32 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY june 27-july 3, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com FACE TO FACE In her chilly writing studio, Laurie R. King is wondering if turning the heater off for the season was a good idea in a cold spring. This is where the bestselling author, the creator of Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series, creates her plots and characters. (Until recently, King lived in Watsonville, and now in Santa Cruz.) She never grew tired of this fiction series, first set in the 1910s, when Russell, then a 15-year-old, meets Sherlock Holmes himself. Russell shares all Holmes’ detective skills, so he becomes her mentor; Dr. Watson, the narrator of the original Holmes stories, is already living elsewhere, and is not offended by being replaced by a woman, who eventually becomes his best friend’s wife. “Poor Dr. Watson,” King jokes. “I must sometime make him a more central character. So far, he visits the couple in Sussex and he seems to like Mary just fine.” The series is told in first person, presented as the memoirs of 80-yearold Mary. It started in 1994 with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice; King has published 18 Russell/Holmes books to date. Some readers press for a more romantic aspect of the marriage, but Russell remains quite private. King explains the existence of cozy, sometimes outright humorous mysteries as something that helps to manipulate the pace, giving readers a moment to catch their breath. As an example of her favorite mystery authors, King mentions American writer Craig Johnson and a Scottish writer from the first half of the 20th century, Josephine Tey. Weekly: How early did you get interested in literature? King: Our family was one of those families that goes to the library twice a week in our old car. It was one of those Carnegie libraries, a big stone building with ivy on the front. At the door we would split off and all went different directions. That was our entertainment. Your first favorite books? When I was a kid, I loved Walter Farley books, a series about horses. They made a beautiful movie out of one, Black Stallion, where a young boy finds a desert island and there’s a black stallion there and befriends him. What about detective novels and stories? I was never into Nancy Drew. When I was a teenager, I became a big science fiction reader. So I didn’t really start reading mysteries heavily until I started to write them. Then how did you end up a mystery writer? I wrote one futuristic book. I was halfway in and I realized that I don’t have a clue how to finish it. I really like the structure of the mystery. I still read science fiction, but it has a few rules. Your traditional crime story has a body, suspects and a detective. Mine are not terribly traditional, but that’s the structure you start with. And if you have the bones of the plot you can write a comic mystery, a thriller, a cozy detective story. What is it about Sherlock Holmes? I was not a big reader of Arthur Conan Doyle, even though every reader “met” Sherlock Holmes at some point. I wanted to tell a story about a young woman whose mind is very like Sherlock Holmes’. It started as a coming-of-age story. And I thought, “What if I actually put her next to the person she is based on?” Only then did I purchase collected stories and novels about Sherlock Holmes. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Pretty late. One day it dawned on me that all these books that were on the shelf, that people were actually involved with them. Because I never met anybody who ever wrote a book, it seemed like God just put them on the shelf. You must like Mary a lot. Part of the reason I can keep writing—and I’m on book number 19 now— is because they [Russell and Holmes] move around a lot. Even in the first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, they go to what today is Palestine, so it’s not that all 19 books are set in rural Sussex. I find new settings and new people, some of whom actually existed, like the emperor in Japan. Why not write about a detective in contemporary America? If I wanted to put Russell with Sherlock Holmes, I didn’t have much choice. I decided to start my series when Doyle was done with Holmes, which was in the beginning of World War I. Russell and Holmes meet in 1915. Hail Mary Author Laurie R. King made Mary Russell a star detective, and extended the run of Sherlock Holmes. By Agata Pop˛eda Once you make the New York Times bestseller list, Laurie R. King says with a laugh, that information will appear on the cover of every following book you publish. 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