Q&A With Lisa See

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Q&A With Lisa See 

My latest Q&A is with New York Times Bestselling author of historical fiction Lisa See. Lisa See is the author of Snowflower & The Secret Fan, Shanghai Girls, The Island of Sea Women, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Dreams of Joy, her non-fiction novel On Gold Mountain, & her recent release which came out on June 6th Lady Tan’s Circle Of Women which I finished reading an early copy 2 weeks ago. 


Q: What made you want to write in the historical fiction genre? What advice do you give to those who want to write in the historical fiction genre?

A: I’ve always loved historical fiction—even when I was a little girl. I love when you enter the pages of an historical novel and step into another world, another culture, another time, and, at the same time have a great plot to keep you rolling along.  As a reader, historical fiction has been a wonderful way for me to learn all kinds of things—painlessly, and with great fun.

For those who want to write historical fiction, I’d say that the number one thing is to stick to the facts. Don’t move around what really happened or change something to suit plot or character purposes.  I once had an editor who said, “Oh, no one will know that you moved such-and-such a date,” but I would know.  Also, as a reader, if I see a mistake in an historical novel, I don’t trust anything after that.

Q: When did you know that you wanted to write? Who amongst your family and friends were your biggest supporters of your dream of being an author?

A:  My mother and her father were both writers, so I’m a third-generation writer! Storytelling was important on both sides of my family.  On my father’s side, the whole family used to gather to tell stories and jokes. They were always trying to one-up each other, often embellishing on well-known family stories. But it took me until I was twenty-one before I knew I wanted to become a writer.  I’m very lucky that I had support from my entire family.  My mother-in-law was a writer too, so my husband was also supportive from the very beginning. Many people don’t have that. Instead, they’re surrounded by doubters and people who say things like, “Don’t give up your day job,” or “What a nice hobby for you.” (Actually, I can’t tell you how many times men have said that to me at dinner parties.) So what I would say is, don’t give up your dream.  Put your butt in the chair and keep writing!

Q: How much research do you typically do when you want to write about a topic that would make a great historical fiction novel?   

A:  I do a ton of research before I decide “this is the one.”  At any time, I have about thirty ideas on the back burner.  The reason they are on the back burner is that there’s something that attracts me to an idea, but maybe I haven’t found enough material, maybe the research trip will be too arduous, maybe there’s a hole in the story I can’t figure out how to fix, or maybe I haven’t found my way into the story.  I always use the example of an idea I’ve been thinking about for something like twenty years. The greatest pirate in the history of the world was a Chinese woman. Isn’t that amazing, and doesn’t she seem like a great topic for an historical novel?  But I see one huge problem.  She was a pirate. She was a horrible, violent women, who was responsible for great suffering, pain, and death. I haven’t been able to figure out a way to make her redeemable or sympathetic and still stick to the facts of her life.

Q: In your authors note of Lady Tan’s Circle Of Women, you mentioned reading Reproducing Women: Medicine, Metaphor, and Childbirth in Late Imperial China by Yi-li Wu during the pandemic and discovered Lady Tan Yunxian on page 19 of that book and you decided that that would be the topic of your next book. How long did it take for you to write Lady Tan’s Circle Of Women? 

A:  About two years.

Q: Where is your favorite spot or spots to start plotting and writing your stories? 

A:  I have a lovely office in my house that overlooks our garden.  I like to sit, stare out the window, and daydream.  What if… 

Q: Does Hollywood have any interest or rights to your books? Hollywood could use original content again. 

A:  A film was made of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.  Several of my other books have been in development but have never made it all the way to the screen.  The Island of Sea Women is currently in development to be a Korean television series.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Q: What is the topic of your next new novel now, if you are currently writing one? 

A:  The next novel has as its backdrop the Chinese Massacre of 1871, which happened in Los Angeles.  I’m telling it from the point of view of three women—all based on real women who lived in Los Angeles at the time.  There were 5,000 people in Los Angeles back then.  One hundred and ninety of them were Chinese. Of those, only thirty-four were Chinese women.  I can’t stop thinking about what their lives must have been like in what was considered to be the wildest of the Wild West towns.