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1920s, publishing, writing

Rabbit Trails and Sub-Genres

Between the previous post, FB, Twitter, Tumblr, and in-person conversations, the votes for “Golden Age Detective Fantasy” and “Whodunit Fantasy” are split pretty much evenly, with one extra suggestion of “Roaring ’20s Detective Fantasy.” So I still haven’t come to a conclusion as to what name I should coin for this specific sub-genre of “detective fiction in the style of Christie, Sayers, Allingham, etc, with a splash of magic.”

The points for “Golden Age Detective Fantasy”:

  • Evocative
  • Specific
  • Intriguing even for readers who aren’t familiar with mystery sub-genres
  • Sounds more alluring than Whodunit Fantasy

Points for “Whodunit Fantasy”:

  • Short and snappy
  • Easily understood even if readers aren’t familiar with mystery sub-genres
  • Covers more ground than Golden Age Detective Fantasy
  • Since “Golden Age Detective Fiction” is technically only used for authors who were writing during that between-wars era, Whodunit Fantasy is a more correct name

How’s a poor hapless author to decide? I know it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it would be nice to have a name to put on back copy and on the series page of the website. I’m still mulling it over!

In other writing news, I’ve had a great deal of fun recently concocting a magical wardrobe for Maia created in-story by Helen. There are practical aspects: dresses that fold to no larger than a handkerchief, and when unfolded are wrinkle free! Dresses with pockets that can hold more than a handbag and yet don’t alter the line of the dress! Then there are the decorative aspects: embroidery that literally sparkles; the ability to alter a hemline or neckline or change the sleeves from long to short with simply the correct word to release the spell.

I try not to go too overboard describing clothing in the books, because too many details can take a reader right out of the story, but it is sooo tempting when I have so many wonderful options to use as inspiration!

This is a fantastic demonstration of a dress that a clever magician could create to change from a day dress to a dinner dress with one snap.
I think Maia is definitely the type to wear a cape, don’t you? Even if she secretly feels it is a bit over-the-top, she just can’t resist the swoop and swish of it. And the dress beneath is practical enough even for her.
The green frock here is very close to one I just had Helen create for Maia–except hers has more embroidery, and the floaty bits at shoulders and hip are gold rather than green. I love it, and I wish I could have one myself!

This is just a tiny sampling of the patterns I’ve been drooling over these last couple of weeks. If my next blog post sheepishly admits that I broke down and made myself a 1920s dress, you’ll know why. I can justify it all as research, right?

If you are an author, what sort of fun rabbit trails does your research tend to take you down? If you are a reader, what bits of extra detail are your favorite to read about in a story? And for both parties, if you haven’t already, please weigh in on whether you prefer “Golden Age Detective Fantasy” or “Whodunit Fantasy”!

1920s, Books, fantasy, fiction, mystery, publishing, stories, writing

Categories and Genres

Genre, sub-genre, categories … when trying to find a home for a story on the shelves of a bookstore or library, the options can sometimes seem overwhelming. Is this fantasy or science fiction? Historical mystery, cozy mystery, or some other type of mystery altogether? Thriller or adventure? Memoir or autobiography?

This is made even more difficult when you have an author who likes to cross two or more genres in one book. And yes, I’m talking about myself and the Whitney & Davies series here. Since the beginning, these books have been hard to categorize. Do they go on the fantasy shelf or the mystery shelf? (One local library solved the puzzle by sticking Magic Most Deadly on the “fiction” shelf–going more generic instead of less, I guess!) It wouldn’t matter so much, aside from causing headaches to librarians and bookstore owners, except that muddled categories can make it difficult for readers to understand what sort of book they are looking at, and thus make them less likely to pick it up and read.

The basic premise of the Whitney & Davies series–taking an already-existing genre and adding a magical twist to it–is not unique to me. My first exposure to the concept was with Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s marvelous fantasy of manners Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot. Other well-known Regency fantasies are Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories, and of course Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Then there’s the “gaslamp” or “gaslight” fantasies, which take the same idea and place it in a Victorian or Edwardian England setting. Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series would likely fall into this category, as well as Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent.

However, I’ve not yet found anyone besides myself taking Golden Age Detective Fiction and inserting fantasy into that, and I’ve been racking my brains for ages now trying to coin a phrase to neatly sum up this sub-genre to make it clear from one glance what type of a story the reader is getting. “Mystery-fantasy set in 1920s England” is, let’s face it, way too clunky.

I’ve narrowed it down to two options, although I am open to suggestions for something else! I like “Golden Age Detective Fiction” for its descriptiveness, but on the other hand it is still long and a little bit clunky. Then there’s the short and snappy “Whodunit Fantasy,” but the downside to that one is that it doesn’t necessarily convey the sense of time and place–between wars in England–that the other does.

So I am tossing the choices out there for my readers! Which do you prefer? Which one conveys the feel of Whitney & Davies best to you? And if you haven’t read my books yet, you may still feel free to comment–I’d like to know what type of story you think of when you see either of those two categories.

I would also be curious to know if you have any comparison books or series that come to your mind when thinking of W&D–you know, the old, “If you like _____, you will like Whitney & Davies.” The closest I’ve come up with is Martha Wells’ Death of the Necromancer, and I’m not exactly sure that’s the best match. I think that’s the sort of thing that is difficult for an author to judge about his or her own work, especially when one of the main reasons for writing the books is that no one else out there is!

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.