Bestselling Author


The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn and Janie Chang

Bestselling authors Janie Chang and Kate Quinn join us to discuss their new novel, The Phoenix Crown, a thrilling and unforgettable narrative about the intertwined lives of two wronged women, spanning from the chaos of the San Francisco earthquake to the glittering palaces of Versailles. 

Janie Chang

Janie Chang writes historical fiction, often with a personal connection, drawing from a family history with 36 generations of recorded genealogy. She grew up listening to stories about life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War and tales of ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals.

Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. A native of southern California, she attended Boston University where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. She has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network”, “The Huntress,” “The Rose Code,” and “The Diamond Eye.” All have been translated into multiple languages. Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with three rescue dogs.

In this episode of Historical Happy Hour, host Jane Healey discusses “The Phoenix Crown” with authors Kate Quinn and Janie Chang. The novel, set during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, combines the stories of Feng Suling, a Chinese-American embroideress, and Gemma Garland, an opera singer seeking a career comeback. Through their characters, the authors explore themes of identity, resilience, and cultural conflict. They share insights into their collaborative writing process, the historical research behind their portrayal of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and their thoughts on potential film adaptations.

Here’s what we covered:

  • [00:00:00] Introduction to the episode’s guests and novel.
  • [00:01:43] Origin and collaboration behind “The Phoenix Crown.”
  • [00:03:04] Backgrounds of protagonists Feng Suling and Gemma Garland.
  • [00:08:09] Creation of a novel-related Spotify playlist.
  • [00:10:46] Inclusion of historical figure Alice Eastwood in the story.
  • [00:14:17] A love story subplot within the historical context.
  • [00:15:39] Research process, especially regarding San Francisco’s Chinatown.
  • [00:22:14] Discussion on casting for a potential movie adaptation.
  • [00:25:15] Overview of the co-authors’ writing and editing process.


[00:00:00] Jane: Welcome to Historical Happy Hour, the podcast that explores new and exciting historical fiction novels. I’m your host, Jane Healy, and in today’s episode, we welcome two authors, Kate Quinn and Janie Chang, to discuss their co authored novel, The Phoenix Crown. Welcome, both of you. Thank you so much for doing this.

[00:00:23] Kate: Thanks for having us.

[00:00:25] Jane: I’m going to do a quick background on both of you and Janie’s having a little bit of a delay so I’m going to ask questions to you both individually like we just discussed. First we’ll start with Janie. Born in Taiwan, Janie Chang has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, New Zealand, and Canada.

She writes historical fiction, often drawing from family history and ancestral stories. She has a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. She is the author of Three Souls, Dragon Springs Road, The Library of Legends, and Porcelain Moon.

Welcome, Janie. Thank you. Thank you. Kate Quinn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. She has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance before turning to the 20th century with The Alice Network, The Huntress, The Rose Code, and The Diamond Eye.

All have been translated in multiple languages. Again, ladies, thank you so much. My husband’s checking in from sunny Florida. Everyone in the webinar chat, just tell us where you’re from and I’ll take questions after I ask my own questions. Why don’t we start with you, Kate? Talk about the premise of this novel and how you two came together to collaborate and write this story, which I loved, by the way.

I’ll hold it up.

[00:01:43] Kate: It was something that I had been wanting to write for a while the idea of a book that’s centered around the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It’s one of the biggest natural disasters in United States history. It is, a period and an event with such huge amounts of grist around it for a story.

I’d always been wanting to, And yet the more I was looking at it, the more I was thinking, I think this really requires a Chinatown heroine because, the history of Chinatown is such a huge part of San Francisco’s history. And yet it seemed to me like Chinatown quite often was no more than peripheral in a lot of the books that I had read and even the histories that I had read about.

San Francisco. So I ended up, crossing my fingers and calling Janie and saying, I was like, would you be interested maybe in writing this with me? Is this, because when you’re asking someone to commit to writing a book, you’re, it has to fascinate them as much as it fascinates you.

So that’s where I really crossed my fingers there. Unfortunately, she pretty much said, okay, give me 10 minutes on Wikipedia and I’m going to look at this history and see if I can, see if it starts to grab me. And I think she called me back within five because there is a lot of grist for a Chinatown heroine there.

And we really ended up really starting off with the whole idea that Janie would create one heroine and I would create another. And we were just going to throw these two very different women together and add an earthquake and stir. And that’s pretty much how the whole thing began.

[00:03:04] Jane: Excellent. That actually is a good segue to a question I had for Janie.

Next it’s, The Phoenix Crown is primarily told from two perspectives, and one is from Feng Suling, and the other is from Gemma Garland. Now, Suling is a young Chinese woman, a talented embroiderist, living in Chinatown, trying to avoid being sold into an arranged marriage by her uncle. And this is 1906, but that was not uncommon.

