It's Important to Do Your Research...
That’s one lesson we learn from Agatha Christie’s fictional author Ariadne Oliver. In Cards on the Table, she and three other sleuths (including Hercule Poirot) are invited to a strange dinner by a very eccentric host, Mr. Shaitana. Also invited are four other very interesting guests; they are all people whom Mr. Shaitana claims have gotten away with committing a murder. After dinner, while everyone is playing bridge, someone stabs Mr. Shaitana. The only possible suspects are those four successful murderers, so Oliver, Poirot, Colonel Race and Superintendent Battle work together to find out who committed the crime. At one point in the novel, Oliver gets a visit from Rhoda Dawes, the roommate of one of the suspects. Rhoda’s a fan of Mrs. Oliver’s and is excited to meet her idol, but when she arrives, Mrs. Oliver is in a state of some consternation. The reason, as Mrs. Oliver points out, is that:
“…that dreadful Finn of mine has got himself terribly tangled up. He did some awfully clever deduction with a dish of French beans and now he’s just detected deadly poison in the sage-and-onion stuffing of the Michaelmas goose, and I’ve just remembered that French beans are over by Michaelmas.
Now, Oliver has to try to revise her work so that it’s accurate, as well as help solve the mystery of Mr. Shaitana’s death. In the end, she provides some valuable assistance as Poirot finds out which of the suspects committed the murder.
…But be careful when you’re doing that research.
Harriet Vane finds that out in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison. She’s a detective novelist who’s doing research on poisons including arsenic. So she’s gotten hold of some arsenic so she’ll be better-prepared to be accurate. That poison is part of what gets her in serious trouble when her former lover, Philip Boyes, dies of arsenic poisoning. Harriet’s the prime suspect and, in fact, she’s arrested and tried for the crime. The arsenic she’s been using for her research is part of the evidence against her and her prospects for an acquittal don’t look good. But Amanda Climpson, who’s on the jury, doesn’t believe that Harriet is guilty. Her reservations result in Harriet getting a new trial. That gives Miss Climpson’s friend Lord Peter Wimsey the time he needs to investigate the case and clear Harriet’s name.
In Joseph R.G. DeMarco’s Murder on Camac, that lesson comes too late for Helmut Brandt, an author who’s been doing research on the death of Pope John Paul I. He’s uncovered evidence that’s upset some very influential people within the Catholic Church. In fact, Brandt is aware of this threat, and calls private investigator Marco Fontana to ask
About those writing critique groups…
Critique groups and other writers’ support groups can be very helpful. Other writers can commiserate and can offer valuable input, support and ideas. But it’s a good idea to be very careful about the people in one’s group. For example, in Caroline Graham’s Written in Blood, we meet the members of the Midsomer Worthy Writers’ Circle. As the novel opens, this critique group is trying to decide whom to invite to address their group. It turns out that one of the members, Gerald Hadleigh, is acquainted with successful author Max Jannings. When the members of the Writers’ Circle find this out, they put pressure on Hadleigh to invite Jannings to speak. Hadleigh refuses at first, since he has good reason to hate Jannings, and doesn’t want the group to know about it. He finally agrees, all the while hoping that Jannings won’t accept the invitation. To Hadleigh’s dismay, though, Jannings agrees to speak to the group. On the night of his presentation, the group meets and holds a discussion about writing. Late that night, after the meeting is over and all of the group members have gone, Gerald Hadleigh is murdered. Now, Inspector Tom Barnaby and Sergeant Gavin Troy have to unravel the complicated relationships among the members of the group to find out who killed Hadleigh and why.
Going to Writing Conferences…
One of the most important ways to promote oneself and to learn about writing is to attend writing conferences. Writers learn from each other, and it’s also very enjoyable to meet other authors, booklovers and of course, agents and publishers. But it’s also wise to be very careful at those conferences. For example, in Bill Crider’s A Romantic Way to Die, romance author Vernell Lindsey and cover model Terry Don Coslin arrange a romance writers’ conference in
Writers get their inspiration in lots of different ways, and those who aren’t writers can sometimes misunderstand that process. That’s what happens in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air). In that novel, Madame Giselle, a well-known French moneylender, dies suddenly while she’s on a flight from
As you can see, the life of a writer isn’t always as glamorous – or as safe – as it seems. But I wouldn't have it any other way ; ). Have you read novels that share these kinds of details about the writing life? Which ones have you enjoyed? Still think the writing life might be a good one? ; )
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin's Hard Knock Life.