A graduate of Peking University, Diane joined the Student Democracy Movement and took part in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, which culminated in the massacre of hundreds of demonstrators by the People’s Liberation Army.
Diane has a PhD in Business Administration from Carnegie Mellon University and was an award-winning business professor in the US and the UK for over 10 years.
Her first book, Lake With No Name, a memoir of Tiananmen and love, is reissued in the US in 2009.
Diane is also the author of two novels featuring Beijing private detective Mei Wang: The Eye of Jade (2008) and Paper Butterfly (2009). Her novels have been translated into over 20 languages.
Diane now writes full-time and lives in London.
Hello, Diane, and welcome to Novel Journey. Tell us a little about your latest release:
In Paper Butterfly private detective Mei Wang is hired to find a missing Pop princess. A delicate paper butterfly provides a clue that leads Mei into the old Beijing Hutong that is steeped in tradition and superstition, and to a past secret that no one dares to speak of.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
Paper Butterfly was inspired by Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. The what if moment when I thought “what if I set the story in post-Tiananmen China.” The speed by which China has changed since 1989 is so immense that I thought it would add an interesting twist.
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
Mei Wang is a private detective in Beijing. Only she can’t be a private detective because the profession is banned. I created her character because she qualified two main aims that I had when I first developed series: an outsider of the system and a strong woman – both face great difficulties in China.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
I enjoyed writing about Lin, the young student who was imprisoned after Tiananmen, who after nine years was released back into a society that had changed completely. In terms of location, I loved writing about the old Beijing, the narrow alleyways called Hutong where generations live in crowded courtyard houses. I thought these old quarters of Beijing were so beautiful.
The least enjoyable aspect of the writing was also the story of Lin – the amount of cruelty and sadness inhabited in his life.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
I write in English, which is my second language. It is a beautiful language but very different to Chinese. I have found trying to integrate the two quite difficult.
What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?
Going to art galleries and auction house.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
I believe most writers do. I put my experience, my emotion and my views into my books and characters. My characters take me on journeys that sometimes I wish that I had taken.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
To know the state of heart and mind of the people who live in China.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
I normally start with a setting and a theme – what I would like to say with the book. For example the first Mei Wang book The Eye of Jade was about forgiveness and I wanted it to be set in the antique art market. Paper Butterfly is about revenge. Once I have the general settings, I work on plot and characters simultaneously. But I don’t wait until I have plotted out every detail to begin writing. I start with some ideas and let the story develop as I go along. I always know how the book would end.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
I am very fortunately to have many great publishers who do most of the marketing. I do interviews, literary festivals, TV and radio; sometimes I go on book tours. I prefer writing over marketing, though I understand that these days authors have to do more to promote our books.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
I am working on the third installment of the Mei Wang series. I don’t want to say too much at this point except that the next book will be darker and more complicated than the previous two.
Looking forward to reading more in the Mei Wang series. Thank you for stopping by!