Authors, Episodes

14. Will Authors Go Extinct?

 

It’s October and that means all things spooky…and I can’t think of anything scarier than AI pushing authors to extinction. Find out how real the risks are, and what you as a writer or a reader can do to save the species Homo authoris.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

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Episode Transcript (or roughly so)…

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So it’s episode 14 and, because this is normally around the time of year Mr. Husband and I are off traveling, I had planned on doing something related to travel books (which I still plan to do), but I recently posted an article on my writing blog that got a lot of attention and since it is book related, I thought it would make a great topic for the podcast.

So, if you have read that post, this will be a bit of a rerun (I’ll be adding my own snarky comments in, though so it will be a tad different), but for those of you who haven’t read it, I hope this gets your brain cells thinking about books, about authors, and about the future of writing.

So, jumping right into it today, the question is: will authors go extinct?

And this was on my mind for a while because while working in the garden a couple weeks ago, I was listening to an episode of The Career Author Podcast.

In this episode the guys, who are J. Thorn and Zach Bohannan, were chatting about technology and publishing. I kind of expected it to be about software like Scrivener which is a writing program that helps you keep things super organized and makes shifting scenes and chapters very convenient, and Vellum which is a book formatting program, but it turned out to be WAY more…and WAY scarier.

The technology they ended up focusing on was AI (artificial intelligence, in case you didn’t already know). And specifically AI that learns from books being fed into it, then can spit out an entire novel…a novel it has written itself based on the tropes and writing style used in the books it gobbled up into its creepy little AI brain.

Now, the book lovers out there are probably thinking, “What? AI can’t do that.”

Well, it kind of can. It’s already being used to write various types of articles that end up getting published by big news agencies such as Associated Press, Forbes, and the LA Times, as well as smaller agencies looking for cheap content for their websites.

It’s known as Automated Journalism and the main reason it exists is because why would you want to pay a bunch of pesky reporters who demand weird things like salaries and benefits, when you can simply grab an AI-generated article?

And to give you an example of how rapidly-generated content can drive down salaries for writer, some of the magazines I’ve written for have paid up to $500, $700 for an article. But I’ve also written web content where the articles were just as long as those magazine articles, and they paid me around $15…and that’s considered high. Many of these web content factories will pay under $10 for an article, but AI could drive down even that small amount. And I’ll get into this concept a little more in a bit.

But back to books. Right now, (I think) there’s only been one serious attempt for AI to write a novel and it didn’t go well. But this is AI we’re talking about, people. It’s job is to learn and it learns QUICKLY. It won’t be long before it cranks out a readable novel you won’t be able to distinguish from a human-written novel.

Which, as an author, is scary. And it was to J. and Zach who predicted that the job of “author” as we know it might go extinct.

And before you shout, “But that’s impossible. Writers will always write. Readers will always read.” Well, taking an example from the guys, that’s probably what book binders once thought. Now, the only book binders are artisans on Etsy. And really, looking across the board, plenty of other jobs have been made extinct (or mostly so) by advances in technology.

Now, I’m not a Luddite. I love my Mac, I love playing with programs to make book covers and format my books, I love being able to download audiobooks within minutes from the library and to stream yoga videos to work out the kinks at the end of the day. But I still have enough wariness over AI to think this extinction could become a reality.

Think about it. What does generating products by machine do? Just think in general about something like shirts, or furniture, or anything else that used to be handcrafted. And I’m going to go a bit into the world of economics here, but don’t be scared, we’ll come back to books as quick as we can.

So first, machines speeds up the process of manufacturing and that adds more product to the market. Second, it drives down prices because there’s an easy abundance of cheaply made product (cheap mainly because you get to get rid of most of those expensive humans). Third, it creates a uniform (dare I say, cookie cutter) product.

All three of these combined are the perfect ingredients to kill off the species Homo authoris.

So let’s look at each of those three things a little more closely and see how it relates to writing and books and extinction.

