Martha Grimes: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 08.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
>> Maureen Corrigan: For those of you who've just come in,
welcome to the Mystery and Fiction Tent.
My name is Maureen Corrigan, and I'm a regular reviewer
for the Washington Post, and the book critic
for the NPR program Fresh Air.
Thank you.

[ applause ]
>> Maureen Corrigan: The Washington Post has been a sponsor
of the National Book Festival since it began 10 years ago.
It is my great pleasure to be able to introduce to you one
of the great names of mystery fiction, Martha Grimes.
I think -- yes.

[ applause ]
>> Maureen Corrigan: I think one
of the highest compliments I can tell you about that's been paid
to Martha Grimes is that even the British adore her.
[ laughter ]
And I think that the British in general kind of take a dim view
to us Americans stepping on their literary turf,
especially when that literary turf is the mystery novel.
But Martha Grimes' novels manage to capture the odd eccentricity
of England without committing that greatest crime of --
in literature of being cute.
Her 20 Richard Jury novels are set in England.

Imagine dampness, coolness, green pastures, a landscape very different
from the landscape of -- that you're in today.
They also all of them take their titles
from the titles of quaint English pubs.
Her newest novel is called The Black Cat,
which of course has an Edgar Allan Poe echo to it.
And without further ado, I will introduce to you Martha Grimes.
[ applause ]
>> Martha Grimes: Well thank you very much.
And I'm very glad to be here.
And I was reminded just a few minutes ago by my PR person,
who is also my son, of the event in Chicago, the Baucheron [phonetic] --
I mean I learned how to say it before I went, but now it's all
over so I've forgotten how to pronounce it.
And there was a similar setup where you had an escort who would take you
to the room in which you were giving a talk.
And we were standing at the door while this other writer was
speaking, and I saw a boy, this Dennis Lahane [phonetic],
who I personally love, I love his books.
So I was standing there waiting to go in, and his talk came to an end
and Dennis Lahane walked out with his looked like two handlers
to me rather than escorts.
He walked out, and when he walked out --
I mean there was thunderous applause.
It was one of these long, narrow rooms, something like this but not
as big, and huge applause.
So I walked in, and everybody got up and walked out.
[ laughter ]
And I was watching.

>> But then I figured they're just saying to themselves what the hell,
we're inside a tent, we might as well hang around.
[ laughter ]
I was speaking a couple of days ago to a reporter
about the National Book Festival.
He asked if I had ever been to one before, one of these, the --
the, you know, sponsored by the Library of Congress,
Laura Bush and people like that.
And I said yes, I think I was in 2005, 2006.
And he said well how does it compare with other festivals?
[ silence ]
>> Martha Grimes: I had nothing to say.
I mean other festivals.
And he said, or large events?
[ laughter ]
And all I, you know, I thought large event.
I said you know, I really haven't been to any large events.
Of course I forgot the Baucheron or however you pronounce it.
And I thought well, there's the National Book Award,
I however have never graced, it has never seen me there.
So festivals and large events.
And I thought to myself, I wonder what sort
of image people have of writers now.
While I was talking to him I was looking at the card, you know,
this -- it's really a very nice logo, okay.
So I was sort of fooling around with this card.
And I was thinking to myself, oh, I guess this --
this shows you how observant I am.
I guess -- I guess these are caricatures
of the writers who are gonna be there.
[ laughter ]
And thinking that, of course I started scanning it for my face.
Then we come to the -- what is the tree?
I don't know who the tree is.
Then I started looking, and wait a minute Martha.
He said these are famous writers, well --
or famous characters rather, famous characters.
This is really a -- a marvelous sort of logo.
I hadn't even noticed that.
I thought that -- I thought that these --
these people back here were sort of kneeling over a kind of watermelon.
And then I realized hey, this is a chair, and there's a girl sitting.
And oh for God's sake, these are characters in books,
and this is just about the imagination.

So I thought -- we were talking about festivals and events,
the sort of life the writer leads.
>> Martha Grimes: I remember one book signing,
a reader in the line said now Mrs. Grimes I've written a book,
and I'd like to get some idea as to how I shape my career.

And I said career?
He said yes, I want to know what to do about it.
And I said well, you know, well -- well -- I mean, you know, here I am,
and I guess what I had is a career.
You -- you just -- you said you've written a book.
Well you just keep on writing books.
[ laughter ]
And the sum and substance of this is gonna be your career.

