The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Jeannie Lin, author of the 2009 Golden Heart Butterfly Swords, which has been published by Harlequin Mills & Boon.
"What got you interested in writing?" I asked her.
"Money," she answered promptly. "Ha. I've been waiting to use that answer because it's true. The first time I became interested in writing something that wasn't assigned by a teacher was after my mother told me that if your wrote stories down and they were good enough, then people would pay for them. I was seven. I picked up my fat blue pencil (the ones without erasers) and got to work. The thought of being able to do anything for money at seven years old was absolutely mind-boggling. That's when I became fascinated with the idea of commercial fiction; that there was a profession of writing."
When Jeannie is developing her stories, she daydreams scenarios. She plays them over and over, imagining the emotions the characters go through.
"Susan Elizabeth Philips once explained that she's an actress," Jeannie said. "She has to move her characters through the scene and like in a play or movie before she knows about them. I think that's the closest explanation I've heard to what I do."
She considers herself a plotter: daydreaming for a long time, culling out scenes and characters. The ones that stick make it into an outline.
"The process of writing is negotiating between the words and the daydream," she told me.
I wondered who her favorite author was.
"My favorite author changes. It was once Ray Bradbury because of the rare emotional quality of his stories. Then I thought it might be Stephen King because his characterizations were so incredible, but I realized that as amazing as he was, no one's stories interacted with my worldviews and thoughts about meaning and reality as much as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. They call him a science fiction author because they don't know what else to call him. I would say he's the closest at capturing the quirkiness and impermanence and the reflective and self-defining nature of existence in a way that speaks to me. I've only read four books of his: Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and Timequake. I almost want to save them and spread them out throughout my life."
When it comes to good writing, Jeannie said it should make her forget that she's reading. There should be enough craft and substance, yet be so effortless that the sentences disappear and it becomes a conversation.
"A part of that is soul," she explained. "There has to be a little glimpse into the writer's distinctive point of view so I feel that I can't get this story or this feeling anywhere else."
When it comes to her own writing, she's been influenced by the wuxia stories of Louis Cha (Jin Yong), western traditional fantasy, and historical romance.
Jeannie was captivated by two ideas: the remarkable, and sometimes tragic, lives of the ruling women of the Tang Dynasty and the lure of the Silk Road.
"What is so romantic about the Silk Road is the ideal that over a thousand years ago, a network of trade routes connected East to West," she said. "I think it's an ideal of global connectedness that appeals to a modern mind. From there, I started pulling ideas together of everything that I loved. Heroism, honor, romance, and sword fights."
I asked her what the hardest part of writing Butterfly Swords was.
"Because it was my debut novel, the hardest part was analyzing feedback and learning how to improve the story. Before working with a professional such as an editor or agent, it's often a case of the blind leading the blind and you don't know which is the right path to take. At one point I had polished and polished the first chapters so much I felt there was no life to it anymore."
She admitted she didn't have a system for coming up with the titles to her books.
"I'll discuss and brainstorm with writer buddies and throw a couple of ideas around. Butterfly Swords came to me like a gift while plotting the book and that's the only title that fit perfectly. I hoped that Harlequin wouldn't change it. The Taming of Mei Lin was originally called Warrior Bride, but my publisher wanted a sexier title. The one they came up with fit the story very well."
On more of a personal note, Jeannie admitted that she hates how she looks in pictures.
"I always seem to blink or make a face in pictures," she admitted. "The only reason my wedding pictures look good is the photographer took a gazillion of them and I got rid of all the weird-faced ones."
Some things you may not know about Jeannie:
--she's first generation Vietnamese-American. Her great-grandmother was Chinese.
--she will usually try anything as far as foods go; her strangest is an intestine soup she ate in South Korea.
--she considers herself a science geek, or maybe just a geek in general.
--she thinks of herself as both a morning and night person, as she prefers a siesta schedule with a long afternoon nap.
--she can unwrap a Starburst with her tongue and tie a cherry stem as well.
Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"
"Just write. Nothing gets me more frustrated than having to try to give advice to someone who wants to spin and circle and fret and worry. There's going to be enough circling and paranoia as you get further into it. Just write forward and finish the darn story and you will eventually find your rhythm and voice. I promise."
You can keep up with Jeannie on her blog, http://www.jeannielin.com/index.php/category/blog/