First we have speeding up the process. There’s already human authors blowing me out of the water by being able to whip up books in only a few weeks, but even that pace is going to seem slow when a trained AI can churn out a book in only a few minutes.

Now, I’m not one to complain about more books. I love books! But it’s already a crowded market out there for authors. There’s something like nearly a million books self published in the US every single year.

But AI’s productivity could flood that market with books, making it even harder for human authors to get discovered. And with retailers often favoring new releases, well, AI will easily win that game and push even the fastest author to the bottom of the heap.

Next we’ve got driving down AI prices. A certain store named for a certain river has already encouraged a race to the bottom of ebook pricing, and some customers will scoff if a book is more than 99c, although many indie authors have been able to resist this by successfully pricing books at $4.99 or more.

But if AI can crank out book after book, it’s going to have plenty of product, and with volume comes low prices. Sure, the first AI books will seem like novelties and people might pay higher prices for them, but before long, I can see AI books rarely being placed above that 99c price point.

And once again, human writers who have bills to pay and buy wine risk losing this low-price competition. Remember, a 99c book on that retailer, nets the author a mere 34c…on which we have to pay taxes, dropping the actual take-home royalty to around 15 to 20c.

If we’re priced out or have to price so low we can’t keep up our wine habit)as well as squeezed off the virtual shelves, well, let’s just say resource and habitat loss is a key factor in any extinction.

Next, we’ve got to look at that cookie cutter product. If AI learns to write from books it’s fed, it’s going to create books similar to those books. Which is fine. We all take inspiration from books we read.

But here’s where I stop blaming AI for writers’ future extinction because this third point got me thinking about how some writers are already “training” readers.

I listen to a lot of writing podcasts and read plenty of books on the writing craft, and I am constantly hearing/reading about the expected “tropes” in certain genres. If you write genre X, you must have A, B, and C to satisfy readers because readers expect to see A, B, and C, and they’ll give you crappy reviews if you don’t have those exact things.

And yes, I understand certain tropes make a story work. You’re not going to have a romance novel without two people working their way around a relationship. You’re not going to have a thriller or horror novel without some sort of really bad guy.

But what drives me bonkers is when authors are advised to include very specific scenes, very specific actions, very specific character types and character motivations to satisfy their genre’s tropes.

In other words, writers are advised to make cookie cutter books.

I’m Not Saying I Don’t Like Cookies, But… I can’t tell you how many indie-written books I’ve picked up that are cookie cutter versions of each other or of other more popular books.

But does the fault go to the writer or to the reader?

Because maybe that’s what readers have been lulled into expecting…Don’t think too hard, just grab that book that looks like the past three books you’ve read. Don’t expect the unique. Don’t expect the unexpected. Expect the same story you’re familiar with because why risk discovering something new? Why take the chance you might not like it? Stick with what you know. Keep eating those same cookies.

And the same goes for book covers. I participate in a few author-sponsored promos every month and in those promos are on average, let’s say, 50 books. And well over half the urban fantasy books will have the exact same cover… an attitude-filled, twenty-something-year-old on a bright blue, green, or purple background with black around the edges and shiny text for the title (most of which are almost the exact same font).

And we as indie authors are told this is exactly what we’re supposed to do. Make a cover that matches genre expectations. Make the cookie cutter version even if your book looks the exact same as everyone else’s because otherwise readers won’t know that’s the story they want to read.

You know what happens to my eyes when I see those covers? I pass right over them. They all look the same to me. Call me the odd man odd, but I’m more drawn to the well-done, unique cover that makes me curious about what’s inside. I appreciate the author who’s trying to stand out, trying to be different, trying to catch my eye.

And it’s that desire for the unique, for the something special, for the original thought (even if inspired by another author) that human writers should be training readers to seek out.

Because if we keep training readers to only want the same old story in the same old package, Ai can do that in the blink of an eye and authors really will go extinct.

After all, AI can crank out those page puppies far faster than any human and they’re bound to do it cheaply sooner or later. There’ll be no point to us human writers if readers remain satisfied with the same cover, the same characters, the same story, the same cheap price point over and over. And over and over.

