Yangsze Choo is a fourth generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. Due to a childhood spent in various countries, she can eavesdrop (badly) in several languages. After graduating from Harvard University, she worked in various corporate jobs and had a briefcase before writing her first novel. THE GHOST BRIDE, set in colonial Malaya and the elaborate Chinese world of the afterlife, is about a peculiar historic custom called a spirit marriage, and will be published August 2013 by William Morrow/HarperCollins in North America and Hot Key in the UK.
Why did you want to write this book?
I started writing this book because I’d had a long fascination with Chinese ghost stories, which I used to read when I was a child. I’d always wondered why the most terrifying Chinese ghosts were often women – it probably has something to do with the fact that women were traditionally repressed. At the same time, there’s a strong Chinese literary tradition of strange tales set in the shadowy border between the living and the dead, where beautiful women turn out to be foxes and nothing is quite as it seems. It’s such a rich mythology, and I’d love to share it with readers.
Did you have to do a lot of research for The Ghost Bride?
When I was growing up, my dad collected a lot of old histories and traveler’s tales about Malaya, so I read a lot of them when there was nothing else in the house to read! That probably gave me a lot of the historical context, and later when I started writing the book in earnest, I did more research on specific things, such as the kind of money that they used at the time. At one point, they were using tin ingots as currency in the Straits Settlements, and some of them were beautifully shaped like animals, such as tortoises and fish. There were rumours that certain ingots were cast with spells, though nobody knows whether that was true or not.
Li Lan is such an amazing character, did she begin like that or evolve over time?
Gosh, that’s very kind of you! I’d have to say that she had her own voice from the beginning, although I did consciously try to keep her historically accurate. For example, a girl from such a family, with very limited exposure to the outside world, would have to start out as being somewhat sheltered. Also, she would be deeply concerned with the whole business of getting married because it really determined the fate of women at that time, just as in Pride and Prejudice, all the Bennett sisters are also fixated on marriage. But I tried make her evolve over the course of the book.
When I was writing this book, I was fascinated with the idea of parallel worlds and you can see this reflected in the book in the world of the living vs. the afterlife, day vs. night, and Li Lan’s situation as she goes from being alive to becoming a wandering spirit herself. Even the pacing of the book itself reflects this, as the first half starts slower and the second half is much faster paced. To me, it was very interesting that Li Lan is far freer being partly dead in the spirit world, than she ever is in the world of the living. This really has echoes of those Chinese ghost stories where women are much stronger after death.
If you could, what would you want to ask your readers?
What do you think the Afterlife is like, and is it anything like the Chinese one?
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
I have an ocarina. And yes, I have played Zelda!
What’s the scariest thing about being a writer?
I think not really knowing what happens next! Writing is such a strange career – everybody has a different path.
And the best?
Writing something and having people enjoy it. I love books and they’re all like different worlds to me. If I could give a reader some of that same joy and pleasure, I’d be very happy.
Do you ever re-arrange book displays in bookshops?
No – I didn’t realize you were allowed to?!
Luna: Not sure if “allowed” is the right word *shines halo*
I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:
I’m a huge Hayao Miyazaki fan, and when a number of reviewers mentioned that this book reminded them of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away crossed with Neil Gaiman, I was deeply, deeply thrilled. And actually, I’m working with comic book artist Sonny Liew on adapting The Ghost Bride as a graphic novel! Two of the collector’s cards that I’m giving away were designed by Sonny, and the third was done by my dad when Sonny ran out of time. You can try to guess which one that was. 😉
Luna: I love Spirited Away and definitely get the comparison. You’ve just made my day by mentioning the graphic novel *happy face*
So, what happens next?
Oh dear, I’m supposed to be working on a second novel but I seem to be stuck. In the meantime, I’m continuing to eat and read too much on my blog, http://yschoo.com
Luna: Can we help “un-stick” you?
Seventeen-year-old Li Lan lives in 1890s Malaya with her quietly-ruined father, who returns one evening with a proposition – the fabulously wealthy Lim family want Li Lan to marry their son. The only problem is, he’s dead. After a fateful visit to the Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also her desire for the Lims’ handsome new heir. At night she is drawn into the Chinese afterlife – a world of ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, monstrous bureaucracy and vengeful spirits. Enlisting the help of mysterious Er Lang (a dragon turned clerk) Li Lan must uncover the secrets of the ghost world – before she becomes trapped there forever.
My review here
Tea or coffee?
Tea – with lots of condensed milk! 😉
What’s your favourite dish (that you can cook)?
This tends to change a lot. Right now it’s probably a spicy Korean dish called soondubu jjigae which I just learned to make.
Luna: It sounds yummy, well apart from the Tofu bit 😛
What book have you read the most?
Ummm… it might actually be Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – for a certain period of time, I’d reread it every few years, especially when I ran out of reading material. Since the advent of e-books however, there are so many wonderful books that you can download almost immediately. I think my greatest nightmare is being locked up in a place with no more books to read…
I like to travel, but at the end of the day, it’s always nice to come home.
You can have one superpower, what would you like?
What’s the perfect cure to a bad day?
Having a fun dinner with family and friends.
So have you got your own place to write or can you write anywhere?
I spent part of my childhood in Japan and often prefer to sit on the floor, so I tend to write on a low coffee table on a computer. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get old and can’t get up though!
What word describes you best?
When no one is watching, do you dance?
Wait, how did you know this?
Luna knows everything… *mwah ha ha*
And finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
“Would you like a piece of chocolate right now?”
You can win one of two prize packs:
A signed copy of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo + a set of collector cards!
The contest is International and closes on the 31st August 2013.
And the winners are:
Jamie Jackson & Jo Ann Gleason
Please email your details to lunaslittlelibrary (at) gmail (dot) com by Wed 4th Sep.