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Agatha Christie

It’s a Mystery

September 15, 2020

Any list of the greatest novelists of the last one hundred years would be incomplete without this person on it. She wrote 66 novels and 14 collections of short stories and also the world’s longest running play, Mousetrap.

Agatha Christie amid a stack of the
many books she has written

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on September 15, 1890. We know her as Agatha Christie. The Guinness World Records names her as the fiction author whose books have sold more than any other in history at over 2 billion copies. It’s the sort of success that aspiring novelists can only dream of.

Like most writers, it was a number of years after she began penning her stories before she was published. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“At eighteen, Christie wrote her first short story, ‘The House of Beauty’, while recovering in bed from an illness. It consisted of about 6,000 words on ‘madness and dreams’, a subject of fascination for her. Her biographer, Janet Morgan, has commented that, despite ‘infelicities of style’, the story was ‘compelling’. (The story became an early version of her story ‘The House of Dreams’.) Other stories followed, most of them illustrating her interest in spiritualism and the paranormal. These included ‘The Call of Wings’ and ‘The Little Lonely God’. Magazines rejected all her early submissions, made under pseudonyms (including Mac Miller, Nathaniel Miller, and Sydney West); some submissions were later revised and published under her real name, often with new titles.

Every aspiring author needs a creepy doll… or two!

Around the same time, Christie began work on her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert. Writing under the pseudonym Monosyllaba, she set the book in Cairo and drew upon her recent experiences there. She was disappointed when the six publishers she contacted declined the work. Clara suggested that her daughter ask for advice from the successful novelist Eden Phillpotts, a family friend and neighbour, who responded to her enquiry, encouraged her writing, and sent her an introduction to his own literary agent, Hughes Massie, who also rejected Snow Upon the Desert but suggested a second novel.

(snip)

Christie had long been a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White and The Moonstone, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. She wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1916. It featured Hercue Poirot a former Belgian police officer with ‘magnificent moustaches’ and a head ‘exactly the shape of an egg’, who had taken refuge in Britain after Germany invaded Belgium. Christie’s inspiration for the character came from Belgian refugees living in Torquay, and the Belgian soldiers she helped to treat as a volunteer nurse during the First World War. Her original manuscript was rejected by Hodder & Stoughton and Methuen. After keeping the submission for several months, John Lane at The Bodley Head offered to accept it, provided that Christie change how the solution was revealed. She did so, and signed a contract committing her next five books to The Bodley Head, which she later felt was exploitative.It was published in 1920.”

Until I found this in my image search today,
I did not realize that I wasn’t the only one who adhere’s to this philosophy!

Her personal life was not without strife. When her father died in 1902 – Christie was 11 years old – the family’s financial situation changed. As Christie later said that it marked the end of her childhood.

Despite this, she did manage to participate in British social life and had a number of short lived relationships prior to meeting Archie Christie when she was 22 years old. The two were married on Christmas Eve 1914.

The birth of her only child, a daughter, occurred in 1919. With the death of her mother in 1926 she fell into a deep depression. Two years later she and Archie divorced when he admitted to an extramarital affair.

She did eventually remarry in 1930 to archaeologist Max Mallowan – a marriage which lasted until her death in 1976.

The backdrop to her personal life, however, was always writing. She often incorporated her own experiences and places she’d visited into her novels.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this was her work in hospital dispensaries during both World Wars. While there she became familiar with a variety of poisons which found their way into her works. Christie had a real gift in finding creative ways to kill off her characters.

While I cannot recall exactly when I became aware of Christie’s books, I imagine it was probably as a young teenager. Undoubtedly I read a number of her novels but it was the 1974 movie Murder On the Orient Express which truly brought her works to the attention of countless Americans. I have enjoyed all the movies based on her books.

I also believe I saw Mousetrap in London in 1980. Unfortunately, my memory is fuzzy and I’m not sure if I imagined the whole thing. But it does seem as if I did attend the play. It was in mid-July and early August of 1980 when my parents had taken my sister and me on a three week trip to Norway, England, and Scotland.