You see me -- you see me opening this book here.
You think I'm gonna read, but I'm not.
I'm trying to sell it.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: And I never -- I --
I mean Mister Spencer [phonetic] is a wonderful reader.
You know, I don't like following people like that, and trying to --
I can't -- I'm a terrible reader.
And besides, people think that if I'm reading
from a Jury book I'm gonna do it with a British accent.
[ silence ]
>> Martha Grimes: But this idea of the writer's life --
oh I've sort of killed that one I think.
[ silence ]
>> Martha Grimes: I was gonna say something back there
when we were talking about the logo, about imagination.
In addition to the Richard Jury books I also write, for you people
over there on the far left side who are not paying attention.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: You know what I've noticed about giving talks?
At just about every talk, I'm looking at the people here
on the front row, I have found there is always one person who hates me.
Now there could be many more people who hate me,
but they're far more polite.

But the one who seems to hate me the most sits
in the first row, front and center.
And just I think last week I gave this --
this talk over in Friendship Heights for Neiman Marcus' --
it wasn't in Neiman Marcus, I would have been happy to have it
in Neiman Marcus, or -- or move across the street to Bloomingdales,
that would have been delightful.
But there was a gentleman in the first row
who clearly was not interested,
and who was there only by I guess default.
But -- so I like to yell you ought to smile.
I like to look over the first row -- oh my -- oh it's my son.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: So imagination.
There is this series of books besides the Richard Jury books.
They're narrated by this 12-year old girl Emma Gramm [phonetic].
And these books -- these books really are not mysteries.
There is a mystery in them, they're not mysteries.
And I'm tired of people sending me e-mails telling me
that they're really lousy mysteries.
[ laughter ]
But the -- and this is --
if you like Emma Gramm books, this is the next one.
[ applause ]
Well I wasn't -- I wasn't really looking for applause.
It says advance uncorrected proof, not for sale.
But I figure you can either be [inaudible] some questions,
we can have an auction.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: Anyway, the title of this book is Fade Away Girl.
And for anyone who is -- I was gonna say as old as I am,
but that cuts out about nine-tenths of the audience right there.
Well actually even I'm not quite that old,
but there was an illustrator, Coles Phillips, who did a series of these,
and magazine covers, The New Yorker, Saturday Evening Post.
I love this technique.
As you can see -- some of you can see from this one,
the figure fades into the background.
And he called this technique a fade away.
So that's the next book, now to sell my back list.
The last book was Black Cat, and -- I heard an applau [phonetic].
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: That's terrific.
[ applause ]
>> Martha Grimes: I remember when that comedian --
what is his name, he's very, very funny -- had Tom Hanks as his guest,
and he introduced him as Tom Hank.
[ laughter ]
I always -- I -- I loved that.
So did Tom Hank, Tom liked it too.
The Black Cat is the I don't know, the twenty-second or something
that like Richard Jury novel.
And I'm currently writing another one,
at the same time I'm writing a book with my son on addiction.
How about that?
You didn't see that coming, did you?
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: I remember a book signing I had in Florida
where in the front -- and again,
it's the front row is the place for this sort of thing.
In the front row a woman sat, this was in a Barnes and Noble I think.
And she raised her hand to ask a question, and --
and she said, Ms. Grimes, now I have never read one of your books.
Now I always figure that right out of the gate that's not what you say.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: You don't have to say anything.
You don't have to say I've read all of your books,
just don't say I've never read one.
You don't follow it up by saying I'm with the prison --
the prison system, and I work particularly in addiction,
drug and alcohol abuse -- alcohol of course as we know isn't a drug --
drug and alcohol abuse, and I just have a question.
I just -- now I notice all of your books are named after pubs.

I said yes, they are.
And she said -- I couldn't imagine where all this was going.
And she said well my question is was there any alcohol abuse
in your family?

[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: I said oh yes, and you're looking at it.
[ laugher ]
[ applause ]
>> Martha Grimes: Can you imagine?
I mean there's this one question,
it's like well there is a lot more I could say, there's also a lot less.
[ laughter ]
So -- but I would like you to ask questions if you want to.
That's usually the way it goes, no interest whatsoever.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: Yes.
[ silence ]
>> Martha Grimes: Scott Spencer [inaudible] microphones
in the audience, I don't.
I'm sorry.
Oh, the microphones are up here.
>> I'm sorry.
I just wanted to know, you never finished telling us what the man
in the front seat said to you when you went to the --
you always said people in the front seat.
>> Martha Grimes: Oh, what about him?
Yeah, you knew him.
You know him.

[ laughter ]
>> It's probably my ex-husband.

[ laughter ]
>> I thought maybe he made an odd remark
to you, that's why I was asking.
But I guess he didn't.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: I guess not.
[ laughter ]
>> I'd like to ask you -- I'm sorry,
I'm over here to the -- to the -- your right.
>> Martha Grimes: Oh, sorry.

