Monday, March 02, 2015

Laurie R. King at The Poisoned Pen!

According to The Poisoned Pen's event calendar, there are going to be several Saturdays that I leave Denis sleeping peacefully at home while I jump in the Jeep and head off to my favorite bookstore. Saturday, February 21, was my second in a row because I definitely wanted to see Laurie R. King who's best known for her excellent series of mysteries featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Having signed up for The Poisoned Pen's weekly emails, I knew that this event was going to be very special. 

The Book Haul
Once again on the drive across town, I seemed to be a magnet for everyone who wanted to get in front of me and drive well below the speed limit. Since I'm a semi-reformed leadfoot, I just turned up the volume on the radio and sang. Loudly. I still arrived in plenty of time to make my purchase and pick the perfect seat.

Instead of reading, I chose to people watch because the place was a beehive of activity. (All you Laurie R. King fans know exactly why I chose that last phrase, don't you?) Author Charles Finch (Charles Lenox historical mysteries), his wife, and infant daughter arrived. The Poisoned Pen, owner Barbara Peters, and bestselling author Diana Gabaldon have begun a Writer in Residence program, and Charles is the first writer to spend a week here conducting interviews and writing workshops. 

While I people watched and waited, I got to see The Poisoned Pen staff do one of the things they do so well: set up an event. They not only had chairs to deal with, but food and drink, the ikebana (Japanese flower arrangements), the slideshow paraphernalia, and assisting the ladies from Sun City who would be modeling kimonos. They also helped any customer who needed it and spread lots of smiles and good cheer as they worked. They're the best.

Timeless Japanese Style 

L to R: model, Laurie R. King
Once the ladies from Sun City were dressed in their traditional kimonos, they walked down the wide middle aisle-- just as though they were on the catwalk at a fashion show. Originally we were to be shown how to fold and tie a traditional obi, but the woman who knew how to do it had had to cancel. 

While one lady told us about kimonos, we were shown four more examples that had been brought in and hung where we could all see them. After hearing how involved tying an obi is, I think we all agreed that the one our model was wearing would be the type we would choose. It was pre-tied and used velcro.

I had always wondered about the shoes and socks worn by Japanese women (you can just see them peeping out from the model's kimono in the photo to the right), so I was happy when the model told us that the socks are extremely uncomfortable and that they force you to take small steps; otherwise, they kill your toes!

I've always loved the simplicity and beauty of Japanese flower arranging, which is called ikebana, and the Sun City ladies talked about it for a few minutes. The arrangements are always made with fresh flowers, and the aim of the creator is to "take the ordinary and make it extraordinary." When asked about the containers used in the arrangements, we were told that they are considered a part of the arrangement but that they do not represent anything.

Laurie R. King then read a brief passage from Dreaming Spies which concerned Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes dressing in kimonos. The passage made us all laugh, but if you want to know what it was, you're just going to have to read the book yourself! Someone in the audience asked about how frequently kimonos were worn in Japan, and Laurie replied that they are considered "Sunday go to meeting" clothes-- something that's worn for special occasions. 

"Almost as good as Stately Holmes..."

It was now time for the interview which host Barbara Peters began by saying, "The title Dreaming Spies is almost as good as 'Stately Holmes.'" Looking out at us and then at Laurie, Peters continued, "I came up with Stately Holmes, and you still haven't used it. You know that I'm never going to let that go!"

Laurie shook her head in mock impatience. "I have a short story coming for Christmas. Hold on, hold on-- it's coming!"

Laurie R. King
In a previous book in the Russell-Holmes series, King had mentioned the couple being in Japan, which led many fans to believe that they'd missed reading a book somewhere along the way. This meant that she had to write a book set in that country-- and it also meant a research trip which she took with Barbara Peters and her husband Rob.

Barbara wanted to see rural Japan, and Laurie-- trusting in Rob's ("Mr. Tech") high-powered GPS that could integrate with his camera and all sorts of other things-- said that she could find it. They promptly got lost. All they had to navigate with was a fold-out map because they discovered that all of Rob's gadgets had been stolen in Vietnam. Somewhere along the way, they took a wrong turn and didn't see another human being for four hours. 

Stopping to see a bridge, Barbara saw the signs for a restroom, and-- being a seasoned traveler-- she knew not to pass up the opportunity. "When I opened the door of the restroom, the lid of the TOTO toilet rose to greet me," Barbara said, and this was the inspiration for a little book Laurie and Barbara wrote and illustrated: Not in Kansas Anymore, TOTO.  

Laurie laughed. "I was standing there taking photos when two women walked by. They looked at each other as if to say, 'Don't they have toilets in America?'"

Barbara then told us of needing hotel rooms in an area where they were in short supply. There was only one room, and the three of them took it. With only two beds, the chivalrous Rob slept out in the hallway. Evidently the hotel management must have been worried about shenanigans going on in the Americans' room because hotel employees kept checking to see if they needed soap... or towels... or anything else they could think of. Each time an employee showed up, Rob (from his vantage point in the hallway) would wave at them. "They looked very relieved," Barbara remarked.

"No, they were disappointed!" Laurie disagreed.

Since the book Laurie was researching takes place in Tokyo in 1924, she was hoping to see buildings from that time period, but unfortunately extremely few exist today. 

Was there anything vital that they learned on their trip? "The importance of an English language GPS!" Laurie said.  

Charles Joins In

L to R: Barbara Peters (background), Laurie R. King, Charles Finch

Charles Finch, author of the Charles Lenox historical mystery series, joined Laurie and Barbara. From the smile on his face, I think he and his family were looking forward to a week away from a Chicago winter. 