Although we spent the first day in London, the next morning we flew to Bergen, Norway, and began a multi-day bus tour of that country, ending up in Olso. From there, it was fly back to England for car touring as my dad rented a vehicle and we drove up through the countryside to Scotland. After Edinburgh, we returned to London. It was there, on August 2nd, that I write a postcard to my fiancé as follows:

The book I purchased in a London bookshop and read while on the trip; the postcard is the front of the one I sent on my last day in England.

True to what I wrote, it was the final missive I sent. Did I or did I not attend Mousetrap? What was the cause of my malady? Was it truly food poisoning as I believed or had someone doctored my food? Was the ‘poison’ the source of my fuzzy memory? Agatha Christie would, no doubt, approve of such a storyline.

Alas, dear reader, forty years after the fact, it is a mystery which might never be solved. Sounds like the makings of a novel.

The link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Christie

Who’s who on the Facebook post, clockwise from top left: 1. JK Rowling 2. James Michener 3. Stephen King 4. Nora Roberts 5. Agatha Christie

Bob Dylan

Blowin’ In The Wind

December 10, 2019

Every year on December 10th, the Nobel Prize winners are announced. This particular winner from 2016 came as quite the surprise. When one thinks of American authors who have been recognized names such as Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Pearl S. Buck come to mind.

Bob Dylan, however, was awarded the prize for his “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan then and now

As a songwriter, many of his early songs defined a mood and a generation. Blowin’ In The Wind became an anthem for the 1960’s war protest movement. The Times They Are a Changin’ is perhaps his best known song from this volatile era.

In nearly six decades, he’s created an amazing amount of work, not just in music but in other art forms as well. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Since 1994, Dylan has published eight books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries. He has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has also received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ten Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize Board in 2008 awarded him a special citation for ‘his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.’ In 2016, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature…”

Perhaps no other activity best defines his career as that of what has been dubbed ‘The Never Ending Tour.’ Dylan has performed over 3,000 concerts, often more than 100 a year, since June 1988, Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In 2019, Dylan undertook two tours in Europe. The first commenced in Düsseldorf, Germany, on March 31, and ended in Valencia, Spain, on May 7. He played his 3000th show of the Never Ending Tour on April 19, 2019, in Innsbruck, Austria. Dylan’s second tour began in Bergen, Norway, on June 21, and ended in Kilkenny, Ireland, on July 14. Dylan’s touring company has announced his tour of the USA in the fall of 2019, commencing in Irvine, California on October 11 and ending in Washington D.C. on December 8.

In October 2019, Dylan’s touring company that he would play 14 concerts in Japan in April 2020.

Love him or not, Dylan is most certainly an original, following his own path and vision, always eschewing convention. Despite turning 78 on May 24th, he continues to keep a schedule which most people of a similar age would find impossible.

I must admit, I do not own a single Bob Dylan record/CD. It may have something to do with his distinctive voice.

When my daughter was a young teen she heard Bob Dylan for the first time. Her always expressive face registered surprise at the gravelly nature of it… and not in a positive way.

Of course the Hubby – ever one to capitalize on things which bugged her – did his best Bob Dylan impression, singing “The answer… my friend… is blowin’… in … the  wind.” Be sure to use your best raspy Dylan voice and insert pauses where the ellipses are for best results.

It has since become a running family joke. Mention Bob Dylan and someone is certain to try their hardest to imitate the man.

Here are a couple of links including three of Dylan singing the aforementioned Blowin’ In the Wind at various times in his career. I can only imagine that Dylan who, after all this time, must be sick of performing the song.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Dylan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates_in_Literature

Here are a couple more ‘versions’ of Dylan singing Blowin’ In The Wind:

https://youtu.be/ifFZeVQxxEY

https://youtu.be/1k9tqQL6-9A

Nobel prize information dylan.jpg

The Facebook Quiz Answers:

  1. Toni Morrison 2. Ernest Hemingway 3. Pearl S. Buck 4. Bob Dylan (2016- Most Recent) 5. Sinclair Lewis (1930- First)

 

 

Not So Anonymous Authors

April 23, 2019

Near and dear to this author’s heart is World Book and Copyright Day – celebrated annually on April 23. Created in 1995 the purpose of the day is to “recognize the scope of books – a link between the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures.”

