publishing, stories, writing

Castles in the Air

Last year–almost exactly a year to this day, in fact–I was in Bavaria, visiting Neuschwanstein Castle for the first time. That trip–planned mainly because I wanted to visit the München Christkindlmarkt–came so close to not happening: both Carl and Grace were recovering from the flu; Carl had just gotten back to Cambridge from flying to Texas to see his aunt in the hospital and say goodbye to her (she died of pancreatic cancer the day we returned from Germany to England); we had just made the incredibly difficult decision to cut our time in England short and return to the US after Christmas; life was more than a little overwhelming.

And yet. We knew we’d never have a better chance to do this. For some reason, it was incredibly important to me to see Munich. We decided the fresh Alpine air would do Carl and Grace good, and we also decided that if we needed to spend the entire trip resting in our AirBnB we would. So we went.

The first time I saw the Alps out the window of our rented car, I burst into tears. (Yes, I was obviously emotional from all the other situations. All the same, crying over mountains is not a usual emotional response for me.) The landscape, the scenery as we drove to Neuschwanstein … it was magical. I suddenly understood why the Germans are so steeped in fairy tales and folklore. I could believe in gnomes, dwarves, dragons, and talking beasts here.

After all that, the castle itself was a minor letdown. Fancy … but not real. We were glad to have toured it, and Joy especially was thrilled to see “the” original fairy tale castle, but a castle meant to imitate fairy tales was just that: an imitation. The real magic was outside.

The rest of our trip was incredible–we visited Oberammergau, in large part because of my love for the Betsy-Tacy books, and bought ornaments, gifts for family, and our very own Christmas pyramid there. We did make it into Munich–or München–and met up with an old friend, who took us to lunch at the Hofbräuhaus and showed us some of her favorite Christmas markets, and we watched the Rathaus-Glockenspiel strike noon, and drank mulled wine (Carl), hot chocolate (the kids) and hot gin toddy (me), and brought home the mugs, and bought yet more ornaments, and made incredible, incredible memories.

But perhaps the best of all was the magic of driving around the Alps.

So, when we had returned to Cambridge and I was writing the monthly flash fiction for my Patreon supporters, there was only one story I could tell: that of someone looking for inspiration at a fairy tale castle, and finding it … well, I won’t tell you where. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

Today, that story has been published in New Myths, and I’m so happy to be able to share it with the world. Go ahead and give it a read–hopefully it will make you fall in love with Bavaria just as I did.

Castles in the Air, available now at New Myths

Books, publishing, reading list

Reviews: What’s the big deal?

Around this time of year, you will often see posts on social media saying something like, “give an author the best gift imaginable: leave a review for their book!” As an author, I agree whole-heartedly with such posts. I got to thinking the other day, though: if I weren’t an author myself, would I understand just why reviews are so important? And I realized, probably not.

So I thought I might take some time to explain why authors will often sound almost desperate in our pleas for reviews for our books.

The first reason has to do with algorithms. Ugh, I know. In the world of bookselling as it exists today, algorithms are what determines how easy it is for potential readers to find your books. On, say, Amazon, if you type “magic most deadly” into the search bar–well, I scrolled through fifteen pages before I gave up on finding my book actually titled Magic Most Deadly.

Sorry, Maia and Len–according to Amazon, you don’t exist

As for From the Shadows, well, that one remains firmly in the shadows so far as bookselling websites are concerned.

Back into the shadows with you, Riss! No joy for you!

So, why is it that my books don’t show up in searches? Because they don’t have enough reviews. The general rule of thumb is that it takes about 50 reviews for the computer programming that runs Amazon’s search pages to decide your book deserves to appear sooner and more frequently in searches.

So then, the #1 reason authors beg for reviews is simple: more reviews = more visibility, more visibility = more chances for people to buy our books.

