Q&A With Wendy Chen

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Q&A With Wendy Chen 

I am glad to do today’s Q&A with author Wendy Chen. Wendy Chen released her debut novel, Their Divine Fires on May 7th of 2024. I was able to read an early copy and do this Q&A thanks to her publicist Michael McKenzie! 

Q: Wendy for those who don’t haven’t read the book, can you give a brief description about Their Divine Fires? 

A: Thank you so much for featuring me and my work! Their Divine Fires is a novel that follows the lives of four generations of Chinese and Chinese American women in one family across a century. The women love and live passionately, despite expectations of society and family, and must grapple with grief, betrayal, and violence visited upon them. Beginning in the 1900s in China and ending in modern-day America, the novel traces the ways that a family is torn apart and brought back together all while surviving through revolution, resistance, and war. 

Q: On the back of the book before I read it, it said that you drew on the stories of your great grandmother & great uncles who fought on the side of the Communists & your mothers experiences during the Cultural Revolution. Which characters were loosely based on your great uncles, great grandmother & your mother?

A: The three siblings in Part One of my novel—Yunhong, Yunli, and Yunjun—are loosely based on my great-grandmother and her brothers. I drew on my mother’s lived experience while writing about the Cultural Revolution in Part Two, although the twins’ lives—Yonghong and Hongxing—diverge from my mother’s.  

I always knew I wanted to honor my grandmother’s stories about her mother in some way, as she lived such an incredible life. One of the stories about my great-grandmother that always remained with me was a story about her first not-quite marriage. She had been expected to get married to a furniture maker who owned some land, but her brothers who had just started to embrace Communism were vehemently against the idea. Shortly after, the furniture maker’s house was burned down during what was likely the Autumn Harvest Uprising in the Hunan region. My great-grandmother went on to get married to another man and have one child—my grandmother. I’ve always been struck by the ways that history and politics have quite literally made my life possible.  

Q: What is the plot of your second book? 

A: The Magpie at Night—which will come out in February 2025 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG)—is a collection of classical Chinese poems I have translated into English by the Song-dynasty woman writer Li Qingzhao. Li Qingzhao is considered one of the greatest writers in Chinese history and lived almost a thousand years ago, at a time when women were not encouraged to write—let alone publish their work. She did both and was famous during her lifetime. She even wrote political poems criticizing governmental policies—a bold move for any writer. She was also known for her collection of art. She fled her home and was a refugee due to war, divorced her second husband, and was even jailed for a brief time. Throughout it all, she never stopped writing. 

Q: You’ve had writing appear in publications which are Freeman’s, A Public Space & Mid-American Review. What’s it like having your writing being featured in those magazines and what advice would you give anyone wanting to submit their work in those publications?

A:  It’s such an honor to have my work appear in those spaces alongside writers who I so greatly admire. I’ve kept a copy of every single journal my work has ever appeared in, and I’m thrilled every time I look at my growing collection. As a journal editor myself, I know that journals and magazines are such a labor of love to put together. They also create a wonderful sense of community and conversation within each issue. 

First, I’d encourage anyone who wants to submit to particular journals to make sure their work is a good fit for that particular journal. As a writer, you want to be reading widely and familiarizing yourself with different journals to see if the work that they publish intersects or converses with your own in some way. Make use of your public library to access current or recently-published issues of these journals. Keep a running list of which journals you’d like to submit to. The website is an extensive free database of literary magazines that is quite useful for writers. 

I’d also encourage writers to submit their work widely and often to publications. As Kim Liao writes in the essay “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” in Lit Hub, “Since I’ve started aiming for rejections, not acceptances, I no longer dread submitting.” Rejection is a part of the publishing world, and the more you submit, the less personally you’ll take each rejection. Learning how to handle and grow from rejection is an invaluable, lifelong skill to develop as a writer. 

Q: What lessons do you hope readers learn after reading Their Divine Fires? 


In recent years, there has been growing tension between the US and China, resulting in an increase of anti-Asian sentiment here in the States. I hope that reading Their Divine Fires will allow readers to see that the two countries are not so different, that people have the same hopes and fear no matter where they are born, and that these two countries have histories that are deeply intertwined with one another. I also hope my novel will allow readers to have insight into China’s complicated history over the last century—and encourage readers to delve into that history beyond what my novel touches on!