1. What inspired you to write this book?
I met Tia at Canada’s National Ballet School in 2003. She was teaching my daughter classical ballet and I came in for a routine parent-teacher interview. At that time, she was nearing retirement and, of course, I asked her what her plans were for the future. “I am retiring from the school,” she told me “but I am not retiring from life.” She then went on to tell me about the life she had lived, her joys, her sorrows, her tragedies and the lessons she had learned while she was growing up in Communist China under the brutal reign of Mao Zedong. “I want to do something good now,” she told me. ” I want to make the world a better place for others. Many people in China and around the world are persecuted because of their spiritual practices. I have a voice. It is my duty to stand up, to defend them, and to give them hope.” Those words inspired me. They also led me to believe that Tia not only had a very fascinating story to tell, it was one that needed to be heard.
2. What is Tia’s most admirable quality?
I think I would have to say her determination. She has a great passion for Chinese traditions and is a tireless advocate for human rights in China and around the world. She is also fearless, stands strong for what she believes in, and is willing to do the work to help others and make her dreams a reality.
3. How did the writing of this book change you?
It opened my eyes to the chaos that occurs when people’s rights are taken away from them; when they are told what they must say, what they must do, what they must believe in, who they can associate with, how they must dress, how they must think. It’s absolute control. I have always taken freedom and human rights for granted. That’s the world I grew up in. I can’t imagine having that taken away.
4. What did you find to be the most interesting event in the book?
I found the period Tia spent in a labour camp very interesting. It was fascinating to learn about that. More than anything though, I was amazed by the dignity she demonstrated in the face of fear and adversity. She fought every moment of every day for the strength she needed to withstand the intense brainwashing, physical cruelty, mental degradation and everything else that was thrown at her. Even during her darkest moments, she never gave up hope that her life would get better and that happiness was out there, just around the corner, waiting for her to seek it out.
5. What surprised you most?
The utter chaos and destruction that occurred during Mao Zedong’s reign. Statistics indicate that as many as 65 million Chinese died during his time in office. 45 million of those starved to death following The Great Leap Forward – an ill-fated attempt by Mao to transform the economy from primarily agricultural to industrial.
6. What will readers learn about the time period in which the book is set?
They will learn how Mao Zedong took the trust of the Chinese people and used it to propel his own political agenda. They will learn about the fear that was instilled into the lives of ordinary people as they struggled to survive. They will learn about the brutal nature of the atrocities that occurred during his years in power, the impact of thought reform (brain washing) and how political campaigns were used to destroy individual thinking, the human spirit, families and friendships. More than anything, they will learn about the power of hope and what truly can be achieved by an individual who choses to stand up and keep moving in the direction she had chosen for herself and her own happiness. This is the power of resilience and love.
7. What are you working on now?
I’m working on several film projects. We have a screenplay in development to do a feature film about this book. I’m also working on Rising Suns, a drama series featuring primarily Asian actors. It’s based on 2 families who immigrated from China and explores their adjustment to life in a western society. This is produced in association with Joe Wang of NTD TV. Additionally, I have produced a romantic comedy called Love, Romance & Chocolate for the Hallmark Channel. It’s about the chocolate industry and was filmed in Belgium.