Friday, March 16, 2012

Writing a series has turned out to be one of the great pleasures of my career, although not for the reasons I had imagined before I began. I was apprehensive about it, at first. I didn't like the idea that I was writing within a specific genre, which was not something I had done with the books I wrote under my own name (you can see those on this website - I thought it would be too confining, too formulaic. I didn't know how it would be to live with the same character in my head for years on end. Sometimes, in my other books, characters did reappear, more or less as cameos, but the story, and most of the people who inhabited it, became entombed within that one particular novel. When I started a new book, I walked out into a huge, empty space, which then needed to be filled with all the details of whatever historical period it occupied. Then new characters had to be invented. For the first few weeks of writing, they would lurch about like Frankensteins, stitched together from people I knew or had known or had read about. Only in time would those scars fade away, leaving me with fully formed companions for the long journey of seeing the book through to its close. Getting to that point, however, was always exhausting. I would read dozens of books, some of them decades out of print, trolling for details I could use. It also meant a lot of travel, and not always to places that were particularly safe or easy to visit.
The first book of the Inspector Pekkala series was no exception. Russian history, in particular, has so many different versions and involves so much speculation, because the facts were either never known or else have been denied or even fabricated, that you really have to learn several different histories at once. You have to know what kind of person would believe which version. You have to know what even the most fanatical follower of the Soviet system might secretly doubt, although they'd never dare to question it.
The Romanovs, who occupied a considerable portion of this study, seem to be either adored or despised by those who follow their story. I soon discovered that there was very little middle ground. After the book came out, one reviewer slammed the book because I showed the Tsar as human. She wrote that she would personally have liked to shoot the Tsar and his whole family, daughters and son included. Other people wrote to thank me for portraying him humanely. The same was true for Stalin. I had emails thanking me for not making him into a monster and others criticizing me for not making him into a monster.
The intensity of that debate was not something I had expected or encountered in the books I had done under my own name.
It wasn't until I began writing the second book that the real enjoyment of working on a series became clear to me. Now, instead of walking out into an empty space when it came time to begin a new novel, I walked into a world which was fully furnished with the people, places and objects I had worked so hard to create in the first book. Writing about characters with whom you are already acquainted becomes more challenging, but it is also more rewarding, I have found. You get to wander off into the eccentricities that really bring them to life. You become protective of them, villains and heroes alike.
It is a dreary, rainy morning in March of 2012. I can hear wet tires out on the highway, its sound like a river in the distance. These are the days when it is hard to sit alone in my study and type for hours on end, but once I have begun, the writing becomes an escape. Slipping away into the world of Inspector Pekkala feels like jumping out of an aeroplane and daring yourself, as you fall, to wait as long as you can before pulling the ripcord and your chute finally deploys, bringing you back to the real world.

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