An odd job

This is a pretty strange job I have, when you come right down to it, considering that I’m a grown woman with grey hair and a mortgage.

I swim in the morning, not so much because it’s good for me and makes my arthritis go away for a while, but because the undemanding action encourages ideas to slip upward into consciousness. My pool is a sort of glorified hot tub with a fan at one end that one swims against, which its manufacturers call an Endless Pool although I refer to it as my Mindless Pool, because I doesn’t even have to pay enough attention to what I’m doing to turn at the end, all I need to do is just keep paddling away at whatever speed I’ve set the propeller. (And yeah, I know that’s a run-on sentence, Miss Nunnally, get off my back.) And although driving a car performs the same function, it really is not a great idea to drive while under the influence of Inspiration–I tend to come to and find myself sitting at a stop sign with the driver behind honking at me.

An odd job, in that a solid day’s work is the production of maybe fifteen hundred words, done sitting in comfort with the cat curled up by my leg. Even on a bad day that only takes me two or three hours.

And sometimes, a good day’s work, one that leaves me gloating and self-satisfied, is the production of one idea that can be encapsulated in a single sentence of notes.

Then, when I’ve done this activity for a few months, I send a stack of paper to a woman in New York who responds with comments that make it sound as if she thinks these marks on the page refer to real people (“Mary forgets all about Mr Long’s wound” instead of “You forgot to show Mary being sympathetic about Mr Long’s wound”) and then I sit for a few more months with the cat by my leg (although not as much, since I tend to be restless during the rewrite and he resents that) and then at some point I stand up and pack a bag and go talk to a whole lot of people, more people than I talk to in several weeks of normal life, and have everyone paying attention to me instead of the marks I’m putting on the page.

And then when I’m finished with that I go home and do all the stuff I’ve been putting off for weeks and weeks, and at a certain point sit down again and hope for a good day, the day when one tiny shining idea is a grand day’s work.

Yes; a decidedly strange job for a grown-up.


The comment about an English lit class by Writergirlrants reminds me, those of you who are enjoying the rants of this particular writer might not know that there are further mutterings on my web site, on the “LRK on: Whatever” page (a page which formerly bore the name of Mutterings).

Also, I’d be quite interested to know if anyone out there has ever used the material on the “Scholars Corner” page, be it bookmarks, cross references for school projects, or what have you. I’d like to make the web site useful, rather than having it just sitting and taking up too large a corner of a server somewhere.

Have you ever read one of my books for a reading group? If it was either “Folly” or “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”, did you make use of the suggested discussion questions on Scholars Corner?

And finally, if you haven’t responded to the survey, I’d urge you to do so. I don’t know if we’ve given away all 300 copies of The Game paperback, but if not you’ll get one, with a signed book plate. It’s on the home page.

Thanks, and as always, I appreciate feedback.

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  1. Anonymous on March 13, 2005 at 3:41 pm

    Laurie, you asked:
    “Also, I’d be quite interested to know if anyone out there has ever used the material on the “Scholars Corner” page…”

    Yes! I especially love the source list you gave for “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”. At the moment, I am working through the books by Pamela Horn that I can get through my University library, and having more fun than should be legal!

    I hope you aren’t thinking of getting rid of the Scholar’s Corner, Laurie. Don’t you dare! I visit that page more often than any other, save for your books page. (On which page, btw, you have the absolutely gorgeous and droolsome new cover art for the Mary Russell series. I’m going to have to buy the series all over again… oh, the agony.)

    The recent refurb of your website was wonderfully done, making it much easier to navigate. Unless you are thinking of adding more info or photos, please don’t change a thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    Maer aka “Merely a whim.”

  2. Mads on March 14, 2005 at 4:06 am

    I’ve also been known to use the information on the ‘Scholar’s Corner’: I’m just beginning research for a university essay on the experiences of British women during and after the Great War, so your list of books on that subject have been a great help with getting started!

  3. Erin on March 14, 2005 at 7:41 am

    I think your job sounds like a wonderful job and if I had a mind that could create characters and plot I would love to emulate what you do. Since I do not have such a mind, I am very greatful that you share your ideas and inspirations. Finals are next week and I don’t think I could get through without Russell; she’s a very comforting companion during exams.

    As for your question about the scholar’s corner on your site, I like it muchly. I am particularly fond of the recommended reading section because I am always looking for something new to pick up and I rather like your taste in books.

    The woman on the new covers for the Russell novels looks a bit like a paper doll, which is rather amusing. Same woman, same pose, same book and pipe; different robe. It’s great=)

  4. M.J. on March 14, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    Laurie, I do just what you do and for the same reason with the swimming. I kid around that if I can’t go swimming that day I can’t write.

  5. Jennifer Ice on March 14, 2005 at 6:23 pm

    I recommended The Beekeeper’s Aprentice to my book club and now they are all adicted to the Russell/Holmes saga. We all enjoyed the bookmarks and the questions encouraged a lively discussion. I would love to see a section of the scholars corner dedicated to The Game with references to Kim. I read Kim before The Game and found The Game much richer because of it. Your website encourages everyone to who has a book in them to work harder at this “odd job.” I hope that some day my odd job will be my only job.

