Today is the big release day for the third in the Old Los Angeles series – Death of the Chinese Field Hands. It was not an easy book to write, but I have to say that I’m pleased by how it came out.
The book starts with an actual event in Los Angeles history. On October 24, 1871, eighteen Chinese men were lynched during a riot. My character, physician and winemaker Maddie Wilcox, is of course, there, and initially thinks that’s the end of it. Especially since the three Chinese field hands that she has hired stay safely on her ranch. Until one of the hands is found strangled in her vineyard.
What made the book so insanely difficult was not only dealing with such a horrific event, but also with the casual racism of the day. As bad a problem we have with racism today – and I do not want to minimize it – it used to be a lot worse.
It was not only acceptable to refer to non-Whites in the most derogatory terms, it was expected. In fact, the Calle de los Negros had another name among the English-speaking and it is a highly offensive term nowadays.
There were some pockets of enlightenment among Whites regarding “others,” often among those of the Quaker tradition, aka Friends church. That is one of the reasons that I suggested that Maddie’s beloved mother may have been one, albeit in secret since the family is staunch Congregationalist.
And there were some other challenges. Ever since I made Maddie a doctor in Los Angeles, I had been looking and looking for when she would have heard about sterile surgery. I knew that Joseph Lister had written his famous article about it around 1867 (maybe earlier). But had the information made its way across the Atlantic from Edinburgh, where Lister lived, over the North American continent, to Los Angeles by 1871?
Wouldn’t you know, it had, which I found out around the time I was getting Chinese Field Hands through its last round of editing. I found a website that has posted .pdfs of original medical journals, some dating all the way back to the late 18th Century. One of those journals was the two-year, single-volume California Medical Gazette from 1868-69. The first article in the journal was about the mal-airia, or bad air, theory of disease. Further in was Joseph Lister’s article on germ theory and antiseptic surgery. ARGH!!
Fortunately, in the previous book, Death of the City Marshal, I burned up Maddie’s adobe, along with all her journals. So… If she’d forgotten that she’d read the article in the earlier two books, I had a reason why.
It figures. It’s always the facts that you’re sure you know that aren’t facts. Which is why I try to triple-check everything I write. Alas, I am not perfect, but I try to find a way to make things work for me.
Now, back to work on the next book.