Sure, a familiar story is fine now and then, but shouldn’t we be seeking new twists, shouldn’t we be encouraging new ideas, and new glimpses into the world? We should crave what does make us human, which is our crazy amount of innate creativity and curiosity. (Okay, I know other creatures are creative and curious, but shut up, I’m on a roll here.)

So What Can We Do?

We can’t stop the progression of AI technology (unless we can hire some Luddites to break the machines like they did the weaving looms back in the day). To be honest, most of us have absolutely no say in the rapid advance of something we find more than little creepy.

But what we writers can do is stay unique. We can write something without the crutch of strict tropes. Build a new world. Tell a tale that is completely new, not one that follows the same outline everyone else is following. Create a cover that stands out, not one that blends in. Be brave enough to make the regular price of your hard work to more than 99c.

And readers, you have a job to do too. Like I said. Seek out the unique. Step out of your book comfort zone. Don’t grab that 99c book with the same old cover, opt instead for perhaps a $3.99 one that looks a little different (if you can afford it, of course. If you can’t, ask your library to carry that book.).

And get to know the human behind the book. Sign up for an author’s newsletter if they have one, follow and interact with them on social media, get to know them (without being a stalker, of course). If they sell books directly to readers, purchase from them.

Because the more you get to know just how much work goes into those non-cookie cutter stories, you will appreciate a human-made book more than ever.

And that understanding, that appreciation, might just keep us writers from going extinct…or at least delay that extinction until I make my first million. HA! That’ll be the day!!

Okay my little humans, go forth and read and write, be different, expect unique, and use your minds!!!

Alright, time to get off my soapbox and share some updates.

As for writing, speaking of covers, I’ve finally honed in on the style of cover I want for my Cassie Black trilogy, I’ve also figured to titles for the three books, and I am pretty darn close to nailing the descriptions. Oh, and my first draft of book three is progressing quite nicely.

And as for the podcast all I have is a reminder that this show is supported by you. I specifically chose not to go with a free podcast service because they insert ads willy nilly. But this show does eat up a fair amount of time and I can’t justify keeping the show going if it doesn’t get a tiny amount of support from my listeners. So, if you’re able, please consider buying one of my books, treating the Book Owl to a cuppa, or simply using my Amazon Affiliate link the next time you’re doing a little shopping. And you’ll find all those ways to support on the book owl podcast dot come slash support.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Authors, Book History, Journalism, podcast

Around the World with Nellie Bly

Hello Book Nerds!

It’s a mash-up episode this time around! After reading 80 Days Around the World, I was reminded of Nellie Bly’s race around the world in 1889.

Who was Nellie Bly? How did she change the writing world for women? And was Jules Verne’s novel nothing more than a product placement ad? Find out in Episode (Lucky Number) 13.

Behind the Scenes

After reading 80 Days Around the World for the first time recently, I had planned on doing a whole episode on the book. But as I was reading it (or listening to it since I got the audiobook from the library), I kept thinking about another book I’d read a few years ago titled Eighty Days. It recounted the true life competition of two women racing around the world as part of a newspaper stunt.

One of those women was Nellie Bly, and I thought it would be perfect to combine an 80 Days Around the World episode with Nellie’s tenacious efforts to make her name in journalism. Stick with me here. This will all come together, I promise. Or at least, I hope.

Enjoy the episode!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen right in your browser, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. And remember, all these listening options are completely free!!

 

Listening links…

Links mentioned in this episode…

*Note: The book link above is an affiliate link. It costs you nothing extra, but I earn a teeny tiny commission on your purchase to help with the costs of running this podcast. Thanks for your support :))

The (Rough) Transcript

(Want photos with your text? With each episode my newsletter subscribers get images plus other bonus features to help them get more out fo the show. Sign up today at https://www.subscribepage.com/bookowlpodcast)

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So it’s episode 13 and this time we’re talking about a pioneering woman named Nellie Bly. If you’ve never heard of her, you’re probably not alone…although I think there’s a movie being made about her exploits. Anyway, she was quite the go getter in the writing world…and around the world. 

