A former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.”
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Shakespeare died 400 years ago, but we all have read his plays. There is talk now that schools want to stop teaching works by the guys who basically gave us the foundation of our modern literature. I would give you their astute reasoning, but there is no good reason behind it. It’s a stupid idea.
Aristotle, Euripides, Aristophanes, Sophocles… I hope those names aren’t Greek to you (Sorry, that’s a little literary humor.), but these men crafted the basics of writing as we know it. Centuries later we got Shakespeare and Chaucer and Christopher Marlowe, Ibsen, Chekhov and, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and the Bronte Sisters. And list goes on and on.
They make movies based on these books. People still read the classics. Some of the wording is a tad dated, but the stories are still relevant. Romeo and Juliet turned into West Side Story. How many retellings of A Christmas Carol have there been? Good lasts.
This takes me to Anna Katharine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart. These two ladies lived a hundred years ago. Anna Katharine Green wrote her Amelia Butterworth character in 1897, well before Agatha Christie wrote The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) featuring Miss Marple. Christie acknowledges Green as her inspiration. Green also wrote about a young female amateur sleuth, Violet Strange, years before the first Nancy Drew stories hit the bookstore shelves.
Mary Roberts Rinehart turned out her first mystery, The Man in Lower Ten, in 1906 and The Circular Staircase in 1907, both astonishingly good mystery stories. She references both Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in that first mystery. She went on to pen her Letitia Carberry stories featuring three old spinsters who have adventures and calamities that are rollickingly funny and dead clever.
She is considered the source for the term: “The butler did it.” She didn’t use that exact phrase, but the butler was the culprit. She even has a series of stories centered around World War I. She was a trained nurse and married a doctor; so much of what she writes has facts behind it. She even served as a war correspondent during World War I in Belgium and toured the front lines, so the visuals are based on things she saw firsthand. Not all her stories are mysteries, but they are all good, solid stories, some even slightly romantic, but nothing even remotely lurid. How refreshing.
I started with the Anna Katherine Green stories. When I first started reading these two ladies, I couldn’t believe they were written a hundred years ago. The writing is fresh, some of the social/political comments could have been written today, and the work is witty, clever, and occasionally deliciously sarcastic. I have to admit, both ladies used a few words that are no longer in the vernacular (look it up), but since I was reading on my Kindle, I could look up the meanings right there and then carry on. But the overall feeling was that I was reading something written yesterday, not a century ago. I was and am still amazed at the contemporary handling of the stories.
The list of literary greats from that time and earlier does contain preponderance of male writers, but that’s just the way it was for quite a few centuries. Health care got better so women weren’t dying during childbirth, household appliances were invented to make domestic life easier, and some women decided they wanted to write… and they did. Women wrote short stories for magazines and even penned a few books. They showed what was possible.
But these two ladies weren’t writing fluff or recipes. In fact, there was a lawsuit against Anna Katharine Green because some fool didn’t believe a woman could write a story with such an accurate legal basis as a plot. Well, the idiot ate his words. Green’s father was a lawyer and the lady knew what she was writing about.
If you can’t find hardback books by these ladies, there are e-book collections of their many stories available at remarkably low prices. Some single stories are free, the work transcribing their books to an e-Book format done by volunteers. God Bless them. Some books are only available for free. (I pay for nearly every book that I read. These tireless workers who provided the works of these great ladies and frankly all writers deserve that we pay for their efforts.) These collections contain both novel-length stories and short stories and novellas.
And something else for you writers, these ladies show how to tell a story with a ton of stuff in them, no repetition, lots of plot, character and setting that will make you reevaluate your own writing. Remember, they did these stories a hundred years ago. They were cutting edge in the mystery genre… some of the first to do this genre, male or female. And their works are good.
As many contemporary books as I have read by men and women, these books are rising to the top as my favorites because they did it first and did it beautifully. Cleanly crafted, lots of stuff happening, lots of great characters. Some of the stories you don’t want to end. That is literary gold.