Thursday, May 1, 2008

Guest Blog by Laurie R. King

I've known Laurie R King for well over ten years now (she writes about our meeting in the guest blog below) and I can't praise her mystery novels too highly. She is an incredibly gifted writer who has won numerous awards and been featured on The NY Times bestseller list, and most of all, her books are great fun. Almost as prolific as she is talented, Laurie writes a mystery series featuring Mary Russell (Sherlock Holmes young wife and partner), a series featuring San Francisco cop Kate Martinelli, and numerous stand-alone thrillers, of which the most recent, just out this last January, is Touchstone (I highly recommend this book-and all of Laurie's books). Laurie visited equestrianink, enjoyed our stories, and volunteered to write a guest blog-I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Be sure to check out her ebsite and blog.
Virtual Book Club:
web site:
web log:

Thanks, Laurie!

Laura Crum
By Laurie R King

I've been friends with Laura Crum since her first manuscript was in copy edit. We were both with St Martins Press then, and shared the same editor as well. I'd been through the process a couple of times, and she, faced with a manuscript bristling with changed commas and snippy remarks, phoned to introduce herself and to get my advice. (Which largely consisted of, It's just the copy editor's opinion, feel free to ignore it if you disagree.) Since then we've picked each others' brains any number of times, I most recently when I needed the name of an old-fashioned rose for a Duke's estate, in Touchstone--Laura's the expert gardener, as well, who actually likes the process.
But mostly, Laura knows horses. Her books' equine vet, Gail McCarthy, works the gamut of the horse world, from dressage to roping to trail-riding to the current barrel-racing setting in "Chasing Cans" (love the title!) I, on the other hand, am more or less required to bring the
occasional horse into my books, because I write a series set in the 'teens and twenties, when horses were still in daily use.

However, I know nothing about horses except that they're really tall and hard to steer. One of the few times I sat on a horse's back, as a teenager, I ended up flapping my arms and legs fruitlessly, causing the thing to turn its head and glare at me. I ended up getting off, leading it where I wanted to go, climbing back on, and riding back-and since we were then headed to the barn, we moved at something alarmingly near a trot.

That's the extent of my horse life.
So it cracks me up when someone writes, as happened recently on the Virtual Book Club discussion of my novel "The Moor": Russell's experience on Red is so realistic, I am sure that either LRK rides or she was given very good input from a rider. Like Russell I have ridden a horse who shied in a distinct side jump leaving me suspended in the air with the horse no longer beneath me, so that I quickly plummeted to the ground.
It so happens that Laura and I were talking about this very passage over our recent lunch. Now, Laura is well aware that I don't know from horses, but either she's even more polite than I had realized, or she actually does think I write about them believably. Which would amaze me except that I also write about cops and I'm not a cop, and I write male rotagonists although I'm never been a boy and lesbian protagonists although I'm not, and I've written about Vietnam from a soldier's point of view and about a woman who has blinding headaches and about the life of an artist and- And every one of those has brought in a remark about how the reader assumed I was a lesbian or I must be someone who has been plagued by headaches or know cops really well or.
Well, you get the idea.
Either I lie very well, or I have a rich imagination. It must be the latter, since (as with most writers) scrambling for a story under pressure leaves me red-faced and stammering, although, boy, afterwards I sure am clever. But how to tell a story about a matter with which you have no
personal experience?

Well, research helps. If I had to write about an injured horse or what to feed a horse, I'd ask Laura about it. But surely a lifetime of reading Walter Farley followed by Dick Francis, while not exactly qualifying you for riding a black stallion in a steeplechase, does at least leave a niche in the mind labeled "Horse Personalities"?

Because what I'm writing about in the books is not a horse with teeth and hooves and hair that needs brushing, but a personality. In the case of "The Moor," Red the shying horse is also misogynistic, saving his worst behavior for when there's a woman in charge. A minor quirk, of no great importance to the plot (although it underscores the attitudes of the various human males in Mary Russell's life at the time,) but adding color and dimension to her ride across Dartmoor. I suppose if Laura had protested that it was unrealistic, that no horse would do that, I might have taken it out, but she didn't, and I didn't. Because whether it's horses, cops, homeless people, or Vietnam vets, when you know them well enough, it's the quirks that define the character. And it's the quirks that build the character on the page, even when the writer is making it all up.

Thank God for that. Otherwise, I'd have to learn to ride.


Jami Davenport said...

Laurie, Welcome to Equestrian Ink. Thank you for joining us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Laurie, and my apologies, all. In the course of posting Laurie's blog, which was sent to me error-free and in good form, I somehow managed to lose all the paragraph breaks and my efforts to reinstate them demolished a few of the words. The more I tried to fix it the worse it got. This is what I get for being so ignorant of technology. I find the site will only let me post a comment as "Anon", as well. Anyway, I hope my difficulties won't diminish your enjoyment of Laurie's comments. Again, aplogies.--Laura Crum

Kit Ehrman said...

Laurie, I enjoyed your post very much, especially your comments on writing characters who do not share your lifestyle or even gender. It would be very limiting if authors stuck to only what they know. Cheers, Kit