But before we start. I screwed up! In Episode 12, while I was rambling on about Agatha Christie, I missed a beat and said something like, “In 1914, World War II broke out.” Yeah, that would be World War I going on in 1914. Oops. And thanks to David Anderson for catching that flub…and teasing me about it. But I’ll let him get away with that because he’s my husband…but the next time he makes a mistake…yeah. I did add the correction to the show notes for that episode. I just hope no historians start trolling me.

Also, thank you to everyone who enjoyed the Agatha Christie episode. Special thanks to LaVelle Stumpf (aka “my mom”) and Tierney of TierneyCreates.com for leaving comments about how much you enjoyed the episode.

Alright, so Nellie Bly. Who is she and what does she have to do with Jules Verne? Well Nellie was a journalist and while she didn’t invent the notion of investigative journalism, she was one of the first ladies who showed women could be just as hard-hitting as male reporters. Now, if you’re scratching you head wondering how this relates to books, we have to take a couple steps back to the publication of Jules Verne’s story 80 Days Around the World.

Now, I had planned on doing a whole episode on 80 Days Around the World because I just read the book for the first time and I loved it. But as I was reading it (or listening to it since I got the audiobook from the library), I kept thinking about another book I’d read a few years ago titled Eighty Days. It recounted the true life competition of two women racing around the world as part of a newspaper stunt.

One of those women was Nellie Bly, and I thought it would be perfect to combine an 80 Days Around the World episode with her tenacious efforts to make her name in journalism. Stick with me here. This will all come together, I promise. Or at least, I hope.

So if you’ve never read it, 80 Days Around the World tells the tale of Phileas Fogg and his servant Passepartout going around the world in under 80 days. They do this to win a £20,000 bet Phileas has made at his club in London, and poor Passepartout is really put through his paces the entire way through the tale. And to me he is the main character of the story, although Phileas Fogg seems to get all the credit.

As many stories were done back then, the book was published in serial form with the first installment coming out on the 2nd of October 1872 and people watched the pair journey through the Suez Canal, across India (where they stop to rescue a princess), on to Singapore, San Francisco, New York, Ireland, then back to London. The final installment came out on the 21st of December…the same day as the fictional Phileas’s is set to return to London.

And you might know Jules Verne for his science-based stories like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and science and technology does play a key part in the novel because he makes use of recent developments such as the Transcontinental Railroad in the US, the linking of the Indian railways, and the opening of the Suez Canal. 

People were hooked on this story. So much so that they thought it might be real. They even placed bets on whether or not Phileas would make it in time. No word on how many won or lost those bets. And in sort of a modern twist, there is speculation that the book is basically a huge product placement ad because Verne gets very specific in naming certain trains and ships and their amenities. Hey, whatever you can do to make a buck, right.

So now let’s get back to Nellie Bly. She was born in Pittsburgh in 1864, as Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She started in on her higher education, but had to drop out after only one term because he didn’t have enough money for tuition. 

And you kind of have to admire how Elizabeth gets her first writing gig. Basically she gets angry and sends off a letter…that’s what people did back in the day before there were Twitter rants. See in 1880, she had come across an article titled “What Are Girls Good For?” which pretty much came straight out and said girls were good for nothing but keeping house and making babies.

I know, right?

So Elizabeth zips off her letter to the jerk face newspaper under the name Nellie Bly, the pseudonym she would end up writing under for the rest of her career. The editor of the newspaper ends up being so impressed with this Nellie’s eloquence and reasoning, he puts out an ad asking her to reveal herself. Eventually, she did and took a commission from him to write an article which ended up being about how divorce laws were set up to ruin a woman’s life. Mr. Editor is once again impressed and takes her on as a full time writer.

And Nellie jumps in with both feet investigating the harsh lives of factory girls. Trouble was the owners of those factories didn’t like their poor and downright dangerous working conditions exposed. They complained to the newspaper, and Nellie ended up being demoted to writing articles on fashion and gardening.

