A word about letters

I’ll go back to the Q&A later, but I wanted first to say something about the letters I get.

Because I don’t generally give out my email address, those who want to write me either have to take their luck with this blog’s comments department, or sit down and put ink on paper, address it to me (which address is at the bottom of my site’s home page, for all to see) and dig out a stamp with some stick to it. And in the fullness of time, sometimes months later, a reply will find its way from me to the writer.

Mostly. I do get the occasional postcard-too-casual-to-return-address, which is fine, and I’m afraid my sleuthing skills have failed a handful of times when it came to deciphering the scribble jammed into one corner of the envelope. And then there are those that deliberately leave off addresses.

Those break my heart, really they do. That poor lady in her eighties (with arthritis, to judge by her writing) who took me to task for failing her with FOLLY, when she had been led to believe that here, at last, was a writer who could be trusted not to curse, only to get to page whatever of the book and have her mortal eyes offended by my taking of the Lord’s name in vain. (I’d actually pretty sure that Russell swears from time to time, but perhaps this lady’s mortal eyes were already beginning to fail when she got to those passages.)

I could never write to apologize for my offense, because she remained anonymous, and forever stung by the bitter disappointment of LRK’s duplicity. I can only hope she got her money back at the store.

But then there are the other letters that leave me, well, puzzled. For example:

Dear Mrs. King,
[Mrs? I always think of Mrs. King as my mother-in-law.]
Until earlier this year, I was blissfully unaware of the chronicles of Mary Russell, but that state was permanently ended when I purchased “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” at a 3-for-the-price-of-2 sale at my local Borders store. Since then, with the help of my local public library, I have finished reading all of the Mary Russell novels. I must confess that they have a certain charm, despite the (generally) paper-thin plots and the preponderance of lesbian characters.
[So at this point in my reading of her letter I’m thinking, Well, the writer has an Indian name, maybe it’s that her grasp of English isn’t terribly subtle? I mean, to be blissfully unaware of these books with paper thin plots and too many lesbians (although I have to wonder which Russells she’s been reading, that she found lesbians so thick underfoot) is an appropriate beginning for a scathing letter, but when one goes from reluctantly accepting a free book to actively seeking out the series in the library, it indicates a certain affection, does it not?]

The reader then goes on to praise my theological subtlety, congratulate me [?] on remaining uninvolved with the Dan Brown plagiarism case, and correct a transliteration from THE GAME, finally ending by saying cheerfully that she’s looking forward to more of the series, including the “inevitable” revelation that James Bond was Russell’s son and Mycroft the original M.

You see why this letter has sat on my desk, so long unanswered? Where does one begin? Should my reply take an apologetic tone, or one of thanks?

I’m so confused.

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  1. Ann on August 9, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    It boggles the mind. I love the Russell stories because they are so intricate that I can read them over and over and find something new every time. I LOVE them! Thanks for sharing with us through your blog.

  2. L. Crampton, LAc on August 9, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    I’ll be re-reading The Game soon. This after I finish reading Kipling’s Kim for the first time (and possibly an immediate second time). Thank you, Laurie, for inspiring this and the revisiting of other classics, Sayers, etc. As for those who provide no return address . . . well, I have Russell’s and Martinelli’s business cards, and they don’t. So, there!

  3. the only daughter on August 9, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Now I am truly intrigued. I’ve read all of the Kate Martinelli stories save The Art of Detection (will start that this weekend.) I have also read Keeping Watch and A Darker Place — all of which of course — I found entertaining. I put Folly on my *get to* library list-but it hasn’t made it home with me, yet.
    I’d been balking on the Mary Russell series–trying to avoid getting *hooked* on another series-but now I must take the plunge. If the Mary Russell series is anything like the Martinelli or your other work–I’m a goner.

  4. WDI on August 9, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    That’s quite some letter! My solution, I think, would be to send its author a nice, vague letter of thanks and to cherish the missive itself as one of those delightfully quirky and ultimately inexplicable products of that strangest of beasts, Homo sapiens. Sometimes it’s best just to embrace the confusion — or at least, that’s my solution to decades of dealing with college students 🙂

  5. beadbabe49 on August 9, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    well, WDI has the kindest nature, I’m sure…personally, I’d file them both in the circular file…possibly that’s why I’m a visual artist, not a writer. Of all your books I have a personal fondness for Folly, both as a native of the Pacific Northwest (for it’s setting) and as a reader (for it’s plot and characters, which I love).

