A Christmas Carol by Any Other Name

by Julie, decking the halls in Somerville

In 2010 I spent the month of December discussing versions of A Christmas Carol every day. (You can see the posts here.) As you know, my book A Christmas Peril is about a theater company deep in the weeds of a production of A Christmas Carol. One of my nieces mentioned looking forward to A Christmas Carol binge watching over Christmas break. She then asked me which version was my favorite.

I couldn’t answer her. But I can, sort of, narrow it down a bit. Here is a list of my “will watch in the next ten days” list of Christmas Carols in no particular order:

scroogeScrooge, 1970
I saw this movie on a field trip (maybe with the Girl Scouts), and the hell scene scared the heck out of me. As an adult, it is easily on my top five. It is a musical, Albert Finney is wonderful, and is fairly true to the story. It isn’t Christmas unless my family breaks into a “Thank You Very Much” chorus.

1984 Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol, 1984
George C. Scott was a sublime Scrooge. The scene where he jumps on the bed makes my heart burst. The story is dark, and sad, in many ways, and this version is that.

MuppetThe Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992
This is SUCH a great version. Michael Caine is wonderful. Having Dickens tell the story is great. It stays true to the story, and keeps most of the important parts in the movie. Kermit is a perfect Bob Cratchit,  and Fozzie as Fezziwig? Could there be more perfect casting?

scroogedScrooged, 1988
All right, part of the reason I love this version is that it is such a pop culture time capsule. The TV version of A Christmas Carol they are working on is chock full of 80’s stars that have to be explained to kids, but add another layer of humor to the show. It is also very faithful to the theme of the story, though it does take liberties. Also, Bill Murray chews the scenery, and is so much fun to watch.

PS recordingPatrick Stewart’s VersionsPS filmI love Patrick Stewart, and have been fortunate enough to see him do his one man version of A Christmas Carol twice. It is because of that experience that his filmed version falls a little short for me, though it is very good. The CD of him reading the book is much closer to his stage version, and I can’t recommend it enough.

diva ccA Diva’s Christmas Carol, 2000
Do you remember the “Behind the Music” shows on VH1? In this Christmas Carol, Vanessa Williams plays Ebony Scrooge, a singer who left her girl group in the dust, and is a nightmare to work for. A ton of fun.

magooMister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 1962
This is not at all accurate (the ghosts are out of order), but it has a lot of charm. The songs are terrific–I’m surprised there hasn’t been a stage version of this using the songs. Or maybe there has been?

simA Christmas Carol, 1951
This Alistair Sim version is a favorite of many, so I include it on the list. I like it, but am also fond of the 1938 Reginald Owen version.

There are dozens of other versions, with Scrooge being played by Cicely Tyson, Henry Winkler, Barbie, Fred Flintsone, Mickey Mouse, and others. I discussed those, and others, on my blog 8 years ago. I’m a little surprised I don’t have a more recent version to critique. The story resonates right now in so many ways.

Friends, what is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol?

Murder on the Orient Express Thoughts

by Julie, thinking about pulling out my winter hat in Boston

Friends and family have felt compelled to email and text me this past week. “Saw the movie today! Have you?”

“No,  Crime Bake weekend,” I’ve replied.

“Call me after you see it!”

Crime bake 8 selfie station

Channeling Poirot and his mustache

I am, you see, a bit of an Agatha Christie aficionado, and have strong feelings about Murder on the Orient Express. I wrote a thesis about Agatha Christie’s use of point of view, and Murder on the Orient Express was one of the novels I focused on. For writer friends, I recommend reading it to see how moves from distant third to close third throughout the novel, and uses POV to confuse the reader. She is a master at deception.

I am also a huge fan of the 1974 movie. Albert Finney was a wonderful Poirot, though over the top. That said, it really holds up and is very faithful to the novel. It also brought a resurgence in interest in Agatha Christie’s work, and since it was towards the end of her life, the timing was great in making sure she’s remembered.

David Suchet was the best Poirot ever, but I didn’t like his version of Murder on the Orient Express.  They changed some character motivations that changed some plot points and took away from the strength of the story. (Julie’s Rule of Thumb: don’t mess with Agatha Christie plots. Just don’t.) I won’t discuss it on the blog (spoilers), but am happy to have the conversation in person.

