Interview with Kate Chenli, Author of A Bright Heart
Thanks so much for joining us at YAOTL, Kate. Let’s get straight into A Bright Heart. It starts with the most intriguing what-if: What if you could avenge your own murder? But as intriguing as that is, it just barely scratches the surface. Please tell us a bit more about the plot of A Bright Heart:
Sure! Mingshin helped the man she loved become king, but soon after his coronation, Ren betrayed and murdered her. As she is dying, she prays to the gods to give her a chance to avenge her murder and make things right. Mingshin wakes up two years earlier. She vows that Ren will never become king, and she will never fall in love again. But the timeline in this life has changed: a dark mage poses a great threat to her kingdom’s peace, and Ren’s ambition runs deeper than she could have imagined. While trying to survive the vipers’ nest at the royal court, Mingshin must use all her wit and intelligence to defeat her enemies, both old and new.
Where did the idea of A Bright Heart come from?
A Bright Heart is inspired by a popular trope in Chinese literature. I’ve always loved the fantasy genre. When internet publishing became a phenomenon in China, the fantasy genre widened in scope and prospered in creativity. Among that, a trend became quite popular among readers, telling stories of betrayal, rebirth, and revenge. In such tales, the main character is betrayed and murdered by those who she loved, but miraculously gets a second chance at life and finds herself transported back in time. In her new life, the heroine is able to seek justice and right the wrongs done to her. Along the way, she grows wiser, braver, and more confident, despite the limitations placed upon women by society.
As I grew as a writer, I wanted to create similar stories and share them with Western readers. From the beginning, I aspired to create a complex world filled with compelling characters and the many elements I enjoyed from such stories: a strong female protagonist, romance, adventure, and court intrigue. Furthermore, I endeavored to present the reader with a tender message of hope for the future while also offering an opportunity to redress past wrongs. And that’s how “A Bright Heart” was born.
The worldbuilding in A Bright Heart is so lush. Do you think your travels have helped your worldbuilding?
Yes, definitely, as I’ve had the opportunity to walk along the Great Wall and visit the Forbidden City in Beijing multiple times. I’ve climbed mountains in South America, sea-kayaked with penguins in the Galapagos, explored deserts in Africa, hiked on glaciers in Norway as well as learned a lot from people and cultures along the way. In addition, I grew up in China where I acquired a love for Chinese history and mythology which also greatly inspired the worldbuilding that went into “A Bright Heart.”
A Bright Heart incorporates some traditional Chinese tropes. Can you speak to this a bit?
Where does A Bright Star follow the classic storylines? Where does it diverge from them?
Sure! I’ve spoken a little about the traditional Chinese trope earlier. It’s such a popular trend that it has become its own kind of genre in Chinese literature: Rebirth and Revenge. Therefore, writers often don’t even need to explain how the MC gets a second chance at life. In such stories, readers readily recognize the genre and accept the second chance premise. Also, those tales usually have little to none of the fantasy elements other than the time travel.
A Bright Heart follows the classic storyline where Mingshin was murdered and returned to two years earlier to avenge herself. However, it diverges from the classic storyline in a number of places. For one, A Bright Heart fully reveals how and why Mingshin got her second chance, which has a lot to do with magic. For instance, besides revenge, Mingshin now also must contend with a dark mage who poses a great threat to her kingdom. Beyond that, I added more strong female characters to the story, including a princess who matches Mingshin in wit and intelligence. I wanted to make sure that there are strong female friendships in A Bright Heart as I feel it’s really important and something I love to see when reading.
Your background is in computer engineering. How did you make the leap to writing?
When I was in high school, I was pushed to study for Science and Technology in college. Arts and Literature were considered useless degrees when I grew up in China. But I’ve always held onto the love of storytelling in my heart. In college, my roommates enjoyed listening to me make up stories on the spot. I’d written stories in Chinese, but never finished any of them. Later, as my passion for English literature grew, I decided to learn to write English well. Finally, I was determined enough to finish a whole novel.
Tell us about your path to publication. Most often, the first book written is not the first book published. When did you start writing?
I started writing in 2008. Since English isn’t my mother language (I came to the United States at 20 to attend graduate school), I spent several years just learning the basic craft of English fiction writing, mostly by reading widely and joining various writer groups. I started writing my first novel in 2012. A Bright Heart is the 3rd book I finished.
I’m always interested in where fiction meets real life. How does your own personal story intersect with A Bright Heart?
I’m a firm believer in second chances. I’ve got my second chance at love and I cherish that dearly. I also believe in second chances that provide us with opportunities to grow by learning from our mistakes.
Writing each book teaches us something. What did A Bright Heart teach you?
Love overcomes all obstacles. Cherish your true friends. Value yourself.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the sequel, A Fiery Spirit. It continues Mingshin’s journey as the girl with the fiery spirit of the sun and the bright heart of the moon.
Where can we find you?
You can find me on my author website: katechenli.com. I’m also on Instagram @katechenli.author.