The #2 reason is also pretty simple. The vast majority of buyers online are always going to check the reviews before they purchase. This goes for anything, not just books. I do the same! I want to make sure I’m not buying a dud. And when it comes to stories–especially self-published books, which, unfairly or not, have a reputation of being of lesser quality than traditionally published books–readers want to know if this is going to be worth their time or not.

(This is one way in which a detailed negative review can also be helpful, by the way. If I, a potential reader, find a 1-star review that says “This book is awful! The characters just talked to each other and nothing ever happened. It was well written but so boring, and there wasn’t even any romance,” I am suddenly much more interested in that book, because that sort of story is exactly to my taste.)

Visibility and buyer confidence. That’s what our need for reviews really boils down to.

But Louise! I hear you say. Reviews are a pain to write! I never know what to say.

Never fear, I am here with a very simple template you can follow for almost any type of review. Think of this as Mad Libs for reviewing. Ready?

Glowing review: “This is a [positive adjective] book! I especially liked [character or event]. If you enjoy stories with [descriptive noun], you will enjoy this book.”

For example, and I’m going to use Magic Most Deadly here because why not: “This is a wonderful book! I especially like the friendship that developed between Maia and Len. If you enjoy stories with well-developed characters, you will enjoy this book.”

Temperate review: “This is a [mildly positive adjective] book. [character or event or stylistic choice] was particularly well done. I thought that [character or event or stylistic choice] was [negative adjective], but overall, a good read. If you like [descriptive noun], you will enjoy this book.”

And the example, still using Magic Most Deadly: “This is a pretty good book. The relationship between the main characters was particularly well done. I thought that the pacing was slow, but overall, a good read. If you like stories that are more about the characters than the plot, you will enjoy this book.”

Negative reviews are a little trickier, but you can use a basic template for them as well: “I did not enjoy this book at all. It was [blank] and [blank], and it did not work for me. I am sure there is an audience for this book, but I am not it.”

And here we go fitting that to MMD: “I did not enjoy this book at all. It was slow and the writing style felt pretentious, and it did not work for me at all. I am sure there is an audience for this book, but I am not it.”

And there you have it! Obviously you will want to fiddle with it a bit to make it your own, but generally speaking, opinion of the book + one or two reasons for that opinion + why people might or might not like the book = amazing reviews.

Now you know why authors plead so much for reviews, and you have an easy template for writing those reviews, so hey: go make an author’s holiday extra bright by leaving them a review on Amazon or wherever you bought their book!

Books, writing

Signed Bookplates

Looking for a unique Christmas gift for a friend, a family member, or yourself? Love the idea of giving a signed book to someone, but mourning the lack of author signings?

Enter the signed bookplate. I am offering to send an autographed bookplate for FREE to anyone who asks for the entire month of December. Comment if you are interested, and I will get in touch with you to find out the address and which name you want–E.L. Bates or Louise Bates. I am also happy to add a personal note if you would like! I’m not very good at thinking up catchy comments to go with an autograph, but I think I can manage a “Merry Christmas” or “to So-and-So.”

This holiday season is going to look different from what we are used to and what we would like, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be merry and bright.

Much love to you all!

1920s, Books, fantasy, mystery, publishing, Sci-fi

All Books, All Retailers

The switchover is complete, and just in time for the holiday season to begin! You can visit each book’s page to click on the new link, but for your ease, I’ll also include them all in this post.

Magic Most Deadly

For Maia Whitney, life after the Great War is dull, monotonous, and drab. Nursing soldiers in the bloody fields of France hadn’t been easy, but it was better than life at home, standing in her sisters’ shadows. There seems no chance for a change until the night she witnesses a murder in the woods.

The last thing Magic Intelligence Agent Lennox Davies needs is this outspoken, independent lady crashing his investigation. Bad enough that a murder happened on his watch; much less that she had to see it happen. He works alone, and he does not have time for Miss Maia Whitney’s interference.