So, I still haven’t seen the new version of the movie, but I will. Will it be as good as the 1974 version? That’s a tough bar. But it has a wonderful cast, most of whom I would watch in anything. I love that Agatha Christie may be finding a new audience, ensuring that her popularity will continue for another generation. One of my nieces is a recent convert, which thrills me beyond measure.

For me, as a writer thinking about a career, the fact that Agatha Christie’s 1934 (!) novel is being made into a movie forty one years after her death blows my mind. Christie is sometimes dismissed as a writer, but never by me. I aspire to write one Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, or And Then There Were None in my career, never mind all three of those plus sixty-three other novels, a dozen or so plays and dozens of short stories.  It has been said that she created characters with broad strokes, but I think that is part of what makes her relevant. Every generation can add their “take” on the characters, and on the story. (Just don’t touch the plot.)

As a writer, do I aspire to be of my moment, or timeless? Did she think about that?

I do wonder if this movie will bring forth a new phase of Agatha Christie films.  The Man in the Brown Suit gets my vote for consideration. Which books would you like to see adapted?

As part of our month long celebration of our readers, I will pick one winner randomly to get a signed copy of any of my Clock Shop mystery series.

The Food Conundrum

Finished Product (1)

The recipe I came up with for Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen–shrubs!

When you write cozies, there is always the food issue. That is, do you include recipes or not?

Now, for some folks, that answer is an easy one. They’re centered around food, so of course! There’s even a great blog called Mystery Lovers Kitchen that is about mysteries and food. It features a huge array of cozy authors. They let me do a guest post in August. I made shrubs, which are discussed in Chime and Punishment. Part of the challenge is taking pictures of the process that look somewhat appetizing.

I like mysteries with food. In fact, Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson series is a go to for cookie recipes for me. There’s even a cookbook, which I own and have given as gifts.  Her Highlander Cookie Bar recipe is one of my go-tos when I need to impress. (Shortbread on the bottom, brownies on top. Oh. My.)

Several of the Wickeds have series that include recipes. In my Clock Shop series, there was a natural fit if I featured recipes from the Sleeping Latte. But, then I learned some of the “rules”. The recipe needs to be original. And, since I know I try them on occasion, they need to taste good. I bake, and cook, but I couldn’t take the pressure.

For my Theater Cop series, a food tie in doesn’t really work as well. Though, I did mention cinnamon and sugar french fries with a cream cheese frosting dip that I thought sounded pretty interesting in book 2, which will be out next September. I totally made them up, so the recipe isn’t in the book.

I am writing a new series (stay tuned), and I’m not sure if I’m going to have recipes. But I do find myself mentioning food a lot, just in case. I plan to have the nieces help me develop a couple to see if I can pull it off. We’ll see how it goes.

Today, my question for you dear readers, do you like cozies with recipes? Do you try them? Trust them? Should I try and pull this off? Let me know in the comments!

A CHRISTMAS PERIL Release Day! (and giveaway!)

Cover of A Christmas Peril by J.A. HennrikusDear Readers, you have been on the publication journey for all of us Wicked Cozy Authors, and I hope you know how much your support means to us. We all talk about our books, or new series, but today I want to tell you about what a joy it is for me to hold A Christmas Peril in my hands. You see, this book was the first book I wrote and tried to sell. I got to a point where I never thought it would get published. But now it is. And the timing and publisher couldn’t be more perfect for this series.

Here are some of the bumps along my path to publication for this book.

1999-2001. I wrote the book in third person, and it was boring. I was in the middle of editing it into first person when my house was broken into, and my computer was stolen. I lost several drafts, but rather than despair, I decided to rewrite it the book, keeping the story, changing the point of view. That decision made it a much stronger book, and I finished it the next year. And yes, this has been a book for fifteen years.

The first title was The Power for Good, which was a reference to a line in A Christmas Carol when Marley and Scrooge see all of the ghosts who can’t alleviate suffering, because they lost their power for good. A Christmas Peril is about an ex-cop who is now running a theater company. The company is doing A Christmas Carol. I loved the title, but it wasn’t selling the book. Sherry Harris and I were standing in line at the New England Crime Bake, practicing our pitches to agents and editors. I told her that someone had suggested I change the title, and she came up with A Christmas Peril on the spot.

