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.

25 thoughts on “Agatha and Me

  1. As an elementary teacher the poor grammar drives me nuts! I correct and teach and it seems to never improve! No one seems to care or realize they are speaking/writing incorrectly. Thanks for the weekly blog.

  2. I love the message on the fallen tree. I am always happy to have a book in hand.

    Agatha’s first husband was a pip. I read about them earlier this year, but forget the details. She lucked out with husband #2 as you did.

  3. I totally agree with your grammatical temper tantrum. Years ago, when I taught high school physical education, I would correct my students’ grammar. They often responded that I wasn’t their English teacher. My response was that I was a teacher and I would again correct them. Yes, “me and him” drives me crazy. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way. Thank you for your Friday thoughts and your wonderful books.

  4. Never read a single Agatha Christie novel but I’ve read every single one of yours. You are my Grande Dame of Mystery!

  5. I am one of the many people who squirm when poor grammar appears in print or spews from the mouth of someone who should know better. I relentlessly corrected my children, and they don’t often offend their mother’s ears. Two weeks ago, I stated as part of a church service that “The Catholic-school-trained grammarian in my brain is at war with my heart, which wants to love and respect the transpeople among us who prefer ‘they’ pronouns.” Oh, and I loved diagramming sentences!

    True confession time: I’ve never read Agatha Christie, though she’s been on my mental “to read” list for a long time. She always seems to fall behind the latest of whatever beloved series has just been published, or a new recommendation from a friend, or a recent new interest.

    I’m impressed that you have managed to keep your relationship with Beau fresh and growing through so many books. Branching off into multiple series has worked very well for you, and your readers appreciate it. It’s wonderful that another Ali is on the way!

    And speaking of Ali, with all the news lately about AI, I am grateful that you introduced Frigg to us so many books ago. I know she is fiction, but the moral struggles that Stu has to sort out in her early books seem like an object lesson for the people who are currently dealing very publicly with regulating AI. Frigg gives me some context beyond Siri and Alexa. Maybe we should send our representatives in Congress a book or two for a holiday present?

  6. Loved to hear grammar message! I don’t like it either and find myself correcting it in my head when reading it. I to wonder if it is taught at all anymore. Love your books.

  7. Great blog. I think, at least on TV, that Bill Cosby on his family show was the first one to use “me and someone’s name.” Drove me nuts. Like you, I’ve given up.

  8. “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.”
    There’s a name for people like us and it’s not Grammar Geek or Grammar Na*i. We are proud prescriptivists! Please don’t give up.
    I’d like to pass along a big thank you. I’m a DTR and my husband is currently undergoing extensive medical treatment. As his patient advocate, I have spent much of the last 6 months in hospital/doctor waiting rooms and, without my favorite writers, I would not have survived. Collateral Damage was terrific and got me thru 3 appointments!

  9. I’ve read all of your books, and many if not most of Ms. Christie’s. There really is no comparison – hers lack your intricate plots and fully detail characters.


  10. As a retired teacher, I am troubled by incorrect grammar. “Me and him” bothers me and so does “I don’t gots” There are a lot of them … not lots. But sometimes “ lots of fun” better expresses a feeling. I corrected my students and my own kids. But once they were grown, they were on their own. What they had to say, was more important than how they said it.

  11. There, their, they’re misuse is the one that drives me crazy.

    Their going to the store. Yikes!

    I too am a middle child with large age gaps between my sisters who were 9 and 7 years older than me and my two brothers who are 5 and 7 years younger. I get being an only child in a family of 5. However, as an adult I have always been glad to have numerous siblings. Well, almost always.

    • Oh, your example reminded me of something I actually wrote to the local paper’s editor about. It was clear that the reporter had had a conversation with the subject, so it was up to the reporter to use the correct word from a pair or group of homonyms. And it was the wrong one! I expect professional writers to know their language!

  12. “He said it to my husband and I.” is one that drives me crazy!
    I started off with Agatha Christie, and I love the PBS dramatizations, but I have to admit your mysteries are much more compelling for me these days-
    Let’s just say that Agatha is now part of history, and I read or watch her works in the context of British and European history-
    One day yours may also be read in the context of American history, but now they are very much part of what’s going on- I am in the middle of “Blessings,” and the Pandemic plays a significant role in that novel- I keep having to remind myself that
    Dan and Lani and Brian and Joanna and Jenny are not biologically real! By the way,
    a shout-out for Jenny as she begins her career in law-enforcement and forensics!
    She also has skill in human relations- She gets that from Joanna, who no doubt gets some of that from you!

  13. We were in Phoenix for Thanksgiving and at church on Sunday a gentleman asked where we were from and in turn he told us where he was from. Born and raised for 67 years in Bisbee and when I said I knew where that was both he and my husband were shocked that I knew. I explained how I knew of Bisbee and he knew exactly who I was taking about. That was fun! Thanks

  14. It is hard to correct grammar speech when news anchors, teachers,TV actors, and TV writers are all using incorrect grammar daily! Many are uneducated, but most are just plain ignorant!
    I love your books and your blog! My sister knows you personally from the U of A Library!

  15. A sign of dementia is the promiscuous pronoun: when “he” or “she” or
    “they” begin a sentence without prior reference to the subject of the statement. As my best friend descended into the depths, I supplied the reference: “Peter, you mean so-and-so, don’t you?” ……My particular peeve is the apostrophe that shows up daily in ordinary plurals…books becomes “book’s”….Agatha leaves me cold….You don’t….

  16. Your mysteries are a world away from Agatha Christie’s. She wrote of a time and places that are long gone. Your detectives are modern day Americans that we can relate to.

    On a side note, I attended a performance of “The Mousetrap” in London in 1974 with my husband and two young daughters. We had front row balcony seats which gave us an excellent view of the stage. The room where the action takes place was rather shabby, but typical of an English country house. I believe this was located on an island off shore.

    I hope you stick to writing books and avoid show biz. 🙂

  17. Where to start? Thank you for the Pineapple Express comment. I say that. Someone decided we had to be corrected and use Atmospheric River. Must be scientific, don’t you know? DWS, Dripping with sarcasm.

    I am not a grammar maven, well maybe just a tad? The same things bother me. You see news stories written on line, often with 3 names associated as reporters on the story and they still get it wrong.

    I have spent 30 years trying to figure out where “on accident” came from? Does that mean it is “by purpose”?

    • Rita, I think you just hit the nail on the head! The youngsters have made “on accident” parallel to “on purpose”. Still squeaks like chalk on slate to my ears/brain, but at least I understand how it evolved. I suspect we’d better get used to that one.

  18. Judy, due to a totally unreliable Cox network, I missed your Friday blog and was concerned that something had happened. Glad it was Cox and not you! I am switching to gmail. BTW, this blog is excellent – thank you for your words of wisdom.
    To me and to probably all of your readers, you are The Grande Dame!
    Stay safe and may the weather in your neck of the woods improve.
    Sending hugs and best wishes.

  19. Judy, due to a totally unreliable Cox network, I missed your Friday blog and was concerned that something had happened. Glad it was Cox and not you! I am switching to gmail. BTW, this blog is excellent – thank you for your words of wisdom.
    To me and to probably all of your readers, you are The Grande Dame!
    Stay safe and may the weather in your neck of the woods improve.
    Sending hugs and best wishes.
    My new email is

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