agatha and janice and joey

I found this article interesting. My favorite part was the writer's astonishment at the fact that Agatha Christie sometimes started her mysteries with no idea who the murderer would be. The writer is so startled by this idea that she mentions it twice, both times with italics:

"Most astonishing, Curran discovers that for all her assured skewering of human character in a finished novel, sometimes when Christie started her books, even she didn't know who the murderer was. Ah! It makes sense—a brilliant mystery writer must first experience the mystery! Or does it?"


"The most astonishing thing about the wide net Christie threw out each day is that she also cast it over her murderers. I always assumed she just knew who did it, in the same way that, well, a murderer knows exactly who they want to kill. Certainly, at the end of her books, she always made you feel that the story couldn't have happened any other way. It had only ever seemed otherwise because you couldn't see it. But it turns out that for many of her books, Christie often ran through multiple scenarios for the victim, the method of death, and the identity of the murderer."

It doesn't surprise me at all, of course. And, as I've pointed out before, it wouldn't have surprised Rex Stout either. I know that in writing classes they tell you to plot everything out in advance, to make charts and diagrams, and I'm sure some people actually do that, but many do not.

Some people write like Alfred Hitchcock made movies: every scene and gesture planned out before the first word is written. Other do it more like Robert Altman: putting a bunch of interesting characters together in an interesting situation and watching what happens.

I also liked this comment in the article (about Christie's habit of writing in different notebooks all the time, because most days she had difficulty locating the one she had been using the day before):

Christie's half-dozen active notebooks evoke the modern computer desktop. What would she have made of a Mac, apart from killing someone with it?

That reminded me of Steven King's recent comment that he loves all sorts of gadgets, especially if he can think of ways that they could go weird on their owners.

Joey and Janice

When I write about Jan Sleet, especially when she talks about her youth (as she does here), I sometimes think about Joey Ramone, the late lead singer of The Ramones.

I read an article once where the writer happened to see Joey on line at a bank one day, and he (the writer) reflected that, no matter what, Joey would have been a freak. Could anybody imagine him in a suit, or in tennis clothes? But in a leather jacket, a T-shirt, ripped jeans, and sneakers, he looked completely appropriate. He was fortunate to find rock and roll, where freaks of various sorts can be appreciated and even celebrated.

Jan Sleet is a bit like that. In the scene I link to above, she talks about her experiences in high school, where she was clearly a freak. Weird looking, tall and skeletally thin, bookish (and perhaps a bit arrogant about her brains), there was no way she was going to be popular. Any attempt to be popular would have been doomed to failure, which would have galled her, so she didn't try. With the support of her father, who had grown up a different kind of freak in a different small town, she started to develop a plan and a persona which would make it obvious that she should be judged by a different set of standards.

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  1. Pingback: in which i am (a bit) like agatha christie » Anthony Lee Collins

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