A while back, I read Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio, a fictional account of a notorious con-woman named May Dugas. If you’re a fan of sassy, strong and clever women who stop at nothing to get what they want, this is a tale for you. I absolutely loved reading about May’s travels throughout the world and her fabulous taste for everything expensive.
If you had to describe Parlor Games in 140 characters, what would you say?
Parlor Games tells the true story of the enchanting May Dugas, whom the Pinkerton Detectives dubbed the most dangerous woman in the world.
What about the real May Dugas inspired you to write a fictional account of her story? What are the main differences between your May and the real May?
May, who came of age during the Gilded Age, was loved by family and close friends but considered notorious by most others. Her exploits attracted the attention of the Pinkerton Detectives, one of whom doggedly pursued her around the globe. How could I resist telling her tale?
May Dugas was most likely a rather inscrutable character. I imagine she didn’t reveal much about herself to others. Thus, my interpretation is just that—my rendition of her motives and inner life, albeit told in first person as she herself might have. In my novel, the trial recounted at intervals during the telling of her story presents others’ views of her, so the reader can make her/his own judgment about May’s real character.
In modern terms, many readers would describe May Dugas of Parlor Games as a gold-digger. In your opinion, what is her main motivation for her crimes?
This, of course, is a central question of the novel. There are many possible motivations—all of which May conveys along the way. She came from poor beginnings and, after her father’s death, took it upon herself to provide support for her family. She wished to see the world, and adventuring about required a goodly amount of money. She was cunning and no doubt loved the game of outsmarting and extracting money from rich gentlemen. And, of course, a woman on her own must find some means to support herself, mustn’t she? I won’t reveal my opinion on the matter, however, because I have tried to honestly portray her adventures and allow the reader to mull over the question of motivation.
Of all the exotic locations that May travels to in Parlor Games, which is your favourite and why?
I found May’s sojourn in Shanghai quite exciting. It was her first foray out of the country, and it was chosen more out of necessity than anything else (since she fled on the first ship out of San Francisco after an exploit gone slightly awry). She landed in this completely different culture, surrounded by a few Brits and crowds of Chinese, and she struggles through adversity as she navigates this strange place. I had the good fortune myself to travel to several Chinese destinations in 1985, not many years after it re-opened to the West in the wake of the communist revolution. I found it a truly fascinating place—the masses, the bicycles, the chatter—all of it transported me to a world entirely different from the U.S. or Canada.
Rubies or emeralds?
Diamonds or pearls? Heavens, how can one possibly choose? I’ll take thirty of each.
Prenup or no-Prenup? None. Why take the fun out of it all?
Downton Abbey or Boardwalk Empire? Downton Abbey
Friend or enemy of May Dugas? Undying (but vigilant) friend