Monday, January 19, 2015

Interview with Mingmei Yip author of Secret of a Thousand Beauties

Today I'm welcoming back award winning author Mingmei Yip who is here to talk about her new release, Secrets of a Thousand Beauties. Her historical novels are rich with folklore and facts about the period she writes about and this novel is the same with beautiful scenes and wonderful characters.

  • ISBN-13: 9781617733215
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 11/25/2014
  • Pages: 320

Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence.

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. 

Read an Excerpt:

It was my wedding day. I was horrified.
Because my soon-to-be-lawful—and awful—husband was not even a man.
He was a ghost.
Well, a man, but a dead one! A sinister being, his cold hands reaching toward me from the yinworld....
When we were engaged, in accord with tradition, I'd never met him. In fact, no one had ever met him, because my ghost husband-to-be and I had been engaged long before we were even born. My mother and her best friend, my ghost husband's mother, lived in the same village and happened to get pregnant around the same time. Following the ancient tradition zhifu weihun, they pointed to each other's protruding bellies, and proclaimed, "If we give birth to a boy and a girl, they'll be husband and wife when they turn seventeen."
So, because of our extremely old and extremely unfortunate tradition, my fate had been decided even before I was born. I was going to marry a man I could never know, not even see, because he'd died before he could make it outside his mother's belly. Like a snake, her umbilical cord wound around his tiny neck and squeezed the tiny breath out of him.
"But, Spring Swallow," said my mean aunt, addressing me by name, "a promise is a promise."
It was my misfortune to have been raised by this very mean woman because both of my parents had died in a bus accident not long after their future son-in-law's failure to enter this life. It was whispered around the village that because the baby could not lure his parents to join him in hell, he dragged down his intended parents-in-law instead.
My heartless aunt went on. "You know, failing to keep a promise not only shames your ancestors, but will bring your husband's ghost back to haunt you. So, you have no choice but to marry him, dead or alive. Also, because not only your future husband but your parents also died, no man will marry you."
Before I had a chance to ask why, she cast me a malicious glance. "No man wants to marry a bad-luck woman!"
But I knew the real reason that Mean Aunt was so eager for me to marry a ghost. Not because I was bad luck, but because I would be good luck for her. My ghost husband's family was one of the richest in the village. Though the wedding would bring me no husband, it would bring her a bundle of cash and a heap of expensive gifts. But, of course, rich people do not give away their money just because they are nice. Once married to their ghost son, I would be obligated to take care of my mother-in-law until she died!
My aunt went on to threaten me. "You think any man would want to marry you? Born under an all-destroying star? Spring Swallow, you really have no choice. So don't even think of escaping. I won't let you destroy my reputation and ruin my life!"
Escape. That was exactly what I had in mind all along. I didn't care about my aunt's reputation and life. Because living in our remote village and being an old maid, she didn't have much of a life to begin with anyway.


Mingmei this novel is also set in the 1930s like The Nine Fold Heaven and Skeleton Women only we move from Shanghai to Peking now known as Beijing.

What is the catalyst of focusing on this time period?
I love history, because it is like a mirror reflecting all that’s good and bad in humanity. I think 1930’s China, especially big cities like Shanghai and Beijing,  on the cusp of modernization, were very interesting. So this 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 into the modern world. It was also a time of extremes – from sybaritic luxury to abject poverty. I have tried to fully describe the entire society, from the indulgences of the rich to the miseries of the poor.

I loved traveling China through your expressive, descriptive words.
Do you travel to China before taking up a writing project?
I have traveled to China many times, so I can rely on my memory for each project. However, traveling in China now, even my former home of Hong Kong, continues to inspire me. Rereading my books about Chinese literature and history serve the same purpose.

Your heroines are all very different yet they all show strength in the face of adversity and almost to the point of being self-centered.
Why is that?
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 (Peach Blossom Pavilion), 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.

I believe I am quite qualified to write about these women and their hardships, because I had some very difficult times myself during my youth.

