Insight into the Writing with Tara Lynn Masih

In the past when I organized book blog tours, one of my favorite posts was to have an author choose a small excerpt of his/her forthcoming book and give us some insight. What were they thinking when they wrote a title, a moment, a character. Oftentimes, the footnotes revealed something personal, something from the author’s past that just really stuck! Since writers have amazing brains and I’m happy to visit them, I bring to you today Tara Lynn Masih, who has a forthcoming novella and stories titled How We Disappear. Below is a small excerpt with footnotes including what Masih was thinking as she wrote.

Agatha: A Life in Unauthorized Fragments [1]

Pyrenees, Southern France

It wasn’t the hard, dangerous edge of cliff that her mule traversed. For that was excitement. It was the butterfly that the guide pinned to her felt hat, still live. Fluttering in agony. She could feel its pain, hear its silent scream. [2] But she did not want to hurt the nice guide, so she kept it all in till it came out in floods of tears. She did not yet know how to express herself anyway, so with relief, it was her mother who knew what was wrong and finally unpinned the now dead Purple Emperor. Her mother, Clara, the only one who knew how to release her from the “long bondage of silence.”

Author Insight [1]: I wanted to use the word “unauthorized,” which is often used in biographies that have not been approved by the subject or the subject’s estate. This is fiction, after all, but I did base it heavily on reported facts and Agatha Christie’s autobiography. Growing up, I read any Christie mystery I could get my hands on. I even wrote a paper in high school about Christie’s disappearance in the 1980’s, I was so obsessed with her. This short story was written before the two recent Christie novels appeared. I have not read them. This story presents my own opinion of what happened before, during, and after her missing days in brief micro bursts.

Author Insight [2]: I chose to open with this powerful story of Christie as it sets the stage for both her intense sensitivity and her great attachment to her mother. All of that is important to understanding her later breakdown.

Pau, Southern France

This time it was not a cliff, but the narrow hotel window ledge that drew her. Out the small window and on to the hard manmade parapet to escape a locked closet, a maid’s punishment. She knew the guests would admire her courage and that the two girls she was playing with would like her even more. Four stories down below, a woman screamed and pointed at her. Agatha still said nothing. She was learning her own power. [3]

Author Insight [3]: I think all coming-of-age stories include a moment where your character is both molded and distilled. For me, this dare that Christie acted on was one such moment. It showed her ongoing need to be accepted, and her willingness to literally go out on a ledge with little to no fear.

Madge’s Tree, Torquay, England

Agatha took over her older sister’s tree. Branches drooping and encircling, dripping with lore and myth. Deep within, a thick branch bench that held the dreaming, otherworldly young girl whose imagination stretched way beyond the confines of the estate. Tales of good versus evil, continuing the fairy tales [4] her mother made up at a moment’s notice. And her own friends: The Kittens (she was one herself) and Mrs. Green (who had a hundred doglike children). And it was here that the future writer taught herself to read at the age of five, interpreting the black words on the white page as any archaeologist would study ancient hieroglyphs. Slowly, the key was turned in the lock.

Author Insight [4]: I can relate to Agatha’s love of fairy tales and make believe. I devoured fairy tales when I was young and had my own secret garden in a corner of our back yard, in between and around two large trees. It was my magical space, a place I could escape to and design myself with my mother’s help. A bench, a mermaid statue, mossy fairy gardens, daffodils, crocuses are what I remember most. Imagination needs space and silence to evolve in.

The Gun Man

Eyes the color of cornflowers. This soldier haunted her. [5] Musket at the ready, tri-cornered hat. He was not there to kill or hurt her. But he melted into people she knew, and his blue eyes looked out from their familiar faces, masking him from the world. But she could see him. She knew he was there and it was his warning that she could not trust anyone fully, that everyone she loved was a stranger. So she kept quiet.

Author Insight [5]: This “man” haunted Christie for most of her life. I do not know what psychologists would say this was a sign of, if she had any kind of mental disorder or if her intense sensitivity caused her to see this vision that was a warning of things to come. But it’s a frightening image and it must have had a huge impact on Agatha and her ability to trust.


In music, Agatha spoke. She ran her hands over the ivory with skill and love, for she was speaking through the keys and the scores. At fifteen, everything she wanted to tell the world, she told through musical notes that someone else — Tchaikovsky, Chopin — had written for her. But she could only speak in small spaces and to few people. [6] She got lost in a vast echoing theater. She could not speak to the number of people needed to fill that arena. Or so she was told. She learned in Paris how to abandon what she loved. [7]

Author Insight [6]: Again, I can relate to Agatha’s introversion. Most creative people are not up to being the focus of an audience. But what I think is important here and what I wanted to show was that her stage fright was so intense she had to give up something she was passionate about. Most of us bumble along to get what we need and want, even if we don’t enjoy the publicity. She was incapable of doing it through her music. 

Author Insight [7]: This fragment to me holds so much meaning and forecasts her disappearance. Kind of a practice run, if you will. Most people who disappear take trial runs. Agatha taught herself how to leave behind something she loved and move on. She was quite a woman, and writing this story was one of the most enjoyable, creative experiences of my writing career. I hope I did her justice in minimal space.

I hope you enjoyed getting into Masih’s headspace. I know many of you are Christie fans, so be sure to check out this forthcoming work from Press 53. See information below:


  1. I am not a Christie fan, have never read any of her books, but I know a bit about her having seen films and TV about her and of course films and TV series based on her books. I love the sound of these stories, and love how you did your blog tour. The author’s commentary is fascinating.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What an excellent way to see into the writing, Melanie. And thank you Tara Lynn Masih for spelling out your thought processes in this way. On insight [5] I wonder if Christie was shocked by seeing a gun in public. It is not something we ‘British’ (I’m Australian) were used to. I’m still not happy that police are routinely armed, and would be very unhappy if they started carrying rifles (and automatic weapons) in the street.

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    • I think gun ownership was more common in Britain directly after WWI as some soldiers had kept their service weapons. I do wonder if it had its roots in WWI though – Christie worked as a nurse and would have seen some very difficult things.

      (And I agree about armed police! Police are rarely armed outside of London and maybe Glasgow here – it’s something that always shocks me and makes me feel less safe when I see it while travelling).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Really enjoyed reading this excerpt and insight into the writing process! I’m curious – did any of the Mary Westmacott novels feed into the writing? They are supposed to be much more autobiographical than her detective novels (though I’ve only read one or two so far).

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