Monday, February 2, 2009

Guest Blogger: Laurie R. King, Author of the Mary Russell Series

In 1987, when I was 35 and had two small children, I sat down one morning in September, took out my Waterman pen and a legal pad, and wrote the words, "I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him."

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, as that book eventually came to be called, taught me everything I know about writing. Writing is fun and writing is frustrating and if one is very, very lucky, writing is a way to pay the bills without having to punch into a time clock, but most of all, writing is work. Writing is sitting in a chair and making oneself produce words, even though they’re not the best words, sometimes not anywhere close to the best words, sometimes they’re just barely adequate words, but writing is putting words on paper, so that’s what a writer does, even if every one of those words need to be pushed around again later.

Twenty years and eighteen books later, that is pretty much what I know about writing: that you have to sit down and do it in order to get it done.

But sometimes, if the wind is right and the morning coffee has been precisely the strength needed and the gods of storytelling have been propitiated correctly, the writer receives a gift. The Muses take hold of pen or keyboard and drive the story in their own fashion, and a scene, or a chapter, or a plot twist comes out exactly, gleamingly, perfectly right. The only thing the writer can do to solicit the gift is to sit at the keyboard and plug away, sweating one word at a time, churning out one dead and awful phrase after another until the Muses take pity and lift the writer’s prose into a brief and perfect flight.

And sometimes it happens early on, and spoils the writer for any other job, forevermore.

I could not have invented Mary Russell. That is to say, I could have, since I did, but had I sat down that September morning and told myself that what I needed was a character who was absolutely clear in my mind yet who gave me all kinds of flexibility in plot and development; who was young enough to grow before my eyes yet mature enough that I never became impatient with her; who was enough like me that I felt I knew her but who could go ten books and still surprise me and keep me on my toes. Who was from a time I had never seen and a country that was not my own. Who could interact with another writer’s character, a figure the whole world knew intimately yet whom I had scarcely met, and force him to reveal unexpected, yet completely reasonable, sides of his personality.

Had I told myself all that, I would have put the cap back on my pen and gone to weed the vegetable patch. Fortunately, the Muses struck and Mary Russell came to life, all on her own.

Laurie R. King is the bestselling author of 18 novels, from the Edgar Award-winning A Grave Talent to 2009's The Language of Bees. She is a third generation native to Northern California, holds a BA degree in comparative religion and an MA in Old Testament Theology, and has spent much of her life traveling, raising children, and renovating old houses. She now lives a genteel life of crime, back again in northern California. For more information, visit her website at www.LaurieRKing.com.

Image Credit: Red Bat Photography.

16 comments:

  1. Terrific guest post. Loved it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wonderful post. Thanks for taking the time to share, Ms. King!

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a writer taking a stab at starting something new today, this is an inspiring post. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I read THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE last year, not knowing anything about the Mary Russell series, and I completely fell in love with it. I'm excited to catch up on the rest of the series soon!

    ReplyDelete
  5. What a great post - it was lovely learning how Mary Russell came into being. I am really looking forward to The Language of Bees!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have not read the Mary Russell books but I read all the rest of Ms. King books...and love them.
    Not sure why I never read the Russell books..I will have to!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love all the Mary Russell books. Please, see if Mary will make another appearance soon!

    ReplyDelete
  8. The link to Laurie's website tells me that she already wrote a new Mary Russell book and it's out! Yay! It also tells me that her husband just died after a long illness, and that the joy of telling people about her new book is mingled with other feelings right now.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This was a great post. I haven't heard of this author or the Mary Russell Series, but I'll have to check it out.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a lovely guest post! I haven't read the Mary Russell series, but I'm an avid Sherlock Holmes fan. So I'm sure it will work its way up Mt. TBR all the faster now!

    ReplyDelete
  11. *runs from Mutterings* Great post. It's great to see these little snippets of how you write and how your characters come to you. Thanks, as always, for sharing your experiences.

    All my best to you and your family,
    C

    ReplyDelete
  12. Oh I loved this post! It was indeed inspiring to a hopeful young and budding writer. Thank you so much, it was wonderful hearing about how one of my favorite characters was created.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hello all,

    I am coordinating Laurie's blog tour and wanted to say thanks so much for all your praise of her books. I'm also glad that her words could provide the writers among you with inspiration!

    Jeanne, the release date for The Language of Bees is April 28. If you reserve a copy through Laurie's Amazon store, a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit beehives through Heifer International: http://astore.amazon.com/larki-20.

    Thank you all!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ms. King, thank you so much for the interesting and insightful post. It's a delight to see how Mary Russell came into being.

    Russell remains one of my favorite and most dearly loved literary characters. I serendipitously stumbled across The Beekeeper's Apprentice at our local library when I was 15, and knew from the first line that the book was something special. Here was a character my own age, who -- instead of being some vapid, boy-crazy girl -- was intelligent, strong-willed, and able to hold her own with another formidable (and dearly loved) character. I've enjoyed growing up with her over the course of eight books, and can't wait to see where you take her next in The Language of Bees.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post! I've only read two of the Mary Russell books, so I have some catching up to do, but I love the Kate Martinelli books (and the standalones I've read so far).

    ReplyDelete
  16. What an inspirational post. I didn't know of this series before, but grew up reading Holmes. Can't wait to check this series out. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete