between a maidservant and a notorious playboy and failed scholar as they investigate the murder of a famous courtesan. The sequel, The Jade Temptress, is currently in progress.
I’ve read Lotus Palace and I’m already eager to see more of your notorious playboy and independent maidservant detectives!
Thank you, Jeannie, for being with us today. We're giving away a copy of The Sword Dancer to some lucky commenter, so hop in and talk to Jeannie. What do you think of historicals written long, long ago, in far away places?
Find out more about Jeannie online at http://www.jeannielin.com
A portion of Patricia Rice's backlist can be found at backlistebooks.com/