I'm one of the "successful historical novelists!"
Andrew Noakes, a historical fiction blogger and editor at The History Quill, put together “Top tips on writing historical fiction from 64 successful historical novelists.” I’m one of the writers he asked to contribute.
What an honor to be labeled as a successful historical novelist! It’s not easy, as a novelist, to write a tip in less than 100 words. 😇
Amazing Connections Keep Forming
Prescott is a city in central Arizona, an hour away from Sedona. I was a little worried that no one would show up for my presentation at Prescott Public Library since I didn’t know a single soul in the area.
I arrived at the library half an hour ahead of time as I’ve always done. For dozens of presentations I’ve given, no one showed up that early; a few times I had to track down the hosts.
But there were half a dozen people when I arrived at Prescott library, and more continued to pour in. In the end, we had forty-four people, the second largest crowd I’ve ever had. And more importantly, I made more amazing connections.
A gentleman who has already heard my talk four times in Sedona and Cottonwood area showed up with a picture. It’s a 600-piece puzzle of a Flying Tiger’s P40 and a fierce tiger flying overhead! This particular airplane “Tomahawk 47” was piloted by Third Squadron flight leader Robert T. Smith.
“The puzzle was done over November and December in 2004,” Mr. Larry Stoffers said, “and it has been hanging on a wall in my den ever since.” He and his wife decided to give it to me and drove an hour to Prescott to do so. “I couldn’t think of anyone else who might enjoy it more than you.”
Later, I thanked him with a photo of me holding the precious puzzle and the Flying Tiger’s flight jacket I received, he sent me the following message: “I never realized that when I assembled the puzzle so many years ago, the true joy was not when it was finished but now when I see it with you. When I close my eyes, I can envision you flying in the cockpit of that P-40, wearing the Flighting Tiger jacket and having the fierce tiger flying along overhead, protecting your flight as you proceed along your life's journey and future career as a successful author with your upcoming third book.”
What a heartfelt wish! I felt a lump in my throat. Book promotion is hard; there were times I felt frustrated and alone without any support. Amazing connections like with Mr. Stoffers made my struggle worthwhile.
Another man, Mr. Clayton Kuhles, has contacted me via my website. His neighbor told him about my presentation announced on a local newspaper. When he shared his website, I exclaimed, “Oh, my God.” I know who he is and his work. He runs a mission to recover US airmen who were lost in China-Burman-India theater during WWII. “He has found and documented 22 US aircraft missing since WW II, thereby accounting for 193 US military personnel listed as MIA or KIA. In some cases, Clayton was able to carry out remains of the missing personnel and bring closure to their families (https://www.miarecoveries.org/).”
When I did research for my books, I came across his website. In my second book, Danny Hardy and Birch Bai talked about searching for missing American airmen, although they didn't have the chance to take on the task. I'm writing the third of the "trilogy," and in it, I plan to write about the recovery mission.
Clayton attended my presentation, and we talked for hours afterwards.
Amazing connections just keep forming.
Heartwarming story—I’m part of a Flying Tiger’s family!
“In the summer of 1942, Danny Hardy bails out of his fighter plane into a remote region of south-western China. With multiple injuries, malaria, and Japanese troops searching for him, this American pilot’s odds of survival are slim.” This is how the synopsis of Wings of a Flying Tiger begins. The novel is a heroic tale about the rescue of a wounded American pilot (one of the Flying Tigers) in WWII in China.
On June 29, a gentleman attended my talk at Sedona Public Library, bringing in a flight jacket. It belonged to his father, a Flying Tiger, who fought the Japanese in WWII in China as a pilot, just like my hero, Danny Hardy.
After the talk, Mr. Greg Alexander allowed me to wear the flight jacket.
“It fits you,” he said, “and on another level, it really fits you.”
We started to communicate. He told me he was “holding a lump” in his throat when he heard my talk. “You possess a rare level of courage to speak for those who can't, who are silenced, who have passed…” He thanked me for writing books about the American heroes.
Two days later he finished reading Wings of a Flying Tiger. “My eyes blurred with tears… You reached me, touched me in a way I haven't felt for ages…”
He continued, “Before sleep, I asked my father’s permission to share his flight jacket with you…” He asked his father, who passed away many years ago, to give him some sign, and he woke up next day by the tapping of a pure yellow bird he’d never seen before on his window. “A bird with wings spoke to me, and I listened.”