book wall.jpg

One of the more interesting aspects of World Book day, however, is how the date was chosen and why. The infallible Wikipedia, as it so often does, offers some insight:

“The original idea was of the Valencian writer Vicente Clavel Andrés as a way to honour the author Miguel de Cervantes, first on 7 October, his birth date, then on 23 April, his death date. In 1995 UNESCO decided that the World Book and Copyright Day would be celebrated on 23 April, as the date is also the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, as well as that of the birth or death of several other prominent authors. (In a historical coincidence, Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same date — 23 April 1616 — but not on the same day, as at the time, Spain used the Gregorian calendar and England used the Julian calendar; Shakespeare actually died 10 days after Cervantes died, on 3 May of the Gregorian calendar.)”

shakespeare.jpg            Shakespeare, perhaps more than any person who has ever lived, was the most prolific of authors. He published 37 plays and 154 sonnets and today, 503 years after his death, his plays are still being performed and his written works analyzed and contemplated. Talk about staying power!

Several years ago I read a book which made the claim that every plot line ever imagined was written by Shakespeare. Modern writers, it stated, might as well give it up and quit writing stories since they cannot match Shakespeare.

To me, this was a very sad and cynical thought. Plus it misses the point about the human mind and heart and the individual’s desire – I would argue need – to pursue one’s passions in life.

When I reflect back on my earliest interests, one stands out: the desire to write. What better way to capture thoughts and the emotions of a time and place? I dabbled in fiction writing while in high school and penned a thinly cloaked autobiographical story titled “Another Lunch.” It told the story of Bernice, Deborah, and Cynthia, three friends whose singular focus seemed to be the pursuit of boys.

journal.jpg            I would add to the ‘book’ as new adventures occurred, writing them down over the weekend, then bringing the updated story to school for the ‘real’ Deborah and Cynthia to read. In time some of the ‘boys’ and other peripheral characters – perhaps recognizing themselves in the story – also started to read the book. It was passed around like an annual at graduation for everyone to peruse.

Sadly, “Another Lunch” disappeared in the spring of my Senior year, no doubt lost in the hovel of some student’s bedroom destined to be discarded by an irritated mother who saw it as worthless.

My ‘fiction’ writing lay dormant for years until the day I walked into a novel writing class at Bellevue Community College. Taught by published author Janet Lee Carey, it was structured into two parts. The first was a 45 minute lecture on the elements of writing fiction. The second half was an opportunity for all of us aspiring authors to read a scene or two from our current work in progress.

 

That very first class I devoured everything which Janet shared as if I was encountering a feast after a years’ long fast. It was what happened in the second part of the class that day which confirmed for me that I was a reluctant writer who had finally found her home.

I listened to the stories which my classmates shared for critique and a voice inside my own head whispered to me, “You can write just as well as them.”

Later that day I started on my first novel, determined to find a way to complete a 90,000 word book – standard length. There was no better feeling than when, months later, I wrote the words “The End.” I had done it! But it was more than that. Writing provided an outlet for the jumble of thoughts which crowd my brain, a virtual sieve to separate the chaff from the grain.

Today I am still compelled to write. In addition to fiction, my Tuesday Newsday blog has taken on a life of its own. Now in the third year, this post is the 106th that I’ve published. For me it doesn’t matter if its novels or short personal essays (such as this one) it’s the writing that matters.

Finally, a nod to my fellow Anonymous Authors, who brighten my Tuesday mornings with their stories, critiques, and friendship: Roger, Jette, Ward, Daphne, Irene, Steve, and May.

A bit of information about World Book and Copyright day:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Book_Day

https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/worldbookday

JK Rowling

Happy Birthday, Harry!

July 31, 2018

Since he emerged into the culture in 1997, this fictional character has taken the world by storm. I would argue that it would be difficult to find anyone in the US who has not at least heard his name: Harry Potter.happy birthdae harry

People obsessed with everything Harry Potter have even discerned – through clues from the seven book series – that July 31, 1980 is his birthday. He shares his day without none other than the woman who created him: Joanne Rowling, aka JK Rowling, who was born in 1965.

