A conversation with Historical Fiction author, Iris Yang
Welcome back to Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots, Iris! What have you been up to since last we saw you?
In 2018, I achieved every writer’s dream—my novels were accepted for publication by Open Books. The first novel, Wings of a Flying Tiger, was published in June 2018, and its sequel, Will of a Tiger, was released in January 2019. Both books have received glowing reviews and have been featured in a dozen newspapers.
Recently I was interviewed on National Public Radio’s “The State of Things”—
“She infuses real-life events with her personal family history stories from a very dark period in China’s history” Listen to the full interview here!
I was an invited speaker at the Authors Festival 2019 at Octavia Fellin Public Library in Gallup, NM. I’ve been invited to attend the Flying Tigers WWII Veterans Reunion in San Diego September 25-29, 2019.
Wow! You have been busy. If we may talk about your fabulous books for a moment, I was wondering if you plan to write Will of a Tiger when you wrote Wings of a Flying Tiger?
No, I didn’t. I started writing this book several months after I finished Wings of a Flying Tiger. During that time, I kept on thinking and imagining what might have happened to the characters in the first book after their rescue of Danny Hardy, the American pilot. Those characters became so real to me that I wanted to know how their lives turned out to be. So, I started researching, not only about the War Against Japan, but also Chinese history afterwards.
The more I learned about the survivors of war, the more I realized how much adversity they had faced, especially for someone like Birch Bai. Surviving the War Against Japan might have been the beginning of his long battle. On top of physical disability, emotional pain, and survivor’s guilt, he had to deal with the dreadful political reality—the Chinese Civil War and the separation of the country.
Your books have a strong military influence. Were you from a military family?
No, I didn’t have any military experience. Nor did most of my family. However, my grandfather, Yang Duanliu, served as the Director of the Audit Office of the Central Military Commission in mid 1930s. He was an economist and a professor at Wuhan University. Because of his immense knowledge in economics, he had given lectures to Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Republic of China. He was the only admiral who was allowed to wear plain clothes in the Nationalist Military. When I wrote General Bai, I thought of my grandfather: gentle, intelligent, principled, and disciplined.
Your grandfather sounds like an amazing man. What drew you to write stories set in the backdrop of war?
My mother asked me a similar question when I was young. She was curious about why a quiet, shy girl liked to read books about war. I didn’t have any answers at the time. I didn’t even know the reason. Now looking back, I can see it clearly. I was born a very shy and fearful person. I was afraid of pretty much everything—darkness, height, insects, snakes, strangers, public speaking... It was because of my shyness and fear that I loved reading wartime stories. I looked up to heroes. I admired their courage and their spirit. I read books about those extraordinary people so that I could be inspired by their heroic acts and hopefully learn from them.
Growing up in a family of professors, I’ve always loved reading. Even before I was born, my parents and grandparents had bought books for me. However, during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards came to our home and took most of the books away. I read the few leftovers again and again because there weren't many books available—for almost ten years the libraries were closed and the bookstores had nothing except political works. You can’t imagine how hungry I was for books!
But I was lucky to have a wonderful father. My hometown, Wuhan, is one of the “Three Furnaces” in China. We had no air conditioning or electric fans. In the hot and humid summer evenings, we sat outside. Surrounded by neighboring kids, my father told us stories—from Chinese masterpieces to Western classics, including some of the most heroic tales such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, The Great General Yue Fei, and Spartacus. Those summer nights influced me in many ways.
So as a writer, I write what I love to read: heroic tales with touching love stories. And I’m happy to say that I’m no longer a shy or fearful person. I have a private pilot license, and my admiration for the fighter pilots was clearly conveyed in my books.