So how did you come up with the character of Suling?

[00:03:32] Janie: It was such an interesting time, because we, when we’re writing fiction, we look for conflict. If there’s no conflict, there’s no story, right? Because there’s nothing to resolve. And, as it turns out, that was the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese immigrants who are already in the U.

S. were not allowed to bring their families, or their wives, or their, children over. And also Suling was very interesting because she was that first generation of Chinese who were, who was born in the U. S. So she was an American citizen, but the conflicts in her life were dual in that she was being Pulled by her culture and her community of Chinatown at the same time that she had been educated at mission schools by American school teachers.

And she could see that there were other options for women living in America, that they could have careers, that they did not have to marry the guy that their family picks out for them. And I actually did some reading about young women who’d grown up in Chinatown at this point in time. And there were a couple of pretty interesting examples.

And while she is not based on any one of those characters, I could see what the different challenges and the different conflicts and the sort of the cultural obstacles she would have to overcome in order to find her own way in this world in order to find some, figure out who she was in terms of identity and also to be self sufficient as much as she could.

[00:05:09] Jane: Definitely, and I have more questions about her because I found that history of San Francisco, Chinatown so Fascinating. And now the other protagonist, Kate, is Gemma Garland. She’s a young opera singer trying to reboot her career in San Francisco, coming from New York. And I’m, Kate, I know you’re a trained opera singer.

So I was, I really need to hear like the inspiration for the for this character. Because it must be a little more close to home than some of your other characters.

[00:05:36] Kate: Yes, and that was a lot of fun in writing Gemma. I did train as an opera singer when I went to university, Boston University, and I have a high, light soprano voice, just the way Gemma does in the book.

And ever since, I ended up becoming a writer, instead, people have asked me, and, I’ve always wondered are you going to write a book about opera or about an opera singer? And I’ve always wanted to, it’s just a matter of the right vehicle for that. And this seemed like it would be the perfect vehicle because San Francisco famously had a great production of Carmen that was, the social highlight of the San Francisco season, the night before the earthquake happened.

And, it was the. What was supposed to be opening night of a two week run of the traveling Metropolitan Opera Company from New York. And none other than Enrico Caruso was singing in the lead tenor role. So I thought, what better way to have an opera singing character than to put her in that famous production?

And so I decided I came up with Gemma. She’s an opera singer in her early 30s. She’s had some very bad luck. Although she has a glorious voice, she’s not a star yet due to various bits of bad luck in her past. And She’s really coming to think of this journey to San Francisco, because she’s joining the traveling Metropolitan Opera Company as the newest member of the chorus as a way to reboot her career and to turn over a new leaf and just get that stroke of luck that any performer needs if they are going to make it out, from the ranks of the chorus into the spotlight as a star.

And that is what is going to happen for Gemma. She does get this opportunity, a golden opportunity, almost as soon as she arrives in San Francisco. But the opportunity may be a little double edged. And of course, she does not know that the earthquake is going to happen the day after her debut with The Met on stage opposite Caruso in Carmen.

[00:07:23] Jane: Amazing. I, and I was trying to look up on Spotify some of the songs that are mentioned and then I got sidetracked. So I’ll have to do that later, but I was like, Oh, I have to listen to some of these from these songs from some of these operas.

[00:07:35] Kate: I can actually tell you we have, and if you look at anybody who wants to also, if you’re watching check either Janie’s or my website and you will see in the book club section, there is a nice little Little downloadable thing for PDF and so forth for book clubs.

And included on there, not only are there recipes for a San Francisco cocktail that was authentic to the period and, book club questions and things like that, there is a Spotify playlist. And that does include all the music from the book, including any of the opera pieces that you hear Gemma singing and a number of other pieces that we just found inspirational and thematic.

[00:08:09] Jane: I love that. I’ll have to look that up. So these are two very different women, and they have this circle of friends that end up in the same orbit as this railroad tycoon named Henry Thornton, who seems like a benevolent benefactor at first, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. What was what?

Who was he based on? Janie, maybe you want to take this one. What? How’d you come up with that? The antagonist? And I want to talk about who I would he would play who would play him in a movie later.

[00:08:38] Janie: She really is a robber baron because this was a time when San Francisco was finally coming into its own.

And all these sort of rough edge characters who had gone west to make their fortune. They were now in a situation. stage where they wanted to prove that San Francisco and the and the elite of San Francisco society were, classy, sophisticated, cultured people. And they were, bringing in cultures such as the Metropolitan Opera and they were patronizing artists and, and singers such as Gemma.

