Thursday, January 24, 2013

Check Out Jeannie Lin, The Award Winning Author Of Historical Romance

If you've been a D2R reader for the last few years you might recall a blog I wrote up on how Asian men even get shafted in literature due to the dearth of authors who portray them as the romantic lead or better yet, don't even get included in the storyline at all. It even stirred up quite a ruckus on YOMYOMF. Look, I know what you're thinking,
"But MaSir, what about The Joy Luck Club? Obviously, there's irrefutably no better book out there at describing what a wonderful experience it is to date an Asian male besides that one." 
You are absolutely right! Amy Tan did her best to make Asian men look incredibly awesome, romantic and financially generous. After its release, Asian Americans from all over the world hail and swear by that novel as the most accurate depiction of AA men.

However, I still wasn't satisfied and thought to myself, "There has to be a female author who knows how to write a different kind of Asian love story." You know...where the Asian guy actually gets the how it is in the real-world. Searching high and low I was fortunate enough to find Jeannie Lin, a writer of historical romance novels set in ancient China. (And no, her stories do not parallel The Last Samurai if you know what I mean.) American entertainment, literature included, retells the same propagandizing love story. Jeannie, however, is different in that her stories center around the Asian male as an actual love interest, unlike what I call the BLS*. 

*Bruce Lee Syndrome (BLS) - Asian male protagonist kicks the shit out of a thousand men, but never gets the girl or is deemed as an asexual creature. 

Thus, I decided to sit down with Lin for a one-on-one interview and learn more about her and her work. You can check out Jeannie Lin's website here.

MaSir: Tell us about yourself. Let's start off with a "Jeannie Lin" boilerplate introduction.

Jeannie:  I'm Jeannie. I write historical romances set in Tang Dynasty China. Surprisingly, my background is actually in cognitive science and education. I'm a techie by day and writer by night.

MaSir By any chance, are you related to Jeremy Lin?

Jeannie: relation. I do occasionally refer to him as cousin Jeremy as a joke online. No relation to Justin Lin either....

MaSir Damn it. Okay. Interview's over...

Just kidding. So when did you start writing? And when did you officially become "Jeannie Lin" the author?

Jeannie:  I started writing around 2005. I was still teaching and looking for something to do as a hobby to balance things out. I took a class on romance writing and at first it was just something non-teaching to do on weekends, but the more I invested in the story, the more I realized I had always wanted to publish a story, so I committed to going for it. It took about four years of writing before I got noticed and received my first writing contract.

MaSir Do your parents know that you're a romance novel writer?

Jeannie:  Ha, they do! 

MaSir:  What are their opinions of it? I know Asian parents are so particular about their children pursuing STEM related careers but it looks like you already have that so maybe they don't mind so much?

Jeannie:  My mother is quite proud and actually sent my first book to a major Vietnamese paper because she knew the editor. (She publishes poetry under a pseudonym). My father requested a copy of my books -- just to have as a souvenir I'm sure -- so I may be the only romance author who has shipped their books to a Buddhist monastery. He's not a monk, he was just rooming at a monastery. 

Writing is my side job. My parents are very practical people and I'm no different. I'd starve if I tried to feed myself on writing money alone. I have a day job that pays the bills. [Just a side note] A lot of the shame that comes with writing romance or genre-fiction comes from how you feel yourself. I've never been ashamed and everyone I know, family and friends, have always been positive.

MaSir:  I actually stumbled upon your website after a blog that I had written up about the lack of AA female authors writing stories with Asian males as love interests and romantic leads. I was pleasantly surprised that there was someone representing for the Asian male race. What prompted you to stay within your ethnicity and not go off following the typical WM/AF love story that is so mainstream and overdone?

