Sunday Expat

Marjorie's fantasies

By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-17 10:00
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 Marjorie's fantasies

Top: Liu shows off an impressive library of works; center: A Taste of Crimson gives a taste of Liu's talent; above: Liu with Daniel Way, her co-writer of the Marvel Comics Dark Wolverine series, during a book signing session. Provided to China Daily

Marjorie's fantasies

Deep in the heart of a Beijing cafe, imaginary monsters draw on the energy of the city. Tiffany Tan chats with the Chinese-American who spins out their life stories.

If you go to a cafe at China World Trade Center at the right time of the year, you'll find tapping on her laptop just like any latte regular, a US best-selling author of urban fantasies, paranormal romances and Marvel comics. Oh, and now creator of a video game. Marjorie M. Liu, 32, described as a "renaissance woman?by a comic book forum, spends about two months a year writing in China.

The pattern began in 2000, whenever she visited her parents who spend most of their time on the Chinese mainland - her father hails from Taiwan, while her mother is an American of French, Scottish and Irish descent. After Liu sold her first novel in 2004, writing in Beijing or Shanghai was cemented into her routine.

"I didn't set out to say, I'm gonna come to China for the express purpose to write books, but I was here anyway, and I love it," Liu says.

Her thick flowing hair and cowboy boots are reminiscent of some of her heroines' appearance. "There's a lot of energy, good vibes, good energy. I'm not sure what to call it." Liu may not have a word for that life force, but she gave a vivid analogy of it in a 2008 interview with the blog Shanghai Scrap.

"Shanghai (and Beijing, to some extent)," she said, "is that crazy Great Aunt who likes to run around in her bra and undies and flirt with the UPS man. Anything goes here. You can be yourself, in all your quirky charm.

"The rest of China has that same wild energy; a sense of unabashed possibility and individualism that is addictive to be around My brain fires on all cylinders when I'm in this country and the words flow and flow."

China gives Liu such a creative spark that it has become her not-so-secret weapon.

"If I'm having trouble with a book, I have been known to come over to China," says Liu, who was born near Philadelphia, grew up in Seattle, went to university in the state of Wisconsin and now lives in Indiana. "For me it's worth the price to be able to finish a book."

Observers wonder how she deftly straddles the genres of urban fantasy, romance and superhero comics, each with its unique writing style, characterization and plotline. Liu says the transition is not as difficult as people imagine, since they are all "storytelling".

"Business-wise, I'd probably be better off just saying, OK, I'm just going to specialize in one genre," she says, "but I don't know if it's because I'm a Gemini or what, but I get bored easily. I like to tell different kinds of stories, and I like to write different kinds of things. And I think also, I'm always afraid of getting stale."

Her drive and wide range of interests translated into a bachelor's degree in East Asian languages and cultures with a minor in biomedical ethics, and a law degree.

Liu passed the bar but never practiced because she soon sold her first book, Tiger Eye: a paranormal romance about a female American tourist in Beijing who buys a puzzle box that contains a handsome warrior from 2,000 years ago who is being pursued by his age-old nemesis.

The novel became the first in Liu's New York Times best-selling Dirk & Steele series, and in April was reincarnated into Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, a video game geared toward women.

The past six years have produced 17 other novels, including the Hunter Kiss urban fantasy series, about a woman whose tattoos come alive at night to help her hunt demons.

Then there is Liu's work on Marvel titles, including Dark Wolverine, centering on Wolverine's estranged son Daken, and Black Widow, a Soviet spy turned superhero. Liu continues to produce three to four books a year, in a writing process self-described as "disorganized" and "all over the place".

With 2 million book copies in print, Liu is still that rare US author of mass-market fiction with a Chinese last name.

At the beginning of her career, a couple of publishers hinted she should use a pseudonym to help her works sell.

"They thought that the market couldn't handle it, or the market would be too sensitive," Liu says, "and so I understood where it was coming from. But it did irritate me a little.

"If I had written under a pseudonym simply because I was afraid people wouldn't get my books because of the Chinese name, that smacks almost of being ashamed of who you are I think actually readers are smarter than that and I think readers care about a good story."

And for her, this includes romance novels - derided by some as "trash" but at their core, well-crafted stories about hope, says Liu.

"The thing about romance novels, they always have a happy ending. You can do anything to your characters that you want - you can run them through the wringer - but you always know there's gonna be a happy ending. Two people are going to fall in love. And they're going to have a life together. And that's a really beautiful message. That's a message of hope."

Hope reflects Liu's own attitude about love as she waits to meet the man with whom to share her life. In the mean time, she's busy writing about the exploits of heroines who protect the human race from evil forces, and mutants with tortured souls who nonetheless aspire for the greater good.

Imagine, some of these battles came to life right in your neighborhood coffee shop.

(China Daily 10/17/2010 page5)