And this was also a very curious time. Because Thornton, like so many others collecting Xinhuangzhi, Chinese antiquities, was a very popular, a big thing. There’s this juxtaposition of A man who really appreciates, knows how to appreciate Chinese art and culture. But at the same time, he’s living in this society that really denigrates their Chinese population.

We thought that was an interesting thing. And plus, this was funny, but Kate and I were going through research and we were looking at maps because nothing makes historical novelists doing research squeal louder than finding a map of the right era. And we found this huge tract of land that was owned south of San Francisco by an H.

Thornton. So we immediately had to write into the story the fact that he was negotiating for a huge tract of land. So it was just a tiny little, maybe one, one or two liner, but we were just so thrilled.

[00:10:24] Jane: Oh, excellent. So fun. Another character that I loved and Kate, maybe you want to take this one.

And I didn’t realize initially, and then I’m like, Oh, she must be real, is Alice Eastwood, the botanist, and I loved her as a character, and I did a Google, rabbit hole talk to me about her as a person and how you ended up weaving her into the novel.

[00:10:46] Kate: Alice Eastwood is a character that you meet very quickly in the Phoenix Crown.

She’s on the very first page. And she was a real historical woman, and she was a real badass. We just loved her. And I came across her initially in, very early in the research process, because, she was a She was a really quite a noted figure in San Francisco in some ways. She was a talented, self taught botanist.

She was head of botany at the California Academy of Sciences. She used to, go off into the hills on muleback and on foot, in, these divided skirts that she wore and big boots, and to bring back, botanical samples for her lab and her collection. And during the earthquake itself, she was notable because And this is, all it’s not a spoiler.

It’s all right on her Wikipedia page. She could see that the California Academy was going to be consumed by the fires that, swept San Francisco after the earthquake. And she launched this amazingly daring rescue where she climbed up six floors up a shattered staircase, clinging to the outside railing of it because the stairs themselves were, were broken up, cleaning the outside all the way up to her floor office on the sixth floor, and she managed once up there to lower down and rescue 1500 rare plant samples from the collection.

And she got out of the fires from San Francisco after the earthquake with pretty much the clothes on her back and those samples and nothing else. And I just thought, wow, that’s got to go in the book. And Janie was totally in agreement with me. Not only because, it’s a great thing, isn’t it? We see so many times, Women are depicted as, risking their lives for their children or, for love, things like that.

But a woman who risked her life for her work, for the advancement of science, I thought that was awesome. And so not only was that a real moment that we could dramatize on the page, but she became a way that we could connect our two heroines, because it was rather hard to connect two very different women.

But Alice, in her way, In a different way becomes a mentor figure and a friend to each of them, because Gemma and Suling, as different as they are, they’re both younger women who are struggling to establish themselves with careers. And that’s really hard for a woman to do in any period, especially, 1906.

Six, but in Alice, who is a woman in her late forties and who is, respected in her profession, who is, venerated, who has, all kinds of clout in Alice, they can see someone who has done it, someone who has established herself, who has this passion that she has turned into a career.

And so she’s a little bit of an inspiration to them as well as a mentor. And that made it very easy for us to weave her into these otherwise very disparate lives of our heroes.

[00:13:22] Jane: Yeah, that was so really amazing. Go ahead, Janie.

[00:13:25] Janie: Oh, and if I might add, this is one of these typical examples of truth is stranger than fiction.

If we had written in that scene without knowing that she had actually done this, climbed up this burning building to rescue the plant samples, readers would have just said, Oh, there’s no way. That is so not credible. Spot it happened, right?

[00:13:47] Jane: Yeah. That was, that scene was wild.

And I love, you had such extensive, amazing author notes at the end. I recommend everyone read those as well. But yeah, I could just picture it and yeah, she, that she was definitely a trailblazer. I love that you weed her in. So this is also and Janie, if you wanna take this question, this is a also a lot, there’s, and this isn’t a spoiler, there’s a love story in this story between Sue Ling and.

Gemma’s friend Nellie, also known as Reggie. And was this love story part of your vision from the beginning?

[00:14:17] Janie: We were looking for ways to tie together our two characters. And in the very beginning, when we started writing plotting out the chapters, it was like, Apart from Suling wanting to get away from an arranged marriage, is there some other reason why she wants even more to get out of an arranged marriage?

Perhaps it’s because she already has a lover, someone that she’s in love with. And then we have Gemma, Who is coming to San Francisco and she’s looking for her friend who’s supposed to be there to welcome her and both these people go missing. And then at one point, Kate and I looked at each other and said, What if it turns out you’re the same person?

And that gives both of them even more impetus to get together to try and solve the mystery of this disappearance and to have even more of a reason to bond. And it, it was one of those moments in putting together a plot where something just clicks and you realize this is the right thing to do for the story.

