interview with laurie r. king: madness and mystery

i am very pleased to present you today with an interview with bestselling mystery author laurie r. king. as you may know, i am quite the mystery fan so i was delighted when i was approached with the idea of being a stop on laurie’s virtual book tour.

IM: your book to play the fool attracted me immediately because the notion of the fool has fascinated me all my life, perhaps beginning in the 60s with the beatles’ beautiful ballad, the fool on the hill. then there is dostoevsky’s idiot, one of my favourite books. in the tarot, the fool is the archetype i feel closest to. it looks like one of the “fools” you’ve chosen as inspiration was st. francis of assissi.

one of the reasons why the fool is so fascinating is because in him (or her) we find a mysterious combination of spirituality, creativity and what we might call “madness”, “otherness” or some sort of illness or even mental illness (for example, dostoevsky’s idiot suffered from epilepsy).

so, laurie – to start off: could you please give our readers a very short introduction to the book?

LRK: to play the fool is a police story that also explores what would happen if a holy fool were to appear in modern-day san francisco.

IM: and what would you say about the combination of spirituality, creativity and madness? does that play a part in your book?

LRK: brother erasmus appears mad on the surface, but in fact his foolishness is a carefully constructed means of preserving his sanity–and of serving his fellow man. in a similar vein, he speaks only in quotes, but using the words of others is a creative means of communication, one that requires others to pay close attention to what he is saying.

in the world of shamans and mystics, there is a line drawn between there is a line drawn between mental illness and the embracing of lunacy or madness for a purpose. one could argue that all creative people are to some degree mad.

not me, of course.

IM: laurie, you mention mental illness. that’s a topic that runs through other books you’ve written, isn’t it? what’s your interest in it?

LRK: i loved one of the NYT reviews that said how laurie king is such a friend of the damaged and peripheral, or something of the sort. seems to me life in california is so full of quirky individuals, any novel with a breath of realism has to include homeless people, ex-soldiers with PTSD, devotees of alternative religions, bipolar individuals, gays and lesbians–you name it, most of us can be categorized in some niche or another.

and of course, writing crime fiction is all about what crime does to people, the ripple effects it has on all the lives around it. to deny those effects would be to create a two-dimensional whodunnit, interesting as an intellectual puzzle, but not perhaps evocative of real life.

IM: so the “damaged and the peripheral” interest you, and it’s important for your books to be about real life.

i’m curious about those “ripple effects” of crime. are you saying that crime can result in mental illness? if so, how do you portray that in your books?

LRK: what i meant was that the effects of a major crime spread out to touch not only the victim but the victim’s family, friends, acquaintances. however, yes, it can also have a long-lasting, even permanent mental effect. trauma reshapes lives, it leaves a bump in the road every time those involved pass over similar ground.

perhaps this explains why the mystery genre is so popular, that by presenting traumatic events fictionally, it enables the reader to grapple with them, and–this being fiction–to conquer them successfully, through the protagonist, every time.

even if the crime novel is not always a paradigm for personal change, at the very least it entertains and distracts. there are times when a person desperately craves escape–temporary, fictional, but valuable. sometimes a good novel is a place to crawl into and rest, and we all know that rest heals.

(this post can be found in the carnival of mental illness)

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