Matthew Pearl, the best-selling author of five literary historical thrillers, does his writing behind a desk that he rents in what would be the reception area of a marketing company in Cambridge. Beneath his desk is a metal file cabinet that hides, among other things, 300-year-old books and a plush pair of slippers. Pearl’s latest novel, “The Last Bookaneer,’’ concerns literary pirates and the strange, final days of Robert Louis Stevenson’s life in Samoa.
CAN I HELP YOU?: [When I took this desk], I was worried about people mistaking me for the receptionist. They said they don’t have foot traffic; it’s true, but it happens. I’ve shown people in for their interviews. I get lunch deliveries and UPS. It makes me feel useful. There’s an episode of “Seinfeld” where Kramer walks into a random office, gets swept up, and starts working there. Sometimes it feels like that. If I had to interview a candidate for a marketing position, I’d be OK.
A DOG’S TALE: I had a dog named Oliver with severe separation anxiety. He couldn’t be alone . . . so I had to bring him wherever I went. I used to work at home, but once my wife and I started having kids, that was out. Porter Square Books was the only place I could find that was dog-friendly, work-friendly, and had food. I was there all the time. They made a calendar of the dogs that come to the bookstore, and Oliver was one of them. But it just got too hard to go to a coffee shop — there was only one that I could go to with the dog and sometimes I didn’t get a seat. That’s what prompted me to start looking for office space.
THE GETAWAY: I usually bring my lunch [to the office] so I can stay here. I have my hidden slippers [in a file drawer]. I think they look like regular shoes if you’re not looking closely. I get comfortable and settled here. I know that doesn’t sound like a big accomplishment, but compared to being at home . . . Our kids are five, three, and 19 months. Everything gets taken. Everything gets moved around. I can’t open my computer without a baby starting to pound on the keys. I literally can’t do anything there, so just getting organized is a big accomplishment.
THE JOYS OF RESEARCH: I love research. People have different tolerances for tedious research. I happen to have a very high one . . . If I’m in the very early stages of a book, it’s a lot of research and taking notes. I research until the point where I can start writing, and then I keep researching . . . I’m on my sixth book. They’re all different stories, but they’re all set in the 19th century. There are things that overlap, so it’s less of an uphill climb now. I have a head start.
THE RIGHT STUFF: A novelist is not under an ethical obligation [to be accurate] like someone who writes nonfiction. With fiction, it’s your call. Is there an ethical component? Some writers would say no . . . but you hear from readers when you get something wrong. I care about getting things right, and I think that adds to the story. I don’t know if it’s my responsibility, but I take it on anyway because I feel like it makes the story better. Sometimes, you can feel when something is authentic, but sometimes it’s backwards: There have been things I’ve put into early drafts of a book that my early readers have said are anachronistic. I know I’m right, but if I get that a couple times, I’ll just take it out because it’s not worth tripping someone up.Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson @gmail.com.