This book was a labor of love. Like many pre-published authors, I didn’t appreciate the long, slow pace of rewriting and editing without contractual deadlines. But I always knew I loved the world I was writing about. At the time of its inception, I was working at a concert hall, and my theater life was more as an audience member. But I’ve always loved theater (I work in theater now, running a service organization called StageSource), and felt comfortable writing about that world.

I sent this book out to agents and editors, and got lovely rejections. Then I got the opportunity to write the Clock Shop Series as Julianne Holmes, and I jumped at it. What a gift that was–jumping onto the path of being a published author, and learning what that meant. Were A Christmas Peril my first time working with a professional editor, I would have been much more resistant to the process. But, I was able to work with my editor, and tear Just Killing Time apart because it made it a better book.  Going through edits on this book was much easier because I’d been through it three times before. Also, I was able to rework the text because I had a better sense of what needed to be done.

The final part of my path happened last fall. My agent and I were talking about my writing life,  and we decided to send A Christmas Peril to an editor from Midnight Ink. Edith published her Quaker Midwife series with them, and spoke very highly of her experience. At Bouchercon I saw the editor and she said that she was looking forward to reading the proposal. By the New England Crime Bake, I had a contract.  Even more amazingly, they had space in the Fall 2017 publishing schedule, and since A Christmas Peril was done (though it needed editing), it would get moved onto the schedule. Things don’t move that fast in publishing, but they did this time.

Holding a book I wrote in my hands is always a thrill. This time, it’s a dream come true. I hope you all enjoy A Christmas Peril. Know that I am floating on air today.

To celebrate publication day, I am going to send a copy to a commenter of the blog. I’ll pick a winner Sunday at noon.

Wicked Wednesday: A Christmas Carol

Cover of A Christmas Peril by J.A. HennrikusWickeds, today we are celebrating the Friday, September 8 release of A Christmas Peril by J.A. Hennrikus. It is the first in a new series about an ex-cop, Sully Sullivan, who runs a theater company in Massachusetts. Friday’s post will be more about the book. and the series.

In A Christmas Peril, the theater company Sully runs is doing A Christmas Carol, and chaos ensues. So today’s question–what is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol?

Barb: Wow. I’m tempted to say Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, which is the one I grew up with, or the Muppets, which is the one my kids did. As I was thinking about this answer, I realized how embedded this story is in our lives, from books (I always put a few editions out at Christmas) to movies to TV. I was even in the play as Mrs. Cratchit when I was in high school. Without it we’d never have the expression, “Bah, humbug,” or call someone a Scrooge. Some people think it popularized the saying, “Merry Christmas,” itself. Anyway, Julie, congratulations on becoming a part of this rich canon. I can’t wait to read it!

Liz: Julie, congratulations!! So excited for you and this book. I love A Christmas Carol – for movie versions, the Patrick Stewart is my favorite. I’ve also been lucky enough to see the production twice at The Hartford Stage, and they put on a wonderful version.

Sherry: I’m so excited to read A Christmas Peril and I’m so happy for you, Julie! Like Barb the Mr. Magoo version loomed large in my life as a kid and it scared me! But my favorite version is the 1970 movie Scrooge with Albert Finney. I confess I had to do a search to find it. I knew I’d seen it with my family and remember it being a visual feast along with the wonderful story. I haven’t seen it in years, but now hope I can track it down. I’m amazed how many versions of A Christmas Carol there are!

Edith: Congratulations, dear Julie! I can’t wait to read this book, and am so glad you’ve joined the Midnight Ink family. I haven’t seen A Christmas Carol in so long I have no idea what my favorite version is, but I do love the Muppets, so that one would probably win.

Julie: There is no Mr. Magoo shame in my world–that is my mother’s favorite version. And Sherry, I have Scrooge on DVD. A perfect excuse to get together around the holidays. We can all sing the songs. I do love the Muppet version, and George C. Scott, and . . . I own over twenty different versions on DVD, so lots to chose from. Thank you for your best wishes dear Wickeds! I am so excited about this book seeing the light of day, and will blog more about that on Friday!

