BookLife Talks with Stephen M. Gray
A sponsored Q&A with the author of the Mark of Wu series
How did you become interested in Chinese history?
My interest in China did not come in one single, defining moment. Growing up in Wichita Falls, Texas, I listened to my father tell stories about his experiences in WWII. At the time, China was very mysterious to me; information about life there was limited.
A trip to Hong Kong years later gave me an up-close experience of the people and culture, but my curiosity took a new direction near the end of law school when I read Sun Tzu The Art of War. Many ascribe the first thorough, written analysis of warfare to Sun Tzu. And today his teachings are applied in business and litigation. This study led to my fascination with the Spring and Autumn Period.
Can you say a bit about your research?
I read multiple translations of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, the Tso Chuan, The Gongyang Commentary on The Spring and Autumn Annals and The Grand Scribe's Records, along with numerous period specific reference materials. I also poured through the pages of The History of Wars in China, compiled by the Armed Forces University, which was written in Chinese. Because I don't speak, read or write any Chinese language, my review was limited to studying the diagrams of battles.
Can you say a bit about the mix of fact and fiction in Hidden Paths?
The Mark of Wu series closely tracks the historical record, at least to the extent that details exist. I stayed true to what is known about royalty and noblemen, along with the major events driving their individual journeys. People of lesser classes were not commonly chronicled, though. For them, I wove period specific details into the story to create a realistic portrait of life in 519 B.C. Gaps in the historical facts provided fertile ground for artistic license, which I unabashedly exercised at will.
Your book deals deeply with historical abuses of power and political upheavals. What lessons do you hope it will offer present-day readers?
Human behavior transcends time; the motivations that existed in 519 B.C. still drive people today. The story, though, closely tracks only the themes relevant to the Spring and Autumn Period. I did not push a modern political or social agenda.
Are there parallels between the era you write about and America (or elsewhere) today?
No matter the time period or place, human behavior doesn't change. Greed is still greed; evil is still evil. And there are always good, brave people who will stand up and fight for what is right. They are the men and women I celebrate in this series.
For more information, visit the BookLife project page for Hidden Paths.