Big surprise. She didn’t like this work. 

So at this point she decides to take matters into her own hands and declares she’s going to write something no one has ever seen before. Now, keep in mind, she’s only 21 at this point, but she’s decided she’s going to be a real journalist, and sets out on the road to be a foreign correspondent reporting from Mexico. 

She gets to know the Mexican people, and ends up writing a fairly well received book about their lives. And she also joins in on a few protests against the Mexican government. This doesn’t go over well, because dictators don’t like protestors. She gets threatened with arrest, she hightails, it and when she gets back to Pittsburgh, she writes some pretty damning reports about the tyrannical Mexican government.

And despite all this, when she returns, the newspaper puts her back on the fashion and gardening articles.

Sheesh, what’s a girl got to do?

Move to New York, that’s what. In 1887, she leaves Pittsburgh, she’s completely broke, and she ends up talking her way into a job with the paper New York World. And it’s here she really gets committed to her work. Literally. 

Because it’s with the aim of revealing the horrible conditions within mental asylums she purposely gets herself committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum.

In the asylum, as expected, she discovers the utter brutality, cruelty, neglect, and just nasty living conditions. And she makes it through ten days before the New York World gets her released. She ends up writing not just an article exposing the horrors, but an entire book which stirred up such a sensation it ended up bringing reform to the asylum system.

All of which means, Nellie had just proved for the first time what girls were good for and that women were skilled enough to be true reporters, not just writers of fluff pieces or baby makers.

Now don’t worry, I haven’t gone fully off track because we’re now up to 1888 when Nellie’s reporting career meets up with 80 Days Around the World? 

So, in 1888, Nellie’s looking for an idea and suggests testing out whether Verne’s tale can actually be done. The editor sits on the idea, then in November 1889, he decides, “Yeah, that’s a a great idea.” So, with two days notice, she’s told to get packed and get her butt around the world in 80 days or less.

So, Nellie grabs nothing more than a small satchel, picture something like an old timey doctor’s bag, to hold a few toiletries and her underwear. She brings nothing to wear other than the dress she had on and her coat, and the only other item she brings is a couple hundred dollars that she’s tucked into a punch she wears around her neck. I mean, talk about traveling light!

Meanwhile over at Cosmo, yes, THE Cosmo, they’ve gotten wind of this scheme and send Elizabeth Bisland off on the same day, but in the opposite direction as Nellie (Nellie goes east as Phileas Fogg and Passepartout did in the story). 

And Bisland — and believe me, she’s fooling no one — tells everyone she’s just doing it for a personal adventure, and she’s not in any way competing with Nellie. I picture this statement being delivered with plenty of knowing eye winks. 

Nellie does follow Verne’s route as closely as possible and she even meets June Verne on the way. Although unlike Phileas and Passepartout, she does not rescue an Indian princess…such an underachiever, right? 

Anyway, while Nellie’s away, just like people did with 80 Days Around the World, the New York World organizes a betting scheme. Whoever guesses the exact minute Nellie will arrive will win a free trip to Europe. 

As she’s traveling, people are able to keep up with adventures and progress, because she’s sending cables and telegraphs at each stop to report her progress, as well as longer dispatches that are by sent mail which end up taking weeks to get to the paper. 

And she’s making really good time until she hits bad weather making the crossing to San Francisco. This puts her two days behind and risks Bisland catching up. Well Pulitzer, who I haven’t mentioned yet, but he owns the New York World is not about to risk losing this race, and so he hires a private train to whisk Nelli from the West Coast to New York where she arrives at 3:51 pm on the 25 of January 1890…72 days after taking off. At the time, that was a world record for going around the world.

No word on if anyone won that free trip to Europe, but Bisland wouldn’t arrive back to New York for four more days. 

And this newspaper stunt wasn’t the only time people have taken Verne’s book as some sort of challenge. Plenty of people have done the whirlwind tour and continue to do it today. 

