The fabulous Picador has set up a giveaway for their re-issued paperbacks of the first three Kate Martinelli books, A Grave Talent, To Play the Fool, and With Child. Their sweepstakes is here.
The excellent and estimable Dan Stashower and I will sit on opposite sides of the country on Thursday (noon Eastern time) and have a conversation with Kojo Nnamdi about “The Enduring Popularity of Sherlock Holmes.” And Mary Russell, one hopes. It will be streamed, and you can ask questions, and–well, I hope you join us. Info is here.
When is the end not the end? When it’s a book, and its author knows that a first draft is crap.
I sent a very rough first draft of Dreaming Spies off to my editor today. This proto-novel is an exceedingly thin 270 pages, missing one of its two endings, with sporadic character development, a peculiar way of jumping locations, long bits where nothing much happens and the author is clearly muddling her way through the undergrowth, and settings that bear only a passing resemblance to the countrysides of Japan and Oxfordshire.
But those 270 pages are there, where they weren’t before. And now I can take a deep breath, and talk to my editor about where the story is going, and dig in to make a mess into a book.
Storyteller is a tease. Storyteller whispers in the writer’s ear, makes promises, leads the writer on… and then goes silent.
There are basically two ways to approach a book. For some, Storyteller speaks in advance, clearly laying out the book’s logical sequence, opening hook to ending coda.
For others, like myself, a book is an ongoing conversation with Storyteller: if this, then that; if her, then him. Take the book I’m writing at the moment. I’m at about the three-quarter mark of the first draft—the stage at which the writer really ought to know what her story is all about. The stage at which the non-outlining writer like me begins to get nervous, in case Storyteller goes silent.
From the beginning, certain elements of this story have been given. First, it takes place in Japan and in Oxford. Second, it’s about—well, no, I don’t think I’ll drop a spoiler on you, but there’s a young woman involved. And as I was writing, certain elements crept in—the sorts of things that I allow free rein since I can always hand them their pink slip in the rewrite.
Basho poetry, sure—this is Japan. However, why is Shakespeare elbowing his way into a book about Japan? What do Henry IVa, IVb, and V have to do with spies? Not much, on the face of things—but there they are, attractive bits of prose by themselves but with little reason, and a puzzling lack of relationship to the rest of the story. I keep coming back to them, thinking about them, walking around to look at them from various perspectives. Wondering why Storyteller has decided to put them in.
Because unlike my Crime & Thriller Writing co-author Michelle Spring, what I write is based on the whispers from the back of my mind. I could say that after a score of books, I have learned to trust the voice, but this is the way I worked from the beginning.
That doesn’t make it any easier when I’m at the three quarter mark with many weeks of work behind me and a deadline pressing in—and only a vague idea of an ending that isn’t one I’ve used three times before.
Fortunately for this book, a day of enforced distance from writing intervened. Then a second. Said deadline was getting ever closer, while my 1500-a-day stint was lapsing once, then twice…
But sometimes, Storyteller needs a reboot to be heard. Late on that first day, as I am turning from one thing to another, a chunk of Eureka! drops down on me, rending my conversation a bit distracted while my brain scrambles after the realizations: So that’s why the Shakespeare—and this event, which means that’s where they’re all headed.
Inevitably, by the second morning, my mind having had a night to chew on it, the complaints begin: But why this? And really, that’s not terribly interesting…
So Storyteller whispers again, delivering a lightning bolt straight to my brain. I drop my toothbrush to stare in the mirror: if I just flip this to that…
And there it is: an ending that is both logical and emotionally satisfying. The kind of ending that leaves a smile on the face. What is more, as I begin to pick it over, I see for the first time how all these oddments have in fact been sitting and waiting for Storyteller’s unifying revelation. Shakespeare because of that; Oxford rather than Sussex or London because of this; the young woman’s father and her time in America and even her moment of inexplicable clumsiness because—yes. One minute I’m sitting at my workbench staring at an untidy heap of gears and springs and levers; the next, there’s a magnificent timepiece, ticking quietly away.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that one year, Storyteller will have the sulks. That I won’t have listened to the still, small voice in the back of my mind, but instead just shoveled in a variety of shiny and ultimately mismatched parts.