Jeannie:  My primary influence has always been the wuxia movies I used to watch with my family, especially those written by Jin Yong (who's the equivalent of J.R.R Tolkien among Asians) To be fair, my first story published was a WM/AF love story, my thoughts being to meld two genres - Western epic fantasy and Eastern wuxia together. Butterfly Swords features a Western barbarian and a Chinese princess, but I wanted to have the Westerner become immersed into Chinese culture instead of the sort of typical scenario when the Western warrior appropriates Chinese culture and then emerges as the "superior warrior". Since then, all of the other stories have Chinese heroes and heroines.

Should've asked who the cover model 
MaSir:  And this brings me to my next question. Now I'm sure you've probably heard through vocal dissidence that AA men resent mainstream AA authors such as Amy Tan for her portrayal of Asian men in The Joy Luck Club, and that's why I was so joyful to see an AA female author such as yourself writing stories with Asian male characters as attractive and sexy. And I understand where Tan is coming from, believe me, its not like her depictions are completely flawed. But quite honestly, there's still a lot of resentment and it's created tension, especially online.

Jeannie:  Yes and they have a point. Though I do respect and love Amy Tan's work, it does perpetuate the stereotype that all Chinese women are subjugated in China as well as that men are the oppressors. I dislike the female stereotype as much as the negative male stereotype.

MaSir:  When I go to the bookstore sometimes I see romance novels by black authors for their target audience. How has the overall reaction been with your work being Asian based fiction?

Jeannie: Ah, that's a whole big discussion. In the romance industry, black protagonists have been pushed into a sub-genre of their own. Publishers market them primarily to black readers, they get sectioned off in a different part of the bookstore, and so on and so forth. It's very controversial -- a white author writing black characters will get shelved in mainstream and get widely marketed. The Asian market is so niche -- it's not it's own sub-genre, that it's pushed in mainstream. It's a two-edged sword business and publicity wise. Because it's not a well-defined sub-genre, there's not as many targeted readers like in the AA or Black romance arena. So AA romance sells better...BUT...because it's not defined, it also doesn't get pigeon-holed so it floats on the mainstream market.

MaSir That's what I was going to ask you...if you ever felt like you're being pigeonholed or have encountered doubt about the success of your work because of your character's ethnic backgrounds. I feel like in mainstream [American] entertainment, the broader population still isn't used to seeing Asian-Asian couples...

Jeannie:  Doubt? Always. Publishing is a tough business [as it is] and my books are really hard sells. I've read many an article about the portrayal of Asian males in media. One was kind of reported...anecdotally it seems, because they didn't say how they got these numbers...that only 10% of women found Asian men attractive. I think women find men attractive when they are portrayed as being attractive to other women...if that makes sense. So in the romance genre, if readers don't feel your hero is attractive, you're dead in the water. At the same time, if Asian men are never shown as attractive, they'll never be considered attractive. You'd be surprised how often I hear people say, "I saw this hot Asian guy and thought of you". That's sad if there's ONE representative of Asian male hotness in a genre. It really is. I'm not the only representative of Asians in romance, by the way. I'm just the only one who's not talented enough to write other couples as well.

MaSir:  Is there a reason why you choose the historical setting as opposed to present day Asia or America?

Jeannie:  Well, two reasons: I first started writing as an escape. I was teaching in what we would call "the ghetto" and it was tough. When I tried to think of contemporary stories, my mind couldn't get away from all the issues I dealt with day-to-day. So I went to the types of stories I enjoyed and was inspired by a historical setting. Second reason: the more I researched into the Tang Dynasty, the more I found some relevant ideals that resonated with me. Specifically, the emphasis on meritocracy and education. Stories of commoners making it through passing the imperial exams. That really hits home for me -- My parents came to the US with nothing and the only way we'd ever make it was through education. It's another one of my muses. Plus Amy Tan had that market sewn up. Just kidding.

MaSir:  Haha. Good one! Speaking of stereotypes, in your books, do you ever play on some of those stereotypes with your characters. Some of them I can't imagine you can completely escape from, but as an author you can conjure up any image that you like for your characters. Do you enjoy that aspect of character development and presentation? 

