It’s the first Wednesday of December, so it’s time for an Agatha Day! (You’ll notice I skipped November. We all needed a little break in November, given *gestures to the state of the country last month*.) This month’s quote highlights a feeling I think every creative person knows well.
“It is an odd feeling to have a book growing inside you, for perhaps six or seven years knowing that one day you will write it, knowing that it is building up all the time to what it already is. Yes, it is there already — it just has to come more clearly out of the mist. All the people are there, ready, waiting in the wings, ready to come on to the stage when their cues are called — and then, suddenly, one gets a clear and sudden command: Now!
“Now is when you are ready. Now, you know all about it. Oh, the blessing that for once one is able to do it then and there, that now is really now.”
The Context: In this quote, Agatha is talking about when she wrote Absent in the Spring, a book published under her pseudonym, Mary Westmacott. She refers to it as the book that satisfied her the most, saying she had always wanted to write it and that it had been clear in her mind—all except the background, which came to her later, after finishing Death Comes as the End.
As sometimes happens when a book has been growing inside a person, when it was finally ready, Agatha wrote it quickly—in three days, actually. She even called in sick to her job at the hospital so she could finish it. (Relatable, am I right?) She wrote until it was finished, and then collapsed and slept for an entire day. Then she woke up and ate a huge meal. (Again, so relatable to any writer!)
Why I Chose It: I think it’s incredibly revealing to learn about the book an author considered the most satisfying to write. And I know exactly the sensation she’s referring to in this quote. Like most writers, I hold a lot of ideas in my mind. Some are ready to be explored, while others need time to simmer. And so I’ll let an idea sit and develop until one day, it’s ready. It practically bursts out of me, the setting clear, the characters fully formed, the concept holding the whole idea together. It’s utterly intoxicating. Releasing a new book from inside myself is the most satisfying feeling I know, and Agatha captures that feeling so accurately here.
We’re now easing our way into September (a celebration for those of us who love fall; my sympathies to anyone who adores summer), which means it’s time for another Agatha Day! This one is all about how her murder-y writer’s mind worked.
“Plots come to me at such odd moments: when I am walking along a street, or examining a hat-shop with particular interest, suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head, and I think, ‘Now that would be a neat way of covering up the crime so that nobody would see the point.’ Of course, all the practical details are still to be worked out, and the people have to creep slowly into my consciousness, but I jot down my splendid idea in an exercise book.”
Context: In this section, Agatha is reflecting on the creation of Miss Marple, her second significant detective hero. She lists various Marple mysteries, along with some of her other books. Then she mentions Peril at End House, acknowledging that it left so little an impression on her that she has no recollection of even writing it. She admits it’s possible she thought of the plot long before she wrote it, which she says is a habit a of hers. That leads into this specific quote.
Why I Chose It: Quite simply, I relate to this quote so much. Sometimes I think I’m fully engaged with what I’m doing—washing dishes, for instance—and the next thing I know, I’ve created a full murder plot centering on a chipped dinner plate.
For creative people, inspiration is everywhere. I never know what will be the spark that will set my imagination ablaze, engulfed in flames of creative ideas. Sometimes it’s remarkably inconvenient. It’s difficult to explain to your dinner companions (back when I used to hang out with people in person) why you’re suddenly staring off in the distance with a sadistic smile. But I’m fortunate to have some incredible friends who know my creative side and happily engage with my brainstorming. (My sister-in-law even volunteered to play a corpse once so I could try dragging her along the beach.)
And also like Agatha, I often end up with ideas dwelling and growing within my mind for so long that I can’t even trace the source of them. Some of my manuscripts are linked to specific, striking moments of “What if…”, while others are based on ideas with origins I can’t specifically recall. And like Agatha and so many other writers, I try to capture those ephemeral ideas by scrawling phrases in various notebooks. Maybe I’ll come back to them one day. Maybe they’ll stagnate and fade into unused potential. Maybe I’ll read a line and have no idea what on earth I was talking about.
What matters is that I embrace the ideas when they come and chase them down, sometimes completely surprised by where I end up. It’s encouraging and humbling to know I share that trait with such a literary giant in the world of mystery.
This week, I’m heading to Killer Nashville, a writers’ conference for people like me who write about murder and other crimes. If you’re going to be there, please consider this permission to approach. Here’s what I look like these days:
Yes, that is teal in my hair. It’s an easy way to recognize me. (more…)