Agatha and Me

Please pardon me, while I go off on a tangent.

I grew up in simpler times.  When I was learning grammar and parts of speech, there were only two kinds of pronouns, and I’m not talking gender here—I’m talking about subjective pronouns and objective pronouns.  Subjective pronouns could be the subject of a sentence.  I am going to the store.  Objective pronouns could be the object of a verb or a preposition. #1 He gave me a book. #2 Please give it to me.

I don’t think anyone teaches about subjects and predicates any more, much less prepositions and objects thereof.  Hence we now have generations of English speakers who say “Me and Bob went to the store” without any idea that they’re saying it wrong.  It drives me nuts, but I’ve given up fighting this war.

The other thing I was taught about pronouns is that the speaker’s pronoun should go after the other person’s, not because of grammar but out of politeness—a grammatical nod to “you go first.”  In other words, not “Me and him went for a ride,” but “He and I went for a ride.”

This whole screed in advance of the blog was written by the person my grandson, Colt, calls his Grammar Grandma.  It came about over night when I was thinking about the title I gave it—Agatha and Me.  Since it’s not a whole sentence I could just as well have named it Agatha and I, but that seemed presumptuous somehow.  Agatha and Me works.

So endeth today’s grammatical temper tantrum.

Last week it was cold but clear around here.  This week what’s called a Pineapple Express arrived bringing warmer weather but lots and lots of rain—way too much rain.  Rivers in the region are at or above flood stage and the weather is nothing but a dreary gray.

Consequently, I was glad when a little bit of sunshine showed up in my email a moment ago—a notice from my New York editor for Simon and Schuster letting me know that Collateral Damage in mass market just hit # 13 on the NYTimes mass market bestseller list. In other words, once again my dead tree readers came through for me.

By the way, a fan in Florida recently sent me a cartoon.  I’d post it here, but I’d probably run into some kind of copyright issue.  It’s the photo of a large fallen tree.  Written on the face of that fallen log are the following words:  Every time someone reads a book, I know there’s life after death.

I hope that statement makes my DTRs—both hardback and paperback—feel all warm and fuzzy.  It made me feel that way, too.

But right this minute, what I’m feeling is a tremendous sense of gratitude.  For the last forty years I’ve been able to work at my dream job, doing the one thing I always wanted to do.  Seeing a PBS program about Agatha Christie this week, I was struck by what we had in common.

For one thing, growing up as an only child, she made up stories to keep herself company.  In a family of seven kids, I was more or less an only child, too, because there were four years in either direction between me and both my next older and next younger sibling.  As someone who was too young to play with the older kids and too old to play with the younger ones, I entertained myself by making up stories.

Once Agatha started writing, she found material in her past that she used to turn into fiction.  Her time spent working as a pharmacist during World War I taught her everything she needed to know about poisons.  Once her family’s fortunes came on hard times, she and her mother were forced to exist on the edges of the social circles in which they had once circulated.  So, Agatha did what outsiders do—she became an observer as opposed to a participant.  Being a six-foot-tall girl in seventh grade is another way of turning someone into an observer.

Agatha took her personal observations and used them to create her signature drawing room mysteries.  I’ve used my observations to fill my books with regular people living ordinary lives and yet nonetheless doing extraordinary things.  She grew up living in English mansions.  I spent several years of my life living quite happily in, horror of horrors, a mobile home.  So have some of my characters.

Agatha created long lasting characters like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot who made her a fortune, yes, but on occasion they also drove her nuts.  Been there; done that.  There’s nothing like trying to write a book when the main character suddenly stops speaking to you.  Agatha eventually became disenchanted with Hercule.  Beau and I have been together more than forty years, and I still like him.

Writers are recyclers.  They take their lifetime’s worth of experiences and turn those into stories.  The eighteen years I spent with my first husband gave me the first hand knowledge I needed in order to create J. P. Beaumont’s very realistic struggle with booze.  I know from correspondence with readers that the drinking aspect of his character has helped others find their way through similar turmoils.  And for the record, Agatha wasn’t any luckier at love than I was.  We both misfired the first time around and did better with husbands number two.

I will never be the kind of Grande Dame of Mystery that Agatha is, but I’m happy to be an Ordinary Joe mystery writer, following in her illustrious footsteps.

It’s a dream I’ve lived in real life   for the past forty-plus years, and now it’s time for me to get back to work on OverKill, Ali #17.

After all, if it is to be, it is up to me. It is definitely not up to I.