WomensHistoryReads interview: Weina Dai Randel

With almost 40 #WomensHistoryReads interviews under my belt so far and many more to come (so many!), it's fun to mix up the format every once in a while. Today I've got an interview with Weina Dai Randel, author of The Moon in the Palace, RITA award winner, and all around lovely personality. Instead of a Q&Q&Q&A today, we've got a Q&A&Q&A&Q&A! So much fun for both of us. Here we go! 

Weina Dai Randel

Weina Dai Randel

Greer: What’s the last book that blew you away?

Weina: I'm reading the bound manuscript of American Princess by Stephanie Marie Thornton. I'm not finished yet, but oh boy, I can tell you how exciting it was to read this novel. It's about the epic life and loves of Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice. As intriguing as Alice Roosevelt's life was, Thornton wrote in a fierce and fearless voice that absolutely brew me away.  The novel is coming out in March 2019, and I'm sure readers will love this book!  

As I was reading Thornton's novel, I was thinking about the extraordinary women who rose to fame across the world and I couldn't help thinking how different they were. So, Greer, what kind of quality of those women, the quality they might nor might not possess, do you deem important? 

Greer: Great question! The popular saying is that "Well-behaved women rarely make history," and I think it's true that many of the extraordinary women who inspire us were bold and defiant. But there were also women who obeyed all of society's rules and still made their mark through quiet strength. I think it's important to recognize that range, the wide variety of women who have excelled in all sorts of ways. Spies, pioneers, rulers, nurses, First Ladies -- the roles are endless and so are the women who filled them so memorably.

And of those women, all those extraordinary figures -- Weina, if you could pick one woman from history to put in every high school history textbook, who would it be?

Weina: Ah, I'm going to be selfish-–it will have to be my Empress Wu, who, as a young girl, was forced to serve an emperor in the palace, but she survived the court treachery, beat all her enemies, and rose to become a ruler herself and ruled China for almost fifty years, unchallenged and respected. I can't think of a single American woman who has risen to her level. 

Some readers told me that they usually didn't read books set in China, but they gave my books a chance, and they said they were glad they did. I was happy to hear that, but also a bit sad to hear they didn't often read books set in China. What can we, as writers, do to help readers get out of their comfort zone and pick up books that they usually don't read, Greer? Any suggestions?     

Greer: Ooh, I'm intrigued by the possibilities here. Short of pulling some kind of Inception-style thought experiment and planting the suggestion directly, I think our best bet is to model the behavior. When readers ask me what I'm reading or what I recommend for their book clubs, I generally start by recommending another historical novel written by a woman and centering on a woman's story. Because I know they've read at least one of those, ha. There's nothing wrong with making those suggestions. But I also read a ton of stuff that isn't squarely in my genre, so why not throw one of those in there as well? Author recommendations can hold a lot of weight.

Last question for you, Weina! Do you consider yourself a historian?

I'm laughing – what a great question! Yes, I have a penchant for doing extensive research – I spent six years doing researching for my Empress Wu novels, and I find everything unknown to me fascinating, let it be a tree in my neighborhood, an animal on a mural, a castle in Scotland, a vase in Rome, or a ship in a museum, but I never consider myself to be a historian. To me, to be a historian requires a sort of routine, poring over biographies, reading old manuscripts with a magnifier, or even going to a newly discovered cave and dig into the dirt, all the while wearing the thought of finding the facts of history like a sigil. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, it's just I'm more free-spirited, and I like to invent things a little, to make up things a little, and above all, I confess I enjoy the beauty of prose that uses to describe the facts, the art of telling a story, more than unearthing the history itself. 

What about you, Greer, do you enjoy the history itself as much as the art of storytelling?

Greer: The history is really, really intriguing. But I would be a terrible historian, a terrible non-fiction writer! Because I'm always thinking, Ooh, this is incredibly interesting -- wouldn't it be even more interesting if this other thing were also true? So yes, I love both the discovery of history and the weaving of those facts into some other, not-exactly-true-but-not-quite-false creation. Like my most recent novel Girl in Disguise. There just isn't enough information on Kate Warne in the historical record for us to know exactly what she did as the first woman detective in the US, let alone how she felt about it. So I took history as a jumping-off point. All fiction is a leap, both for writer and reader. And I love that so much.

For more on Weina and her books, check out her website at weinarandel.com.