And of course, having the paradigm for Dreaming Spies doesn’t mean I don’t have a ton of work in front of me. I not only have to actually shape the words and acts of the last section of the book, I will then have to go back and nudge every preceding scene from what I thought was happening to what is in fact happening.
So you will excuse me if I go and get started on it.
Having given a review of 2013 yesterday, you may ask me, what plans does LRK have for 2014? Not that I do Resolutions, but there’s a lot on my agenda, and yet more things crowding into the back of my mind.
Although before we do that, may I be the first to issue many happy returns of the day to Mary Russell, on her 114th birthday? Hip hip, hoorah, for Ms Russell!
First off: sorry, but as I said, there won’t be a new Laurie King novel in 2014. I’m in the process of moving my pub date out of the very crowded month of September and back into the spring, when the poor Indie bookstores aren’t run ragged and readers aren’t completely distracted by the start of a new school year. Also: weather, for those of us who like to tour. I won’t reach the April pub date until the 2016 book, but they’ve given me a halfway point, for the long-awaited story of Russell in Japan, of February 17, 2015.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to disappear from your life in 2014: oh no. Here’s what I know is going on so far:
Next week, Picador will issue their gorgeous editions of the first three Martinelli novels. Aren’t Kate’s new jackets handsome indeed?
And February marks Mary Russell’s 20th anniversary! That’s right, it’s twenty years ago since The Beekeeper’s Apprentice edged shyly into the world, with a first edition of some 3000 copies (now worth a lot more than it did in 1994!) Do you remember the cover?
But, do you also remember the cover they originally intended to condemn it to wear?
Can you imagine what Miss Russell would have to say about that? The mere shadow of a schoolgirl, with a bow in her hair, gazing up at the Big Manly Detective? Shudder. (You can review some of the book’s other covers at the bottom of this page.)
This summer, Picador will bring forth a brand new hardback 20th anniversary edition of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, with a new introduction by yours truly and a design based on their award-winning Adam Auerbach/Henry Yee trade paperback (here) except in what is called “paper over board” (that is, without a removable dust jacket.) I’m so excited about this, not only because it’s going to be beautiful, but because Beekeeper hasn’t been available in hardback for a long time. Libraries all over will be able to restore their LRK collection (and, I’ll be at the ALA conference to introduce it!) , and readers able to replace their tattered paperback with a book they can re-read dozens of times.
And, because it’s her 20th, you can expect to see a fair amount of Mary Russell—including a new, revised, expanded, all bells-and-whistles
Mary Russell e-Companion
(with Fun Things Aplenty!)
The Fun Things include annotated chapters of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, revisions of a number of things we’ve done over the years, and a number of new and original essays and stories. Watch for it later in the spring (and if you’re not signed up for the newsletter, you might want to do that now, so as not to miss anything.) I do know that it will be an ebook, to go with our other TeamLRK efforts, here.
Meanwhile, over in England, new editions of the missing Russells are finally on their way. A Letter of Mary and A Monstrous Regiment of Women will be out shortly, with The Moor and Justice Hall soon after. Their book page is here.
Later in the year—we’re hoping before its end—Les Klinger and I will be co-editing a new collection of Holmes-inspired stories: In the Company of Sherlock Holmes. The list of contributors is extraordinary, gob-smacking, just plain died-and-gone-to-book-heaven amazing. Sara Paretsky, on Holmes? Gahan Wilson? Larry Niven and Harlan Ellison and Michael Connelly and Lev Grossman and…? Yep. You’ll want a copy for absolutely everyone on your Christmas list.
And around that time, we’ll also start our annual torture-the-readers ritual of throwing out hints and tastes of the new book, with a Pinterest page, excerpts from the story, cover art, contests, giveaways, all that stuff that leave you panting for more. But hey, why should we wait until then?
The title of the next Russell will be—
(announced in the newsletter, next week…)
Let the speculation begin!