He had been offered $5K for the jacket; he had been asked to donate it to a WWII museum; his son was hoping to have it.
Yet, he would give it to me, a person he’s met once in his life.
Greg told me the reason:
The similarity between Danny Hardy and his father is striking: Both were courageous American pilots who were shot down in southern China, and both lost their friends during the mission. They had leg injuries and malaria. Both were rescued by Chinese villagers, who treated them with herbal medicines and sheltered them for several months. In both cases, the Japanese soldiers desperately searched for them…
And the flight jacket played an important role—a Blood Chit was sewed to the back of the jacket. In Chinese, it reads: “This foreigner has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should protect him.” Jasmine Bai, the heroine, recognized Danny as an American pilot because of the Blood Chit.
But giving the precious jacket to me wasn’t the end of the story.
“I will ask you to become my sister. In this way, I can honor my Mother’s wishes and keep Dad’s flight jacket in the family with you!”
He asked me to consider this unusual request.
I didn’t need time to consider. Tears ran down my cheeks. “I’ll be honored to be your sister!” In my second book, Danny Hardy and Birch Bai, a Chinese pilot who participated in the rescue, became sworn brothers. Will of a Tiger is about friendship and brotherhood.
I wrote the books because the Flying Tigers’ stories touched me. I wanted to thank them for their bravery and sacrifice. How could I ever imagine that one day a Flying Tiger and his son would walk into my life and touch me in such a profound way?
On July 4th, I became the little sister of a Flying Tiger’s son. I’m part of a Flying Tiger’s family. How cool is that?
Unimaginable dream—being a guest speaker at the Flying Tigers WWII Veterans 78th Anniversary Reunion
Because of my books, I’ve been invited as a guest speaker at the Flying Tigers WWII Veterans 78th Anniversary Reunion in San Diego this fall (September 25-29).
I can’t believe it. What an honor! I wrote the novels to thank the American pilots for their bravery, contribution, and sacrifice during WWII in China. Now, in return, the Flying Tigers Association thanks me for writing the books about those American heroes. This is a dream come true—I’ll be with the people so close to the Flying Tigers (Sadly, all the Flying Tigers have passed away, but their family members will be there at the reunion).
Technically speaking, this is not a story of fulfilling dreams since I’ve never dreamed of such a dream.
I was born and raised in China when the country was isolated from the outside world. We were told that America was hell and American soldiers were devils—they were coward and cruel. We were not told that Americans had participated in the war against Japan in China and they had made vital contributions. I had never heard of the Flying Tigers before I came to this country. Never in my wildest dream could I imagine writing books about the American heroes.
Raised by professors, I’ve always loved reading. But writing was a dangerous career when I was growing up. As famous writers, my grandmother (the first Chinese woman to receive a master’s degree in the UK) and my aunt (she translated Peter Pan, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and other classics into Chinese) were wrongfully accused as Counter-Revolutionary Rightists. I had to choose science—a safer path. I received a PhD in molecular biology from University of Rochester. But fiction writing was beyond my dream.
When I wrote the books, my dream was to get them published. Writing fiction was hard, especially for someone using a second language and trained as a scientist. Accepted for publication by a traditional publisher was already a tall order; many writers give up such a dream. I pushed on.
I dreamed that my books would touch other people’s hearts as the story of the Flying Tigers touched mine. I did it—many people were moved by my stories; a number of them cried reading the novels, from a 9-year-old boy, to a middle-aged man, to a 90-year-old lady. My books were featured in over a dozen newspapers. Even the prestigious program like National Public Radio recognized my effort and did an interview. But how could I dream that my hard work and struggle would be rewarded and thanked for by the people so close to the Flying Tigers?
“Dream an unimaginable dream; touch people’s hearts, one heart at a time” is my new dream.
Starting a blog
I should have done this much earlier, ideally from the beginning of my writing journey. So many incredible positive things happened along the way. But it’s better late than never. I’ll start now, recording the big or the small marvels of life. Who knows, when I'm not busy, I’ll go back in time and report those positive past events that touched my heart.