Sherlock Holmes StatueYou know how, when you ask some writers for advice, they’ll say something like “Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair,” and it’s so unhelpful it’s kind of infuriating?

But then you ask other writers, and they give you actual advice that blows your mind? Changes your writing strategy? Gives you courage?

Well, Schoolers, our guest today is one of the mindblowing kind.  She’s Laurie R. King, bestselling author of twenty-two novels and other works (she knows of what she speaks, with production like that).

She writes a Sherlock Holmes series, so we asked her about making a famous character your own, and about sustaining a novel series, and outlining versus pantsing (reopening the oldest of Fiction School wounds from way back in Episode 1), and about researching for historical fiction, and building a career as a writer.


Over and over, Laurie delivered great, insightful, and useful (even actionable [if that’s a word–and if it is, we kinda hate it]) advice. This is an interview that can really change your writing practice, so we hope you enjoy it!  We sure did.

Laurie’s official bio: Laure R. King is a New York Times-bestselling author of 22 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories (from The Beekeeper’s Apprenticenamed one of the 20th century’s best crime novels by the IMBA, to 2014′s Dreaming Spies).  She has won or been nominated for an alphabet of prizes from Agatha to Wolfe, been chosen as guest of honor at several crime conventions, and is probably the only writer to have both an Edgar and an honorary doctorate in theology.  She was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010, as “The Red Circle.”


  • Jody talks about her first discovery of Laurie’s work.  How does Laurie research for her historical fiction?
  • Laurie’s answer is interesting.  She’s a mystery and crime writer WHO DOESN’T OUTLINE.
  • According to Laurie, why would you want to go back and write the book after you’ve done all the work of plotting it all out?  She’s not a pre-plotter, but there is something in the back of her mind that keeps the plot clear and helps her not go off a cliff with the story.
  • Her first draft is sort of a 300-page outline.  Her editor understands this process and helps her work from that jibberish draft to sharpen it.
  • For the first phase of a historical fiction novel, she doesn’t do any detailed research into the history.  She has to have a general story’s bones to work with first.
  • “The problem with details is, once you have them, you want to use them.”  The gems of research a writer turns up get in the way, because they demand to be used.  Writers will twist a story to fit in the cool details, which isn’t good.
  • So, Laurie lets the story go organically and THEN does the research she needs.
  • Laurie tells the story of her writing and researching Dreaming Spies, including the timing of the book with its predecessor, and visiting the Queen Mary.
  • Then she tells the story of researching for O Jerusalem, and all the research she did to work in a detail about rabbit wire, but then she realized those pages weren’t even important for the book and threw them out.
  • How many drafts does Laurie go through after that 300-page first draft outline?  It depends on the book.  Thrillers take more drafts to get the pacing right.
  • Laurie talks about the importance of an editor helping a writer, and how much she trusts her (and how she’s probably a little insane for reading a book five times).
  • There are thirteen books in the Mary Russell series of books Laurie’s writing, and five books in the Kate Martinelli series.  How does she keep a series going for so long?  It’s hard, she says.  At least with the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, she’s able to make them travel to exotic and interesting places and take each book somewhere new.  A shift in setting keeps each book fresh.
  • And she‘s taken on the challenge of taking on the character of Sherlock Holmes and writing new stories with him.  There was some pushback at the beginning, especially from Sherlock purists.  The books won them over.
  • Did you know that Arthur Conan Doyle thought that Sherlock Holmes was a lesser creation of his, and that he should devote himself to more important work?  We didn’t either!
  • The answer to writing a well-known character is not to write a pastiche, but to write new stories that go beyond where the original writer ends the series.  You have to find a way to make a well-known character and make it your own rather than trying to BE the original author.
  • On to being a professional author: Laurie’s got a great website and runs a Virtual Book Club with her readers.
  • She’s a hybrid author, dabbling in ebooks and print-on-demand books with short stories and collections, and keeps traditional publishing with her novels.
  • The Virtual Book Club keeps Laurie involved with her fans.  She picks the books and sometimes participates in the discussions.  The club is run on the Goodreads site.  And the book club members show up at events, so they’re friends in real life and online!
  • Many of her fans come to Bouchercon and have dinner together (and with Laurie).
  • What advice does Laurie have for writers?
  • First, read Crime and Thriller Writing by Laurie R. King and Michelle Spring
  • Next, what writers should be aiming for is not to have A book.  Aim to have a career.
  • These days, when it’s relatively easy to put a book up online, then focus on marketing and selling it, it’s awfully tempting to forget that you should be working on a next book.  It’s the next book, and the third book, and the fourth, and beyond that makes you a writer.
  • If you have a choice between figuring out how to sell a book online or writing the next book, you need to write the next book.

Links of Interest:

Laurie R. King’s Website | Books | Virtual Book Club

Need a website for your writing?

In the podcast, you heard Laurie talk about all the ways she uses her website to connect with fans and grow her career.  (We talked about this, too, in Episode 23.)  If you’re a writer, you need a website–and we can help!  We’ll set you up for free if you buy your web hosting with FatCow through this link.  Get all the details at Websites for Writers.