I did not realize, in my dreams about getting a book published, that promotion would be such a big part of the process. Then I started attending conferences for writers and learning about the need to pitch to agents and “have a platform.” With my first book finally out, I felt overwhelmed with all the social media I was supposed to be using to talk about my book. Who has time for all that? I asked a friend in the business which social media platform is best. “All of them,” she replied. I vowed I would not pester my friends and family on Facebook. And yet I did. And here I am, talking about my book on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, this website. I’ve made cringey Tiktoks. I’ve tried to make a podcast and learned that it’s hard to sound off-the-cuff interesting, especially when you can’t resist reading from a script. “Don’t read from a script,” my kids told me. But I’m all about scripts – I’m a writer!
I’ve also learned that I’m not alone in trying to figure out the world of book promotion. There are some bad ideas out there – like the guys who message me on Instagram offering to review my book for $20 bucks. But there are also interesting innovations – like Bookshop.org, which supports local, independent bookstores, and now a brand new experiment, Shepherd.com.
I recall being in a taxi in China several years ago, I think in Shanghai, shortly before the Lunar New Year holiday, when a pedestrian jumped in the path of our car.
The driver slammed on his brakes and – in the same motion – rolled down his window, so that he could yell at the hapless pedestrian even as we were skidding to a halt to avoid running him over.
“要过年吗?!” (Loose translation: “Were you hoping to live to celebrate the New Year?!”)
The taxi driver’s words were superficially polite but uttered with such vehement anger and sarcasm that they turned into an insult, a seasonal version of, “Get out of the way, you idiot!” I remember – once I recovered from the shock of the near accident – feeling amused by the driver’s aggrieved tone and aggressive wit.
The new moon February 1 on the Western calendar for 2022 marks the start of the Year of the Tiger. It’s a year when I hope to see Book 2 published in my series on the founding of the Ming Dynasty. Under the current title of Red Turban, this volume will cover the tumultuous four years, 1351-55, that turned Zhu Yuanzhang from an obscure wandering monk to a leading warlord contending for control of all of China, and brought the future Empress Ma to his side. The manuscript is currently undergoing edits, but has taken full form and benefited from reader comments (please email me if you would like to receive notifications about it).
So I am looking forward to the lunar New Year, and I intend to channel that taxi driver’s nerve and wit in the face of the anxiety of getting a novel published.
Though I’m not into numerology, it did give me pause to realize that one of the key moments in the founding of the Ming Dynasty occurred exactly 666 years ago.
On the second day in the sixth month of an Yiwei year that corresponds to the Western date of July 10, 1355, Zhu Yuanzhang led his newly-acquired fleet from Hezhou, his temporary base on the northwest bank of the Yangzi River. He was headed toward a outcrop on the far shore known as Ox Barrier. One of Zhu’s newest recruits, Chang Yuchun, was the first to make landfall. Chang jumped to the shore, wielded his ax and rushed toward the Mongol troops. Zhu Yuanzhang’s Red Turbans surged behind Chang’s charge and routed the imperial army from their fort in the cliffs. Chang’s attack was so heroic that it is said you can still see his footprint in the boulders above the site of the landfall.
Such are the tall tales told of that fateful moment.
Not sure how long it will last, but right now I’m featured on the home page of IndieReader.com. Whoop whoop! My book, the Lacquered Talisman, is among four profiles, and I’m in good company with Suzanne Tierney’s WWII historical fiction, and WG Hladky’s award-winning science fiction.
My profile discusses why I decided to write a novel about the founder of the Ming Dynasty, who I’d pick to play him in a movie, and more. Happy reading!
The Lunar New Year for 2021 starts Friday, Feb. 12. Up next in the cycle of the Chinese zodiac animals is the ox.
Since I have been writing fiction about the life story of Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming Dynasty, an ox year brought to mind stories of how the founder started out as a cattle herder.
Collections of stories about Zhu Yuanzhang’s childhood often include a subversive one from his herd boy days. It comes in a few different forms, but always has the future emperor leading his fellow herd boys in eating one of the animals they are supposed to be protecting.
“What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing writing about the Ming founding?”
A California-based literary agent once asked me this after I proposed a novel about the story of the fourteenth-century Ming Dynasty founder, Zhu Yuanzhang.
How to reply?
I mentioned that I’m not actually Jewish, but I knew that was not the point of the question. The agent was trying to tell me that he thought it strange to hear the idea for such a book coming from someone who is not Chinese.
Structuring a novel is a murky process, but one moment stands out in my mind as key to both my novel, The Lacquered Talisman, and its cover, which was created by my son.
I was sitting on the floor of a bookstore in Boston, flipping through art books about China, when suddenly it hit me: What I needed for my main character was a talisman. And this talisman would be a seal chop. The Lacquered Talisman is about the Zhu family, whose youngest son founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. I needed a tangible item that could symbolize family for my protagonist. Thus the talisman. Continue reading →
Here’s a five-star review of my debut novel published August 12, 2020 on IndieReader.com, a website devoted to hybrid, small press, and self-published authors:
THE LACQUERED TALISMAN leads readers from the marriage of the first Ming Emperor’s parents, through his young life, and his years of devotion as a Buddhist monk, to the beginnings of the rebellion that would overturn a dynasty and set him on the throne of one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.
The city leader was concerned that all the businesses in his town were shuttered. People were afraid to go out. He asked the central government for tax relief, and then embarked on a major project to get people shopping again.
Sound familiar? The concerns are the same type that officials today are dealing with in the face of COVID-19, but the city leader I am referring to is Xin Qiji 辛弃疾, one the Song Dynasty’s military prefects in Chuzhou 滁州, a city across the Yangtze River from Nanjing in China’s heartland. And the danger Xin Qiji faced in the 12th Century was not a pandemic, it was the Jin cavalry poised for yet another invasion from the north. Xin Qiji’s signature solution was also not something mayors or governors in the U.S. are currently considering: he built a soaring pavilion, the tallest structure in Chuzhou, located in today’s Anhui Province.
“Literary types love towers, this has been true since ancient times,” wrote Qian Niansun 钱念孙 in a recent travel book about Anhui. “Most climb or build them either to visit scenic spots or wax poetic, but Xin Qiji established Pillow Pavilion 奠枕楼 in Chuzhou for quite another reason…Pillow Pavilion was actually an 800-year-old ‘Call to Commerce Tower.’” Continue reading →