But as Maia’s own magical talent blossoms and danger thickens around the two with every step they take, before long Len and Maia must rely on each other in a fashion neither has ever done before. If they can’t learn to work together, England itself might topple. Even worse, if Maia doesn’t learn to control her magic soon, she might do more to destroy them even than their shadowy enemy.

Can they set aside their stubbornness and self-reliance in time to save themselves—and all England?

Glamours and Gunshots

Maia Whitney has held men as they died before, but never in peacetime, and never in her aunt’s front hall. And this unexpected death is only the beginning. Someone is stealing magic and life from England’s magicians and using them for his or her own gain. No one is safe, not even Magical Intelligence Agent Lennox Davies, whose targeting by the parasite brings him his own set of challenges to work through. Though she is only an apprentice, Maia will not sit back and wait for others to bring about justice, and teams up with Len as she did once before. Using a blend of magical skills and detective work, together Maia and Len dig deep into a case that has its roots buried in the shadows of the past … and could leave one of them magic-less forever.

Magic and Mayhem

Four exciting short stories set in the magical England of the Whitney & Davies series!

The Third Thief: Maia Whitney has returned home for her sister’s wedding determined to stay aloof from family dramas. Alas, the disappearance of a valuable and possibly cursed bracelet alters her plans. Can this magician’s apprentice solve the crime and save her sister’s wedding from doom and disaster?

Many Magical Returns: On Susannah’s seventeenth birthday, she learns why her mother has always insisted she never use magic in front of Uncle Ernie. Escaping her uncle’s greed and learning magic on the run are tall orders, but one thing is certain: this is a birthday Susannah will never forget.

Passion & Practicality: Steady, sensible Evelyn has always looked after and protected her flighty, feather-brained older sister Violet. So when Violet accidentally kills a man, of course Evelyn is going to take the blame. But her former fiancé Henry, now working for the magicians’ Domestic Protection Agency, has other plans.

Masks & the Magician: Who is the mysterious woman? Is she the Grand Duchess Anastasia, as she claims, or a fraud? The English magician calling himself Merlin has his own ideas, but untangling truth from lie is a difficult task in this mission. When everyone wears a mask, who can be trusted?

From the Shadows

Whisked from her troubled, solitary life to a spaceship centuries in the future, widowed folk musician Riss Waldon must first figure out how she got there, and then if it’s possible to get home. Before long, she is visiting strange and deadly planets and meeting new alien races, and forming friendships with the crew. Even as they strive to discover a way for her to return, she wonders if it possible to step out of the shadows of her past life and stay here. But when the well-being of the entire crew rests on her shoulders, she isn’t sure she’s up to the task. What if she fails them? All she can do is try …

Candles in the Dark

Pauline Gray, journalist by day and novelist by night, discovers anonymous letters are being sent to a young widow, insinuating that her husband did not die by accident. Pauline’s compassion and journalistic instincts combine to help her to seek an answer to who is sending these letters, and why. Was Bob Ferris really murdered, and if so, by whom? Before long, Pauline is uncovering evidence of a local smuggling ring and stirring up secrets some people would rather remain buried along with the dead. Despite the danger, Pauline won’t stop until she has shone a light into the hidden places of the past and seen justice done for the grieving widow and her son. No matter what the cost …

Diamonds to Dust

What starts as an intriguing puzzle soon takes a more sinister turn when a dead body shows up. When all of the clues only make matters more murky, how can Pauline Gray make sense of it all? This case will take all her wits and investigative ability to solve … but the body count is growing …

Horace Van Camp, of Clayton, NY, is dead, and his wealth has been divided among strangers. Arabella Warren cannot understand why she should have inherited a diamond necklace from a man she never met, and she asks Pauline Gray to look into the matter. Eager for a new challenge, Pauline takes the case. The deeper she explores, the more complicated matters become. Why was Van Camp’s great-nephew disinherited? Did the pompous lawyer have anything to do with it? How were the twelve beneficiaries chosen, and why?

