I’m not sure what it was about Nola Li Barr’s Skyline Mansion series that caught my eye. Maybe it was the beautiful cover, the AAPI themes, the intriguing premise of solving a family mystery and finding love along the way, or some combination of all three.
With the recent release of Secret Blossom, the third book in Nola’s women’s fiction series, I wanted to know all the goss behind the Skyline Mansion, and get the lowdown on the author herself.
Nola, thank you for this interview. What’s Skyline Mansion all about?
NOLA LI BARR: The Skyline Mansion series is about the Lin family, who immigrate from Taiwan, and the Wilkens family, a long-standing white family, in 1946. The two families couldn’t be more different, but love knows no boundaries. In 2010, when Anne Huang inherits the Wilkens mansion, it sparks a domino effect of family secrets that many want to keep hidden.
Forbidden Blossom supposes that the inheritance of a lifetime would be a dream come true for anyone, but Anne isn’t so sure when she learns why she inherited the fortune. She finds hidden journals, long-lost family members, and a man who’s the opposite of anyone she’s ever wanted.
In Hidden Blossom, a search for a missing family member takes Anne and Sebastian to Taiwan where her Chinese American culture hinders more than helps. She must navigate a culture and a complex extended family that is at once familiar and foreign.
Finally, Secret Blossom sees Anne divided on living in the past when it comes to finding her uncle or keeping her mind in the present when a new Wilkens family member comes to ask for help. Can she manage to satisfy both cravings while also holding onto the man she loves?
Let’s talk about Forbidden Blossom first. What sparked the idea for this story?
NOLA: It started with a dream. Boy meets girl and they fall in love. The first time I tried to write this story I actually titled it “A Short Love Story,” and I meant for it to only be about five pages long.
But a lot of things happened during that time that changed the direction of the book. I moved to California and was amazed by the number of Asian people there. Not just Asians who immigrated to the US, but fifth generation Asians who were comfortable in their own skins with grandparents speaking perfect English.
I started reading up on Chinese American history, my own history, and was amazed at how far back it went answering my question on why there were so many generations of Asians in California. It was refreshing. I knew I wanted to add what I’d learned to my love story.
Anne is a relatable modern girl who doesn’t like to rock the boat and yet she’s not afraid to feel and learn when situations around her changes. In the course of writing this book I found that I kept migrating back to the difficulties the two women (Anne and Rose) were going through. How they prevailed, conquered their fears, and moved on with their lives. The romance was still there but ended up taking a smaller role to the lives of Anne and Rose.
The mystery continues in Hidden Blossom and Secret Blossom. What can readers look forward to as they follow Anne’s journey?
NOLA: Both Hidden Blossom and Secret Blossom dive deeper into Anne’s family history and her relationship with Sebastian, but Hidden Blossom also takes the reader on a tour of Taiwan with its myriad of delicious foods.
Secret Blossom also brings in new characters and you start seeing more of the Wilkens side of the family. I had a lot of fun writing these new characters and how they tied in with the ones we already knew from Forbidden Blossom and Hidden Blossom.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve had to research for this series?
NOLA: Chinese American history in the US. I am first generation Chinese American, and I was never taught this growing up. When I found out we had a history and that it spanned all the way back to the 1800s I was fascinated.
To find out that mixed races couldn’t marry until the 1967 was mind boggling because it meant that my marriage would have been illegal only 50+ years earlier.
Writing is something you’ve always been into, hasn’t it? How have you found the road to being a published author?
NOLA: My stories were always one page here, another page there, and never came to anything. Then I became a full-time mom and realized I needed to do something for myself so as not to forget who I was.
I started working on my novel in 2017 and with many encouragements from others was able to self-publish it in 2018. I was addicted. I love sharing stories with readers and other authors. I learned so much in the following years and now have lists of ideas I want to write about. The best part is I can set my own schedule and be flexible for my family with something I really enjoy.
The most challenging thing I’ve had to overcome in this process was my own self. The doubts and procrastination knew no bounds. It took finding an accountability buddy who was also starting her first book to keep the momentum going and to know I could do this.
Finishing my first book was the best feeling ever. To hold it in my hand for the first time was magical. I now have a sense that it’s possible for me to produce a book and hence am able to write more and have a bit more confidence in myself.
So, what’s next for you? What are you writing? What are you reading?
There’s one more book in the series and I’m about halfway through writing it. I’ve also got a novella about Sebastian and Isabella and a set of short stories about the Wilkens’ children in the works.
As for reading, there are craft books on writing fiction of course, but a few fun ones I am currently reading are The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter, Norse Mythology, and Three Mages and a Margarita. They span romance, women’s fiction, mythology, and fantasy. I love them all!
Forbidden Blossom by Nola Li Barr
A decades-old scandal. A mysterious inheritance. Can a young woman survive a family desperate to keep their past buried?
2010. Anne Huang never cared to call anywhere home. But her carefree lifestyle of blogging and travel is interrupted when a stranger with ties to her family bequeaths her a fortune. And with no knowledge of her history, she soon finds herself thrown in with a nest of billionaire vipers determined to lock away their skeletons.
1946. Seventeen-year-old Rose Chen’s quiet life is shattered when she’s dragged from Taiwan and forced to immigrate to the U.S. And her nightmare continues when she arrives in San Francisco, only to be shipped off by her parents to serve in a wealthy American’s household. But her dutiful-daughter status soon comes under threat when her risky friendship with her white employer’s son transforms into something taboo.
Confronted by jealous rivals, Anne battles distrust and hidden agendas as she tries to understand more about her birthright and learns the value of love. And as Rose wrestles with her complicated feelings in a private journal, she unwittingly leaves a stunning legacy to a granddaughter she’ll never know…
Can their lives come full circle to close one door and open another?
Forbidden Blossom is the heartfelt first book in the Skyline Mansion women’s fiction series. If you like soul-searching heroines, paths to self-discovery, and stories of perseverance and inner strength, then you’ll adore Nola Li Barr’s generation-spanning tale.
About Nola Li Barr
Nola Li Barr is the bestselling author of the Skyline Mansion series. She writes women’s fiction with a touch of romance. When she’s not writing she can be found reading, making photo books, and navigating the path of motherhood.
Connect with Nola at nolalibarr.com or on social media.