I’m interviewing Jeannie Lin, writer of most excellent
Historical Romances set in Tang Dynasty China and Steampunk set in an alternate but formidably realistic historical China. She writes love, adventure, complicated family relationship, and high stakes in a world that sets all our assumptions wobbling. These are not your everyday Romances, folks.
This week Jeannie and I celebrate the release of our new novellas — hers and mine — in the e-anthology Gambled Away.
Joanna: Howdy Jeannie. Glad to see you.
Jeannie: Hello! So glad to be back here with the Wenches. Can you believe Gambled Away is finally here?
Joanna: I'm so happy to share an anthology with you. Oddly enough, I think both our stories are, at the core, about women escaping the constraints that narrow and bind their choices. 'Taking their lives into their own hands' as you put it.
My Aimée, in Gideon and the Den of Thieves, was sold into the service of Lazarus, the King Thief of Regency-era London. One does not just walk away from that service. One runs. We see Aimée trying to free herself from Lazarus.
Jeannie: I must admit after reading Lazarus, I had big baddie envy. I want to go back and rewrite the entire last half of my story. *smacks hand* Lazarus is so dark and twisted and complicated! Completely unpredictable.
My crime lords are much more straightforward — they're businessmen. They don't make emotional decisions, which makes them neither evil nor good. Unlike everyone else in the story, they have nothing to hide and their goals are quite clear. It's all the other characters who sneak and lie and betray one another, often times believing they are doing the right thing.
While my Aimée faces the obvious practical problem associated with dwelling among the brutal and larcenous, Wei-wei’s life is more comfortable — on the surface. But it is not, perhaps, more free.
Jeannie: There's two sides of that coin for me. Chinese women in imperial times are known for being subservient — it's a stereotype often perpetuated in the West. But for me what's interesting is the ways that women have empowered themselves while keeping the illusion that they were not wresting power. When Chinese women were forbidden to write, they came up with their own written language, for instance.
In the case of Wei-wei, she's shown herself in past books to have quite a bit of agency behind the scenes. So much so that her brother at one point complains that she gets to do whatever she wants. The servants are at a loss at how to control her, and all the while her parents believe she's the model of an obedient daughter.
From personal experience *ahem*, I can tell you that game takes a bit of wrangling! And it's much more interesting to me than a feisty heroine who's completely willing to spit in the face of society or a meek and subservient mouse who is crushed under the weight of the patriarchy.
That's what I love about your heroines. They all come alive on the page with so many layers. And they don't fall back on using sex to navigate their worlds. Aimee is a wonderful heroine to add to the team — she knows wha
t she's worth and made herself valuable to those around her.
Joanna: Your Wei-wei is another complex, layered heroine who deals with men on many levels, not just the sexual. Though the building tension between Wei-wei and Gao is both tender and sensual.
One element that interested me particularly in Liar’s Dice was your heroine Wei-wei taking on the disguise of a man. At first, to experience life outside the confines of a ‘woman’s role’ in a traditional society. Later, to track down a killer.
Jeannie: We've heard of so many instances of this masquerade in history that it's something historical romance readers accept as a possibility. Look at the swashbuckling Anne Bonnie and Mary Read! It's exciting that this sort of thing actually happened and in some of the most unlikely times and places.
Joanna: You’re writing in a distant time and place, yet you create a tremendously detailed and realistic world. You aren’t by any chance a Time Lord, are you?
Jeannie: One word: Google. Well, two more words: overactive imagination. I've been dreaming of imperial China practically all my life. The way other girls might dream of knights and castles. People do dream of knights and castles, right?
I have to ask Joanna, “Are you now or have you ever worked as a spy? I mean, you must have at least gone undercover sometime, right? Interrogated a man?”
(I have insinuated before that Joanna has led a secret life as a former spy because that's the only way she could recreate this historical spy vs. spy world so vividly. She has always evaded that question.)
Joanna: (Evades question.) *g*
What about you? What's the most interesting research you’ve done to recreate your historical reality.
Jeannie: The Lotus Palace series, of which The Liar's Dice is the latest addition, takes place in the capital and commerce is central to many of the storylines. I had so much information on money: silver ingots, official dynasty coins, paper money. When you read through a historical, these details may seem like throwaways, but there's a lot behind even something as simple as a toss of a coin.
I'm always impressed with the assortment of skills your characters possess; from espionage to field medicine to appraising valuables. What’s your favorite bit of research?
Joanna: It’s not a skill exactly . . . jewels. It's one of those unaccountable fascinations. I wear no jewelry. I own about none at all. But I do love to look at it and I love the history of famous jewels.
In my novella a few years ago, My True Love Hath My Heart, the heroine was a jewelry artist. My heroine in the Gambled Away is an art appraiser with particular skill in fine jewelry. I do enjoy having an excuse to go rummaging through the internet, looking at lovely things.
Jeannie: A den of thieves is a good place to find jewelry.
Joanna: That's what I thought.
Jeannie: When will the next Spymaster book be out and will Hawker be in it? (Subtle, eh? I'd make an awful spy.)
Joanna: The next book is Sèverine’s story, as yet untitled, and I don’t know when it’ll be out. There’s a small part for Hawker. I think we actually see more of him in Gideon and the Den of Thieves.
Jeannie: You can't see me now, but I'm vibrating with happiness.
Joanna: And I would so much like to continue the story of Wei-wei and Gao. Any chance of that, Jeannie? When’s your next story coming out and what world will we follow you into?
Jeannie: This is the year of the novella for me — my next release is Silk, Swords and Surrender, a collection of five Tang Dynasty historical novellas, four of which were released previously, plus a new addition – The Touch of Moonlight. I'm so excited to have them all bundled together and available in print and digital for my readers who have been asking me if these stories would ever be in paperback.
But for Wei-wei fans, never fear! You will see Wei-wei and Gao again. Their story is just beginning and I'm not going to sabotage myself by giving a date, but I'm starting to put the story together in my head. This is the exciting part, getting the engine working, and I have Gambled Away to thank for it.
Joanna: I’m looking forward to it immensely. Thanks so very much. Great to talk to you.
Jeannie: And thank you!
Gambled Away is now available on line. I hope you all get a chance to read it.
You must have favorite characters, men and women you love reading about. Would you like to take your characters to a new time and place and give them new stories there?
(I’m longing to see Elizabeth Bennett in Classical Rome encountering that prideful Consul, Fitzwilliamus Darcius.)