September Brings New Beginnings

We are moved! Still surrounded by boxes in various stages of unpacking, but the kitchen is organized (it will have to be re-organized at some point; Carl put all the tea on a top shelf where I need a step-stool to reach it. That will never do!), the bedrooms are all in good shape, we are eating meals on our dining room table, and we are starting to move onto the best stage of unpacking: putting up the bookcases and replacing our books on them.

The move happened on Saturday. It went remarkably smoothly, thanks to the crew of friends who showed up to help starting at 8:00 in the morning and sticking it out until close to 3:00 that afternoon. A far cry from when we arrived at seminary, when one or two people helped out for an hour or so after we arrived and then we had to do the rest ourselves! We were setting up the kids’ bunkbeds at midnight while they fell asleep curled up on top of their toychests with blankets and pillows. This time, a friend gave us dinner once everything was moved and the apartment cleaned, and then we drove to our new house, put together the kids’ new beds (in their OWN BEDROOMS), put together our bed, and were still able to call it a night by 10:00. Thank you, God, for good friends.

We are still in the fall-into-bed exhausted each night stage, of course. Moving is never easy, regardless of how many friends you have helping. But any exhaustion-induced irritability is easily assuaged when we look around at our kitchen, where an easy meal is, in fact, easy; when the kids can go into their own rooms when they get annoyed at each other; when we have the option of using our second bathroom if the first is occupied; when we can do laundry in our own machine without having to first collect quarters; when we are able to wander around our own yard with tea in hand, discussing improvements we want to make in the gardens; when we think how God gifted us this house beyond our expectations or even hopes. Our seminary years (hashtag: #seminarylife) were wonderful, a time of growth and fruitfulness. But they were also hard, and we have been in survival mode for a long, long time.

Even in the midst of our physical exhaustion from this move, we are more at peace than we’ve been in ages. Carl is at work today; gymnastics and skating lessons and homeschool classes all start this week (I’m teaching American Lit–pray for me!) (and my students); by God’s grace I will be able to start focusing on my writing more this week as well.

Our Year of Rest is off to a good start.

beach_sunset

The clouds roll away and light breaks through

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The Whirlwind

Our apartment is in a state of controlled chaos right now. Boxes everywhere: half filled; filled, taped, and labeled; empty. Piles all over the living room, each one representing something to be given away instead of packed, but no recipient yet. Gaping shelves on the bookcases, where the books have already been packed away (and isn’t THAT a challenge, as every book demands to be read instead of going into a box). Carl’s desk chair, gone, replaced temporarily by a dining room chair. My desk, emptied and waiting for a new home. School shelves, empty while I heroically resist the siren call of buying new supplies until we are in our new place.

I’ve thrown out six trash bags worth of stuff already. I cleaned out my sewing collection, holding onto only one or two unfinished projects. All the fabric and patterns–out the door. Cleaned out the kids’ arts and crafts supplies–no more junky paintbrushes and mostly-empty bottles of paint, no more craft supplies that “we might use, someday, maybe.” Cleaned out the movie collection, finally got rid of all our VHS tapes and many of our DVDs that we never, ever watch anymore.

I have an open box of books in the hallway right outside our apartment door, labeled “Free.” Several books have already been taken from it. Some are duplicates of books I am keeping–old editions of Dorothy Sayers that I’ve replaced with newer editions which will hold up to multiple re-readings, a newer edition of The Elfstones of Shannara which I replaced with the older edition for nostalgia’s sake. Some are books I bought because I wanted to read them and the library system didn’t have them, but I don’t love them enough to keep. Some I enjoyed previously but don’t care for as much now. One or two are books I bought thinking I would like but ended up severely disliking. After a few days I’ll take whatever books are left to the local public library and donate them.

In the midst of all this, I am planning out the American Lit homeschool class I’ll be teaching this year and editing the second Whitney & Davies book. Carl is putting the finishing touches on his thesis in preparation for the defense. He and the kids just got back from a weekend at his mom’s; we’ll be spending a week later this month visiting his family and mine.

