The Saturday Writing Quote — on seeing abstractly

Conscious Creativity: Look, Connect, CreateI’m closing out September with one more quote from Conscious Creativity: look, connect, create by British visual artist and actor Philippa Stanton (Leaping Hare Press, 2018). In talking about abstraction, she is speaking in terms not generally applied to the written word, for good reason. But as a writer who also paints on occasion and has learned to love abstract art — okay, some, not all — I think that learning seeing abstractly helps us see connections. And that is what ignites creates new work, whether it be a poem, a dance, a painting, or a song.

“I strongly believe that by involving and connecting yourself to the world around you through abstract form and thought, your mind will become open to seeing much more than words are able to describe. There is so much to look at both inside and outside our minds that can only ever be communicated through image. However, simple expression through image and abstract thought is often undermined or patronized by some who live on words and wit. But emotion can’t always be expressed in a cerebral way and maybe some days an explosion of pink daubs on a blank canvas says it all.”

The Saturday Writing Quote — on atmosphere

Conscious Creativity: Look, Connect, CreateThis month, I’m sharing some wisdom from Conscious Creativity: look, connect, create by British visual artist and actor Philippa Stanton (Leaping Hare Press, 2018).

Atmosphere is a key element in fiction as well as in visual art, music, and other forms. It is found, Stanton tells us, between the images, and in what our readers and viewers bring to the work.

Atmosphere “is full of something we feel, but at the same time absolutely nothing we can see. It is an essence. It is both something and nothing woven into time and place that can only be captured by feeling and suggestion. We ourselves complete an atmosphere. Atmosphere is about what your imagination is allowed to create beyond what you initially see.”

Murder on the Nile — The Continued Influence of Agatha Christie

Originally published March 5, 2017; reprinted today, in honor of Dame Agatha’s birthday, September 15, 1890. 

A few weeks ago, I was asked to introduce the Bigfork Community Players’ production of “Murder on the Nile,” Agatha Christie’s stage play based on her book, Death on the Nile. That got me thinking about Dame Agatha’s continued influence on readers and writers. The play is great fun—different from both book and movie—and it was a delight to be a part of the show for a night. My comments:

Thank you.

I’m Leslie Budewitz, author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in a fictional version of Bigfork, and the Seattle Spice Shop mysteries.

When Karen Koler asked me to join the fun tonight, we chatted a bit about the play, and our amazement at how widely read – and watched – Agatha Christie remains today.

And that got me thinking about Agatha Christie and her continued influence on mystery writers and readers.

For many of us, her books were the gateway into adult literature. When we’d had enough of Nancy Drew, we gravitated naturally to Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and my favorites, Tommy and Tuppence. I still remember buying my first Agatha Christie, a paperback, in a dime store in Burlington IA when I was ten or twelve. With my own money. I read it by the pool and begged my mother to let me go back and buy more.

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and died in 1976. She wrote 75 novels, not all of them mysteries, 100 short stories, more than a dozen plays – some based on her novels, and two autobiographies. She was also a prolific diarist. I’m pleased to have won two Agatha Awards, named for the great lady herself, for nonfiction and best first novel. The year I was nominated for Best Nonfiction, one of the other nominees was John Curran, a Brit who’s written two books looking at her secret notebooks, where she sketched out her plots and character ideas, and occasionally wrote the first drafts of her short stories. Her books are still bestsellers, and her plays still draw crowds.

Why?

Because she was first and foremost a tremendous storyteller. John Curran attributes that in part to her unconventional education. She also had a tremendous curiosity about the world. She traveled widely with her mother, with her first husband, an army officer, and with her second, an archaeologist. Those trips inspired several novels, including Murder on the Orient Express. Her trip to Egypt was no doubt the spark for her 1934 short story called “Death on the Nile,” featuring Parker Pyne, one of her lesser-known detectives. She then expanded it into the 1937 novel, featuring Hercule Poirot, and later adapted it for the stage as Murder on the Nile, making significant changes along the way.

She wrote what are typically called traditional or cozy mysteries, where a murder happens in a discrete, defined community, and has a deep ripple effect. The murder disrupts the community, and a surprise – even though one happens in every book. The murder must be solved not only for justice to prevail, but to restore the community, and help the individuals get their lives back on track – something we’ll see in this story.

She also created highly memorable detectives. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are instantly recognizable. They’re both intriguing, he for his experiences, and she for her astuteness despite her apparent lack of experience. That nosy village woman lurks in many of us, and she’s the inspiration for so many modern amateur sleuths, including my own.

Both Miss Marple and Poirot were typically outsiders, although Miss Marple did occasionally investigate an incident in her own village, St. Mary Mead, and that outsider status gave them the ability to see things and make connections others – including the police – couldn’t see. That’s very much an element of the modern traditional mystery, as is the counselor or sounding board role that each often played.

Some of her secondary characters feel like cliches now, but I think that’s the result of time and imitation. She did a brilliant job giving her minor characters the telling details that made them come alive. She also used our assumptions about certain types of characters against us, such as our belief in the innocence of a caring doctor or a devoted child.

