Answer’s to Life’s Questions (1)

Okay, enough with the questions for now. I\’e2\’80\’99ve answered some of your questions here, and will do another batch later in the week. If I don\’e2\’80\’99t get to yours, save it for next month\’e2\’80\’99s \’e2\’80\’9cAsk LRK\’e2\’80\’9d. Or you could look at the web site’s Frequently Asked Questions page.

Q. MYNINKI SAYS: After a chapter or two of locked room for the nerves, and the waiting, you killed Dr. Leah Ginzberg. Why, isnt it a bit disappointment to find her gone?I\’c2\’b4m not sure if i put it right. Happy New year

A. (Hola amiga, que tal?) Not a question, maybe, but nonetheless the problem of killing off a character is not to be taken lightly. A writer kills off a character for a number of reasons. It could be s/he is just tired of that person, and wants to shift focus\’e2\’80\’94Freeling\’e2\’80\’99s Aupres de ma Blonde is one of the more jolting of those. Usually the death of a familiar face is a tool to be used, generally to give weight to an episode and lend a (pardon the pun) gravitas to the story. Minor characters are obviously easier to use in this way, people the reader has become fond of but not irrevocably attached to, such as Dr Ginzberg or Dorothy Ruskin, the archeologist of LETTER OF MARY and O JERUSALEM. When major characters die, of course, fair play to the reader demands a really good reason for it. Sometimes the reader ends up nodding, reluctantly, and going along with it, but other times there\’e2\’80\’99s the stink of convenience to writing off (we\’e2\’80\’99re just full of puns today, aren\’e2\’80\’99t we?) a fictional person. Especially in this genre, it\’e2\’80\’99s a huge temptation to kill off a significant other rather than find one\’e2\’80\’99s protagonist married off, raising kids, and fretting over the repair bills on the Volvo. Dana Stabenow, and more recently Elizabeth George, left their readers with the suspicion that the author found a nice shocking fictional murder easier than wrestling with the complexities of permanence.

Q. Two more or less related writing questions. ANTONIA GRAY says: I write, and was wondering if you might have any advice regarding plotting/structuring a novel and building narrative tension? I get ideas for starting stories, but working out (in advance) where the story is going is where I stumble.
AND FROM REBECCA: you’ve talked about the length of novels before, but this is something that’s always frustrating for me. I love to write, but the longest piece of fiction I’ve ever completed is about 20,000 words long. Do you have any insights to share on how to come up with a plot complex enough to make a “real” novel without needing a lot of filler? Was this ever an issue for you when you first started writing novels?

A. I actually don\’e2\’80\’99t know how much a writer can determine how and what s/he writes. I personally have little luck working out in advance where the story is going, thus I stumble, a lot. And although by this time in my career I have a good feel for how long the story I\’e2\’80\’99m thinking about will end up being, it\’e2\’80\’99s by no means a deliberate choice.

(This may give you an idea why Laurie King doesn\’e2\’80\’99t teach a lot of writing classes\’e2\’80\’a6)

I personally do not outline. Not that I don\’e2\’80\’99t try, it\’e2\’80\’99s just not how my mind works. I need to allow the story to grow organically, and I can no more tell where the narrative will take me than a gardener, planting a random and unrecognized seed, could know the shape of the fruit.

Rebecca, you don\’e2\’80\’99t say how old you are or how long you\’e2\’80\’99ve been writing, but it\’e2\’80\’99s very common for beginners to make their initial forays into fiction in a compact form. It\’e2\’80\’99s unfortunate that modern tastes make it nearly impossible to make a living out of short fiction, but perhaps after mastering that form, your confidence will begin to spread into longer work. Then again, short fiction may be your natural home, and making a longer work will be a matter of weaving together narratives, rather like Amy Tan did in THE JOY LUCK CLUB.

Q: For some reason, KIT MARLOWE wants to know, Have you ever read Anne Rice ?

A: I read her book on castrati, something like CRY TO HEAVEN, long ago, and I think the first of the vampire books.

Q: And a bunch of nosey Russell fans ask questions:
Holmes and Russel have been married for a few years now. Do you have any plans for them ever to have children? (ANNA)

And, in Monstrous Regiment, there is a passing mention of Holmes’ having a son (clearly not with Russell). Is this something from the original stories that I have forgotten? Or your own invention? And if the latter, will there be more about it?

And, at the end of BEEK you mention Holmes and Russel going to Europe together, do we ever get more details on that?

And, Is the next Russell book going to focus on the interlude in Japan that was mentioned in Locked Rooms? (from SARAH )

A: Okay, first of all guys, Russell has two Ls. I will assume both uses of Russel are typos.

Next, No, Russell is not now pregnant. I\’e2\’80\’99ll let you know if that changes. The son mentioned is found in various Sherlockian literature, commentaries suggesting that Holmes spent time with Irene Adler in France during the Great Hiatus after Reichenbach Falls. I made mention to it because I was thinking of doing a book about the lad some day, but haven\’e2\’80\’99t yet, and may never, because it would be a dark book. But that would be the one where they go to Europe at the end of BEEKEEPER\’e2\’80\’99S APPRENTICE.

And I\’e2\’80\’99d like to write a Russell set partly in Japan, mostly because it would give me an excellent excuse to go there myself. In the future, far, far away.

More Answers to Life\’e2\’80\’99s Questions later, I now have to get back to the page proofs for THE ART OF DETECTION, promised to New York by Wednesday.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you very much for answering my question! 🙂

    Antonia Gray

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you also, for answering, mine I wanted to know if you had ever read Anne Rice, was because you commented once on being surprised at seeing the movie Interview with a Vampire. I guess I should have asked you what you thought of her Christ book too.
    Kit Marlowe

  3. Anonymous says:

    A passing thought only … I notice you seem to blog (mutter) in the early morning hours. How early do you arise? I’m assuming you do “arise” (an uplifting description) rather than drag your sorry-ass self out of bed against your inclinations as I do. Do you do your book-writing early in the morning as well? Iris lady.

  4. Thanks so much!

    You mentioned I didn’t say how old I am or how long I’ve been writing… I’m just eighteen, actually. I sold a poem last month, the first piece of my writing that’s been accepted for publication, and I’m excited.

    So thanks again, and I’m looking forward to THE ART OF DETECTION.

  5. (Y uno aqu\’c3\’ad pensando que va de inc\’c3\’b3gnito..!? Sometimes you can imagine the answer for some things, but you still have to ask the question, thank you!.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your reply to DAVE. I was offended by his comments.

    Your answer was brilliant. thankyou. LB.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your wonderful stories and for your open forum here to interact with readers. I owe you a great debt, as I discovered Sherlock Holmes only through being directed to your stories first, and I continue to enjoy both with equal pleasure!

    One thing, however… Playing the devil’s advocate, I have to say it is (however technically incorrect) not a complete error to use one ‘l’ for Russell, as page 368 of the 1999 Bantam Paperback Edition of ‘The Moor’ says this:

    Considering the circumstances, it is a little surprising that more of the manuscripts written by Mary Russel do not involve well-known public names.

    Though, admittedly, this is a single error (and the most esteemed editor ought to have corrected it)! – not one repeated often and frequently, which does not lead one to think there is more than a slip of the fingers involved.

    It just happened that I discovered your blog, this entry, and was rereading the Moor on that exact page on the same day, or we wouldn’t be talking right now.. \’c2\’ac_\’c2\’ac


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