We’re looking forward to hosting Laurie R King here at BookPeople this week. Her latest book, Bones Of Paris, is a sequel to her novel, Touchstone. As you can tell in this interview, she’s a fun, witty, and charming conversationalist. This will be a great event Wednesday night.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this book come about?
LAURIE R. KING: I’ve been working in the Twenties for a long time now, since writing The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in the late ‘80s. However, the Russell & Holmes series is not only light-hearted, most of the episodes don’t move very far chronologically. Which meant not only would it take me another twenty books to get to the 1926 General Strike, I’m not sure what the Duo would do once they were there. So I decided to give the Twenties another series, beginning with Touchstone in 2008.
MP: Why did you decide to write a novel set in the 1920’s in Paris? Why right before the Great Depression?
LRK: Ease and contentment spell death to a crime novel. A story about Montparnasse at the height of the expatriate boom of the early Twenties would be battling against the happiness of those years. Moving to the end of the decade finds that world falling to pieces: artists gone to the south of France, American writers packing their bags for home, and (reader prescience: a key tool of the historical novelist!) Black Tuesday lurking around the corner, a disaster that would send those smug Yanks creeping for home.
MP: Is this the start of a series or a standalone?
LRK: Touchstone was written as a standalone, until I realized 1) that I really didn’t need to kill off everyone in the story, and then 2) that I was interested in the characters, and wanted to return to them. The Bones of Paris turns Touchstone into a series.
MP: A lot of artists and celebrities make cameos in your book, including Man Ray, Ernest Hemingway and Josephine Baker. How did you decide which artists to include?
LRK: First of all, they had to be in Paris during the time, or at least plausibly able to make a side-trip to the city in September, 1929. After that, I chose a few colorful types and then spread out among their immediate friends and associates. Of course, certain people were ubiquitous in Montparnasse: it must’ve been hard to go into a bar without coming across Kiki!
MP: What kind of research did you do for this book?
LRK: “Twenties Paris” is a theme with more available material than any writer can possibly use, from memoirs to film to art to autobiographical novels and memoirs-that-should-be-called-novels. I have, in fact, been to the city, but this book could have been written even if I’d never been outside California.
MP: Where would you suggest a reader new to you start? With this book? With the Mary Russell series or the Kate Martinelli series?
LRK: There are a couple of my novels that rest heavily on a previous story, but this is not one of those. Yes, I hope people will love the characters enough to go back to Touchstone and find out what happened earlier, but it is by no means necessary. If you love Paris, or PI novels, or spooky thrillers, or books that are “complex, more than a little kinky, and absolutely fascinating” (Booklist’s review) then that’s background enough. If you prefer your crime with no sex and discreet violence, by all means pick up a Russell. If you prefer contemporary cop stories, then Kate’s your girl. I should mention that there are descriptions and excerpts for all the books on http://www.laurierking.com/books
MP: I first came to know you through The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which was the start of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. What do you enjoy about writing that series? Did any Sherlock Holmes purists get grumpy about the series?
LRK: I love Russell’s voice—have ever since she introduced herself by taking my hand to write, “I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes…” in 1987. The stories are classic romances—not in the sense of love stories, but in the sense of exotic and heroic adventures. She dresses in costumes, she beats up bad guys—she wears a knife in her boot, for heaven’s sake: what’s not to love?
As for grumpy Sherlockians, yes, there were dubious grumbles at first, but either I wore the grumpy ones down or they decided that I wasn’t as outrageous as they’d thought, because since then they’ve welcomed me, to the extent that I am now an official Irregular.
MP: What are the advantages of writing a series versus a standalone book? What are the disadvantages?
LRK: A series is like spending time with old friends, picking up where you left off. You all know the same jokes and references, you don’t have to explain much, and you have a chance to really know the people, in depth and over a period of time.
But it’s tough to keep a series fresh. One way I do this is by sending Russell and Holmes all around the world, which forces a new perspective into each story. And in general, I try to alternate that series with either another series or a standalone. Recently, for various reasons, I found myself writing four Russells in a row, and I kept myself interested by making them all different: the first two were linked and introduced some startling characters into the mix, and the next (Pirate King) was an out-and-out farce. After that palate-cleanser, Garment of Shadows let me go back to a classic Russell & Holmes adventure: costumes, exotic lands, outlandish situations.
MP: I understand you do a virtual bookclub for all of your books? How does that work and what does it entail?
LRK: The Virtual Book Club used to be a self-contained site, but it was a high-maintenance setup, so last year we moved it onto Goodreads. The moderators and I decide on books, keep the discussions rolling, and do things like welcome newcomers and organize conference meet-ups. This month they’re reading Touchstone, but we do a lot besides LRKing!
MP: What are you working on next?
LRK: A Russell & Holmes, the first half in Japan and the second a year later when they come home from Morocco. No definitive title yet.
MP: My final question is what I call my bonus question namely what question do you wish you would get asked, or asked more often? You then get to answer that question.
LRK: Sorry, the contract I signed was only for ten questions.
Copies of The Bones of Paris are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. King will speak about and sign copies of her new book here at BookPeople on Wednesday, September 18 at 7pm. If you can’t make it to the event you can order a signed copy of the book.