March Madness (3)

Q: Jennifer from Minneapolis says, I love being able to hand your books off to my younger sister, knowing she can have a female hero to relate to. As a biblical archaeology student, I’ve loved the theological tidbits in your stories. I was wondering how you originally became interested in writing about Sherlock Holmes. Were you a Doyle fan as a child?

A: No, when I started writing THE BEEKEEPER’e2’80’99S APPRENTICE I probably hadn’e2’80’99t read one of the Conan Doyle stories since high school. Holmes is so much a part of our common mind, I felt I knew him. Of course, as soon as I picked up the books (about two days after writing, ‘e2’80’9cI was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes’e2’80’a6’e2’80’9d) I quickly realized that the Holmes I knew was but a caricature, and that only as I read the stories themselves did I see the depth of passion and’e2’80’94utterly unexpected and a delight to find’e2’80’94the humo(u)r.

Q: From Laura in GA–Is there a setting (locale?) that you really want try to use in a story sometime?

A: Japan. Hence the beginning of LOCKED ROOMS.

Q: Liz (whose spelling suggests she may be one of my English readers) asks, I have a writing question which is, I fear, slightly obscure. But I often wonder how a professional writer, with editorial committments, deadlines and so forth, recognises that a story is non-viable. That there’s no point in telling it, or that it’s too ambitious/grim/doesn’t fit with the existing style of the series, etc. I particularly wanted to ask you because I have a vague recollection that you once said you rarely leave anything unfinished. Have you simply developed an instinct for recognising ideas that won’t work out in the long run, or do you have enough self-confidence to hammer the thing out? Like I said, terribly obscure. I’m in the early throes of research for an embryonic novel, which is probably causing masochistic musings on Books That Don’t Work.

A: I don’e2’80’99t know about obscure, but it’e2’80’99s a very interesting question. I’e2’80’99d have to say that I don’e2’80’99t know if there’e2’80’99s any idea which, in and of itself, is an invalid starting place for a story. Certainly there are ideas that won’e2’80’99t work for certain purposes’e2’80’94grim serial killer books in a cozy series about a bed-and-breakfast Miss Marple, for example, might make for some great black humor but probably wouldn’e2’80’99t make it past one’e2’80’99s editor.

Great stories can come from the most unlikely beginnings. I’e2’80’99m currently reading Michael Chabon’e2’80’99s manuscript of a detective story set in the Jewish state of Alaska, which was one of the proposed bits of the globe offered to survivors of WWII Germany (along with Uganda, which would have made the middle of Africa a far different place right now’e2’80’a6) Sounds unlikely, works great.

The real problem is, where do you draw the line with the oddity? The book I’e2’80’99m working on, TOUCHSTONE, has a main character with extraordinary powers, which since it’e2’80’99s not science fiction, has to be very carefully handled. And another book getting a lot of buzz at the moment, Robert Ferrigno’e2’80’99s PRAYERS OF THE ASSASSIN, seems to work for a lot of people, but not for me, as I just couldn’e2’80’99t swallow the basic premise of the US as a Muslim state. Similarly, I couldn’e2’80’99t handle the premise of Margaret Atwood’e2’80’99s A HANDMAID’e2’80’99S TALE, where an entire society of women meekly permit themselves to be put into boxes that would make a 16th century noblewoman chafe.

If you are beginning with an odd premise, then that is where you need to put your attentions’e2’80’94at making it not only plausible, but inevitable, from word one.

Q: Maer asks, Laurie, I love your Mary Russell books and have read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice almost to shreds. There are layers and layers in that one book, and plenty of details to get lost in. One detail I come back to time and again is the location of Holmes’ cottage. Did you base its location on the Doyle Canon, or decide on another location based on your own travels in England?

A: There are several references in the ACD stories (The Lion’e2’80’99s Mane, among others) to the fact that Holmes has retired to raise bees in Sussex, and a few details of location are given. Many and many a year ago I wandered that part of Sussex between Eastborne and Seaford, near Beachy Head, which is about as close as Doyle gets to nailing it down. Lovely area, especially in spring when the lambs are being born. I should mention, there’s a picture of the area, from an old Ordnance Survey map, on the book page of THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE on the LRK web site.

Q: demendtedslinkybrain wants to know, Have you read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vokosigan Saga? I see that you read Michael Connelly and Robert Crais (whose new book “The Two Minute Rule” is next on my tbr pile. I know this is a dumb question, because they ARE fictional characters (aren’t they?) but how is Mycroft?

