One of the perks of hosting Women’s Fiction Writers is being able to read and think about the interviews before they “go live” on the Internet. I love what Author Mingmei Yip has to say about incorporating culture into fiction. She says, “The more you know, the more lightly you can use your learning when you write.” I hadn’t thought of it that way before. When a writer knows a subject well, he or she can be more judicious in parceling out that information in the book. With an inherent understanding of this element in a novel,there’s no need to beat the reader over the head with it. (And they are grateful) Do you agree? Share your thoughts!
And please welcome Mingmei Yip to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Mingmei Yip Says That When You Know A Subject Deeply, The More Lightly You Can Use It In Your Writing
Amy: Congratulations on your fifth novel, THE NINE FOLD HEAVEN, which takes place in Shanghai in the 1930s. What drew you to this time and place for this novel? And could this story have taken place anywhere else?
Mingmei: I love history, because it is like a mirror reflecting all that’s good and bad in humanity. I think 1930’s Shanghai was 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 also 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.
Amy: Since you write about Chinese characters and weave in Chinese culture, what are some of the most important things you hope to impart to your readers?
Mindgmei: Though we read novels and watch movies for entertainment, I strongly believe that readers should also be given something more. Besides enjoying an escape filled with excitement and adventures, I hope my readers will discover some ancient Chinese wisdom and come to know a little more about human nature.
Amy: Your debut novel, PEACH BLOSSOM PAVILION, was published in 2008. What is the biggest change you’ve found in your own fiction writing—or your approach to writing—through the past five years?
Mingmei: After having written six full-length novels, now I write a lot faster and can find new ways to tweaking the plot and sub-plots to my satisfaction. Also, I like to think that I have lived with all my woman characters and grown with them as they struggle to overcome overwhelming odds and, sometimes, do the nearly impossible to reach success and happiness. Nevertheless, getting to the happy outcome requires knowing when to push forward and when to let things ride.
Camilla, the protagonist in my new novel The Nine Fold Heaven, knows that to have a chance at a happy life, she must somehow escape her bondage to gangsters and the violence that surrounds her. So she uses the wisdom of the ancient Chinese sages to plan her escape – and in the process learns to love.
Writing about strong women who never give up, I feel that they became my teachers. We all face obstacles on our journeys, but theirs are tougher and more miserable than most of us face. Now I have a comfortable life, but getting there was a long journey. I hope the examples of my characters will show the way to acquiring wisdom and even compassion.
Amy: Does the term women’s fiction ruffle your writer feathers?
Mingmei: No. I know a lot of writers do not like to be labeled. But unless the label is wrong, it doesn’t bother me. Though there are men in my novels, the focus is on women’s lives. There is love in my novels, but also dangers and thrills.
Amy: What’s your best advice for writing women’s fiction with elements of culture and heritage?
Mingmei: To learn a lot about your own heritage. I’m lucky that I have studied different aspects of Chinese culture over the years, so I can sprinkle my novels with poetry, philosophy, fortune telling, music, painting, even martial arts. So my advice is to read as much as you can on everything that interests you. Don’t just use the internet, but read serious books to get deeper knowledge. The more you know, the more lightly you can use your learning when you write.
Mingmei’s new novel is The Nine Fold Heaven (Kensington 2013), story of an ex spy and singer’s emotional and dangerous journey to reunite with her lost lover and supposedly baby, and to revenge for her parents murdered by her gangster head boss.
Mingmei’s fourth novel is Skeleton Women (Kensington 2012), a story about a singer spy, a magician, and a gossip columnist scheming to survive the gang wars in the 1930ies, lawless Shanghai. It is linked to The Nine Fold Heaven, but can be read as an independent work.
Mingmei’s debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion (Kensington 2008), story of the last musician courtesan of China, has received numerous favorable reviews and is now in its fifth printing.
Her second novel is Petals from the Sky, (Kensington, 2010) a Buddhist love story, which Booklist describes as “a serious, engaging story of faith, devotion, and the commingling of cultures.”
Her third novel Song of the Silk Road, (Kensington, April 2011) is a romantic adventure on China’s fabled route with the lure of a three million dollar reward. Publisher’s Weekly describes it as “once modern and traditional…Yip’s modern heroine’s quest is filled with unique companions, unforeseen dangers, unexpected joys, and bitter sorrows…”
Mingmei’s other works in English is Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories (Tuttle Publishing) and Grandma Panda’s China Storybook, (2013 Tuttle Publishing) which she both wrote and illustrated.
Besides a writer, Mingmei is also a renowned qin musician, calligrapher and painter. In Hong Kong, she was a columnist for seven major newspapers. She has appeared on over sixty TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and the US.