Before we know it, September will be here. We’ll be in our new house–a house, it still boggles my mind–we’ll be unpacking and setting things up just as we like them, we’ll be going to Ikea to pick up household items, we’ll be buying schoolbooks and colored pencils and markers and blandly telling the children no, we don’t know where that half-finished craft project you were never going to get back to ended up, must have gotten lost in the move, oh well! Carl’s thesis will be done entirely, glory be. I’ll have started teaching my class. We’ll be feeling our way into a new normal.

We’re in the center of the storm now, but it won’t be forever.

July Fly-By

Well. July has come and gone in a flash–even more so than most summer months. Traveling for eleven days had something to do with it. The breathtaking speed with which out life turned upside down and settled into a new pattern had something else, I am certain.

First: vacation. We managed to pull off our Epic Road Trip without leaving anyone behind at any gas stations, losing any cameras or phones, getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, or being attacked by alligators in Florida. How terribly boring.

In Florida, we did get to see a dolphin and a sea turtle swimming off the end of a pier, a submerged alligator in a state park (I confess, I was FREAKING OUT about alligators before we left, and it took all my courage to even walk through this park. I wasn’t going to be a coward for my kids, though, and I saw the alligator and even kept my breakfast down), pelicans flying and swimming along the water, and palm trees and spanish moss. I am more of a northern mountains girl at heart, but Florida was beautiful and fun and I’m glad to have gone.

After Florida, we visited family in Georgia, friends in Tennessee, the Bilmore Estate in North Carolina, and friends in Pennsylvania before wearily making our way back to Massachusetts, heartily tired of the car and the interstate and restaurant food and ready to sleep for a week.

It was a great time, though. Beyond wonderful to see our friends in Nashville and PA again, and the Biltmore Estate was even lovelier than it had been thirteen years ago when Carl and I went there on our honeymoon. I developed a nasty headache partway through the house–heat and dehydration, I figured out afterward–and was afraid I would spoil the day for all of us, but some rest, water, my straw hat, and pain relievers did the trick and I was able to wander through the gardens and grounds after all. Such a beautiful place.

As for the life-turned-upside-down bit … We had started to come to the conclusion that Cambridge was better off waiting a year even before we left for vacation. A whole host of reasons why, and a real sense that we needed a year of rest in between intense graduate school and intense doctoral work. So we started looking for houses to rent locally, or apartments, or shacks, or anything that would allow us to stay at our church and keep up community relationships we have built over the last four years. Nothing that even remotely close to a possibility was coming up. When we left for vacation, we told ourselves we weren’t going to think about it while we were gone, not even look for anything.

That worked up until one of my friends texted me to ask if we’d found a place yet, which innocuous question ended with us being able to rent her house for the next year. We came home Friday evening and visited the house Saturday morning, and what do you know, we have a place to live next year, and it’s here, not in Cambridge.

And we are really, really good with that. Honestly. With as excited as we’ve been for LIVING IN ENGLAND HURRAH, you’d think there would be at least a few disappointed twinges, but we all just feel relieved and so at peace with this. It’s obviously what we need.

Oh! The other exciting July occurrence is that I finally, finally learned to ride a bicycle. I’m still a little wobbly and pitch off more than I like to admit, but I can ride and each time I go out I get a little stronger and a little smoother. I confess to being grateful I have another year to work at it before I have to ride to get everywhere!

So, my friends, it will be another year before this blog is posting out of England, but the adventures, I am sure, will be no less for being in MA for twelve more months. There’s always magic around the corner, you just have to have the eyes to see it.

Journal as Story

I recently finished a re-read of Andrea K Höst’s Touchstone series (I almost wrote trilogy, but since she’s added two books to the original three I think it’s definitely a series now), and am currently reading Melissa McShane’s “The Summoned Mage,” which is a fantasy written in journal format (I’m about halfway through and enjoying it so far), and both are reminding me of the experience of writing From the Shadows.

I don’t generally write even in first person, so writing FTS was a new experience for me in a lot of ways–first person, journal format, and oh yeah, my first time writing science fiction. It was also the first time I wrote a novella and then stretched it out into a novel (a short novel, but a novel nonetheless).

