A Green Companion

Among other things, The Mary Russell Companion offers back-story for the dramatis personae of the Memoirs, including the quizzical Mr Goodman of The God of the Hive.  Not that we can ever know quite how the man came to be as he was, but a previously unpublished short-short story, “The Birth of a Green Man”, appears in the Companion by way of a hint: 

Birth of a Green Man

This short piece reflects on the period in the life of Robert Goodman (The God of the Hive) after he had left the hospital in Edinburgh, where he was being treated for shell shock, and before Mary Russell dropped out of the sky on him in 1924.

Craiglockhart Hospital, Edinburgh.

Craiglockhart Hospital, Edinburgh.

A god is born where need and torment meet.  A god is born when dark and light are one and the same.  A god is born, and the earth is given voice in which to sing its joy and its terror.  And where a god is born—have no doubt about this—there is blood.


He died when the god named War ripped open his skull and thundered confusion inside.  He died, until one spring day he left the hospital, creeping away to a place of childhood quiet and innocence, among the Cumbrian lakes.  A place where all deaths were meant to be and the only thunder lay in the rain.


There, green air washed him, wood and soil touched him, fur and feather healed him.  He shunned a mansion; he built a cave in the green.  He went days, weeks without speech….

. . . .


For the rest of Mr Goodman’s tale, The Mary Russell Companion

is available here.


UK Launch

(Apologies–I have a new machine that is proving shy about interacting with the blog program, so this post, from Thursday, is just finding its way to light.  Laurie King Inc: the place to come for cutting edge technological wizardry.)

Romance is gone from the world.

A journey that should be recognized with drama, import, or even just a brief acknowledgment of its globe-spanning scope has become an exercise in hauling easily damaged and irritatingly vocal freight from here to there.  Food and entertainment choices betray a desire, not to nourish or amuse, but to make the freight units shut up.

However, not even United airlines can change the essential loveliness and humanity of England.  I am here, and until I commit myself again to the gentle ministrations of the air industry, I am free of their cold and corporate embrace.

Today I drive from my family’s house in the western edges of London up to Cambridge, a journey of ninety minutes or nine hours, depending on the humour of the M25, London’s–not ring road, which was long swallowed by suburbs, but the city’s “orbital”, a massive, six-lane Saturn’s ring of a road that takes nothing but a hesitant granny or a stray nail to reduce it to a parking lot ten or twenty miles long.

What was I saying?  No! Adventure is not dead in the age of modern travel…

At the end of this (insh’Allah) will be the city on the Cam, and the treasure palace of Heffer’s Books which, under the excellent guidance of Richard Reynolds, holds an annual salon of crime called Bodies in the Bookshop.

A grand way to start off the God of the Hive Tour, UK edition!

Writing a god

The God of the Hive was not the book’s original title.  My working title (and I won’t be giving any spoilers in this post, so don’t worry) was The  Green Man, but how we got from one to the other makes for a long and complicated explanation that is best boiled down to:

My editor (firmly, in June): The Sales department says “The Green Man” is too New-Agey.

Me (desperately, in September): Are we allowed to use the word “god” in a title?

We were, and we did.

Having settled on a title in a flailing-about, last-ditch, the-spring-catalogue-has-to-go-into-print-tomorrow conversation, I was (once  the dust settled and I could sit down to think about it) astonished at how appropriate it was.  And evocative.  And faintly mysterious.

Because really, just who is the god of this particular hive?

There are two self-proclaimed candidates for the book’s role of divinity, however, I was more interested in the god of the land on which the busy hive was built.

The green man is an ancient figure in Britain, the personification of life as it springs up each year, then dies down again with the cold.  He appears on pub signs across the land, he occasionally takes a place in a parade or ceremony, he peeps in and out of literature and myth.  His image is a man whose beard is leaves, whose eyes and lips are barely discernable amongst the wild growth that springs from his mouth and nostrils.  He is a corn god and a wild god; he is a god-man who draws his life from the very roots of the British Isles.  (There is a lot written about him, as you might imagine, most of it as fictional as anything I have written.)

My background is academic theology.  I have written religious characters before, from a holy fool to a modern mystic.  I had never written a god.

Robert Goodman is that god-man.  He is a spirit of vegetation; he is a brother to that representative of chaos, the holy fool; he is a force of nature, and he is the force that directs nature.

He is also a man, with a man’s history, a man’s terrible experiences in wartime, a man’s need to be healed and to make his life anew.

