May 10-17, 2006

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Laurie R. King

King For a Year: See the celebrated author write live, without a net.

Writing Live and The Writing Life

Artist of the Year Laurie R. King celebrates both in a live-wire writing performance

By Rick Kleffel

Laurie R. King has a flair for public speaking, which is rather unusual in a writer. After all, writing is a lonely task, an occupation where more time is spent in revision than in the original composition. Writers get the words right, but not necessarily the first time around. King certainly gets the words right, and she's being celebrated as the 2006 Artist of the Year by the Santa Cruz County Arts Commission. She's the 21st artist to receive the award in a list that includes composer Lou Harrison, fellow writer James Houston and poet Morton Marcus. This year the honors go to King, and she's going to demonstrate the talent that helped her attain the award live, onstage and on the Internet as she composes a short story based on prompts from the public.

The performance will involve both live writing and revision, she tells us. "This project began with the Writer's Improv event ... with the raw first draft coming in front of the public first, followed by the clean and shiny revised and completed story by the end of June--I hope. I suggested this because I thought it might be an interesting tool for beginning writers, and teachers of beginning writers, to see just how a writer goes about building a story, from basic ideas to finished product."

The Live Wire Writer's Improv will be the first part of a free two-part Profile Performance on May 20 in the Live Oak Community Room at the Simpkins Family Swim Center. If you can't be there in person, you can join King as she writes online, from 11am to 1pm. It's a unique chance to witness the creation of a short story by one of the most versatile and gifted writers that our county and our country have to offer. Though she's known as a novelist, King writes more short stories than readers might expect. "It always seems to me I'm turning down requests for stories. I find short stories a disproportionate amount of work--20 pages of short story should take 5 percent of the effort of a 400-page novel, but it feels more like 75 percent."

Any writing--live or otherwise--involves preparation, and King is on top of the game. "I've been tossing ideas around, mostly reminding myself of the parameters of the story I need--it's aimed to go into a collection for Dana Stabenow, combining crime and fantasy, yet also eventually intended to go into a collection of stories set in and around a middle school, which I've been slowly, slowly compiling over the past few years. The actual story won't come together in my head until I get the prompts from the woman at Parks & Rec who is gathering them by snail mail and online. I only hope she chooses some good ones!"

Those who wish to participate in King's Live Wire writing experiment can submit prompts for her performance via the Santa Cruz County Parks & Recreation Department website. Part 2 of the free Profile Performance will take place from 4 to 6pm, as King is joined by fellow honorees Morton Marcus and James Houston in a panel discussion on "The Mystery of Writing."

Readers might want to pick up The Art of Detection, King's latest, a wonderful synthesis of all her writing. King is best known for her novels chronicling the adventures of Mary Russell, who met a retired Sherlock Holmes in 1915, became his apprentice, then his partner and eventually his wife. But King burst onto the scene with the Edgar Award-winning novel A Grave Talent when she introduced San Francisco homicide inspector Kate Martinelli. In The Art of Detection, Martinelli finds herself in pursuit of what may be a lost Holmes story, which is included in the novel. King's hard-core fans have been waiting impatiently for her newest Martinelli novel. But she delivers much more than they were anticipating and satisfies the Mary Russell legions as well. "I don't know if it would have worked as well had Kate Martinelli been a person who would automatically have accepted the idea of Holmes, and wholeheartedly embraced the character's appearance in her life. That she can make rude and disbelieving remarks about Sherlockians and Sherlock Holmes made it fun to write and, I think, to read."

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