Writing Beginnings

Writes of Passage is a collection of essays on writing from Sisters in Crime authors.WRITES-OF-PASSAGE-front-280x425

My piece, on finding a community (yes, that’s you guys,) brought up the end position. The publishers have asked us to write blog posts for them, and today is my turn.  The topic is beginnings, and part of what I talk about is the beginnings of the book I’m working on now.

Click over to the post, here.

Laurie King, e-dinosaur

Well, friends, we’re one step closer to this:


To my great consternation, the 21st century is nipping at my heels. All these years, I’ve done copyedits on actual pieces of paper: I’ll finish a book and send my editor a lovely clean copy, spa she can take up her pencil and slash it to pieces, adding questions (Oh, those dread little queries that cost me two days to set aright) and remarks (and Oh, how I treasure her Huzzah!s and Love it!s and her hearts) and changes small and large onto the pages.  She then hands the whole thing to the copyeditor, who makes her own changes—in a colored pencil, so when the document comes to me again, I can tell their two comments apart at a glance. I am then given authority to accept, or to override (with STET, exclamation point optional) any of their suggestions, but it makes for a three-way conversation, with each of us suggesting our opinions in how to build a stronger book. (Some writers, I should mention, bitterly resent and battle any incursion on their prose. I am not one of those.)

However, the edit on The Murder of Mary Russell may mark the end of an era in more ways than the title’s (possible) significance: I got it back as an e-document.photo

Now, I’m not a complete dinosaur, so I’ve done e-edits before on short stories, but I loathe the process. (So does my editor, truth to tell. She’s very happy with the pencil-marks-on-dead-trees method, thank you very much.) E-edits are not only impersonal, and risky (I’ve had entire stories fail to register my changes) but they’re really tough to make sense of, either on the screen or a printout. Still, I’ve managed, grumbling all the while. But as I say, for going on two dozen books now, this has been a conversation, a collaboration, a last chance to rescue the book from unclarity and mediocrity. I need to feel the texture of the editorial process.

But I’m not enough of a diva to demand that the thing be sent back to the copyeditor so she can make her changes again in green pencil. I did bitch, and loudly—particularly because for some abominable reason, the thing came with both sets of comments—editor and copyeditor—in the same bilious green, which could not be re-set, so I couldn’t tell them apart without squinting at the attribution.

Once I had bitched and told them that no, I wasn’t going to do the whole thing as an e-doc, I then figured out how to shift the actual typescript portion on the page so it would give me some facsimile of normal-sized font, in spite of the comment-bubbles that took up the right-hand margin, then printed it out to wade my way through it. The first run-through always involves the more or less mechanical changes, accepting them or STETting them, and sticking a Post It wherever there’s a remark I need to deal with. After a few days, the thing looked like this:IMG_1153

It took me ten days or so, to get it to look like thisIMG_1154

then this.photo 2 copy

Finally, this not-quite-blind dinosaur tucked 500 pages of manuscript back into the Fed Ex box and sent it back. Yep, The Murder of Mary Russell is off my hands, until I get the pretty typeset Proof pages. When I get those, I’ll read the entire book aloud—and not sotto voce, either—to check for those annoying repeats and odd phrases that have persisted despite our concerted efforts.


[From Garment of Shadows, not The Murder of Mary Russell, in case you were wondering…]

After that….

Well, April 5 will be here before you know it.

LRK’s words

I had to laugh the other day when my editor sent me a piece from Galley Cat with the most looked-up words on Kindle. Why would she send me that?  Can’t think.

Anyway, running my eye down the list I saw a number of words that I couldn’t remember using, and others I’ve probably used, but in different forms.  Here’s the list, where I’ve put near-duplicates inside parenthesis, and bolded those that I’m pretty sure I’ve used. A number of these, by the way, are post-1920s, so they’re not (I hope!) in the Russell memoirs.  And others I’d definitely have to look up myself (pickelhaube? malacologist?)

You see any words here that you remember reading in one of the LRK books, that I’ve forgotten?

According to Amazon, 85 percent of readers look up words while they read. Below is a list of the most commonly looked-up words in the Kindle ecosystem.

The words that have been looked up the most on Kindle are as follows:















susurration  (susurrus; susurrant; susurrous)


















uxorious (uxoriously)




















plagiaristic  (I’ve probably used plagiarism)













underbred  (though I’m sure I’ve used overbred)








Alma Mater

The University of California Santa Cruz (“The original authority on questioning authority”) is my alma mater, and has continued to nourish me long after she handed me my degree.  Five years ago, I was tremendously honored to be named one of this relatively new university’s “45+5” alumni.  And coming up on the 25th, I will be participating in the 50th anniversary celebration weekend.

ALC Author's panel_final

This is open to the public, as is the evening event downtown at Bookshop Santa Cruz.  Come out, explore this flabbergastingly beautiful campus through one of the many walks, join in on one of the lectures offered, bring the kids to explore one of the events for them, and just come to celebrate a True Original of a university.

