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.

Cover Reveal — Guest Debra Sennefelder

We are delight to welcome back Debra Sennefelder and share the cover of her debut book The Uninvited Corpse! It’s available for pre-order here. It comes out March 27, 2018 from Kensington Publishing.

Thank you Wicked Cozy Authors for inviting me to reveal the cover of my debut novel, The Uninvited Corpse. I’m beyond thrilled to here today and I’m so excited to have the cover my book. It’s truly a dream come true.

Here is the back cover copy for  the first book in the Food Blogger Mystery series: Leaving behind a failed career as a magazine editor and an embarrassing stint on a reality baking show, newly divorced lifestyle entrepreneur Hope Early thought things were finally on the upswing–until she comes face-to-face with a murderer . . .

Hope’s schedule is already jam packed with recipe testing and shameless plugs for her food blog as she rushes off to attend a spring garden tour in the charming town of Jefferson, Connecticut. Unfortunately, it isn’t the perfectly arranged potted plants that grab her attention–it’s the bloody body of reviled real estate agent Peaches McCoy . . .

One of the tour guests committed murder, and all eyes are on Hope’s younger sister, Claire Dixon–who, at best, saw Peaches as a professional rival. And suspicions really heat up when another murder occurs the following night. Now, with two messy murders shaking Jefferson and all evidence pointing to Claire, Hope must set aside her burgeoning brand to prove her sister’s innocence. But the closer she gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer intent on making sure her life goes permanently out of style . . .

I had a blast writing The Uninvited Corpse. For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be an author. I had visions of spending my days writing scenes, chapters and hitting bestseller lists. Silly childhood dreams, right? I discovered mysteries beyond Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, cozies in particular when I found the Miss Marple books. I was hooked.

Fast forward a few more years and I was browsing in the local bookstore of my new hometown after I married and I found the Faith Fairchild mystery series by Katherine Hall Page. Once I read The Body in The Belfry I knew what I wanted to write. Then I discovered Valerie Wolzien, Diane Mott Davidson, Claudia Bishop and so many other wonderful writers. Then life happened and I stepped away from fiction writing. I eventually started a food blog, The Cookbook Diva. In that space I was in control of everything – content, schedule, promotion. No one was editing me. No one was rejecting my work. I loved it. I enjoyed sharing my recipes, I enjoyed the blogger community and I really enjoyed spending time in my kitchen. But over time I felt that tug of something that was missing. What was missing was fiction writing. When I really thought about it I couldn’t see myself in ten years from then still writing a food blog but I could see myself as an author.

One weekend I decided to pull out my idea file (writers usually have thick folders of ideas for books) and I started thinking up plots and characters. I slowly got back into the writing community, found my critique partner, mystery author Ellie Ashe, and set forth to write a novel. I knew my amateur sleuth would be involved with food somehow. I considered several options and the one that seemed the best fit was food blogger. I had experience with that world and it was something different for the cozy world. Once I was well into the first draft of The Uninvited Corpse I made the decision to shut down my food blog and focus entirely on fiction writing. I’m so glad I did because I’m exactly where I should be writing novels.

Thank you for sharing my cover reveal with me today!

Readers: What is your favorite thing about culinary mysteries? Or what is your favorite thing about finding a new series?

 

 

The First Scary Movie I Watched

It’s almost Halloween and movie theaters are full of scary movies. It made me think about the first scary movie I ever watched and, of course, I wondered what was the first scary movie the other Wickeds remembered watching. So what did you watch? Where did you watch it? Who was with you?

Sherry: I think I was in second grade when I saw The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with Don Knotts. We were in a little town in Iowa visiting friends. The movie theater on the quaint Main Street had a morning movie on Saturdays. Our parents dropped us off with money for tickets and snacks. My sister and I sat down and mayhem broke out around us. Kids were throwing popcorn, crawling under the seats, and yelling. It was like a scene out of a movie in itself. Things quieted down a little when the movie started. But the movie with its creepy organ music scared me!

Liz: Oh my goodness, Sherry – The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was one of my favorite movies ever! I remember seeing it on reruns all the time as a kid and I loved it so much. I don’t know if this qualifies as a scary movie, but I remember as a little kid sneaking in to the living room where my dad was watching Phantom of the Opera, and the mask thing scared the bejesus out of me! I think I got in trouble because I wasn’t supposed to be watching…

Edith: I’ve never heard of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken! Because my over-active imagination journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth-movie-poster-1959-1020451848pretty much ruled my life as a child (my mother wouldn’t let me watch “Twilight Zone” because it gave me nightmares), lots of things scared me. I remember watching Journey to the Center of the Earth at a young age and being terrified by a scene where someone throttles a pet chicken. (Ahem – memories might be hazy.) And I’m sure that isn’t considered your basic scary movie. But there was a malevolence in the man’s act that really upset me.

Jessie: When I was in first and second grade my father used to travel occasionally on business. When he did so my mother used to let me stay up and watch movies with her. I remember watching The Seven Dials Mystery based on the Agatha Christie novel. It scared me but it intrigued me too. I think it may explain my career choice!

