07-16-2013 10:33 AM - edited 07-16-2013 10:34 AM
"A unique and enthralling style. . .flawless." —Baltimore Books Examiner
In this mesmerizing new novel, Mingmei Yip draws readers deeper into the exotic world of 1930s Shanghai first explored in Skeleton Women, and into the lives of the unforgettable Camilla, Shadow, and Rainbow Chang.
Hi Mingmei welcome back to The Reading Frenzy, I hosted you when your last novel Skeleton Women came out a year ago. (click link for interview)
Thank you Debbie for having me back!
Tell us a little about your new novel The Nine Fold Heaven, I loved it by the way.
I am pleased that you liked it! As you know, The Nine Fold Heaven is about three femmes fatales – referred to as “skeleton women,” in Chinese. They are the singer spy Camilla, the magician Shadow, and the gossip columnist Rainbow Chang. But the journey is mainly Camilla’s. She undertakes an emotional and dangerous trip back to Shanghai to reunite with her lost lovers, to find the baby she was told was stillborn, and to discover the secret of her parents’ murder.
Nine Fold Heaven is part of a series of Skeleton Women (femmes fatales) but can be read as a stand alone book.
This is a sequel to your last novel Skeleton Women staring Camilla the spy.
Camilla is a rather dark or noir heroine and she doesn’t make many excuses for how she goes about her business. Why did you decide to paint her in this light?
As a woman writer, I am extremely intrigued by beautiful, talented and scheming women. One may not want them as friends but as characters, they are exciting. So I decided to explore this character type by writing about them. Camilla the nightclub singer was trained to be a spy by her gangster boss. Her mission: to seduce, then assassinate his arch rival, gangster head Master Lung.
But there are obstacles on Camilla’s path to completing her assignment. She falls in love! Not only with Master Lung’s Harvard educated lawyer son, but also Lung’s rough, but loyal, bodyguard Gao. Worse, her arch rival, the magician Shadow, whose repertoire of tricks including jumping to her own disappearance and making a castle vanish, schemes for the heart of Camilla’s lover, Master Lung. Both women, however, realizing that they are both helpless women struggling to survive at the margins of society, decide to join to help each other.
Although I am fortunate to have a far easier life than my characters, I can feel these marginal women’s sufferings. Perhaps it is because I grew up in Hong Kong, a city of great wealth, but also of many human tragedies. So I can see the helplessness, and vulnerability behind the pretty faces and ruthless schemes. But despite their desperate expediencies, my main characters also, have some good that shine through in the ends.
If you had to describe Camilla in one word for our audience what would it be?
1930’s Shanghai is represented as a lawless and corrupt time.
Is this the way it really was?
Why did you choose this particular time?
I love history, because it is like a mirror reflecting all that’s good and bad in humanity. I think the 1930’s Shanghai is 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 in the modern world.
It was a time of extremes – from sybaritic luxury to abject poverty. I have tried to describe both from the indulgences of the rich to the miseries of the poor. But even for the rich, life was full of dangers.
Few of the rich came by their wealth honestly. There were always many ready to usurp their place, by guile if possible, or by murder if necessary. Those without money were expendable, particularly parentless children abandoned to orphanages. This had been Camilla’s fate, and also two of my actually virtuous characters -- the little blind girl and the baby she takes care of.
Nine Fold Heaven is a beautiful mix of cultures and traditions and it’s a true sequel to Skeleton Women.
As the author do you think it is beneficial to read the novels in order?
I wrote The Nine Fold Heaven in a way that it can be read as a stand alone book. But if readers like the three femmes fatales and want to learn more about them, then they will enjoy reading Skeleton Women as a prequel. Also, anyone out there who wants to know how a magician can make an entire building disappear will learn how in this novel.
The illustrations in your children’s books are beautiful, are they your own illustrations?
Yes. I have written and illustrated two children’s book, Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories which is one of Tuttle Publishing’s bestsellers and the new Grandma Panda’s China Storybook, which has just come out this year.
Illustrations from my new children’s book Grandma Panda’s China Storybook:
Grandma Panda teaching her grandchildren to write Chinese
Home coming celebration for Mulan the woman warrior
Here are some samples of my other paintings:
White and green-robed Guanyin, Goddess of Compassion
Xiang Xiang, protagonist of my debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion, playing the qin.
Me doing calligraphy
My calligraphy workshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012
Do you have any art showings in the near future?
I teach calligraphy workshops quite regularly. This year’s was at Lincoln Center, sponsored by the New York Philharmonic, last year I did one for the lunar new year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Are you working on another novel?
Yes, my next and sixth novel is Needle of a Thousand Beauties, to be published by Kensington Books in 2014.
It is about a young woman who escapes a ghost marriage to join a community of celebrate embroiderers. Soon, stifled by the rigid routines of the group, she helps herself to one of their treasures – an imperial robe. Chased by agents of a secret society, she makes her way to Beijing. There she finds work in an embroidery shop, only to be tricked into marrying the boss’ son. Escaping again, she falls in love with a revolutionary and lives an even more dangerous life. Despite all these distractions, she continues with her needlework and earns fame and respect.
Mingmei, many authors belong to writing or critique groups.
I used to have a writing group but since it has dissolved I am now on my own. I rely on my husband Geoffrey Redmond, a medical doctor, but also an excellent writer himself with six books to his credit and two more on the way. He is the first one to read everything I write and always has helpful feedback.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I’m embarrassed to say that I am a little crazy about containers, especially purses, wallets, thermos, and boxes – tin biscuit boxes, lunch boxes, metal or ceramic tea boxes. So when I take breaks from writing, I’ll go online to search for these. Somehow just looking at them makes me very happy.
Here is a purse I bought in San Francisco’s China Town, I added the jade myself.
Another prized possession is a thermos that was a gift from the West Point Military Academy, after I gave a lecture on Sunzi’s Art of War to their cadets in 2008. My great uncle studied at West Point – he was a famous general in China. For myself, however, I have no liking for military matters, just mild curiosity.
Mingmei’s lecture at West Point Military Academy
Mingmei do you have any signings or events celebrating the release of Nine Fold Heaven?
I am planning to do a signing at the Barnes and Noble in Honolulu this November and another one at the CUNY Asian Asian American Research Institute in New York. Other venues are in the works.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about your new novel, your art and your children’s books. Good luck with all your endeavors.
Thank you Debbie!
Visit Mingmei at: www.mingmeiyip.com
Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Mingmei-Yip/e/B0037A8RBO
My Review of The Nine Fold Heaven
The Songbird/spy Camilla’s escaped to Hong Kong after successfully fulfilling her lifelong mission for her gangland boss. She’s left behind her son, JinJin, who she was told was stillborn but who’s visits to her dreams tell her otherwise and her son’s father, JinYing, whom she loves the best. She has no choice but to return to Shanghai to try to solve the mysteries of her son and lover but to do this she’ll need to resort to her “Skeleton Woman” spy ways of manipulation and exploitation to get the information she needs. She also must be wary of her enemies who still search for her and even those she now befriends must be watched for they could turn on her at any moment.
Mingmei brings us the sequel to her novel Skeleton Women about the unscrupulous yet loveable spy Camilla. Camilla is a noir heroine who readers will love to hate or hate to love. The author makes it clear she’s a product of her environment and never apologizes for her behavior which she shouldn’t. The narrative is colorful and an exotic mix of cultures and traditions and will bring the sounds and flavors of a troubled lawless past society to life. For ultimate understanding and enjoyment the two books should be read in order.