When a dead body turns up on the Van Camp estate, the puzzle takes on a more sinister aspect. With the police dismissing it all as a series of coincidences and accidents, it is up to Pauline to set things right in the face of the greed, deception, and fear that lie at the heart of this disquieting case. It will take all of Pauline’s ingenuity to solve this case, but she is once again determined to see justice done for those who cannot seek it for themselves.

Whew! Long post, but there you have it. All my books, one post, each with one simple link to get you to all the stores where they are sold. If you are looking for something to read over Thanksgiving (or over the weekend, for non-Americans), now’s your chance!

publishing

Changes Coming

A quick post today to let you know that I am in the process of switching ebook distributors from Smashwords to Draft2Digital, which means that Amazon will be the only place to purchase a copy of my books until the changeover is complete. It shouldn’t take more than a week, and I will update here when the new links go live. It’s a bit of work, but I think it will be worth it in the end!

These changes will not affect the print edition in the slightest, so if you are wanting to purchase hard copies as Christmas gifts for anyone, have at it.

influences, Life Talk, stories, writing

Community

In my most recent blog post, I spoke about the defaults I revert to when writing characters. Today I’ve been thinking about one of my other storytelling defaults, which is the importance of community.

Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire. The monks who built this place knew more than a little about the importance of community.

I was going to say that this theme shows itself most strongly in From the Shadows, but then I thought, No, actually it comes out most strongly in the Pauline Gray series, and then I dithered about it for a while before realizing hey, it doesn’t have to be a competition. So let’s simply look at the three different worlds I’ve built and see the way community plays out in each, without holding one against another, shall we?

First up, From the Shadows. On the surface, it looks like the main problem of the book for our protagonist, Riss, is that she’s stuck on a spaceship in the future with no way to get home. But actually, as the story develops, we see–and Riss learns along with us–that her real problem is her deep, unsatisfied need to be part of a community where she is valued both for her own self and for her gifts. The community aboard the Caledonia is a close, tight-knit, self-contained group, and Riss’s struggle to figure out if she could belong there is really what makes up the heart of the story.

Then there’s Pauline Gray. The need to find and/or build community doesn’t play as active a role in Pauline’s stories, but the community of a small, rural town in the midst of the Depression is the firm backbone of the series. This is a place where the people look out for each other, and even if they don’t like each other very much, they come together in difficult times to do what needs to be done. That’s why murder is such a shattering thing each time it happens in Pauline’s world–because it tears apart the fabric of the community, and it breaks the unspoken trust that people have in their neighbors. Pauline is less aware than Riss of her need for community, but she feels the tearing of it even if she is not aware that’s what the problem is.

Well, what about Whitney and Davies? I will admit the theme of community isn’t quite so strong in these books as it is in the others I’ve already mentioned–but it is there. In Magic Most Deadly, Maia’s discovery of magic allows her to enter into the community of magicians, and in Glamours & Gunshots she starts to figure out what she wants her role in that community to be. Len, meanwhile, is moving out of the community he’s always been part of and searching for a new one, one where he doesn’t always have to hide who he is and what he does. Together, they are forming their own microcosm of a community and seeking ways to serve the larger community at the same time.

When I was younger, I was pretty oblivious to the human need to exist within a community, but the older I get, the more I value it. I’ve lived in places without any sort of community–was a young mother in some of them, which I 100% do not recommend–lived in others where there ought to have been community and wasn’t, and hardest of all to endure, lived in some places where they was a community and I was on the outside of it. Those experiences have all shaped my own deep desire to be an active and valued member of a community. Not a selfish wish to be part of some hidden “inner circle”–like Mark in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength–that’s when community turns into a clique, and is one of the ugliest things in the world. But a genuine community, where people look out for each other and take care of each other and help each other out when needed, and everyone has something to give and everyone’s lives are woven together.

