BROKEN BLOSSOMS was my last book with Leisure Books, but it was the most fun to research. The title is taken from a 1919 silent movie starring Lillian Gish, a popular film star at the time. The film is a tragedy, set in the slums of London, and portrays the gentle romance between an opium-addicted Chinese man and a 15-year-old waif (played by Gish), who is eventually killed by her bigoted father.
While my book is far from a tragedy–it is a romance, after all!–the story depicts how opium had begun to grip the nation in its addicting fists. Opium smoking was first introduced to the West in the 1850s by European travellers, sailors and Chinese laborers who brought their habit to our shores. It didn’t take long for artists, writers and the wealthy to fall prey to the drug . . . or prostitutes, drifters and other low-lifes to follow suit.
Cocaine, hashish, ether, chloroform and absinthe became fashonable and exotic as society relished their new-found freedom to imbibe and experiment. Poets and novelists claimed opium stirred the muse and freed them from inhibition. Cinema exploited the craze and cashed in at the box-office. And so, too, did detective novels and true crime exposes, titillating their audiences by weaving danger and seduction into their tales.
Of course, in real life, opium has a darker side, and there were few places more dark than Chinatown in San Francisco in the mid- to late 1800s. Newspapers and government reporters painted horrific pictures of the poverty and filth in the opium dens. One hotel, the infamous Palace Hotel on Jackson Street, housed some 400 addicts living with a woeful shortage of privies, all contributing to the stench and deplorable conditions, veiled, of course, by the fumes from the ‘heavenly demon’ they lived for.
At this time, opium was not illegal–yet–but the drug was subject to stiff import taxes. Customs officials fought a never-ending battle to control the sheer volume of the shipments sliding into the San Francisco ports, and smugglers turned creative to maximize their profits.
And right about here is where BROKEN BLOSSOMS begins. Carleigh Chandler is the pampered daughter of a powerful and corrupt San Francisco judge who blackmails government agent, Trig Mathison, to keep his secret. The judge knows how to play dirty, and Trig puts up a good fight. Caught in between them, of course, is Carleigh, who does indeed learn her father’s secret and runs away to see for herself the woman she’s always been denied. Her mother.
Readers who delve into Trig and Carleigh’s story will see how opium consumed–and destroyed–lives. Trig learns that his fight against the evils which overpower the weak will never end, and Carleigh discovers there’s far more to life than comforts and money. They cling to the love they’ve found in each other and know there is little more important than that.
I’ve recently released BROKEN BLOSSOMS as an e-book, available now for only 99 cents! I can’t promise that price will last forever, so click here to buy a copy from Amazon for your Kindle!
So there you have it. A little history on opium in the 1800s. Believe me, I’ve barely scratched the surface, and maybe there’s a future blog about it, but for now, let’s talk opium. Do you know of any writers who were opium addicts? Can you give some of the slang for it? Seen any movies about it?
Join in the discussion! I don’t have author copies for BROKEN BLOSSOMS, but I’ll pick a winner for any of my backlist of Harlequin titles.