My research always starts with reading. I start to gather as much information as I can, then follow the research road to wherever it may lead. A great deal of the information I collect doesn’t make it into the book, but it sits in me as a springboard for my imagination. Alongside my reading, I also do empirical research to help me fully create my world using vivid sesory detail. That can mean anything from going to a local Tai Chi class, cooking a new Chinese dish, or travelling all the way to Japan to walk through the temples and gardens.
What a fascinating (and slightly gruesome) subject. My main source of information about the world of the Chinese eunuchs was the very thorough Chinese Eunuchs, The Structure of Intimate Politics by Taisuke Mitamura (Charles E. Tuttle Company).
I used a number of books to explore the intriguing art of Feng Shui, including: Flying Star Feng Shui for the Master Practitioner by Lillian Too (Element). The Complete Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui by Lillian Too (Element). The Feng Shui Handbook, A Practical Guide to Chinese Geomancy and Environmental Harmony by Derek Walters (Thorsons).
For this novel, I travelled to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore and visited some excellent museums that provided valuable information about every day artifacts, clothing and rituals. In particular, I found the Singapore Museum exhibitions to be helpful. They have a number of user friendly exhibitions about Asian culture, and I also found two fantastic books when I visited the Museum bookshop: Gateway to Chinese Culture (Montage Culture, Aisapac Singapore) The Forbidden City, Heart of Imperial China by Gilles Béguin and Dominique Morel (Thames and Hudson). My travels also allowed me to experience the way different cultures use public and private space, and I also got to sample a lot of beautiful food. Sometimes research can be such a hardship…
Luck and symbolism
Five-Fold Happiness, Chinese concepts of luck, prosperity, longevity, happiness and wealth by Vivien Sung (Chronicle Books) was useful and a lot of fun. A great gift book too! Also very interesting was Cecilia Lindquist’s beautiful book about Chinese calligraphy through the ages, China, Empire of the Written Symbol (Harvill).
For information about the forms on which I based the Staminata, I consulted Erle Montaigue’s excellent book, Internal Gung Fu, Erle Montaigue (Moon Ta-gu Books). I also took Tai Chi classes, which were very illuminating (not to mention relaxing).
The twelve dragons are based on the animals of the Chinese Horoscope. I consulted a number of books, including: The Complete Book of Chinese Horoscopes by Lori Reid (Element). Chinese Astrology, A guide to Chinese Horoscopes by D.J. Burns (Lansdowne).
The Wisdom of Xsu-Ree
The war strategy that is attributed to Xsu-Ree in my novels is mostly based on a real, ancient text called The Art of War by warrior/philosopher Sun Tzu. For my research, I used the Penguin Classic version of the text. I also found a very useful television documentary titled Art of War (produced by Four In Hand Entertainment Group, Inc) about the use of Sun Tzu’s strategy in warfare across history.