To American’s my protagonists may seem self centered – but those living in oppressive conditions are forced to look out for themselves, because no one else will. Confucianism’s ideal is to examine oneself deeply, in order to be better to others – family, friends, society, all under heaven. 

Mingmei youre also a very gifted artist and write and illustrate childrens books.
s your latest work in this genre?
My new and second children’s book is Grandma Panda’s China Storybook – Legends, Traditions and Fun. It is about a panda boy and girl who visit their grandmother who teaches them about fun aspects of Chinese culture. These include dim sum, Chinese writing, flying kites, kung fu, and others. The book teaches children how to write a few easy Chinese characters.
My earlier children’s book is Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories.

Mingmei you stated in a previous interview that you enjoy reading and the writing of American authors Amy Tan and Lisa See.
s the last good novel youve read?
I’ve been reading short stories by the late Chinese author Eileen Cheung, who grew up in China but spent her last years in California. Cheung has profound insight into human nature, which she expresses with unusual, even startling, imagery – such as, “Life is like a gorgeous evening gown crawling with bugs.”
Like Cheung, I try to reveal human nature in full, meaning both its positive and negative aspects. However, I believe that ultimately, light banishes the darkness.
Like any story-teller, I do my best to make my readers compulsively turn the pages. But besides being having a good time, I would like my readers to learn something about the thousands of years old Chinese wisdom, as well as other aspects of its rich culture. They are taking time out of their lives to read my work – so always strive to give them as much as possible in return.

So Mingmei youre a very busy woman an author, artist, musician.
What is your favorite down-time activity?
I like to practice the guqin, the most ancient stringed instrument in China, and also to do traditional calligraphy with a brush. Both are forms of meditation and help still the mind.
Chinese say “One wrong move in chess will destroy the whole game.” To have the life you want, one must, like a chess master, make each move with full attention. Being careful is not tedious, but enlightening. Doing art teaches this. With total concentration, it becomes a meditation. The mind is emptied of trivial nuisances and is with the music or calligraphy, moment by moment. Sometimes while creating Chinese characters with the brush,  I feel I have almost arrived at the still point that the closest we can come to truth.

Where are you taking us in your next adventure?
My next and seventh novel 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.

Other novels by Mingmei

Mingmei thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.
Good luck with the writing, painting and music!
Thank you, Debbie, for having me again in your blog!

My review of Secret of a Thousand Beauties

17-year-old orphan Spring Swallow was betrothed before she and her intended were born and even though he never lived to see the light of day their marriage contract was still binding. To escape the terrible fate of being wedded to a ghost Spring Swallow flees home on her wedding day, wearing her only worldly possession, her wedding dress. She ends up in the small village of Soochow in the shadow of a mountain far enough away from her home to be sure no one finds her. There she is taken in by a master embroiderer, Aunt Peony, where she and Aunt Peonys other wards apprentice in the art of embroidery to earn their keep. As Spring Swallow adjusts to life with Aunt Peony and her sister apprentices she learns who to trust and who to be wary of and she learns that Aunt Peony has many secrets of her own but it doesn't stop her from wanting to be a master embroiderer too.

Mingmei Yips latest novel is an enlightening, informative look at Chinese culture in the 1930s right before China becomes a Communist country. Its a visual trip through time and into a culture made real for our benefit by this incredibly talented author. Her use of humor and drama mixed with a poignant coming of age story illuminates brilliantly the sights, sounds and characters of her inspiring tale. Her co-stars shine but none as brightly as her tenacious, resilient Spring Swallow.

Connect with Mingmei - Website - Facebook - Twitter - Goodreads - Amazon author page

Mingmei Yip was born in China, received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She's published five books in Chinese, written several columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers, and has appeared on over forty TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S. She immigrated to the United States in 1992, where she now lives in New York City.

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  1. I love the cover!

    I am a huge history buff as well and this sounds fantastic!

  2. Oh this sounds good, and I love the time period. The whole concept of ghost brides is fascinating and one I enjoyed learning about