Today I am excited to welcome author Jennifer Cody Epstein to The Maiden’s Court! Jennifer has released two books, The Painter from Shanghai, and the most recent, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment. I will be reviewing this book, probably in January, but I have an interview with the author to share with you today and a giveaway too!
How did you begin writing? Were you a writer from a young age or did a particular topic spark your interest and just called out for you to write it?
I've loved books pretty much from the moment I began being read to. Even before I could actually read myself, I'd spend hours folding pieces of paper and cardboard together, stapling the "spine" and scribbling unreadable toddler scribblings in them. I think I actually wrote my first complete short story--about a magic swingset--in 6th grade--it was stapled outside the principal's office at our middle school, along with an appropriately somber-looking "author's photo." The moment I saw it up there and realized people were going to read it, I was hooked.
Both of your books are set in Asia, a slightly less typical location for historical fiction, although there seem to be more and more lately. Why this location?
For me, it's a reflection of both personal interest and experience. I was an Asian Studies major in both college and graduate school, and spent over seven years working and studying in Asia. As a consequence I've continued to be fascinated--not only by the region itself, but by the way the histories between our two regions (East and West) have interacted and shaped one another. I also think that as travel became harder for me (part of being a parent and a starving Brooklyn artist) I felt a little bit as though writing about those places was a form of travel in and of itself.
I read on your website that you have spent time in several Asian countries. Did this contribute to your writing about these locales in any way?
Absolutely. I don't know if it gave me all the expertise I needed to write authoritatively about those countries--but it certainly gave me the courage to at least try it!
To follow up a little on the above questions, was it more difficult to pitch a book in this setting? I know many publishers are looking for the recognizable character or locale (ie. the Tudors). I ask because I know there are many aspiring writers who don’t want to write about the “tried and true topics” and are looking for success and inspiration.
I actually think the setting made the novels more pitchable in some ways--particularly in the wake of such blockbusters as (and I hesitate to even bring the title up because of the inevitable comparisons) Memoirs of a Geisha. There's been a lot of back-and-forth about the various merits of that novel, but for me it was both a truly compelling read and a work that demonstrated a very active interest in Asia on the part of the American readership.
As for the subject of "tried and true"--my philosophy when it comes to writing is to write whatever is truly in you to write, regardless of whether you think it's going to "sell" or not. The truth is (and I speak from experience on this) trying to cater to a market as opposed to catering to your own literary passion will result in a work that simply doesn't ring true. We write best about the things that fascinate us--and audiences respond far better to great writing then they do to whether a setting is "expected" or not.
When you have a chance to read, what type of books do you enjoy? Something to take your mind off of the daily grind, or something more thought provoking and intellectual?
Probably a combination of the two, I love historical fiction (no surprise there!), but I do find that if a novel isn't written at a level that really challenges me, whether that be on a linguistic or a subject-matter level, then I have a hard time keeping interest in it. That doesn't mean it has to be David Foster Wallace, but there has to be something I feel I'm learning from it. Recent favorites include The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, City of Women by David Gillham, A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon and Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. (Or actually, anything by David Mitchell. He's my current unmitigated literary crush!)
Are you currently working on anything new? If so, can you tell us about it?
I'm trying to, though finding a writing rhythm as school starts can be a challenge! But I'm still fascinated by World War II, and in particular (this time) the Western side of it. I've been tossing around the idea of a novel set in Berlin for a while now, and I'm beginning finally to see it's outlines--probably something centered around a friendship between two women, and how the choices we make within and outside of friendship can have lasting -- and at times devastating--repercussions. Then again, I've now changed subjects three times since finishing Gods--so ask me again in a month!
Jennifer has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, The Nation (Thailand), Self and Mademoiselle magazines, and the NBC and HBO networks, working in Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok as well as Washington D.C. and New York. She has taught at Columbia University in New York and Doshisha University in Kyoto, and has an MFA from Columbia, a Masters of International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a BA in Asian Studies/English from Amherst College. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, filmmaker Michael Epstein, two amazing daughters and an exceptionally needy Springer Spaniel.
You can find her on her website.
I also have an awesome giveaway for you today – three copies of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment!!! Make your entries through Rafflecopter below. Giveaway is open to the USA only.
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