Journal format is interesting, because it lets you inhabit your main POV character in a way even first person doesn’t. It feels very real, and I know FTS felt far more personal to me when it was finished than Magic Most Deadly or any of my other (non-published) novels. Even though Riss wasn’t me (yes, we have a lot in common, but this was not a thinly-disguised autobiography), by the end I had almost become her, so to speak. Which sounds a whole lot creepier than I intended.

It’s also a challenge to write in journal format without making it sound too tedious or ridiculous–nobody actually writes in a diary or journal the way we have to do it in a novel, reporting conversations in dialogue and giving background information and the like. So the author either has to ignore that and hope the readers can suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the story, or else give a reason for why everything is written the way it is. I went the route of “someday this might become historical record and I might become the official recorder for this journey so I’m going to start organizing my entries that way now,” and I think it worked pretty well, though there obviously still has to be some suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. However, since FTS started with time travel and involved aliens, faster-than-light travel on spaceships, and a future earth where humans live in harmony with nature, the story format was not likely going to be the thing a reader got hung up on (though I will say I did MOUNDS of research so as to make all those things, if not believable, at least as easy-to-accept-and-move-on as possible. It involved a lot of conversations about physics with my engineer husband, also, weirdly enough, conversations about infrastructure).

The biggest difficulty for me with using the journal format for FTS is thinking about replicating it in any possible sequels (not that there’s been a great call for sequels, as the book has a pretty small readership as of this point, but you never know). For Riss, her journal was her safe place to express her feelings. By the end of the book (this is spoiler-ish but only in terms of character development, so I think it’s safe to continue even if you haven’t read the book) she had gotten to the place where she doesn’t need to rely on it anymore. So why would she pick it back up? Another historical record-type thing? (Like in the Cecy & Kate books?) Because she decides she likes the act of writing down her experiences, even though she doesn’t need it in the same way? I don’t want her to go backward in character development, that’s one thing I loathe in a series, where each book starts with the main character somehow back to where he or she had been at the start of the previous book, and all that character development in said book is wiped out (or in TV shows, where that sort of thing is all too common).

Or would it be possible to write any future books in straight first person, not as a journal? Or even in third person? I’ve written a few short stories* set in the FTS world, and in all of them, including the Riss-centric ones, I use third person. Which works for a short story, but I’m not sure if it would be too jarring in a novel. Megan Whalen Turner might be able to get away with switching POV characters and bouncing from first to third POV (and back again), but hoo boy, I don’t know if I’ll ever reach her level of prose mastery.

So I don’t know–I don’t know that I’ll ever write another story in the FTS world, or if I’ll ever write another story in journal format. I am, however, deeply grateful for the experience of having done it once, and reading the stories that I am right now are making me smile as I remember the experience. I loved that world, and those characters (I think I might have to do another post sometime soon on how the story and the characters developed), and I know working on it made me a better writer overall, no matter if I never use that style again. I can’t give much higher praise than that.

*I have written six short stories revolving around the FTS characters at different points in their lives, but I haven’t yet figured out what to do with them. Offer them up as freebies here on the blog? Publish them together as a FTS short story collection? Release a second edition of FTS with one or two of the stories included at the end? I’m still undecided, but once I’ve made up my mind, I’ll let you all know.

June Dreams

This June was our last ballet recital. Maybe not forever, but for a while. Not only are we moving, both girls want to move on to something new. In our four years here, Grace has done ice skating, ballet, gymnastics, and then ballet again, and has decided that she really, really loves gymnastics the best and wants to pursue that. Joy did ballet all four years and loves it, but is ready for a change and has asked for figure skating lessons next year (she did skating lessons for a couple of years in Albany and loved it).

Ballet has been a wonderful experience for us–yes, all of us, not just the kids. We found our church through ballet acquaintances, we made friends who led us to our Classical Conversations community through ballet, the kids learned perseverance and self-discipline, Carl and I learned how to encourage and push without being pushy, we all discovered a deep appreciation for this beautiful form of artistic and creative expression.

I was a little emotional the week of their last classes and then the recital.

Luckily, we had family out for the recital, and my parents stayed a few days after and we had a lovely, lovely visit.

