Monday February 20, 2017

Janie Chang on turning family history into fiction

Listen 3:50

Janie Chang's new novel, Dragon Springs Road, Chang tells the story of a young girl who was abandoned by her mother but is protected by a fox spirit. Chang turned to her family history — 36 generations deep! — and to folklore to spin this tale that shares a side of previously little-known Chinese and European history.

Where the inspiration comes from

I've always been inspired by stories from my family. My father told me stories about his childhood and what it was like growing up in the early years of the Chinese Republic. That period of history has always been really interesting to me, it was a very turbulent time. For this novel, I became interested in the plight of Eurasian orphans because there was a short period in Chinese history when westerners were flocking to the port cities in China. They'd be settling their to make their fortunes or just passing through for a few nights and, inevitably, there were biracial children. There was practically [no information] about the poor, the orphaned and the abandoned. My theory was that they had been swept under the carpet of history, so I wanted to shine a light on the lives of these children.

Story ideas and family legends

Many of my story ideas are drawn from family legends. Our family has a recorded genealogy of 36 generations, so there's a lot of stories. A lot of them feature the supernatural, ghosts, dragons, immortals and the idea of a doorway into the land of immortals. According to family legend, I had an ancestor walk through such a portal and became immortal.

Janie Chang's comments have been edited and condensed.