[00:15:21] Jane: Oh, so great. So great. I want to talk this is a meticulously research novel. I love research. And I, again, I mentioned your notes in the back. Talk to me maybe Kate, you can start about your research process. Did you divide and conquer? Did you work together on it? I’d love to hear about that.

[00:15:39] Kate: We did take a research trip together to San Francisco and we absolutely divided and conquered. We had everything broken down on a spreadsheet. What collections we would see, what archives we would try to get into, what hours things were open, who we would have to apply to which was a little difficult.

It was just, It was as COVID was opening and shutting things. So not everything was open. So we had it broken down to, all right, we had 90 minutes exactly to go to this house. We, and then we have, half an hour drive to this collection and be able to see the see the photograph, vintage photographs there until 5 PM.

Exactly. So we had it broken down and we were doing all these asks, so we would make sure that we were. We split the work up. I think our one of our most notable moments was we were trying to see the flood mansion, which was one of the few surviving knob hill mansions that survived the fires.

And it’s a private club now that’s only open for private events. So we actually had a plan at one point. It’s do we pose as brides who are looking for a wedding venue? Could we do this? And it’s it’s even, that wasn’t going to work. We really, but we would have done it. We managed to get some other tours of some Gilded Ages mansions that gave us the information we needed, but we were ready.

We were committing to our research there.

[00:16:46] Janie: And I have, the other thing that I want to add was, it’s such a pleasure doing research trips with another historical novelist, because never is it, do you ever have to hear the words, how much longer do you want to spend in this museum? As you do when you’re dragging husbands through these places.

[00:17:06] Jane: Totally. Very true. I want to ask, I have another question regarding the research, and maybe, Janie, you could take this one, regarding San Francisco’s Chinatown pre earthquake because there’s a couple of facts I’m going to read from your author’s notes that were stunning to me. So Chinatown was warped by unfair laws and racism, and you certainly show that in the novels, some of how brutally awful the Chinese people were treated.

This stat was unbelievable to me. 15, 000 Chinese residents lived and worked inside of 20 square blocks. And 90 percent of the population was male, which unfortunately resulted in things like the trafficking of women and girls. Did you know that much about San Francisco’s Chinatown pre earthquake before writing this story?

Did you know much about the history?

[00:17:56] Janie: I knew that, like other Chinatowns San Francisco’s Chinatown started as a way for Chinese immigrants to provide each other with mutual protection, so that within the confines of Chinatown, they were, living with people who were speaking their language, who understood culturally, what they were doing.

What they miss and homesickness and so on. And then when I did some more research, it became also obvious that some of the things that the media and politicians were saying to vilify the Chinese population, such as, oh, it was so unhygienic. That’s because they were living, in very crowded conditions because society, white society in those days, almost did not let them leave Chinatown, so they were trapped in this, what was essentially a Chinese ghetto.

So no, I didn’t know any of that. And then, once you read about the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act, you understood why there were Chinese there. Pimps and traffickers and white ones who were bringing in women and girls under the radar, not that there was a radar back then to work as prostitutes and also as bonded servants.

[00:19:12] Jane: Yeah, awful. Just terrible. And really the the one thing I always love about historical fiction is, this era, the earthquake the history of San Francisco, I didn’t know a lot of these details before reading this story.

[00:19:24] Kate: We did have one thing about Chinatown that really interested us that is beyond the scope of the novel.

And that was the fact that, We, you can see beautiful photographs, fortunately, of what Chinatown looked like before the earthquake, and you wouldn’t see the geogra the architectural details that are famous there today. The upturned eaves on the roofs, the dragon head lampposts, and so forth. It really looks like, just, ordinary buildings that are, crammed close together and, way too many people in there because of the crowding issue.

But the thing is that after Chinatown was completely burned down in the earthquake, fires following the earthquake. The China, the elders in Chinatown, since they could see the way the wind was blowing and they could see that there was some noise from the white governance in San Francisco about why don’t we just sweep Chinatown away.

We don’t, if since it’s burned down, let’s make sure that we get rid of all of them. And to combat that they thought, all right, we need to rebuild quickly and we need to rebuild in a way that will encourage. white tourism to come to Chinatown for something other than, the dens of iniquity that they are always thundering about in the newspapers.

And so they hired literally a white European architect and said, can you draw up some examples of how you would rebuild? What do you think it should look like? What would attract tourism here. And so he came up with, the classic images of the, the peaked roofs and, the sort of the dragon temp, the dragon heads on the lampposts and all those, those temple corners that you see.

