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?




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:


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!

Agatha Assumptions Upended

Many of you know that I am an unabashed Agatha Christie fan. I discovered her books when I was fourteen, the summer my family moved from Massachusetts to Maryland. It was a miserable time for me, but I got lost in the world of Miss Marple, and stayed there all summer. Hercule Poirot and I met a little later. Still later I read her short stories, and her stand alones. And, of course, Tommy and Tuppence.

Agatha Christie writingThe picture on the right is how most of us know her–older, writerly, sitting at a desk. She was very shy, and did not love the public eye. This past Sunday I read an article about a new exhibition of photos of her. They upend the expectations that have been cultivated. She wasn’t always an old woman. We know that, of course, but evidence is always good to have. More importantly, as importantly, she lived a life. She surfed, she traveled, she had her heart broken by her first husband, met her second husband and followed him on his archaeological adventures. I love this photographic evidence. What great adventures!

Agatha Christie’s work continues to impact my life. When I went to the Harvard Extension School, and was working on my thesis topic, I decided to write about her, and herAgatha Christie surfing use of point of view. I focused on the novels sheac 22 wrote from 1920, when she started to write, to 1940. Though she wrote some fine novels after that period, those twenty years included And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I dream of writing a book to equal any one of these three. She wrote 75 other novels as well as over 100 short stories, and 19 plays.

As a writer, her craft provides a lot of lessons. Her characters were broad, and played into stereotypes of her age. That said, the way she draws her characters allows readers to identify with them easily, even today. Her plots are clever, and play a good game with the reader. Her narrative style, including use of point of view, is expert.

Last year I wrote a post about the “Lessons from Dame Agatha”. A year later, close to her 125th birthday (next month!) I can still learn more about her, and be surprised by her life. She continues to inspire me.

Maybe I should try and surf?

Mystery, friendship, persistence, and lots of laughs at Windsor Locks Public Library

Liz here, and today I’m excited to welcome a very special guest – Eileen Pearce, librarian at Windsor Locks Public Library here in Connecticut. I first met Eileen last year when she invited Edith and me to do an event at the library. You never know how library events are going to go, but we were thrilled – the crowd was plentiful, the interest and enthusiasm were high, and we had such fun! The library has an active mystery book club that really welcomes authors. This past summer, Barb joined me and Edith for a second event, and as long as Eileen will have us, we plan on returning as often as possible! I invited Eileen to tell us about the group, the Christie Capers Book Club. All yours, Eileen!

eileen2015Many of you haven’t heard of the town that I have called home for 30 years.  Windsor Locks, CT is 9.2 square miles and has a population of 12,500.  We are the home of Bradley International Airport, which most people think is in Hartford.  Our Little League team won the World Championship in 1965 and Ella Tambussi Grasso, governor of Connecticut from 1975-1980 (and the first woman in the United States elected governor in her own right) was born here in 1919.  Oh, and our latest claim to fame is that one of the finalists on this year’s version of The Bachelorette is from Windsor Locks!

Christie Capers co-founders Janet Lomba and Eileen

Christie Capers co-founders Janet Lomba and Eileen

I like to think that the Windsor Locks Public Library’s Christie Capers Book Club is another distinctive selling point of our small town.  My good friend Janet, a library volunteer, and I, the Adult Services Librarian, started the group in 2002.   We appropriated the name, Christie Capers, from one of author Carolyn G. Hart’s Death on Demand mysteries, and she was gracious enough to offer a signed copy of one of her novels as a door prize for our first meeting in September 2002.  Our first book was, appropriately, Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library.  Our plan was to read and discuss “traditional” mysteries, which feature a murder, the gathering of clues by a professional or amateur sleuth, and the solution to the crime.  We were thrilled to have a dozen people attend that first meeting, but quickly lost some of our enthusiasm when only a few showed up for our second.  Traditional mysteries, especially cozies, can be difficult to discuss since they all follow a basic formula and don’t usually have intense psychological plotlines or a lot of complex characters.  A couple of our members kept pushing for thrillers over the first few years that we met, so we did read some Harlan Coben and Patricia Cornwell during those early years, but our hearts really weren’t in it. Now we read only traditional mysteries, some cozy and some more “noir,” choosing a different theme each year.  Fortunately there are SO many great mysteries around that that we never want for ideas! We’ve read female sleuths, professional vs. amateur sleuths, mysteries set in different countries, mysteries featuring real people as detectives, and craft-based mysteries, to name a few of our themes. During this past year we’ve been reading novels featuring religious sleuths and our upcoming theme is mysteries featuring a strong sense of place, novels in which the setting is key to the series, like those of Colin Cotterrill, Louise Penny, and Charles Finch.  I’m thinking that it is definitely getting to be time to focus on some culinary series soon!

Christie Capers Tea

Christie Capers Tea

We spent about a decade as a pretty small group, but over the past few years interest in discussing mysteries has apparently exploded here in north central Connecticut!  We now have about 25 members, many from surrounding towns and several from Massachusetts.  We have hosted many wonderful authors, enjoying fascinating discussions with three of the Wicked Cozies, Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, and Barbara Ross.  Laura Bradford (aka Elizabeth Lynn Casey), author of an Amish mystery series and the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries, has visited 5 times and essentially become our library’s mystery mascot.  Sandra Parshall, a wonderful writer based in the D.C. area, donated a whole box of Under the Dog Star, one of her Rachel Goddard mysteries, to our delighted group, all big fans of hers.  Anne Canadeo, author of the Black Sheep Knitting Mysteries has stopped in to see us twice, and we were thrilled to be one of the first libraries to introduce Susannah Hardy, author of the Greek to Me Mysteries, to the world.  We look forward to meeting Roberta Isleib (Lucy Burdette) in August.

Reading and discussing mysteries are always great pastimes and meeting our favorite (and future favorite) authors is a thrill, but the most wonderful things about a book club, even one as big as ours, are the friendship and the laughter.  Every month different combinations of members meet.  Diane is our chocolate martini expert, always a hit at our annual Christmas pot-luck meeting.  Karen, originally from Fall River (or “Fall Rivah”, as she says), and Shirley, from England, add a bit of an exotic flair to our meetings with their accents.  Geri is our deadpan comedienne (“they grilled him like a cheeseburger”) and Terry is an expert at faux-cluelessness.  Janet’s explosive laughter, Mary P’s sweet girlish voice, Nancy’s travel anecdotes…all of these contribute to a wonderful sense of comraderie.  We have sympathized with each other’s losses, worried about illnesses, and expressed joy at marriages, children’s graduations, and new jobs. There might be 12 of us or there might be 24 at a meeting.  When someone doesn’t show up and we haven’t heard from them, we worry about them.  When others, whose active lives, jobs, and varied interests sometimes prevent them from attending, DO show up, we let them know how much we missed them.  Sometimes we love the book and clamor to read more of the series, while at other times Janet and I get the stink-eye for choosing a book that is not to everyone’s taste.  But no matter how we feel about our book, the library’s community room is always filled happy voices and the frequent sound of laughter on the third Wednesday of every month.  This is Christie Capers, still going strong after 13 years, 122 books, 15 author visits, and many, many holiday chocolate martinis.