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Author interview with Jade Lee

Vixen released Saturday! Jade was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

You can get your copy of this delicious historical romance HERE!

Did you always know you wanted to be an author? What is the first story you remember writing? How did you get from there to where you are today? 

I was a daydreamer when I was young. Whatever I read or saw on tv, I rewrote in my head. Did you know that Luke Skywalker had a girlfriend? Yup. That was me. I’ve walked with Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’ve hung out with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Sometimes I became the main character of a story—assuming the main character did something stupid and I wanted to fix it—but more often, I added myself to the story, moving it around me such that it became a love story. What can I say? I’ve always been writing about love.

It took years and years before I grew disciplined enough to write my stories down. But when I finally started writing, my tales struggled with technique, POV, and those horrible transitions. I wanted to jump from action to action, but had to learn how to slow down, how to put in gentle character growth instead of explosive OMG moments. It’s been a long, fun ride. And now, I’ve got to go rewrite (in my head) a Dr. Who episode. I’m a much better companion to him, you know. LOL

What is the most inspiring place you’ve visited and has it shown up in one of your books?

I visited China many years ago with my mother and my daughter. Three generations on a three week tour that turned out to be very special. The two places that stood out were the home my mother grew up in in Shanghai (now taken over by the Communist Government as a guard center) and the Forbidden City in Beijing. We didn’t get to go inside my mother’s old home, but exploring the seemingly huge Forbidden City was quite an event. (As was the Starbucks right outside the entrance. This was when Starbucks was relatively new.)

I was fascinated by the idea that the women went into the Forbidden City, desperate to become a favored concubine. Often, they never saw their families again. Worse, many never saw the Emperor, so they never had the chance to become pregnant with an imperial child. In some ways, they were fully isolated, but they were never alone. Eunuchs served them, and those men had their own agenda. (I’ve done a great deal of research into them as well. Fascinating to understand the mindset of a castrated man surrounded by beautiful women, serving at their whim, and yet finding ways to exert power over their world.) Political intrigue rarely interested me. I didn’t go for the clash of nations or armies. I was more interested in how a person survived in a sea of vipers. Did they find love with each other? How did they write poetry? There were some beautiful examples painted on the walls by various concubines. How did they find happiness? How did they survive?

Vixen and Temptress enter the world of imperial China in the 1850s. Society had a classic imperial structure with royalty, noble families, and a peasant class. But there were also ways to advance in status, often through the Imperial Exam. A smart boy could pass the exam and then get a government job that set him and his heirs up for life. But it was painfully difficult. Less than 1% of those who attempted it passed, and it was impossible to bribe one’s way through it.

What would happen, I wondered, if a woman destined to become Emperess fell in love with a scholar smart enough to pass the imperial exam? Neither of them should give up their future for each other. That would be crazy! And yet, love creates surprises that no person could force. That was the beginning of the story Vixen.

Which comes first for you: the plot or the characters? Do you know where the story is going before you begin, or does it come to you as you write? Do scenes come to you fully formed or are you as surprised as the reader?

I’m 100% a character writer first. I get the people in my head, I give them flaws/things to learn, and then…they sit there and stare at me. I can create the most fascinating people but then can’t figure out what they’re supposed to do. How do I get them to interact? What is the spark that sets this kindling to flame? I have no idea!!!! I usually stomp around the house for a few days. I go swimming (because I can’t even listen to music while I’m doing laps. It forces me to let my mind wander.) I cry on the phone to my friends. And then—usually thanks to my friends—something sparks. Something comes to light and WHAM, I have the opening sequence. Much celebration happens at that point.

Writing scenes works much the same way for me. I know what I’m trying to accomplish in the scene, know where it has to end (or so I think), and then I just start writing. Stuff happens. Surprises appear (and that’s the absolute BEST). And in the end, I finish the scene with some sort of hook or bang or surprise (I can’t stop writing until it happens), and then leave it to tomorrow to figure my way out of the surprise.

In short, I create characters and then bump around watching them figure out what I need them to learn. It usually has something to do with why they’re falling in love, and how that love makes them a better person.

What do you like to read when you’re not reading in your genre? Did you have a favorite book or series when you were growing up?

I’m a fantasy reader when I’m not reading romance. I grew up with the Narnian chronicles (wrote my undergraduate thesis on the series). I read all the classic fantasy novels and was so very thrilled when the Lord of the Rings movies came out. (I’m not a purist when books translate to other media. I find it fascinating to see how new creators and new media change the core story. I think about what was added, what was lost. But I digress…) So now when I look for something new, I’ve found happiness in series like The House Witch by Delemhach, Miss Percy’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson, and The Desden Files by Jim Butcher. You’ll notice that those aren’t especially gory series. I get too much blood and pain from the news. These are fun books that I can’t recommend enough.