And he just said, So is this what it looks like back home? And they pretty much said, absolutely not. Looks nothing like it. Thing is, you guys will love it. And they said, go ahead, build it. Just build it. And they, he built it, and it was successful. It was a way that white tourists then started coming to Chinatown to, ooh and ah at the Joss Houses, or what they call the temples.

Or to get a to get a look at things. And to actually, by then, of course, figure out that Chinese food is really amazing. And it did a great job. It did such a good job of bringing positive tourism into the area and combating the public image that they were trying to get rid of that Chinatown was only a place for whorehouses and gambling and opium dens.

It was so successful in combating the racism and increasing tourism that The San Francisco Chinatown became an architectural template for other Chinatowns in across the U. S. and even outside the U. S., but it still is, Janie and I did find it deeply ironic that all of that had been come up with by a white European architect who built what he thought a village in China would look like, and it is nothing like what an actual village in China looks like.

Anyway, tidbit of research that we, obviously it’s outside the scope of the book. Let’s, yeah, let’s


[00:22:04] Janie: say there are architectural elements there that definitely look Chinese, but they wouldn’t quite be combined that way back in the old country.

[00:22:14] Jane: I thought that, I read that in your notes, I thought that was so interesting because, Boston, we have Chinatown here too, and now I’m like, I wonder.

If that it was modeled after San Francisco after the earthquake. So interesting. Very probably. Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure. Has there been any movie interest and who do you imagine playing Suling, Gemma and Thornton? Because I have ideas.

Kate, you want to start?

[00:22:38] Kate: Oh, goodness. Honestly not sure. You need somebody who’s convincing as an opera singer, so please no, no little skinny size double zero waifs. You need to have someone who has lungs to fill up. I still remember obviously it wouldn’t be the right character, but I remember how beautifully In the movie Belcanto, which is made from an Ann Patchett book, Julianne Moore played an opera singer and she embodied an opera singer so well.

And Renee Fleming actually did the singing for the role. So that’s what I would love to see, is get an actress to play the role, absolutely, but then get someone like, and out in a Trebko or an Isabel Bay Rock Darian or somebody amazing to, actually dub the proper singing of the voice because that would be truly wonderful to see.

[00:23:22] Janie: How about you, Janie? It’s really difficult, but you know what, her name totally escapes me, the British Chinese actress who played Cho Chang in the Harry Potter series, the way that she’s grown up and the way that she’s beautiful without being cutesy. I really like her looks. I think she’d be good for that.

[00:23:43] Jane: Oh, that’s a good one. I also like Stephanie Hsu. She was in Mrs. Mayville, Maisel. She played May. And she was, yeah, love her as an actress. And then for Gemma, I don’t know if she’s got the pipes for it, but I like Renee Rapp, the Broadway singer. She was in Mean Girls. I don’t know. And she’s not like wavy, but then I’m like, maybe she is wavy.

They’re all like, they’re all pretty wavy.

[00:24:05] Kate: And I would say for Thornton, given I, for one of the other reasons I did the name Thornton is because, anybody who else is, who is a fan of the Elizabeth Gaskell North and South and the adaptation that was done of it, you had Richard Armitage as the hero in that who was.

Mr. Also a Mr. Thornton and he’s very good at being very charismatic and a, and very powerful and just a little bit scary when he wants to be. So I think he would be amazing.

[00:24:31] Janie: I actually had I had Colin Farrell in mind, I’ll take that too.

[00:24:37] Jane: So I actually had John Hamm.

In my head when I was, because Mad Money kind of played like good guy, bad guy too, like had charming, but then had a dark side. So I like that.

[00:24:49] Kate: Yeah.

[00:24:50] Jane: Okay. So the next few questions are just, I ask every author about the writing process. We’ll go through these and then take a few questions from the audience.

You can put them in the chat or in, in the Q and a. What is your, what was your writing process like? I’m fascinated about the co authoring thing and are you plotters? Are you pantsers? Do you write by the seat of your pants? Do you plot out like, how did you do it?

[00:25:15] Janie: Should we say our one famous word Kate?

[00:25:18] Kate: Which is spreadsheets, . We did so much of this book with spreadsheets. ’cause I’m a bit of a, I am quite a bit of a plotter. Janie is a little bit less of a plotter, but we realized we’d have to plot more than we usually did if we were going to get this book written on a relatively tight deadline, which.

We did have, so we got together a few times and we did a lot of zoom talking as well, and we had mapped everything out on a Google Excel and literally we had decided already, we were telling this book as two points of view. Janie would write all of Suling’s chapters. I would write all of Gemma’s chapters.

So basically that meant every chapter was plotted out on this chart and she had all the odds and I had all the evens and it was just every single Every single chapter was plotted out so you knew what was going to happen in that chapter, when did it start in the timeline, when did it finish in the timeline, so that way we could each write somewhat independently because we knew what was going to come before and what was going to come after it.