Jessie: The Muppet version is my favorite, Barb! I love the way it sticks to the backbone of the story while bringing its own personality and twist. Just as I am sure you will do with your addition to the story! I couldn’t be happier for you, Julie!

Readers, what is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

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Of Clocks and Time

My grandmother's clockI love writing the Clock Shop series. I am in the middle of a blog tour for Chime and Punishment, and I’ve been gathering stories from people about clocks and watches that mean something to them. It is very rare that the meaning is because of monetary value. Usually it is because of connections. I have a clock that my grandmother left to me. It is electric, and from the 50’s. Not worth much money, but worth the world to me.

I’ve also adored the research I’ve done for the books. The research for Chime and Punishment was particularly fun, since it required a field trip to a real clock tower, with a real clockmaker, the ever patient David Roberts of the Clockfolk of New England. I thought I’d share some of those field trip photos here.

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I’m on vacation today, so it will be a couple of days before I get to respond to your comments. But do let me know, is there a clock or watch you love in your life?

Happy Double Launch Day!

By Liz/Cate and Julie/Julianne

Woo hoo! We have lots to celebrate today! It’s launch day for Chime and Punishment, the third in  Julianne Holmes’ Clock Shop Mystery Series, and Cat About Town, the first in Cate Conte’s Cat Cafe Mystery Series!

Picture of Cate Conte's CAT ABOUT TOWN and Julianne Holmes's CHIME AND PUNISHMENT with the caption DOUBLE LAUNCH DAY

To commemorate this huge day, Julie and I are going to discuss a few of our favorite topics: Cats, writing, and maybe even cafes and clocks. So let’s start with the nitty gritty writing stuff – Julie, what was it like to write the third book in this awesome series?

Liz, it was wonderful to revisit Orchard, Massachusetts and talk more about the adventures of Ruth Clagan as she works on getting the clock tower in the Town Hall. It was important to me that folks could read this as a stand-alone, but that folks who have read Just Killing Time and Clock and Dagger could revisit with familiar characters and see what happened on some arcing stories.

Liz, what was it like for you to create a new series? Was it easier or more fun this time around?

You know, I wouldn’t say easy…it’s harder to start from scratch, I think. The Pawsitively books have a cast of characters I’m so familiar with at this point, it’s easier to imagine them in their little town, going about their business. But there’s something to be said for jumping into a whole new world and a new character’s head. I wrote this book in first person instead of third, which was different, and it actually seemed a bit easier, which was surprising to me. But I really did slip right into Maddie James’s head, and found her voice right away. And I loved writing about her cat rescue antics!

So Julie, speaking of cats…what’s your fictional furry friend up to? Does Bezel have a big part in the book?

Bezel always has a role in these books, though Ruth spends most of this book out of the shop, and Bezel is an indoor cat. The importance of Bezel is the love she and Ruth have established. Bezel grounds Ruth. Speaking of cats, tell me about the cat on the cover your new book!

The infamous Junkyard Johnny! The cat on the cover happens to be the fictional version of my real life cat of the same name, JJ for short. In the book, Maddie finds JJ in the cemetery, but she figures he could very well have lived in the junkyard, so it works. In the real JJ’s case, he was living in a junkyard in New Hampshire when he was rescued. An interesting fact about the real JJ – he’s on Prozac because of his hatred for fluffy cats!  Poor Tuffy, who’s the inspiration for Nutty in the Pawsitively series, would get beat up all the time. So JJ had to get some help for his behavior.

And last question for you Julie – you must’ve visited a few clock shops when researching this series. Tell us about your favorite, and why!

The Clockfolk of New England have been my go to clockmakers. Last year, David Roberts took me up to a clock tower to help me really understand how they work, and what it feels like to be in the tower. I have also visited the American Clock and Watch Museum in Bristol CT. WONDERFUL place to be inspired by clocks.

Your last question Liz, tell us about the business Maddie James runs. We’re all going to be spending a lot of time there–give us the inside scoop! Is it based on a real place?

So, cat cafes are real things, but mine is going to be very different from the ones you’d find on an urban streetcorner, which is where they usually live. The way the cafe comes to life plays out during the first book, so I don’t want to give too much away just yet. But I hope you love it!

Julie, this was so much fun! So happy to be sharing launch day with you. Readers, are you looking forward to these two books? We hope so!!