Friday, March 13, 2020

What We're Writing--Deborah Crombie and the Unexpected Path

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I don't want to say too much about the things I thought I would be focusing on in the WIP (Kincaid/James#19), because there are still some existing threads that it might be a spoiler to mention. But I knew I wanted to write about Bloomsbury and Russell Square and the British Museum, and that the primary case would be Duncan's, at least at the outset.

But one of the most wonderful things about writing fiction is that things can take unexpected turns or detours and you cannot anticipate them! My fancy was taken by a ceramics gallery I chanced upon in Bloomsbury, and out of that grew a character, a ceramist, who works there part time. In real life, I'd come to know a young, very talented artist and potter, Alex Macias, who sells her work at local galleries and at our farmer's market. When I was asked if I would participate in making a bowl for our community Empty Bowls fundraising event, I asked if I could do it with Alex.

Check out some of Alex's work here--it is fabulous! And yes, my collection is growing... I have my eye on the lidded honey jar...

Here we are yesterday at the studio Alex shares with six other artists!


(Apologies for the weird perspective! I am not really a midget and Alex is not twice my size!)

And here's my bowl, ready for Alex to trim, then fire in a week or so, and then I can help with the glaze which will be a gorgeous robin's egg blue.


Now I know what a studio should look like.


I know how the clay feels, and how the smell lingers on your hands long after you wash them. I know a little bit of the terminology!

All grist for the character-building mill.

And then there is The Nutcracker. I knew I wanted this book to be set in November. What would Toby, Gemma and Duncan's seven-year-old dancer, be doing in November? Dancing in The Nutcracker, of course! So I am deep into YouTube videos (this one from the New York City Ballet's 2011 production  is wonderful) and I've been rereading my very battered copy of the Maurice Sendak illustrated edition of E.T. A. Hoffmann's THE NUTCRACKER. 



I didn't remember how weird the story was, but it puts the ballet in a different perspective.

So we have two very unrelated elements going into the book mix, and who knows what sort of sausage we will end up with? I don't, yet, but I'm looking forward to finding out. (And there is still a murder.)

Readers, do you like learning about things (along with the author!) in a book?




64 comments:

  1. It’s amazing to see clay become beautiful bowls and such . . . .

    Your story sounds like it is taking some interesting turns . . . I’m looking forward to reading it.
    And, yes, I love learning about things when I read . . . .

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  2. I do enjoy it when I can learn something in a book, especially when the author weaves it well into the story to make it part of the plot.

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  3. i do love a book that teaches me something, or introduces me to something new. And, Look at you! I love that you are working at that wheel and cannot WAIT to see the finished piece in its pretty blue. I enjoyed this intriguing peek into the next book, Debs, thank you.

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    1. It was so much fun, Kaye, although I have to admit I was a little nervous.

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  4. I love learning things as I read. Excited for #19, however you weave it!

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  5. I always enjoy those books where I have to put it down to go look something up, find out more about a place or a thing, get lost down research rabbit holes . . . it just makes the reading experience richer. Some of your most memorable passages are the ones that clearly show you've walked the walk. I'm thinking of the opening to No Mark Upon Her, and the way you made sculling on the river come alive with scents and sounds. Can't wait to read about clay taking shape under your fingers!

    Can you tell us a little more about Empty Bowls? I didn't realize you'd been invited to make a bowl.

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    1. Empty Bowls is a fundraiser for the food insecure in the community. Many local potters and studios make all sorts of bowls. I made a "celebrity" bowl which will be sold. Local chefs provide the food for the event. Of course I am now afraid it will be canceled, but the ticket sales will still raise money for the food bank.

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  6. Learning and discovering new things to me is one of the joys of reading. I think that people who don't read miss a lot.
    Thank you for the glimpse in your work in progress.

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  7. Your two unrelated elements sound great! Can’t wait to see how you pull them together.

    I love learning new things from books, be it tiny bits of trivia, glimpses into the past, or new perspectives from people and places I wouldn’t know otherwise.

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  8. That is what I loved about Dick Francis' books: they explored so many different worlds, racing, of course, but also photography, semi precious stones, banking, photography,toy making, etc., But my favorite was flying in Rat Race.

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    1. Yes, Dick Francis books were really great for this reason, as well as his stories being terrific!

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    2. I am a huge Dick Francis fan, and that was one of the many reasons I loved his books.

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  9. Yes, I love learning about stone-carving and ancient remains and 19th c. arsenic-infused wallpaper. Have you read Jill Krementz's A Very Young Dancer? It's a photo book about the girl who danced Clara in the NYC ballet Nutcracker production.

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    1. Fun fact: Jill Krementz was married to Kurt Vonnegut.

