| TOKYO, March 29
TOKYO, March 29 When a prostitute is found
stabbed through with a pitchfork in a ritualised death said to
be a way of killing a witch, local marshal Archie Lean is forced
to call on Perceval Grey, a half-Native American sleuth, for
Set in the city of Portland, Maine in 1892, "The Truth of
All Things" by debut novelist Kieran Shields follows the pair as
they set out on the trail of a killer whose moves hark back to
the Salem witch trials two centuries in the past.
A lawyer turned novelist, Shields - who has described
himself as a "literary tomb raider" - found himself inspired by
the history of his hometown of Portland as well as odd bits of
news, such as the fact that six bodies believed to be buried in
one particular tomb in a city cemetery had gone missing.
Shields spoke with Reuters about writing, the character
choices he made and how being a lawyer influenced his work.
Q: How did you come up with the characters?
A: "The other detective in the story is the straight man,
the standard authority figure. He works for the police
department and was a useful contrast to the character of
Perceval Grey... In terms of Grey, it was a delicate balancing
act. I have him being of mixed heritage and he has an upbringing
where he starts out in the Native American community and after
his father's death he is essentially forcibly removed and
reintroduced into upper-class white society against his will. I
just thought it was really interesting. In some of the research
I was doing I was coming across all sorts of tidbits about
history and I was coming up with things like Maine, which was at
that time in history a dry state -- the first state in America
to outlaw alcohol. There were statutes on the books explicitly
prohibiting use of alcohol by various groups of people such as
soldiers, children and (in pre-political correctness)
'imbeciles' and Indians. This shows how American society viewed
Native Americans at the time -- very paternalistic and
"So it was nice to have this character who turns that a
little bit on its head. He ends up being intellectually superior
and more rational than the other members of society he has to
deal with, despite their expectations that he's going to be some
sort of wild man or hocus-pocus Indian shaman."
Q: So there's a couple of different threads and unusual bits
of history here.
A: "You have different time periods coming together: the
witchcraft period, and then the late 1800s where there's still a
lot of overarching societal views that today we find a bit
eccentric. I tried to incorporate some of that in a
light-hearted manner in that the white detective sometimes
jokingly teases Gray a bit about his Indian heritage... So there
is that sort of sub-text there. I didn't want to make it a focal
point of the story that this was about Percival Gray's personal
struggle against prejudice or expectations, but it is there in
the background. I think it does lend some layering and some
texture to the basic mystery plotline."
Q: When you write, do you emphasize plot, setting or
A: "Well, I think it obviously has to be a mix. Part of my
struggle was that I probably emphasize plot a bit too much.
Years ago, when I had started writing this, the original ideas -
I don't really remember what they were - grew and changed over
time. At some point I had to start cutting plotlines out of the
story because it was just spiraling a bit out of control in
terms of length. There were more plot twists than I had
originally envisioned, it had just become too cumbersome. So
that was a problem. I had to go back and refocus on character
development. Again, some of the things that tend to end up on
the cutting room floor tend to be character pieces because in a
mystery, you can't necessarily carve out pieces of the plot
because it's a house of cards and if you take something out
early on, the rest no longer holds together."
Q: What did your training and work as a lawyer contribute to
your life as a writer -- or did it?
A: "It did in some senses. I was a lawyer for let's see -
I've probably washed some of that out of my memory, it was a
traumatic experience - probably around 5 years practicing as a
litigator. In some senses it's very different from fiction
writing but in other ways some elements of it are similar: the
research ability for the historical side of the historical
fiction. Then also when you are a lawyer, it's not the same set
of skills exactly, but you do have to be able to get into your
audience's mind, for lack of a better word, and present a story
in the way that you want other people to understand it. Not
manipulate, but have them view the world or a story or a set of
facts as you see them, or think they should see them. A sort of
persuasive approach to laying out a set of facts that is not
totally lost in translation when you move to writing fiction.
"On the other hand, there are a lot of differences and
that's why I'm happy I'm a writer now and not a lawyer."
Q: Advice for aspiring writers?
A: "Probably the most important thing is just to make the
commitment to actually sitting down and putting the words on the
page. It's very easy to think about what you're going to write,
or how you're going to write, or when you're going to write.
You've got to get the words on the page and afterwards you can
worry about whether they sound right or is this what I want to
say, am I telling the right story? I sometimes suspect people
get all wound up in all the what-ifs and all these concerns that
keep you from actually doing the physical act of writing."
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Paul Casciato)