Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rhys Bowen, Cara Black, and Libby Fischer Hellmann for Authors @ The Teague

What a wonderful afternoon! I had the chance to go to lunch with Rhys Bowen, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann before their appearance for Authors @ The Teague. And, we celebrated downtown Glendale. Libby and Cara wanted to go to Bitzee Mama's, across from the library. They said they always go there when they appear at Velma Teague. We followed it up with a trip to A Shot of Java, so Cara could have espresso. And, of course, I gave them the French mints from Cerreta Candy Company. All the authors who appear at Velma Teague get those.

Rhys Bowen, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann

And, we had a nice audience for the event, including a number of new people in attendance. After the introduction, Rhys Bowen started the program by saying she and Cara have a symbiotic relationship. They often tour together because they both have books out in March. And, they've had some unusual signings, including one at a nudist colony. Fortunately, it was a cold night, and most people came clothed, except for one man. He was a large bearded man who wore nothing but a little backpack, and paraded back and forth as the authors talked. Rhys assured us she could handle anything that might happen during the program.

Rhys said she and Cara also see the same things in the universe. Last year, Bowen's Molly Murphy book, Bless the Bride, came out, and it was set in New York's Chinatown. Cara's new book is set in a Parisian Chinatown. Rhys is anxious to see how the experiences compare.

In Bless the Bride set in early 20th century New York, the Chinese were excluded from society. They had no rights. And, they looked different. The men wore blue outfits, and had long pigtails, queues. They didn't want to cut their pigtails because they hoped to return to China. If they cut their pigtails, it was a sign of disrespect to the Emperor, and that meant instant beheading. But, the Chinese were also terrible gamblers, and gambled away their earnings. So they didn't have the money to return home.

Rhys said she's lucky to use the various environments of New York for her books. She can explore the deep dark parts of the city, such as opium dens, for one book. Then, she set this year's book in what she calls New York's Downton Abbey. The cottages in Newport, Rhode Island were actually summer palaces for families such as the Astors and Vanderbilts. They were fabulous homes, without many bedrooms. They enjoyed parties, but didn't want people to spend the night. Those mansions, used only for six weeks or so in the summer, are all along a spit of land in Newsport.

Because of a case, Molly and her new husband, Daniel Sullivan, were forced to cut their honeymoon short in Bless the Bride. Now, in Hush Now, Don't You Cry, a New York alderman lent them the guest cottage on his estate. But, Molly is always suspicious. Why is this politician being so nice to an ordinary policeman? Then they learn the rest of the man's family has been invited to spend the weekend at this house, usually only used in the summer. This newly built house, looking like an Irish castle, already has secrets.

Cara Black joked that she always follows Rhys. In her latest Aimée Leduc Investigations, Murder at the Lanterne Rouge, Aimée is finally back in the Marais. Marais, which means marsh in French, was once a swamp until it was drained for houses for the aristocrats. The fourth and third arrondissements are in the Marais. This book takes place in the third arrondissement, in the northeast part. It's set in the smallest and oldest Chinatown in Paris. Black was in Paris, and went down a narrow street, and came across a fourteenth century building. Then she heard Chinese, and the click of mahjong tiles. A mercantile group of Chinese live in just a few narrow streets there. They are entrepreneurs. Then, she heard a rumbling noise. What was behind that noise? Machines. People were working on machines in sweatshops at night, behind the front of luggage and wholesale jewelry shops.

Four years ago, Cara was meeting with a friend, a member of the intelligence branch of the police force in Paris. He made the comment, "No one dies in Chinatown." She asked him what he meant by that, and he said, "You're a writer. You figure it out." Why wouldn't people die in Chinatown? Because, to register a death, they have to have papers. Identity cards are passed around in Chinatown, so no one has papers.

And, of course, Black had to include the Knights Templar in this book because this was their area. One day she saw courtyard doors open, and she wandered in, as she often does. There were Polish workmen working in the courtyard, but there was also the base of a medieval tower, a Templar tower. Napoleon destroyed most of them because Marie Antoinette had been imprisoned in one before she was executed, and he didn't want the Royalists to rally around the towers. The only other thing Cara would say was love doesn't work out for poor René, Aimée's business partner.

