Author Interview: Multi-published author, Mingmei Yip, Says Sometimes, It Is A Single Word That Brightens A Whole Paragraph

mingmeiOnce again, we welcome author Mingmei Yip to Women’s Fiction Writers. Her novels come from history, culture, and her passion for her subject and for storytelling. That’s a lesson right there! But her advice to aspiring authors really hits home. Tell me if you agree. You’ll also find the trailer for her new novel at the end of the interview, I hope you’ll take a look!

Please welcome Mingmei Yip back to WFW!

Amy xo

“Sometimes, it is a single word that brightens a whole paragraph”

mingmeiAmy: Many authors have stories in their heads for years before writing them. Can you share with us when the idea sparked for Secret of a Thousand Beauties? And when did you know that “marriage” to a dead man and Chinese embroidery were integral to your story?

Mingmei: In traditional China, women were and sometimes still are considered men’s possessions and didn’t have much independence or freedom. A Chinese saying goes “The worst thing that can happen to a woman is to marry the wrong man. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to enter the wrong profession.” Unfortunately, because marriages were usually arranged, many women ended up marrying the wrong man at the cost of any chance for happiness. Wary of a bad marriage, some decided to remain single for the rest of their life. These women would join small communities established for non-marrying women. They displayed this choice by tying up the hair in a long pigtail.

Intrigued by these women and their sisterhoods, I decided to write a novel about them. Most worked as maids, but some were more fortunate and could learn a traditional woman’s craft. One of these was embroidery, an art that has always appealed to me, so I decided to write about this small group of embroiderers. They are supposedly celibate, but of course many succumbed to desire.

Ghost marriage was another way women were oppressed in traditional China. Couples were often betrothed in childhood, or even before birth. Since only half of children survived to adulthood, many lost their fiancés. Because they had already pledged marriage, the cruel custom was to marry the woman to the dead man. As a practical matter, this meant she was a slave to her supposed in-laws.

Amy: You feature Chinese history, heritage, and culture in your novels. Has any of this been handed down to you in stories or is it all imagination combined with research?

Mingmei: I have been influenced by both. Growing up before Hong Kong became the modern city it is today, I heard many stories of China in the days of the emperors, especially from my father, who also loved stories. As soon as I was able to read I started to enjoy learning about the ancient times. However, for each of my novels, I spend a lot of time doing research to get the details right.

Amy: Are you a plotter and planner or do you just write and see where the story takes you?

Mingmei: All my stories have twists and turns but I never plot these in advance but let the story develop spontaneously. Therefore, instead of an outline, I let my characters tell me their stories. Once I start to write, the story grows its own feet and walks where it wants to go.

I begin with an engaging situation. For my debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion, I decided to write about the last Chinese elegant prostitute. For my second novel Petals from the Sky, I had an idea about a would-be nun who falls in love. My third novel, Song of the Silk Road, is the journey to self-discovery of a young woman who travels the ancient Silk Road in search of adventure – and a three million dollar reward. The next two, Skeleton Women and The Nine Fold Heaven, are about femmes fatales and women spies working for gangsters.

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring novelists?

It’s never easy to be a writer, especially when you start out. I think to be a writer, 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.”

Mingmei Yip believes that one should, besides being entertained, also get something out of reading a novel. Her new novel is Secret of a Thousand Beauties, coming out December, 2014 by Kensington Books. Her other novels include: Skeleton Women Femmes Fatales); The Nine Fold Heaven, story of an ex spy and night-club singer undertaking a dangerous journey to look for her long lost lover and son; Peach Blossom Pavilion, story of the last Chinese Geisha; Petals from the Sky — a poignant Buddhist love story about wisdom, compassion, when to persist and when to let go; Song of the Silk Road , an adventure, love story between an older woman and a younger man with a three million award on China’s famous, dangerous route.

