Q&A (2)

Really, no more questions. If we don’t hit yours on this round, it’e2’80’99s not that we don’e2’80’99t love you, we just want to let you have another chance on the first of next month.

Q: I was wondering why you, a straight woman, made Kate M a lesbian? It seems unusual to me.

A: Unusual is my middle name. Well, actually it’e2’80’99s Richardson, but’e2’80’a6

When I wrote A GRAVE TALENT it never occurred to me that stepping into the shoes of a lesbian might be odd, any more than it seemed strange to step into those of a cop or an Italian-American or a 1920s Anglo-American Jewish apprentice detective or a young American soldier in Vietnam. I write fiction, which entails putting on other skins. If you’e2’80’99re asking why Kate is a lesbian, all I can say is she just, as it were, ‘e2’80’9ccame out’e2’80’9d that way. (groan; sorry.) Looking back, I can see some of the reasons for her orientation’e2’80’94she’e2’80’99s an outsider in a paramilitary organization, the SFPD; I wanted her to befriend her male partner without the continual sexual tension of a man and a woman sitting in a car on stakeout. But basically, she is because she is, and experientially, I feel that I had no more active choice in the matter of her orientation than I had in Mary Russell’e2’80’99s height and religion.


A: First off, Dave, please don’e2’80’99t shout on your computer. Lower case is more polite.

And second, why on earth single out gay people to eliminate from your reading menu? Granted, some gay writers have graphic sex scenes that may make you uncomfortable, but can’e2’80’99t the same be said about heterosexual sex scenes? I don’e2’80’99t particularly like murderers, pedophiles, or drug dealers, but it’e2’80’99s pretty hard to avoid those characters if I want to read any crime fiction written for adults.

They’e2’80’99re just people, Dave, and in fact, they’e2’80’99re just fictional people. Try one, you might like them.

Tell you what: I’e2’80’99ll answer your question after you’e2’80’99ve had a look at a Martinelli.

Q: The TALL, BEARDED, BUT UNFOCUSED IRIS CELEBRITY asks, how … I mean HOW … do you develop the discipline to sit down and write every day? I feel like the old spiritual song that goes: “Sit down!” “No, I can’t sit down!” It’s not that I’m energetic and unable to settle down in a chair. It is focus and self-discipline I lack. How do you just say: “I’m going to start writing my new book on such-and-such a day”, and then actually do it? Enquiring minds want to know! I’m never short of ideas, plots, characters, etcetera. It is the sitting down and getting to work that trips me up.

A: Perhaps that’e2’80’99s the defining difference between a writer and a would-be writer: one puts marks on the page and the other thinks about it? Really, basically, a writer writes. Not everyone needs to be a writer, unless of course you’e2’80’99ve started on that course and your mortgage depends on your continuing. And in some ways, that situation is easier because there’e2’80’99s a DEADLINE nagging away and you know that the only way to meet it is to meet it.

I am not a particularly disciplined person. I enjoy writing, at least that’e2’80’99s why I got started, and although there are times when it is painful and I’e2’80’99d really rather go clean the oven, it is a daily part of my life and if too long goes by without producing words (like now) I begin to get jittery.

If you love it, do it; if it’e2’80’99s a pain, then just play with it when you feel like it. There’s no rule that says you have to produce a book before you die.

Q: I am sure you have been asked this a thousand times—how did you decide to write BEEK[EEPER’e2’80’99S APPRENTICE]? and succeed with a Holmes story that is very believable? Also, why not have the two work side by side as a pair? Too many of your books separate Holmes and Russell with one having very little to do with actually solving the mystery. Thanks.

A: Mary Russell began as the thought, What would Sherlock Holmes look like if the Victorian gentleman detective were a woman? And by extension, a young, twentieth century, feminist woman?

Although I agree that the scenes in the books where they are together have a lot of spark, I find that they work better as accents, rather than long-term episodes. And these are, after all, Mary Russell novels, not Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Holmes is a supporting character, and thus is offstage a great deal.

Q: TERRI wants to know, will the first 4 Martinellis really be re-released??

