At the moment of the Emperor's death, everything changes in the palace. Mei, his
former concubine, is free, and Pheasant, the heir and Mei's lover, is proclaimed
as the new Emperor, heralding a new era in China. But just when Mei believes
she's closer to her dream, Pheasant's chief evil wife, Lady Wang, turns against
Mei and takes unthinkable measures to stop her. The power struggle that ensues
will determine Mei's fate–and that of China.
First banished to a Buddhist monastery, Mei is then threatened with death for
her daring escape. Back at the palace and living in secret, she is surrounded
by enemies. Only by fighting back against those who wish her harm will Mei be
able to realize her destiny as the most powerful woman in China. This
fascinating story is part of a duology that includes THE MOON IN THE PALACE.
Writing a Woman’s Life columnist Yona Zeldis McDonough chats with Randel
about her background and the path that led her to write these richly imagined
and compelling tales.
YZM: When did you start writing?
WDR: I published my first short story when I was in fourth grade. So I guess I
can say I started to write then? But I was writing in Chinese, not English – I
began to write and speak in English when I came to the U.S. at the age of 24.
YZM: English is your second language; have you ever written in Chinese?
WDR: Yes. I also wrote a novel in Chinese when I was 21, but the novel was
rejected by an editor in Shanghai. Humiliated, I burned the manuscript and
decided to switch to English and learn the language instead.
YZM: What drew you to this subject matter?
WDR: I was inspired to write about Empress Wu in graduate school after I read
Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior. I was fascinated with the
prose, but was upset with the story of a Chinese woman who drowned herself
because she was pregnant out of wedlock and her family considered her a
disgrace. During the discussion with my classmates, I also learned how little
they knew of China and courageous Chinese women, so I decided to write about a
strong Chinese woman who succeeded in controlling her destiny. The first women I
thought of was Empress Wu. I began to write and research about her in early 2004.
YZM: Can you talk about the research process? What were most fun/most
challenging parts of doing it?
WDR: I spent six years researching ancient China! I studied Sun Tzu's The
Art of War, Lao Tzu's Tao Te Jing, Confucius' Analects,
Shi Jing, classical Chinese poetry, and historical record of the Sui
Dynasty and Tang Dynasty in original ancient Chinese text, modern Chinese and
English translations. Besides that, I also pored over books regarding the
history of the tribes living at the border of China, Chinese art, painting,
architecture, silk, rituals, food, fashion, sports, and women's life in the
society. There was so much to learn. Sometimes I got sucked in and tended to
write too much about the research findings, forgetting what was important to my
story, and as a result, my story lost focus. It took me years to understand that
I needed to write fiction, not history. So I cut out many details during revisions.
The challenging part of the research? To swallow unfavorable comments about
women and Empress Wu. Because many ancient Chinese historians were faithful
devotees of Confucianism, which had a negative view of women and believed they
must serve men and should not be involved in politics, the historians often
looked down on females and lambasted them, accusing them of behaving
inappropriately. It was very hard to read those comments.
YZM: Do you feel Empress Wu’s story has a meaning for today’s women?
WDR: Absolutely. Empress Wu was one of the most competent rulers in the Chinese
history. She ushered in a golden age for China. During her reign, China
prospered in trade, economy, arts, and literature and became a role model for
the neighboring countries such as Korea and Japan. Few male rulers in the
Chinese history duplicated her success.
Not only that, she was also the first feminist in the Chinese history who strove
to promote women. She encouraged women to learn and study, giving them the right
to be educated, insisted on giving them the equal right to own land, just like
men, and even employed them in the court – one of her prime ministers was a woman.
She did all that in the seventh century, when many men believed women were mere
properties and reproduction tools.
Because of Empress Wu, women in the Tang Dynasty rode horses and played polo,
enjoying freedom that women of later generations could never dream of. History
told us that after Tang Dynasty's demise, women were forced to break their toes
and bound their feet, a tradition that lasted for almost one thousand years in
So we know Empress Wu was a trailblazer for women, but we still need to know
about her story and see how she rose among hostility and stood triumphant. We
need to understand that her path was not a smooth ride and that she was
assaulted and suffered greatly, but it was her strength, her resiliency, her
tolerance, her extraordinary ability, and her persistence in her belief that
helped her succeed. It is not often that we hear this kind of success, but
Empress Wu did it and showed the world – that is inspiring to any women of any
time, of any country.
YZM: What are you working on now?
WDR: I'm working on another story set in China, although strictly speaking it is
not historical fiction. But I'll go back to historical fiction and introduce
more of the courageous Chinese women and their stories to readers in the U.S.
YZM: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
WDR: I would probably be a psychologist, I think. I'm fascinated with people,
and I love to talk to people, listen to their plights, and, if possible, help
unravel the knots in their minds. I actually contemplated on getting a
psychology degree after I received eighty rejection letters from agents. But I
missed the deadline. So now I stick to being a writer!
WEINA DAI RANDEL is the author of The Empress of Bright Moon
duology, THE MOON IN THE PALACE and THE EMPRESS OF BRIGHT MOON. She was born and raised in China. Her
passion for history compels her to share classical Chinese literature, tales of
Chinese dynasties, and stories of Chinese historical figures with American
Weina received an M.A. in English from Texas Woman's University
in Denton, Texas, where she was inspired to write about Empress Wu of China when
she took a class in Asian American literature. She is a member of the Historical
Novel Society and the Writer's Garret in Dallas.
The Empress of Bright Moon
A compelling novel about one woman’s search for the truth from the author
of YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME.
After suffering a sudden, traumatic loss,
historical novelist Susannah Gilmore decides to uproot her life—and the lives of
her two children—and leave their beloved Brooklyn for the little town of
Eastwood, New Hampshire.
While the trio adjusts to their new
surroundings, Susannah is captivated by an unexpected find in her late parents’
home: an unsigned love note addressed to her mother, in handwriting that is most
definitely not her father’s.
Reeling from the thought that she never
really knew her mother, Susannah finds mysteries everywhere she looks: in her
daughter’s friendship with an older neighbor, in a charismatic local man to whom
she’s powerfully drawn, and in an eighteenth century crime she’s researching for
her next book. Compelled to dig into her mother’s past, Susannah discovers even
more secrets, ones that surpass any fiction she could ever put to paper...
About Yona Zeldis McDonough
Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of six novels; her
seventh, THE HOUSE ON
PRIMROSE POND, will be out from New American Library in February, 2016. In
addition, she is the editor of the essay collections The Barbie
Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty and All the Available Light: A
Marilyn Monroe Reader. Her short fiction, articles and essays have been
published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines and
newspapers. She is also the award-winning author of twenty-six books for
children, including the highly acclaimed chapter books, The Doll Shop
Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop. Yona lives in Brooklyn, New
York with her husband, two children and two noisy Pomeranians.
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