Rowling is the first author to become a billionaire through her writing. And all because of a book concept which came to her on train ride in 1990.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

47bd6cf4a24661517543e9ff1a3dd607--harry-potter-facts-harry-potter-books“Born in Yate, Gloucestershire, England, Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990.  (snip)

When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately. In December, Rowling’s mother, Anne, died after ten years suffering from multiple sclerosis. Rowling was writing Harry Potter at the time and had never told her mother about it. Her mother’s death heavily affected Rowling’s writing, and she channelled her own feelings of loss by writing about Harry’s own feelings of loss in greater detail in the first book.

No doubt the first twelve publishers who turned the book down are still kicking themselves. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on an old manual typewriter. Upon the enthusiastic response of Bryony Evens, a reader who had been asked to review the book’s first three chapters, the Fulham-based Christopher Little Literary Agency agreed to represent Rowling in her quest for a publisher. The book was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript. A year later she was finally given the green light (and a £1,500 advance) by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London. The decision to publish Rowling’s book owes much to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who was given the first chapter to review by her father and immediately demanded the next. Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham says that he advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books. Soon after, in 1997, Rowling received an £8,000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council to enable her to continue writing.

Harry Potter stars with JK RowlingIn June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher’s Stone with an initial print run of 1,000 copies, 500 of which were distributed to libraries. Today, such copies are valued between £16,000 ($21,000 US) and £25,000 ($32,000 US). Five months later, the book won its first award, a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. In February, the novel won the British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year, and later, the Children’s Book Award. In early 1998, an auction was held in the United States for the rights to publish the novel, and was won by Scholastic Inc., for US $105,000. Rowling said that she ‘nearly died’ when she heard the news. In October 1998, Scholastic published Philosopher’s Stone in the US under the title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a change Rowling says she now regrets and would have fought if she had been in a better position at the time.”

And it was in 1998 when Harry Potter arrived in my household, his wizardry abilities on full display, as he took over first one child and then the next.

My first memory associated with the books is of my 8 year old, third grade son sitting/laying on the staircase of our house reading the book. He finished it in less than 24 hours. As soon as the second and third books were available in the summer and fall of 1999, they were devoured in a similar manner.

I cannot say for sure what age my daughter was when she picked up our copy of the Sorcerer’s Stone, but I do believe she was seven and in second grade in the year 2000 when her wizarding adventure began. Four of the seven books had been released and her reading them can best be described as a marathon.

And so it continued the next several years culminating in the release of book seven in 2007. By then my children – like the protagonists in Harry Potter – had grown up. My son was 17 and entering his senior year of high school and my daughter was 14.

Professor McMonagall 20101Of course adding movies to the mix only served to enhance the experience. I think the high water mark for me was when, in 2009, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came to the IMAX. I was working with the Rainbow Girls then and we took a group to see the movie. Imagine the girls’ surprise when I arrive for the event dressed up… just like the character Professor McGonagall. I made quite the stir when I walked into the theatre and one patron yelled at me from up above “Good to see you McGonagall!” Guess my costume worked.

I was able to reprise the role at a Harry Potter themed dance the next summer, using my ‘wand’ as I chaperoned the event to pry apart couples who, perhaps, were becoming a bit too amorous. I, along with another chaperone who sported his own Albus Dumbledore attire, shared the first place prize for best costume.

You might think that, as adults, my children’s love of Harry Potter has waned. But it has not. JK Rowling wannabes continue to write in the genre known as ‘fan fiction.’ And my son has read  over 28 MILLION words… the equivalent of 351 novels… in just 3 years time. These stories are all related to Harry Potter’s wizarding world.

And my daughter? Well, here are a couple texts I got from her this morning as I was putting this article together:

Me: How many times have you read the series do you think?

Daughter: I’ve lost count… Just finished the whole thing again last week.

Me: That’s funny and it ties in perfectly.

Daughter: It’s more or less been a continuous cycle since 2000.

I think her response sums up the appeal of Harry Potter. A whole generation grew up reading the books and their love of the characters and the story transcends childhood. And that, ultimately, is a testament to the storytelling power of Rowling. What a gift she has given to millions and millions of people.

