Here’s a bit about the book:
Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother’s belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws’ protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a “bad-luck woman,” Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.
In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor’s love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting–a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete–betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman’s story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own.
Today, Mingmei Yip has agreed to join us and answer some questions about her novel and her work. Please give her a warm welcome.
Where do your story ideas come from?
Story ideas usually pop up in my mind, mostly triggered when I am reading, watching a movie, looking at art works in a museum, or just day dreaming. Not long ago I saw a book on embroidery in a bookstore and was inspired to write a novel about embroiderers and the painstaking efforts they apply to create their beautiful works. That novel is my newest, Secret of a Thousand Beauties.
The idea for my third novel, Song of the Silk Road – a romantic adventure on China’s fabled route with a promised reward of three million dollars — came to me in a dream.
The heroine of your latest book, Secret of a Thousand Beauties, is a strong and independent woman like the women in your other novels. Why do you choose to write about these women who live in cultures that tend to curtail their independence?
All my protagonists are brave and strong women who relentlessly overcome hardship and tragedy to live life on their own terms and achieve happiness. It is hard now even to try to imagine the miseries women had to endure in traditional China such as marriage to a dead fiancé, making them the slaves of the dead man’s parents, or being forced into prostitution, yet not being allowed to marry or keep their babies.
Some of my characters are inspired by the lives of actual women, including Camilla the singer-spy in my novels Skeleton Women and 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 once-silenced women their voices. Also, by writing about them, they have become my teachers of determination, courage, and compassion.
What are your first loves as a reader about novels? Do you prefer plot or characterization?
Both. But if I have to choose, insightful description of human nature are more satisfying to me than plots filled with twists and turns.
Do you prefer to write historical fiction and would you consider writing something more contemporary?
Among my seven novels (the 7th one will come out in 2015), four are historical – Secret of a Thousand Beauties; The Nine Fold Heaven; Skeleton Women; Peach Blossom Pavilion and two are contemporary – Song of the Silk Road; Petals from the Sky. I also wrote and illustrated two children’s books: Chinese Children Favorite Stories and Grandma Panda’s China Storybook, both published by Tuttle Publishing.
Who are some of your favorite authors/poets?
My favorite authors are Eileen Cheung and Echo, unfortunately both deceased. In the West, I read almost everything by Lisa See, Amy Tan, and Anchee Min.
What current projects are you working on? Care to share any details?
My next novel, which will be my seventh is The Witches Market, about a young woman who has suddenly acquired supernatural talents. After this realization, she travels to the Canary Islands, seeking witches against whom to test her own powers and calling.
Besides writing, I perform on the guqin, a very ancient Chinese instrument which I’ve been playing for over thirty years. I also teach calligraphy workshops for both adult and children at many venues including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, CUNY and others. All these activities help provide material for my novels.
Check out the book trailer: