Loading coal

From Dreaming Spies:

While the Colombo-bound passengers and day-trippers jostled noisily down one set of gangways and the coal and coconuts streamed up another, I retired to a deck-chair with my book. Holmes glowered down at the teeming dockside below. I pointedly kept my eyes on the pages.

Steamers were filthy, no way around it. All that coal burning in the depths came out in the smokestacks, and steamer guides of the period often urge the traveler to leave any precious or light-colored garments in the hold lest they be irrevocably stained by the combination of the all-pervasive smuts and the clammy effects of salt air. Of course, loading coal was done at every port, and was even filthier for those tasked with doing the job.

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23 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.

The Curvature of the Horizon

For twenty-four days, my world had been 582 feet long and had a population of little more than a thousand souls. My rare ventures onto terra firma threatening more disorientation than relief, Kobe was the first time I had allowed myself to become conscious of a two-tiered horizon: one that vanished into the haze, the other that curved upwards in both directions. My eyes stuttered against the concept of distance, just as my legs searched for footing on the motionless docks.

Ship's deck, curving up

Unlike Mary Russell, I’ve never been on a cruise. And although the cruises offered by National Geographic or up the rivers of Europe have their appeal, the very idea of being trapped in a floating Disneyland would have me eyeing the lifeboats. So researching shipboard life for Dreaming Spies was a matter of the second hand (an amazing number of books were written about cruises during the Golden Age of the twenties and thirties) and the immobile. The photo is taken on board the Queen Mary, where the decks do indeed curve up and give an odd effect to the idea of “horizon.” The Queen Mary is now a very pleasant and fascinating hotel in Long Beach with a marvellously helpful and informative Commodore, who showed me about and answered a lot of idiotic questions.

If you’re near Long Beach, do drop in and challenge your horizons.

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24 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.

Fan-letters and haiku

This post isn’t strictly about writing Dreaming Spies, but is one of the things that happened afterward….

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Some years ago, I got a gorgeous, and literal, fan-letter from a woman who liked my books.

Evelyn's fan-letterI always like letters from readers, and I always answer them—but this woman had a degree in Japanese history of the Twenties, and she offered to lend a hand if ever I needed help. So, into a safe place went her letter, filed against the day I would actually write the Japan book.

Four years passed. I did my research (ie, I went to Japan) and wrote a first draft, then dug out her letter and wrote her a hopeful note to say, remember how you offered…? And the letter was returned, unforwardable.

But this is the day of the web search, and although there were probably eighty bajillion “Evelyn Thompson”s out there, when I narrowed the search down by adding “San Francisco” and “Japan” eventually up popped a person listed as a butler at the Japanese consulate in San Francisco. Butler?

So I wrote to the Consulate, and they very kindly, instead of dumping it into junk mail, forwarded my email to Evelyn. She had moved to Japan. Rural Japan. And yes, she would be happy to lend a hand.

I sent her certain passages of Dreaming Spies, she made gentle corrections to various idiocies, suggested phrases (although alas, I fear one or two typos snuck in), and proved a friend across the Pacific.

And when the Dreaming Haiku project (mentioned in yesterday’s blog post) came along, well, she was willing to tackle that as well.

With the true spirit of the academic, she went on to note the stricter rules of the proper Japanese haiku, and asked if I wanted the poems changed to agree with them:

I can do that [she wrote] but what concerns me is that if they are very different from your originals, someone who knows enough Japanese to read them but not all the tricksy conventions of haiku will think you got a bad translation and might send you indignant letters.

So my question to you is, would you like more “authentic” poems that are less related to your originals, which might invite criticism (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing), or more literal versions that might make a few haiku connoisseurs roll their eyes? It’s entirely up to you; neither my professional/scholarly nor my personal ego will be affected by your choice.

My reply? Her choice. And I believe she went with academic purity.

My original poem:

A spy dreams of clouds

Glimpsed through a drift of petals:

Two pilgrims in white.

Foreign boots hit hard

Moss paths of the Rising Sun;

A land wakes from sleep.