As always, a link to the Wikipedia about JK Rowling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._K._Rowling

And even Harry Potter has a Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Potter_(character)

Dave Barry

I swear I am not making this up…

July 3, 2018

 

The ability to write humor is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things to do. Too often the humor is lost on the reader and they are left thinking “umm?”

For years I’ve read and enjoyed the humor of Dave Barry who turns 70 on Jdave-barry-facebook-chat-ftr.jpguly 3. His nationally syndicated column ran from 1983 to 2005. Additionally, he’s written numerous books which highlight some of the more ridiculous aspects of modern American life.

His 27 published books have ranged from observations on parenthood,  to musings on growing older, as well as Dave’s own unique take on history.  Even the titles of his books are humorous. Here are a few of my favorite titles:

  • The Taming of the Screw (1983)
  • Claw Your Way to the Top: How to Become the Head of a Major Corporation in Roughly a Week (1986)
  • Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States (1989)
  • Dave Barry’s Gift Guide to End All Gift Guides (1994)
  • “My Teenage Son’s Goal in Life is to Make Me Feel 3,500 Years Old” and Other Thoughts On Parenting From Dave Barry (2001)
  • “The Greatest Invention in the History Of Mankind Is Beer” And Other Manly Insights From Dave Barry (2001)
  • Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry (2015)

Here’s what the Infallible Wikipedia has to say about Barry’s career:

“Barry began his journalism career in 1971, working as a general-assignment reporter for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pennsylvania, near his alma mater, Haverford College. He covered local government and civic events and was promoted to City Editor after about two years. He also started writing a weekly humor column for the paper and began to develop his unique style. He remained at the newspaper through 1974. He then worked briefly as a copy editor at the Associated Press‘s Philadelphia bureau before joining Burger Associates, a consulting firm.

At Burger, he taught effective writing to business people. In his own words, he ‘spent nearly eight years trying to get various businesspersons to…stop writing things like ‘Enclosed please find the enclosed enclosures,’ but…eventually realized that it was hopeless.’

In 1981 he wrote a humorous guest column, about watching the birth of his son, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which attracted the attention of Gene Weingarten, then an editor of the Miami Herald‘s Sunday magazine Tropic. Weingarten hired Barry as a humor columnist in 1983. Barry’s column was syndicated nationally. Barry won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1988 for ‘his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns.’

(snip) In response to a column in which Barry mocked the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, for calling themselves the ‘Grand Cities’, Grand Forks named a sewage pumping station after Barry in January 2002. Barry traveled to Grand Forks for the dedication ceremony.”

Barry is perhaps best known for the following sentence which often precedes some outrageous and humorous ‘fact’ – “I swear I am not making this up.”

Although I read Barry’s columns for several years, it was a book given to me by a young Mom, Vicki, which really made me a fan.

The year was 1989 and I was pregnant with my son. As her two boys were now beyond the stage of needing cribs and car seats, Vicki, gave me piles of gear. The real gem among the stuff was Dave’s book Babies and Other Hazards of Sex: How to Make a Tiny Person in Only 9 Months With Tools You Probably Have Around the Home (1984)

In the course of incubating my own small human I had time to read the book. There was lots of humorous stuff between the pages and I laughed at much of it. At the time I thought he was exaggerating. It wasn’t until AFTER my son was born that I came to appreciate the truth in his whimsical look at parenthood and maybe, just maybe, he WASN’T making it up.

Of all the lines in the book (I’m paraphrasing) it was this one which I did not understand until sometime in 1990:

“The best time to feed your baby is just before the phone rings and right after you’ve gone to sleep.”

For anyone who’s been a parent you know exactly what that means… for the rest of you? Well, check out any one of his other books to brighten your day.

Two links for you:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Barry

http://www.davebarry.com/

Sue Grafton

 Z Is For Zero

April 24, 2018

This title was to be the final alphabet mystery series novel by Sue Grafton.

A is for AlphabetSadly, she died December 282017 and, according to her daughter, the final book will never be completed and the series ends with Y is for Yesterday.