  6. 2maple on March 14, 2005 at 7:52 pm

    I’e2’80’99m part of a ‘e2’80’a6well, book club/girls night out in a small rural Maine town and, despite the fact that they’e2’80’99d be welcome, husbands tend to vanish to distant corners when we appear. We have only a few ground rules:
    ‘e2’80’a2 No preplanned lessons/ questions allowed – this is for fun;

    ‘e2’80’a2 Books no one has read yet (or at most only one person) For your books, it’e2’80’99s a problem, as two of us have read most of them’e2’80’a6 but I just found out she hasn’e2’80’98t read Folly yet’e2’80’a6so, that might get thrown into one of this spring’e2’80’99s selections’e2’80’a6if spring ever gets here;

    ‘e2’80’a2 Books that are available in paperback so it doesn’e2’80’99t get too $$; and

    ‘e2’80’a2 Bring any other good books to share (your books have shown up/been talked about here; Keeping Watch showed up last week and went home with someone.)

    Discussions vary depending on our mood and what we’e2’80’99re reading’e2’80’a6generally about the subject matter (as half of us are teachers, we had a fascinating discussion on autism after reading ‘e2’80’9cThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) sometimes characters, writing or plot. The occasional bomb gets what it deserves’e2’80’a6ignored.

    Often, we end up hunting for more info on the subject matter; but not in books so much as on-line. Limited time and library access. A friend has a website, awesomestories, (sorry – not sure how to insert links, just Google it 🙂 that does a good job linking ‘e2’80’9cstories’e2’80’9d to underlying primary source materials (Library of Congress, British Museum, etc.) and might give you some ideas. A lot of teachers have picked her site up and use in their classrooms for just this reason.

  7. Anonymous on March 14, 2005 at 10:41 pm

    I’ve used the book markers, I thought that was a pretty neat idea. By the way, how do you get your cat to stay at your feet? When I sit down to write, my cat plops down right in front of my computer screen if I ignore him for too long.

  8. sinda on March 15, 2005 at 2:27 pm


    I keep a list of your recommended reading in my Blackberry – whenever I visit the bookstore, I break it open and look for a new author. I quite liked Penelope Lively, thank you! Do give us more.

    Thank you,

  9. Elle on March 16, 2005 at 8:49 pm


    I have been greatly enjoying your Mutterings and the comments. I think this is a great idea!

    I do have a question, though. I filled out the survey when I first received the emailed newsletter and I haven’t heard whether I am eligible for a copy of The Game, which is the only Russell book I don’t yet have. Should I have been notified?

  10. Parelle on March 17, 2005 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve always loved reading your essays on your work! It’s added so much to the reading of it – and at the heart, I’m historically inclined, so there’s nothing I like better than background information.

  11. Barbara Ann Cook on March 17, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    I envy you havinh a pool at home, which is not feasible in a NYC apt. Somehow I never get to a pool after work (wife, mother of 2 boys, lawyer, Scout leader, reader does not leave enough hours even for sleep on weekdays). I get to swim in hotel pools on business trips (once I swam in an outdoor pool on the roof of a hotel in Denver in December – burr) or in the lake on summer weekends. Swimming slow laps is a great time to think and let the mind wander.

    BA Cook

  12. Anonymous on April 1, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    Alas, since I do not live in the USA, I am not allowed to do the survey.

    Inge – 8-((

  13. Jaimee Drew on April 3, 2005 at 8:56 am

    I have to say I was very excited when I originally saw the book lists on your web site, which I actually copied into a word processing document and saved last year. I have read a few books from the your list, and have ended up on some interesting library tangents. Although in some cases I do find that our poor underfunded California public library doesn’t have a particular book I am seeking.

    My husband and I make weekly library trips (as our poor beleaguered book cases cannot withstand any more acquisitions), and I had been meandering aimlessly picking up books at random. I read often and quickly, so I try to get plenty of books each week to keep my mind busy. I really enjoyed ‘e2’80’9cThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’e2’80’9d.

    After savoring “The Game” last year, I of course had to reread “Kim”. I then had to peruse a few guide books for India and Syria, which led indirectly to “Seven Years in Tibet” as well. (One does hope that Mr. Holmes will eventually enlighten Mary further about his Tibetan travels at some point in the future).

    While in the travel section of my library, (which I have to say I generally overlook), I stumbled on Freya Stark, author of “The Valleys of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels”. I found a delightful new companion. If you have never read Ms. Stark, may I be ever so bold as to suggest her? She was a solitary female traveler in the Middle East in the 1930’e2’80’99s, working for her own wry amusement and the British government. She traveled (not unlike a certain Mary Russell) in many places that no European man had ever been, let alone a diminutive solitary female.

    So in a rather meandering way, let me say thank you so very much for the list of suggestions and citations. It is truly appreciated for those of us with an endless appetite for the fascinating and esoteric read.

    A side note about your dedication in “The Game”: our Long Beach, California librarians regularly set up a display featuring books that have been banned in various other U.S. public libraries during the year. I do love a subversive librarian, don’t you?

  14. Axia mathonta on April 10, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    Hello, Laurie –

    Your reading lists are great! I thoroughly enjoy being able to trace facts and ideas – makes the stories that much more believable (yes, I do take into account that you “lie for a living”).

    I wish more authors would provide the background that you do!

    A side note, for those who like to look below the surface to better understand the people in Western history: check out James Burke’s series, “The Day the Universe Changed.” I first watched it on TLC back in the 90’s, I believe, and was hooked right away. The guy does a credible job of looking at our society and how our view of the world has changed since Thales’ exploration of the eastern Med. Maps, medicine, politics, religion, math, art, geology, music, marketing, physics are all addressed with insight, humor, and an eye to linking one advance with another – and all in layman’s terms.

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