Written by Danielle Lisle.
Jeannie Lin, wow! This woman has opened my mind to a whole new world of Historical Romance and she’s doing it with the Tang Dynasty in the background.
I’ll confess and admit I knew nothing about this period in time, until I opened BUTTERFLY SWORDS and Jeannie and her characters carried me away to a time like no other. My extent of knowledge on any type of Asianonic history was limited to Monkey Magic, a poorly dubbed child’s martial arts TV Show that I adored as a youth, and The Last Samurai starring the couch hopping Tom Cruise. I am fairly confident in saying none of these took place in the Tang Dynasty.
For those of you, who like me, have little knowledge on this time in history, let me attempt to educate you.
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China during 618-907AD. In the 7th and 8th century it was estimated to have a population in the region of 50 million and later in the 9th century increased to 80 million. With its large and ever growing population base, the dynasty was able to raise armies of hundreds of thousands of troops to contend with nomadic powers in dominating Inner Asia and the lucrative trade routes along the Silk Road. The Tang Dynasty also had a powerful cultural influence over neighboring areas such as those in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. So in essence, it was a powerful time in Chinese history. Though not everything was rosy sailing throughout the Tang’s history, but as an overview, The Tang Dynasty was one of the most evolved and dominating civilizations of the Middle Age. Even women came to have an important role in government offices, something Jeannie pays tribute to in her books.
BUTTERFLY SWORDS, published by Harlequin in October 2010, was the first installment of Jeannie’s Tang Dynasty series. This month sees the release of the next installment, THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL. The former Emperor’s consort, Ling Suyin, is renowned for her beauty and being the ultimate seductress. With a desire to know her life, quietly alone, she’s thrown into disarray when 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. Is she the woman who can entrance the man behind the legend?
Jeannie Lin has been kind enough to join us today and has gone under the microscope to answer some tough questions. Buwhaha!
Danielle: What was it about the Tang Dynasty that appealed to you so much as a writer? Both your novels in this series, BUTTERFLY SWORDS and THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL, so vividly capture the time in my mind. I can’t help being curious about the driving force behind the time and setting for you.
Jeannie: I remember watching these epic costume dramas about Empress Wu and her daughter, Princess Taiping when I was younger so the Tang Dynasty has always been a muse for me. As I began to research Chinese history, what really drew me in was the ideal of meritocracy that existed during this period. There are many stories of remarkable and powerful women, and though they weren’t the norm, they were in many ways a product of their time and not complete anomalies. The Tang Dynasty was when the civil exam system gained the most influence. This meant that a person could hope to rise from his station in life through hard work and education. There are many Tang Dynasty short stories and poems celebrating this sort of rags to riches achievement. At the same time, it was a time of war and political strife. I feel like the Tang Dynasty with its wealth and emphasis on art and culture provides the refinement of Regency times combined with the danger and adventure of medieval times. It’s a period where I can truly believe that two people from different worlds can realistically fight for love and win.
In terms of visualizing the time, there are so many images of the Tang Dynasty in paintings and the look and feel of it influenced so much popular media (at least Asian media) that it was easy to re-create it in my mind.
Danielle: In THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL, simply from the excerpt alone, (clink here to visit Jeannie’s site and read) I feel many deep layers toward both the former Emperor’s consort, Ling Suyin and the ruthless warlord, Li Tao. When creating these two characters (or any other for that matter), is there a particular type of hero or heroine you feel you lean towards as a writer? For example, the damaged soul, scorned by a failed relationship, destined for a life lived in bitterness or the shameless rogue, who’s driven by his ‘nether-region’.
Jeannie: Ling Suyin and Li Tao both appeared in BUTTERFLY SWORDS, so I had a chance to delve into their characters a bit before embarking on their romance. For heroines, I’m always drawn to empowered females who have found a way to really work their sphere of influence to its maximum potential. For Li Tao, I never wanted him to apologize for being a villain. I wanted him to have the same hardness he had shown in BUTTERFLY SWORDS, yet still somehow be redeemed. My heroes tend to have a fatalistic point of view, even go so far as having a death wish. I think this comes from the Chinese heroes I draw inspiration from. They’re very strong in their convictions, even if it leads to their own destruction. In THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL, I was additionally fascinated by taking two people who were larger than life and making them human. They’re the types of characters who are often depicted in big, tragic epics, but it’s not always about warfare and intrigue. It was interesting to see how they would deal with basic human drives such as love, acceptance and security.