"I don't have any good toilet stories to add," he quipped. "I did just want to say that you wrote some beautiful haiku." He was referring to some marvelous freebies that those who purchased Dreaming of Spies received, among them Mary Russell's business card and a gorgeous Japanese print on heavy cardstock with two haiku written by King.

"Why thank you," Laurie said. "I have to admit that they do contain a few elbow nudges, especially to Sherlockians."

"I loved the scene where Mary throws the scholar out of the Bodleian," Charles said.

Barbara, who was now sitting in the background, added, "In case any of you don't know, Charles went to Oxford for three years."

"I do have a good Bodleian story though," Charles said. "Every student has to go to the Bodleian and swear-- in Latin-- not to burn the books. I thought I'd be funny, so when I went to take the pledge I told them, 'I'm here to light the books on fire.' They were not amused!

"I am curious, though," Charles said, looking at Laurie and Barbara. "Did the three of you visit the purple (unisex) baths while you were in Japan?"

"Rob and I did," Barbara replied, "but we were the only people in there, so it didn't count."

Laurie R. King being 'shocked' by interviewer
"I learned that tattoos are a big no-no in the public baths there," Laurie added. "And I have a Bodleian story, too. I needed answers to a few questions concerning the Bodleian, so I wrote their information officer. I explained to him that I was writing a book in which the Bodleian plays a part, and I apologized for a book being stolen in one of the scenes-- something I would never do. 

"In the reply, the information officer told me, 'We're all looking forward to your book. We love your work!'" Laurie got a big smile on her face, channeled a little bit of Sally Field, and said, "The Bodleian really loves me!"

"I worked in the Library of Congress," said Barbara Peters, "and in the 1980s I visited the Bodleian. I was astounded to learn that the Bodleian doesn't use the Dewey decimal system or Library of Congress numbers. They catalog their books by date of accession-- at least they did when I was there!"

"...a reverence for tradition!"

"The English are such stupid people," Charles said with a twinkle in his eye. "I had a carrel at the Bodleian, and from my carrel I could see a book that I needed. I could almost touch it. When I went to the desk to request the book, I was told that it would take eight days for me to get it! Of course they do still open the Tower of London with keys...."

Barbara, anticipating possible audience outrage, quickly added, "Better to call it a reverence for tradition!"

Charles Finch
"I was kidding!" Charles assured us before turning to Laurie and asking her, "What's next?"

"I've written a contemporary thriller that will be out next," Laurie said. "Right now I'm one hundred pages into a Mary and Holmes book that has a large twist in the middle." (Several ooh's and ahh's from the audience.)

"I'm very fond of Harris Stuyvesant," Charles said. "Will we be hearing from him again?" Laurie said we would be.

"What's next for you?" Barbara asked Charles.

"Another Lenox and a standalone," he replied.

Mary Russell's War

Available Now!
"Those of you who are familiar with my website know that I've been writing a weekly serial called 'Mary Russell's War,'" said Laurie. "It's her journal, written in 1914 when she was fifteen and living with her family in San Francisco.

"I'm not sure where it's going to end. I would like to do it as an illustrated eBook or as a hardcover-- depending on the publisher...." looking over at Barbara Peters, editor-in-chief of Poisoned Pen Press.

From the noise everyone in the audience was making, I think Laurie knew we were envisioning a hardcover edition that we could buy and have signed right there at The Poisoned Pen!

Keeping Secondary Characters Fresh

Laurie R. King
During a brief question-and-answer session, one fan asked the two authors what they did to keep their secondary characters fresh and interesting.

Charles smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "I keep messing up. I'll leave one of the secondary characters out of a book, and I'll get all sorts of feedback from readers telling me that that was the worst book ever!"

"That's one reason why I limit my roster to two principal characters," Laurie said. "And I keep them fresh by showing them out in the world."


This event was two hours long-- twice the length of a normal one-- yet it felt as though we'd been there for less than an hour. Food, fashion, flowers, fun, and marvelous book talk.  What a way to send Dreaming Spies out into the world!



  1. Cathy - As ever, a great write-up on your PP visit. I find King a really interesting person, and it's nice to know a little more about her.

    1. She is *very* interesting, Margot, and it's always a pleasure to bustle over to The Poisoned Pen to see her. I always learn something new, and I always laugh while I'm doing it.

  2. What a fun event! Love the kimonos and the humorous stories. I am very behind in my Mary and Sherlock reading. One day I'll catch up, but this is a great way to hear what's happening in their world anyway.

    1. I was extremely late to the party, Kay, so I would imagine that I'm even further behind than you; however, I have all the books waiting patiently for me!

  3. I loved hearing all about Laurie King, whom I have long admired. She's as erudite as any author writing mysteries today, in my opinion. The Poisoned Pen sounds like an amazing book store--and so much more.

    1. When I count my blessings, The Poisoned Pen is amongst them. It is a phenomenal place.

  4. Got Dreaming Spies the day it came out in ebook. Quite enjoyed it. Made me more interested in Japanese culture.

    1. Who says you can't learn something by reading fiction, eh? :-)

  5. OK. This seminar takes preparation. Just a peek. Will come back later with my tea and toast and read the entire event's recap slowly and enjoy it.

  6. And enjoyed it I did! This is a reader's holiday -- seeing a wonderful writer who is also a lot of fun and knows a lot, plus another writer who' fits right into the scenario and the dialogue.

    How I wish I lived right nearby the PP or that a an auxilliary PP was right around my corner. Of course, then my life would be disrupted as I'd be there all the time and going beyond my budget.

    1. It is very difficult to walk out of there without buying something! And if you lived right nearby The Poisoned Pen, you'd have a large selection of restaurants right in your neighborhood.


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