I remember my first long conversation with Mingmei at the chapter brunch last December; I was struck by her warm, open demeanor. She's smart and funny and so engaging. I was overwhelmed by everything that she had done and how effortlessly she seems to move about all of the things that she does--as a novelist for adults and children, as a scholar and as a musician. She is able to move from one to the other like a butterfly, much like the one that she writes about in her children's novel that the scholar dreams he is. Except, she is a butterfly and there her wings are so vast....
We sat in Starbuck's--where I have had several Bits and Pieces discussions before, and there was not a moment when I was not laughing or learning form her. Mingmei talks about her stories in such a real way. I had just managed to get the last copies of each of her novels off the shelves so she could sign them. (Hope Tarr was the winner of the contest we ran with Mingmei's blog post; Hope won a copy of PETALS FROM THE SKY, and of course, I had her sign my copy of PEACH BLOSSOM PAVILION.)
Mingmei writes novels that are beautiful to look at, full to the touch and, from what she tells me, I cannot wait to read the one that I asked her to sign. When you have a personality like Mingmei, you want to read her books because you want to see how she manifests in her novels. You want to see how she tells the story; listening to her tell the story of her own experience was compelling enough. Read below to be as spellbound as I was, and visit Mingmei at http://www.mingmeiyip.com/.
“(About the interview she had in CT right before we met) The interviewer wanted not just to talk about my novels but my children's books. She wanted to talk about me as a "jewel of all trades": my paintings, my children's books and my concert performances. Qin is the Chinese 7 string why is it so special, it is the oldest and really represents Chinese culture. I played two pieces.
“My children's books are Chinese Children's Favorites Stories--13 retold by me. “The Dream of the Butterfly” is 2500 years old, and the original text is only two lines. It is an adult story I simplified so children can understand. A scholar fell asleep and dreamt of himself as a butterfly much like Kafka so he was very happy but thought how come I am not a butterfly, maybe I am a butterfly and I dreaming I am a scholar.
“I have a PhD in musicology and studied Chinese culture since I was very young.
“In the past, I could relax but it is getting worse to do so I do Tai Chi. The instrument I play is supposed to be relaxing but for me it is hard work! I watch movies and I Google stuff on the Internet. I do not like art movies, I like action movies, I like cowboy movies. I rarely go to see movies now. In Cleveland, I used to go to the movies a lot. It was like renting the theater for myself it was so empty. They have the best Chinese art collection in the Cleveland Museum of Art.
“My husband is a writer as well, and he writes medical books for lay people; and he too is a Chinese scholar. We do not go out much because we are both writing. His most recent book is called IT"S YOUR HORMONES. He let me read the entire manuscript, we exchange ideas. I cannot read his medical books for doctors, of course. He is a very good writer. I am happy to read his writing.
“When I am working on a novel I am not playing that much, but for the Carnegie Hall concert I put everything down and played.
“I am a rabbit (in Chinese astrology) and I am a Sagittarius and I am true to that. The rabbit is a very tame animal, very friendly, not very aggressive, and I think I am like that. I do not like confrontation. A rabbit always has three holes--they can always escape, they have plan a, b and c. You do not put yourself in a situation where you can be stalled.
“I love to write strong women characters. My character in the second novel (PETALS FROM THE SKY) is non-aggressive and a would-be nun but she is strong. I like women to be strong. I might write three more books like this and after that maybe I might change.
“No matter how different my characters are they have bits and pieces of me in them. I want to put something of myself in every character. One character is not enough to get all of my philosophy of life out.
“I have been researching Chinese culture – the calligraphy, poetry, philosophy, music, literature --, so when something pops up, something of that is there. I have said that a character's hair was like a calligraphy stroke. All of my background, my research helps me. I think my research and readings have helped; when you have studied so much for so long everything is swimming in your mind and it can form a pattern of its own. People who want to write should do a lot of reading of their own. Experiences work as well; having experiences with different people.”♥