Libby Fischer Hellman's forthcoming book, A Bitter Veil, is set in Iran. But, before writing that, she wrote two mystery series. One series features Ellie Foreman, a single mother. She said she also has a similarity to Rhys' books. One of the Ellie Foreman books takes place in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, called the Newport of the Midwest. In that book, she showed the contrast between the rich and those who serve. Libby loves to include historical elements in her books. Her book, Set the Night on Fire, is set in the late 60s. Even though many of us lived through the 60s, unfortunately, that's not considered history. It's a standalone thriller.

A Bitter Veil is another thriller. It features a young woman who graduated in 1978. She met a young Iranian engineering student while they were in school in Chicago, and they fell in love. They married and moved to Tehran. Unfortunately, they moved there just before the Shah was deposed and the rise of the Islamic Republic.

Hellmann did an enormous amount of research about the Iranian Revolution. She said the mystery community is very close and supportive. She put out the word that she was looking for Iranian-Americans who were there during the revolution, and within a few weeks, had contact information for five of them. One was a woman from Cara's book group. She had such an intriguing story that Libby used some of that in A Bitter Veil. She had her vet the manuscript to make sure it was right. Her publisher had it vetted again, and then they had someone check on the pronunciation to ensure it was right for the audio.

A Bitter Veil comes out next month in print, audio, and ebook. It takes place from 1978-80.

When Libby asked the others about research, Rhys answered first. Molly lives in New York City, which hasn't changed a lot since 1904. She selected her house in Greenwich Village deliberately. A professor at Fordham University contacted Rhys and said, "I'm living in Molly's house." He sent her pictures of the inside and out, which is just as Bowen pictured it.

Bowen said she received a gift once when she was there and came across a festival in that area. There were little booths, and cooking food. The booths were on both sides of the street, and the crowds were channeled in the middle. The sound bounced back from the tenement walls, and Rhys realized how loud the streets were, and that would have been just what it was like when Molly lived there. She saw a sign that said, "Freak Show. Come and See the Snake Woman - 50 cents." She used that in Oh Danny Boy. You can really experience Molly's world in New York.

She also told us Google Earth has been great for her to see where Molly would walk, and she can check back on the site. In addition, 1903 was the age of the Brownie camera. There are lots of photos of New York in 1900, and Rhys can go back and look at those photographs. Then, there is the New York Times for every day.

It's possible, though, to over-research. You can get consumed with getting it right while creating our own world. Rhys said she's one who reads a book, and notices if something is wrong. She loves Connie Willis, whose book, Blackout, is about the blitz. And, at one point, a landlady tells a character how much it will cost to use the phone. But, she used a coin that wasn't yet in use. Once she used the wrong monetary system, Bowen didn't trust anything else in the book.

Cara loves to do research. A photographer took photos in 1890 of the streets, and she wanted to see the medieval streets. The photos were taken at dawn when no one was there. But, the streets haven't changed, and it was like looking at the past and the present.

Cara Black's books are set in the 1990s, and the latest is set in 1998 when the money was still francs, and there was still smoking in cafes. When she does research, she wants to know what the big world events were. Who was visiting at the time? She also looks at the ads. In Murder at the Lanterne Rouge, the January sales are going on. It's shortly after Princess Diana's death, so the investigation is still going on. The World Cup will be in six months.

Libby said she was also lucky. The Iranian Revolution was well-covered with pictures. She had the chronology. A Bitter Veil is seen through the eyes of a young American woman. Hellmann watched the first speech Khomeini made after returning to Iran. She couldn't understand it, but then she realized her character, Anna, wouldn't have been able to understand it either. He started slowly and then built up to his denunciations of Americans.

Black said many of the Chinese came to France in 1912 from Wenzu province. The French boys were in the war, so the country needed workers. They imported them from China. Ho Chi Minh and Chou En Lai both worked in Paris. Young single men worked there, and then many returned home. There are four Chinatowns in Paris, and Black's book takes place in the smallest, oldest one.

Hellmann asked the others about writing characters. Are Molly and Aimée still the character they thought they'd be when they started writing about them?

