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  • Writer's pictureKL Glanville

Guest Author Interview: Lisa See

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Originally Posted: May 1, 2013

Hello! Thank you, Lisa See, for visiting my blog today. I’m looking forward to hearing the gems you have to share from your writing journey! First of all, what is your favorite genre to write in and what is the age range you generally write for?

I don’t have a favorite. I’ve written a family memoir, mysteries/thrillers, and literary fiction. Actually, all stories have to share certain characteristics: great characters you can connect with, deep emotions that pull people deeper into the story, and a plot that keeps you turning the pages. I don’t know what the general age range is of the people who read my books, but I’ve received fan mail from people aged 13 to 91.

How did you get into writing these various genres? What makes it fun and interesting for you?

I look at it a differently. I write what’s interesting to me. I write what I care deeply about. I feel lucky that anyone reads my books. As for the fun and interesting part…ummm…let me think…I love the research. I love immersing myself in the story. I have to say I love almost all of it, except for maybe the editing.

I hear you about the editing! What is your process of developing the plot for a story?

I usually have an historic moment in my mind. Then, as I start doing the research, the plot begins to develop. I remember once being in the UCLA Research Library, doing research for my book, Peony in Love, on mid-17th century death rituals in the Yangtze Delta. A pretty dry and remote subject! Then I came on the practice of ghost marriages. I thought I’ve got to have one of these! This didn’t become a side story or just another historic detail. A ghost marriage became central to the plot of Peony in Love.

How do you go about coming up with your characters?

I usually think of the relationships that I want to write about first. For Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, it was two best friends for life. For Peony in Love, it was three wives all married to the same man. For Shanghai Girls, it was sisters. For Dreams of Joy, it was a mother and daughter.

What do you find is the hardest part of writing a novel?

To me, it’s the editing. I know I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy criticism or people saying, “I don’t get it.” I have five people read my manuscripts. I divide their criticism into three categories. A third of the time they’re right. A third of the time they’re completely wrong. And a third of the time I need to really look at something, because there’s something a little off.

What do you find is the most enjoyable part of writing a novel?

I LOVE research, and I’m a research fanatic. I do a tremendous amount of research. Let’s use Shanghai Girls as an example. I went to China, of course. But I also was taken on a private tour of Angel Island when it still wasn’t open to the public. I interviewed many people in my family and many others who’d passed through Angel Island. I interviewed people who had run shops or cafes in China City. (There aren’t many of them left, so I found their sons and daughters. Even they are in the eighties and nineties!) I was given access to the original transcripts for an oral history project done in 1978 of 75 people in Los Angeles Chinatown. These interviews gave me wonderful details. (Many of those people are now dead.) There were so many people who opened their lives to me. I remember in particular a woman, who was an orphan in a missionary orphanage in China, who walked 1,000 miles across China, trying to stay ahead of the Japanese.

I used many of the true details of her life to write about what happened to Pearl and May. I also used the stories of the mother of a family friend, who escaped out of China on a fishing vessel. What happens to Pearl and May on the boat to Hong Kong comes from Mrs. Woo. For this book the most important people I interviewed were those who’d been targeted or affected in some way by the Confession Program.

I would definitely agree about research being enjoyable. I find it quite the adventure. I must say, I am quite impressed by the amount you do. The depth of it truly shows in your stories. Do you have a writing tip you would you like to share with us?

Always look at writing as a job. That means, you get up and you go to work. I don’t wait for that moment of inspiration. By now, I do a lot of things—I write, I do a lot of speaking, and I do other fun—what I consider to be fun—projects. But the most important thing is writing, so that always comes first. When I get up, the first thing I do is write. My rule is 1000 words a day—just four pages—that isn’t very much. Life is short, so be passionate about everything you do.

That’s great advice. Please give us a summary of one of your latest books or upcoming new releases.

I’ve just finished a new novel. It’s called China Dolls, and it’s about Chinese American performers in the 1930s and 1940s here in this country. These were people who billed themselves as the Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the Chinese Houdini, the Chinese Frank Sinatra. My story is about three young women who meet in San Francisco at the Forbidden City nightclub. High jinks ensue!

Sounds like a great read! I will look forward to it. Thank you so much for sharing with us! Were can we find out more about your books online?

My website is, I’m also on Twitter and Facebook.

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