You do not see the moment in which Goodman becomes a god in The God of the Hive. (That moment is described in “Birth of a Green Man,” a story that is not yet formally published, although I may make it available later on.)  However, from the moment Goodman appears in the story, it is quite apparent that this man is not of this world, that he exists in a realm so far removed from the inwardly-focused bustle of London and the self-important concerns of the world of espionage, that he has more in common with a hedgehog living by a freeway than he does a figure whose command will shake the earth.

Except that Goodman is a god, and even a small, green, vegetative god has a way of influencing the world in manners at once unexpected, subtle, and subversive.

Peripheral prizes

Want to know more about The God of the Hive?  Like, how on earth a person like Robert Goodman came to be?  You have a chance to win “Birth of a Green Man,” the illustrated short story about a key moment in Goodman’s history, by sending me the receipt for the book purchased from an independent bookstore.

Mail your receipt to PO Box 1152, Freedom CA 95019, or email it to bees at oldsite.laurierking.com (substitute @)—either way, I need it by Monday, May 17—and I’ll put your name in a hat to draw from on Wednesday at the God of the Hive Grand Finale event in Scottsdale’s Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

And may the best Indy customer win!

At the other end of the story arc, what about those events referred to in the story, the profound changes the Robert Goodman case threatened to have on Britain’s Intelligence community? The final episode of “A Case in Correspondence” is going up here tomorrow, followed next week by the story in its entirety on the web site.  Read, ponder, and ask yourself what effect Mary Russell had on the United Kingdom…

(I find this the fun part of the Web, being able to play the game and share peripheral material about the actual published stories.  I hope you agree.)

Penultimate week

Here are the new covers for the three backlist paperbacks, gorgeous things all (click image to enlarge):

And now that you’ve had a week to read (and perhaps reread?) The God of the Hive, you can download a brand new official LRK reading guide on the Reading Guide page. (Careful, there are spoilers.) Make sure to head over to the Virtual Book Club and share your thoughts!

As if that weren’t prize enough, here are the winners for the past weeks’ art contests:

For the Beekeeper’s Gallery contest, it was a close call, but in the end you preferred Rebekah Tilley’s picture of her ARC. Well done Rebekah!

After much debate (and some overenthusiastic voting for one particular contestant), I decided that the Illuminated MyStory entries were all too gorgeous to choose just one. So in the end, we will be sending a broadside of “Birth of the Green Man” to all five contestants. Congratulations, and thank you for sharing your marvelous art with us!

For the Russellscape contest, the winner is Joyce Weiner, who submitted Russellscape #28 (as seen to the right). Congratulations Joyce! She will also win a “Birth of the Green Man” broadside.

Over at the Letters of Mary site, we had a tie for first place in the Mary Russell Fan Fiction contest. What suspense! After flipping a coin, the moderator determined the winners to be as follows:

1. Another Case in Correspondence by roseriter
2. Pilgrimage by merrily1945

And last but not least, this week’s contest: the Mary Russell Colo(u)ring Book. Kim has been kind enough to dedicate her entries to another project, which leaves us with the winner: Tamra A. Congrats Tamra, and look for the official colo(u)ring book in the not so distant future!

A very big thank you to all who participated in the art and fan fiction contests. Only one week of the twenty left to go, but the biggest prizes are yet to come. So if you haven’t done so already, make sure to send us your independent bookstore receipt for The God of the Hive or make your donation to Heifer International today.

God of the Hive, day one

Today is publication day for The God of the Hive.  More than a year of labor from a lot of people, beginning with the author and going through a dozen departments in Random House, branching through a whole bunch of fabulous and committed volunteers who just love the books, the source of worry and the result of long consultations, legal contracts, business agreements, artistic considerations, excitement and anticipation and pleasure.  And now we’re here, the book is on the shelf, and it all boils down to one question: Will people buy it?

This is a book I love and am proud of.  I hope you like it, too.  I hope you help me celebrate its birth-day.


And to illustrate how the book world works so long in the future, you can now read an interview about my next story, here.

(Re)Writing God of the Hive IV

The fourth excerpt for The God of the Hive is here. (The book itself is available on April 27.) For those curious about the writing and rewriting process, each excerpt has been followed by a brief explanation of the changes made. As always, I take care to avoid major spoilers, but anyone wishing to preserve the absolute purity of the eventual reading experience should stop now and stick to the excerpts themselves, and perhaps come back to the (Re)Writing posts after reading the book itself. (Click on the images below to enlarge.)