April 24, 1940, however, should be B is for Birthday, the day Grafton was born in Louisville, Kentucky.

Although I’m not a big mystery reader, I do admire writer’s who display the tenacity it takes to achieve success. Grafton was such a writer.

Her early life was marred by a difficult home life as both her parents’ were alcoholics and, according to Grafton, “From the age of five onward, I was left to raise myself.”

It was her father’s influence which sparked an interest in writing. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Grafton’s father was enamored of detective fiction and wrote at night. He taught Grafton lessons on the writing and editing process and groomed her to be a writer. Inspired by her father, Grafton began writing when she was 18 and finished her first novel four years later. She continued writing and completed six more novels. Only two of these seven novels (Keziah Dane and The Lolly-Madonna War) were published. Grafton would later destroy the manuscripts for her five early, unpublished novels.”

Success eluded her so she began writing screenplays and worked steadily for 15 years as such. The skills she acquired in this occupation were essential as she learned about story structure, realistic dialogue and how to create effective action sequences.

The Alphabet Mystery series begins in 1982 with A is for Alibi. Also from Wikipedia:

“Grafton had been fascinated by mysteries series whose titles were related, such as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, each of which included a color in the title, and Harry Kemelman’s Rabbi Small series, each of which included a day of the week in the title. While reading Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a picture book with an alphabetized list of ways for children to die, Grafton decided to write a series of novels whose title would follow the alphabet. She immediately sat down and made a list of all of the crime-related word that she knew.”

It was after the publication of G is for Gumshoe that Grafton was able to quit writing screenplays and focus on her novels.  There is one book in the series which does not comply with the naming conventions and that’s the letter ‘X’ – which is the complete title of the 24th book.

It was at a writer’s conference a few years back that I was told by an agent that having a series is the way to go. Of course, series or not, one must still obtain a publisher, have a marketing plan and do all the leg work to promote one’s books. For most writers, in my opinion, that’s the harder task than penning the book.

Writer’s write and, despite the lack of a publisher, it’s what we are compelled to do. Sue Grafton was also compelled to write so a toast to her memory on her birthday and the gift Dishe left behind with those 25 alphabet books.

To read more about Sue Grafton, here’s a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sue_Grafton

 

 

 

Charles Dickens

 God Bless Us, Everyone

December 19, 2017

christmas carol bookIt took the author only six weeks to complete the novella which was published on December 19, 1843. All 6,000 of the original copies sold out in less than six days and the book, arguably, is one of the most famous literary works in history.

A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas – the full title – is known better by the simpler name ‘A Christmas Carol.’

Charles Dickens was appalled by the conditions he saw at a school for the poor and was inspired to write the story. From the infallible Wikipedia:

“Dickens had written three Christmas stories prior to the novella, and was inspired to write the story following a visit to the Field Lane Ragged school, one of several establishments for London’s half-starved, illiterate street children. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a self-interested man redeeming himself by transforming into a more sympathetic character are the key themes of the story. There is discussion among academics as to whether this was a fully secular story, or if it is a Christian allegory.”

The book had an additional 13 publication runs in 1844, obviously resonating with the reading public in Victorian England. Since its first edition, the book has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages and adapted for theatre, movies and TV.

The path to success for Dickens, however, was not an easy one. Despite being a successful author, by mid-1843 he encountered financial problems. In those days authors were paid a salary by publishers and the author’s writings didn’t truly belong to them. Dickens’ publishers, Chapman and Hall, were about to reduce his salary by 50 pounds as sales of his current book had fallen. Also from the infallible Wikipedia:

“As the result of the disagreements with Chapman and Hall over the commercial failures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Dickens arranged to pay for the publishing himself, in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Production of A Christmas Carol was not without problems. The first printing contained drab olive endpapers that Dickens felt were unacceptable, and the publisher quickly replaced them with yellow endpapers, but, once replaced, those clashed with the title page, which was then redone.  The final product was bound in red cloth with gilt-edged pages, completed only two days before the publication date of 19 December 1843.”

Perhaps my favorite part of this story is how Dickens, despite setbacks, prevailed and in 1852, started a tradition of reading an abbreviated version of the story as a public performance every Christmas season until his death in 1870. In fact he read A Christmas Carol in this manner 127 times.

