Interview with Jeannie Lin


Joanna here. GambledAway-hires

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.

AncientchinesecoinsMy 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. 

New york bowry street gangJoanna: I’ll just reassure you that there is no lack of menace in your crime lords. Pretty chilling customers.

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.

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Interview with Jeannie Lin

Pat here. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Jeannie Lin, whose historical romantic adventures set in Tang Dynasty China have readers, reviewers, and writers all abuzz. She’s a 2009 Golden-heart finalist, a high school teacher with a love of legends, epic fantasy, and martial art fiction. Her short story, The Taming of Mei Lin from Harlequin Historical Undone was released September 1.  Check out excerpts and reviews at

Jeannielin_harlequinphoto1.  How did you start writing?  Were you making up stories in kindergarten with a pencil clutched in one chubby fist, or did you come to the trade later?

Ha! The fat blue pencil is actually something I remember fondly. The one without an eraser; and boy did I need an eraser. That’s me to this day. I feel like I revise more than I write.

Walk down memory lane aside, my mother always wanted to be a writer. She told us stories of how her dream was to teach during the school year and write during the summers. I think because of her, I always thought of writing as a dream job.


2.  How did you become interested in writing historical novels?

My best friend introduced me to historical romance. We would borrow books from her mother’s shelves. She gravitated toward the westerns while I adored Johanna Lindsey. I loved historicals for the feeling of being transported. If I’m daydreaming about the contemporary world, my thoughts stray back to my job, my commute, my life. If I daydream in a historical setting, the ideas could become a little bit bigger than me and what I had experienced firsthand.

3. What drew you to writing romance in particular?

I had tried writing stories—usually science fiction or fantasy ones with either some little twist or some big adventure. I realized that I didn’t have characters anyone would care about. They were puppet
Butterfly-swords slaves to my hooks and premises.

The books that made me feel the most for the characters were romances. That’s what I wanted in my writing so I tried it. Magically, everything started coming together. There was a reason for characters to be doing things and adventures to be happening.   

4.  What was the biggest mistake you made when you first began writing?

There’s a reason you shouldn’t be allowed to have an eraser until the second grade. My biggest mistake was rewriting the first chapters. I kept trying to apply things I’d learned and rewrite the opening over and over. My mentor kept on telling me to write forward. When I finally finished the first book two years later, I understood why. By cycling around the same chapters, I wasn’t growing as a writer. Sure, I could polish, but I was polishing crap. Crap can only get so shiny.

5.  What do you consider key elements of a great story?

Butterflysword This is tough. I think the key elements are character and the X-factor. I can follow great characters through a bland plot. The X-factor is that feeling that I can’t get this anywhere else. I can’t get this from watching TV or from reading any other author. I can’t get this feeling of being in this time and place any other way. I must read this book because there’s nothing else like it.

6.  Are there any trends you hope to see in romance in the next few years?

I would love to see “smart bodice rippers”. Some of the feel of the good stuff from the 80s and 90s, but modernized. Uber-alpha men who are a bit on the insufferable scoundrel side, but matched with a heroine who can hold her own against him. I guess I don’t feel as swept away sometimes by modern romance. It’s like we’re being too safe. I want to read some wild, breathless romance again with sweeping historical settings. And I want to feel like I’m being a little naughty reading it.


7.  What is the best part about being a writer?  The most frustrating?

The best part: I love it all. I love the brainstorming and revising and the agony it takes to finally make the book look like something someone might read. This may be a bad time to ask me. I have adrenaline and endorphins rushing through me due to the upcoming debut.

I suppose waiting for news is the most frustrating. Nothing moves as fast as you want it to.

8. Would you like to tell us a little about your book?

Butterfly Swords is set in 8th century Tang Dynasty. It’s a historical fantasy or alternative history that brings medieval swordsmen across the Silk Road into the Chinese empire. The heroine, Ai Li, is a sword-wielding princess who escapes from a pre-arranged marriage when she believes her warlord husband-to-be is a traitor. She meets up with a western barbarian and they team up to try to get her safely back to the capital.
The hero is a reluctant one. He’s dealing with the guilt of leading his men into an ambush. Stranded in a strange land, he takes on the task of protecting Ai Li as a way to redeem himself. And of course they start falling for each other.
The whole thing was so exhilarating to write. I hope people have as much fun reading it.
Jeannie Lin’s Golden Heart award-winning novel, Butterfly Swords, will be released October 1 from Harlequin Historical. It received 4-stars from Romantic Times Reviews—“The action never stops, the love story is strong and the historical backdrop is fascinating.”

Join the launch celebration at for giveaways and special features. Visit Jeannie online at:

Jeannie will be giving away a copy of The Butterfly Swords to a random commenter, so please, welcome Jeannie, and send questions her way.