And that really did help us to, stick to our to stick to our we Approach this as well with just a great deal of respect. There was always the feeling like this is our book, Janie’s chapters are her chapters and mine are mine. And so therefore we, when we edited each other, we didn’t just randomly start rewriting each other’s words.

It was always, why don’t we increase the pace here? Or I think we can get them to the house a little quicker here. Or, it was things along that line, or when we had each other’s heroines talking in each other’s scenes. I would say, I want Suling to say something like this here, why don’t you just go ahead and fill in the brackets what you think she would say.

Or, Janie might tell me, hey, I think that, so and so might, Suling might actually react much more strongly in this situation than you have her reacting, and I would say, okay, let let me redo that, and let me know if that, this works better. And that really helped the characters sound consistent, regardless of who was writing them.

[00:27:11] Janie: Yeah, and It was actually really important to us. Aside from plotting and writing a book that we thought readers would enjoy, we wanted to still be friends and still be speaking to each other after all this was over. The sort of, the, Row by row, chapter by chapter plotting, made sure that we were in agreement with what the story had to be, and then the way that we were reviewing and editing each other’s chapters in a respectful way, just not redlining through everything, but offering suggestions and comment bubbles that also really helped.

And it was. It got pretty exciting. As writers, you can feel very vulnerable letting someone see a awful first draft of your chapter. But after a while, we trusted each other. Not and we got really excited. It was like we were lobbing tennis balls across the net at each other.

Here’s my chapter. Here’s your chapter. And I couldn’t wait to see what What Kate had come up with and she couldn’t wait to see what I had done making use of some of the details that she’d thrown into her chapter. So it turned out to be really positive and I would attribute that to careful plotting and also the fact that neither of us are mourning people.

[00:28:32] Jane: And I, I’ve gotta imagine you must have had a pretty, having each other as like beta readers, editors, you must have had a pretty tight draft by the time you handed it in to your editors. Did you feel like you did?

[00:28:44] Kate: Yeah, I think we did. We were, because we were editing as we went. I saw a, i in the chat a question there about, see, did we see each other’s chapters revised?

So it’s. Yeah, we did that constantly. As soon as we were done with every chapter, we were uploading it to a shared Google Drive so the other person could read. And then we would talk about, anything that needed to be changed or dovetailed between our chapters. That kind of editing was happening throughout the entire drafting process.

And by the time we were done, we had a pretty tight draft. We which was good because we had, again, a rather tight deadline. And that really did help with it.

[00:29:15] Jane: Awesome. The next question Janie, why don’t you take this first? How do you balance between fact and fiction in your storytelling, and are there any strict rules you adhere to overall?

[00:29:28] Janie: Fortunately, both Kate and I want to stick to the facts. facts as much as possible. But, since we’re all historical fiction lovers here, we also know that not everything goes into the historical record. So there’s a fair amount of gray area and that gray area is our playground. It’s where we can fictionalize, it’s where we can write dialogue that we think might’ve happened.

It’s where we can play with timelines a little bit. We know A happened at this time and we know B happened at this Time. But nobody knows exactly what went on between those two timelines. We also, we go for what our friend Jennifer Robson calls the plausible and feasible, which is it possible, feasible that this could have happened in that era, in that timeline?

And then is it plausible that the characters that we have created would react in such and such a way? That’s the guidelines that we use.

[00:30:26] Jane: I think I heard Jennifer Robson. Did you say Jennifer Robson? Yes. On a panel, say something like that. And I’m like, yes, that’s exactly it. Yeah, I remember that quote.

Did you want to add to that, Kate? No, I think

[00:30:38] Kate: That really is what we were looking at. It’s like I always tend to view it as the historical facts or the framework, and then you start with that always. What the historical record is, what do you know, and then you hang the fictional elements from the framework after you’re done figuring out what you can use.

[00:30:53] Jane: Yeah, excellent. So we always have aspiring authors in the audience. What is the best advice you can give them about writing and getting published, which are two very different things, as we know, Jamie, why don’t you start with that one. I,

[00:31:08] Janie: I’m going to say, the first thing you need to do is finish writing your book.

I cannot stress this. Our books are, they’re our souls, they are our creativity, they are our art, but Writing and getting published are not the same thing. To a publisher, what you’re handing over is a product, unfortunately. Your product has to be a finished product. That’s my first piece of advice.

Don’t worry about the social media. Don’t worry about, the promotion marketing. You gotta finish your product.

[00:31:44] Kate: And that means, and the thing I always tend to tell new writers too, is like, you need to just get it done. Which means sometimes you’re gonna have to silence that voice in your head that says, this isn’t any good, this is terrible, what am I doing, I don’t know how to do this.

