Writing No Way to Die, A Late Fourteenth Century, China Mystery
by P.A. De Voe
Readers sometimes ask me how I develop my stories from the initial idea to the finished work.
Let me tell you about how I wrote No Way to Die, my late fourteen century, China mystery. I used a detailed outline. The outline allowed for the story structure to have a clear path to guide me and, at the same time, for flexibility.
When I started the new series A Ming Dynasty Mystery, I wanted to use two protagonists because of the divided worlds of males and females in Imperial China. Normally, I wrote from a single POV, so this was new ground for me. When I wrote the first book in A Ming Dynasty Mystery series, Deadly Relations, my task was easy. When I embarked on the second novel, No Way to Die, I first decided on karma and people’s reaction to this pervasive belief as an underlying theme. Developing the male side went quickly. Unfortunately, I immediately ran into problems developing the female side of the story.
For the female side, the young doctor Xiang-hua was modeled on a real women’s doctor who lived during the Ming Dynasty, so I was comfortable with the idea that she was historically possible. But, what about the other women I needed to populate my story? What would they be like and still be as historically appropriate as possible? I was stuck. As many historical authors know, women are typically left out of historical records unless they are empresses, queens or such. I decided to simply write up Shu-chang’s side (the main male character) of the story, hoping that the hidden pantser in me would produce a possible—and historically reasonable—female side. No such luck.
Finally, at one point I accompanied my husband on a trip to another state. I took a few books along and, while he was busy, spent a long day in a local library going through the lives of women living in Imperial China. Most of them were written about as ideal stereotypes of womanhood. In other words, they were presented as cookie-cutter characters: uninteresting and without personalities. Three women, however, stood out. For one thing, the records (written by the men in their lives) told about their specific religious beliefs and experiences, their behaviors, and even their family situations. Interestingly, these pictures were not necessarily flattering to their husbands, who were portrayed as incompetent, philanderers, gamblers, or profligate. Eureka! I had a new set of characters with examples of actual beliefs and behaviors. The records even brought together my interest in the nexus between religion and science/medicine. By the end of the day, I had written up a possible story-line for Xiang-hua’s side of the novel, weaving together the female piece with the male piece of the mystery.
For me, this worked. In No Way to Die, I expanded my original outline and intertwined Shu-chang and Xiang-hua’s stories together into one complete mystery. In the process, I was able to include an expanded cast of interesting and historically appropriate women for Xiang-hua to interact with.
When I come across the words “historical cozy,” Imperial China does not immediately leap to mind. “No Way To Die”, the newest installment in P.A. De Voe’s ‘Ming Dynasty Mystery’ series could just change that expectation.
A dead body is found in the yard of the local herbalist and Xiang-hua is called to the scene as the best-qualified coroner to report to the local security. The victim is a stranger to the neighborhood and very probably a criminal. He has no obvious ties to the place where he was found yet many of the nearby neighbors seem to feel that they will somehow be implicated. As Xiang-hua, in the course of her duties as a women’s doctor, talks to the women of the town, unanswered questions and seemingly superfluous information abound. Shu-chang’s curiosity about the crime takes him on a different path to an impoverished neighborhood full of gambling dens and gangs, to his own trove of information not about the victim or the crime.
It is always a pleasure when an author is able to submerge a reader into another time and place. The insights into the Chinese sub-cultures of the time were almost more compelling than the mystery, which was impressive to follow to its conclusion. A plethora of information that seems to lead to everyone and no one and to a conclusion I, at least, never saw coming. This is certainly a series worth watching ( and reading )
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About The Book:
No Way to Die: A Ming Dynasty Mystery by P.A. De Voe
Through mystery and intrigue, No Way To Die transports the reader into the complex and engaging world of early Ming China.
When a peddler finds a partially mutilated body of a stranger, the unlikely duo of a young scholar and a local women’s doctor once more join forces to discover who killed him and why. In probing the highly gendered world of early Ming China, unanticipated questions surface, complicating their investigation.
As their case rapidly transitions into the unexpected, they find all roads leading away from the victim, forcing them to consider alternate routes. Was the death the result of inexorable bad karma and beyond their purview, or merely the result of mortal foul play? Was the murdered man the intended victim? If not, who was and why? The investigation leads to a growing list of potential suspects: a lustful herbalist, an unscrupulous neighbor, a vengeful farmer, a jealous husband, a scorned wife, and a band of thieves. Who is innocent and who is the culprit? To solve the murder and bring peace to the victim’s spirit, the duo must untangle the truth and do it before the murderer strikes again.
Book Links: Amazon
About The Author:
P.A. De Voe is an anthropologist with a PhD in Asian studies and a specialty in China. She has authored several stories featuring the early Ming Dynasty: The Mei-hua Trilogy: Hidden, Warned, and Trapped; the A Ming Dynasty Mystery series with Deadly Relations and No Way to Die; Lotus Shoes, a Mei-hua short story; and a collection of short stories: Judge Lu’s Case Files, stories of Crime & Mystery in Imperial China. Warned won a Silver Falchion Award for Best International Mystery; Trapped was a finalist for an Agatha Award and for a Silver Falchion Award. Her short story, The Immortality Mushroom, (a Judge Lu story) was in the Anthony Award-winning anthology Murder Under the Oaks edited by Art Taylor.
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