Mary Russell, meet Sherlock Holmes

Team LRK has a new video for you, based on a piece of prose you may recognize:

“I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes…”

Close of day

In these days of hate-mongering and rising tides of fear, a good sunset still manages to lift the spirits and calm the heart, whether looking towards the east (note furled pirate flag)…


or the west…
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Research and other addictions

I love research. It’s addictive, in fact, and can threaten the actual writing of the book unless one develops a stern attitude towards the Siren call of the shelves—or, for those wired that way, of the Internet.DSC00791

In The Murder of Mary Russell, the past holds the answer to the present’s questions, which means I had all kinds of fun with the Victorian era. Corsets and top hats, water pumps and workhouses, toys and toilet facilities (And oh my dear Lord, who’d have wanted to be pregnant in 1875 London? No public toilets for miles!)

Rule, Victoriana!

(By the way, for those of you who keep track of What Laurie’s Wearing on This Year’s Tour: yes, I already have a piece of jewelry for the spring tour.)

I’ll be talking more in the spring about research, but I had to just say something about this little gift from the Inter Library Loan at UC Santa Cruz:photo 2

Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1879, An Unconventional Handbook, by Charles Dickens [Jr.] This particular volume belongs to the library at Yale, which cares enough about people like me to permit a fragile piece like this to travel across the country. It gets packaged in a little folding box with a Velcro 1

It clearly has spent some time in this protective folder, since the covers are pretty much detached and any attempt at shelving the actual volume would cause it to disintegrate completely.

(And you will notice that my images here are from a camera, since laying it flat onto a scanner would be A Mortal Sin Against the Library Gods and thus cause for instant expulsion from ILL.)

This book, which would appear to be by Charles Dickens himself, is in fact by his son, although nowhere on it does it say “Jr.”  (Sales, one imagines, would have been affected.) It’s just packed full of the most gorgeous details of life in the capital city, in alphabetical listing from A1 to Zoological Gardens, with schedules, churches, statues, maps, opening times, and an addendum giving distances between key London points.

And not just one rather racist entry on Opium Dens–Opium dens

but two:

Ratcliff Highway

…At the bottom of this slough of grimy Despond is the little breathless garret where Johnny the Chinaman swelters night and day curled up on his gruesome couch, carefully toasting in the dim flame of a smoky lamp the tiny lumps of delight which shall transport the opium-smoker for awhile into paradise. If you are only a casual visitor you will not care for much of Johnny’s company, and will speedily find your way down the filthy creaking stairs into the reeking outer air, which appears almost fresh by contrast. Then Johnny, whose head and stomach are seasoned by the unceasing opium pipes of forty years, shuts the grimy window down with a shudder as unaffected as that with which just now opened it, and toasts another little dab of the thick brown drug in readiness for the next comer. But if you visit Johnny as a customer, you pay your shilling, and curl yourself up on another grisly couch, which almost fills the remainder of the apartment. Johnny hands you an instrument like a broken-down flageolet, and the long supple brown fingers cram into its microscopic bowl the little modicum of magic, and you such hard through it at the smoky little flame, and—if your stomach be educated and strong—pass duly off into Elysium. Then, when your blissful dream is over, you go your way, a wiser if not a sadder man. Perhaps the most appropriate visit you can next pay is to the casual ward of St. George’s Workhouse, hard by…

Can one have any doubt that Mr Dickens the younger has been there?  What, though of Dr Watson? Compare this, from “The Man with the Twisted Lip”:

Ordering my cab to wait, I passed down the steps, worn hollow in the centre by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet; and by the light of a flickering oil-lamp above the door I found the latch and made my way into a long, low room, thick and heavy with the brown opium smoke, and terraced with wooden berths, like the forecastle of an emigrant ship.

Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies lying in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads thrown back, and chins pointing upward, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer. Out of the black shadows there glimmered little red circles of light, now bright, now faint, as the burning poison waxed or waned in the bowls of the metal pipes. The most lay silent, but some muttered to themselves, and others talked together in a strange, low, monotonous voice, their conversation coming in gushes, and then suddenly tailing off into silence, each mumbling out his own thoughts and paying little heed to the words of his neighbour. At the farther end was a small brazier of burning charcoal, beside which on a three-legged wooden stool there sat a tall, thin old man, with his jaw resting upon his two fists, and his elbows upon his knees, staring into the fire.

As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a pipe for me and a supply of the drug, beckoning me to an empty berth.