Bowen started with Constable Evans. She liked the series, but he was just too polite. She wanted to write a feisty, first person female, a character a lot more like Rhys. She went to Ellis Island while trying to decide where to set Molly Murphy. She thought she knew what to expect, but she was overcome with emotion. And, her family were not immigrants. The walls seemed to be shouting at her. She felt great joy, and that people had escaped from great horrors.

In Murphy's Law, Molly accidentally kills the man, the son of the landowner, who was trying to rape her. She flees, taking another woman's name. But, when she gets to Ellis Island, there is a murder, and that name is the name of the prime suspect. When she set it in Manhattan, she thought I've just committed myself to doing research for every book for the rest of my life because she didn't know New York history. Hush Now, Don't You Cry is the eleventh book in the series. Molly is four years older, a little wiser. She just got married. She's still imprudent, though, and doesn't think things through.

Cara said she isn't French. But, she grew up in a Francophile family. Her father was a Francophile who loved French food. Her mother had to cook Julia Child's recipes. And, Black went to French Catholic schools where she was taught French by nuns. She was an eighteen-year-old, backpacking in Paris, and determined to use her French. One man listened to her, and then, with a British accent, told her you're using words we haven't used since 1900. The nuns taught an older version of French. To this day, France feels familiar, but different to her.

In 1984, a friend took Cara to the Marais, to the fourth arrondissement, the lower part, and pointing to a window, said, "That where my mother lived during the German Occupation." She was fourteen, wearing a yellow star and going to school. When she came home one day, her family was gone. The concierge and others took care of her during the war. In 1944, when the war ended, there  was a place people could go to get help finding their families. People put up signs asking if you have seen this family. A woman came up to Black's friend's mother, and said, "I saw your sister get off the train at Auschwitz."

Ten years later, Cara was in France with her family. She put her son to bed, and walked down the street, thinking what would these cobblestones say. What would have you done to survive? It took her three and a half years to write the first Aimée Leduc Investigations mystery, Murder in the Marais.

Black said she loved Sara Paretsky. She wanted her detective to be strong, but vulnerable. She has issues. She was raised by her father, a policeman, and there were police around the table at night. Aimée makes mistakes. Now, she's four years older. It was Rhys who mentioned that if anyone saw Midnight in Paris, they saw Duluc Detective Agency. That's the firm Cara  used as the basis for Leduc Investigations.

I wrapped up the program by asking the authors where they were going with their books. Rhys Bowen said she writes a series besides Molly Murphy. Her Royal Spyness series features a minor royal in the 1930s. That's the series she chuckles over. The last book in that series was Naughty in Nice. The next one in that series will be a Christmas mystery coming out in November, The Twelve Clues of Christmas. Rhys calls that series, "Downton Abbey with bodies." That series has been optioned for a movie. Now, they're saying it should start shooting in England in the third quarter of this year.

Cara Black told us she had submitted her manuscript to her editor for the next book in the Aimée Leduc Investigations. It will be set three months after Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

Libby Fischer Hellmann's next book is set in Cuba. It's her last revolutionary novel. She's still working on it. The book begins during the revolution. The second part takes place in the early 90s in Cuba when the economy collapsed. The third part will be in Chicago at the present time. The book covers three generations of the same family. Then, Hellmann will go back to her Georgia Davis series.

As always, it was a treat to welcome Rhys Bowen, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann to the Velma Teague Library for Authors @ The Teague.

Left to right - Rhys Bowen, Lesa Holstine, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann


Karen C said...

I just love your reports from Authors @ The Teague; the only thing I'm missing is the atmosphere! Thanks, Lesa

K9friend said...

Enjoyed your interview on Ann's blog and popped over to say hello. Very nice to meet you!

Critter Alley

Lesa said...

Maybe someday you can even be here for an event, Karen. I'm glad you enjoy the recaps. Thank you.

Lesa said...

Thanks for stopping by, Pat! I hope you come back once in a while.

Inside A Book said...

Oh how I wish I was there....but then again it feels like it with your recap!

It was a blast to hear you moderate the panel in Tucson. You did a super job keeping the enthusiasm going and the topic fresh and not redundant. I can certainly see why your Authors at the Teague are so popular. I look forward to trying a few new books.

Thanks for sharing!