Before discovering a passion for writing, Ms. Smith sold plumbing and heating and antiques, taught ballroom dancing, tutored, modeled, designed software and managed projects for IBM. Her wide range of interests include: psychology, art, literature, archaeology, history and anthropology/sociology and computer science. She holds degrees in the last two subjects.
After leaving IBM, in addition to writing four page-turners – Dangerous Lies, Exceeding Expectations, Paradise Misplaced and her newest, Forgotten Tales of China – Ms. Smith was a featured author in “Palm Beach Woman” and a contributing editor to WeMagazineforWomen.com. She also finds time to teach a course on writing at the Academy for Continuing Education. This spring she has been invited to teach on a class on ancient China, comparing it to Egypt, Greece, and Rome, at their zeniths.
Heidi: Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Lisa April Smith, whose fourth novel, Forgotten Tales of China, came out on January 1st, 2014. Welcome, Lisa, and congratulations.
Lisa: Thank you.
Heidi: Early reviews of the book are impressive, outstanding. After all your hard work, you must be so excited.
Lisa: Very excited! As you know, I spent a year doing the necessary research and nine more writing it.
HEIDI: I’m not going to ask which of the six tales is your favorite, that’s like asking, “Which child is your favorite?” But I will ask, “Which was the most fun to write, which was the easiest and which was the hardest?”
Lisa: Hands down, Squint was the easiest and the most fun. For the hardest, I would have to go with two: People of the Cave, and The Temple of the Goddess. People, the shortest of the six, was difficult because of the limited language available for dialogue. I had to devise two languages – one for the People and the second for their captives.
I usually have no difficulty getting into the mind of my characters, even gangsters, but in Temple of the Goddess, I had to get inside the mind of a sadistic serial killer. The hard part was to show him to be one those rare cruel individuals lacking a conscience, without sickening readers or myself. Lian, in the same tale, was a bit of a challenge because I needed to portray her as a truly pious healer, a young Mother Theresa, without making her sickly sweet.
Heidi: I noticed each tale included references to advances of the time. I assumed that was planned.
Lisa: Yes, it was intentional. Information learned doing research inspired the stories and characters. But my books must have intriguing characters. I didn’t want to write a book about kings. I wanted to write about people whose names never appear in history books, people whose needs, courage and enterprise led to their accomplishing amazing things. Of course, nine-year-old Berry, in People of the Cave, can hardly be described as ordinary. She was probably the Michelangelo, or Madame Curie, of her time.
Heidi: Why did you decide to end the book 3,600 years ago, with The Bronze Worker and the Discarded Concubine? Why not bring it to the present day, like James Michener did in his historic novels?
Lisa: I couldn’t. The book would have weighed 15 pounds and been the size of 2 or 3 unabridged English dictionaries. Information available about China, from 3,600 years ago forward, is endless. Depending on which source you consult, about twenty dynasties followed the Shang Dynasty, and the list of inventions first seen in China during that span would boggle your mind.
Heidi: Can you give us a few examples of inventions first seen in China that would surprise us?
Lisa: Gladly. Francis Bacon named three inventions – paper and printing, gunpowder, and the magnetic compass – “the most outstanding scientific contributions.” But he never knew they came from China. A few others: The manufacture of steel from cast iron, 2nd century China, 2,000 years before it was done in the west; immunization from smallpox, 10th century AD in China, 800 years later in the west; manned flight using kites, 4th century BC in China, 1,650 years later in the west; and guns, cannons and mortars in 1,120 AD in China, 450 years later in the west. But the list goes on and on.
Heidi: Amazing! May I ask your source or sources?
Lisa: Absolutely. Science and Civilization in China, by Dr. Joseph Needham FRS, FBA, of Cambridge University. Cambridge ran out of honors and degrees to bestow on this brilliant scientist while he was alive. An easier to read digest of Needham’s work is Robert Temple’s The Genius of China – written with Needham’s generous permission and assistance.
Heidi: Authors generally credit favorite English teachers, or professors of literature, or books they’ve read, for inspiring them. You credit scientists for inspiring “Forgotten Tales.” Care to comment?
Lisa: According to tests done by IBM I fall into a category IBM testers playfully label “half poet, half engineer.” My brain is equal parts left and right-sided. Most computer techies, which I was, are decidedly left-brained. But my 50/50 trait is one I share with Olivia Goldsmith, the highly successful author of “First Wives Club.” And I suspect Isaac Asimov, professor of biochemistry at BU, better known for his famous and fabulous science fiction, was also “half poet and half engineer.” I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but things that surprise me trigger my hyperactive imagination. That could be a Palm Beach socialite, with no visible income, arrested for kidnapping his daughters 18 years earlier (which led me to write Exceeding Expectations), or a country that led the world in power, population and technology 500 years ago, then fell dramatically behind (which led to Forgotten Tales of China). Sadly, those of us raised in the West have been taught little about Chinese history.
Heidi: You teach a course on writing. Have you ever thought of teaching a course about China?
Lisa: I’m delighted to say that I’ve been invited to teach a course on ancient China. I’m thinking of comparing China’s size, range of influence and its technological advances to those of Egypt, Greece and Rome at their respective heights.
Heidi: How can readers learn more about you and your books?
Lisa: I invite them to go to my website: http://www.LisaAprilSmith.com . There they will find About Lisa, free samples of my books and my weekly blog. And if they’ve decided to buy Forgotten Tales of China, in paperback, for their Kindles, IPad, Android devices, etc., they can go directly to Buy FToC at Amazon . For Nooks, Buy FToC at Barnes and Noble will take them to the right page. And I welcome all comments. Email me at WriteLisa@LisaAprilSmith.com .
Heidi: Thank you, Lisa. This has been fun and enlightening. I know our readers have enjoyed sitting in on our conversation.
Lisa: Fun for me as well. Thank you so much for inviting me.