We also love her intricate plots. She often recycled plots, or wrote variations of them, which the very prolific can do. The mystery writer Robert Barnard wrote that she could use the same trick a second time – and still fool us. She hid clues in plain sight, and she was a master of the red herring. In fact, we’ll see tonight how she used misdirection to make us think one thing while something entirely different was going on.

She was daring, as anyone who’s read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd will remember, but I won’t say anything more, for those of you who haven’t read it yet.

I admire her ability to create a world. Tonight, we’ll feel ourselves part of the group on the cruise, and feel the friendships and tensions that develop. She had an uncanny eye and ear for the subtle conflicts between people, and as one writer friend pointed out, her subtle hints of inappropriate sexual obsession were way ahead of time. Morality is a recurring theme in her work.

She had wit. The same friend recalls her describing a character’s eyes as the color of “boiled gooseberries.” My friend had no idea what a gooseberry was, but the image totally painted a picture.

And she’s inspired modern day authors quite literally. There’s a mystery set a conference on Christie’s work, another hypothesizing that she wrote a long-lost play during her mysterious 1926 disappearance, and another involving a Golden Age of Mystery book club, structured like her novels. In my books, I use a Cast of Characters, as she often did, as a way to help readers remember who’s who, but also as another form of storytelling.

Dame Agatha remains popular because her stories still tell us something about human nature, and because they’re fun.

I’ll be in the lobby at intermission and after the show, chatting about mysteries – both Dame Agatha’s and my own. And I do have books and bookmarks available.

Thank you – and enjoy your trip down the Nile.

(Thanks to Art Taylor and his article in the Washington Independent Review of Books for the origins of “Murder on the Nile,” and to my friend Ellen Byron for sharing her memories and observations.)

 

The Saturday Writing Quote — getting it wrong

This month, I’m sharing some wisdom from Conscious Creativity: look, connect, create by British visual artist and actor Philippa Stanton (Leaping Hare Press, 2018).

“‘Getting it wrong’ is so often tied up with personal fears, judgements and disappointments that we often wilfully use to justify not moving forwards. The fear of getting it wrong, getting rejected and feeling like a failure, multiple times over, is not something anyone wishes to bring on and embrace, but it is one of the realities of creative progression that we have to accept.”

 

The Saturday Writing Quote — on process

Conscious Creativity: Look, Connect, CreateI’ve been reading Conscious Creativity: look, connect, create by Philippa Stanton (Leaping Hare Press, 2018), a British visual artist whose goal in this book is to spark creativity — whether in visual art, writing, music, or another form — by giving readers ways to experience and capture the everyday differently. So for September, a few quotes from Conscious Creativity.

“There is no definitive way to create your personal working structure as everyone is so different; I work in quite a chaotic, childlike way, for example, even though my fantasy version of me works in a calm, minimalist way. You might be someone who works best with neat and tidy order, but with a fantasy about the excitement of allowing some chaos into your life. Whichever way you lean, allow yourself to lean that way, but always keep your fantasy or idea on your shoulder. Your structure or plan should contain by aspiration and achievability.”

The Saturday Writing Quote

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

– Enid Bagnold, (1889-1981), British novelist and author of National Velvet

 

The Saturday Writing Quote — on creativity

I’m continuing my month of sharing quotes I found in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant (2016).

“Originality is what everybody wants, but there’s a sweet spot. If it’s not original enough, it’s boring or trite. If it’s too original, it may be hard for the audience to understand. The goal is to push the envelope, not tear the envelope.”
– Rob Minkoff, b. 1962, American filmmaker whose films include The Lion King and Stuart Little

Pepper’s Book Shelf — What’s the Mistress of Spice reading now?

In CHAI ANOTHER DAY, the latest Spice Shop mystery, Pepper doesn’t have as much time for reading as in the earlier installments. But she does love a good mystery, and she’s got a few other new faves, as well.

Here’s the link to earlier installments of Pepper’s Book Self, filled with recommendations for her favorite foodie mysteries and historical mysteries, along with a few cookbooks and spice references.

In CHAI, Pepper is still working on the food education of Matt Kemp, one of her new hires, and gives him a copy of Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner, her  go-to guide on the history of spice and its role in the global economy. She also gives him a terrific history of Pike Place Market, and Soul of the City, by Alice Shorett and Murray Morgan.

She’s been saving the last few Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, and finally dips into A Rare Benedictine, a trio of Cadfael short stories. She’s tempted by Murder in Union Square, the latest in Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mysteries, set in turn-of-the-last-century New York, and Turning the Tide, one of the adventures of Edith Maxwell’s Quaker midwife sleuth.

And of course, she once again consults The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, by Steven Kerry Brown.

Some of the new culinary mysteries she and the Spice Shop crew are excited about: books by Barbara Ross, Ellie Alexander, Cleo Coyle, and Lucy Burdette.

Happy reading — and happy eating!