Barb: I’ve written before about my grandmother taking me to see Murder, She Said when I was eight. Though it’s not a horror movie, and is much more comedic than the original Agatha Christie novel, it scared the stuffing out of me. I think it was the atmospherics of the lighting of the black and white film–plus I was way too young for it. But just like Jessie–a career was born.

Julie: I hate scary, scary movies. But when I was a kid, Channel 56 had the Creature Double Feature. My sister Kristen, our friend Holly, and I watched it all the time. Horror movies from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. I specifically remember Claude Rains in THE INVISIBLE MAN. Not sure why that one stuck with me–probably it was Claude Rains. That and FRANKENSTEIN stick out in my mind as my first scary movies.

Readers: Did you see a scary movie when you were a kid?

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The Tricky Waters of Adaptation

Tricky Waters (3)By Julie, fighting daylight savings time blah in Somerville

Merriam Webster defines adaptation as something (a book, play, movie, etc) that is changed so it can be presented in another form. Adaptations are very common in American popular culture and I watch a lot of them, usually with a “of course the source material is better” lens that allows me to enjoy them. Usually. But lately, for me, Agatha Christie adaptations have been a special ring of hell.

A bit of “on film” Agatha Christie history. Early film adaptations of Dame Agatha’s books left a bit to be desired. Fun as she was (and she was fun to watch) Margaret Rutherford wasn’t quite in sync as Miss Marple. Tony Randall wasn’t a great Poirot. But then the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express changed it up in the best way possible. The rich, star-studded production was a very faithful adaptation, and started an Agatha Christie resurgence of sorts. A golden age for her fans. Is there a better Miss Marple than Joan Hickson? Aren’t the David Suchet as Poirot stories wonderful? [Then there was David Suchet’s Murder on the Orient Express. What should have been a joy was not. There were decisions made about Poirot’s motives that took me out of the story. Another post for another time.] Though there were occasional films, TV became the home of faithful adaptations.

Then they decided to “redo” Miss Marple. The stories were inspired by, but not true to, Dame Agatha’s books and stories. Many, most people aren’t as familiar with the stories, and so it may not have bothered them. But I did my thesis on Agatha Christie, and am very familiar with her work. Fun as it was to see Timothy Dalton in The Sittaford Mysteryhe wasn’t the Captain Trevelyan of the book. Add to that, Miss Marple isn’t in the book (!) and they completely changed the story (including the murderer and motive) and you can see the purist in me being riled up. The shows were fun, but they changed things around, or added subplots or subtext that didn’t make them better.

And Then There Were None is, itself, a story of adaptation. The original book was adapted into a stage play by Dame Agatha herself. The ending for the play was different than the ending for the book–more of an audience pleaser. There have been a few film adaptations, including a great 1945 film directed by Rene Clair. So, it was with wariness that I watched And Then There Were None on Lifetime this week.

The new adaptation has a great cast. That alone got me to tune in. But I’ll admit, I held my breath. Was this going to be true to the spirit of this great book, or was it going to go off the rails and “update” or “modernize” the story? It ended up a bit of both. It is very stylized, and has much more on screen violence than the book did. But the ending was truer to the book. Not spot on, but truer. I am being very careful about not giving anything away for those of you who haven’t seen it yet. The show is worth watching. The book is a must read.

Watching it was also a lesson in adaptation. The book has an omniscient, 3rd person narrator. In my thesis I called it the “Flit” model, where the POV flits from head to head. We get snippets of story through this device, since we can read thoughts. In film, unless you have voice over, there are two ways to tell about the past. You can tell it through dialogue. Or you can use flashbacks. This film relies on flashbacks. Effective, and a necessary technique. But not as effective, and chilling, as the source material.

Adaptations retell a story through a current lens. One reason that Agatha Christie works well in adaptation is that her plots are great, and her characters are broadly enough drawn that they can feel current. While I have some issues with some of the adaptations, or “inspired by”, Christie’s of late, I am glad they are being done, especially adaptations like And Then There Were None.

Kenneth Branagh is going to play Poirot in a new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. I both look forward to and dread it.

Interview with Beverly Allen

Susannah/Sadie/Jane here, just back from a walk in the October sunshine.

Floral DepravityPlease give a Wicked Welcome to Barbara Early a/k/a Beverly Allen, the author of the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries!

Tell us about your series and your new book, Floral Depravity.

The Bridal Bouquet Shop series features a floral designer (and amateur sleuth) named Audrey Bloom. She creates lovely bridal bouquets based on the language of flowers, and all of the brides who have carried one of her signature bouquets down the aisle are still happily married. (One sad twist of this is that not everyone has survived until the wedding day.) FLORAL DEPRAVITY is the third in the series, and we find Audrey preparing the flowers for a medieval themed hand fasting ceremony. Fortunately for this couple, as they literally tie the knot, both bride and groom survive. However, in short order three things happen: an unfortunate dove release incident, the father of the groom bites the dust, and Audrey recognizes the friar performing the ceremony as…well, spoilers.

