Lisa here, delighted and honored along with my fellow Chicks to welcome New York Times bestselling, Edgar/Creasey/Agatha/Anthony-award winning author Laurie R. King to the blog today. Read about RIVIERA GOLD, her latest novel featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes–and a particularly nefarious real-life villain!
Real-Life Fictional Characters
One of the first things I look for, when I’ve chosen a time and place to set a historical novel, is what interesting folk were hanging around. After all, when writing a book about Venice in the summer of 1925, I would no more ignore the presence of Cole Porter than I would the canals.
In part, it’s verisimilitude: in Twenties Paris, your characters can smoke and drink and zut-alors with the natives, but if they don’t encounter Man Ray or Ernest Hemingway, your reader wonders what city they’re really in.
It’s also a way to show a new dimension to a setting. Two Bedouin tent-dwellers inhabit a different 1919 Palestine from that of General Allenby; an encounter with Dashiell Hammett opens up a whole new San Francisco; and honorary pirate and self-proclaimed poet laureate of Portugal, Fernando Pessoa, gives a wildly tilted, insider’s slant to a Lisbon visit.
Of course, a writer can also bring in some more or less fictional folk (copyright law permitting.) Being a card-carrying member of the Baker Street Irregulars, I have to take the position that Sherlock Holmes was (is?) a real person, not some fictional creation, but there are other characters too good to pass up. Like Kim, from Rudyard Kipling’s book. If I send my characters to India, why not let them meet Kim as a middle-aged man? And as for Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and Professor Moriarty…
The new book (Riviera Gold) takes Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes to the South of France and the principality of Monaco. Here, too, I began by looking into who was there, in the summer of 1925. And what do you know? Right away I find the most perfect villain a crime writer could ask for, a nightmare of an arms dealer who built one of the world’s greatest fortunes by manipulating Europe into World War One. (Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers in telling you that Basil Zaharoff is a villain.)
At the opposite end of the spectrum from crooked arms dealers, we find the American expatriates who discovered the joys of summer on the Riviera during the early Twenties. Brown with the sun and madly creative, these were the men and women who shaped the century: Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel and Serge Diaghilev, Archibald MacLeish, Dorothy Parker—all brought together by a pair of Americans who had fled the stifling atmosphere of Prohibition America to live on the cheap in France.
Sara and Gerald Murphy wove a family out of these disparate personalities. They cheered on the efforts of their friends, listening to stories and admiring new works. They painted sets and sewed costumes, encouraged costume parties and childish games, hosted dinner parties and made introductions. The Murphys provided their friends a shoulder to weep on, a muse to follow, and a backup when checks from home were delayed. Half the Americans in Paris were in love with Sara, and for a few years, the Murphy house in Antibes was the American heart of France.
What else could I do, but settle my own characters into that home and watch what happens?
Readers, please say hello to Laurie in the comments–and let her know which historical characters you would have loved to meet!
About the Book:
Riviera Gold (excerpts and more here) comes out June 9, and is available for pre-order (signed) from Bookshop Santa Cruz and Poisoned Pen Books—or from your local Independent bookshop, Barnes & Noble/Nook, Amazon/Kindle, CD, or audio.
About the Author:
Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling, Edgar/Creasey/Agatha/Anthony-award winning author of 28 novels, including 16 in the Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes historical series. The new Russell “memoir,” Riviera Gold, is set on the 1920s Riviera, but it is based on long-time housekeeper Mrs. Hudson’s unexpectedly racy Victorian past. For more information on Laurie and her books, go to http://www.LaurieRKing.com.