I’ve seen a number of different versions of “A Christmas Carol.” Although many critics laud the 1954 film with Alistair Cook as Scrooge as the best adaptation, I’m partial to the George C. Scott version from 1984. What’s your favorite version?

Alastair Sims ScroogeGeorge C. Scott Scroogescrooge mcduck

I encourage you to click on the Wikipedia link and read more on how this famous Christmas story came to be.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol

Dick Francis

 Definitely a Halloween ‘Treat’

October 31, 2017

Witches, goblins and small children in costumes begging for candy. Ah, it must be Halloween. It’s a ‘hard-to-miss’ day and all of us, no doubt, know of its history.

dick francis signing booksSo, instead of a rehash, today’s topic involves one of my favorite authors. Born October 31, 1920, he wrote more than 40 novels in his lifetime. He did not begin his novel writing career until he was 40 years old. All of his books centered around the world of horseracing. That author: Dick Francis.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In 1962, he published his first thriller, Dead Cert, set in the world of racing. Subsequently he regularly produced a novel a year for the next 38 years, missing only 1998 (during which he published a short-story collection). Although all his books were set against a background of horse racing, his male heroes held a variety of jobs including artist (In the Frame and To the Hilt), investigator for the Jockey Club (The Edge), pilot (Rat Race and Flying Finish), wine merchant (Proof) and many others. All the novels are narrated by the hero, who in the course of the story discovers himself to be more resourceful, brave, tricky, than he had thought, and usually finds a certain salvation for himself as well as bestowing it on others. Details of other people’s occupations fascinated Francis, and the reader finds himself or herself immersed in the mechanics of such things as photography, accountancy, the gemstone trade, restaurant service on transcontinental trains—but always in the interests of the plot. Dysfunctional families were a subject which he exploited particularly well (Reflex, a baleful grandmother; Hot Money, a multi-millionaire father and serial ex-husband; Decider, the related co-owners of a racecourse).”

Wild Horses and Straight (2)My favorite book of his is titled “Straight” and tells the story of a man who inherits his brother’s life when the latter dies in a freak accident. Francis was one of my mother’s favorite authors also. So beloved, in fact, that she collected all of his books which, perhaps, I will inherit one day.

In 1995 I learned that Dick Francis was doing a book signing at Tower Records and Books on Queen Anne hill. So I took my two year old daughter and drove to Seattle to purchase and get signed a copy of the book to give to my mother for Christmas. There was a line when we arrived. I learned a couple things about Dick Francis that day. First, that he didn’t much like chitchatting with his fans; and, second, that it required a glass of Merlot

Wild Horses autograph page (4)to get through the event. The store manager brought him one glassful while I was there.

So my daughter and I

 

made it through the line and I handed him the book with the request that he sign it for my mother. He questioned as to why I wasn’t getting a second book for myself. Well! That would have required going and buying the second book then getting back in line once again while trying to keep a two year old entertained. I only bought the one book.

On the title page of Wild Horses he wrote “Hi Janet” and then signed his name. Here’s a photo of the page.

If you have not read any of his books they are, I think, a good example of how to mix narrative, dialogue and action. His research, the character development, and the details are always outstanding. So get one of Francis’ books the next time you want to curl up with a good one for the weekend! Well worth the time.

A couple of interesting links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Francis

His son, Felix, who co-wrote with Dick for ten years, carries on with writing novels in the same style. I’ve read a couple of his solo novels and I think he’s a good writer too!  http://www.felixfrancis.com/index.php

And a reward for all who have read to the bottom. The connection between Dick Francis and the Queen Mum is that he was the jockey who rode her horse Devon Loch in 1956.

E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web

July 11, 2017

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte, “That in itself is a tremendous thing.” 

EB WhiteIt is rare to find a writer whose impact on both children and adults is so pronounced but E.B. White – who was born on July 11, 1899 – was such a writer.

