Thursday, September 3, 2015

Puzzling Through Ancient China

Welcome P. A. Devoe here to Killer Hobbies today.  A cultural anthropologist who compares herself to a magpie?  Tell me more!
Tracy Weber

First, thanks so much for inviting me to share my killer hobby today, Tracy.

Hobbies. That’s an interesting topic. We all have hobbies—pleasurable ways to spend time. I do garden and knit and spin yarn from various fibers: sheep, angora, mohair, and—lately—alpaca. I even create little bears out of old fur coats found in antique shops. All of those things definitely fit into my life as hobbies. But, I’d probably have to say puzzles are at the top of my killer hobby list. Not necessarily the visual type we buy in the store, which I do enjoy, but a “search and assemble” type of puzzle.

My favorite puzzling hobby begins with puttering around libraries and book stores searching for and reading through books on traditional China. I love stumbling upon odd bits of information, or even great chunks of information, about something I had no previous idea about. This is especially true when I find that the new bit fits together nicely with another piece of information which had been sitting in the back of my mind. That’s why I compare myself to a magpie—a bird that delights in collecting seemingly odd bits of unrelated items. And, it’s probably why I like and write historic mysteries and adventures set in ancient China: they are puzzles requiring me to pull together apparently random pieces to create a whole picture for the reader.

In Hidden, the first novel in my ancient China series for young adults, Mei-hua, our protagonist lives in the year 1380 and is the daughter of a magistrate, a high level government official. When danger threatens her father, he sends Mei-hua away to a friend in order to protect her from his enemies. Unfortunately, as she flees her home she is kidnapped and sold as a lowly indentured servant to another wealthy family. Without friends or family Mei-hua finds herself on her own and in desperate straits. She has to come to terms with her new situation and at the same time, seek out her father’s friend without alerting her father’s enemies.

My puttering lead me through academic books, movies, fiction, paintings, etc. I found all kinds of details about travel, clothing, language, to name a few. For example, I found minutiae on what kind of home a wealthy family had and how they dressed, compared to a middle class or poor family. My search included how and what people ate and the dishes they used. And, of course, I wanted to know what kind of hobbies they had—how they spent their leisure time.

In Warned, the second novel in the series, my puzzling took me in another direction. I needed to find out about the details of ancient Chinese medicine: about the informally trained folk doctors and imperially trained doctors, about medicinal herbs, about people’s beliefs as to why and how of illnesses, and even about the role of spiritual beliefs in how people understood illnesses and cures.

In the end, I find puzzles to be wonderful and lots of fun, whether they are the commercial, store bought pictures cut into tiny, irregular pieces or the “search and assemble” type of historical fiction.

Author P.A. De Voe is a cultural anthropologist, which accounts for her being an incorrigible magpie for collecting seemingly irrelevant information. She writes contemporary and historical mysteries and crime stories. Hidden, the first in her young adult ancient China trilogy is available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback. Lotus Shoes, a short story prequel to the Mei-hua trilogy, is also available on Amazon. Warned, the second in the trilogy, will be available in September, 2015. To read a free Judge Lu case files from the Ming Dynasty—historical short stories for adults—visit

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