In The Secret Language of Women, the first book of my Wayfarer Trilogy, I decided my main character Lian’s horoscope would be the Year of the Dog. Knowing her horoscope facilitated my understanding the protagonist for this novel. Since the book is set in China, I used Lian’s Chinese Zodiac sign to learn about her qualities and personality traits intimately so that she appeared genuine yet flawed. She is straightforward, a warm and caring being, courageous and intelligent. When a person born in under this sign falls in love, they do not ever change. Lian fell in love with an Italian sailor, and remained faithful to that love, despite the fact that she was forced into a loveless marriage.
Moreover, having visited China, a unique experience that enabled me to see in person: Hong Kong, Beijing and its fabulous Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, I was able to envision Lian’s travels and travails in war-torn China, an era suffused in superstition, intrigue, culture and history. I incorporated the themes and things I care about, such as: love, family, food and recipes, art, dragons and horses. Why? Simply because it’s straightforward to write what I know and have feelings for, and all of these ideas translated well even to a novel set in China during the Boxer Rebellion. My own horoscope is the Year of the Horse, which was last year, so I made sure I had an important role for a horse in this novel, and I’m positive that my horoscope had incredible influence on my stars being aligned because I signed a contract for a three-book deal for my Wayfarer Trilogy with Turner Publishing.
While writing, I pictured Chinese New Year, the cleaning of the house, the distributing of red envelopes, and Lian cooking on a wok, serving rice to her beloved. Since this story takes place in China where live fish, most especially carp, are good Fengshui, which according to Wikipedia is a “philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment.” For this reason, I put carp into a pool in the Summer Palace in Chapter 1, where Lian meets the love of her life. Do I believe in the influence of horoscopes and how they can help round out a character? Of that there is little doubt.
Excerpt from the Secret language of Women
The things that test you and are vanquished bring everlasting joy. The differences between traditional written Chinese and Nüshu, the secret language of women, made it difficult for me to learn it. My mother and grandmother could not write Chinese and learned Nüshu when they were young and wanted me to grasp it too. I cannot say they harped on me or were tyrannical, but I will say they were insistent, and for this I am eternally indebted.
My mother said it challenged me because I wrote like a man and didn’t have to rely solely on Nüshu, the way they did to communicate with other women. The ideograms of Chinese correspond to a word or part of one, whereas each of the seven hundred characters of Nüshurepresent a syllable— women’s language is phonetic, in Chéngguān dialect 城关土话, adaptable and pliant for singing, poetry and writing with such delicate strokes they appear as lines of feathers.
Though learning was problematical, I mastered it, like I do all things I set my mind to
conquer. At the time, I resented the study of it, yet I knew innately one day I would be grateful to possess the knowledge and skill of this secret language, which would offer me strength and solace for a lifetime. And although I was writing in Nüshu, for some reason, I signed with flourish in Chinese: Wǒ Lián. I am Lian.我连
Nina Romano earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. She’s a world traveler and lover
of history. She lived in Rome, Italy, for twenty years, and is fluent in Italian and Spanish. She
authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, four poetry collections, and two
chapbooks. A fifth collection is forthcoming from LLC Red Dashboard. Romano has been
nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Her Wayfarer Trilogy is forthcoming from Turner
Publishing. The first historical novel of the saga: The Secret Language of Women will be