Hello and happy Humpday, everyone! I’m here today with DSP Publications author Yeyu to talk about her new release The Relics of the Gods (Between Heaven and Earth Book 1) and something I bet you haven’t thought about before—Chinese Historical Fantasy.
I know, right? You’re all in for a pretty awesome glimpse into Chinese history and literature. So buckle up, because I think you’re going to be as fascinated as I was.
Blurb: What is worse: Being so broke you can barely afford food, getting hired for dangerous missions way out of your league, suffocating under mountains of unanswered questions—or wanting to sexually dominate someone who can kill you without lifting a finger?
Lu Delong is a mercenary who evaluates antiques most of the time and deals with the paranormal on rare occasions—even though it’s supposed to be the other way around. When he joins a dangerous quest for an ancient artifact, he meets and becomes strongly attracted to a mysterious and powerful immortal named Cangji. Despite his friends’ warnings and Cangji’s icy, unsociable demeanor, Delong is unable to resist befriending him. However, Cangji is deeply involved in a matter beyond mortals, and Delong is drawn into a chaotic struggle by both visible and invisible forces.
Always the pacifist who wanted to live a simple human life, Delong never imagined he’d end up involved in a conflict that will affect everything from the lowest insects on earth to the highest gods in heaven.
Buy links etc. can be found at the end of the post, so let’s get right to it.
Carole: Thanks for being with us today, Yeyu. I’m a huge Fantasy geek, so I was excited to see your novel The Relics of the Gods (Between Heaven and Earth Book 1) released. For those who don’t have much experience with the Fantasy side of literature, explain to us what your genre is all about.
Yeyu: The genre I’m writing in is fantasy, but rather than being a Western fantasy, what I’m writing is more akin to (modern) Chinese historical fantasy.
Granted, the amount of research I’d have to spend on Western historical fantasy would probably be about the same as what I’d spend on a Chinese historical fantasy, and I may even have a less painful time for a Western historical, since most of the materials I used for my research are in classical Chinese and trying to read those gives me massive headaches. However, I’ve always been quite fascinated by the Chinese fantasy genre.
Being raised under Chinese values and culture, I grew up watching cartoons and reading comics of the classic Journey to the West alongside Disney. While I can’t claim to know/remember every detail of how the story went in Journey to the West, it nevertheless left a deep impression on me.I remember that I used to watch the cartoon about the Baigujing (white bone spirit) over and over again, and even though it has been a long time already, I still vividly remember how the story went. Several famous scenes such as the one involving the white bone spirit are pretty much as familiar to the average native Chinese-speaker as the classic Disney cartoons are to the current generation. Everyone remembers there are powerful magical tools, immortals/gods, Chinese alchemy, monsters, mythology, etc. As such, Journey to the West has a sizable influence on Chinese culture. It has been played time after time for entertainment purposes ever since it was writtenin the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and it is also the shining example of the Chinese fantasy genre better known as shenmo(神魔)fiction, or literally, gods & demons fiction.
Of course,Journey to the Westdrew on earlier classics such asIn Search of the Supernatural (compiled 350 CE), which traces its influences all the way back to a book that pretty much shaped all East Asian folklore, The Classic of Mountains and Seas (written 4th century BCE, the Nine-Tailed Fox being the most famous folklore). Needless to say, I have not read those classics because I lack the Chinese proficiency to understand the cryptic words without banging my head against the wall in frustration. However, much of my research is based on the accumulated folklore/mythology recorded in those ancient texts.
So how does modern Chinese fantasy differ from classical fantasy? Well,in the 1930s, Chinese fantasy eventually transformed into what is commonly called “xianxia”(仙俠) fiction, which literally translates to “immortals & heroes” fiction, which somewhat combines the shenmogenre with the somewhat better-known wuxia genre (think “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” for wuxia). Immortals & heroes fiction, despite having elements of magic and the supernatural, usually focuses on the process of understanding “Dao”as characters journey and experience the secular society. Gods are referenced, and the outcome of events are already predetermined by fate so some immortal/highly trained people can see the predestined future. However, gods or even the notion of becoming immortal bear little importance to the general plot. Instead, much of the story’s focus is “heroism”, so it is more similar to its less fantastical counterpart.