Details of my panel on writing and publishing are here, with a list of all the other events here.

Go, slugs!th

Book tours & Cons

A funny thing happened on my way to Dreaming Spies


Dreaming Spies low Res JPEG copy






Months and months ago, I said to Random House that I didn’t think a tour was really necessary for this novel, since it would be the first Russell & Holmes in 2 ½ years and people might be interested in it even without the author standing in front of them talking. And they agreed, since after all a tour costs them money that could be spent elsewhere.  So there we were, all nicely agreed, until Pub Day came on Feb 17th and I looked down at the printout of my duties for the month and said to myself, I said, Holy Granola, Batlady, looks like I’m doing a tour after all.

So off I set for Chicago and Houston and Scottsdale and California South and North (lots of North) and then Portland at the end since, well, I was going to be there anyway for Left Coast Crime, and…

All of which means that a month has disappeared on the road, leaving me now holding my skull and wondering what on earth I intended to do with this book I’m supposed to be writing.

Let me be clear: I enjoy touring. Not only is it a huge inflation to the ego to have rooms of people eager to hear what passes for my wisdom

Mission Viejo


while staying in hotels with interesting décorBed foot



but I also get to see the sorts of friends I only catch glimpses of when I go on the road.

Meg Gardiner

Me and Meg Gardiner

In the bar

Also there are a lot of amazingly talented people who come out, some of whom write poems or make sketches about the talk


At Kepler’s with Catriona MacPherson


while others give me presents.


I have a typewriter!

But, maybe next year I’ll keep the travel part down under a month, so I can do less of this


and more of this


If so, will you forgive me?

(Though in the meantime, keep in mind that my events page always has a list of appearances.  At the moment, those include Crimefest in May and BoucherCon in the fall, but we’ll be adding events in England this May: more when I know them.)

The young writer’s Thursday

Today’s TBT is the picture of a young writer…’s work:

Laurie 1967 essay

English descriptive paragraph

Laurie Richardson

Nov. 21, 1967

San Francisco, as I last saw it, was enough to stir the heart of any native Californian. The scene was movingly beautiful. I can remember it as if I saw it just yesterday. It was from the freeway leaving the city, looking down through the tall, intricately woven expansion of the Golden Gate Bridge. The angular outlines of the downtown buildings were softened by a light gray fog. The mist cleared over the water, letting the morning sun shine down onto the bay. Alcatraz, forboding [sic] yet lonely, protruded from the clear surface of the blue gray water. An ocean liner slowly made its way past the tiny sailboats on its journey to the ocean. The scene slowly disappeared behind the hills surrounding the bay. The last things to be hidden from sight were the tall, proud pillars of that beautiful bridge.

To which the teacher remarked:

I think the word selection (angular, intricately woven, etc.)

is what takes this beyond the real of “good” to “quality” communication.


My mother saved this, throughout many moves.

Countdown to Dreaming Spies: galley proofs

The proof, or galley stage of a book is when I receive a stack of printed matter that shows what the book will actually look like. This is always a surprise: Wow, it’s a real book! With margins! And pretty stuff!—since the publisher’s art department loves to contribute their little extras to the reading experience, whether it’s the choice of font, a design for the chapter heads, or the pages that separate the book’s sections.DS page

If you look closely at the picture, you will discover a book in progress. Little marks in the corners indicate where the page will be cut for the hardback, with the target-mark at the sides showing the exact halfway point. A line of words and numbers at the bottom tell you my surname, the13-digit ISBN number (part of which is the publisher designation, Bantam books), that page’s number, and a bunch of in-house code that tells them what book they’re looking at. Over at the right, it tells precisely when this set of proofs was printed off.

The proofs are the last time I will have to change things, so I go over every word to make sure that the audio book doesn’t have peculiar juxtapositions, that I’m not repeating myself, that I’ve explained sufficiently but not too much, that I’ve spelled things right, that I haven’t overlooked a passage I’d meant to take out. And individual words—this time I discovered an overuse of the word interesting. Sigh.DS MS

The way to find these mistakes is not to lay the pages down on a desk and go over them with pen in hand. The way to find them is to read every word, aloud, slowly and with attention. I can only do about 40 pages a day before my voice and my brain begin to wander, but when I do find errors, I often am nervous about correcting them then and there. If I’ve used the word interesting twice in a paragraph and want to change one of them to, say, intriguing, what if I used intriguing a few lines before? Because I’m not sure my tongue will have remembered it, I stick a Post It on the side and, at the end, go over the whole thing a second time with the laptop open, doing a word search to check. There are also Post Its to double-check on whether I’ve made proper use of a planted phrase or clue, whether I’ve sufficiently explained a situation, whether the wording on this section is clear enough, whether…

Which is why, by the time I send the proofs back to my editor after two or three weeks, I NEVER WANT TO READ THE THING EVER AGAIN REALLY NEVER.Dreaming Spies

This explains why readers should never regard those Advanced Reading Editions as the final work: AREs are the proof pages, not the corrected proofs. Not only do you get little oddities like wonky spacing (resulting in the word somemeansofkeepingboredomatbay) and a few places where the typesetter has picked up a word from the wrong row in the copy edit (“devoid of passengers” has become “devoid of indicated”) but you’ll also find irritating things like anachronisms (but “hairdo” sounds so Twenties) and a young woman who sits down in Russell’s kitchen in Oxford and takes off a coat that an earlier scene has established she is not wearing,

Things change, up to the last minute. All to make a smoother read for you guys.

