Interview with Mingmei Yip, Author of The Nine Fold Heaven
Kensington author Mingmei Yip believes that a novel should be entertaining, but also give something more. Her newest novel, her fifth, is The Nine Fold Heaven, coming out July, 2013. It is the edge-of-the-seat drama of a woman spy and nightclub singer who undertakes an emotionally wrenching and dangerous journey to reunite with her lost lovers and her baby she was told was stillborn. These are not her only near-impossible challenges – she has never given up hope of finding her parents’ murderer.
Mingmei’s previous novel Skeleton Women is about Chinese femmes fatales: a nightclub singer and spy, a magician, and a gossip columnist. All must scheme to survive the gang wars in the lawless, 1930ies Shanghai. Her debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion is the story of the last Chinese Geisha, = who finds the courage and the determination to escape her fate and attain happiness. Her second novel Petals from the Sky, a poignant Buddhist love story, is about wisdom, compassion, and, above all, when to persist and when to let go. Her third novel Song of the Silk Road is an adventure-love story about an older woman and a younger man traveling through some of China’s most desolate places in search of a three million reward.
Besides writing, Mingmei is an accomplished musician. A professional player on the Guqin, Chinese zither, she was recently invited by Carnegie Hall to perform in “A Festival celebrating Chinese Culture.” As a visual artist, she held a solo exhibition of her Goddess paintings at the New York Open Center Gallery to great acclaim and frequently conducts workshops on Chinese calligraphy. Venues have included the City University of New York, Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has also taught Taichi at the International Women’s Writing Guild. She has lectured extensively on Chinese art and culture at Oxford University, Columbia University, Beijing University, University of Paris, Amsterdam University, Vassar College, Williams College.
Mingmei is also a children’s book writer and illustrator. Her Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories is one of Tuttle Publishing’s bestsellers. Her second children’s book, Grandma Panda’s China Storybook, also by Tuttle, came out in 2013.
Visit Mingmei at www.mingmeiyip.com to learn about her books, music, paintings and calligraphy.
Hong Kong, when it was still a British colony. Although being Chinese was a disadvantage in those days, the mix of cultures made it an exciting place to grow up.
When did you begin writing?
When I was eight. As a child I was left to spend a lot of time by myself but I happily made up stories and befriended the characters in them. Then one time when my mother and I were on our way to a Chinese opera performance, I saw the crescent moon and blurted out: “Ma, look, the moon is like my clipped fingernail!” Mother shot back: “Wah! Mingmei, you’ll be a writer someday!” So I began to dabble in writing and got my first essay published when I was fifteen. After I got ten dollars for this, I made a grand gesture of inviting my classmate to a feast of dim sum.
Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
Mostly during the day when my mind is fresh. I rarely write at night, only edit what I’ve written during the day. I believe even small amount of time adds up, so whenever I have a few spare moments I try to sit down and write. Sometimes, when I need to clear my mind, I practice my instrument.
What is this book about?
It is the story of a nightclub singer and spy who undertakes an emotionally wrenching and perilous journey to reunite with her lost lovers and the baby she was told was stillborn – and to discover the secret of her parents’ murder. It’s about living for love – and for revenge!
What inspired you to write it?
I think it’s Tolstoy who once said that for a family a beautiful daughter is like an egg laid by Satan. I was so intrigued by this saying that I decided to write about smart, stunning women who use their beauty in pursuit of ruthless schemes. What they did is told in my fourth and fifth novels, The Nine Fold Heaven and Skeleton Women.
I am fascinated by the ability of resourceful women to rise above terrible circumstances.
Who is your favorite character from the book?
The three skeleton women, or femmes fatales, Camilla the singer-spy, Shadow the magician, and the gender-ambiguous gossip columnist Rainbow Chang. Each of these beautiful, talented, and scheming women has to use all their wits and charm to survive their harsh fate amid the gang wars in the 1930ies, lawless Shanghai.
Another character I really like is the gangster head’s tough and ruggedly handsome bodyguard Gao, who fiercely loves and protects Camilla, his ruthless boss’ mistress. He is what the Chinese call an “iron man with a tender heart.” What woman would not fall for a man who will love and protect her, even at the expense of his own life?
Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?
No success will come without hardship and challenges, this is the inevitable yin and yang of life. We must expect and prepare for both. I would say that my road to publication, as for so many other writers, was anything but smooth. I’ve had my share of rejections and other frustrations. But now I have the satisfaction of my novels having been translated into nine languages and I receive fan mails from all over the world. This encourages me to keep writing more and to tell the stories of the unfortunate women who were forced to be silent. My next novels will be about an embroiderer, a Chinese witch, and a concubine who became a society lady.
If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
No. I consider myself very lucky that I have basically achieved what I aspired to in my life. My parents were very poor, but they arranged for me to have piano and painting lessons from a very young age, most important, they always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. And I am grateful for my husband, Geoffrey Redmond, who is patient and accommodating to my eccentricities – though he has some of his own – and to my long writing hours, and months of living on Chinese take-out!
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
Most brick-and-mortar stores as well as online bookstores like Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart.
What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?
I think the best way to promote my work is to write as well as possible.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?
Read voraciously, take grammar courses, and go to learn and network at writing conferences. Only after you’ve read a lot can you tell if your writing is up to standard.
What is up next for you?
I am now writing my sixth novel Needle of a Thousand Beauties, a story about a ghost-bride who escapes to become an embroiderer.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I am very happy that my novels have been translated into nine languages so far and that Chinese translations have come out in Taiwan and will soon appear in mainland China.
Come along with an ex spy as she returns to Shanghai where she’s a wanted woman – but she has to search for her baby and her lost lover. Is her baby really alive? Will she be able to find her lover? Can she elude the police long enough to find them? Learn much more about Nine Fold Heaven and Mingmei Yip at http://www.mingmeiyip.com and get your copy of this exciting and exotic novel at http://www.amazon.com/The-Nine-Fold-Heaven-Mingmei/dp/0758273541/