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
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.
“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.
Mary 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?
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.