03 June 2012

Guest Blog: Mingmei Yip

This week, we're welcoming historical fiction author, Mingmei Yip. Her title, SKELETON WOMENset in Shanghai during the 1930's, is available now from Kensington. Mingmei is here to talk about the novel and offer a copy in the winner's preferred format. Please leave a comment for your chance to win. Here's the blurb:

Camilla is a young orphan when she is adopted by a master crime lord and turned into the singing sensation of Shanghai. She lives in luxury but knows none of the wealth is really hers. She is one of the skeleton women, who lure men to their ruin and death. In her case, it’s literal, since she is also trained in knife-throwing and contortion.
Her assignment: attract the attention of another crime lord and help see he is assassinated. But can she stay in his good graces with competition from Shadow, a famed magician, and Rainbow Chang, the ambiguously sexed gossip columnist? And will she be able to resist falling for either the gang lord’s son or his hunky bodyguard? 
**Q&A with Mingmei Yip**

Please tell us about your new and fourth novel Skeleton Women.

Skeleton Women is a Chinese phrase for femme fatales. My story is about three of them  -- Camilla, the nightclub singer who has been forced to become a spy, Shadow the magician who jumps naked off a tall building, and a gender-ambiguous gossip columnist. All must scheme in order to survive the gang wars in lawless 1930’s Shanghai.

The protagonist Camilla’s mission is to seduce Shanghai’s most powerful crime lord and see that he is assassinated. But then she fell for the gang lord’s handsome, refined son and his hunky bodyguard…

Many who have reviewed your novels found them to be a real page-turner. How do you make your writing interesting?

Interest is in the details. Plot is critical but it is what you do with it that makes a story come alive. I am a very curious person and find interest in almost anything. My reading materials range from academic papers to entertainment magazines to politics. In politics, much of human nature is revealed so it provides great raw material for character depictions. The many different strategies used in politics are also excellent for plots. The same is true of the entertainment world.

In Skeleton Women, Camilla applies her knowledge of the two famous Chinese classics The Art of War and The Thirty-six Stratagems to survive and escape.

How do you write a novel from beginning to end? Do you have an outline and have all the details worked out first?

 I’ll always have an idea first, then throw in plot and sub-plots together with characters. Since I’m somewhat of a free spirit, I never write a whole outline or set down the details for each chapter. Once I have started a story, it takes on a life of its own and the characters lead me where the story wants to go. I don’t try to write out the plot ahead of time because it always changes while I am writing.

In addition to novels, you also wrote and illustrated children's books. Was it difficult to go from children's literature to adult literature?

Actually, there’s no difficulty. I think because I am still very much a child at heart. For many years, I even refused to grow up, being so afraid of the adult world of hypocrisy and scheming.

I love writing for both adults and children. My novels are Skeleton Women, Song of the Silk Road, Petals from the Sky, and Peach Blossom Pavilion, all by Kensington Books. For adults, I wish my readers, besides being entertained, would be inspired by my brave heroines.

I have two children’s books (which I both wrote and illustrated) Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories and a new one coming out in 2013, all by Tuttle Publishing. For children, I also like to entertain while teaching about right and wrong.
Do you have any advice for writers, especially beginners?

I think it is still essential to master the basics. Not only voice, characterization, dialogue, plot, but also sentence structure, its rhythm and music. I always try to vary the length of my sentences and start each one with a different subject. It’s essential to spent whatever time it takes to find the right word. Sometimes, it is a single word that brightens a whole paragraph.

There is a Chinese saying, “Slap on the thigh and exclaim.” That’s how the readers will react to a good choice of  word. Readers may not be aware of the meticulous hard work behind a smooth sentence, but if you don’t pay attention, they will soon become bored.
I also think it’s good for authors to attend other cultural activities such as movies, concerts, art exhibitions. Have as diverse a background as you can cultivate, that really helps.

Your book did so well in Hawaii. Do you think the time has come for more Asian-themed books?

I think Westerners have always been fascinated by the mysterious East. From the thirties on, popular novelists like Pearl Buck, Han Suyin, James Clavel, and more recently authors like Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Lisa See all have had huge followings. Now that China is opening up, it’s natural that more people want to know about things going on behind the bamboo gate which had been closed to the outside world for so long.
So yes, I think the time has come for more Asian, especially China-themed, books.

What do you got coming in the near future? Any upcoming release(s) you want to shout out about?

 A sequel – but also an independent work -- to my 2012 novel Skeleton Women, to be published in 2013. I also just finished my second children’s book to be out in 2013, which I both wrote and illustrated.

Thank you, Mingmei, and best of luck with Skeleton Women, available now.