[ laughter ]
>> You're a real pleasure.
My question to you is what's your process for writing?
I mean do you just write anyplace, anywhere?
Or do you have a special place that you write?
Do you write in the middle of the night?
Or what's your process?
>> Martha Grimes: Well my -- my preferred place used to be a pub.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: But now
that avenue has been closed to me forever I guess.
No, the process?
[ silence ]
>> Martha Grimes: Okay, number one I don't wait for inspiration.
I don't wait until I want to write,
if that were the case you all wouldn't be here today,
because you'd never see anything.
I write in longhand in notebooks, and I try and do this for three
or four hours a day, in the morning if possible.
Then I transcribe this onto a computer.
And I have found -- you know, the reason I write
in longhand doesn't have anything to do with well, doesn't have anything
to do with what I'm gonna say.
What I've found was that when the computer eats your work,
as it has been known to do, and it was sorry --

[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: -- I could go back to notebooks and find it.
And that's really -- you know, that's really quite a boon.
So I transcribe it on the computer, and that's sort of the process,
if that's what you're talking about.
The things I don't do.
I don't have outlines, I don't have summaries,
I don't know what I'm doing.
I don't know
[ laughter ]
-- I don't know what the plot is, I don't know any of that stuff.
It's just sitting down writing.
And that's why I say to people you seem to think --
a lot of people who haven't tried writing seem
to think -- I'm not, no.
I'm sorry, I'm not.
The question time is not finished.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: Is that Peter Straub?
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: That you really don't have to have anything
in advance of just writing, I mean just sitting
down with a pen and a piece of paper.
And some people find it very difficult to believe this,
but it's true, because that's the way I started writing.
And I still do it that way.
And it doesn't get any easier, I'd like to point out.
All right, I just had a 10 minute card held up, which means I've been
on for 10 minutes, so that means we've got another 25.
Yes, sir.
[ laughter ]
>> So with your alcohol abuse that you mentioned
[ laughter ]
have you had a pint in each of the pubs
for which you've named your books?
>> Martha Grimes: What is -- what about the pub?
>> Have you had a pint in each of the pubs
that you've named your books for?
>> Martha Grimes: Until lately.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: I have been in every pub, every pub,
except for The Old Contemptibles, and there were a couple of others
that were either logistically impossible to get to.
But in -- I've been in all of those pubs, yeah.
The Lamorn Wink [phonetic], and of course all of these pubs are
in London, for which unfortunately a couple of --
which have been changed and modernized and so forth.
I mean The Five -- no, not The Five Bells and Blade Bone.
Yeah, The Five Bells and Blade Bone,
which was a really great grotty [phonetic] pub,
now is a -- what do they call it?
It's got a special kind of designation.
Gastro pub for a fern [phonetic] bar.
I haven't been into one of those recently though, a gastro pub.
But they have snakes, they have a boa constrictor,
a pet boa constrictor.
That's really taking it to another level, isn't it?

