Each Tuesday of the Twenty Weeks of Buzz, I’ll be posting about a different one of my books, with remarks, reflections, and bits of information about how the book came to be. This week I discuss Locked Rooms, published in 2005.
It started with a dream.
I was giving a tour of a house—my house, a dark, wooded, many-leveled house among trees. I showed my guests one room and another, the open spaces between them, and all the while I knew that there rooms I was not showing them, large, lovely, dust-soft rooms that remained hidden behind invisible doors.
The dream is not the book. That dream is not even in the book, although Russell has a similar dream, but it came to me as I was planning the story, and the images of hidden rooms worked itself into the fabric of the novel.
The story is about a young woman who hides the truth from herself, most efficiently.
The Russell books are told in the first person, which seems like it ought to be the most intimate form of storytelling, but in fact, first person can be oddly distancing: How do you get to know a person when you’re looking through their eyes? How do you know if what you’re seeing is the truth, when even a mirror reverses reality?
|The Winchester Mystery House.
One way is to drop clues in the narrator’s voice, clues only the reader hears. Another is to offer an alternative version of the narrator’s story, one that echoes the central version, but in another key. Russell sees an event and describes it; Holmes sees the same event and describes it differently; the reader begins to suspect some trouble deep within the young woman even before Russell herself does.
By doing this, I could also build a multi-layered story set in a multi-layered town: As cities go, San Francisco is young, yet there are a lot of levels to its history before one reaches the shell middens of the Native Americans. Setting the story there, and working around a narrator who cannot be trusted, enabled me to write more or less simultaneously about the Jazz Age and the 1906 fire; about Russell and Holmes and how they saw each other; about the white community and that of Chinatown; about English visitors and the native-born; about Sherlock Holmes coming face to face with Dashiell Hammett; about the slippery boundaries between fiction and fact.