Janie Chang enthralled many readers with her first novel Three Souls. She had carefully crafted that work with a mixture of history, emotion, mysticism, and romance. Now Janie has come out with a second book called Dragon Springs Road and it promises to be just an equally endearing read. Chang recently answered a few questions for me.
1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Dragon Springs Road?
The novel is set during the early decades of 20th century China, and opens with a young girl named Jialing who’s been abandoned in the courtyard of an old estate outside Shanghai. She finds out very quickly that her life is going to be terrible, because she’s a girl, orphaned, and worst of all, Eurasian. Even though she’s taken in as a bondservant by the family that moves into the estate, Jialing’s life is always going to be difficult. The two main concerns in her life are: how can she survive once the family is done with her, and how can she find her mother? It’s a turbulent time in Chinese history – the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the birth of a new republic, the rise of warlords, and all sorts of social upheaval. There’s a murder, political intrigue, supernatural elements that include a Fox spirit, and themes of race and identity, acceptance and friendship.
2) Your website states that you draw on family stories for your inspiration for your writing? What or who inspired your to write this book?
My first novel, Three Souls, was inspired by my grandmother’s life, so the premise was taken from family history. Dragon Springs Road, on the other hand, started off as a detour while researching turn-of-the-century Shanghai when I came across references to the Eurasians who lived during pre-War China. Imagine pre-War Shanghai and its decadent reputation. There were thousands of children born to prostitutes and poor women. If they survived infanticide the girls were often put to work in brothels. They were unwanted and unacknowledged by Chinese and Westerners, an embarrassment to both sides. So I tried to imagine what life might’ve been like for such a child, to grow up in a society that valued males, family connections, and lineage.
But there are many, many details that made their way from family history and into Dragon Springs Road – so yes, I’m still drawing from family history. These small incidents and anecdotes breathe life into the setting, because they’re accounts of real events.
3) On your website, you have enclosed photos that provide readers some insight for the book. Did you do much outside research for the book? If yes, what exactly did you do?
Wow. I’m so glad you checked out the Gallery (Click for link). It’s meant to help readers visualize the world of the novel. As for research, you start with the least expensive – online research. And that includes looking for books that might be helpful. I bought a LOT of books, because while they might be available at a library, I like to have them right there on my shelf to flip through as needed. It feels as though I used only 10% of all the information I researched! If you love history, you have to be disciplined when doing research or else you end up down the rabbit hole. Even though both Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road contain elements of fantasy, they are solidly researched. They are historical novels.
It was actually quite challenging because there were almost no contemporary accounts of the lives of Eurasian orphans and the poor; I found some academic books about Eurasians in China, but much of those accounts were of biracial Chinese from the upper and middle-classes, who were literate and whose lives were documented. There was almost nothing when it came to the far larger population of the poor and orphaned; back in those days, no one wanted to know. Then a friend suggested looking into the memoirs of women missionaries and that really helped because those women were the ones who ran schools and orphanages, who could remark on what happened to the children.
4) Dragon Springs Road may have just come out but it looks like reaction to it has been very positive. Is that the case? Have there been any memorable comments to the book that you care to share?
This is my second novel, so I think my publishers have more to work with in terms of readership and media attention – they’re no longer trying to promote a one-book author! Memorable comments? Well, I suffered from the Dreaded Sophomore Novel Syndrome while writing Dragon Springs Road and thought that it was going to be a terrible book! So when my editors came back after reading the manuscript and said it was an even better, more accomplished novel than the first, I was so relieved! So the email from my editor was definitely memorable.
5) Are you planning on partaking on any public readings of Dragon Springs Road at all? If yes, are there any dates/events that you are looking forward to participating in?
I’ve had a couple of events locally (in the Vancouver area) including the Canadian launch; also the US book launch at Kepler’s Books (Click for link) (Menlo Park, CA) and Vroman’s Bookstore (Click for link) (Pasadena). I’m really looking forward to the first literary festival of the year, which is the Galiano Literary Festival (Click for link) held on one of our beautiful Gulf Islands. Everything that’s been scheduled for sure so far is on my Events page (Click for link).
6) You seem to be active on both social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Are you hoping that readers connect with you through those means to comment on this book? How do you like using those means of communication in relation to your writing?
Social media is a requirement these days for authors unless you’re Elena Ferrante, who every author envies for having sidestepped the time drain that’s social media. I’m active on Facebook and Twitter, probably more Facebook than Twitter. In general, social media makes me nervous. My background is in high tech and I am so aware of the privacy issues surrounding these free services, such as what corporations can do with data mining to cross-reference your personal information from different sources. And don’t even get me started on the decline of civil conversation in an age of tweets.
On the other hand, I’ve become friends with readers and other authors through social media, from reaching out to them and vice versa, so I shouldn’t complain. I know that social media makes it easier for readers to ask questions. When I don’t have time to write a good blog, Facebook is a good place to post an article about something that I’m reading and thinking about. There are friends I would lose touch with if not for social media.
7) Your website offers a special section for book clubs (and states that you will even participate in a book-clubs discussion groups via Skype). Have you participated in many book-club activities? Is that something you enjoy doing?
It’s good to get out of the writing den! Skype is not as nice as face-to-face, but it means you can meet with book clubs anywhere. Last year HarperCollins New Zealand organized one with a book club in Queenstown, on the South Island of (New Zealand) !
8) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
Absolutely. Novel #3 is all outlined. I’m really excited about the premise and can’t wait for the flurry of promotion for Dragon Springs Road to be finished so that I can really get down to writing. What I can say is that the third novel is inspired by family history. Again. And it mixes history with the supernatural. Again.