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.

Comments

  1. RussellHolmes says:

    Interesting…

  2. Again with the hedgehogs…. 🙂

  3. Laidee Marjorie says:

    I had asked Laurie this question about the change in the title at her appearance at the Yale Bookstore (although I am certain I am not the only one who has asked it). It’s not that I don’t like either of the titles. I do (although I was already used to “The Green Man”).

    It is more to do with the fact that I would hope that there is a point in being a successful author when you get to pick the title that you want, the cover art that you want, the subject matter that you want, etc. It is a dose of cold reality, I guess, to see that there is never complete freedom in the process of writing and publishing a book. That makes me naive. I guess that all art is collaborative on some level.

    Oh, and I would love to see Robert Goodman and Bennett Grey meet some day.

    –Marjorie

  4. Pat Floyd says:

    Majorie, if you’re the editor you still don’t get absolute say about these things although the buck stops with you if mistakes are made.

    I’m glad to read this explanation. It’s what I had concluded, but one of the others who saw himself in this role might have been meant ironically.

    Pat

  5. La Donna says:

    Good heavens … Bennett Grey and Robert Goodman ….

  6. Gail Lelyveld says:

    Thank you for putting together such a wonderful book. I guess I will find out who Bennett Grey is if I keep reading your books. I do love Robert Goodman. Any chance of his becoming a series? I do want to see more Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Robert could do more stuff with them, and occasionally go off on his own. I can see alot of frustration with Sherlock if Robert is around too much. Thank you!

  7. strawberry curls says:

    Gail — Bennett Grey was one of the main characters in “Touchstone” a great read BTW. Gray was a man who was, quite literally, changed by his experiences in WWI.

    Great idea, Marjorie, just one scene with Grey in the presences of Goodman would be great, wouldn’t it? Grey would feel Goodman’s madness and goodness and Goodman would see a kindred spirit in Grey, someone who feels too much, but is very connected to his surroundings. They both need peace.

    –Alice

  8. Personally, I like “The Green Man” as a title. I think it defines the story more closely.

  9. June Gibson says:

    I kept thinking Robert Goodman and Bennett Grey would turn out to be the same man, somehow. Couldn’t get around the different families, though.

  10. Wayne Meehan says:

    So…I got a question. I’ll look on Laurie’s site as well a bit later for the answer. Chapter 49 ends with Mary knocking on the door of P. J. West’s supposed warehouse residence before the funeral. Chapter 50 is Lestarde going to church. West ruminating about symmetry is the focus of Chapter 51 which ends with him arising to answer a knock at the door. Chapter 52 background on Goodman, 53 Goodman thinking about the funeral vis a vis Mary, and so forth. Nowhere can I find a resolution on Mary seemingly knocking on West’s door and West answering a knock. Was this accidentally edited out? More likely, did I just miss it? It’s driving me nuts, and I don’t want to read the last 100 pp again.

  11. At the start of Chapter 59: The knock on his office door that afternoon had summoned him half an hour early to the taxi…
    But perhaps I should add something to page 279, when the paperback comes out, to clarify that Russell had no response to her knock.

  12. Wayne Meehan says:

    Ah, yes! Actually, when I discussed this with my wife, she remembered something about a taxi. However, Chapter 59 was just too far from Chapter 51 for me either to remember or to backtrack. I know…I should listen more to my wife.

  13. Loved GotH………..but… What secret of Dr. Hennings..??

    Is she not a physician, but a nurse ? Am I blind and dumb…I reread the
    test regarding her several times, but no secret..
    Thanks

    • Laurie King says:

      Yes, that’s an odd addition to the cover blurb, isn’t it? Clearly, authors not only don’t write, but are only faintly consulted, on cover copy. I suppose in the future I’ll have to come up with some dark secret for the poor woman!

  14. My question of the Mary Russell knock on West’s door was answered, but I was also wondering about the part when Mycroft was in the room and heard shoes coming at an odd time and picked up a brick and…chapter end. Did I miss the resolution of that? It’s been plaguing me, even days after finishing the book.

  15. I just finished the book and was glad to find this entry with more background on Robert and the title.

    I’m a big fan and can’t wait for Pirate King!

  16. I would love to see Robert Goodman brought back into the lives of Mary and Sherlock. Ms. King seemed to set up a segue that would allow that to happen, at the end of God of the Hive. He adds another dimension to the wonderful plot lines and characters.

  17. Jackie Ford says:

    I was astonished by Russell’s actions at the bridge. When has she ever defied Holmes (and along with him, the palace!) in such a way – and won’t Holmes have some forgiving to do, just as Russell and Mycroft do? Won’t Holmes resent being put between her and Mycroft on a matter of such importance? I await further reading, and am heading on to The Pirate King … thank you thank you Laurie King for the many ongoing surprises with these characters!

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