6 December 2010

The Ming Storytellers

The Ming Storytellers is a novel set in 15th century Ming China. It took me four years to research and write, while working and/or studying and I am still in the throes of the manuscript editing process.

My sources and inspirations have included historical journals, medical forums, an endless list of history books, Ming literature, books on Chinese clothing, Chinese maps, astronomical articles, medical articles, a visit to China, Chinese epic films like Feng Xiaogang's "The Banquet" (set in a different period) and my imagination.

I am not modest about this novel. From the point of view of someone raised in a predominantly Western environment with no knowledge of the Chinese language, writing about China, let alone an obscure China of the 15th century, is no mean feat.

Yet, this novel is bound to encounter criticism from historians, Chinese nationalists or even from those who believe they know best and who have never written anything themselves.

That is ok. Every human endeavor invites one of, or a mixture of three possible responses. There will always be criticism, admiration and indifference. This is inevitable. The only hope one always has is that those who criticise will be constructive and knowledgeable.

Still, I value the uniqueness and pioneering nature of The Ming Storytellers. As described by Thomas Carter in his Amazon List of China Historical Fiction, The Ming Storytellers stands as one of the very few historical novels written in English and set in China.

Thomas Carter who is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, indicates that,

"Whether this is due to China’s notorious cultural and geographical inaccessibility or simply a lack of wherewithal by western authors to tackle such an immense subject, the fact remains that for all its wealth of material, China is one of the least written-about countries in historical fiction.

(Of author James Michener’s vast catalog of historical fiction, not one of his 40+ titles takes place in China; apparently the 9.5 million sq. km., 5,000 year-old China was a bit much for the late Michener to take on.)"

- Thomas Carter

I would like to intercede on James Michener's behalf. In his book, Hawaii, Michener does indeed touch on Chinese culture, notably the Hakka ethnic group. He sets part of the novel in China, albeit, mainly to recount the story of Chinese characters migrating to Hawaii.

I feel also that Thomas Carter's list omits Jung Chang's exceptional Wild Swans and perhaps a few others. Having said that, none of the books that I can recount deal with the Ming Dynasty. Their focus is mainly on the Qing Dynasty onwards. Meanwhile, Gavin Menzies' 1421 is the only book set in the Ming Dynasty and even so, his bestseller is not historical fiction but rather history, or some might say, speculative history.

In February 2010, I made a bold and perhaps presumptuous move. I released my novel's website to the public.

My plan this year is to continue with the editing/feedback process. As a first time author, I know better than to approach any publisher or literary agent unless I am confident about the quality manuscript. There is still much to be done.

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