With the rise of online serial fiction in recent years, however, a new genre emerged from the immortals & heroes genre—xiuzhenfiction (修真), which literally translates to “training to become immortal” fiction. Unlike traditional immortals & heroes fiction, xiuzhenfiction approaches fantasy in a manner that is more similar to the gods & demons fiction mentioned before, where gods are frequently mentioned and also play an integral role to the plot.The main focus of the story, as the genre name implies, is to become so powerful the main character eventually attains immortality (as opposed to performing acts of heroism). As such, there is almost always a systematic “level-up” system which has its roots in Daoist internal alchemy. As the setting is not limited to historical China,xiuzhen fiction is pretty much the biggest and most popular fantasy genre in the Chinese community, with several subgenres of its own (note that the highly popular wuxia genre is not thought of as “fantasy” in the community. Instead, it is considered supernatural fiction, and it is an independent genre by itself”).
The story I’m writing is in the mythological subgenre of xiuzhenfiction, which, in my opinion, is a pretty good representation of Chinese culture. I enjoy reading stories and playing games with that setting, and as mentioned several times elsewhere before, I also happen to have a grand vision to share my culture with anyone who is interested in seeing what it’s about. So, when I was almost finished writing my Chinese historical Erasing Shame, I thought: why not write a Chinese (Daoist)fantasy after this? At the moment it didn’t seem there were many English ones available. And thus, I ended up writing this genre, not only to share my culture with non-Chinese readers, but also provide a story that is familiar to ethnic Chinese who can’t read Chinese.
Carole: Wow. So with all that going on, why M/M?
Yeyu: I’ve been a fan of BL since I was 10 years old or something. I am now 24 years old and still an avid fan. I don’t know why either, haha. I just don’t feel that same kind of excitement with M/F fics.
Carole: Many would agree, Yeyu. That’s why we’re all here! 😉 Okay, so, let’s move on to The Relics of the Gods. How is this book different from a lot of Western fantasies?
The Relics of Gods is about an average-ish half-human and half-deer mercenary’s quest to woo a powerful immortal. Unlike most fantasy stories, the story’s main character is not really on a quest to save the world. He’s not anangsty or angry anti-hero, per se, but I think readers who finish the book will know what I mean.
Also, as the synopsis implies, the main character prefers being dominant in bed and the love interest is the “bottom”—there will be no switching. This is not a BDSM book and the sex they have probably doesn’t even count as D/s, and there is no D/s dynamic outside of bed (in my opinion, anyway). So, despite writing BL, which means my story does adhere to some “yaoi” tropes, I have a feeling traditional yaoi lovers who embrace the fragile but beautiful uke & tough and alpha seme trope will not really enjoy my story, just as I don’t enjoy reading mainstream dynamics. The main character is also nowhere near being an alpha dude, so I suppose a lot of mainstream M/M readers will not enjoy the story as much.
Carole: The Relics of the Gods (Between Heaven and Earth Book 1) is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for non-romance genre novels. Tell us about the relationship in The Relics of the Gods and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
Yeyu: Although romance drives my story, there isn’t a lot of “romance” in the book. In fact, the love interest spends a lot of time off-page because I wrote the story entirely from the main character’s point of view. One of my readers even told me she would enjoy the story even without the romantic element, so I’m assuming she didn’t see a whole lot of romance in the story. While that perplexed me, since personally I think the story is by far the mushiest and fluffiest tale I’ve written, I suppose other romance readers probably also won’t find my book a “romance” book. I can easily imagine them criticizing the story for containing few scenes of emotional connection or interaction between the MC and LI. They are right, but that means they probably aren’t my target audience.
If I had to put my finger down on it, my book is kind of like those chivalric romances—it is“romance”. Just not quite a book of the romance genre, in a modern sense. Instead, it is more of a genre fiction with action & adventure. As such, I think DSP Publications is a perfect imprint for my story. People will want to pick my book up because they know romance is secondary to the plot, and they would hopefully have a more pleasant reading experience now that their expectations are in the correct place. I’d hate to let any reader waste their time and money on a novel they don’t enjoy.
Carole: So, what do you think, say Amazon would recommend alongside your book? “If you liked ________, you love The Relics of the Gods.”
Yeyu: I don’t have any examples of books in the genre I write, since I don’t think there are any English fictions specifically in my genre (I haven’t looked hard, though.) I suppose the closest story that is also available in English is The Journey to the West, but as I’ve said earlier, xiuzhen fiction is quite different.
Carole: Good point. It’s tough to be original! 🙂 All right, so tell us about the evolution of this story. What was its earliest incarnation as a concept, and when did it begin to take the form of The Relics of the Gods?