Because I’ve seen writers who never finish anything, because they can’t get past that voice. And the, but the fact is that And this came, I think, from Nora Roberts, who said something along the lines of, I can fix a bad page, I can’t fix a blank page. It doesn’t matter how bad it is, get it down. Because you can always fix it later, you can edit it, you can make it better, but you are not going to get anywhere if you don’t get it down.

So you have to silence that voice. You have to give yourself permission to be bad. Your first draft will be bad. It’s fine. Everybody’s first drafts are bad. Our first draft is bad. Mine are terrible in my own books. You get it down. You let it be bad. You fix it later. Then you finally have a product that you can start working with.

[00:32:38] Jane: Excellent advice. Excellent. So to wrap up before I take questions from the audience are, if you want to, if you’re ready and feel like talking about what you’re working on now and the best way for readers to keep in touch with you Janie, why don’t you start?

[00:32:53] Janie: This was quite the amazing deadline for the Phoenix Crown because Kate and I were both working on other solo books and then Phoenix Crown got dropped into the middle of the schedule, but I am right now trying to finish off the first draft of my next book, which is called The Fourth Princess, and it is a gothic novel set in Shanghai before the First World War, and so there is a mysterious mansion with a terrible secret.

There are two young women who go there and start uncovering strange happenings in the mansion. And if all works out, this will be the fourth princess will be released in May or June of next year in 2025.

[00:33:37] Kate: I actually have another book coming out this year, and that is coming out July 9th. It’s titled The Briar Club, and it is the story of an all female boarding house in early 1950s Washington, D.

C. So we are talking the McCarthy era, Red Scare, the Cold War the Korean War, the Lavender Scare, the end of the Women’s World War II baseball leagues, really all kinds of great and interesting stuff. So I really can’t wait for this book to hit shelves. I’m very excited about it.

[00:34:08] Jane: Congratulations to both of you. Those both sound amazing. So questions from the audience. This is a good one for Melissa. Have either of you ever experienced an earthquake?

[00:34:19] Kate: I grew up in Southern California. Yes, I have. I have been through many. And as is usual for Southern Californians who spend your entire life living on a San Andreas Fault you get very blasé about them.

I’m locally famous in my family that a really big one hit when I think I was about nine years old. And I read through it. I literally didn’t realize that like a six point earthquake was happening because I was reading at the time and in my defense, it was a very good book. I wish I could remember what it was now, but I was only about nine.

But it is one of those things, you just learn to live with it. Every place has their, every place has their natural disaster that we are unnaturally blase about, and earthquakes is mine. They can be a little, it’s weird to feel, because you literally feel the earth swinging under you like a hammock.

And that’s an odd feeling, to say the least. But, I tend to be you tend to shrug that off and you head for a doorway. I do remember the first, when I moved to Maryland, they had a relatively big earthquake. And for Maryland the week I arrived there and it was hilarious because I was at the gym when it happened and everybody was diving under tables and shrieking and there I am standing in the middle of the room going it’s like this isn’t even a five pointer this is what you use to stir your coffee in San Diego.

[00:35:28] Jane: It’s funny. What about you Janie?

[00:35:31] Janie: I lived in New Zealand for three years, and that is an island nation that’s constantly rocked by earthquakes, and I just remember the first one, I was at a meeting and everybody was sitting around the conference table, and the building started shaking, and people stood up from their chairs, and Moved under doorways and just casually kept on talking through, through the earthquake.

The building stopped shaking. They all sat down again. And because these are buildings that are rated for earthquakes, a lot of the modern skyscrapers in New Zealand are built earthquake standards that, you just do not get here simply because, they do have huge and horrible earthquakes.

[00:36:17] Jane: This is a good one from Jennifer Bailey. How do you come up with your ideas?

[00:36:21] Janie: Oh my goodness. When you are an author and you’re a storyteller, it’s like, how do you bat those ideas out of your head? Every time we’re writing a book, there’s always four or five other shiny ideas that are going around in your head.

Especially when you hit the 40, 000 word doldrums where you think, this is the worst thing I have ever written. I hate this book. I never should have proposed it. And look, there are all these three other ideas that would be so much better. Yeah, that’s yeah, unfortunately, you still have to get past the doldrums and keep moving.

[00:36:56] Kate: I have new ideas all the time and it can come from anywhere. It can come from books I’m reading, movies I’m watching random, snippets that come across my internet scroll anywhere. And I literally keep a file on my computer that is decades old, which is just called Plot Possibilities.

