March madness (1)

Okay, friends, I’e2’80’99ve got enough questions here to keep me busy for the next month or two, let’e2’80’99s save any others for April, okay? Thanks.

Q: Karen asks: Now for a nit-picky question from a former academic: In MRW, Mary is abducted on her way to Oxford to present a paper with Duncan. Does she ever get to present it?

A: Alas, the rigors of academic life in Oxford are so unforgiving. However, I am sure that in the months between MONSTROUS REGIMENT and A LETTER OF MARY she’e2’80’99d have found time to reschedule. What else might she have been doing, after all?

Q: From Geri: Your books have such a strong sense of place (one of my favorite things about my favorite writers). How do you go about developing the sense of place. Do you make numerous visits, take photographs, ?

A: I never write about a place I haven’e2’80’99t been to, well, almost never. And I rarely visit a place without reading up on it beforehand, preferably by natives and (if the book is historical) in work written near the time. Mostly I love old guide books (waiving the ‘e2’80’9cnatives’e2’80’9d part of the rule) because unlike their modern counterparts, they’e2’80’99re honest and personal. You can feel the discomforts of the Baedeker’e2’80’99s guy when he writes so feelingly, ‘e2’80’9cThe divans are mostly infested with fleas.’e2’80’9d

I usually have some pictures tacked up where I write, not necessarily about the specific places but evocative shots that remind me of what I noted most about that specific patch of countryside. I’ll be putting up a couple of those for THE ART OF DETECTION during the spring, so you can see what I was looking at as I wrote the book.

Q: Shari says, I love, love, love the Mary Russell series, but I need something else to read! Would you share some of your most recent “favorite reads”?

A: At the moment, as you may know if you read the blog regularly, I’e2’80’99m heavily immersed in boy books. So I turn from my turgid 600 page history of the FBI and pick up Bob Crais or Tom Perry’e2’80’94hardly compatible with Russell’e2’80’99s style. I’e2’80’99d suggest you take a look at my web site’e2’80’99s ‘e2’80’9cScholar’e2’80’99s Corner page’e2’80’9d and scroll down to the General Reading section. It’e2’80’99s woefully out of date, I know, and I hope to add to it in the renovations this spring, but it gives you some idea of what I like.

Q: Two questions on research, one from Sara: How do you approach research? Do you prefer to dive into books, or travel, or just blue-sky imagine first?

‘e2’80’a6and the other from hgladney: You may have already answered this earlier, but I wonder how you work on period details’e2’80’a6 When you write about period details, do you also go to the effort of listening to period music, and looking at costume, and so on?

A: I generally do preliminary research into whatever specific place or event I’e2’80’99m thinking about before I get into a book, so I know the major players and themes involved. But I prefer to leave the more detailed research for later, when I know more clearly exactly what I need. If I were one of those clear-minded writers who works to an outline, I might be able to assemble all my material beforehand, but since I’e2’80’99m not, I can’e2’80’99t.

Of course, with the historical stuff, I’e2’80’99ve been working in the Twenties since 1987, and sometimes feel more au fait with their fashion and interests than I do with those of 2005. When you’e2’80’99re working consistently in one time or place, you can do the sort of continuous research that has no specific purpose, examining a Worth dress in a museum, dropping in on antique car rallies, that sort of thing. And then when the first draft is either written or coming into shape, and it’e2’80’99s clear that you really need to know how to repair a smoking 1910 Daimler engine, you can hunt down that information. Really, I don’e2’80’99t have all those bits of arcane knowledge permanently lodged in my fevered brain.

Q: Sinda writes, Laurie, I’m curious about a theme I’ve noticed where a psychiatrist or therapist is instrumental to the salvation of the character. I’m thinking of Mary Russell – most notably Locked Rooms – and A Grave Talent, specifically. Can you tell us why you chose that route to develop your characters? Do you have experience with therapy that inform your work? Also, I wonder how writing this blog has affected, if at all, your other work? Do you find that it clarifies your thoughts when you capture them here for us, or does it distract you?

A: A mystery is about knowledge; a good mystery is about self-knowledge. Sometimes an outside influence helps us achieve that, in fiction or in life.

As for the blog, no, I just like to hear myself think. And really, a person can write a book just for so many hours a day. I do the blog at another machine, so it doesn’e2’80’99t feel like work.

Q: Vicki wants to know, Where do you find the energy and physical strength, to say nothing of the mental strength, to do all that you do? Would you say you are a Type A personality? Work being what keeps your engine going? What do you do for relaxation?

A: Um, I don’e2’80’99t know. There are times, towards the end of a book, where my brain just feels fried. I literally lose words, simple words, and have to go back and fill them in later when they come back to me. As for the Type A thing, I feel that competitiveness is part of being a Type A, and although sure, everyone would like to be near the top of whatever profession they’e2’80’99re in, it’e2’80’99s not an all-absorbing drive in my life. I love writing, I love being published, and I try to keep some perspective even when things are busiest, and produce dinners, have lunch with friends, go see movies. But it’e2’80’99s true, I am probably abnormally eremitic, and left to my own devices, would no doubt go days without emerging from my cave.

More tomorrow.

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  1. Roxanne on March 2, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    “Eremitic”–what a great word!

    I love that I have to keep a dictionary close by when I read your stuff!

  2. Anonymous on March 2, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks for the opportunity to ask questions, and to get answers. I didn’t post a question, but I enjoy the range of queries, and your responses.

  3. hgladney on March 2, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks for the reply, that’s very helpful.

  4. Anonymous on March 3, 2006 at 3:11 am

    And yet, to write, you must be a cenobite. 🙂 Iris Lady

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