By Jeff Salter
Delighted to have, as my Guest Fox for this Hound Day, the talented and award-winning author: Meg Mims.
The assignment for this week was “What I would like to discuss with my favorite literary figure.” Meg took it a step further and actually channeled the entire conversation!
With no further ado, I’ll let Meg introduce herself and her literary figure, whom I’m sure you’ll all recognize:
I’m a long time mystery fan. I started reading the Boxcar Children series, the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters, and even Nancy Drew, although I found them to be outdated. And then a friend introduced me to Trixie Belden – whose adventures were perfect for my age at the time. Around the same time, a cousin let me borrow an Agatha Christie book. Talk about *totally* hooked!!
I think I read almost every one, including the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford series. I jumped to Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsy and Harriet Vane – at this point, the blend of mystery and romance settled into my subconscious. It’s what I write today, with a bit of inspirational thrown in, plus dead bodies. They seem to crop up a lot.
So when Jeff’s offer to be a Guest Fox came along, I thought over all of my favorite authors. J.R.R. Tolkien. Andre Norton. Ursula LeGuin. Arthur Conan Doyle. Ellis Peters. Sharon Kay Penman. Judith Merkle Riley. Will Thomas. Charles Todd. Cleo Coyle. But I chose Dame Agatha because she’s really cool. Calm. Collected. And very celebrated for her tremendous career. She started the Golden Age of Mystery, after all.
A Discussion with Agatha Christie Over Tea
By Meg Mims
Meg: Welcome, Dame Christie, and thank you so much for sitting down with me today. Would you like Earl Grey or Hot Cinnamon Spice tea? I prefer the cinnamon.
Dame Agatha: Oh, the Earl Grey. Please. One lump, no cream. Thank you.
Meg: My daughter’s favorite as well. I suspect it’s the Bergamot. May I ask you how you managed to write so many mystery novels? I’m a late bloomer and very slow.
Dame Agatha: Well, in my day there was no Twitter or Facebook, or even blogs. People had more time to do things, and participate in real conversations. I listened far more than I talked, and took notes all the time.
Meg: You also started very young. I envy your early success! If only I’d kept at it. I took too long of a break due to my daughter’s schedule. But I write like the ocean wave, out and back, out farther and back in, etc. I suspect it happened when it should have.
Dame Agatha: Everyone has their own method of writing, and ideas came to me whenever they popped in my head. Shopping, or cleaning the house, whatever. Did you know I took a dare from my older sister Madge to write a novel during the first World War? I finished The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1917 and tried for years to find a publisher. Everyone ought to experience that.
Meg: I believe an American publisher first took you on before an English one, in 1920.
Dame Agatha: Yes, I’m afraid so. (smiles, sips tea) And it took me another three years before my second novel, The Murder on the Links, was published.
Meg: Have a scone, or a cherry tart. Things were quite different back then—no need for self-promotion by the author, for one thing.
Dame Agatha: Heavens no. If your publisher did anything at all in those days. But people stopped by book shops quite frequently. And I would say groups discussed the latest books and news since there was no television and little radio. Life was richer, fuller, and a bit slower. If you weren’t a servant, that is, working from dawn to dusk. However, I did my best thinking over a sudsy pan full of dishes.
Meg: I love vacuuming. The noise blocks out everything else. Or if I’m stuck, I put Tolkien on the MP3 player. Er, it’s a tiny music—never mind. You must have known about Professor Tolkien, since you’re both English.
Dame Agatha: Of course. I preferred traveling the real world and observing good and evil, though, to all the fantasy world-building. I found traveling quite an education.
Meg: Well, you’re both very famous. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was an instant success. Your first book was also a success.
Dame Agatha: Ah, yes. (Dabs clotted cream on scone and nibbles, sips tea.) A pharmacology journal claimed I did a careful study of poison, without using those silly untraceable ones. Quite nice, I must say. Not at all like the nasty stuff people say now on Goodreads or Amazon. Such a dreadful business. I’m sure I would have gotten quite discouraged if a book failed to have a good twist or two. I always wrote out the notes before I started dictating. Although sometimes a book didn’t turn out like I’d planned. That is for the best at times.
Meg: Yes, I prefer having the plot outlined, but you’re right. You have to give your characters the ‘wheel’ to drive the plot if things aren’t exciting enough. My first book won a Spur Award and I’m worried about the sequel being a flop! I’m hoping to overcome that, since it’s not finished. Now tell me, how did you feel with Hercule Poirot being compared to Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes when your first few books came out?
Dame Agatha: Oh, they’re not too different as detectives in methodology. (Takes another sip.) Poirot relies on the little gray cells and observation, and Holmes uses observation and deduction. They both have their quirks, too.
Meg: Indeed! Poirot’s mustache and neatness, Holmes’ cocaine reliance and chemistry—signs of in-depth characterization. They both had sidekicks too. Dr. Watson may be stronger than Arthur Hastings as a foil, but Miss Marple is far more popular than Irene Adler. We all want an Aunt Jane in our families who knows more than anyone suspects.
Dame Agatha: Yes, people cannot hide much from her. Jane Marple doesn’t trust anyone. And I had to create her because so many people ignore the ‘old maids’ of the world. (Crunches a chocolate tart thoughtfully.) If you don’t marry, then something must be wrong with you—or so they say. That’s not the case at all, of course, but people still suspect the worst.
Meg: I expect in your day people ignored women of all ages. That seemed to be true even when I was young, although the Women’s Lib movement hammered at those fences. However, people certainly paid attention when you suddenly disappeared for eleven days in 1926, or don’t you remember? You were under an incredible amount of stress, with your mother’s death to deal with, your husband running off with another woman—
Dame Agatha: Oh dear, must we speak of that?
Meg: All I will say is that writers, musicians and artists are far more sensitive to such life-changing events. After my mother died, I put away my paints for twenty years. I also thank the Lord I had my own young daughter to keep me sane. And I started writing, because I couldn’t do anything else creative. I channeled a lot of pain into those early manuscripts.
Dame Agatha: Then you do understand. I’m so glad I met my second husband Max. I had a very full and fulfilling life. (Finishes tea.) This has been a delightful conversation, Meg. I’m so pleased I came to visit.
Meg: Thank you so much for agreeing to come. Chatting is far better than Twitter with its 140-character limit. (Smiles, sneaks the last scone.)
Western Historical Mystery
A murder arranged as a suicide … a missing deed … and a bereft daughter whose sheltered world is shattered.
August, 1869: Lily Granville is stunned by her father’s murder. Only one other person knows about a valuable California gold mine deed — both are now missing. Lily heads west on the newly opened transcontinental railroad, determined to track the killer. She soon realizes she is no longer the hunter but the prey.
As things progress from bad to worse, Lily is uncertain who to trust—the China-bound missionary who wants to marry her, or the wandering Texan who offers to protect her … for a price. Will Lily survive the journey and unexpected betrayal?
[Winner of 2012 Western Writers of America Spur Award – ‘Best First Novel’]
Meg’s Bio Blurb
Meg Mims is an award-winning author and artist. She writes blended genres – historical, western, adventure, romance, suspense and mystery. Meg is also staff writer for Lake Effect Living, a West Coast of Michigan tourist on-line magazine, and for RE/MAX Platinum in Brighton. Born and raised in Michigan, she lives with her husband, a “Make My Day” white Malti-poo and a rescue Lhasa Apso, plus a drooling black cat. Meg’s artistic work is in watercolor, acrylic and pen/ink media. Check out her website!
What additional questions would YOU have for Dame Agatha Christie? Which literary figure would YOU want to converse with?