Sounds intriguing! What actor would make the best Audrey Bloom?

That’s not something I thought about when writing. I know she’s tall. (She’s not exceptionally thin, however, so I don’t know that many actresses would clamor to play the part.) Personality-wise, I suspect Anne Hathaway would probably be a very good choice (but isn’t she always!), in that she plays the idealistic, but slightly sarcastic heroine well, especially one that marches to the beat of a different drummer. And that’s what I think of Audrey.

Barbara Early1Do you have any quirks?

Quirks. I have plenty, but which would I want to admit to? I am a bit of a book hoarder, but many readers are. (I have learned how to build my own book shelves.) I suppose the quirkiest thing about me is that I like to learn new home skills, anything from beginning carpentry to canning to cake decorating. A lot of new skills, so I guess you could say I’m a dabbler. I also love campy television, and am a recent, but somewhat obsessive, Doctor Who fan.

My TBR pile continues to grow. Maybe I should invite you over and you can build ME some bookshelves! Who’s your favorite mystery writer of all time?

I guess the simplest answer is Agatha Christie. But if I had to pick a second, it’s a close tie between Rhys Bowen and Victoria Thompson. With Julie Hyzy and Alan Bradley somewhere in the mix.

Excellent choices! Favorite book (not necessarily a mystery) of all time?

After the Bible, I might say LORD OF THE FLIES. It’s not a pleasant read, but I recall it shaping the way I think of people—and also the way I write mysteries. I think the most interesting (and scariest) villain isn’t the psychopath or serial killer. It’s the person next to us, who, given the right circumstances (or I guess I should say wrong circumstances), rejects law and morality and the fear of punishment to take the life of another person.

Interesting analysis. I may have to reread that one. However, see prior comment about TBR pile, LOL! Who is your most-loved book boyfriend?

Adrian Monk. Yes, another quirk, and I know most people know him from the television show, but I read all the tie-in books too, and couldn’t get enough.

I love Adrian too. What is your writing process like? Early bird or night owl? Do you require special drinks or snacks?

I write best in the morning, but only after I’m sufficiently caffeinated (current Keurig obsession: Southern Pecan, with added chocolate soy milk) and awake. I try not to eat while I write, but on deadline I’ve been known to favor chewy things, like jelly beans and Tootsie Rolls. Or a huge bowl of popcorn, if I have to bribe myself.

Beverly's naughty cat, Nicola

Beverly’s naughty cat, Nicola

Best writing advice you ever heard or read?

Write every day. Just plant your butt in the chair and do it.

Or in the case of your cat Nicola, plant your butt in a box! Tell us about your pets. 

We have four cats. A black cat, two gray tabbies (brother and sister from the same litter), and an orange tabby whose family had to give him up when they moved. They are all very naughty, but survive only because they are equally adorable. Their real-life hijinks inspire my fictional cats to get in all kinds of trouble.

 

Looking a bit guilty there, Willy...

Looking a bit guilty there, Willy…

Thanks so much for being here, Beverly! Here’s where you can connect with her:

Web: http://www.barbaraearly.com

Facebook:  Beverly Allen

Twitter: @BarbEarly

Happy Birthday Agatha!!

Agatha books on my shelfAgatha Christie’s 125th birthday was Tuesday, September 15. Molly MacRae, author of the Yarn Shop Mystery series, was the host of a wonderful party to celebrate. It’s been almost 48 hours, and the party is still going strong–on Facebook. I put up a few posts, and chimed in on others. It was a lot of fun to celebrate, even virtually, with some other Christie fans.

I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie, and blogged about that a bit yesterday on Live to Write/Write to Live on “Happy Birthday to a Great Dame”. I’ve written about her on this blog as well. As some of you know, I wrote a thesis about Agatha Christie, her use of point of view, and its contributions to the genre. In prepping for the thesis, I read a lot of support materials, including her autobiography, and Laura Thompson’s biography. Christie was a very reserved person, so I won’t say that I know her. I will say that adding humanity to her fictional output helps put things in a different context for me. I posted about my expectations of her being upended last month. This month I’ve had two more Agatha surprises.

First, several previously unpublished plays have recently been unearthed and are being published later this year. I have my copy on pre-order, of course. Though we may think of her as a fiction writer, she was a playwright as well. MOUSETRAP is the longest running play in history. She also wrote a good adaptation of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, with a different ending. Looking forward to reading this treasure trove.

The other book I am excited about is inspired rather than written by Agatha Christie. A IS FOR ARSENIC by Kathryn Harkup is a book about the various poisons Christie used in her novels. I’ve just started reading it, and am having a great time. It is both an homage to the stories of Christie, and a writer’s toolkit for poisons. Don’t be surprised if poison plays a role in the 3rd Clock Shop Mystery

One final note–Agatha Christie died 39 years ago. Despite that, people know who she is, buy her books, and create new work based on her stories. I find that remarkable, and enviable.

Happy Birthday to a great Dame!