Some authors have written stories since they were children. Others take that journey later in life. Robert Wang, entrepreneur and author of The Opium Lord’s Daughter tells his storey of becoming a novelist.
The Making of a First-Time Historical Novelist by Robert Wang
Weaving a fictional storyline into an actual historical event was quite a challenge for me, especially since this was my first attempt, but I think the effort paid off. It took over a year to do my research before writing a single word. I selected historical events (out of thousands of events) that I felt were relevant and easy for someone to digest who was unfamiliar with 19th-century Chinese history relating to the opium trade. I must have read at least 10 books and spoken with historians and scholars, especially when I went to China and visited many historical sites that were involved in the opium war. This trip was made possible through our friend, Dr. Min Zhou, who is a professor of sociology and Asian American studies and director of the Asia Pacific Center at UCLA. Through Dr. Zhou, my wife and I met leading Chinese scholars of the era, who shared their knowledge and opinions with me. I deeply appreciate their generosity of time and interest to meet with me.
Once I laid down a chain of historical events that I deemed crucial, I simplified and summarized them so that my storyline would not be bogged down with too many unnecessary details, which were brewing throughout this research phase. This was challenging, as there were so many details I wanted to share with readers; I had to restrain myself. I took some liberties and condensed certain events that a professional historian might frown upon as “minor inaccuracies,” but I was satisfied that the foundation for the novel was accurate enough to give the reader a snapshot of mid-1800s Canton, where the opium trade flourished. The next challenge was to create a storyline that would entertain while weaving in and out of the historical path I had constructed. To me, it was vital that I present both sides of the Opium War; of course it was utterly immoral and wrong for England to use opium to trade for Chinese products that were a craze in England and the rest of Europe, but the Chinese also made it easier, as there were rampant corruption and misguided, uninformed imperial policies.
After I was satisfied that the storyline was entertaining yet accurate, and the characters were well-developed, I did a “brain dump” and wrote my first draft just to see how things looked and felt. I incorporated real historical characters and had them interact with my original characters at certain real events that had taken place. When I was done, the next step was to engage an editor who could help me polish my writing and who had experience in historical fiction. As luck would have it, I found The Artful Editor online, established a dialogue with its owner, Naomi Eagleson, and after a few weeks of interviewing other editors, selected them. Naomi assigned my project to one of her staff editors, Denise Logsdon, who was well-versed in historical fiction. The collaboration was a most enjoyable experience!! Denise researched how the British spoke in the mid-1800s, and my dialogue became more authentic, and her excellent prose breathed life into my characters and added color to my writing. Working with Denise, it took a total of eight revisions before I was satisfied that the book was ready.
I thought I was done, only to find out that the publishing phase was a different ball game altogether! As a new writer, it was too difficult to convince any literary agent or publisher to even read my manuscript, so I decided to self-publish. I know little about the various social media platforms, so I had to learn about them with the help of a social media consultant, Brianna Thompson, who has done a superb job creating a presence for me and guiding me through the “messaging” of my book.
The reviews I have received by editorial reviewers and readers have been quite encouraging, and I am eager to broaden my readership so I can accomplish my goal of telling the world what happened between England and China that resulted in China’s self-proclaimed “one hundred years of shame.” This era and history of the Opium Wars have been largely unnoticed, but are certainly pertinent today, with tensions rising between the East and West, now that China is a modern-day superpower!
I hope readers will take note of what is happening today with the opioid epidemic, which is reminiscent of what happened in China, and how institutionalized drug pushers are again prowling for victims… We must never forget the past or we’ll become doomed to repeat it!
Many thanks, Robert and congratulations on your first novel. No doubt there will be much to learn and enjoy in the story of this unique time period in China’s history. PS – if you’re interested in reading an overview of the Opium Wars, check out Robert’s website.
The Opium Lord’s Daughter by Robert Wang ~~ Following the harrowing journey of Lady Lee Su-Mei and her family, The Opium Lord’s Daughter is a historical fiction story told from dual perspectives – Chinese and English – about the First Opium War, a dramatic and history-altering conflict.
The novel artfully weaves true events and characters into the narrative, offering a selective glimpse into a world – populated with rogue drug traders, imperialist government officials, religious zealots and scrappy survivors – that is both antiquated yet relevant to current events, including the opioid crisis and ongoing East-West tensions.
FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.