Keeping Watch

This is week thirteen of this spring’s Twenty Weeks of Buzz, when each Tuesday I post remarks about the background of one of the twenty books. This week, Keeping Watch, published in 2003.


I wanted to write a man.

Often the seed of one of my books is something that only has significance for me: A Grave Talent started with a challenge to see if I could write a compelling book where the main character doesn’t actually do anything; in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, I wanted to see if I could build a realistic young woman around the mind of a Victorian adult male; Locked Rooms takes its flavor from a dream, although my actual dream is not found in the book.

With Keeping Watch, I wanted to see if I could write a book with a believable male protagonist.

Towards the end of Folly, Rae Newborne finds that her island home is playing host to a squatter, Alan Carmichael. Rae goes on to play a small role in Keeping Watch—these two books will eventually grow to a cycle of San Juan-oriented stories—but this novel is less a sequel than a parallel story with overlaps. Where Folly told of how Rae rebuilt herself and her house, Keeping Watch follows Alan Carmichael on a similar journey, from a wounded vet with severe PTSD to a man who has—or so he thinks—made peace with himself and the world. He has done so by putting the skills of a soldier to use in the rescue of the helpless. (The organization he helps is very loosely based on Faye Yager’s “Children of the Underground.”)

As I was writing, I found that, since the book was about a man’s journey, the wider story became that of men as well, around the question, How do you turn a boy into a killer? The boy who comes into Alan’s circle of protection is going through a civilian version of what Alan experienced in uniform: isolated, oppressed, and bombarded by murderous impulses. Why does one person give in to those, and another stand away? What role does a father play in shaping his son’s basic nature? And, to what extent can a surrogate stand in for a father?

(So, did I create a believable male? Well, I had quite a few letters from readers saying not only that they thought Laurie King was a man, but that I had to be a Vietnam veteran as well.)

Comments

  1. You came to Anderson’s Bookshop on tour for Keeping Watch, Laurie; as I was waiting for the event to start I read several chapters of the book and I recall being so impressed by your rendition of Alan’s wartime memories that it moved you up another notch in my already lofty opinion of your writing chops.

    John.

  2. It may be seven years since I read Keeping Watch, but it is still resonant and will have another airing some time soon – very powerful. I was – and still am – amazed that this title was never picked up here in the UK.

    Delighted to hear that, together with Folly, there is still a plan for more in the cycle!

    Chris

  3. I read both Keeping Watch and Folly this year. (They were the only LRK books I hadn’t already read.) And I think they’re both my favourites. Keeping Watch definitely hits hard, creates a very real universe, and felt to me like it was written by a completely different person than any of the Russells or Matinellis. And Folly as well, struck me as so completely separate. The language is so specific. Even though the two books share people and places, the worlds are different, distinct, highly real. I think reading Keeping Watch might be the most intense experience I’ve ever had reading a book.

  4. I have loved reading your standalone novels, but Keeping Watch is the last one I haven’t yet read. I looked at this post to see what I could look forward to, and am a little confused. In Folly, Rae made a point of verifying the spelling of his name: Allen, not Alan (her deceased husband). What made you decide to change it to Alan (as seen in this post & related comments)? btw I so enjoyed your comments and insights at the University Library reading in Seattle a few months back. Thanks for visiting us & for all your superb creations! Em

  5. Laurie King says:

    Oh dear, sorry for the typos! It’s Allen, of course…

  6. Claralyn Howard says:

    It had been years since I’d read the Beekeeper and Kate Martinelli series. After reading “Folly” for our local book group I heard a neighbor talking about the power of “Keeping Watch.” She had been a 13 year-old candy striper at a military hospital during Viet Nam and said the reality of what the young amputees had been through became so vivid for her in “Folly” that she had to be careful when and where she read it.
    My brother was in Nam in 67-68 so I too am being careful when and how I read it.
    Just a little while ago I was stopped short however when in the first paragraph describing moving into Truc Tho there appears “five men who (if they survived) would be old enough to choose between Kennedy [sic] and Nixon in November.” Of course November of 68 was McGovern v Nixon. My copy is the Feb 2004 Bantam trade paperback edition. Has this been corrected in later editions ?
    You are a powerful writer and I’m looking forward to catching up on the books I’ve missed.

    • Laurie King says:

      Oh dear,what an idiotic typo. I’ll check on it, because you’re right, it’s just the kind of thing that kicks a reader out of a book.
      Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the book, typos or not…
      Laurie

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