Besides writing, Mingmei is accomplished in many other fields. A professional player of the Guqin, Chinese zither, she was recently invited by Carnegie Hall to perform in “A Festival celebrating Chinese Culture” program. She had her solo Goddess exhibition at the New York Open Center Gallery to great acclaim and held calligraphy workshops at the City University of New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has lectured extensively on Chinese art and culture at Oxford University, Columbia University, Beijing University, University of Paris, Vassar College, Williams College.

www.mingmeiyip.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SilkRoadRomance.MingmeiYip

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Mingmeiyip

Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Mingmei-Yip/e/B0037A8RBO

Goodread: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/235532.Mingmei_Yip

How to Write When You Don’t Have Time (or have had too much egg nog—or Hanukkah gelt)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? It’s cold, wet, gets dark at 4:30, and most of us have no time or energy to write.

Let me explain. We’re entranced during this season. I don’t even celebrate Christmas, and Hanukkah/Chanukah/Hanukah is technically classified as a festival, and while important, it does not, in any way, have the heft of, let’s say, Passover or Yom Kippur, yet it gets all the good press. I digress. There are lights, food, and happy faces. People want to chat. They want to know your plans, about your kids, about your life (which has given way to those Xmas letters). What’s not to feel good about? Don’t forget Christmas decorations. Because lights. Need I say more?

What’s not to feel good about is falling behind on a deadline or a work-in-progress. It’s not bad to take a break. At one point while writing The Glass Wives (which seems like a lifetime ago) I stopped for six months for some life-tending. But if you don’t want to take a break, but feel like it’s time to spend your time on other things, remember that you can’t really write without living your life.

So go live it!

When people would ask me if the characters in The Glass Wives were based on real people, I answered honestly. Yes and no. Did I know people exactly like the characters? No. But were they snippets or truth stirred with pure imagination? Yes. But one of my favorite stories to tell is how one day I was waiting for my daughter to come out of junior high (she’s a college sophomore now) and I saw another pick-up lane mom get out of her car. She was dressed just the way I’d imagined my character, Laney, to dress. So I watched her. I watched the way she walked in her books and the way her coat swayed. I watched her push her long curly hair off her shoulders then scoop it back again. And, creepy as it may sound, every time I wrote about Laney I thought of this woman, this scene. But at that moment, I wasn’t writing a thing. Nor did I take a note, or record a voice memo. I simply had the experience and used it later.

You know, in my writing.

Nowadays I’m working part-time at a friend’s restaurant. Every day I talk to a hundred people if not more. Most are friendly, some are not. A few are rude. Some are in clothes that tell me what their jobs are, like a policeman or road worker (it’s the fluorescent vest that gives it away). Some are in clothes that tell me nothing except that the person cares about style, or doesn’t. I also know that I don’t know much about any of them but that it doesn’t matter because I write fiction. And when it’s time for me to write about something icky — I’ll likely remember the guy who handed me his credit card after holding it in his mouth.

When I want to write about confusion I’ll write about people who don’t leave a tip (I don’t waitress, but please, if someone is cooking your food, delivering it to you, and cleaning it up, leave a dollar on the table).

When I want to write about entitlement I’ll likely try to channel the woman who is never satisfied, never has enough crackers, or pickles, or mustard, and always wants something free to make up for it.

Maybe if I want a little angst, I’ll write about the bathroom lock that gets stuck every time I’m in there.

Perhaps one of my characters will wear a lovely hat with a purple flower, like a woman I met yesterday. Or maybe I’ll describe the reaction to someone having matzah ball soup for the first time. Or kreplach.

So, in the season of parties and shopping and family gatherings lies your opportunity to gather up all of the goodness and save it for a time when you do have time to write. When you have a character who requires a joyous demeanor, or an overstuffed belly, or even a Grinchy mood. Or a fancy hat. Or food on his face.

The best part is, no one knows what you’re doing. And you won’t be writing about these people, just your experience of them.

Don’t forget about the feeling you get when you wait in line for an hour, or get caught in a two-for-one sweater frenzy. Don’t forget the excitement of seeing someone you haven’t seen all year—or maybe that’s worry.

Whoever you see and whatever you do, if you need to, just pack away the pen and the smart phone and enjoy the season. Take it all in, but don’t take notes.  It will all be there when you need it, ready to be retrieved, and when your belly is filled with food, your calendar is filled with plans, your closets are filled with hidden gifts—hopefully your head will be filling with ideas!