A: I haven’t read her books, mostly because anything labeled “saga” is a little daunting, considering how many unread books I have now. And as for brother Mycroft, I don’e2’80’99t know any more than Russell does at the end of LOCKED ROOMS. But surely if he’e2’80’99d taken a turn for the worse, Mrs. Hudson would have wired the news.

Let’e2’80’99s see if we can finish up these questions tomorrow. Are any of you still reading?

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  1. Vicki Larson on March 4, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Whadya mean, “Is anyone still reading?” We all can’t get enough of any of your mutterings. It’s like an addiction.. well, not LIKE an addiction, it IS an addiction. I check every day to see the comments and also if you have added to your mutterings. I must say it really brightens my days. Thank you very much.

  2. Rebecca on March 4, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Of course we’re still reading. Out of the dozen-odd blogs I check regularly, yours is my favorite.

  3. Allison on March 4, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    Oh yes, we’re still reading! Your blog is one of my regular stops while having my coffee in the morning. And speaking of reading, I’m terribly jealous! I’ve been waiting to read Michael Chabon’s new book for what feels like forever!

  4. Sigrid Ellis on March 4, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    Yes, we are still reading. I have you rss’d to my Live Journal, so I don’t miss a post. Tho’ the format gets a little wonky from time to time . . .

  5. Anonymous on March 5, 2006 at 2:43 am

    Laurie (and others) … I’ve just read about a new book that could turn out to be delightful. T. Jefferson Parker’s THE FALLEN has a great twist. The detective in his book recovers from a fall only to discover that he has become afflicted (or gifted) with synesthesia, and sees little colored shapes wafting in the air when people speak. Anyone who has read Oliver Sacks’ books on neurolgical conditions such as this will want to see how T. Jefferson Parker has utilized synesthesia in a good detective story. I can hardly wait. Iris Lady

  6. Maer on March 5, 2006 at 4:52 am

    Laurie, thank you for answering my question and you and I are on the same page as to location. **just thrilled** Now if I can only get over there and walk the path along the cliffs myself. **grumble**

  7. Trix on March 6, 2006 at 5:29 am

    Yep, still reading here too.

    As for LMB’s Vorkosigan books, I don’t know what marketing ace thought up the idea of calling them a “saga”, but they are well-crafted and witty space operas which feature characters with personalities and who grow. There is even convincing romance. They run to about 250-350 pages, and while connected, work very well as standalone novels.

    A free sample of one of her short stories – Mountains of Mourning – might give you a flavour of Miles, the protagonist. If you enjoy good, intelligent-but-not-geeky SF, it’s certainly worth checking LMB out.
    < /book pimpage >

  8. Anonymous on March 6, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    I’m still reading too. Yours is the only blog I read.

  9. Anonymous on March 6, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    Laurie, You said: “So what’e2’80’99s wrong with having a multi-dimensional person who is basically sympathetic as a villain? Better than a two-dimensional stick figure with a sign around his neck saying, Bad Guy’e2’80’94Hate Me.” For a psychological thriller … maybe … but for a dangerous killer in a tongue-in-cheek murder mystery … I don’t think so. There is a wide range of possibilities between that and a two-dimensional stick figure. I just realized that I can’t remember a single villain from any of your books … and I’ve read and enjoyed all of them. The villains could not havre been very memorable. I wonder why?

  10. Anonymous on March 8, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    Because I LOVE to talk about books (and have lots of opinions)…

    Perhaps those who were intrigued by the Lois McMaster Bujold recommendation but WERE deterred by the “Saga” designation for the Vorkosigan books might be more willing to try LMB’s more recent trilogy. Also, people who enjoy the theological issues raised in Ms. King’s work might find them more intriguing to explore. “The Curse of Chalion” and “The Paladin of Souls” have fabulous characters and a very thought-provoking way of envisioning the influence of deity in our lives. The third book “The Hallowed Hunt” is, like the others, a very entertaining fantasy novel, but reflects far less of a deistic world view.

    I hope it’s not inappropriate to comment on this, but took the liberty of doing so since I am always looking for recommendations from people with tastes similar to mine…

  11. enyo on March 12, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    My two cents, since Lois McMaster Bujold has recently become one of my favourite authors: do try her books. They’re wonderful.

    In response to trix, one of the other Vorkosigan short stories, Borders of Infinity, is now also available for free online. Mountains of Mourning is probably a better place to start, though.

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