A: Bantam in its wisdom has decided to re-release the four Martinelli books in the spring of 2007, to accompany the paperback of THE ART OF DETECTION. I hope that the earlier books will then be given covers that have some vague resemblance to each other. In the meantime, they’e2’80’99re all in print and readily available, just without new cover art.

Q: PEN notes, It always appears to me that you somehow enjoy writing, speaking about your Mary Russell/Holmes novels more than the Kate Martinelli ones. Am I wrong? I only say this because even in the new KM book you are bringing in Holmes as though you can’t bear to leave him out.

A: I like them both, although Russell is no doubt more fun than Kate Martinelli. She’s more pure fantasy, and certainly less hedged about by the details of modern crime-fighting: No Miranda rights there.

The tie-in between Martinelli and Holmes had its inspiration in a conversation with my editor, in which she wistfully said that the sales department sure would like it if the two series could be made to overlap in some way. My immediate reaction was one of incredulity tinged with scorn: What, have a 105 year-old Russell charged with murder or something? Reveal that Kate Martinelli is Russell’e2’80’99s granddaughter? Oh, come on!

However, the conversation acted like that bit of grit that an oyster can only get rid of by growing a lot of smooth shiny stuff around. Two weeks later I was on the phone to her again, saying, ‘e2’80’9cI really couldn’e2’80’99t bring the two series together but if I could, it would be like this.’e2’80’9d

A pearl was born.

And the lesson here, children? The editor is always right.

Q: KLC the BookWorm wants to know, Are we going to see more of the trunk full of clues that was featured in the forewords?

A: Each of the Russells contains one of those items from the BEEKEEPER’e2’80’99S APPRENTICE forward. Pretty soon I’e2’80’99m going to run out of things to plant, and will have to rewrite the forward to compensate.

But what most people don’e2’80’99t know is that each of the Martinellis contains an homage to Dorothy L. Sayers. Can you find them?

More Q&A tomorrow.

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  1. dave lamson on January 5, 2006 at 6:34 pm


  2. KLCtheBookWorm on January 5, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    My boyfriend has eye problems too–nearly blind with contacts. He compensates by enlarging his screen resolutions, and the fonts of what he reads–not by breaking online etiquette.

  3. Terminaldegree on January 5, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    Well, in “A Letter of Mary,” Lord Peter appears out at the country estate and runs interference for Mary so she can stay “undercover.”

    And now I have to go re-read the others to find the other Sayers bits! How on earth did I miss them?

    So glad you include her middle initial. So many folks omit it…

  4. snarkhunter on January 5, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    As terminaldegree pointed out, Lord Peter appears in A Letter of Mary, and I am convinced that he’s also in A Monstrous Regiment of Women. Is he not the “blond aristocrat” mentioned only by that description in a brief scene between Russell and some friends at the university? When I first read AMRW, I was absolutely convinced that the blond was Peter, and A Letter of Mary convinced me further. 🙂

    I’m at a bit of a loss for the specific allusions in the other books (partly b/c I’m still a bit behind on my Sayers reading), but Russell’s absorption in academics, particularly in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, always reminds me a bit of Harriet Vane’s occasional longing in Gaudy Night (one of my very favorite novels) to immerse herself in the semi-cloistered life of a female don. Especially as Russell, like Harriet, learns that the apparent security and tranquility of that life is a facade or even an out-and-out lie. (Which, of course, any good academic could tell you anyway. ::g::)

  5. Trix on January 6, 2006 at 12:12 am

    Yes, Dave, I’m sorry, but if you can read things as published on the web, you can certainly write them the same way.

    Getting back to the matter at hand – Sayer homages in the Martinelli books! Eek. I’d better get up-to-date with Sayers so I can hunt them down.

    It’s good to have the clarification about the Russell books being, in fact, about Russell rather than Holmes. I love Russell (in a literary way) and I like how her mind works. As you say, the interplay with Holmes is good “spice” for the story.

    The nice thing about Kate Martinelli is that she is such a fully-formed character. Her lesbianism is definitely just another aspect of herself without being played on as being some quirky or “ghetto” identity. She’s utterly convincing to this lesbo. And she’s just another person, indeed.

