Mingmei Yip: Threads of the Past

Mingmei Yip
photo: MingmeiYip.com

Mingmei Yip has been a guest reader at Lady Jane’s Salon, the monthly romance reading series I help curate, on several occasions, and she joined us at the start of 2015 to share an opening scene from her most recent novel, Secret of a Thousand Beauties. She tells us a little bit about the historical origins of this book’s story here, but also stretches back into her own past to reveal how she set out on the writing path… a journey that takes a bravery and self-determination similar to that of the women she’s written about.

In traditional China, women were and sometimes still are considered men’s possessions and didn’t have much independence or freedom. A Chinese saying goes: “The worst thing that can happen to a woman is to marry the wrong man. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to enter the wrong profession.” Unfortunately, because marriages were usually arranged, many women ended up marrying the wrong man at the cost of any chance for happiness. Wary of a bad marriage, some decided to remain single for the rest of their life. These women would join small communities established for non-marrying women. They displayed this choice by tying up the hair in a long pigtail.

Most worked as maids, but some were more fortunate and could learn a traditional woman’s craft. One of these was embroidery, an art that has always appealed to me. Intrigued by these women and their sisterhoods, I decided to write about this small group of embroiderers—they are supposedly celibate, but of course many succumbed to desire.

Ghost marriage was another way women were oppressed in traditional China. Couples were often betrothed in childhood, or even before birth. Since only half of children survived to adulthood, many young women lost their fiancés. Because they had already pledged marriage, the cruel custom was to marry the woman to the dead man. As a practical matter, this meant she was a slave to her supposed in-laws.

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19 January 2015 | guest authors |

David Allan Cates: An Opera in Prose

David Allan Cates

When David Allan Cates was ready to start writing the novel that became Tom Connor’s Gift, he took himself to a remote location that wound up giving him more direct inspiration than he’d originally intended… and as the novel’s voices took shape, as he describes it in this essay, they felt as if they had an almost song-like quality.

Five years ago, I arranged to go to a friend’s cabin for a week because my previous novel had been out for a year and I felt pinched and irritated enough, confused, scared and sad enough, not to mention hopeful, grateful and earnest enough to want to start another one.

My three most recently finished novels were stylistically and formally, unconventional. But this time, I thought, driving from Missoula over the mountains toward Great Falls, and then north up the Eastern Front of the Rockies, this time I’m going to write a good old-fashioned love story.

I wanted to tell a long, adventurous and miraculous tale of how two people managed to stay in love over decades. I wanted to write a novel that sounded like somebody you know telling you their long story. I wanted it to be the kind of love story that would make me see things and feel things that I’d never felt or imagined before, and I wanted to write a story that could take the giant swirling storm of middle-aged feelings I’d been having lately—sadness, joy, anger, grief, gratitude—and allow me to spread my arms wide enough to hold them all close. I wanted to feel all there was to feel—all the good and the bad at once, the everything and the nothing at once—and still be able say: Yes Yes Yes! This too is love!

Well. With a goal like that, it’s pretty easy to make excuses not to start. I needed to go away. And I had to come back with something.

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16 December 2014 | guest authors |

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