 

 

 

Giveaway & Guest Post: Author Tina Ann Forkner

 

 

Jeanne Takenaka is the winner!DSC_0084

I don’t do many giveaways on Women’s Fiction Writers so you know this is a big deal! Today author Tina Ann Forkner is giving away two of her three novels, WAKING UP JOY (published in October by Tule Publishing) and ROSE HOUSE, published in 2009. And just for kicks — I’m giving away a copy of THE GLASS WIVES to the winner as well. You’ve read all these books, you say? Well someone told me that some gift giving holidays are right around the corner! 

I loved all Tina’s books but I have a special place in my heart for WAKING UP JOY, and today you’ll find out why. I also have a special place in my heart for Tina. We met when I was an anonymous mommy blogger in 2006 and have truly come a long way. All the way to meeting in person for the first time earlier this year!

tina

Today you’ll read about Tina’s publishing journey, and you’ll likely be inspired for your own. Just leave a comment about your publishing journey—or about anything else reading, writing, book, or cute kitten related (I just love those cute kitty videos!)—and one lucky reader will win all three books! The winner will be chosen on Friday! US addresses only. 

Amy xo

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Interview: Author Leslie Lehr Says Keep A Movie In Mind When Writing Your Novel To Keep Your Story Moving

WAMKcoverFinalI’m so excited that Leslie Lehr is here with us today at Women’s Fiction Writers! Not only is Leslie sharing how she approached adapting her latest novel into a screenplay (as if that’s not enough), but she gives practical advice on how to keep our stories moving along to make them page turners!

Please welcome Leslie Lehr to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: The Solitude Of Writing by Bestselling Author Alyson Richman

TheGardenOfLetters_cover5_revise2Those of us who write know it can be a solitary endeavor. I have friends who write in mini vans, at hockey rinks, on the beach. I can’t even sit in my own backyard and write. Ooh, look! A bunny! 

For me, it’s as much about the process as the inspiration. I need quiet to have thoughts filter in and through me to the page, but I also need privacy to 1) read aloud, 2) act out what I’m writing (watch out, as I will swat you if you happen to be nearby), and 3) alleviate the lure of distractions. 

Today, I hope you’ll take time away from your writing to read Alyson’s Richman’s thoughts on solitude and writing. With five historical novels to her name, Alyson knows what works for her. So, tell us. What works for you?

And please welcome Alyson Richman to Women’s Fiction Writers.

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Naming Your Fictional Characters by Lynn Kanter

HOV Cover - SmallLast week we pondered picturing our characters, and today we’re noodling about naming with author Lynn Kanter. How do you name your characters? Mine tend to arrive with name tags, meaning, I don’t get a choice. It was like that for Noah, Izzy Lane’s five-year-old son in The Good Neighbor. It was that way for Izzy’s eighty-five-year-old next-door-neighbor, Mrs. Feldman.  But Izzy’s name was chosen by me. Sort of. The Good Neighbor is very loosely inspired by Christmas In Connecticut, a 1945 movie whose main character is Elizabeth Lane. That’s my main character’s name: Elizabeth Lane. Izzy is her nickname. To choose that nickname I Googled—you guessed it—nicknames for Elizabeth (there are so many). I also use the Social Security site for naming characters in line with the time and place a character was born. But more likely than not, they just tap me on the shoulder (or push me down) and tell me what their names are. I have more stories about the characters’ names in The Good Neighbor, but I’ll save those for another time! 

How do you name your characters?

Please welcome Lynn to Women’s Fiction Writers, learn about her naming journey with her current novel, and add your stories to the comments!

Amy xo

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Sweet Inspiration: How Food Network Helped Jumpstart My Writing Career

Can you believe it? It’s me, writing a post on my own blog.  Going to try to do it more often from here out. I’ll write about my new book, The Good Neighbor, about writing, about life. They all intersect on most days, so why not? 

Grab a cuppa and tell me about your first or most unusual inspiration in the comments!

