Frequently Asked Questions
On this page, I'll be answering questions people have e-mailed me, as well as sharing some details not mentioned elsewhere.
Why choose the Seymour Expedition for a novel? I've never even heard of it.
While researching the Boxer Rebellion and the 55-day Siege of Peking, I came across a reference to "the Seymour Expedition, which is so well known I need not repeat details of it here." I had never heard of the rescue mission, and was startled to find out that I had never heard of an event that was so well known to the Western world that a writer of the time felt no need to do more than mention its name, and everyone would know the details of what he was talking about. This led me to track down the forgotten expedition, and I was so taken by its story that I had to write about it.
Were you influenced to write AGCM by the graphic novel Boxers and Saints?
No. In fact, I had never even heard of it until after I finished writing American Guns, Chinese Magic. I have since read the work, and disagree with the notion that there was a male Boxer named "Red Lantern" and that the girls all called themselves "Red Lanterns" in his honor. My own research into the Hung Têng Chao showed no evidence of this whatsoever, especially considering the fact that they were sorceresses. Traditionally, they were seen as witches; it is only recent Communist Chinese revisionism that has painted them purely as warriors with no magical powers. Period sources make it clear that they indeed were considered by everyone to be (or claimed to be) soceresses, and no historical source suggests otherwise.
Was Bright Snow a lesbian?
It appears so. This would almost be expected, though, as the Red Lantern girls spent their lives locked away under the thumb of their parents, and only broke free when they ran off to join the Hung Têng Chao. Living and training in an all-female school, it would only be natural that any acts of a sensual nature would be with each other. From what Ch'ou Tzu said on the few occasions she spoke about her cousin, it is plain that she and Liu-shih had such experiences with each other, but neither left any record that would let us know how serious that relationship was.
Uh ... "Take that, kin to the foul Ellison"?
Glad you picked up on that (a lot of people who read the paperback never noticed it). I put it in there to be entertaining, but the reference is very obscure. Back when I was but a young reader, sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison wrote a reply to a letter that had appeared the Starlog magazine. I think it best to reproduce the relevant section of Ellison's reply here~
"You manage to get off a carom shot about me, I note. You say I have “already given SF writers a bad name.’’ Do I take your meaning correctly that I, alone, all by me widdle self have given all SF writers a bad name? (I can see it now: Robert Heinlein steps up to be honored by the American Red Cross for his yeoman service with the blood drives and one of the dignitaries turns to the other and says, “Hey, isn't he a SF writer?” The other one furrows his brow and says, “Damn. Ellison’s a SF writer, too, and you know what a bad name he’s given them!” The guy holding Bob’s trophy turns on him and bashes him across the skull with it. “Take that, kin to the foul Ellison!”)"
You claim it's not an "alternate history", but you took a lot of liberties with the real story: a flying witch blows up the Chinese junk? The expedition just happens to find a young Chinese woman alone in an abandoned village to question about the Boxers? The British volley guns both jam at the same moment because a witch casts a spell on them? Come on! I would call that an alternate history!
You are free to say so, but you are also wrong. "Alternate History" fiction changes the basic facts of history: Hitler wins WW2; time travelers give the Confederacy AK-47s; the Spanish Armada succeeds in conquering England. American Guns, Chinese Magic is based on the real history of the Seymour Expedition, and nothing in the historical record changes: the battles you read about really happened, their outcomes are all accurate, and the novel matches the historical record. I changed none of that. Yes, I did attribute certain events to be the result of Chinese magic, but those events themselves really did happen. The Chinese junk WAS blown up; I merely ascribe that to a flying witch with a black powder bomb, rather than a falling artillery shell. And YES, the expedition really did find a young Chinese woman in a deserted village and question her about the Boxers. Korvetten-Kapitain Schlieper's excellent 1902 memoir of the expedition, Meine Kriegs-Erlebnisse in China. Die Expedition Seymour details the event: "Aber auch eine junge Chinesin ließen die zurück, die vorläufig bewacht wurdez um Erkundigungeu uber den Feind von ihr einzuziehen." ("But also a young Chinese woman was left behind, which has been temporarily guarded to collect information about the enemy from her." ) Even the jamming of the two Nordenfelts at the same time happened in real life. I merely said the jamming was caused by magic, rather than a mechanical problem. That is why I specifically say that AGCM is not an Alternate History novel.
Your [sic] not as smart as you think you are. There is no such thing as an "automatic revolver". Dashel Hamet's rules for writing mysterys. #1 Rule: "The ordinary automatic pistol is not a revolver. A pistol, to be a revolver, must have something on it that revolves."
Far be it from me to denigrate a writer as great as Dashiel Hammett, but you are wrong. (You also misquoted Hammett; his Rule #1 is "There was an automatic revolver, the Webley-Fosbery, made in England some years ago. The ordinary automatic pistol, however, is not a revolver. A pistol, to be a revolver, must have something on it that revolves." I also know about John Rains' "Don't Shoot Holes in Your Credibility" as well. This is a common trope that came about because, after The Maltese Falcon, lots of writers mentioned "automatic revolvers" in their stories, which was, of course, incorrect for the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. But -- and this might surprise you (and Messrs. Hammett and Rains) -- but there indeed were "automatic revolvers" back in the much earlier Victorian Age, and they were indeed rather common items of the time. But don't take my word for it. Let's take a peek at some advertisements of the period:
The term "Automatic Revolver" that was in use in the Victorian Age referred to a type of break-open revolver that incorporated an automatic shell-ejecting device. [See image at right ] When the barrel was tipped down, the spent shells were automatically ejected, swiftly clearing the cylinder for reloading. Hence the term "Automatic Revolver" that was used to describe them.
Way cool stuff on the revolvers. But I think you made a mistake regarding something else. You wrote that Schleeper "drew his 10mm ordnance revolver, disengaged the safety catch and fired a shot into the air." But revolvers don't have safetys!
Actually, some revolvers did have safeties. The 10.6mm Ordnance revolver that Schlieper carried on the expedition indeed had a safety catch, located on the left side of the grip. It can be seen in the picture at right, pointed out by the red arrow. While this was not common, it did in fact occur on a number of revolvers of the period. So it is in fact correct to mention both "automatic revolvers" and revolvers with safeties.
I thought that the Victorians were all prudes. They didn't REALLY have pierced nipples, did they?
Actually, yes. They did indeed have them. A number of articles on the internet can tell you about them if you Google "Victorian Nipple Rings", although as a historian, I prefer using the original source material. Given that it was uncommon to some degree, tracking down original sources is somewhat difficult. I would suggest you read this page from the 1889 work English Mechanic and World of Science, Volume 49, which explains a number of interesting facts about the art of nipple piercing as it was practiced at the time. (This says something about the mistaken belief that all Victorians were prudish men and frigid ice-maidens.)
Is/was the gun [carried by de Barham] you mentioned in the book real? I thought automatics weren't invented until the 20th century.
The Mannlicher M1894 was indeed a real semi-automatic pistol, designed by Ferdinand Mannlicher and produced from 1894 to 1897 by Fabrique D'Armes in Switzerland. (You would know them better by their current name, SIG Sauer AG.) The internal magazine was fed by a five-round stripper clip and fired a 7.6x24mmR cartridge. What really makes it unusual to modern eyes is the fact that there was no slide; the frame was solid. When fired, the internal barrel was pushed forward out of the gun, allowing the spent shell to eject. A compressed spring around the barrel pushed it back into place, seating the next cartridge for firing.
That's all for the moment. More later as they come in.
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