For example, in 1903, James Willis Sayre of Seattle made an around the world trip in only 54 days using nothing but public transportation. In 1928, which would have been Verne’s 100th birthday, a Dutch newspaper sponsored 15-year-old Palle Huld to go around the world by train and ship. He made it in 44 days, but again, did not rescue an Indian princess. Lame. And in 1988, Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, did the an around the world journey for a television program using only ground and sea transport, no airplanes, which I’m sure Greta Thunberg would love. And he made the trip in 79 days and 7 hours, which just strikes me as being a bit theatrical.

Anyway, back to Nellie. She continues to write until, at 31, she marries the 73-year-old Robert Seaman. He owns an ironworks company that makes steel bottles for milk and for boilers and Nellie helps him run the company. But nine years after they marry he dies and Nellie fully takes over operations. 

Nellie after all her investigations into working peoples’ lives, runs the company under the idea that workers should be treated well, including being provided health benefits and safe working conditions. Revolutionary! She also, for what it’s worth, invented a new type of milk can and a stackable type of garbage can.

So, it seems like Nellie is a wonder woman. She can do anything. Well, maybe not. She ends being crap at financial matters and ends up losing the entire company. Oops.

But luckily there’s a war on…and yes, that would be World War I. I am not getting that wrong this time! She ends up reporting on the Eastern Front of Europe and becomes one of the very first journalists, and certainly the first woman, to report from there. When she returned home, Nellie reported on Woman’s suffrage and other social issues. Unfortunately, in 1922, Nellie contracts pneumonia and doesn’t survive, but her story does live on and her work did pave the way for other female journalists.

So that is your two for one episode. Nellie Bly and 80 Days Around the World. If this has you curious about Nellie’s journey, get your hands on a copy of Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman. It’s a great read and really delves into an amazing adventure story, and a pretty incredible lady.

Writing Update – I’ve just finished the second book of my Cassie Black trilogy. Again. I know, I know, I said this was done a few weeks ago, but that draft was mainly filling in some giant plot holes and basically rewriting a huge chunk of the book. This draft was to see how those new additions fit into the scheme of things and of course some of them didn’t, so I had to rearrange a few events, trickle in a few more hints and teasers to set things up for the grand finale, and to hone some of the overall language and settings. But, I think this one is really close to done and I’ve sent it off to my eagle-eyed beta readers to see what they think.

As for the podcast, there’s not much other than if you’re on my newsletter you should have gotten your Book Owl Coloring Pages in the email for Episode 12. And any new sign ups will automatically get those coloring pages, because I’m sure we could all use a way to take our minds off things lately.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com

 

Authors, podcast

Happy (Belated) Birthday to Agatha Christie

Hello Book Nerds!

Agatha Christie: Mistress of Mystery, Duchess of Death, Queen of….Surfing? That’s right. Discover the events that turned Christie not only into one of the world’s most popular mystery writers, but also one who knew how to hang ten on the waves of Hawaii.

Behind the Scenes

Soon after I started the podcast, I looked over a calendar full of author birthdays and I just knew I had to do an episode for Agatha Christie. She’s not my favorite author, but I do know if I need to grab something for a quick and fun escape, her books will never fail.

New Mailing Surprise!

Just one more quick thing before I unleash you on the podcast…I’ve added a little gift if you sign up for The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter. So, if you want to get more out of each episode AND get your hands on your very own Book Owl Coloring Pages, be sure to sign up today.

Okay, enjoy the episode!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen right in your browser, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. And remember, all these listening options are completely free!!

 

Listening links…

Links mentioned in this episode…

The (Rough) Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So this episode is set to come out on the 17th of September, which oddly enough is National Cheeseburger Day. And that has nothing to do with books, so let’s go back a couple days to the 15th of September, which does have to do with books because it was the 130th birthday of Agatha Christie.

Even if you don’t read mysteries, you’ve probably heard of Agatha Christie. She wrote 66 full length detective novels, plus enough short stories to fill 14 collections. She’s known as the Duchess of Death, the Mistress of Mystery, and the Queen of Crime, but as you’ll soon find out, she maybe should have been given the title Queen of Hanging Ten.

