What I learned from Agatha Christie!

What I Learned from Agatha Christie!

By Leo N. Ardo

Ashley a charming young lady on Google+ introduced me to Agatha Christie. I knew little about Agatha Christie except that she was the queen of modern mysteries. Ashley proclaimed Agatha as her favorite author. She listed several books, but recommended And Then There Were None as a good choice for a newbie like me.

Being a writer I read the book for its entertainment value, and evaluated the writing style. Agatha Christie has sold more books than anyone except Shakespeare and the Bible. I thought this was a good opportunity to improve my writing by analyzing the writing style.

My first discovery was the abundant use of the word ‘said’ and ‘asked’. Being a rookie writer, I was shocked. Here are the results of a random five-page sampling from the book:

“said” only                                         61%                … ,” he said.

“said” with a single modifier           36%                … ,” he said gently.

substitute word for “said”               03%                … ,” he murmured.

Other writers have provided cheat sheets with 400+ ways to say ‘said’. The sheets were created to add variety and make the writing more interesting. Based on feedback from proofreaders, writing groups, and class instructors: Agatha Christie has broken one of the writing rules—avoid using the same word repeatedly.

But, “It works!”

Recently, a good friend pointed out how this simple technique should be used by authors to keep the action in the sentence and avoid it spilling into the attributive. She also endorsed the use of ‘said’ and ‘asked’ exclusively with the occasional modifier, or substitute.

Dialog was ninety percent of the book. This was the second discovery. It came after reading “he said”, “she said”, “he asked”, or “she asked” about twenty times.

She’s a clever lady that Agatha Christie. She chose a writing style that took longer to tell the story leaving the reader more time to ponder the ending. In the conversations she sprinkled clues, exposed character flaws, kept the action moving, had the reader guessing, and nudged the suspense up another notch on every page.

And Then There Were None is an entertaining and engaging book. It is a book all mystery fans should read. As there are ten characters and ten murders, it is probably okay to provide one clue—The butler didn’t do it.

“Ashley, good choice!” I said.

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Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

                                                 Leo N. Ardo

As a young boy, I can recall sitting with my father at the local gas station listening to the stories, and thinking what a wonderful life. In reflection, we had everything that mattered: good friends, comfortable life, sense of community, and good stories.

Now I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. Jon Hersey, the hero, battles terrorism on American soil. He must be a ghost to accomplish the goals of the secretive Zeta Consulting.

I write for a couple purposes, 25% of Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series profits go to Parkinson’s disease research and education, and writing is on the bucket list. Several short stories can be found at the blog listed below.

Another passion is photography, which I find to be similar to writing. A photograph tells a story—1000 words worth, and can tell a different story to each of us. Like an author, the photographer has to make judgment calls when framing—what to include, and what to eliminate. Altering the position of the camera changes the exposure and may reveal flaws, much like a writer’s pen enlightens the reader by revealing character flaws.

When the world is closing in I pack up the fly-fishing gear. Fly-fishing has a required calming rhythm to cast a fly where it needs to land.

Saved for the happy ending: luck has blessed me with the girl in my dreams. We enjoy family, movies, travel, reading, golf, and biking. We call Utah and Wyoming home to be near our families.

Leo

Visit the website www.LeonardoStories.com

Blog: LeonardoStories.wordpress.com

Like us at Facebook.com/TheLeonardoStories

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

The First Detective/Mystery Story

The First Detective/Mystery Story

By Leo N. Ardo

Before the first words were input for this post the debate over the first mystery book has engaged many critics and scholars. The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), written by Edgar Allan Poe, has been credited by many as the first detective/mystery book, but it was technically a short story. Could the first novel length story have been The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins in 1859; or was it The Notting Hill Mystery, by Charles Felix in 1862? “It’s a mystery,” to quote a line from the movie Shakespeare in Love.

The inescapable fact is The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe defined the standard.

A brilliant detective and a baffling crime, which requires superior intelligence to solve. Helped along by a doting friend or colleague who chronicles the case. The police initially assume a position of skepticism and disdain only to be humbled and amazed as the case is unfurled before them at the end.

R.D. Collins, 2004, Classic Crime Fiction, www.classiccrimefiction.com

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The first detective, C. Auguste Dupin, appears in two other Poe stories: The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842) and The Purloined Letter (1844).

Edgar Allan Poe established the genre. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mastered Poe’s “formula” with Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet (1887), The Sign of Four (1890), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901), The Valley of Fear (1914), and fifty-six other short stories.

