However I had to go straight from this book to writing the next Molly Murphy, due out next March. And the subject matter was harrowing so I've spent a lot of this year in emotional overload. It's hard for me not to feel what my characters are going through, and in this case it's an earthquake. Molly goes to find her missing husband in San Francisco and her troubles are compounded when she experiences the 1906 great earthquake.
Fortunately the research part of this was easy for me. I have lived just outside San Francisco for forty years. I have taken my children to museums and exhibits and am quite familiar with the lie of the land and the extent of the quake damage. But for this book I read many of the first person accounts housed at the San Francisco Historical society. And it's the small personal observations that bring scenes to life. One that struck me was a description of the Chinese fleeing Chinatown. The men striding out, carrying their caged birds and women hobbling behind, some with bound feet. And others burning papers and burying them to appease the Earth Dragon
Of course I used these in my book. It's called TIME OF FOG AND FIRE. Here's a sample:
And all the while the shaking continued. A light had been left on in the stairwell. Now it flickered and jiggled around, sending crazy shadows dancing over the stairs. As I came out onto the landing someone was running down the stairs ahead of me. It was Li Na, with Liam in her arms. Thank heavens that sensible girl was carrying him outside to safety.
“Li Na. Wait. I’ll take him now,” I called.
But she didn’t stop. She wrenched open the front door and ran down the front steps.
“Li Na. Wait for me!” I shouted after her and ran down the stairs as fast as I could, clinging to the shaking bannister. The grandfather clock fell into the hall with a great clang and crash. Statues were toppling onto the marble floor, which was springing up in chunks as if with a life of its own.
“Earth dragon. Got to stop earth dragon!” Li Na shrieked as she ran out of the house.
Liam spotted me. “Mama!” he cried, struggling in her arms. But she didn’t stop. She was already out of the front door, down the steps and running at a great rate up California Street.
“Wait!” I shrieked, but she was striding out ahead of me, her cotton trousers not hampering her movements in the way that my dress over my nightgown did. What was she doing? Where was she taking my son? The world had stopped shaking but from the city below came the wail of sirens, cries for help. Electrical wires lay across the street, hissing and writhing like snakes as they sparked in the darkness. Some of the street lamps had gone out. It was horribly eerie. The mansions I passed seemed unscathed with people in night attire standing outside them, but bricks had been flung across the sidewalk from the almost-finished Fairmont Hotel. The first streaks of light appeared in the eastern sky.
Li Na had reached the crest of the hill where California Streets drops down sharply toward the Bay but still she didn’t stop. She jumped over piles of bricks with the ease of a gazelle and kept running down California Street. I followed, stumbling and tripping over the debris that littered the sidewalk, unable to see more than a foot or two in front of me. A pall of dust rose up around us, getting into my nose and throat. I read the street names as I passed them. Past Powell Street. Past Stockton. A sharp pain shot through my side and I gasped for breath. It was hard to run in my dainty shoes while she wore flat cotton slippers.
Crowds were now coming up the hill toward us. And among those crowds now were Chinese people—men in baggy trousers, with skull caps on their heads and long pigtails down their backs. They carried bundles of possessions or cages with small birds in them. Behind them women hobbled pitifully, trying to keep up on bound feet. We reached Grant Street and the beginning of Chinatown. I caught a glimpse of Li Na’s white tunic, far ahead of me. She turned left at Grant Avenue and vanished. I followed. I was thoroughly winded and finding it hard to breathe now in the dust and smoke that hung in the air.
We were now in the midst of utter destruction. The pall of dust gave everything an indistinct and unreal quality in the half light. Flimsy buildings had slid off foundations and were lying at drunken angles. Shops had spewed out contents, with vegetables and fruit rolling under our feet. What had been streets were now littered with fallen bricks and debris. From around me came the sounds of constant moaning, and in the distance the ringing of fire-truck bells, as small fires had broken out, creating pockets of hazy glow in the darkness. One of them was on my right—some kind of temple building had collapsed, its green and gold pagoda style roof now lying pancaked a few feet from the ground with smoke curling up around the edges. Further away black smoke was rising all around.
Grant Street was crowded with Chinese people. Some were trying to flee, dragging small carts of children and possessions. But others were kneeling on the ground, digging away furiously. Some were holding up pieces of paper to which they had set fire, then dropping them into holes in the ground. It would have been fascinating had I not been so terrified. I stepped gingerly past the burning papers and ran on. How would I ever find my son in this chaos?
“Li Na!” I shouted over the wails and sirens. It was impossible.
I'm currently doing the rewrites and polishing on TIME OF FOG AND FIRE.
It comes out next March. So do you enjoy learning about real history from books?
And I'm curious--who do you like best Molly or Georgie? This is a question I'm asked all the time and of course I ask them which of their children they love best. Impossible to answer.