    No-one seems to feel the need to highlight queer/black/whatever authors writing about the majority group of the day. If it’s done with adequate thought, it’s perfectly good in reverse. Of course, there are plenty of instances where adequate thought is not given to minority characters. *sigh* Speed the day when giving minority characters sufficient thought – and getting it right – is not grounds for extra comment (other than the usual congratulations on being a good author in general).

  6. Anonymous on January 6, 2006 at 1:02 am

    OUCH!!! The would-be-writer jibe really hurts. I have been writing for the love of writing since I was a tiny child. I always expected to be a writer, but life got in the way (as it often does). Now that the children are raised (as a single parent, working full-time as well), the sleep apnea in abeyance (after years of fighting for air and sleep in a genuine sluggishness too grim to describe) , I am retired and not quite senile and moderately healthy. My question was a serious one. I think you inadvertantly answered it … having a waiting editor and a deadline. I know that is what propels me towards finishing the iris articles I write. I have spent a lifetime preparing myself to be a novelist, and I am dismayed by my inability to settle to the task. There was a time when I couldn’t “not” write, but ill health stole that from me, and I am groping to find it again. I write emails and many long snailmail letters, and I journal … yet I can’t seem to settle to the most important writing of all. And I do have something worthwhile to say. Okay? Hirsute Irisarian

  7. Anonymous on January 6, 2006 at 2:36 am

    “I write emails and many long snailmail letters, and I journal … yet I can’t seem to settle to the most important writing of all. And I do have something worthwhile to say.”

    My nickel’s worth of advice for today 🙂 Is there anyway you could take those letters and those journals and turn them into fiction??

    I’m certain more than once I’ve read that you should start writing about those things you know the most. (my grammars having problems as I search for words 🙂 ) Either way.. I envy you your writing, I have a horrible time even writing a short journal. I go months at a time without writing in it.


  8. Deb on January 6, 2006 at 2:59 am

    Not the Russell books, guys. The Martinellis—now I have to go reread them to find them.

  9. Anonymous on January 6, 2006 at 3:46 am

    This is an unrelated comment really, but I love Folly and want more Rae. Russell is great too, but the madness elements in some of your other books are—if I were a writer I would have a word that means thought provoking/ intriguing/ and scarily real. I love your books. All of them.

  10. Anonymous on January 6, 2006 at 4:35 am

    Thanks for answering our questions. We probably have little in common in life, but I appreciate your humanistic/liberal lean on many subjects! Often I think I am alone in the way I think, the you write something that makes me believe others are out there. Then my daughter gave me a magnet ‘ribbon’ for my car (hate those things!) that read: “Just pretend. Everything is ok”. When I stopped laughing, I put it on my car where it stayed for exactly 6 hours before someone took it. Well, maybe they got a good laugh too!

  11. 2maple on January 6, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Wow – This post has more pepper than most!…? But at the same time, it’s nice to know about somethings I’ve always wondered about (but didn’t want to ask redundant or repetitive questions)

    …and to the iris lady (I love the irises in my garden 🙂 – I know what it is to have too many demands and or competing interests to be able to get “far enough away” mentally to focus and have had to put certain interests aside for “later”. My suggestion would be instead of driving toward a result, enjoy the process. If it takes you somewhere great, if not, you’ve had some fun streching you mind. When I get overwhelmed by the size of something I need to acomplish, I try break it into smaller pieces. Letters can create a great book – I know someone who loved to write that wrote a letter a day to all his grandchildren for a year. Each was just a page or 2 and they had to have something funny, something interesting and be understandable by the youngest one. It’s one of the most wonderful family legacies I’ve ever heard of.

  12. Terminaldegree on January 7, 2006 at 12:53 am

    Not the Russell books, guys. The Martinellis…

    Oops. I read too fast. 🙂

  13. Anonymous on January 9, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    OK, I’ve been wandering elsewhere and caught the bait re KM just now; went off to read To Play the Fool in one day. Say, that’s a great book! And forget my previous remarks that I can’t read KM. the homage there is in the prefatory remarks, nearly direct quote of the prefatory remarks from Gaudy Night. Now to read a few more. –Meredith T.

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