Friday, March 04, 2011
Rhys Bowen's Release Party, Bless the Bride
While Peters said we were celebrating March 1 with the release of a Molly Murphy book, Rhys Bowen said it was also St. David's Day in Wales. While the conversation then took an unusual turn, covering everything from museum cards to Art Deco to New Zealand, we did end up back with Bless the Bride.
In Bless the Bride, Molly is approaching her own marriage. Rhys said over the years she's received tons of email from people saying, don't let her marry that nasty Daniel Sullivan.
Rhys said she wanted to examine brides in different cultures. With all the immigrants in New York, Molly knows she's lucky to be able to make a choice as to who she is going to marry. In the Jewish and Italian families there, women have no say as to who they will marry.
Although Bowen is half-way through the eleventh book, prior to the wedding Daniel asked Molly to promise that she would give up the detecting business. At that time, if a woman worked, it would shame the man, appearing as if he couldn't support his wife. And, since Daniel is a police detective, it might jeopardize his career. People would wonder if Molly was helping him with cases, or even interfering with them.
Molly is trying to sew her trousseau, and not doing very well with it. She has a request to work on a case, and she thought she'd take one last case because it would give her the money to buy the rest of her trousseau.
A rich man's secretary approaches Molly asking her to find an object that was precious to him. The rich man was a Chinese merchant, and it was a piece of jade that was precious. However, as Molly investigates, it turns out that piece of jade is worn by a woman, and she's the one that the merchant actually wants back. He bought her and had her shipped from China as a concubine.
Molly's cases are never easy morally. If she returns the woman to the man, she's returning her to virtual slavery. But, there's no place for the woman outside Chinatown. However, she has been hired by the client, and she owes her loyalty to him. In the end, Molly decides not to touch the case, but by then events had been set in motion that couldn't be stopped.
Rhys told us she did extensive research on Chinatown. She loves doing research, and each book has called for different research. She has lived near the largest Chinese community in the country in San Francisco for forty years. The history of the Chinese in America is appalling. They had no rights. People wanted to send them home, but Congress had no money to do that. People could be very cruel to them. Many fled to the east, to Boston and New York. But, they didn't dare venture outside Chinatown. Because they looked different with their pigtail, they would be set upon. Why wouldn't they just cut the pigtail? Most of them hoped to return to China someday, but, if they cut their pigtail, they couldn't go back. In China, if a man didn't have a pigtail, it meant instant beheading.
A Chinese child could never become a citizen even if they were born in the U.S. The Chinese had no rights. The 1930 census of New York's Chinatown showed 3,000 men and 30 women. Men were doomed to be single. Some married Irish girls. They thought it was better to marry a China man who didn't drink than an Irish drunken lout. But, the couple who be shamed by both groups.
Chinese fathers valued education, so they sent their children to Catholic schools. Sometimes the children would be grabbed by missionaries who were trying to save them.
Some of the misconceptions about the Chinese were that they smoked opium, ate puppies, and stole little white girls. However, they were terrible gamblers, which is why many of them didn't get ahead.
Rhys told us there were opium dens in Chinatown. But, more non-Chinese men than you would think smoked opium. In 1903, there was tourism into Chinatown. Slumming tours were popular. A man named Chuck Conners led the tours, promising depravity and horror. He took people to fake opium dens, and women would swoon. Then they'd have a good meal in Chinatown to end the day.
Barbara Peters mentioned that Sherlock Holmes went into an opium den in one of the stories. And, S.J. Rozan writes about Chinatown today.
Bowen said Chinatown edges up to the Italian community. It's the next street up from Chinatown. In New York City, Chinatown is just three little streets. There's a huge community in San Francisco, but that Chinatown is also bordered on one side by the Italian community.
Rhys told us Molly is sewing her trousseau beside her future mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law has come around a little bit. Daniel's parents came over with very little, but they worked hard and were able to send Daniel to Columbia. They now mix with people of a higher echelon. They had hoped that Daniel would marry up. They're disappointed in Molly. She's one level down from Daniel. She came over from Ireland, and was really a peasant. Then Molly worked, and Daniel's mother was disappointed.
The eleventh book is in the works. The driving arc for so long has been Molly and Daniel. But, you can only carry that sexual tension on for so long. Now the conflict involves whether Molly will work on not. Rhys teased us, saying maybe Molly will end up helping Daniel on cases, going places he can't go, for instance, a convent.
Book eleven involves the cottages in Newport, Rhode Island, when Daniel and Molly are on their honeymoon. It involves the higher echelons of society. Bowen said it was time to bring Molly and Daniel out of New York City. This one deals with an Irish family made good, but they still will be shunned by the Astors and the Rockefellers.
When Rhys said Bless the Bride is set in September 1903, Barbara Peters said it's set before World War I changes the world, and nothing is the same. Peters worries about authors using that time period in their books. Rhys said her Lady Georgie mysteries are set prior to World War II, in the 1930s. The British think that silly little Hitler can't last. But, Bowen knows the war will happen, and so do her readers.
For a little while, the conversation went off course, covering The King's Speech, Gallipoli, the economy in Europe, and ending up with Irish subversives, and money funneled back to Ireland. But, we did end up back with Molly and Georgie.
September will bring a new Georgie book. She goes to the Riviera for the winter because that's where the upper-class British spent the winter. She goes with her brother, but she has a little assignment from the Queen. Georgie stays with her mother and Coco Chanel. Rhys said she's always asked where she gets her ideas. She knew she was sending Georgie to the Riviera, so she did research to find out who was there that winter. Coco Chanel was in her villa there. The Duke of Westminster was her lover. Coco Chanel held a fashion show that winter, and Queen Mary lent her niece jewelry to war at the show.
Rhys told us she met Queen Mary, and most of the royal family. Queen Mary was a small woman, with a rigid back. It was obvious no one messed with her. Rhys' father ran a paper factory, and she met all of the royal family at manufacturing shows when they would show up and go through the show.
Asked about the Constable Evans books, Rhys said they're on hiatus. She can't write three books a year. In addition, the publisher took quite a few of them out of print. There is on-again, off-again discussion of a possible TV series, but Bowen said she'll believe it when she sees it on TV. There is a possibility that St. Martin's will bring out an omnibus edition on e-books.
A lengthy discussion of e-books, and the process of publishing a book ended with comments about artwork. But, before signing books, Rhys Bowen said the next Georgie book will be Naughty in Nice. She wanted to called it Naughty But Nice, but the publisher's marketing team said that title wouldn't work. People wouldn't know how to pronounce it correctly, and would be embarrassed, so they wouldn't ask for the book.
Poisoned Pen Bookstore knows how to do a successful book launch, with champagne, snacks, and an author on hand to discuss the new book. In this case, Rhys Bowen's Bless the Bride was released on March 1 to an appreciative audience.
Rhys Bowen's website is www.rhysbowen.com
Bless the Bride by Rhys Bowen. St. Martin's Press, ©2011. ISBN 9780312628109 (hardcover), 272p.