But before we start, I’m just going to put in a quick request for you to either leave a review for the Book Owl Podcast on whatever app you’re listening in right now, or to head to Podchaser and leave a review, or to just share the show with a fellow book nerd. Any little bit can really make a difference. After all, if The Book Owl doesn’t get enough attention she starts plucking out her feathers. And no one wants a bald Book Owl, do they?

Also, as I’m recording this we’ve got wildfires raging not far from my home and the air is super smoky. So smoky the air quality has been listed as off the charts hazardous, so if my voice sounds a bit dry or cracky, that’s why.

Alright, onto Agatha. She was born to a fairly wealthy family in the English countryside in 1890. And while it sounds like she had a mostly happy childhood, ti was also a strange one. Her mom didn’t think Agatha should be allowed to read until she was at least eight years old. Agatha also two siblings who were about a decade older than her, but they’d been sent off to boarding school. And with her siblings away, plus being so much older than her, she was left home alone with only her parents and pets for company.

Like any lonely kid, Agatha spent the time making up imaginary friends and the precocious little Aggie thwarted her mom and taught herself to read by the time she was five. When Agatha was 11 her dad died after a bunch of financial setbacks basically did his health in. Agatha’s mom took the death hard and really clung to her youngest daughter and the two formed a really strong bond that would come to throw Agatha for a loop later in her life.

When she’s 12, Agatha finally gets to go to school. But after the freedom of her homeschooling, she finds the classroom structure too rigid and doesn’t do well. During this time she’s been making a few friends and they’ve been creating and performing little plays, so it’s thought maybe Agatha would do well in the theater. So despite the growing money worries, she’s sent to Paris at age 15 to train in voice work and piano. Well, turns out, no surprise since she’s grown up mostly alone, Agatha does not do well performing in front of people she doesn’t know and it’s not long before she abandons a career in the theater and heads back to England.

So Agatha is 18 when she writes her first short story. And it really sounds like an odd story full of the spiritualism which was popular at the time and dream sequences and explorations of madness. She also writes several other stories and sends them off for publication. They were all rejected. Don’t worry, Aggie, we’ve all been there.

During this time Agatha’s mom doesn’t have the strongest constitution and it’s advised she spend a winter in a dry climate. She and Agatha head off to Egypt, and its this trip that inspires her first novel which she titles Snow Upon the Desert. 

Yeah, like the short stories, the novel one was also rejected. She tried and tried, and even enlisted a family friend who was also a writer and who introduced her to his agent…who also rejected the novel. But he saw some potential and advised Agatha to write another book and see how it went.

Okay, meanwhile, Agatha is starting to break out of her shell a bit. She’s going to parties, she’s going dancing, she’s roller skating, and she’s meeting boys…many of whom propose marriage. But it’s Archibald Christie, who she meets at a dance near her home in 1912, who sweeps her off her feet. They’re engaged within three months but neither has the money to marry and set up a household so the engagement just kind of fixes for a while.

Then World War I breaks out. Archie’s an aviator with the Royal Flying Corps and he gets called up in August 1914. On his leave in December, the two decide there’s no time like the present and get married. And Agatha really doesn’t see much of her husband for the duration of the war. She instead spends her time volunteering at the Red Cross. It’s also during this period that  we start building on what will truly being influencing Agatha’s future writing. Because while at the Red Cross Agatha earns a qualification as an apothecary’s assistant and begins working in the dispensary…and learning about poisons.

It was during this time while Archie was away, that Agatha wrote her first novel featuring Hercule Poirot. And the persnickety little Belgian was inspired both by the Belgian refugees near where she was living, but also by the Belgians she treated at the Red Cross. And I kind fo wonder what those Belgians thought of the character if they ended up reading the book.

So it’s been quite a few years since Agatha had written anything. What stirred up the writing bug again? Part of it had to do with her love of detective stories by Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle, but it mainly had to do with her sister betting her that she couldn’t write a convincing detective story.

