How did Folly come about?
After ten books, a writer generally feels that she knows her routine: nurture the seed of an idea in the dark recesses of the mind for a couple of years while it puts down roots, then when the time comes to bring it to light write furiously for four months or so, rewrite (also furiously, but driven more by rage than inspiration) for another six months, after which one’s editor tears the more or less finished product away and hands it over to the attentions of the cold, cruel world.
Then comes a book like Folly.
Folly began with the idle thought that one of these days I really ought to write about something I knew instead of having to research setting, time, and my protagonist’s profession from scratch. Now, over the course of twenty years of raising children, working a garden, and renovating several houses, a person learns to wield a spade, a cooking spoon, or a paintbrush with as much ease as a diaper pin or a pen.
Or, a hammer.
And suddenly with that thought, there Rae Newborn stood, a badly troubled woman a little older than I with a hammer in her hand. The whole book fell instantly into place, its structure that of the house Rae is rebuilding, its background a relationship with that same house’s history, the progress of Rae’s recovery going in parallel to the raising of the structure.
Building is a deeply satisfying activity, the smell of fresh sawn lumber, the hard echo of a team of carpenters raising walls, a stack of dead trees transformed into a living structure (double entendre intended). And it is to this activity that Rae turns in her time of need, putting up solid walls and impervious roof over herself, shoring up the very foundations of her life.
When a character comes to life like Rae does, don’t you wish you could hang on to her a little longer, make her a series character?
Folly was my second stand-alone, and as with the earlier Darker Place, I found a powerful difference from the very beginning in the way the characters grew in my mind. Both of the series I do, Kate Martinelli in modern California and Mary Russell with Sherlock Holmes in Twenties England, rest upon the ongoing development of the people and their relationships: each book takes the fictional community a few steps further down the path of their lives. There is an easy familiarity in writing another episode in a series, the feeling of rejoining a family after an absence. With a stand-alone, on the other hand, the three or five hundred pages of that book define those characters’ entire existence, the world in which they spring up, flower, and pass away.
This means that in the author’s mind at any rate, a stand-alone novel has an intensity that a serial novel may not. Every sentence counts. In a series, a certain amount of meandering is not only permitted, but necessary, since it is the side excursions that lay the groundwork for future books and link the whole. In Folly, the story line, the subplots, even the asides, have to be tight–although preferably not feel too tight to the reader.