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    2. Karen, I did not know that! Margaret, I adored A Very Young Dancer and read it over and over when I was a young teen.

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    3. Thanks, Margaret. I will look for it!

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  10. Deborah, your books are the best for teaching me new things I didn't even know I was interested in! I came very late to the party and am only on book 12 now. I would love to zoom straight through them one after another but I think it is more important to savor than to gobble. I loved learning all about making scotch whiskey and so my son brought some over but alas, I still didn't care to drink it. Then I was fascinated with narrowboats and life on the canals; I've done a lot more reading about that and there are tons of youtube videos to be enjoyed. So thank you for all of that.
    And now pottery! I have been noticing that Gemma likes and collects a certain type; I see where she gets that inclination! So looking forward to all the books I haven't read yet. And I do love the maps but when one gets a book from the library half of the map is covered which I don't like at all.

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    1. Judi, I'm so glad you're enjoying the books. I've always been interested in china and pottery and I was fascinated by Clarice Cliff's work. While I have seen her pieces in antique vendors in Portobello Road, I've never been able to afford one--so I have one I particularly liked to Gemma!

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  11. I love this! I had planned to make my next book include caving (spelunking) in southern Indiana - and realized just in time I know NOTHING about caving and don't have time to go (or desire, given my claustrophobia...). The essential plot has been changed to antiquing - much more accessible, and I get to go to the big antique fair later this spring...if it isn't canceled.

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    1. Oh, Edith, I had a plot idea once that involved rock climbing, and had the same realization you did - there was no way these knees were going to make it up and down a gym rock wall, let alone anything in the wild outdoors!

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    2. Being a wee bit claustrophobic myself, Edith, I think you made a wise choice!

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    3. I saved a news clipping from a couple of years ago about an IU student inadvertently trapped in a cave, of which there are many in the area. Mystery author brain fired up immediately! Yeah...no.

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  12. I love the pottery bowl. You're going to share pictures of the finished product, right?

    And I enjoy learning things along with the author. As long as it doesn't overwhelm the main story.

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    1. Yes, Liz, I'll get photos. The bowl will be donated at the event.

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  13. I do love learning new things in books I'm reading. All of your books have taken me somewhere new and shown me many subjects I knew little about. Your research must be fun, especially sampling the Scotch in Now May You Weep! or learning to scull? It's exciting to peek into the story as you are creating it. Eagerly awaiting your next book!

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    1. Thanks, Judy! I think scotch is a learned taste. I stayed in a B & B in Boat of Garten where the host took me though a different whisky every night, explaining where they came from and why they were different. That, and touring the distilleries, helped me learn to love it. I still don't drink much of it, but love my membership in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and being able to use the London Club.

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    2. WOW, just wow! We love scotch and when Duncan brought Doug to the Scotch Malt Wiskey Society, I was literally drooling. It's great that you are a member. Just wow.

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  14. I always expect to learn something in a book. And Debs' books takes us so many places. WATER LIKE A STONE transported me to Nantwich, and then I actually visited there on our trip to Chester a couple years ago. She captures a place in her writing, and that makes me feel like I've been there too, whether longboats on the canals or a journey to Cambridge. In these difficult times, it is good to travel virtually. I'm thinking I will read them all again, beginning with A SHARE IN DEATH. Thank you Debs. You have given me so many hours of reading pleasure.

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    1. Oh, Ann, you're the best. I'm so glad you got to see Nantwich and a bit of the Cotswolds. I'd like to be back in Lower Slaughter right now!

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  15. Oh yeah, this what we're talking about! How life itself is grist for the writer's mill. And when these little experiences make their way into a story, the story then has the ring of authenticity and excitement and that all translates to sheer heaven for a reader. Can't wait for the next chapter(s) in this series! It's not the mystery, it's the characters who bring me back book after book. And that photo! Like trick photography right out of LOTR to make the hobbits look small!

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  16. I love the way this is evolving... organically! Feels inevitable and at the same time surprising

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    1. What I didn't mention was then I was talking to Alex about pottery, I learned that she was a ballerina and danced in many productions of the Nutcracker. She's also given me some great suggestions for ballet-related things to watch and read. Connections like this do seem a bit magical.

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  17. I love learning new things. You all bring so much knowledge to your books that I always learn something new or learn about a place that I don't know well, New York state, London, or Key West. I have been to Nice but now I know Queen Victoria did also. To me a mystery is so much more than just a puzzle or a murder. Right now I am deep into fox hunting with one of Rita Mae Brown's Sister Jane mysteries.
    Please keep bringing us new ideas and information.

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  18. These ideas are so fascinating! I can hardly wait to see how you blend them together.