  6. Roxanne on August 9, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    I concur with WDI’s response: send its author a nice, vague note of thanks & file their letter in the most appropriate location …

    There are always those individuals who are threatened by even one person/character with an alternative lifestyle. What is that (probably underestimated) statistic? 1 in 10? 2 in 20? Based on these figures, I would say tht your books are right on track, if not a little “under-representational” …

    My 13-year-old daughter & I often discuss your books together. (BTW: I preview everything she reads/views & I wholly “approve” of your work.) One of the things we love, besides your marvelous sense of humor, is your open-mindedness & the diversity of your characters. We have had more than one discussion re: the androgynous nature of your Russell & Holmes characters.

    Please do not fret. We LOVE your books. & we both send good wishes & positive energy to you and your husband.

  7. myninki on August 9, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    Well, i dont provide return address, I didnt considered important, as much as i will like it, you cant write back, a shame really.
    sorry, i will put it anyway next time

  8. Roxanne on August 9, 2006 at 8:08 pm

    Because of your book, The Game, I read Kipling’s Kim–as did my (then 12-year-old) daughter. Then she read everything else she could get her hands on by Kipling. Slightly flawed transliteration or no, you have expanded our horizons–and our reading lists!
    Thank you!!!

  9. SFC on August 9, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    That letter is fantastic – it’s one of those things you’d never believe if you read it in a novel! 🙂

    (Although there is at least one mention of lesbians in ‘A Letter of Mary’!)

    Thanks for your books and for your blog – I love getting to see this side of the writer’s life!

  10. Sara on August 9, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    I like that there’s a James Bond reference in with theological kudos.

    I vote for a reply letter comprised entirely of letters cut out of the newspaper. Except not glued down, so the recipient has to piece it together on their own. If the plots aren’t challenging enough, maybe the assembly would be? Too vindictive? Hmm.

  11. Becky Levine on August 10, 2006 at 2:35 am

    Sometimes, the only possible (and wise?) reply to something like this is:

    “Thank you SO much!”
    The Art of Detection’s on hold at my library–can’t wait to see Kate again! Thank you for all your wonderful books.

  12. riobonito on August 10, 2006 at 4:45 am

    Hi Laurie, it all sounds to good to be true, I think someone is pulling your leg, jerking your chain..my detecting skills are not up to Mary’s..but read it again, if you wanted to tease someone brilliant like say ‘yourself’ you’d write a letter like this!

  13. Liz on August 10, 2006 at 7:57 am

    Too many lesbians? Not nearly enough.

  14. Bett Norris on August 10, 2006 at 9:15 am

    First, there can never be too many lesbians. Next, I loved Folly, Keeping Watch, and A Darker Place. For those who haven’t yet read The Art of Detection, the long wait for another Martinelli was well worth it.

  15. Chris on August 10, 2006 at 9:41 am

    How bizarre! All I can do is echo all the previous comments…I love your books (well, that much is hopefully obvious by now) for many reasons, not least the variety and quality of the characters…

    What a mysterious letter to receive! Almost as puzzling as the trunk containing the Russell clues and, incidentally, giving the most entertaining prologues.

    Well, it was the joy of finding the Martinellis that persuaded me to read my first ‘historical’ novels with the Russells. Lesbians? I can’t remember one, and anyway, so what!

    I suppose you could always reply with a letter that sweetly mis-understands the points made…

  16. L. Crampton, LAc on August 10, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    I love Chris’s solution! Grinning widely over the fun of it all.

  17. crimeficreader on August 10, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    Thank you for the laugh. I read it and had to read it again and I’m still chuckling at this sentence:
    “…I must confess that they have a certain charm, despite the (generally) paper-thin plots and the preponderance of lesbian characters.”

    I’m currently on the last few pages of Night Work and then moving on to The Art of Detection. Wonderful characters, despite… NO, I’m not even going to go there!