For a writer there is no more monumental handbook than “Elements of Style.” It’s dog-eared pages a testament to the author’s quest to use punctuation and grammar correctly. The book was first published in 1918 by William Strunk, Jr. It was in 1959 when it was revised and enlarged by White and now bore both contributors names. When a question arises as to ‘how’ to do something most writer’s will say, colloquially, ‘what does Strunk and White say?’

White spent his life as a writer, the bulk of that on staff with The New Yorker magazine. It was when he turned to the writing of children’s literature and, especially with the publication of Charlotte’s Web, that he became a household name.

According to the infallible Wikipedia:

“White’s editor Ursula Nordstrom said that one day, in 1952, E. B. White handed her a new manuscript, the only version of Charlotte’s Web then in existence, which she read soon after and enjoyed. Charlotte’s Web was published three years after White began writing it.”

charlottes webThe book is one of the most widely read books by elementary aged children. Somewhere in a dusty box in my parent’s basement is a copy of this wonderful book. A book which I read over and over again, falling in love with a pig named Wilbur and his friend, the spider Charlotte.

Also from Wikipedia:

“Written in White’s dry, low-key manner, Charlotte’s Web is considered a classic of children’s literature, enjoyable to adults as well as children. The description of the experience of swinging on a rope swing at the farm is an often cited example of rhythm in writing, as the pace of the sentences reflects the motion of the swing. In 2000, Publishers Weekly listed the book as the best-selling children’s paperback of all time.”

For more about E.B. White’s life and writing, you can click here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._B._White

 

To read a few highlighted quotes from Charlotte’s Web – including the one in the subject line – click here: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/987048-charlotte-s-web

Ann Landers & Abigail Van Buren

Dear Abby: Help!

July 4, 2017

Dear Abby: I’ve been going with this girl for a year. How can I get her to say yes? —Don
Dear Don: What’s the question?

Dear AnnAnyone who grew up in the 1960’s no doubt sees the names Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren and knows immediately that they were the gold standard in advice columnists. The two, also, were twin sisters born on July 4, 1918 in Sioux City, Iowa.

Both names were assumed, however, as Dear Abby (Pauline Esther Friedman was Abby’s ‘real name’) and Ann Landers (Esther Pauline but called Eppie) was Ann Lander’s birth name.

Their careers can be traced to the three years the pair spent at Morningside College (1936-39) where they co-wrote a gossip column for the college’s newspaper. Both also graduated in 1939 with identical degrees in Journalism and Psychology.

Their gossip column writings ended when both were married in a double ceremony on July 2, 1939. As women in a time when careers were not encouraged, they each settled into married life and the subsequent births of their children (Pauline bore two children, Esther, one).

Then in 1956 everything changed. The Ann Landers advice column had been a feature in the Chicago Sun-Times.  According to the infallible Wikipedia:

“Ruth Crowley, the creator of the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Ask Ann Landers column, died in 1955. During her nine years writing the column, intermittently from 1943, Crowley’s identity had been kept secret. Lederer (Esther) won a contest to take over the column later that year, and took on the identity.”

Not to be outdone, her apparently competitive (and younger by 17 minutes) sister launched her own advice column:

“Pauline’s writing career that led to Dear Abby began in January 1956, when she was 37 and new to the greater San Francisco area. Sometime during this period she phoned the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and said she could write a better advice column than the one she had been reading in the newspaper. After hearing her modest credentials, editor Stanleigh ‘Auk’ Arnold gave her some letters in need of answers and said to bring back her replies in a week; Phillips got her replies back to the Chronicle in an hour and half. In an interview with Larry King, she said she had no work experience, lacking even a social security number. The editor, however, asked if she were a professional writer. He said her writing was ‘fabulous’, and she was hired that day.”

Abby and AnnNo doubt each could have penned letters seeking advice from Ann Landers and Dear Abby. From 1956 on their relationship with each other was strained. Reconciliation was attempted in 1964 but the competition between them persisted until Esther’s death in June 2002.

Despite the acrimony between them, both served as role models for a generation of women as to ‘how’ to have a family and a career.

For a romance writer their columns – and other’s like them – provide fertile grounds for possible story-lines – and fuel the imagination. So a 4th of July salute to these two remarkable women!

To read more about these amazing sisters:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eppie_Lederer

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_Phillips