    I love learning weird things from mysteries. From reading Hamish MacBeth I learned that the Gulf Stream allows palm trees to grow in the west Scotland and that lobster are carnivorous. I'm still gobsmacked about the palm trees!

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    1. Cathy, there are famous botanical gardens on the west coast of Scotland because of the unusual climate. Hmm, there's an idea for a setting...

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    2. Deborah, take that idea and run with it!

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  19. I’m so glad you mentioned that about the perspective! I looked at that photo and tried to figure out how on earth that could be! How did that even happen? That’s… So bizarre.
    And your brain is a thing of beauty, dear Debs!

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    1. I don't know about my brain, Hank, but I hope my finished bowl will be a thing of beauty!

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  20. I love being able to learn new things in books. I mostly read on my iPad with my Kindle app, and it's so easy to Google a location, person, event etc... as I'm reading it. I'm looking forward to the next Duncan and Gemma book ~

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  21. I would covet that lidded bowl, as well! And the blue pitcher, too. Gorgeous work. You will share your bowl with us when it's finished, I hope.

    Gosh, I don't know how I could separate my pleasure reading from learning new things. Books are so much more interesting when that happens, don't you think? I very much appreciate the time and care authors take in describing times, events, or processes that are new to me.

    We also have a copy of the Maurice Sendak version of The Nutcracker. It terrified one of my daughters so much that we have not opened it again for years. Since I took my grandson to see it at the Cincinnati Ballet a couple years ago I should show it to him. He's 15, and would probably enjoy the odder version now.

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    1. Karen, I think 15 would be about right! Although I know Kayti and I read it when she was grade school age. I read bits to Wren the other night and she did not love the huge Nutcracker face! Our favorite Sendak when Kayti was growing was not Where the Wild Things, but In the Night Kitchen. I'll have to see if I can turn up that one.

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    2. Yes, the big face is terrifying. I didn't see In the Night Kitchen until my kids were all too old to be read to.

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  22. I love learning new things as I read and as a writer I love the research. Food in Queen Victoria’s kitchen was such fun for me
    And I’m glad you explained the photo. I thought you were working with a giant!

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    1. Yes, the photo was foreshortened--so weird! But it was the only one I got of the two of us. You can see what Alex really looks like if you click on the link to her pottery, also here
      http://mckinneyartstudiotour.com/2019-artists/alexandra-macias-2019/
      Rhys, I loved learning about Queen Victoria's food, and I knew you must have had so much fun writing and learning about it!

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  23. Such fun to read about this Debs--can't wait for the end result!

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  24. Love, love, love learning new things from fiction reading and so - no surprise- I already can't wait for this new book, Deb. And I love learning them for my own books and slipping them into the plot.Sometimes the book seems like an excuse to do the research. ;-)

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  25. Debs, thanks for sharing Alex's gallery site. Her pottery is extraordinary, and I already covet that tall pitcher with the rope design.

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    1. Julia, Alex is exceptional. She's so talented, and she was also an engineering student. Art and science!

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  26. I love reading a good book and my pleasure increases geometrically when I learn real facts in a fiction book. Keep it up!
    On a similar note we have an event called Souper Bowl where the public can buy handmade bowls donated by artists to benefit the hungry.

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    1. Yes, sounds like the same thing, Pat. It's a great idea.

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  27. Late to the party. I returned from a brief trip to San Diego for the mystery conference.

    Deborah, Love the pictures! I look forward to reading your next Gemma and Duncan novel. Yes! I LOVE to learn about new things when reading books. I wonder what will be the new things that I will learn from your book. I look forward to finding out :-)

    Often, I learn new words from reading novels.

    Diana

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  28. I love pottery, so I'm excited about it being in your next book, Debs. How cool that you got to make the bowl with Alex. The robin's egg blue color sounds wonderful. Please post your finished product on FB. I plan on looking at the link to Alex's pottery in a few minutes.

    One of my favorite parts of reading is learning new things, and I've learned so much over the years. Most recently, I just finished Rhys' Above the Bay of Angels, and oh what wonderful historical details about Queen Victoria and her food and Nice and the aristocracy and so much more. I quite fell down the rabbit hole with reading it, and I even have a book on order from Amazon entitled Curious Histories of Nice, France. Of course, Queen Victoria is in it.

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    1. Kathy, I'm surprised that as much as I love pottery I'd never thought of taking a class! On the glaze, Alex says this morning that another "celebrity" has done a bowl in the robin's egg blue, so we are looking at other options. I will certainly post when it's done!

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  29. Yes, I love learning things when I read. I read for pleasure so if the author slips in some facts, that's great! Cozy mysteries often center on crafts, food, etc. Historical mysteries and romances are best if the author has done some research.

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  30. Yes yes yes! Learning new things is one of the great pleasures of reading. :)

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