Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Author Snapshot: Diane Wei Liang

One wonders how fiction will ever compete with fact. Just reading her bio induces a sense of wonder.

Diane Wei Liang was born in Beijing in a time of turbulence and spent a portion of her childhood in a remote Chinese labor camp. She was one of the students who took part in that protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989. She has a Ph.D. in business from Carnegie Mellon and was a professor of business in the United States and the United Kingdom for a decade.

Now living in London with her husband and two children, Diane Wei Liang has reinvented herself once more, this time as a mystery novelist. Though it’s early days yet, reviewers have been falling in line. With her debut novel, The Eye of Jade (Simon & Schuster), out in 23 countries just last month, The BBC’s Mark Coles promptly compared her to Alexander McCall Smith. “Now it’s China’s turn,” Coles said.

We are fairly confident about one important thing: it would be ill-advised to stand between this author and whatever she desires.

A Snapshot of Diane Wei Liang...

Born: Beijing
Resides: London
Web site:

January Magazine: Please tell us about The Eye of Jade.
Diane Wei Liang: The Eye of Jade is the first book in the Mei Wang mystery series. It features Mei Wang, a female detective in Beijing. In her first case, Mei is asked by a family friend to track down an ancient jade that had been lost in the Cultural Revolution. Her search leads her into the underbelly of Beijing and into the dark past of China’s recent history. Meanwhile, Mei’s mother has a stroke. Her illness intensifies the conflict between Mei and her younger sister Lu, a celebrity. When Mei’s former lover returns from America, it complicates her life further. The Eye of Jade is a mystery and also a portrait of Beijing and its inhabitants.

What’s on your nightstand?
Henry James’ The Ambassadors, V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in a River, e.e. cummings’ Selected Poems, Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

What inspires you?
Music, books, Beijing and solitude

What are you working on now?
The third installment in the Mei Wang Mysteries.

Tell us about your process.
I write on a computer when my children are in school and at night after they’re in bed. I’m someone who does not need much sleep so I normally work until midnight.

I start each book with a theme. For example, The Eye of Jade is about betrayal and forgiveness, and the next book, Paper Butterfly, is about revenge. Then I work intensely for weeks on the characters, sketching them out as much as I can. They are the cornerstone of my books. After that I work on the plot, which would have by now been shaped during the first two processes. I don’t wait until I’ve worked out every detail before putting words down. Inevitably the characters and the plot will take over and dictate how the story will move.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
A desk lamp, a bookshelf, a telephone, a bottle of water, a vase of red roses, a picture of my children, a scented candle.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I had wanted to be a writer when I was about 14 or 15. However my mother, who was a professor of Chinese literature, discouraged me because, at that time, writing was a dangerous profession in China. Writers had been among the first to be purged in the political movements of Mao. So I put the idea to the back of mind and went on to study psychology and then business in the United States. I only went back to visit that idea again when my second child was born six years ago.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?

I’d probably still be teaching business. I remain interested in economic matters and read The Financial Times to relax. I’d also like to be a psychotherapist -- something of a dream of mine that was never fulfilled.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

Finishing my last book.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The flexible lifestyle. It’s perfect for a mother.

What’s the most difficult?
The self-reflective nature of the profession – writing is ultimately a creative process that feeds on one’s own emotions and thoughts. It’s very draining. It alters you.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
How do you come up with the idea?

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?

I don’t know, since no one has yet asked it.

What question would you like never to be asked again?
How old are you?

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows
I’m sorry, I’d like to keep it an eternal secret.

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Blogger Auntie Knickers said...

Sounds like an author and books I need to read, but nothing at all like Alexander McCall Smith! Sometimes I wonder if these newspaper people ever read a book.

Friday, March 7, 2008 4:11:00 AM PST  

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