Agatha won the bet. The Mysterious Affair at Styles not only got published, but was even lauded by the Pharmaceutical Journal for her accuracy with the poisons used in the book. And her pharmacy training really does pay off because over half of Agatha’s novels use poison as the murder weapon.

So Archie returns in 1918 and married life finally begins. They have their only child, Rosalind, in 1919, and Archie’s working in a low-paying financial job, while Agatha is writing. She published her first Tommy & Tuppence novel, then followed that up with another Hercule Poirot book. All within a couple years. The woman was on a roll!

Which meant it was time for her to go on tour. It wasn’t really a book tour, but more of a Look How Amazing The British Are Tour around the world. This was in 1922 and included stops all across the globe, including South Africa where she tried her hand at surfing. By the time she got to Hawaii, Agatha was able to pop up on hear board and, this really is the fun fact of the episode, she became the first British woman to do stand-up surfing. Go Aggie!

But all doesn’t stay so stellar for Agatha. In 1926, she gets two serious setbacks. First her mom dies, and this sends Agatha into a deep depression. Then she learns Archie has fallen in love with another woman. She files for divorce and one night she and Archie get in a big fight. Agatha takes off and just disappears. The next day her car is found near a quarry with her license and her clothes inside, but no Agatha.

By now Agatha Christie is a very big deal, the disappearance makes front page news on the New York Times, and something like 1000 police, 15000 volunteers, and even airplanes sent out to search for her. Even Arthur Conan Doyle got in on the act and took one of her gloves to a psychic to try to get some answers.

Well, ten days later a spa hotel employee recognizes Agatha who’s been staying there the whole time. She’s checked in under the name Teressa Neele. And Neele happened to be the last name of her husband’s mistress. Once discovered, she left and went to hide out at her sister’s and refused to talk about the situation to anyone, so no one to this day really knows why she did this.

People were fuming. They saw Agatha’s meltdown as a publicity stunt or as a way to frame her husband for murder. Agatha even tried to claim she had amnesia, but I think the use of the mistress’s name doesn’t really fit with that excuse. 

Well, finally almost 2 years later, the divorce goes through. Archie did not waste any time and married Ms. Neele a week later.

Understandably, Agatha gets frustrated with her life in the UK, so she takes the Orient Express to the Middle East. And what a fortuitous trip. She not only gets the inspiration for a certain book, but she also meets a couple of archaeologists who invite her to come back and dig with them. I guess that happened back then. So she goes back in 1930 and its on this return trip she meets Max Mallowan…an archaeologist 13 years younger than her. 

This was exactly what Agatha needed. She went with Max on digs and they traveled a lot, and this inspired more novels, many of which were set in the Middle East where Max was working. 

So just to wrap up Agatha’s story, during World War II she went to work in the pharmacy at University College London and it was here that one of the pharmacists suggested using thallium as a poison. In a book, not in real life…I hope. Anyway, this idea became a book called The Pale Horse and as a little twist, in 1977, a doctor who had read the book helped solve a murder by because he recognized the symptoms of thallium poisoning from the story.

Agatha died in 1976 of natural causes. In 1977, Hercule Poirot was the first fictional character to have his obituary in the paper…the New York Times.

Phew, that was a quite an episode. Of course there’s more to Agatha’s life and if you want to get a more in depth look into Agatha Christie’s world and her works, you can go to Agatha Christie dot com where you will find all kinds of goodies.

Okay, that’s it for Agatha.. Time for some writing news…

My historical fantasy novel Domna has been relaunched with a new cover. Of course this update doesn’t work very well for an audio bit of news, but the new cover is really eye-catching. Of course, I’ve got the link in the show notes if you’d like to take a look, and to celebrate the new look, I’ve got a 50% off sale going on the Complete Series – that’s all 6 books, plus some exclusive bonus stuff –  through the rest of the month…and that month is September 2020, in case anyone’s listening to this in the future.

As for podcast news, I don’t really have any other than I’ve got a couple of great episodes planned for October, so fun times ahead!

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The book owl podcast is a production fo daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com