Danielle: What is it about writing historicals that you love so much? Is it the time, the place, the people or a combination of all three?
Jeannie: Tee hee...history was my weakest subject in school, but history classes never gave me the context to connect and make sense of historical events.
Something about looking back into the past to reflect upon the present appeals to me. As a result, my characters are undeniably historical in attitude and culture, yet visualized through a modern lens. Some readers may not believe this seeing how independent the characters seem, but writings completed during the Tang Dynasty show such desire to achieve and find romantic love. Also a lot of ideas people have about historical Chinese culture come from depictions of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) or post-imperial China which is a completely different ballgame. I personally don’t believe people of the past and people of the present are as disparate as some would claim. In Asian culture, where there’s such an emphasis on our ancestors and our past, I can see a clear connection from the empowered women who were my ancestors with their small defiances to the strong, independent women in my family today. Modern people didn’t evolve in a linear fashion to become better, smarter, more civilized people.
Perhaps it’s also that thinking of contemporary storylines always starts to remind me of my day job, my bills, and my daily worries. It doesn’t free me to really let my imagination run wild. :)
Danielle: PIECES OF PAPER (click here to buy!) is another of your amazing works based in Tokyo and explores questions of identity and connectedness in the digital age. While it is not set in the Tang Dynasty, nor an historical (don’t worry my fellow historical lovers – it’s really good and goes toward a worthy cause!), you are donating all author profits to the relief effort in Japan. Can you tell us what motivated you to release this story and donate the proceeds?
Jeannie: Wow, surprised to see this mentioned here! This story is actually a semi-autobiographical re-telling of a pivotal time in my life when I worked in Korea and visited Tokyo for a weekend. I leave it up to the reader to try to determine what parts were true.
It was the first time I had been to Asia and I was sort of thrown into the deep since it wasn’t a vacation. I commuted to work each morning, pushed my way into the subway, grabbed lunch from little food stands I passed on the streets, and haggled for good prices in a language I could barely speak. Those short few months dug up so many thoughts I never realized were inside me. I reflected on my family and my past and also had to make some big decisions about my future. It’s a time in my life that I’ve returned to, again and again, and that’s why I wrote that story. I had been hanging onto it forever and had considering posting it as a free read or self-publishing it for a while. Then the earthquakes hit Japan and my thoughts revolved around the people I’d met who lived there and the streets and train stations I had wandered. If you believe in such a thing, it felt like fate to publish it and donate the proceeds to the Red Cross.
Danielle: When you’re not busy working on your next masterpiece, what is sitting on your bookshelfor coffee table, waiting for you to pick up and read?
Jeannie: I’m trying very hard to divide my reading between my print book TBR and my Kindle TBR because the print pile was getting unruly. Right now I’m reading The Scarlet Pimpernel on my Kindle as sort of a reference work for my next project...which by the way is NOT set in France. I think Joanna Bourne has that one in the bag. (By the way, I HIGHLY recommend her upcoming historical romance, THE BLACK HAWK. I read an advance copy and it totally rocked my world. :) )
Danielle: Jeannie, do you have a question for our readers? One lucky commenter will win a copy of THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL!
Jeannie: Since it’s a historical blog, I wonder what truly draws you to a period as a reader? Is it the way of life during that time—the details of daily life, the clothes, the etiquette and customs? Or is it more overarching details like the political climate and society? Or is it to discover more about a time and place you’re unfamiliar with?
If you want to be in the running to win a copy of Jeannie’s newest release, comment below, answering her question and don’t forget to leave your email so I can contact you if you’re the lucky winner.
I would like to thank Jeannie for her time today. It was my hope that everyone reading this blog post can now clearly see, there is more to historical romance than first meets the eye.
For any further information of Jeannie or her books, please visit her website.