And that’s where I drop in little two sentence sentences. I can look at a book ideas that came to me in the shower, or like an interesting article that might be the seed of a book someday, really anything and everything that, I think of randomly when I can’t, stop and immediately devote myself to it so that I can look at it later when I’m starting to think about what I want to work on next.

Very cool.

[00:37:32] Janie: And really, you know which one it’s going to be, because after a while you cannot ignore that particular idea anymore. Yeah.

[00:37:44] Jane: And do you find that sometimes you’ve had to sit on an idea for a couple of years and have it percolate and then it’s time like I feel like sometimes like it’s not ready yet and then it needs to like it needs to cook.

I don’t know. Do you find that sometimes?

[00:37:59] Kate: All the time. I had the idea for, The Phoenix Crown, writing about the San Francisco earthquake. I was having that idea back. Oh, like 2015, 16, something like that. And it went through a bunch of different iterations and they kept losing bits and then going some bits went off into other books instead.

And then that was one of the reasons that you had this big hole in the middle. And that was what made me think, it’s The Chinatown heroine. That’s what this is missing. That is like the piece that this book wants and but that idea sat around in my file changing and multiplying and doing, transmogrifying periodically, for quite some time.

I’ve had a lot of ideas that have been in there for years.

[00:38:42] Jane: Interesting. You too, Janie?

[00:38:46] Janie: Yes, and there’s, I always start for the past few years, I’ve meant to send in a story proposal about a particular woman in a particular era in Chinese history, but then other stuff keeps getting in the way, like the Phoenix Crown or the Porcelain Moon, and it just makes me wonder if perhaps that particular story idea is not yet ready.

[00:39:07] Jane: Interesting. Oh, Ellen Eddington asks about the the audiobook narrator said, she said she discovered her favorite audiobook narrator through your books, Kate. Saskia Marveld, am I pronouncing that right? Mar Marveld? Marveld, yeah. Yeah. Do you, did you have a choice in who narrated this particular book?

Do you have a choice usually? Did you, do you get samples or are they just here’s your audiobook narrator?

[00:39:31] Kate: I actually first encountered Saskia when they showed me some audio clips for the last two narrators that they were, the two narrators they were considering, and said, you have a preference either way, and I really liked Saskia’s voice, so I put my vote in for her, and they did go with her, and she did such a phenomenal job.

I asked for her with every single book I’ve had since, and and she has been, wonderful enough to always squeeze me in, God bless her, because she does such a great job, and I was really pleased that for this book we knew, we thought we would, it would be good to have two narrators, but we thought, but it fell out really nicely that Saskia was not only totally on board to read Gemma in the Phoenix Crown, but she had worked before with Catherine Chin, who were, and the two of them had done Janie’s previous book, The Porcelain Moon, and they had worked so well together that they they got an award for it.

So we literally just were like, can we please just have the Porcelain Moon dream team back? And we did get them both back. So Saskia voices Gemma and Catherine voices Suling, and it worked out just really well. We’re really thrilled with the audio. Oh, awesome.

[00:40:37] Jane: That’s great. We have taken up a lot of your time.

Before we go, what is the best way that do you, what, do you have a preferred social media for readers to keep in touch with you? Janie, do you want to take that first?

[00:40:49] Janie: I’m really fond of Facebook. Sorry, I’m old fashioned. And also I’m just so stupid when it comes to Instagram. But, Janie Chang 33 on Instagram and Janie Chang Writer on Facebook.

Yep. That would be, that’s great. And of course we have our contact forms on our websites as well as sign up for newsletters.

[00:41:12] Kate: Yeah, newsletters are really great. I never tend to send more than a few a year, so I promise you will not be getting spammed by me, but I do tend to do things like send out freebies, like free short stories, that kind of thing through there.

You can also find me on my website, katequinnauthor. com, and that’s where the newsletter signup is. You can find me on my, on Facebook, also katequinnauthor. com, and on Instagram, it’s katequinn5975.

[00:41:38] Janie: And you can find me there as well. And yeah, I know there’s other forms, I’m not on TikTok, I’m not on threads, and I’m barely on Twitter these days, so Facebook my website is probably the best way to do it.

[00:41:51] Jane: Thank you both for taking the time tonight. Janie, thank you for taking time off for your vacation.

It’s really, I admire you both so much. It’s such a thrill to talk to you and I really appreciate it. And and so I just want to sign off and say next week on historical happy hour at, on April 11th at seven, I’ll be speaking to author Jennifer Ryan about her novel, the underground library. Thank you everyone for coming tonight.

Don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube or follow me on podcasts. And and thank you again, ladies. This was lovely. I really loved hearing about everything.

[00:42:21] Kate: Thank you so much for having us.

[00:42:24] Jane: Bye everyone. Have a good night. Take care.


Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.

Jane Healey

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