I don’t talk about politics on this blog, but it isn’t political to say this country is experiencing a deep division right now, a tearing apart of what we value and how we view the world and our place in it. There is a limit on how much each ordinary person can do to change that on a grand scale. But here’s what we can do: we can look out for our neighbors. We can take care of the vulnerable in our towns, villages, and counties. We can cut down that limb from the tree in our yard that is threatening to fall on the next-door neighbor’s house. We can thank our town officials for their hard work during this election season. We can buy a coffee for the guy (6 feet) behind us in line at the local bakery, just because. We can make a meal for the new parents down the street. We can encourage our kids to talk to the outsider at school, the one shy kid who always stands in the corner and can’t seem to believe that anyone would want to be their friend.

Community doesn’t exist simply by a group of people living in close proximity to each other or being part of the same activities. It comes about when people commit to caring for one another, to seeing each other, to not living as though others don’t matter.

That’s a message I keep needing to tell my heart, which is probably why it keeps cropping up in my stories. Maybe you need the encouragement as well? Covid-19 has created a lot of loneliness for a lot of us, and made community something out of reach in many cases. I hear you–moving to a new place in the midst of a pandemic means it’s been awfully hard for our family to do anything toward finding a community. But it’s worth it to keep trying.

And if you can’t find it in real life right now, I hope you can find enough of a community in books to tide you over until you can.

Our seminary family–or part of it, at least. I didn’t think those years were that long ago, but boy do we all look young.
characters, heroines, influences, writing

Defaults

I don’t write fanfiction anymore (no time; too many original projects requiring my writing attention these days–I have FOUR stories in progress right now, three that I’m actively working on and one that’s on hold, and so, so many more just waiting for their turn), but I do still find myself imagining fanfic-type stories just for fun, stories that won’t ever get written down. I was daydreaming this morning about an Emma sequel focusing on Emma’s daughter, and I automatically pegged her as a calm, sensible type, who starts out the story quite content with doing what everyone expects of her, and then her life gets stirred up and turned inside out when romance and excitement come her way without her ever wanting them.

Then I realized, wow, do I have a penchant for writing that sort of character or what? Going through my published books, we have:

Maia Whitney: So practical and sensible I had to rewrite her character several times to keep her from being utterly boring, and is in fact frequently dismissed by her family and even some of her friends as dull.

Pauline Gray: Practical and calm, solves murders because of her strong sense of justice but does not enjoy the excitement of them at all, in fact wishes she could hide away in a library somewhere researching something dull and safe.

Riss Waldon: Falls into a space opera, is immediately determined to enjoy it because what’s the point of an adventure if you spend your whole time panicking and trying to get out of it, continues to act sensibly through the entire thing because she can’t stand irrational behavior.

Going back through my old LMM fanfics, for original characters I have:

Meggie Blythe: starts out as a practical 10yo with a touch of dreaminess, ends as a young wife and mother who is still both practical and dreamy. (I loved Meggie with all my heart, but I can admit that she didn’t really get all that much character growth throughout that series of stories, nor did she have much in the way of flaws.)

Gwen Blake: impulsive and clumsy, but definitely grows throughout her stories into someone more practical and sensible, and always more on the common sense side of personality traits than the dreamy, romantic side. Much more Elinor than Marianne, basically.

Not to mention that the non-OCs I’ve written about are Jane Stuart, Shirley Blythe, and Diana Blythe, all canonically practical and down-to-earth.

Even looking at the short stories I’ve written, they tend heavily toward “ordinary, sensible person gets sucked from a boring, everyday life into adventure and then has to be the only level-headed person when everyone around him/her is mad.”

Which has led me to wonder if I can write a madcap adventurer. But, my creativity rises up in protest, I like sensible people getting dragged against their will into adventure! I don’t want to write about people who want adventure, that’s boring!

Ah well. Maybe someday the pendulum will swing about in the other direction. For now, practical characters it is!