Feb’e2’80’99s Q&A (2)

Q: Kay asks, Laurie-I’m wondering when you write a series (if, in fact, you meant to) do you visualise several books into the future, or do they come to you one adventure at a time?
PS Loved Cat’s Paw–there were elements of Russell in there!

A: Elements of Russell in the story of a middle-school basketball coach? Hmmm, okay.

As to the first question, the answer is both. Sometimes I know that I’e2’80’99ll want to do such and such with a later book, so I’e2’80’99ll lay the groundwork for it. But because I don’e2’80’99t outline anything or know what I’e2’80’99m doing until I do it, I try to leave it very general. I had some problems working Russell’e2’80’99s backstory into LOCKED ROOMS, for example, since that history was given in THE BEEKEEPER’e2’80’99S APPRENTICE, written nearly fifteen years before.

Two examples of groundwork-laying are the chapter in BEEKEEPER when Russell and Holmes trundle off to Palestine, since I vaguely knew I wanted to write a book about the country and the time, but within the confines of BEEKEEPER was not the place for it. And in THE GAME, there is a mysterious person who dogs their heels on the boat down the Suez Canal and Red Sea, followed by a possible murder attempt, which is not resolved until the next book, LOCKED ROOMS.

Of course, the problem with allowing things to dangle is that you get reviews that use those unresolved plot twists as evidence that 1) you don’e2’80’99t know what you’e2’80’99re doing or 2) you’e2’80’99re getting sloppy as you become more successful. Since professionals don’e2’80’99t sit down and write sharp-tongued rebuttal letters to reviewers, there’e2’80’99s not much you can do except tell yourself, Man, he’e2’80’99ll find out how wrong he was next year this time. Then of course the next book is given to someone else for review. Sigh.

Q: Have you had any feedback from Vietnam vets on the Vietnam portion of Keeping Watch? I thought you did a tremendous job on that part, and hope someone who was there congratulated you on it (instead of nit-picking.)

A: I have had very little picking of Vietnamese nits with KEEPING WATCH, and much praise with how I got it right, some of it from men who should know. Which surprised me, actually, since the research I did was often confusing, even contradictory. (Odd, for an event in the recent past, and so heavily bureaucratized, as that war.) Techniques and equipment standard at the beginning of the war were out of date by its end, and seemed even to vary from one part of the country to the next.

As with any such piece of writing, the trick lies in nailing the telling details. You’e2’80’99ll be forgiven for getting the contents of the C-rations slightly wrong if you get the men’e2’80’99s attitude about it right. A vet will overlook a mistake in the day of the week the Army’e2’80’99s malaria pills were handed out if the sensation of quinine buzzing through the veins is given clearly enough.

Q: Dianna asks, From the oh-too brief appearance of Lord Peter, and the previous month’s response on Sayers homage among Kate’s novels (by the way, is the one in The Art of Detection included in the sample?), it’s quite clear you’re a fan of Dorothy Sayers. Do you see any comparisons between Harriet and Mary? How do you think the pair of them would interact if they met?

A: No, there is no direct Sayers homage in the web site’e2’80’99s excerpt from THE ART OF DETECTION. You have to wait until May 30.

Frankly, much as I love her writing, I think Sayers had some problems with the idea of strong women. Harriet runs Lord Peter through merry hell, but without him she’e2’80’99s a pretty two-dimensional character. Can you imagine a Harriet Vane series? I think Russell would be polite to Harriett, interested in her profession and in her personal experience with being charged with murder, but she might not take her altogether seriously.

But I could be wrong. I’e2’80’99ll have to think about it.

Q: From Rebecca comes, The specific question about O Jerusalem made me think of a somewhat similar one of my own. Margery’s miraculous healing in MREG has made me curious ever since I read it. One of Holmes’s defining traits (beginning from the canon) has been absolute disbelief in the supernatural, yet no rational explanation is ever offered for Margery’s healing. I was wondering why you wrote that the way you did? A “miraculous” event just seems out of place in a story about Sherlock Holmes.