Once his friend has been dispatched home, Watson then has another encounter:

I walked down the narrow passage between the double row of sleepers, holding my breath to keep out the vile, stupefying fumes of the drug, and looking about for the manager. As I passed the tall man who sat by the brazier I felt a sudden pluck at my skirt, and a low voice whispered, “Walk past me, and then look back at me.” The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear. I glanced down. They could only have come from the old man at my side, and yet he sat now as absorbed as ever, very thin, very wrinkled, bent with age, an opium pipe dangling down from between his knees, as though it had dropped in sheer lassitude from his fingers. I took two steps forward and looked back. It took all my self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of astonishment. He had turned his back so that none could see him but I. His form had filled out, his wrinkles were gone, the dull eyes had regained their fire, and there, sitting by the fire and grinning at my surprise, was none other than Sherlock Holmes. He made a slight motion to me to approach him, and instantly, as he turned his face half round to the company once more, subsided into a doddering, loose-lipped senility.

“Holmes!” I whispered, “what on earth are you doing in this den?”

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Laurie King, e-dinosaur

Well, friends, we’re one step closer to this:


To my great consternation, the 21st century is nipping at my heels. All these years, I’ve done copyedits on actual pieces of paper: I’ll finish a book and send my editor a lovely clean copy, spa she can take up her pencil and slash it to pieces, adding questions (Oh, those dread little queries that cost me two days to set aright) and remarks (and Oh, how I treasure her Huzzah!s and Love it!s and her hearts) and changes small and large onto the pages.  She then hands the whole thing to the copyeditor, who makes her own changes—in a colored pencil, so when the document comes to me again, I can tell their two comments apart at a glance. I am then given authority to accept, or to override (with STET, exclamation point optional) any of their suggestions, but it makes for a three-way conversation, with each of us suggesting our opinions in how to build a stronger book. (Some writers, I should mention, bitterly resent and battle any incursion on their prose. I am not one of those.)

However, the edit on The Murder of Mary Russell may mark the end of an era in more ways than the title’s (possible) significance: I got it back as an

Now, I’m not a complete dinosaur, so I’ve done e-edits before on short stories, but I loathe the process. (So does my editor, truth to tell. She’s very happy with the pencil-marks-on-dead-trees method, thank you very much.) E-edits are not only impersonal, and risky (I’ve had entire stories fail to register my changes) but they’re really tough to make sense of, either on the screen or a printout. Still, I’ve managed, grumbling all the while. But as I say, for going on two dozen books now, this has been a conversation, a collaboration, a last chance to rescue the book from unclarity and mediocrity. I need to feel the texture of the editorial process.

But I’m not enough of a diva to demand that the thing be sent back to the copyeditor so she can make her changes again in green pencil. I did bitch, and loudly—particularly because for some abominable reason, the thing came with both sets of comments—editor and copyeditor—in the same bilious green, which could not be re-set, so I couldn’t tell them apart without squinting at the attribution.

Once I had bitched and told them that no, I wasn’t going to do the whole thing as an e-doc, I then figured out how to shift the actual typescript portion on the page so it would give me some facsimile of normal-sized font, in spite of the comment-bubbles that took up the right-hand margin, then printed it out to wade my way through it. The first run-through always involves the more or less mechanical changes, accepting them or STETting them, and sticking a Post It wherever there’s a remark I need to deal with. After a few days, the thing looked like this:IMG_1153

It took me ten days or so, to get it to look like thisIMG_1154

then 2 copy

Finally, this not-quite-blind dinosaur tucked 500 pages of manuscript back into the Fed Ex box and sent it back. Yep, The Murder of Mary Russell is off my hands, until I get the pretty typeset Proof pages. When I get those, I’ll read the entire book aloud—and not sotto voce, either—to check for those annoying repeats and odd phrases that have persisted despite our concerted efforts.


[From Garment of Shadows, not The Murder of Mary Russell, in case you were wondering…]

After that….

Well, April 5 will be here before you know it.

Laurie amidst the coffee plants

I got married during a time when I had been deeply immersed in setting up a coffee store called Kaldi’s (see Monday’s post.) Our honeymoon was an academic journey into the South Pacific, eight months through Papua New Guinea, the Australian outback, and island-hopping across the ocean from Tonga to Easter Island.

And in many of these places, coffee grew. Not in the Outback, of course, and I didn’t see any in Easter Island (both are places with few shrubs and fewer trees) but in the PNG highlandsScan 153080001-1

and in Tahiti, generally beneath the light shade of trees such as the casuarina.Scan 153050001

coffee grew all over. Often it’s grown in small plots.  Farmers clean it, dry it, and squat with their little sacks along the road, waiting for the buyers’ trucks.   The small bags of green beans are collected, sorted, and sold it in larger quantities–Scan 153080001

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–or roasted, ground, and sold in smaller quantities.

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Interestingly, many of the small farmers clean their beans by giving them to their kids to chew off the husk of the berry. Fortunately, the heat of the roaster gets rid of any of the kids’ germs.

We drank some lovely coffee, there in the South Pacific.  Some pretty mediocre coffee too, it must be admitted.  But on the trip, I did say hello to many plants.Scan 153050001-1

So, what about you?  Any coffee adventures?