Her Own Words

Agatha Christie. If you any interest in mysteries (and probably even if you don’t), you’ve heard that name. Rightly so. Agatha Christie is still the highest selling mystery author of all time (ranking in the top of fiction authors across all genres), and her work continues to amaze and intrigue millions of readers and TV/movie watchers.

So when I saw a documentary about her on Amazon Prime, I was all in. Tell me more about this talented person! It took about two minutes before I was appalled. I watched, horrified, as the narrator/host declared he wanted to know who she was, not as an author, but as a woman.

Apparently this man believed female authors cannot be authors or creative people first and foremost—they must be defined primarily by being women.

(Please note: who I am as a writer is the same person I am as a woman. In fact, I’d rather be referred to as a writer than as a woman because my love of words defines me more than my gender does.)

Did I stop the documentary right there? No. No I did not. Surely it would get better, I thought. Surely the host deserved a chance to improve.

If only.

Instead, the host pondered what must’ve happened to Agatha Christie to give her a dark imagination. I don’t know if it even occurred to him that she was simply creative, without some great event or trauma eliciting such a talent.

Then he proceeded to join another man as the two of them flipped through Agatha’s notebooks, providing delightful statements along the lines of “Wow, her books are so easy to read but these notebooks make it seem like she worked hard to write them!” and “She kept notebooks everywhere and was always jotting things down. She must have constantly been having thoughts!”

That woman. Having thoughts. What an idea.

The documentary was like a horrible accident where I just couldn’t look away even though I didn’t want to see (or hear) any more. This talented, prolific author, someone who’d had a massive impact on the genre I love, was being reduced to a handful of facts and assumptions by people who didn’t even know her. And she’s not here to set the record straight.

That’s nothing new. There are more than a dozen biographies written about Agatha Christie, by people who’ve analyzed her work and her life, making assertions about her decisions, dissecting her words to look for hidden meaning.

I love a good analysis. But I’m tired of hearing other people’s opinions about this remarkable woman. I’m tired of seeing her legacy shaped by people who like to pretend they have unique insight into her mind. It scares me to think people will just accept their words as truth.

Authors reveal a lot about themselves in their work. There’s no doubt about that. But too often people see connections that don’t exist. Too often the characters’ words are considered the same as the author’s words. A lovely phrase or idea gets pulled from a book and attributed directly to the author, as if she herself said it instead of the character. Maybe it reflects her own thoughts; maybe it doesn’t. Believe me, I’ve written plenty of characters whose views and statements don’t reflect my own. It scares me to see the ease with which people conflate the two.

So when I discovered that Agatha Christie had written an autobiography, I about tripped over myself to order it. Here she is, telling us about her life in her own words. Why is that not enough for us? Why do we feel we must know about her than she was willing to share?

So I’m starting a new series on my blog. This talented author deserves to have her voice back, and I want to do what I can to provide that.

The first Wednesday of every month, I’ll be sharing my favorite quotes from her autobiography—her words, directly from her, with no assumptions and analysis from me. I’ll provide a bit of context and an explanation of why I chose that quote, what I like about it or why I connect with it. But I’m not going to try to tell you what she was thinking when she wrote it or how that view may have affected her choices as an author or as a woman.

All I want to do is amplify the voice of an incredibly talented author. So if you want to hear Agatha Christie’s words about her life, from her own pen, meet me back here the first Wednesday of every month.

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Word Nerd Wednesday: Let it Flow

Happy Word Nerd Wednesday! September is leading the way toward fall (glory, hallelujah!) and as summer draws to a close, so too does my Word Nerd Wednesday series. I’ll be starting a new series of something entirely different in October. I can’t wait to tell you about it, but for now, for our final word story, I’d like to introduce you to a lady named Valerie.

Valerie is the life of the party. Everyone wants her at their social functions, not just because she’s a fun person, but because she’s able to carry on a conversation with anyone. She fills any awkward silence with a natural ease. All those around her appreciate and marvel at Val’s ability.

“Val’s ability” = volubility (vol-yuh-BIL-uh-ti), meaning fluency or characterized by a continuous flow of words. It’s the gift of the gab, a natural dexterity with speaking. It’s a positive trait that could easily turn into a negative one, morphing into a chatty talkativeness that overwhelms and drains other people. But when it’s used well, it becomes a powerful tool and whoever wields this tool is an asset to any gathering of people.

Words can be magical. Conversations have the power to create connections between strangers, illuminate shared experiences, or simply offer the good medicine of laughter. Some people have a special ability to pour words forth like water. Those words can be a flood that drowns everyone. Or they can be a refreshing river, wrapping around people and inviting them to join in.

What makes the difference is the focus of the speaker—on herself or the people around her, whether she’s releasing words just because she wants to, focusing solely on her own needs, or is shaping and directing her words to meet the needs of those around her. That focus, on oneself or on others, can make all the difference in the world. A simple shift in focus has the power to change everything.

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Word Nerd Wednesday: Be Fierce

Happy Word Nerd Wednesday! Today’s word story introduces you to an incredible lady named Tanya.

Tanya is a human rights lawyer. Intelligent and compassionate, she fights for the rights and freedom of people across the world. Whenever she sees injustice, she raises her voice and refuses to back down. Her voice is absolutely fierce.

“Voice is fierce” = vociferous (vo-SIF-er-us), meaning marked by an insistent outcry or vehement shouting. Tanya is not someone who sits passively while people are being used or abused. She raises her voice, powerfully, to fight injustice whenever she encounters it.

Like a lot of women, Tanya was raised to be polite, well-mannered to the point of withholding her opinions. But as she got older, she realized that there are times when silence is dangerous, when a person must raise their voice to the point where they can no longer be ignored. And for her, that need arises in the defense of others.

All of us reach an age where we must decide what is worth fighting for. And then, like Tanya, we must speak up and speak out vociferously, with voices most fierce, in defense of those values we hold dear.

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