We went to all our favorite spots and discovered a couple new ones, too. We got a wee bit sunburned at the beach–but it was okay, because the recital was over and we didn’t have to worry about skin clashing with costumes! (Every year, I swear. Not this year! This year Mamma was obsessive with sunscreen for weeks beforehand.)

The kids also finished up piano lessons this month, and we got through our social studies book, hurrah! (We do math and Latin sporadically throughout the summer, so that it doesn’t get rusty.) We’ve said goodbye to a few more friends, planned visits to other friends in July, and started thinking about (gulp) packing up the apartment.

So. Many. Books.

Carl’s almost finished with his thesis, I’ve been plugging away at several different short stories as well as editing Whitney & Davies Book 2 (and gearing up to publish Candles in the Dark in a few weeks), and we’re preparing for a major road trip later this summer.

I hope your June has been lovely, friends, and that your July will be even better!

Candles in the Dark Cover Reveal

All kinds of exciting things happening at StarDance Press this summer … new logo, new projects … new book covers! Today I get to reveal the cover for my mystery novella, Candles in the Dark.

Pauline Gray, journalist and secret novelist, 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 stirring up secrets some people would 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. Even if it costs her everything …

Candles in the Dark is not necessarily a cozy mystery–it doesn’t have a quirk or a particular theme to carry each book along. It is closer to a cozy mystery than most other mystery sub-genres, however: no emphasis on gore or grimness, no “adult situations,” no spending any time in the killer’s twisted mind. It is, like many cozies, set in a small town, with an amateur detective, and if this turns into a series rather than a one-off, I hope many of the characters will be recurring.

In coming up with a cover for it, I wanted something to reflect the nature of the detective (a writer), the feel of the mystery (not too creepy but not exactly chipper either), and the idea behind the title (shining light into dark places). THIS is the end result:

CANDLES_final

I’m so pleased with it! I’m using “Louise Bates” as the byline for this one to help distinguish it from my speculative fiction, which is always published under E.L. Bates.

I still don’t have an official release date–the end of June is the best I can do right now–but once I know for certain, I will put that information on the site as well. I’m so excited to share this new venture with all of you!

New Series Logo!

You might have noticed a change up on top of this website–thanks to my fantastic cover designer Amanda McCrina (side note: you should all go buy her book), I finally have a logo for the Whitney & Davies series!

whitney_and_davies_header

I wanted something that conveyed both “1920s detective story” and “magic,” and I think this logo definitely does that.

The starburst, or lux fiat spell, if you’ve read Magic Most Deadly, is the first spell Maia masters:

“There is light even in the darkest night,” [Len] said with a laugh. “That sounds like a proverb, but I mean it literally. I felt where the strands of light were, and pulled a few together to make this–which is, by the way, a very useful sort of spell, as you can imagine.

“Imagine drawing bits of pieces of that light to yourself, wrapping it up into a small ball you can hold in your hand. When you are ready, focus everything you have on bringing that ball into existence while using the Latin phrase for ‘let there be light’.”

Maia did so. “Lux fiat!”

Lennox laughed in pure astonished joy, and she opened her eyes.

A silver ball larger than her head hovered above them, illuminating the entire grove with its gleam. Hanging like a miniature moon, it showed plainly the wonder and pride on Maia’s face.

Magic Most Deadly, pg 298-300

That scene is one of the most important in the entire book, and is remembered in an unusual way in the upcoming book-which-I-will-tell-you-more-about-soon … but I won’t tell you how the spell is remembered, I don’t want to spoil it for you! Without me necessarily intending it, the lux fiat spell has become a bit of a trademark of the stories, and so it seemed fitting it should become the symbol for the overall series.

The Whitney & Davies books have been hard to clarify from the start–are they fantasy with a mystery twist? Cozy mysteries with a magical twist? Straight-up Golden Age detective fiction against a backdrop of hidden magic? That last comes the closest to defining them, but boy is it a mouthful. I’ve finally started summarizing them as “Magic and mystery in 1920s England,” and I think this new logo does a wonderful job of conveying that information without me having to use words at all.

After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

So there it is, a new logo for a series which will continue with the next book soon … more information on that to come after Candles in the Dark is published!