Read the latest news from author Lisa See.
A Conversation with Lisa See and Her Mother, Author Carolyn See
Carolyn See: What fun it’s going to be to get to ask you some questions about this wonderful new edition of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan! God knows, we’ve already had plenty of conversations about it—I’ll be so interested to see some of your answers. Although you’re a little young to have produced a masterwork, I think Snow Flower plainly is one. I’m so proud of you! (But then, I always am.)
You know how much I admire the service you did for the Chinese-American community when you wrote On Gold Mountain, and I’m a huge fan of your thrillers. But Snow Flower is something different and far more profound. I’ve told you before, I think it compares to Andre Malraux’s Man’s Fate. It’s deep, honey! Tell me when, or even if, you first realized that Snow Flower was a different kettle of fish, that you were on to something really big.
Lisa See: I think of Snow Flower as part of a continuum, just the next step in my writing. On Gold Mountain was about my family, and very grounded in history. Snow Flower certainly has those same elements. At the same time, it’s very much a mystery. On page three you learn there’s a secret—a mystery, if you will—about what happened between Lily and Snow Flower, and the answer to it is hidden in the fan. That’s certainly the biggest mystery, but there are others, such as the truth of Snow Flower’s situation. I had to drop in clues for all of these things just as I did in my mysteries. What I’m saying is that I never could have written Snow Flower if I hadn’t written the other books first. CONTINUE READING
Want to read more of Shanghai Girls? Send an E-mail to RHPG@randomhouse.com and enter for the chance to win a special advance copy of Shanghai Girls, available in stores on 5/26/09. While supplies last.
In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, full of great wealth and glamour, home to millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister May are having the time of their lives, thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business. Though both wave off authority and traditions, they couldn’t be more different. Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and living the carefree life … until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. READ MORE.
Here’s a second essay I wrote for ReadingGroupGuides.com. I really love this site for all the fun ideas they have for book clubs. Check it out!
These days, every writer—and publisher too, for that matter—will tell you that it’s important to reach out to book clubs. But few people talk about how important book clubs are to writers. I don’t mean that a book’s success or failure can hinge on whether or not book clubs buy our books. (Don’t get me wrong. This is a wonderful thing and very important, and I’m grateful to all the book clubs who have bought my books.) I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about the inspiration and courage book clubs give writers to sit down, be vulnerable to emotions (and possible criticism), and write from the heart.
Let’s go back in time about five years. I think I had a pretty good reputation as a writer. I was “critically-acclaimed,” meaning I got good reviews but not many people read my books. When I sat down to write Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, people—friends, other writers, folks in publishing—told me, “No one’s going to read that book.” They had all sorts of reasons: it took place in the past. It took place in China. It was about women. Worse, it was about women’s friendship. It was sometimes heartbreakingly sad. And that footbinding stuff! Yuck! No one’s going to read it.
All that doom and gloom was actually quite freeing. If you think no one’s going to read your book, then you can write whatever you want, and I did. Well, to my great surprise, everyone was wrong. Now I can look back and say with absolute certainty that the success of Snow Flower was due 100% to book clubs. Over these past four years, I’ve visited or talked by speaker phone to something like 200 book clubs. It’s been in these conversations—which are sometimes about the book but more often about life—that readers in book clubs have inspired me. They’ve encouraged me to go deeper, to feel deeper, and to write deeper.
This was a great help as I started writing Peony in Love, which is a historical novel based on the true story of three lovesick maidens in 17th-century China who together wrote the first book of its kind to have been written and published by women anywhere in the world. I suppose you could say this was another one of those subjects that “no one was going to read,” and in many ways I was going out much farther on a limb. Peony in Love has many of the same elements as Snow Flower—footbinding, women, China, the past—but I also chose to write the novel as a Chinese ghost story, which is about as different from a western ghost story as you can get. But more than anything, I wanted Peony in Love to be an exploration of the different aspects of love: pity love, gratitude love, respectful love, erotic love, mother love.
In my conversations with book clubs about Snow Flower, we often talked about the different aspects of love. What I learned from women in book clubs is that nearly all our actions and relationships connect to the various aspects of love and their offshoots—hate, jealousy, envy, boredom, desire, anger, etc. Again, these weren’t conversations about plot or characters, but about our lives: how we felt about our children, our husbands or boyfriends, friends, work, responsibilities to parents, loss, failure, birth, marriage, and death. But it’s one thing to talk about and be inspired to write about these things and quite another to actually sit down and write about them.
A few centuries ago, a Chinese woman writer said that writers have to “cut to the bone” for their writing to be good and meaningful. I believe that’s true. At the same time, it’s difficult, challenging, and often grueling to do it. After all, who wants to wake up in the morning and say, “Ah, today I get to cut to the bone and go to some very dark and sad places just like I did yesterday and just like I’ll do tomorrow”? I don’t mean to sound like a big baby, but this is hard, hard, hard, and it takes an emotional toll. Because, you see, writers live these experiences as we write them. They aren’t something separate from us; they are us. But again, it’s women in book clubs who’ve inspired me to do just that. They push me. They cajole me. They tease me. They make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. They give me inspiration and encouragement, and for that I’m forever grateful, honored, and deeply indebted. As one of my characters might say, Ten-thousand thank yous.
