SAPAHM Guest: Jeannie Lin

Y’all … bless Jeannie Lin because she has had the patience of a saint. Honestly – this post has been years in the making … in that Jeannie sent it in a prompt and timely manner … and I dropped all the marbles (hundreds of tiny little balls). No joke, I emailed her in January back in 2013. This was supposed to go live in 2014. It was entirely my fault it didn’t … but the point is, it’s going live now! In a really packed, awesome, APAHM 15 at ALBTALBS! So … WHOO! Good things!

From Wonder Woman to the Little Dragon Girl

The Sword DancerWhen I was nine years old, I’d fly in space ships. I’d pilot mechanical lions. I’d catch bad guys with my lasso of truth. I always wanted to save the kingdom rather than be saved.

Despite how it may sound, my imagination wasn’t very wild then. It was bounded by the shows that I’d seen and stories I’d heard. I was limited by the heroines I watched on TV. The ones I saw in my books. They defined for me what it meant to be powerful and courageous and beautiful.

For that reason, I found myself not liking my Vietnamese name. No heroines had a funny-sounding name like mine. I didn’t like how I looked. It wasn’t how heroines looked. Teela from He-man was red-haired and pale-skinned. Princess Allura from Voltron was blonde. Wonder Woman at least was dark-haired like me, but her black hair was curly so I’d spend hours with my hair in curlers only to get a wave that would only last for two minutes.

And not a single heroine was ever Asian. To be them, I just felt in my heart that I couldn’t be me.

Return of the Condor HeroesThen one day, my cousin Mary came to me. “I found the prettiest woman in the world,” she said.

“Prettier than Princess Allura?” I asked. How was that even possible?

“Yes. Way prettier,” Mary insisted.

My cousin showed me what would immediately take over my imagination.

A video store had opened up in the neighborhood that rented out films brought over from Hong Kong. These were the golden years of the HK TVB serials and Grandma had just rented the entire set of Return of the Condor Heroes. Mary’s pretty heroine was none other than Xiao Long Nu, the Little Dragon Girl played by Idy Chan opposite a very young and handsome Andy Lau.

Heaven Sword and Dragon SabreMary was right. Xiao Long Nu was beautiful. She was ethereal. She belonged to a sect of female warriors who had a feud with Wudang and retreated into a cavern to practice their martial arts in secret. And she had long straight black hair like me. She was Asian like me. I knew I was just a skinny little kid, but in my head I could conceivably grow up to become the graceful Little Dragon Girl whereas I could never be Teela from He-man.

That summer we all bought plastic swords and ran wild in my grandmother’s backyard, fighting off all the villains and scoundrels of the rivers and lakes. From that point on, I left Grayskull and Planet Voltron behind. I didn’t want to be Wonder Woman anymore. I had discovered a whole new type of heroine – the Jin Yong heroine. They were feisty and clever and seriously kicked some ass. They wore pretty clothes and fought with swords and flew through the air. Most importantly, the men who fell for them fell HARD.

Sometimes even I look at the books I write and wonder, what the heck was I thinking?!? Why set stories in such an obscure setting in imperial China? How do these books even exist?

A Dance with DangerBut then I look back to that summer. I think of running through the grass with sword in hand.

Perhaps some memories are so strong that they stay in your heart. Maybe the games you play as a child can continue to influence you long after you think you’ve forgotten about them. And some discoveries are so life-changing that you want desperately to share them, to explain to the world how happy they made you.

Maybe it wasn’t so silly that I wanted to be the Little Dragon Girl because something clicked into place when I could finally see myself in a heroine. And now I create Asian heroines just so they can be out there. Just so they can be found.

That counts for something. It counts for a lot.

Short bio: Jeannie Lin is the sometimes bestselling author of Tang Dynasty historical romances. Her Opium War steampunk series, The Gunpowder Chronicles, launched in November 2014. Find her online. She also updates FB when the mood strikes.

4 thoughts on “SAPAHM Guest: Jeannie Lin

  1. flchen1

    YES! So this! I don’t think I ever saw the Little Dragon Girl, but I do remember some of the Chinese soaps (I think they were serials, but honestly, they were so over-the-top dramatic that they seemed like soaps!) that my parents watched, and admiring the heroines in those, some of the quite swashbuckling!

    I’m glad you found a source of personal inspiration, Jeannie–I know your stories resonate with me in a much more personal way because you bring heroines who look like me and feel like me to life.

    Reply
  2. ki pha

    OMG!!! Return of the Condor Heroes!!! I grew up on these Chinese and many other Asian soaps! I still have my favorites and although I don’t keep up with them anymore but they were definitely a huge part of my life and still are.

    Reply
  3. Jeannie

    Thank you Ki and Fedora for chiming in. I loved those movies. LOVED them. Devoted whole summers of my childhood running around with swords and wishing I could fly through trees. *happy sigh*

    Reply
  4. dholcomb1

    I’m not familiar with those. The only Asian shows I saw were Ultraman, Johnny Sokko, and Speed Racer. I think they’re all Japanese, but all the white kids in my neighborhood played Ultraman, Johnny Sokko, and Speed Racer. (1970s)

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