11 August 2013

Guest Blog: Mingmei Yip

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Mingmei Yip, whose latest novel THE NINE FOLD HEAVEN is set in China during the 1930's. The author will offer a free copy of The Nine Fold Heaven to a lucky blog visitor - please leave your email address to be considered in the drawing. Here's the blurb:

In this mesmerizing new novel, Mingmei Yip draw readers deeper into the exotic world of 1930s Shanghai first explored in Skeleton Women, and into the lives of the unforgettable Camilla, Shadow, and Rainbow Chang.

When Shadow, a gifted, ambitious magician, competed with the beautiful singer spy Camilla for the affections of organized crime leader Master Lung, she almost lost everything. Hiding out in Hong Kong, performing in a run-down circus, Shadow has no idea that Camilla, too, is on the run with her lover, Jinying – Lung’s son.

Yet while Camilla and Shadow were once enemies, now their only hope of freedom lies in joining forces to eliminate the ruthless gangster Big Brother Wang. Despite the danger, Shadow, Camilla, and Jinying return to Shanghai. Camilla also has her own secret agenda – she has heard a rumor that her baby son is alive. And in a city teeming with spies and rivals – including the vengeful gossip columnist Rainbow Chang – each battles for a future in a country on the verge of monumental change.

**Q&A with Mingmei Yip**

Tell us a little about your new and fifth novel The Nine Fold Heaven.

The Nine Fold Heaven is about three femmes fatales – referred to as “skeleton women,” in Chinese. They are the singer spy Camilla, the magician Shadow, and the gossip columnist Rainbow Chang. But the journey is mainly Camilla’s. She undertakes an emotional and dangerous trip back to Shanghai to reunite with her lost lovers,  to find the baby she was told was stillborn, and to discover the secret of her parents’ murder.

Nine Fold Heaven is part of a series of Skeleton Women (femmes fatales) but can be read as a stand alone book.

Tell us about your main character(s).

The three beautiful, talented and scheming skeleton women, or femmes fatales, are Camilla, the singer spy, Shadow the magician, and Rainbow Chang the gossip columnist. Though are all successful, they remain marginalized in a society that disdains independent women. Camilla and Shadow, realizing their real enemy is a repressive society, stop fighting each other and unite to defeat their gangster boss.

In researching these novels I was fascinated to learn how women could overcome their rivalries and survive in a near-lawless world controlled by gangsters for whom murder was as routine as sipping a cup of tea.

In the course of her adventurous life, Camilla finds herself with two lovers. One is the Harvard-educated son of the gangster head Master Lung, whose bed she is forced to share. The other is Gao, Lung’s most trusted bodyguard. These are two very different men, the son is refined, intellectual, but impulsive, while the bodyguard has rough manners but is always gentle and respectful to Camilla. This iron-man-with-a-tender-heart bodyguard, seems to win the hearts of many of my female readers.

What do you feel is the most unique aspect of your story?

My protagonists are brave and strong women who are relentless in overcoming hardship and tragedy to live life on their own terms and achieve happiness. It is hard now even to try to imagine the hardships women had to endure in traditional China – marrying to a dead fiancé, making them the slaves of the dead man’s parents, or forced into prostitution, yet not even allowed to keep their babies. My heroine was taken from her parents, trained to be a spy and to kill with no emotion.

Some of my characters are inspired by the lives of actual women, including Camilla the singer-spy in my new novel The Nine Fold Heaven, and the teenage prostitute Xiang Xiang in my debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion (now in its 5th printing!) I feel honored to be able to give these silenced women their voice.

1930’s Shanghai is represented in your novel the Nine Fold Heaven as a lawless and corrupt time. Why did you choose this particular time?

I love history, because it is like a mirror reflecting all that’s good and bad in humanity. I think the 1930’s Shanghai is one of the sexiest eras in world history, populated with larger than life characters: glamorous women, cynical politicians, and corrupt police. But also with idealists trying to help China find its way in the modern world.

It was a time of extremes – from sybaritic luxury to abject poverty. I have tried to describe both from the indulgences of the rich to the miseries of the poor. But even for the rich, life was full of dangers.

Few of the rich came by their wealth honestly. There were always many ready to usurp their place, by guile if possible, or by murder if necessary. Those without money were expendable, particularly parentless children abandoned to orphanages. This had been Camilla’s fate, and also two of my actually virtuous characters -- the little blind girl and the baby she takes care of.

Can you give aspiring writers some writing tips?

I plunge into writing and ignore everything around me. Since I was a tiny girl I have always preferred life inside my own head. Whenever I have writer’s block, I’ll read or watch a movie. This usually triggers ideas for me so I can go back to write. I also read a lot, not only to feed my imagination and creativity, but also to have a point of comparison for my own writing.

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.

Most important, don’t give up! The ancient Chinese philosophy classic, the Daode Jing says more things are spoiled in the end than the beginning. Stick through to the end.

Tell us about your other books?

I love writing for both adults and children. My other 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 the new one Grandma Panda’s China Storybook, which has just  come out this year, all by Tuttle Publishing. For children, I also like to entertain while teaching about right and wrong.
Are you working on another novel?

Yes, my next and sixth novel is Needle of a Thousand Beauties, to be published by Kensington Books in 2014.

It is about a young woman who escapes a ghost marriage to join a community of celebrate embroiderers. Soon, stifled by the rigid routines of the group, she helps herself to one of their treasures – an imperial robe. Chased by agents of a secret society, she makes her way to Beijing. There she finds work in an embroidery shop, only to be tricked into marrying the boss’ son. Escaping again, she falls in love with a revolutionary and lives an even more dangerous life. Despite all these distractions, she continues with her needlework and earns fame and respect. 

Visit Mingmei atwww.mingmeiyip.com