Jeannie:  Well, the stereotype of the Chinese warrior definitely comes up. But it doesn't seem so stereotypical when he's in his world and not transplanted into somewhere else. There's also the stereotype of the scholar and the warrior-scholar.

MaSir:  If Asian guys were to read your book, in secret…ebook, would rehearsing something from one of your heroines help or inspire them? I feel like in romantic comedies and love stories...the guys are so suave. I'm like, "There's no way I could ever think of anything that smooth in real-time off the top of my head."

Jeannie:  Hmm...inspiration...Well, in my latest book, The Sword Dancer, the heroine and hero do a bunch of fighting, a lot of physical interaction, but then she is most impressed when she's watching him read a book, because a woman in the Tang Dynasty would seriously have found that to be totally swoon-worthy.

MaSir:  Ha ha. "THIS GUY CAN READ?!?!" Major turn on! "I'm sleeping with him TONIGHT."

Jeannie:  Hey, scholars were the heroes back then so I like kind of playing with the stereotypes like that.

MaSir's Note: This is probably one of the reasons why Asians are so into education. Its become embedded in our DNA after being passed down through countless generations that being scholarly is equivalent to hotness.
MaSir: Do you have any male readers/fans in secret?

Jeannie:  Droves...they're just hiding. Like ninjas. Actually, I have a few male readers. Often someone will buy my book and then tell me that their husband actually read it.

MaSir:  That's funny. It doesn't look too masculine to be caught with a romance novel but a porno? Totally acceptable (and even expected). Strange but funny.

Jeannie:  Interesting point.

MaSir:  Do you have any advice to the Asian guys out there who are looking for love or "romance"? 

Jeannie:  Be yourself. Be confident. Confidence is sexy. Oh, I have one real point of advice. 

There was once this guy who I thought was kind of attractive and who had a crush on me. And he didn't think I knew so he just kind of kept hanging out and hoping things would grow slowly. No, no, no, no, no. If at any point, he had just asked me out, I would have said yes I think that's the main issue I've experienced personally with Asian guys. They want to play it cool and not act like they're too interested.

MaSir:  Wow. I think this story is way too common unfortunately. I was once that guy. It's a pride thing to be honest and also the fear of getting rejected.

Jeannie:  Make your interest known, girls find that sexy. No risk, no reward, right? Romance heroes always ask the girl out.

MaSir:  Exactly. All the times I didn't ask, I just ended up looking "creepy" and it sucked because they eventually lost interest.

Jeannie:  LOL, lesson learned.

MaSir:  Yes, it was terrible, but now if I really want to talk to a girl I'll just do it. There's always some hesitation of course because it can still be scary at times, but I think its fun to go through it regardless and its even funnier when you get rejected. But when you score? It's like...KA-CHING Dynasty!
If a guy were to ask a girl out, being the romance author that you are, how should it go? 

Jeannie:  In general, romance authors are book people. You can definitely woo one by meeting them at a bookstore cafe. And if the chemistry is there, it doesn't matter where or what. It'll click. If it isn't, *shrug*. I've never thought badly of a guy who asked me out. If anything, there are plenty I didn't think of at all or didn't think much of until they asked me out so guys, you really are in a win-win situation....unless you're a creepy stalker.

MaSir: Makes sense to me. So what are the latest projects you're working on? Can you give us a brief overview and when it'll be available to the public?

Jeannie:  The upcoming release is one my favorites I mentioned earlier, it's an action adventure titled The Sword Dancer. It's available May 21 in print and June 1 ebook.

MaSir Awesome. I'll have to check it ebook format


  1. Awesome interview dude! yeah the warrior scholar stereotype comes up often in real life, but sometimes it works to your advantage. Better to play that out than to be a straight up nerd with no kick ass abilities.

  2. Thx bro! I think startups in technology has brought the sexy back when it comes to being nerdy. The only problem is that we're no longer "warriors".


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