Thursday, September 03, 2009

Interview with Jade Lee

At the RWA conference in July I went to a lively presentation by Chinese-American romance author Jade Lee about the use of setting to enhance character. She expanded the topic to include the character’s clothing and accessories, as well as home and other physical surroundings, in the concept of setting. One fascinating suggestion she made was to pick an overarching metaphor for each major character. For instance, to offer a simple example, “The villainess is a snake.” While you might never explicitly label the female villain a snake in the text, you might make her thin, with a slithery mode of movement, and dress her in a sleek, scale-like fabric. She might figuratively attack people with her venom or try to squeeze the life out of them.

Here’s the mini-review of Lee’s novel based on an actual “Marry the Emperor” contest in Chinese history, THE CONCUBINE (of which she gave away free copies at the workshop), that I included in a recent issue of my author newsletter:

THE CONCUBINE, by Jade Lee. Although the author’s introductory note to this Harlequin Blaze romance compares it to Cinderella, it actually reminds me more of the biblical story of Esther. A king—or in this case, the emperor of China in the nineteenth century—holds a competition to choose a new queen and a handful of concubines. Chen Ji Yue, daughter of a minor, impoverished aristocratic household, is determined to become empress in order to raise her family’s financial and social status. Trouble brews when she and the emperor’s best friend, Sun Bo Tao, who has the task of overseeing the horde of maidens competing for the ruler’s favor, fall in love. Bo Tao has a reputation for indolent, rakish behavior, but behind the scenes he serves as the emperor’s most reliable adviser. He and Ji Yue clash at first, as we’d expect in a romance, but gradually come to acknowledge their mutual attraction. If their love becomes known or, worst of all, Ji Yue loses her virginity, both of them will suffer disgrace or worse. Ji Yue has to cope with the hostility of the dowager empress and the petty sniping of her rivals, while the problems of China’s dealings with foreigners from the West lurk in the background. The story is hot both sensually and emotionally. The setting and its customs are fascinatingly presented. Lee makes the characters easy for the reader to identify with while never letting us lose sight of their alien (for most American readers) culture and world-view.

I’m mentioning Jade Lee because the September issue of my newsletter, just released, contains an interview with her. This e-mail newsletter is a once-monthly message containing news, mini-book-reviews, interviews, and excerpts from my work—no discussion posts to flood your mailbox. Go to this page to subscribe:

News from the Crypt

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. Jade's book sounds very interesting with lots of conflict. Thanks for sharing some of her presentation.