*  *

Dreaming Spies publishes five months from today.  I know it’s early, but if you’re on Goodreads, you can note that you’re looking forward to reading it here; if you’d like to pre-order a copy, you can do that now too, with a signed copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz or The Poisoned Pen, or from Barnes & Noble, or from Amazon,

Crime Writing: the quirky nugget at the core

Crime and Thriller Writing: one part autobiography (half mine, half that of Michelle Spring), one part nuts-and-bolts writing manual, and one part guest speakers imparting a whole lot of wisdom.Crime-and-Thriller-WritingCrime-and-Thriller-Writing9781472523938_p0_v1_s300x

The middle of the book is a series of essays, on topics of their own choosing, from twenty-six other world-rank crime & thriller writers.  Like Val McDermid: do I need to say anything about Val McDermid? Val-McDermid-007

Every novel starts with an idea. Sometimes it’s a quirky nugget of information that suggests possibilities. Sometimes it’s an anecdote told over a dinner table. Sometimes it’s a throwaway line on the radio. But always, it’s something that sets me thinking, ‘What if …?’ It can take years to learn all the possible answers to that question, but quite early on in the process, it will be clear to me whether the shape and the subject of the story that’s emerging fits existing series characters.

Crime and Thriller Writing, by Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King, in paperback (signed, if you like, from Bookshop Santa Cruz) or from Barnes & Noble/Nook, or from Amazon/Kindle.

Twenty-eight experts for the price of one.

Crime Writers

Crime and Thriller Writing, co-authored by me and my friend Michelle Spring, has three sections to it.  The first is our reflections on our writing life; the third is the nuts-and-bolts how-to section.  But the middle section is a little of everything–and everyone.Crime-and-Thriller-WritingCrime-and-Thriller-Writing9781472523938_p0_v1_s300x

Part two is a series of essays by twenty-six other fantastic crime & thriller writers, on topics ranging from Alafair Burke’s “Watching the World with Empathy” to Charles Todd on settings. One of our aims was to draw from both sides of the Atlantic, so we included a number of writers more at home in the UK than in the US.  One of those is the excellent and subtle Sophie Hannah, poet, children’s writer, and writer of psychological thrillers that will have you sleeping with the lights on.


The reason I’ve always loved mystery stories, and probably the reason, also, that I became a crime writer, is because, in my real life, I’ve always been obsessed with the need to know, a need that so often goes unquenched. There are so many unknowns in our day-to-day existence, so many unfathomable mysteries – not associated with murders usually, but fascinating none the less. When everything is known, life is, let’s face it, boring. But when you yearn for information that is either deliberately withheld from you or for some other reason not available, you can’t bear the thought that this burning question might never be resolved. The comfort of crime fiction is that, except for in the most experimental of mystery novels, the puzzle always is resolved.

Crime and Thriller Writing, by Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King, in paperback (signed from Bookshop Santa Cruz) or from Barnes & Noble/Nook, or from Amazon/Kindle.

Twenty-eight expert, passionate tutors for the price of one.

Writes of Passage

Sometimes, you’re looking for a how-to book. Other times, what you need is a how-I book. This is one of those.


Writers face turning points every day, dozens of times. Even the most minor scene has repercussions: everything is a write of passage.

It’s also, as jobs go, remarkably lonesome, since few of us have colleagues in the next cubicle. A book like this helps. It gets to the heart of who we as writers are, how we see our lives, what we do about the next phase (whether the Work in Progress is a story, or a life.) It’s about community, about finding a family—which is what I wrote my essay about:

We tend to forget, caught up as we are in the hurly-burly of daily life, the extraordinary nature of our times. To a very real degree, we have taken a step not so much outside our physical identities, but in addition to “real life”. We grow families that are linked not by genetic material, but by the connections themselves.

This is a lovely book, both in appearance and in essence. Appropriately, proceeds go to support the community that gave it birth, under the guidance of Hank Phillipi Ryan, last year’s president: Sisters in Crime.

Writes of Passage is available from Barnes & NobleAmazon, and the excellent Henery Press (although judging by Google’s page,  a person would swear that Laurie King wrote the whole thing.  Sorry, Hank!)  And now from Indiebound!