Her Japanese:

スパイ夢

落花のぞき

遍路見る

苔に踏む

外来のブーツ

朝日起きる

 

Which literally translated back into English would be:

Spy dreams

Peeking through the falling petals

To see pilgrims.

Treading on the moss

Foreign boots in the rising

sun, awakening.

She then sent me her ink brush calligraphy:

Foreign boots hit hard  A spy dreams of clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun, huh? In the meantime, I had been working with my artist friend Jean Lukens on a frame for the haiku. In September, she came up with a magnificent piece of art to frame this absolutely mundane bit of poetry:

Haiku frame low res

So, these are the parts of the poster:

The delicately colored frame by Jean Lukens

A haiku couplet about Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

Translation and calligraphy by Evelyn Thompson

Photoshop magic by Robert Difley

And it all came out like this:

Dreaming Haiku

Dreaming Haiku

If you like this poster, and would like a full-sized copy of it, try entering one of the two contests I’m running: visual and verbal, Russellscape or haiku.

I talked about the Russellscape the other day, here. And just as I demonstrated there that I am no artist, so I will freely proclaim here that I am no poet, yet I’ve produced dozens of haiku for Dreaming Spies. Mediocre haiku–but surely for the chance of a hardback book and this drop-dead gorgeous poster, you can do better?

Click here for details about the Russellscape contest or the haiku contest. Entries close February 10, to give me a week before publication to judge. I look forward to seeing your inspiration!

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25 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here.

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.

Dreaming Haiku

“The haiku captures a fleeting moment. Of great beauty, or heartbreak. A moment that, hmm,… encapsulates the essence of a season. Such as the fragrance of blossoming cherries, or the sound of snow, or the feel of hot summer wind blowing the bamboo.”

     Furuike ya

     Kawazu tobikomu

     Mizu no oto.

Then, a crude translation of the words alone:

     Old pond—

     Frog leaps in:

     Water noise!

She then re-shaped it to carry the classical haiku 5/7/5 arrangement into English:

     Dark, mossy old pond—

     Lively frog leaps from the bank:

     The sound of water.

Dreaming Haiku

Dreaming Haiku

Each chapter of Dreaming Spies begins with a haiku that has something to do with that chapter. I am no poet—the most I can claim is that they all fit the 5/7/5 format. But I like the idea of a short and intense piece of imagery that stays with the mind, and anyone who doesn’t care for haiku can easily let their eye go past the chapter head to the print below.

But, I wanted to do something more with the form. And I had been talking to Random House about doing something for Indie booksellers, and it occurred to me that I could justify this bit of fun with some illustrated haiku by telling myself it was For Them. So I wrote a new haiku couplet about the book itself rather than just a chapter. And I asked my artist friend Jean Lukens (more from her when we talk about the book’s map) to do me a color piece to frame a pair of haiku.

But I didn’t want to just put the bare, typed, English poems into the frame: I wanted Japanese. And fortunately, I had another friend…

(More about “Dreaming Haiku” later, but in the meantime, if you’d like to win one of the above posters, check out the Haiku contest here.)

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26 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.

In Which We Leave Bombay

Half the population of the Thomas Carlyle was leaning on the rails, sweating into their flimsiest garments and glaring down at terra firma, while the great engines throbbed and the sun bellowed its way up the eastern sky.

“There.” Holmes nodded up the docks, past the nearly-completed Gateway, physical assertion of the British Empire’s claim to the lands beyond.

Gateway of India, Wikipedia

Gateway of India, Wikipedia

The Twenties were when the cruise industry got under way, and although luxury liners plied regularly back and forth across the Atlantic, Asia was another matter. Ships took passengers from Europe to India and Australia, but it was more a matter of transportation than entertainment.

So when Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes find themselves on the closest the Far East had to a cruise ship, they are, shall we say, taken aback. Amateur dramatics? Deck tennis? Shuffleboard?

Shuffleboard

Well, no doubt they’ll come up with something to keep their minds busy, during the three weeks to Japan…

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27 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.