What is now chapter four started out as the latter half of chapter one, but this (as with the chapter showing Holmes and Damian at sea) was divided in favor of a quick introduction to the various characters.  When first we saw Russell, she and a child were crossing a hill at dawn.  That first chapter showed us Russell and Estelle; set the scene; made reference to her brother-in-law Mycroft (whose Intelligence work will play a major role in The God of the Hive); and touched on the presence of an aeroplane and pilot, waiting ominously in the distance. (A basic rule of crime fiction: Don’t mention a gun if you’re not going to use it.)

Having met the principal players, the machinery of the plot now begins to turn, with Russell maneuvering her way across the island and absorbing the first lessons of surrogate parenting, namely, how to move about with a child in tow.  This is only one of the skills she has never before had any particular need for, but Russell’s arms are already becoming accustomed to the child, as the reader begins to accept the presence of this small person in the story.

Which means that when a man turns a gun on the narrator, the reader immediately feels the threat to the child at her side.

All the elements of this chapter move towards this threat: the changed verbs of motion used to describe boarding and leaving the milk cart sharpen the senses, and the tension.  The change from (in the original draft) Russell spotting the cart and instantly knowing how to get onto it change, illustrating her hesitation, even fear, due to the presence of Estelle: Russell is afraid of coming into the open.

And when the final line comes, the threat is not simply a man with a gun, it is a man threatening her heart.

The God of the Hive, portion the fourth

The final excerpt of The God of the Hive (only a month to go until pub date!) is up (via the book page), in which Mary Russell hides behind milk canisters, and meets a gun.

Come back here to Mutterings in two days for my comments on the rewrite process of this chapter, and a glimpse of the final stages (click on the photo to enlarge):

(Re)Writing God of the Hive III

The third excerpt for The God of the Hive is here, with more to follow on March 27 (and the book itself April 27.) For those curious about the creative process, each is followed by a post showing scans of the first draft and brief remarks about the rewrite process. I take care to avoid major spoilers, but if you wish to preserve the absolute purity of the eventual reading experience, I suggest you stop now and just stick to the excerpts themselves, and return to the (Re)Writing posts after you’ve read the book in May. (Click on the images below to enlarge.)

The Language of Bees concluded with the three most dreaded words in fiction: To be continued.  The book was not in fact unfinished, although the villain did live on—as villains have lived from book to book through generations of detective stories: Moriarty was not the only villain to be “continued.”

We must remember, however, that our villains are the heroes of their own stories.  We did not actually see much of Reverend Thomas Brothers in The Language of Bees, but rather caught brief glimpses of his internal life while focusing on the effects he had on others.  In The God of the Hive, we need to hear his voice.

It begins with the change in the nameless man’s actions: In the first draft, his first question concerns the identify of his assistant; in the final draft, his concern is all for his great task, the overriding concern of his life.

The first draft is adequate to set the scene: injured man, in hiding, helped by those for whom he has little liking or respect.  But the scene is at a remove from Brothers himself, in a way the final version is not. (Click on the pages below to enlarge.)

Here, we smell the air inside the claustrophobic little hut, and follow Brothers’ thoughts as they clear from confused jumble to grim determination.  Equally necessary, we get a sense of his overriding preoccupation: the Great Work that has led him to this remote place, made him sacrifice much, and driven him to murder.  He is what was then called a monomaniac, what we might now call a sociopath, but to his own mind, his acts and decisions make all the sense in the world.  For a book composed of multiple viewpoints to succeed, the reader must be aware of some degree of sympathy with the designated villain: He or she can reject the sympathy, but it has to be available on the page.

To himself, Thomas Brothers is right, powerful, and fully justified in his actions.  He is also very much alive, and clearly has no intention of fading away.

Moreover, he has a Friend.

The God of the Hive, part three

A third excerpt of The God of the Hive has gone up, and can be found here via the book page: In which we are reintroduced to the man with several names.

Also, a newsletter is going out today, full of News and Excitement–if you’re one of those who opens it up by Monday night, your name will go into the drawing for a copy of the ARC.  Even if you live in Australia or Zanzibar.

Come back to Mutterings the day after tomorrow for my comments on the rewrite process, and a look at the first draft–maybe not quite as untidy as this one. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)