A: Yes, I was rather surprised when my editor didn’e2’80’99t fight me over that passage. But I put it in, and would have argued to leave it in, precisely because of its lack of rationality. The world is full of unexplained happenings. The power of the mind over the body can be immense. I do not believe in miracles, but I know they happen, or at any rate, inexplicable things take place that, for lack of a better term, are called miraculous. MONSTROUS REGIMENT is the story of a mystic, a woman with a deep and personal relationship with the Divine. I don’e2’80’99t care if you regard that relationship as real or as delusional, and from the point of view of the novel, it doesn’e2’80’99t matter: to Margery Childe herself, that relationship is real, and powerful enough to heal injury.

Q: And Molly’e2’80’99s related query: I am currently re-reading the Mary Russell series, and am currently in the middle of A Monstrous Regiment of Women. A question occurred to me as I was reading it today, and I was glad to notice that you had posted the request for questions. Is Margery Childe a real person, or based on someone real, at least with regards to the Temple and the work she does there?

A: The short answer is, no. The longer answer is, Margery is what Aimee Temple McPherson might have looked like if Sister Aimee had been the real thing.

Q: Emma says, I think I have the most trivial question here! Does anyone actually smuggle freon in the USA? Or was that your own idea for Folly?

A: Actually yes, once upon a time people smuggled Freon, and may still do for all I know. It’e2’80’99s vicious on the environment, but it makes for more efficient refrigeration than the current eco-friendly substitutes, so I’e2’80’99m sure it’e2’80’99s brought in over the border sometimes.

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  1. Anonymous on February 2, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks for answering my question. and yes, I did think there were elements of Russell in the story about the middle school basketball coach. I thought the whole dream thing was very Russell ala Locked Rooms. Plus the rowboat incident made ne think of the Moor and dragging little what’s his name out of the quarry in from of the reverend’s home. Sorry–I just love the Russell books.


  2. Anonymous on February 2, 2006 at 3:29 pm


    What do those dumb reviewers know about a good mystery, anyway?


  3. Dianna on February 3, 2006 at 1:30 am

    Thank you very much for answering my question! I could see that reaction from Russell, though the other thing I hadn’t considered is that she is much more of an age with Peter than with Harriet, I suppose.

    And to explain what I thought could be a Sayers reference:
    The answer was, he took it very far indeed. A subject of Victoria Regina would have felt instantly at home, with the furniture, the dusty house-plants (aspidistra? Kate’e2’80’99s mind provided) and the fountains of pampas-grass and peacock feathers. ) while
    Busman’s Honeymoon features that particularly prickly plant in certain scenes, including “Hush! never blaspheme the aspidistra. It’s very unlucky. “

  4. Anonymous on February 3, 2006 at 3:36 am

    Lord Peter Wimsey is described as born in 1890, Harriet Vane’s age varies among books but probably born 1901-03, Mary Russell is described as born in 1900. So she is more of an age with Harriet than Peter. They would have overlapped at Oxford’s Sommerville College.

  5. Parelle on February 3, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Ah, thank you for correcting my mistake in their ages.

  6. Vicki Larson on February 3, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    The person I am most intrigued by in the Sayers books is Bunter. I would adore having a Bunter in my life. A person dedicated to my well being and at my beck and call. Is there space for such a character in the Russell books? Probably not. Sigh.

  7. Anonymous on February 3, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    Regarding Bunter, and someone at your beck and call: in the Russell/Holmes books, it’s Mrs. Hudson, but R/H don’t do a lot of becking and calling, so she is not too noticeable. But in Beekeeper’s, remember there is the scene where Russell is lambasting Holmes in the cab on the way to the wharf about how she won’t put up with him not eating, etc., and the cabby says something like “and while you’re at it, tell him to wash his own socks.” Russell a bit later reminds Holmes that Mrs. Hudson can wash his socks. Laurie did write a short story which I think is “Mrs. Hudson’s case.”

  8. Dianna, who forgets she's not always Parelle on February 4, 2006 at 6:37 am

    Laurie did write a short story which I think is “Mrs. Hudson’s case.”
    Hmm, where could this be found?

    The Q’s, actually come to mind. They are unobtrusive, but available as necessary. Q even has a bit of Bunter’s well praticed distain. I’m rather fond of them, and wish they would appear more often! Thing is, I think that Russell and Holmes are too independent – and cautious – to ever have and keep a privileged family retainer. Lord Peter at least has reasonable habits, but chemical experiments? Strange and unlikely costumes? Stranger hours? It’s alot to ask for!

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