leahcutter_papermage600x900Originally published by Roc in 2003, now available as an ebook for the first time! Plus reissued as a trade paperback!

Available on Amazon (Kindle)

Available on Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Available on Smashwords

Available as a trade paperback

Read the prologue & chap 1 (PDF)

Xiao Yen loses her luck at the most inauspicious time: just before her first employment, protecting foreigners with her magic while they travel through the Middle Kingdom, along the last part of the Silk Road.

Despite contracts and agreements, Xiao Yen’s fealty remains with her family. She must distinguish herself on the road in order to catch the eye of a legend and earn an immortal peach.

How can Xiao Yen hope to fulfill her promises to either her family or her clients when, because of her missing luck, she fails at everything she turns her hand to?

Come travel with Xiao Yen on a magical journey through a magical land in this unusual, vividly-told historic fantasy.

Praise for Paper Mage:
—”An enchanting novel, skillfully rooted in Chinese history and myth. . .mythical, unusual, and thoroughly convincing.” –Terri Windling, Editor of “The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror”

—”A magical world as solid and believable as our own.” –Cecilia Dart-Thorton

—”An exceptional tale by an exceptional writer…It doesn’t get any better than this.” Dennis L. McKiernan

The Greenman Review
Strange Horizons Review
Rambles Review
SF Reviews


Paper Mage cover

Paper Mage started as a short story, back in 1991, before I started traveling. I was inspired by a number of things, the description of a paper folder from “Folding Universe” by Peter Engle, and how something unpredictable and tiny can set an ordered system to chaos from “The Turbulent Mirror” by John Briggs & F. David Peat. It was unwieldy as a short story, involving going from China all the way across the Silk Road to the Byzantium Empire and back.

When I returned from my big travels, I tried rewriting the story, but it was still too long and awkward. I knew that it was good, that there was something in this story that needed telling. I used it as my submission story to Clarion West. Once at Clarion, the other students encouraged me to expand the story into a novel. I wrote a novel outline based on the story as an exercise. I only used some of this original outline in the final novel.

I had never considered myself a novelist. But through Clarion, I built the writing muscles to think about it. I finished Clarion in fall of 1997. In January of 1998 I started doing serious research for the novel. I did research for six months while I wrote and rewrote the outline. It took me about six months to write the first draft, then I took another four months to rewrite it. (I sometimes joke that I’m not a writer, but a rewriter.) After some of my friends read the novel and gave me critiques, I rewrote the novel and sent it to an editor. That editor asked for another rewrite, which I turned around in about six months. That was the version of the novel that I sold. Of course, my editor asked for more rewrites.

Paper Mage – Character Name Pronunciations

Xiao Yen – X – generally pronounced “sh”, i – generally pronounced “ee”, so it’s Sheeou Yen

Bei Xi, Master Wei. Mei-Mei – ei – generally pronounced with a long “a” sound, like in Way, so it’s Bay Shee, Master Way

Fu Be Be – e – generally pronounced ‘eh’, so it’s Foo Beh Beh

Gan Ou – a as in ‘ah’, ou as in ‘ou’ (ouch), so it’s Gahn

Jrh Bei – jrh – generally pronounced like the ‘s’ in measure, so it’s Zhr Bay

Udo – long u, long o, uudoo

Vakhtang – VAHK-tahng

Tuo Nu – t like the ‘ts’ in cats, long u, long o, run together, so it’s Tsuuoo New

Zhang Gua Lao – z like the ‘s’ in measure, ua is run together, like in guava, ao like in ‘ou’ (ouch)

This isn’t a complete bibliography of all the research sources I used for Paper Mage. It is a good starting point for readers interested in the Tang dynasty and in all things Chinese.

Selected Bibliography


Beckwith, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. Princeton University Press, 1987.

Capon, Edmund and Werner Forman. Tang China: Vision and Splendor of a Golden Age. Macdonald & Orbis, 1989.

Cave, Roderick. Chinese Paper Offerings. Oxford University Press, 1998.

De Mente, Boye Lafayette. NTC’s Dictionary of China’s Cultural Code Words. NTC Publishing Group, 1996.

Eberhard, Wolfram. A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

Engel, Peter. Folding Universe. Vintage Books, 1989. (This is actually a book on origami.)

James, Peter and Nick Thorpe. Ancient Inventions. Ballantine Books, 1994.

Lu, Henry C. Chinese Herbal Cures. Sterling Publishing Co., 1994.

Schafer, Edward H. The Golden Peachers of Samarkand. University of California Press, 1963.

Smith, Authur H. Village Life in China. Little, Brown and Company, 1970.

Spring, Madeline. Animal Allegories in T’ang China. American Oriental Society, 1993.

The Red-Crowned Crane. China Pictorial Press.

Waldron, Arthur. The Great Wall of China. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Williams, CAS. Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1974.

Yang, Jwing-Ming. Ancient Chinese Weapons. Yama Martial Arts Association, 1999.


Bucher, J. Frank. The South River Pagoda. Fithian Press, 1988.

Carpenter, Frances. Tales of a Chinese Grandmother. Charles E Tuttle Company, Inc., 1980.

Palmer, Martin and Xiaomin, Zhao. Essential Chinese Mythology. Thorsons, 1997.

Walters, Derek. An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend. Diamond Books, 1995.

The World of Chinese Myths. Beijing Language and Culture Center Press, 1995.

Fiction and Poetry

Hughart, Barry. The Bridge of Birds. St. Martin’s Press, 1984.

Lao Tsu. Tao Te Ching. Translated by Gia-Fu Feng, and Jand English. Vintage Books, 1989.

Lewis, Elizabeth Foreman. Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.

Liu, Wu-Chi and Irving Lo. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Indiana University Press, 1975.

Spence, Jonathan D. The Question of Hu. Vintage Books, 1989.

Tu Fu. The Selected Poems of Tu Fu. Translated by David Hinton. New Directions Books, 1989.

Van Gulik, Robert. Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee. Dover Publications, 1976.

Web Sources

Wonderful English-Chinese dictionary. Plus flash cards to help you learn Chinese, your name in Chinese, and many other fun topics:

Chinese language:

Information about Chinese knotting and knot work:

Paper folding by Joseph Wu:

Chinese mythology:

Encyclopedia Mythica:

Mythology on the web:

Myths and legends:

Folklore and mythology texts: