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Thursday, August 12, 2010

About My Life - Guest Post by M. L. Malcolm

I have the great pleasure of welcoming author M. L. Malcolm today to The Maiden's Court. Her wonderful new book, Heart of Lies was released this past June and you can read my glowing review here. Without further adieu...

About My Life

Guest Post by M. L. Malcolm, Author of
Heart of Lies

My mother-in-law was born in Germany. Over the years I collected many riveting anecdotes about how various members of her family had managed to escape the Nazis. One of them made it to Shanghai, a city whose history had fascinated me ever since I visited it as a tourist back in 1988. This incredible family history provided the makings of a great book, but I didn’t really want to write a WWII story, so I looked for a way to explore those experiences in a meaningful way within a different historical context: another time and place.

My husband’s grandfather was born in Budapest in 1901, so that’s where I began my research. I found out that by the turn of the 19th century the Hungarian capital was in the throes of a true renaissance. While the rural population of Hungary lived in conditions unchanged since the middle ages, the citizens of Budapest enjoyed innovations in engineering, technology, architecture and the arts; for example, it had the second underground subway system in Europe.

When World War I ended, with Hungary on the losing side, the country fell into complete economic and social chaos. Soviet Russia capitalized on the mess by helping to set up a communist government led by a Hungarian of Jewish heritage. This regime used extreme violence to counter any resistance to its “reforms,” and the whole disaster ended with a Romanian invasion. The Hungarian war hero Admiral Nicholas Horthy finally seized control, but some of his followers sought vengeance for the “red terror” as well as the empire’s demise, so they began slaughtering communists, Jews (communist or not) and others deemed “intellectuals.” During this “white terror” they killed an estimated 5,000 people.

The events in Hungary after World War I struck me as a tragic precursor to the Holocaust, so I chose that period as the starting point for Heart of Lies. Then I looked for an actual historical event that I could incorporate as the reason for my main character, Leo Hoffman, to have to flee to Shanghai. I came across a Hungarian counterfeiting scandal that had international ramifications; it was the perfect catalyst for Leo’s escape, and the timing enabled me to move the action to Shanghai and write about that amazing place during its “golden age.”

Because of agreements negotiated by several different Western countries, Chinese law did not apply to citizens of these so-called “treaty nations” while they were in Shanghai. From the 1840's until just before World War II it was the only place in the civilized world where you could enter without a passport or a visa and just set up shop. Opium smugglers mingled easily with bankers and industrialists, while the city’s minimal entry requirements enabled over 20,000 Jews to survive the Holocaust by escaping to Shanghai.

During this phase of my research I discovered the notorious Shanghai gangster, Du Yue-sheng, and he provided a perfect nemesis for my main character, Leo Hoffman. I did change one letter in the spelling of Du’s name, because his nickname was “Big Ears,” which I didn’t find very villainous.

I’d like to think that Heart of Lies is not only historically accurate, it’s also historically driven, and hopefully provides some very entertaining educational bits along the way, taking full advantage of the magic of time and place.

Although born in New York, M.L. Malcolm spent most of her childhood in Florida. Her education gradually brought her back north, as she earned degrees from Emory University and Harvard Law School. However, after practicing law for three years, M.L. determined that "she and the law were not meant for each other," and she is now a self-described "recovering attorney."

M.L. has won several awards for her fiction, including special recognition in the prestigious Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Competition, and a silver medal from ForeWord Magazine for Best Historical Fiction Book of the Year 2009. She has also amassed an impressive hat collection (and yes, she does wear them). Her novel, Heart of Lies, was published in June of 2010 by HarperCollins.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Well she certainly has a good face for a hat :)

    What a wonderful and unique background. Perfect fodder for a novel. Never heard about the Shanghai aspect before and it just amazes me that we still have so many wonderful stories of survival from this period. GReat post.

  2. I do find books set in WWII to be extremely fascinating. Thanks for the post.

  3. Thanks for posting--I know very little about Hungary's history, so this is fascinating! Will be on the lookout for M.L.'s book!

    And a big huzzah for hat-wearing!!

  4. Great interview. Interesting family history. This is a time and part of history few people are familiar with.
    I remember when I was in the 5th grade, we had a boy from Hungary who joined our class. He spoke no english and spent much of his time drawing pictures. Nearly all were of tanks, planes, soldiers, fighting, and people being killed. I don't know how much of his family was able to escape the Russian invasion.
    I am so glad Harper Collins picked you up. I have heard of many authors having their publisher going out of business or being dropped or cut back by their publishers.
    Best of luck with HEART OF LIES and with its sequel.


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