Saturday, April 17, 2021

Lunch with a Non-Living Author

By WWK Authors

I asked my Writers Who Kill compatriots, “If you could have lunch with any author who is no longer alive, who would you pick and why?” Two or three sentences, we agreed. I should have remembered my friends write well, but some are more challenged with mathematical concepts like two and three. And some don’t eat lunch, preferring tea, or dinner and drinks. (Submitted by James M Jackson)

In alphabetical order by author’s first name, we start with Agatha Christie.

Marilyn Levinson: I’d love to chat with Dame Agatha over tea and scones and discuss poisons and plotting mysteries.

Shari Randall: Like my friend, Marilyn Levinson, I'd love to do high tea with Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime. Perhaps in the library of her wonderful home, Greenway? Or Brown's Hotel, the inspiration for Bertram's Hotel? Wherever we go, I'd love to pick her brain about poisons and plotting, all the while being very careful to keep watch over my teacup. She looks like such a mild-mannered lady, but we all know and admire the devious mind that brought us The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express.

Then after tea, I'd meet M. C. Beaton for drinks down at the pub.

Marilyn: I’ll go along with Shari to have drinks with M. C. Beaton :) She’s a favorite of mine as well. Love all her series.

Susan Van Kirk: I would love to share a meal with the poet Anne Bradstreet [1612-1672] who was the wife and daughter of two governors of Plymouth Colony. She braved the ocean at age 18 to come to the New World. [Seriously, I would never have climbed aboard that tiny ship.] I'd love to hear about her religious beliefs, her life in the colony of Massachusetts, and how she managed to write while raising eight children with a husband often absent on colony business. Also, I'd like to tell her that she shouldn't have felt guilty about writing. When my first son married, I gave the new couple a framed calligraphy done by an artist friend that intertwined Anne Bradstreet's "To My Dear and Loving Husband" and John Ciardi's "Men Marry What They Need." Anne Bradstreet was such an amazing woman, and one evening with her would be the perfect conversation.

EB Davis: If I could have lunch with a dead author I'd choose Anne George because of her humorous Southern Sisters Mystery series, comprising eight novels, set in Birmingham, AL, which won an Agatha Award. What people don’t know about Anne George? She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for her poetry collection, Some of it is True. Her humor was delightful, a gift from a very talented author. I’d like to think we’d have a Southern tea party with all the bells and whistles—white tablecloths flapping in a gentle breeze, hydrangea centerpiece, set on an antebellum mansion porch surrounded by old Magnolia trees. 

James M. Jackson: Benjamin Franklin is my preferred lunch companion. He is unique as the author of his autobiography, Poor Richard’s Almanack, and contributor to four of the major United States’ Founding documents (the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris establishing peace with Great Britain, and the U.S. Constitution). He’d probably control the conversation, but I’d love to quiz him on the concept of original intent.

Molly MacRae: I’d love to have a meal with Charlotte MacLeod. There are so many dead people with whom I’d love to have meals, but the humor in Charlotte’s books is a balm in these uncertain times. Having breakfast, lunch, tea, or supper with her would surely be a delight. Or brunch. Then maybe, if I were well-enough behaved, she would let me come over to her house just to sit and watch her write. I’d be very quiet.

Tammy Euliano: I would love to lunch with C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) most famous for the Narnia series in which he painted a remarkable world with amazing and perfectly flawed characters. He skillfully incorporated themes of Christianity without, in my opinion, beating the reader over the head. The stories are enjoyable even if one ignores the well-crafted allusions. His progression from Christian to atheist and back fascinates me, and mirrors my own, the latter portion very much triggered by a reading of his Mere Christianity. The Screwtape Letters is masterful and truly enjoyable (and hilarious).

Grace Topping: When the question of who I would like to have dinner with comes up, I always immediately think of Eleanor Roosevelt, someone I admired immensely.  For this project, I thought of her and then immediately dismissed that idea since we were looking for non-living authors to share a meal with. Then I discovered that Mrs. Roosevelt wrote not only an autobiography but also a book about her twenty years serving as an advice columnist for the Ladies Home Journal. So Eleanor Roosevelt it would be. With her experience as First Lady during WWII and serving at the United Nations, she would make the perfect dinner companion. 

Debra H. Goldstein: If I could have lunch with a dead author, it would be Elmore Leonard, Jr., in order to inhale his wisdom and ability to write spare character and dialogue driven long and short crime fiction and westerns. He was a master at including all the details and intonations while leaving out the parts readers tend to skip.

Kait Carson: I would love to have lunch with Margaret Maron. Her Deborah Knott series, Bootlegger’s Daughter series spanned twenty books. It was always fresh and engaging and her characters consistently surprised the reader. It’s difficult for a series to remain fresh, to keep both author and reader interested. Maron’s character is the only daughter in a huge family, yet each character is unique and vital. The voice never interchangeable. I’d love to learn her process, and swap stories of farm life.

Annette Dashofy: My choice would be Mary Higgins Clark. I was fortunate enough to meet her several years ago, although briefly. We writers know about the “elevator pitch” where agents are concerned. I literally rode down on the elevator with her at our hotel when she was guest of honor at Bouchercon. I managed to stutter out how much her writing influenced my choice of genre, but there is so much more I’d love to talk to her about.

Martha Reed: If I could have lunch with a dead author, I’d choose Mary Roberts Rinehart, the American “Agatha Christie,” although technically MRR’s successful crime fiction career developed first. Born in 1876 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania near downtown Pittsburgh, prolific and dedicated to her art, MRR wrote The Circular Staircase in 1908. The book sold over a million copies and propelled her to international fame. The story was adapted into a long-running Broadway play, The Bat, which is credited with influencing the comic-book superhero Batman. During WWI, she served as the first woman war correspondent to the Belgian front. In 1929, she helped her sons found the publishing house Farrar & Rinehart and served as its director. She developed series characters Letitia (Tish) Carberry and Nurse-Detective Hilda Adams (AKA Miss Pinkerton) in hundreds of short stories. She is also credited with inventing the phrase “The Butler Did It” from her novel The Door in 1930. In 1947, her personal chef tried to shoot her at point blank range over a menu dispute, but the gun misfired. He then chased her through the house brandishing carving knives. MWA awarded her a Special Edgar in 1954. MRR died in 1958 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. My first question to her would be: “Where do I begin?”

Margaret S. Hamilton: I would like to have lunch with P.D. James and discuss her use of place, particularly as it performs the role of a major character. I’m curious which comes first, the setting or the characters (I suspect it’s the former). My favorite Adam Dalgleish novel is Devices and Desires, set on a fictional isolated headland near a nuclear power station on the Norfolk coast. Cordelia Gray, her young private investigator, investigates a Cambridge student’s suicide in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.

Jennifer J. Chow: If I could have lunch with a dead author I'd choose Wilkie Collins because he set the scene for detective and multi-narration novels. Also, I'm impressed in general by authors who wrote serials and could insert dramatic suspense. Finally, I appreciate that he populated his books with women and explored domestic issues.

Your turn: In the comments tell us who you’d choose and why.


KM Rockwood said...

So hard to narrow it down!

I considered Dick Francis, but finally decided I'd love to meet Donald Westlake & pick his brains on how he does such different, vivid characters in his stories. It's hard for me to figure out how the author who created John Dortmunder could also be Richard Stark, who wrote so differently.

Molly MacRae said...

Oh, KM, I would love to have met Dick Francis. Did you read his autobiography? He was an amazing person.

Grace Topping said...

I would have enjoyed dinner with Dick Francis. First, because I enjoyed his books a lot, and second because he was very public about how much help his wife was to his writing process.