Edgar Allan Poe’s life (1809–1849) was short. Many of his literary works were published anonymously or under the pseudonym Henri Le Rennet. His life was also a series of misfortunes:

– His father abandoned the family in 1810.

– His mother died from tuberculosis in 1811.

– His foster family did not formally adopt him.

– While attending the University of Virginia, his fiancé married another man (1826).

– Unable to support himself, he joined the army as Edgar A. Perry (1827).

– He was discharged in 1829 after finding a replacement to finish his enlistment.

– He was admitted to West Point in 1830 and then disowned by his foster father at the demands of his new wife.

– In 1831 he tactically sought a court marital. He was tried, and found guilty, for gross neglect of duty.

– He was unable to get published because the publishing industry was pirating British books rather than paying for American works.

– Virginia Poe, his wife, was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1842.

– Received a total of nine dollars for his popular poem “The Raven” (1845).

– Virginia died in 1847.

– Mystery surrounds his death in 1849.

Source: Wikipedia – Edgar Allan Poe

Sadly, Edgar Allan Poe lived only forty years—the average lifespan for his time.

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Image

Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

                                                       Leo N. Ardo

As a young boy, I can recall sitting with my father at the local gas station listening to the stories, and thinking what a wonderful life we had. In reflection, we had everything that mattered: good friends, comfortable life, sense of community, … and good stories.

Now I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. Jon Hersey, the hero, battles terrorism on American soil. He must be a ghost to accomplish the goals of culling terrorists from the company’s employees, maintaining employment, ensuring that products ship to the armed forces, and eliminating the shipments to the enemy.

Several short stories can be found at the blog listed below.

Another passion is photography, which I find to be similar to writing. A photograph tells a story—1,000 words worth. Like an author, the photographer has to make judgment calls when framing—what to include, or exclude. Altering the position of the camera changes the exposure and may reveal flaws, much like a writer’s pen enlightens the reader by revealing character flaws.

When the world is closing in, I pack up the fly-fishing gear. Fly-fishing has a required calming rhythm to cast a fly where it needs to land.

Saved for the happy ending: Luck has blessed me with the girl of my dreams. We enjoy family, movies, travel, reading, golf, and biking. We call Utah and Wyoming home to be near our families.

Leo

Visit our website www.LeonardoStories.com

Blog: LeonardoStories.wordpress.com

Like us at Facebook.com/TheLeonardoStories

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

Four Days in San Antonio

Four Days in San Antonio

By: Leo N. Ardo

Days of week calendar block - Wed
Wednesday is a travel day for my second visit to San Antonio.

(The first visit was an overnight stay, then an early morning drive to Austin with ten other victims of poor travel planning.)

This time, my vacation partner is attending a business conference which started Sunday. She meets me in the lobby, then deposits me in the room where the thermostat is showing a chilly 67º. It takes the ninety minutes of her last meeting to warm the room to 73º.

Thunder and lightning fills the thirty minutes before the huge downpour documented in the following photographs. (Photos were taken two minutes apart.)
San Antonio Rain storm series

Our hotel is on the Riverwalk. In the heart of Tex-Mex and great Mexican food, another downpour helps us decide on an Italian restaurant, with a large canopy, next to the hotel.

Days of week calendar  block - ThurThursday morning. The sun is shining, the temperature is the mid-80’s but feels like 110º, thanks to the humidity of 94%. It’s hot in the shade.

DSC_0029The Alamo is our first attraction. In San Antonio, is there another first attraction? The Alamo is well preserved and the historical museum-like presentation is very organized and subtitled in several languages. In two and a half hours, we are able to visit every public building at the mission, while avoiding a ten-minute rain.

A maddening episode of phone calls and Internet inquiries lands us Spurs vs. Heat tickets to game four of the NBA Finals. We leave the hotel ninety minutes before tip-off. The taxi driver is accommodating but extremely quiet during the long ride. We are dropped off in the middle of a parking lot about a half-mile from the AT&T Center arena. We get in line and shuffle forward for six minutes to find that our tickets’ pedigree does not qualify us for this VIP line.

It is another long walk to find the right line. We luckily enter a few doors from the Spurs Fan Shop. The shop is packed and ten cash registers mark the beginning of ten long lines of shoppers. We pay, wade through the sea of shoppers, and discover our seats are across the corridor. While waiting in line for burgers, the national anthem is broadcast on the corridor’s flat screens.