[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: Yes, ma'am.
>> Hi. It's a real pleasure to be here, to see you here today.
>> Martha Grimes: Thank you.
>> I -- I love all of your books.
And you haven't said anything about your other series,
and I'm dying to know what's going to happen after Dakota.
Do you have anything in mind?
Or are you -- are you working on another?
>> Martha Grimes: Which series are you speaking of?
Because there's more than one.
>> The -- the -- the -- the books that have --
that the last one was Dakota.
>> Martha Grimes: Oh, oh yeah, oh yeah.
>> I'm dying to know what -- what happened to that young woman,
so I'm -- I'm hoping you're working on something.
>> Martha Grimes: Well I certainly -- I certainly will be.
I have an idea for the third one.
But this young woman, Andi, for anyone who is interested
in doing a complete literary critique of all of my books,
I don't know if you've noticed, a few have.
[ laughter ]
Indeed, it came to me as a surprise.
[ laughter ]
Andi is another -- there was a book called The Deer Leap,
in which there was a character named Kerry Fleet [phonetic].
Andi is another Kerry Fleet, she's another Nell Ryan [phonetic],
the young woman in The Grave Maurice.
And I have an idea that she also has something to do
with that mysterious girl in the Emma Gramm books.
But to answer your question,
absolutely I intend to write another one.
I mean I keep turning books into series, and it's got something to do
with not wanting to let the characters go.
My publisher is dying for the sequel to Send Bygraves.
Look -- look at that.
You see? You see?
Send Bygraves is a book of poems.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: Yes.
>> First of all, your book on addiction --
and I appreciate that because I have been addicted to your books
[ laughter ]
for absolutely decades now.
And I'm pleased that you're going to do Fade Away,
because I've been waiting for another one
for that series, so that's nice.
And my question though is about the Richard Jury.
During all of the books I've tried to assess
about how many years actually pass in the lives of the characters.
>> Martha Grimes: Oh yeah, yeah.
>> And Carol Ann [phonetic] seems to get no --
no older, and no less presumptuous.
So I wondered approximately how many years are passing in the course
of the Richard Jury books.
>> Martha Grimes: Yeah, well I mean you don't see me getting any older,
do you?
[ laughter ]
>> Well no, certainly not.
And I saw you about nine years old, you don't look older.
>> Martha Grimes: Thank you, thank you.
Yeah, this is a very good question.
Okay, let me point something out.
Many of these books, indeed most of these books follow --
one follows very closely after another.
So the first book was published actually in -- in 1981.
Okay, in our time it is now 2010, it is not 2010,
indeed the millennium hasn't even come in -- in book time.
As far as the characters getting any older is concerned now, I mean,
you know, really why should they?
Why should they?
But this, I would say that right now we're kind of in the --
we're in the 90s, the 1990s in these books, yeah.
>> Thank you.
>> Martha Grimes: You're welcome.
Good question.
>> Hi. As much as I look forward to your books and your stories,
I look forward to your characters even more.
I can just see them sitting around the pub, Melrose [phonetic]
and all the other characters.
My question is are they based on real people
that you know, or your imagination?
>> Martha Grimes: Oh, how I wish they were.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: Consciously,
none of the characters is based on anyone I know.
>> Even Melrose's aunt?
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: Even Melrose?
>> Aunt.
>> Martha Grimes: Oh, Agatha [phonetic].
>> Yeah, yeah.
>> Martha Grimes: Consciously, no.
Uh-uh. There's always an Agatha, isn't there?

[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: Okay, two minutes.
That gives us 13 [inaudible] to go.
Any other questions?
>> Yes.
>> Martha Grimes: Oh, sorry.
>> This side.
Oh, I'm sorry.
>> Hi, I just want to say it's a pleasure.
I was on bed rest with my second child for 30 weeks,
and I started with the first Jury novel,
and went up until I think the nineteenth one, and read those
in the 30 weeks I was on bed rest.
So thank you for getting me through that.
[ laughter ]
>> Martha Grimes: You're welcome.
>> My question is when you finish one do you know what's gonna happen
in the next -- kind of have an idea
of what's gonna be going on in the next?
Or is it just you finish one
and then you don't have any idea of what's coming up?
>> Martha Grimes: I don't even know what's going
on in the one I'm writing.
[ laughter ]
So any future projection is -- that's not completely true.
Occasionally my mind will dart out to something or other.
That's about as vague as -- as you can get.
I'll -- I'll tell you one thing.
The -- although I said, you know,
I don't wait for inspiration before I write, a lot of inspiration comes
from the actual names of pubs, like the Richard Jury book I'm trying
to work on at the moment.
It's purely on the basis of pub name.
And for some reason there is --
the names have some kind of emotional weight
that I don't really understand.
So some of these names I regard as irresistible, you know,
I am the only running footman [phonetic].
I mean, you know, how could you think of better titles?
Although people can't remember the titles,
which is definitely a negative.
But why am I -- why am I here wondering what to say next?
Did I answer your question?
>> Yes ma'am.
>> Martha Grimes: Thank you.
>> Hello.
>> Martha Grimes: Oh we're into overtime.
The Redskins might like it, I don't know that --
>> All right.
>> Martha Grimes: Right.
>> You do so well with the verbiage coming
out of the cockney or whatever, English.
How often -- how long do you spend in England each year?
Or did you just live there some time, and now know how to speak it?
>> Martha Grimes: I don't really know how to speak it.
I sort of absorb the speech patterns I guess.
The longest I was in England I guess was about what,
four months, five months in England.
And for the most part it's visiting every year,
for a relatively short period of time.
For some reason I just sort of -- I'm really just a sponge.
I mean I just sort of -- I'm able to absorb this
when I can't absorb anything else, except what I already [inaudible].
[ silence ]
>> Martha Grimes: Anything else?
All right, good for you.
>> Martha Grimes: Thank you.
[ applause ]
>> Martha Grimes: Thank you very much.
I like -- I usually like to say that if it weren't for you all sitting
out there, I would not be standing up here.
So I think the thanks goes in the other direction.
Thank you.

[ applause ]
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