I wrote this piece about book clubs for Bookreporter.com and they have kindly allowed me to post it here too. I highly recommend this website for information on books, book clubs, writers, and amusing publishing news. Check it out! And in the meantime, enjoy my trip down memory lane.
When I was a kid – oh, about forty years ago, and how scary is that? – my mom and step-father used to drag me along to their monthly “discussion group.” It was a book club made up of couples – all graduate students. My step-father would complain all the way to whoever’s house we were going and all the way back about how so-and-so was a jackass or how the book selection was “moronic.” My mom complained she never was as sleepy as she was at those meetings, digging her nails into her palms to stay awake when everyone was trying to prove that he or she was the smartest person in the room. I lingered on the edges, listening, and watching as everyone – as my mother has put it – “tried to fake their way into the adult community.” This was the Sixties, so people had things like giant looms in the living room and homemade macramé for curtains. We’d eat a potluck of tuna casseroles, hotdogs and beans, and other dishes that graduate students could afford to make. As the decade wore on, the members of the group became far less interested in discussing books like than smoking pot, drinking too much tequila, and committing adultery. Fun for all!
Jump ahead to 1995 when my first book, On Gold Mountain, came out. I was invited to talk to my first book club, which was comprised of parents from my son’s elementary school class. (Let me say right here then I hadn’t known this book club existed, because my husband and I hadn’t been invited. Not that I hold a grudge or anything.) The women wanted to talk about the book, the characters, and the underlying themes. But the men had something else on their minds altogether: “How much money do you make?” “How did you get an agent?” “How does your husband feel about you shilling yourself?” “Did your editor help you write the book?” “Who takes care of Alexander when you’re writing?” Yikes!
All I can say is thank God for Oprah. She single handedly changed the dynamic of the book club. Overnight men decided – for the most part – to stay home. I can’t say how many book clubs I’ve visited in person in the last thirteen years, but it has to be in the hundreds. These last three years, I’ve limited myself to visiting two book clubs a week by speaker phone. By now, I think I’ve spoken to book clubs in nearly every state, as well as in several countries. Boy oh boy, have they changed!
I’ve visited book clubs made up of women who were either pregnant or had children under the age of two, who only wanted to talk about the pregnancies and births in Peony in Love. I’ve talked to numerous book clubs with just mothers and daughters, and a few with granddaughters too.
I’ve seen a growth in book clubs with specialized membership: hospice-care worker, church, country club, retirement, Jewish, Mormon, lesbian, and sailing – all of them women-only book clubs. Even the one that started in my son’s class sent the men home. When I visited for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the ambiance had changed completely: better food, better wine, better discussion, more tears, and far more laughs.
This isn’t to say that women in book clubs these days don’t still drink or do some of that other stuff that I remember from my childhood. Alcohol seems to play a major role in a lot of book clubs. I spoke to one book club that called itself The Winos. Another had an ongoing contest to see who could make the best margaritas. And of course how can women gather together and not eat? On the down side, there are still those occasional know-it-alls who try to monopolize the discussion.
The single biggest change I’ve seen and the one I love most – and maybe this will sound funny coming from a writer – is that the book is usually secondary to the experience of women talking to each other. Often women tell me that they spend about twenty minutes talking about the book and the rest of the meeting talking about life. I understand that. We’re all so busy, yet we all desire companionship and a place to let down our hair. When and where else do we get to be with other women to boast, complain, commiserate, and laugh at silly stuff? I may be popping in to talk about my books, but what we’re really talking about is life. I feel very privileged to get to be a part of those conversations.
Here is the info from the website:
It wouldn’t be summer without sun, surf and sizzling reading. You supply the beach chair and the sunblock, and we’ll provide the fantastic fiction in our Fourth Annual Beach Bag of Books feature and contests.
Every week, from May 16th through August 29th, a different title or collection of titles will be featured with a review and contest prize — a beach bag stocked with the featured book(s), plus summertime essentials that tie in to the weekly theme. Five FABULOUS beach bags will be given away each week, as well as five copies of the featured book(s) to additional winners.
» Click here to view a printable list of
If you’re interested in discussing all things Lisa See, her novels and more point your browser over to Google, where a discussion group has been formed. Click here.
Lisa See chats on BlogtalkRadio about Peony in Love. Click here to have a listen.
Peony in Love can now be purchased in various electronic formats at Books on Board.
Peony in Love can now be purchased in various electronic formats at Books on Board.
Lisa is the featured author on the book site www.Lovereading.co.uk which has been running since June 2005. They work very closely with authors and publishers promoting books to Lovereading members, which now amount to over 150,000 and growing fast.