Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Laurie R. King: The Accidental Traveler

I’m thrilled Laurie R. King is our guest today sharing a bit of Japan with us. Even more thrilled and excited that she’s written Dreaming Spies, a new Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on the steamer Thomas Carlyle, bound for Japan. Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. Haruki Sato agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that the young woman is not who she claims to be.
Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to Oxford’s venerable Bodleian Library, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving a small book with enormous implications of international extortion, espionage, and shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.

Laurie R. King’s novel Dreaming Spies, set in Japan and Oxford, publishes on February 17.

Thanks for joining us and welcome Laurie! http://www.laurierking.com

I write a series that tends to wander the world.  My characters, Mary Russell and her rather older and somewhat more famous partner/husband Sherlock Holmes, have touched down in Jerusalem and Aden, the Orkney Islands and India,

Morocco and Lisbon. 

Sometimes, this is a way to make use of some of the wandering I’ve done myself: hey, if I found something interesting years ago when I was in Simla or Jerusalem or Papua New Guinea

then surely my characters would too?  Other times it was the other way around, with me planning a trip based on where my characters wanted to go.  Generally, this kind of thing is a second visit for me, when I can hunt down missed details.  Other times, that’s the intention, but…
A few years ago I went to Morocco, intending to use it as the setting of one small portion of a book (Salée, in Pirate King).  Instead, the country seized my imagination and demanded a novel of its own (Fez, in Garment of Shadows).

Once I started travelling my stories, I found that I had to keep up with it.  Really, I do it for the fans, right?  So, a few books ago I mentioned that my duo had spent some time in Japan.  Soon, readers began to raise their hands and say, Er, Mum? Did I miss the book about Japan?  At which point I would reassure them that no, they hadn’t missed one, just that I couldn’t write about a place I hadn’t been yet.  But I would be going, any time now.
So I did. 
With Barbara Peters

Those of us in the Crime world (fictional division) know and love the Scottsdale duo of Barbara Peters and Rob Rosenwald, center of the Poisoned Pen, books and publishing. 
Barbara and Rob, on hearing that I was considering a trip to Japan, jumped up and said that they might like to go since they’d really enjoyed their trip there a few years before, although they wished they could have seen something of the countryside rather than one population 400,000 “fishing village” after another.
So off the three of us set to see rural Japan.  And by God, did we ever find it.
Tip #1 for travelers: if you’re planning on driving in a country where the Roman alphabet is secondary, get yourself a detailed set of maps before you go.
Tip #2 for travelers: when you find yourself in the lap of the gods—and you’re sure to, sooner or later—just go with it.
Accidental travel can be uncertain, time consuming, uncomfortable, and downright terrifying.  But it can also provide those moments of pure grace that enlighten the traveler’s mind and stay in the heart. More prosaically, they can give a writer a book—and definitely some scenes she’d not have come up with had she not been there.

(Yes, that is a warning sign for “Bear ahead” along the Nakasendo Trail.  How, I ask you, could any writer NOT use that?)
I had a vague idea of sending Russell and Holmes up one of the traditional post roads of the Shogunate, the Tokaido along the shoreline being the best known.  I also wanted to use an object in the story that combined the poems of Matsuo Basho with art by Hokusai.  To my pleasure, I found that both of them were regular travelers along both the Tokaido and the northern route called the Nakasendo, or Kisokaido. So, I suggested a quick drive through that valley on our way from one majestic garden to another, and we stuck it on our To Do If Nothing Better Appears list, and in the end, we did indeed aim our car in that direction rather than another.
We spent a day poking along the road.  There we discovered a beautifully preserved traditional village—not a museum-town, since people still live and farm there

although it did have a few museum-houses. The sorts of houses my characters might have seen in the Twenties.

I even managed to work in a mention of the bear, and the village’s water-wheel.

(I did not, however, inflict a traditional raincoat on my poor characters.)

And of course, it being spring, everywhere the characters go they find cherries.

None of which I would have seen—other than the cherries—had we not given ourselves over to the hazards and blessings of accidental travel.
Laurie for Cara—Tuesday


  1. Thanks, Laurie, fascinating piece! Sounds like a perfect trip.

  2. My, Laurie, you get to travel to the most unorthodox places with the most unorthodox companions. :)

  3. Laurie, thank you so much for this lovely vicarious trip. The book sounds so intriguing. You convinced me!

  4. Wonderful blog, Laurie. I too have been fascinated by Japan ever since I was there doing photoshoots some years ago -- must be back in about 2003. And it's only this year I hope to finally have a book out that features the country in any detail.

    Sometimes these things just take a long time to ferment in the imagination!


  5. Many years ago my husband and I were hiking in Grand Tetons National Park headed to a little lake where we would have our picnic lunch. We saw a warning sign about the bear we might meet ahead. But we were only about 800 feet from our destination and walked a few more of them. Then we saw a tree with a bear claw mark where the bear had obviously climbed. We turned and ate our lunch elsewhere. Lovely pictures of your travels.

  6. Oh, I do so want to see a Zoe Sharp in Japan, please! Thanks for hosting me, Cara and Jeff, and Barbara, probably a good idea to move the picnic….