Yeyu: Other than wanting to share Chinese culture, I wanted to write a dynamic I wanted to read. This is because my tastes in M/M dynamics are very, very niche. Like almost impossible to find niche. Where most people expect BL (and its more notorious counterpart “yaoi”) to have that emotional, lovesick and often dude-in-distress uke and cool, powerful seme, my tastes are what you would call “reverse mainstream”. Thus, while mainstream fiction often has a powerful and gorgeous top sexually dominating a weaker, normal-ish guy, I wanted to imagine a normal-ish guy dominating a super powerful and gorgeous bottom. I wanted D/s-y dynamics in bed, but with non-traditional tops and bottoms.
I also wanted to strictly read from the top’s POV.
As you can predict, I had difficulty finding such stories. I can sometimes find similar tropes in Chinese BL, but those are few and far between, not to mention the plot or writing won’t necessarily be to my taste.So, I ended up writing such a dynamic myself.
Moreover, before I wrote the book, I was pretty influenced by Nanpai Shanshu’s The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles as well, so I started off wanting to write something semi-similar as it is another genre in Chinese fiction I really enjoyed. (For those who know what that fic is about, yes there is a strong similarity between two important characters that spawned many fanfictions, but I always liked those character tropes in pairings and always ship pairings like that in fandom—it was the reason I picked that book up in the first place, to read it as a BL story….)
Carole: Ah, “I write what I like to read”, the anthem of so many authors. Is this why you felt this story needed to be told with the M/M dynamic?
Yeyu: There is no particular reason. My story is M/M for the same reason most genre fiction is M/F…which is no reason at all, except I felt like it because that’s what I like to read. I write what I want to read.
Homosexuality is not an issue in my fiction because it was actually pretty common in the Ming Dynasty, which is the time period my story is set in. So many government officials and rich nobles played with men and even some emperors did, too—no one in their right mind during that era would truly outlaw homosexuality. If there was any law trying to curb gay sex during that time, it did not work. Gay sex was apparently so rampant during the Ming Dynasty it disgusted Western visitors.
Of course, gay relationships were usually in a heteronormative sense where one guy had to be the “woman” and would be somewhat looked down on by the society thanks to widespread misogyny, but in general, same sex relationships were not taboo as long as it did not interfere with marrying and having children. Furthermore, the Confucian value of filial piety to the parents is usually ignored in Chinese fantasy fiction, as many fantasy main characters are orphans and all will leave their family behind to train, so there are no filial piety issues. Not to mention, Chinese fantasies are often Daoist/Buddhist and not necessarily Confucian-influenced. Altogether, there is no real obstacle to M/M in Chinese fantasy.
In fact, there would actually be slightly more obstacle in writing a M/F romance if I wanted to be strict in terms of how the historical society functioned (which few modern Chinese authors take into consideration), since most “cultured” Han Chinese women during the Ming Dynasty stayed home with those horrid bound feet and all. As such,the woman in a straight couple would likely face more criticism than a gay couple would, since no one would know the two dudes are gay. Even if they knew, as I’ve mentioned, it’s not that big of a deal. Sure, some scholars may be disgusted or some idiots would mock feminine men, but that’s about it.
Carole: Okay, we’re wrapping up here, but before we go—give us the answer to a IAQ (Infrequently Asked Question™) about this book that no one will probably ever ask you about, but you think is pretty cool.
Yeyu: I mentioned Duanwu/Dragon Boat festival in the story and it was really minor. However, I’d like to mention that there are actually two versions of the historical origin of the festival and how the dragon boat racing came to be (both related to a deceased official—the more widely known official to be Qu Yuan, and the other to be Wu Zixu). What’s more, some modern scholars suspect that the original reason people engaged in dragon boat racing was actually not related to any deceased official, but rather it was a practice from prehistoric times when people still worshipped dragons. The theory was the Han Chinese government wanted to exert Confucian values and came up with origin stories to link the dragon boat racing to actual history as opposed to mythology.
Carole: Wow, Yeyu, that was as fascinating as I thought it would be. Thank you for taking time with us today, and thank you to Lisa and the TNA gang for having us. A preview of The Relics of the Gods (Between Heaven and Earth Book 1) is available on Amazon.
About the Author: Yeyu wrote her first story when she was 7, and she has been creating stories on-and-off ever since, be it writing fanfiction or drawing original manga. She finally ventured into writing original fiction in high school, and stuck with the form.
Most of Yeyu’s childhood was spent overseas, but she is currently living in a small East Asian island most commonly known as Taiwan, where she was born.
When Yeyu isn’t writing in her spare time, she is probably reading, gaming, or sleeping. No cats, sadly.
Next time on Genre Talk, Andrea Speed talks Paranormal!