Amy xo

Sweet Inspiration: How Food Network Helped Jumpstart My Writing Career

on-plate

I’ve read the Sunday paper on and off my whole adult life. Lucky for me, in September of 2006 my reading stint was “on.” I stood at my dining room table, sorting through sections for what I wanted to carry to the sofa. Full disclosure—I hate the feel of newsprint—so the fewer pages to turn once sitting down, the better. Then, while still standing, a column caught my eye. I don’t remember the title, or the byline, but I do remember it was about kids’ soccer games and soccer snacks.

Something bold crossed my mind. “I could do that.”

Naiveté can be a beautiful thing.

Through some research I discovered the author of that piece was the editor of the Perspective section of my Sunday Chicago Tribune. By that time I’d had a popular “slice of life” or “mommy blog” for six or seven months. I had a background in journalism. I had moxie.

I also had nothing to lose.

The worst that would happen was that I’d get no reply.

I emailed the editor and introduced myself. I asked if they ever used freelance writers for Perspectives. I explained why I could write columns that would meet their needs and I attached links to my most popular blog posts.

And she wrote back the next day. She told me that there would be a new editor for Perspectives and that he’d be in touch. He was. Then for two months we talked and brainstormed. He wanted my first piece to really hit the mark. I emailed ideas for columns very similar to things I’d blogged about—life as a Jewish single mom in the suburbs. None of my ideas bowled him over. I remember him saying we’d find the right idea at some point, and that I should think about writing something about the holidays. It was November. I wracked my brain. I made lists. None of them were any good.

Then one night while walking through the family room en route to somewhere else, I passed the TV, which was on. This is normal at my house. Also normal at my house is Food Network. So, the TV was tuned to Food Network and there was a commercial for a show about baking cookies. I stopped in front of the screen.

Everybody loves cookies. I said it out loud. Then I said it again. EVERYBODY LOVES COOKIES!

I ran right to the dining room table where I kept my laptop, next to all the homework papers, backpacks, and folders. I wrote my column about holiday cookies in record time. Then I rewrote it. Then again. I researched some holiday cookie names. Then, after my kids went to bed, I pounded another column about the differences in speech from Philadelphia (where I was born and grew up) to Chicago (where I was raising my own kids), and I focused that piece on some of the words associated with Hanukkah. I was up until midnight, which is not my m.o. If you know me well, you know I’m in bed by ten.

The next morning I emailed both columns to my editor.

On December 6th, 2006 All-Purpose Treat Brightens Every Holiday Tradition was published in the Sunday Perspective Section of The Chicago Tribune.

On December 17th, 2006, At Hanukkah, How You Pronounce Latke Makes A World Of Difference was published.

After that I wrote about ten columns for Perspective over the next 2-3 years, until the Trib stopped publishing that section.

I believe that first column set in motion everything that has happened since.

That experience took me back to my journalism roots, somewhat, as this was part of the newspaper, with headlines (not titles) determined by space, not by cleverness. Although these were more essay than article, I worked with a seasoned newspaper reporter who was the interim editor. He showed extreme confidence in me. He explained every edit, talked through every change. He pushed me farther in my writing than I’d been pushed in fifteen years. He even encouraged me to link my blog to my columns. In retrospect, I should have. But at the time my blog was anonymous, just like the blog in The Good Neighbor, penned by Izzy Lane. The difference is that I wanted to be anonymous so that I could tell the truth. The truth about my meeting my ex’s girlfriend for the first time, the truth about the guy who met me for lunch wearing a wrinkled trench coat and didn’t even buy me a Diet Coke, the truth about life in the suburbs. In The Good Neighbor, Izzy is anonymous because she’s lying.

But just like Izzy, I realized there was only one way to go and that was forward, onward, upward. Life was no longer about being a blogger — this was about being a published freelance writer. Those Chicago Tribune columns were often picked up by other Tribune newspapers around the country. I pitched other publications and was published in them. And the very next year, I decided to try writing fiction. And we all know how that turned out. ;-)

It’s true I took action that day in September when I read the column about soccer snacks. I could have just thought “I could do that” and not emailed the editor. But I did. (I could have said I wanted to write a novel, too. And not done it.)

But—walking through the family room and being hit with the inspiration for the story about cookies from a TV commercial? That was good timing. That was being open. That was realizing if I didn’t try, I’d never know.

That was sweet.