We laugh that ninety minutes after leaving the hotel we are still not in our seats. Time flies when walking across a large parking lot, standing in the wrong line, purchasing souvenirs, and waiting for the food ticket number to be called.

We cheer for the Spurs—partly for self-preservation—part because they are the western division champions. We send self-photos from our cell phones to friends and family. Sad to report the Spurs lost. After the game we find the never-ending line of sad fans waiting for a taxi. We enjoy the slapstick, impromptu, entertainment provided by the police trying to control the pedestrians and cars. It is like watching a new owner (police) training a new puppy (pedestrians): the owner talks, the puppy wants to play, the frustrated owner talks louder, the puppy wants to play, the owner is enunciating every word with emphasis, and the puppy keeps playing.

days of week calendar block - Fri
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The San Fernando Cathedral is a short walk from the hotel. We wander around outside, enjoying the marvelous care of the 286-year-old mission. The gift shop also serves as the mission’s museum.

The opportunity to photograph the interior is lost as a noon mass begins while I try to photograph a yellow flower tossed about by the breeze. The law of big numbers works in my favor—I take enough shots that luckily one of them is in focus.

After a little search, we find out how to take the Riverwalk barges up river to the San Antonio Museum of Art. It’s a pleasant ride that includes a lock system to raise the barge nine feet. On the way up, the lock system is reported to cost $6.2 million. Inflation must be at play on the return trip as the lock system cost is reported at $7.4 million.

The museum is very well done and displays a vast cross section of art: paintings; photographs; Italian, Grecian, artifacts; vases; puzzles; illusion; costumes—just to name a few items. Three hours in the museum is not enough time to enjoy everything.

The late afternoon rain begins as we arrive back at the hotel. For an hour we check e-mail, return calls, and take a short nap before dinner. The rain stops long enough for us to stay dry walking to the restaurant.

Walking back to the hotel after dinner becomes a test of endurance. We exit the restaurant, and it begins to sprinkle. My travel companion has on “the most comfortable pair of sandals I have ever owned.” But, they limit how fast she can walk. The rain gradually increases. After we cross over the river, we continue straight into a section of the Riverwalk that is not familiar to us. Oops! We forget to turn left after the bridge. The detour takes about fifteen minutes—enough time to get thoroughly soaked by some serious rain.

Days of week calendar blokc- SatIt’s hot, it’s humid, it’s Saturday.

We opt-in for breakfast by room service.

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The taxi ride is all too familiar: GPS system cannot find the address, there is a lot of talk in an unrecognizable language with someone on a cell phone, and it is obvious she has no idea of the location of the Concepcion Mission. She may not know where we are going, but we are getting there fast.

Mission Concepcion is wonderful. Photo opportunities are everywhere. It is as old as it looks. Wandering around back we find signage marking the entrance to the church. Whoa! The interior is in pristine condition—it is still a functioning church.

A grotto is on the edge of the property: flowers, statues, birdbaths, and 112,869 mosquitos counted before we started swatting them. Two hundred thirty-four dead mosquitos later, a nice couple offers their lifesaving bug spray.

san antonio bike system
The San Antonio bike rental system has dozens of bike racks, including the four missions inside the state park. The rental process is simple, and we have transportation for the three miles to the next mission, San Jose. Did I mention it was hot and humid?
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At San Jose Mission, we place the bikes in the rack, go into the visitor’s center to cool down, and hear an announcement for a twenty-three minute movie. We look at each other, not a word is said, but we know the other’s thoughts: it’s inside, air-conditioned, and twenty-three minutes.

San Jose Mission is restored to its original configuration but with different [cheaper] materials. The mission is whole: walls, barracks, thick wooden gates, aqueduct, gristmill, church, etc. The restoration is well done and aids the imagination of life nearly three hundred years ago.

A few hours later we are biking to Mission San Juan—it’s hotter and more humid. We are a mile from the San Juan Mission when we are told the road is still washed-out from the rainstorm last week. The alternate route involves riding on busy, narrow streets without a helmet. We ride two miles back to San Jose Mission and call a cab for the hotel.

The time in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is very enjoyable. We manage to make a day out of two of the four missions, and look forward to visiting the last two missions on our next trip to San Antonio, Texas—hopefully in October or April next time.

Days id week calendar block - SunSunday comes too soon. Time to return home.