Author Jeannie Lin caught RT's attention with her debut novel, Butterfly Swords. This author's October release takes place in medieval Asia. Now the author answers RT's questions about what inspired her to set her novel in a locale that may be new to historical romance fans. Can't wait to check it out? You can get a taste of the world in The Taming of Mei Lin, the author's e-book novella which is available now.
RT: For Butterfly Swords, which came first, the story or the setting?
Jeannie Lin: The setting definitely. I've always been fascinated by the Tang Dynasty and how it's held up as a Golden Age in a time when the western world was in its Dark Age. I always say that it's almost not fair how easy it is to world build in China. There are so many fascinating places with such rich history.
RT: How did you make China a character in the book?
JL: In Chinese heroic literature, there is the concept of "Jianghu", which translates literally to "rivers and lakes", but really Jianghu represents the idea of a "special world" alongside the ordinary world. I think the two concepts: setting as character and Jianghu flow very well into each other. I wanted Butterfly Swords to try to depict this great wide world of China, with its signature characteristics and rules, to readers who hadn't been there before. The hero and heroine start out in the lush forests of the South and travel along the rivers and canals to reach the civilized, yet very political capital and then on to basically the "Wild West" of the Tang Empire. Each setting has a different mood and connects with the characters differently.
RT: If you had to personify the setting, how would you describe it?
JL: Hmm...This is hard. China is called the Middle Kingdom and it does think that it's the center of the universe. It's a bit boastful, a show-off and a know-it-all. Akin to grand gestures and overstatement. To be clear: I'm speaking of China as the setting to my stories, not of China as a modern political or social entity.
RT: What kind of research did you conduct about China for the story? Are there any stories about the country that you would like to share?
JL: I went on a trip to China about five years ago before I knew I'd write these stories. That might have been the beginning of what sparked my imagination. Since then, I've done extensive research online with Google Earth and different travel sites. I participate on several online forums where people post pictures of locations they've visited and that's been really helpful. I've connected through e-mail with travelers like "Chef Ying" and professional photojournalist and author Tom Carter, who traveled across the different regions of China and published a photographic record of his journey.
It would have been almost impossible to write this story before the Internet became so prevalent.
RT: What would you like readers to take away about China from your book?
Jeannie Lin: I want them to fall in love and want to know more. I'd like readers to open up their view of China and go beyond the common and very familiar stereotypes and iconography. Everything that you've learned, everything that I've learned; it's just the tip of the iceberg.