Author’s Notes on The Liar’s Dice

GambledAwayfinalGambled Away: A historical romance anthology releases this week featuring new novellas by superstars Molly O’Keefe, Rose Lerner, Joanna Bourne, Isabel Cooper and myself.

It’s pretty much a dream come true to be invited to this anthology along with authors I not only admire and respect, but ADORE.

As there was no room for an extensive author’s note in the collection, I did want to take the time to note a few super geeky background notes.

First, I don’t mean for any of this info as an explanation for the story. The story must stand alone! And if, while reading, a historical buff finds one of these anachronisms and it yanks them out of the story, then mea culpa. It was my fault that I didn’t execute and the story didn’t deliver.

This disclaimer is wholly due to my current annoyance with The Talking Dead which, as of late, comes on right after The Walking Dead to explain, apologize, promise, spin why what we just saw was the best storytelling ever!!…when it wasn’t. It so wasn’t.

Now on to the tidbits and trivia!

1. On Wei-wei:

Wei-wei is the character who I get the most fan mail for. As a historical heroine, Wei-wei is perhaps an uncommon woman for her time, but not an anachronistic one. The reason I love her is because I believe she existed a thousand years ago and that she exists today. She’s the straight A student who can do no wrong in her parents’ eyes, yet sneaks out of the house at night to meet up with her friends. (Not that I’m, uh, speaking from experience or anything. Hi Mom!)

She was always meant to be the lead in a third “Lotus Palace” book. The problem, however, was that I couldn’t ever find a way that any man could woo her, or a way that Wei-wei would allow herself to be wooed in the space of one book. This made her a very difficult romance heroine for me, so I was happy to have to chance to play with her story in “The Liar’s Dice” and see where she might lead.

2. The plot is a continuation of several storylines first visited in The Lotus Palace and The Jade Temptress, though The Liar’s Dice can be read as a standalone.

3. Liar’s Dice is a popular bluffing game in China, usually involving drinking. Though there were certainly drinking games and most certainly bluffing games played in Tang Dynasty parlors, the actual liar’s dice game probably has a more contemporary origin–though I was unable to pin down the exact origins.

4. The original name of the novella was “The Precious Dice” which is a literal translation of sic bo (骰寶), a very popular game that does have ancient origins in China. This high-low dice game is the one that’s actually played in the course of the story.

From here the notes get super nerdy. Like, I can’t imagine anyone but the buffest of history buffs even remotely finding this interesting. (Though I find it all absolutely fascinating!)

5. The tragic love story that inspires Wei-wei is popularly known as The Butterfly Lovers and is set during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD). There are mentions of the folktale in the Late Tang Dynasty, such as in the Xuan Shi Zhi (Tales of Ghosts and Gods) by Zhang Du. Xuan Shi Zhi was written between 851-874 A.D. Even assuming that the folktale may have been known prior to the published work, I took some liberties by having the work be known well enough that Wei-wei has a copy of the story by 849 A.D.

6. On cross-dressing and general boundary pushing: Though not a reliable historical source, popular folk legends of the Tang Dynasty indicate that women had a “rebel spirit” and would dress in men’s clothing, climb walls, and ride horses. Whether or not this actually happened in the Tang Dynasty is not something I bother myself with too often. What’s more compelling is that there is a prevailing popular belief that Tang women did these things. I have said before that my Tang Dynasty is a romantic version of the Tang Dynasty. What is historically known is that princesses commanded armies, female politicians reached the highest level of government, and women played polo alongside men.

7. Female scholarship: I always found it interesting that books on proper conduct for women were written by female scholars, not by men. One of the Four Books for Women, The Analects for Women, was written by Tang Dynasty scholar Song Ruxian and her sister Song Ruozhao, who were both brought before the Emperor along with their three sisters. All five so impressed the Emperor with their knowledge that he recognized them as scholars, inviting them to literary events and giving them official administrative posts. Wei-wei was inspired by these women who were able to achieve respect through scholarship.

On New Ventures: A Big Announcement

I made a vow not to go crazy on the swag and promo this year. For RWA, I would print out mini-books of “The Warlord and the Nightingale” to promote CLOCKWORK SAMURAI and I would order a box of Liliana’s Princess Shanyin trilogy to sign at the Indie Signing. That was it. No more promo.

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Then when the THIS WEDDING IS DOOMED continuity was coming out, I vowed I would promote on release day only. One day. One blog. (We ended up doing four.)

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Then I found myself plotting how to deliver cakes to giveaway winners.

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That wasn’t all. Wouldn’t it be cool to try to create little cake wedding favors for the Berkley signing at RWA?

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That was when I realized I was certifiable. I was a complete swag addict. But why? Why was I so pathological about swag?

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People have told me time and again, swag doesn’t sell books. I know that. Do you think someone makes Asian steampunk books because it’ll sell more books? No!

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The thing is, I love the romance reading community. I love the tropes and themes and the idiosyncracies. I love how excited readers get. Over books! And swag just feels like a fun way to reach out. To start a conversation. To celebrate romance. To enhance the experience around the stories. And it uses all those nooks and crannies of my brain that don’t get used often — the crafting, baking, graphics, artistic side.

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I get to be a kid again when I make swag. Like I told my Little Girl, Mommy is doing arts and crafts for adults.

Anyway, long story short. While I was plotting how I would make little tiramisu jars at Nationals — involving packing jars into my suitcase,  procuring mascarpone and lady fingers in NYC–I realized I was CRAZY. @!*ing mad. I also realized I needed this. I also realized…

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There was a place for this. Something people might appreciate, that would make them happy.

So there will be no cake favors at RWA. I’m not going to swag for myself anymore. I’m taking my swag addiction to a whole ‘nother level:

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I’ve banded together with my partners in crime, Amanda Berry and Shawntelle Madison. You may not be aware that the three of us were involved in a completely non-profitable venture before that Romancelandia had a lot of fun with a few years back.

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We’re in research and development now, and are planning to hit the pavement at RWA to network with authors and publicity folks. We’re even putting together a prototype box, what I dub “Box X”, to use in focus groups. (Looking for bloggers/readers/reviewers who would like to volunteer for that. Sign-up on the website link below.)

Unless the sky falls, we plan on making The Ever After Box happen.

We hope this is something people will want to join in and be a part of. Because it’s going to be AWESOME.

Sign-up for the RWA meet-ups and updates at: www.everafterbox.com