Author Interview ~ Diane Wei Liang

Diane Wei Liang was born in Beijing. She spent part of her childhood with her parents in a labour camp in a remote region of China. A graduate of Peking University, Diane participated in the 1989 Student Democracy Movement and was in Tiananmen Square. A former professor of business, Diane is the author of Lake With No Name, a memoir of Tiananmen and a previous novel featuring Beijing private detective Mei Wang, The Eye of Jade. Her novels have been translated into over 20 languages. She lives in London.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

I have just finished the third installment of the Mei Wang Mysteries. Mei is targeted by a mysterious governmental organization. A private detective is killed investigating a business that has close ties to the Chinese military. Mei is under-pressure to discover the real killer amid police cover up.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I had the idea of writing my first book, a memoir about growing up in China and the 1989 Tiananmen events in summer holiday in July. I was at the time teaching at University of London. By October I had written a couple of chapters and a book proposal. I sent them to a dozen of agents in London where I lived and had a few positive responses. It took another four months for me to complete the first one hundred pages of the book, which my agent sent out together with the book proposal. A UK publisher offered me a contract. Six translations followed. Since I was new to writing, I did not think much of it.

Three years later, I finished my first novel, which was sold in pre-Frankfurt Book Fair auctions. I remember getting a call from my agent, which began with, “I hope you are sitting down.” I had read about writers getting such calls from their agents, but never thought that one day it would happen to me. All I could say at the end of that conversation was thank you.

Do you experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Yes, all the time.

What’s the worst mistake you’ve made while seeking publication?

I wish I had worked more on my book proposal and my writing before I went out with them. I now know that the more a writer can perfect her/his book, the easier for others to see its value.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

I suppose this is the standard advice from writing programs: characters first, plot second. I have never had any writing training. I followed this advice to the tee, until a friend told me to first work out the plot so that I could have a peace of mind focusing on characters. It turned out to be a great advice.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wish I had known how important a passionate and driving editor is to the success of a book. Publishing is a very personal business. Now I look for such a person when I choose publishers, while at the same time that editor is hopefully choosing me.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

Mei Wang series are published in twenty-eight countries so inevitably there would be my editor or publisher leaving the publishing house that is publishing my books. It has which created problems.

What are a few of your favorite books?

Home by Marilynee Robinson
The Line of Beauty by Allan Hollinghurst
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

The third Mei Wang book that I’ve just finished writing. I feel that I have learnt a lot and made a great leap forward in the new work.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I am sometimes discouraged by the turnover of editors and publicists, especially if they are good.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I drop off my children to school by 9am. I either sit in my office at home or go to a café with my laptop to write (these days more and more to café), until I need to pick up my children from school at around 3:30pm. If I am not too tired by evening, I will also try to write for a couple of hours before going to bed, which is typically around midnight.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

Precision and control, from Marilynne Robinson.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I would like to write good books that will be read beyond my existence.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Yes. While I was working on the third Mei Wang book, there had been an eight months period during which I did not write anything and did care whether I carried on writing.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part of being a writer is to be able to work anywhere and anytime. My least favorite part of it is when the writing does not work, the world becomes grim – it is all consuming.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I go on book tours and participate in literary festivals. I also do a fair amount of TV and radio work, though sometimes they are not directly related to my books. From my experience, the degree of promotional success depends on the capability of the publicist. If I believe in a particular publicist, I’d do everything she sends my way.

Parting words?

Writing is the most enjoyable and enriching experience I have ever had. I hope more people will try it.