On Saturday I was asked to speak at the re-opening of one of the Santa Cruz libraries, this the Live Oak branch. I rarely say no to libraries, particularly those within driving distance, so I went, and talked about beginnings–of libraries, of readers (my early days of reading having been in the central branch of this same library in the fifties,) and of books.

For the purpose I brought along copies of the last two books, both Russell novels, THE GAME and LOCKED ROOMS (at the end donating them to the library, whose shelves are still fairly bare.) I read the prologue for both books, and talked about them.

It was interesting, to look at both books in that way. THE GAME begins with a scene where the protagonist is more or less tied to the tracks with the train bearing down on her, or anyway a man with a knife. It is a scene I pick up a couple hundred pages later in the book itself, word for word, only this time the why and wherefore of the scene is known, which changes its meaning entirely. It is deliberately melodramatic, full of sensory information and evocative vocabulary (“a circle of freshly lit torches cracked and flared in the slight evening breeze” and “the sough and sigh of the torches.”) The book itself is a romp set in India, and the prologue sets the tone for the tale that follows.

LOCKED ROOMS, on the other hand, is the story of the protagonist’s troubling exploration of her past. The introduction there is three dreams, appropriately disturbing and incomprehensible, that together form the body of Russell’s investigation into her own history. Dreams are tricky things to use fictionally, because like sex scenes they tend to go dead on the page, but I needed to use them here because they were the voice from Russell’s unconscious, the only voice from her that can be trusted to tell the truth throughout the book.

And of course, I talked about the beginnings of the one I’m working on now, TOUCHSTONE. I’d written a sort of beginning when I first came up with the idea eighteen months ago, but as it’s pure backstory it’s not the sort of thing you can start a book with. So I gave the book a proper beginning, opening with a car working its way up a rural lane (those of you who read this blog regularly will easily guess that lane to be in Cornwall) and went from there.

What I had not expected was humor. Faint and English, found in an ever-so-slightly arch choice of words and images, but for me quite clear. I hadn’t thought of humor in this book at all, and perhaps when I get further on it will become obvious that humor here, even of the faint and English variety, is inappropriate, and I will remove it.

But it is a beginning.

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  1. Anonymous on January 16, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    Brava! Humor, especially the dry, British kind, is a delightful addition. I hope you’ll be able to successfully incorporate it into your new book. I am unable to write anything serious, myself. The humor is always lying just beneath the surface, and floats to the top, whether I intend it or not. Perhaps that is now happening to you, as well. I will eagerly await this new offering. Iris Lady.

  2. Bex on January 16, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    I’ve often found the Russell series often delightfully funny because of Russell’s dry sense of humour. I don’t know much you have intended to show Russell’s humourous side, but it would be a shame to get rid of it completely. I feel that Russell wouldn’t be a character to feel sympathy for without it. Certainly humour gives a person a livliness that would otherwise be missing in their characters – I know plenty of academics that are dull beyond belief because they lack any kind of humour despite being brilliant.

  3. Trix on January 17, 2006 at 3:05 am

    I’d like to go with the consensus so far, in that I really enjoy some humour as a leavening ingredient to a book, particularly when the subject matter is serious. Also, apropriate dry humour seems to often have the effect of throwing the seriousness into relief – like the old saw of needing light to see the shadows.

    If it works out in the context of the new book, that’d be wonderful.

  4. sinda on January 17, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    I’ll admit up front, this isn’t pro or con humor. Rather, it’s a gratitude post.

    It was cold and wet last night (I live in Texas, and that’s an anomaly these days) so I lit a fire, and picked up Locked Rooms for my second read. I’ve admitted here before that the beginning of The Game really set the stage for me – so well, I was tense for the entire book, waiting for something dreadful.

    The beginning of Locked Rooms was great, it laid out the premise and the path of the book perfectly. I decided to pause where Holmes’s voice picked up – I’ll finish it tonight.

    Thanks for keeping me compnay on a dark night!

  5. Roxanne on January 17, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    Dear Ms. King:

    I find your (your characters’/whoever’s) humor delightful. It is one of my favorite things about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. In fact, as I was rereading Beekeeper, my loud laughter intrigued my 12-year-old daughter and, as a result, she has since read all of your Russell books.
    Human beings utilize laughter and humor for relief, as a defense mechanism, as sarcasm, for multiple reasons. And good humor takes intelligence. You have a marvelous sense of humor. It is a gift–for you and for the readers who benefit from your use of it. Please don’t stop. Some days I know I need a little help smiling. Roxanne

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