  18. AlyssC01 on August 11, 2006 at 6:10 am

    “preponderance of lesbian characters?”
    This sentance almost offends me.
    I… Understand the confusion. Paperthin plots?
    It’s not a… Nice? Strange. Letter. But, it’s praising. Don’t apologize, that’s all i can say. Ma’am, what you write, how you write it is yours and yours alone. Your stories are real, your sitsuations are realistic. I finished A Letter to Mary (very slow shipping from America, thank you!) a few weeks ago and I was so touched by it, so envoloped by the plot and the characters that I couldn’t help but feel (as i had believed for years about Sherlock Holmes) that your story is Real. And as to a “preponderance of lesbian characters” hello. 1 out of 10 people, possibly more are gay or lesbian. More women surely – they have just been so suppressed in this illusional patriach sociaty -delete quite a large rant as it’s not proper here but keep son muttering about patriach sociaty and white dresses-. I suspect quite a few posting in this blog. It’s actually quite realisitc that atleast one person in a book is. And, it’s nice and comforting that a married woman with children has the guts and the sympathy (empathy?) to include the long suppressed and shunned unmentionables of our time.

    Thank you Laurie R. King. 🙂 You are a writer of excellence and does not need to apologize for anything you put on paper.

  19. Roxanne on August 11, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Here! Here! (to the previous comment.)

  20. Anonymous on August 11, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    I am having the most trouble with “paper thin plot.” I’ve read, reread, and listented to all of your books more than once, and am always delighted to pick up a little gem of some kind that I missed on a previous read. I love all your books, and you are the only author I purchase BEFORE I have read the book. I, too, have gone to read other things (kipling, sayers) as well as read up on others (TE Lawrence, Sabine Baring-Gould) all because you dangled the thread in front of me. Thank you for putting your stories to paper. Perhaps your next thin plotted, lesbain laden book could be dedicated to that lady!


  21. Rebecca on August 12, 2006 at 1:18 am

    A preponderance of lesbian characters?

    I’ve been sitting here wracking my brains and I could only think of three actual lesbian characters in the entire series – Iris, and the two lesbian artists in THE GAME, whose names escape me at the moment. There are other references to lesbians, yes, but does three characters in a series of eight books constitute a preponderance? How very odd.

    Anyway, I’ve been meaning to put ink on paper and all the rest ever since I first discovered Mary Russell five years ago, and I still haven’t gotten around to it. Ah well. Soon.

  22. elaine mcc. on August 13, 2006 at 4:52 am

    Dear Laurie,

    The term “paper thin” does not apply to any of your novel plots.
    You are known in academic circles for your intelligence and integrity. Please continue to write your wonderful novels — and perhaps assign fan letter writing to fans. O.k. — well — this won’t have your personal touch, but … fans just want to read your books — and some of us wish there were even more lesbians;-)

    cheers, elaine

  23. bani on August 13, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    What a funny letter! I’m not surprised you can’t answer it. I’m in stitches here. Very amusing! Paper-thin plots indeed. Lesbians galore indeed. *snort* I think you should apologize about the hords of lesbians, admit your mistake, and promise to includes lots of plain ol’ simple gay men in the next one.

  24. vicki on August 13, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    One thing that letter writer had going for her was the capacity to stir up lots of controversy. If I were you I would simply chuckle and send her a letter thanking her for her imput! We have all had fun trying to figure out what in the world she was driving at. So funny.

  25. Elizabeth on August 16, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    I also don’t understand the ‘paper-thin plots’ reference and was hard-pressed to come up with a smattering of lesbians … Perhaps this writer started reading a series by another author halfway through and muddled them together? Or perhaps the writer was simply muddled him/herself. 🙂

  26. GramMuzzy on August 21, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    I loved all the responses to that letter and I think, along with several others, that merely responding with some nice vague comments would suffice. The poor lady! I imagine that even ONE lesbian would be too many. As for paper-thin plots — I surely don’t consider them so. I’ve read and reread Russell/Holmes at least three times and I still find things I missed.

    I too am a Virgo born in the year of the horse.

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