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:

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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!

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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!

Farewell to May

After Carl’s graduation midway through May, the rest of the month was pretty low-key. We mostly spent the days recovering from all the graduation excitement and poking ever-so-slightly at the monster that is the logistics of our upcoming move.

Our biggest adventure after the graduation was Gracie’s eighth birthday. Eight! The kids are getting old enough to not want that much shared about them publicly (and I concur, frankly–the older they get the more fiercely I want to protect their privacy), so I won’t say too much about Gracie except that at eight, she loves art and animals, and when she grows up she wants to be an artist and own a zoo so that she can protect endangered animals and teach people how to respect them. She’s smart, funny, and an incredibly hard worker, and her favorite superhero is Supergirl.

To celebrate her birthday, we went to the zoo and saw, among other animals, the red pandas, her favorite animals (and found out that one of the pandas shares a name with her!).

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The rest of the month was filled with little things: lots of rain, a friend sending books to Joy to help her manage her emotions about our upcoming move, swimming in the pond on one of our rare hot days, helping friends move out, celebrating births, trips to the library, and oh yes–I finally finished knitting Joy’s sweater I started a year and a half ago.

 

Writing-wise, May proved to be a good month for me, as I finally started writing down monthly goals and using that to keep track of what I was doing. Along with the mystery novella I’m planning to publish at the end of this month, I’ve managed to make progress on an upcoming short-story collection set in the Whitney & Davies world (two stories featuring brand-new characters, one story each for Maia and Len); I submitted a children’s book to several publishers, and I made (minimal) progress on editing the next W&D book.

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Whew! On to June: ballet recital for the kids, visit from family, more writing, and more preparation for moving to Cambridge.

NEW Mystery Novella, Coming Soon!

Back in September, I wrote this tweet:

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the next day, I tweeted this:

That idea ended up being a 20,000 word mystery novella set in my hometown of Canton, NY. It’s titled Candles in the Dark, and here is the blurb:

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 …

It was a step outside my comfort zone, writing-wise, to do a story that was not fantasy or sci-fi, and to try to capture the flavor of a real place in a real time. Thankfully, along with local historians (the Facebook page Historian Town & Village Canton was hugely useful, the photos alone were amazing), I could call or email my dad any time I got stuck on something, and he could pass along memories from his parents, or stories he’s heard from other folks of the previous generation. He was my first beta-reader for this story, and was able to correct a few of the physical details I’d gotten wrong, and confirm places where I’d hit the nail on the head. This was my first time writing a story where the setting turned out to be as much of a character as the people themselves.

In the end, I really loved it.

Of course, the problem with writing a mystery novella is that they aren’t easy to get published. Short stories or novels themselves can find homes well enough, but a novella is a strange beast, neither one nor the other.

So, I’m publishing it myself.

I don’t have an exact date yet, but it will be coming soon–possibly even next month!–and I will update here as I get more details down.

I hope you enjoy Pauline and her adventures in my hometown as much as I do! If I get a positive enough response to the story, I might even be able to turn it into a series after all.

We Did It

Proper May wrap-up post coming at the end of the month, but this seemed worth noting in a post all its own …

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May 13, 2017

Eleven years from the time Carl started to teach himself Greek so as to better understand the Bible, the catalyst for this whole journey, four years after actually starting seminary, he has graduated with a dual MA in New Testament and Biblical Languages.

I am always the forward-looker, so it’s easy for me to say, “And now on to the PhD at Cambridge!” but I am trying to curb that tendency this weekend so as to properly enjoy and appreciate this step, the completion of this season, this accomplishment.

It’s been quite the ride.

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September 18, 2013

When we arrived in Boston, Joy was almost six and Grace was four. Now they are nine and a half and almost eight. We still have the summer left before we leave the area, but this graduation really does seem like the ending of this season in our lives. It was with full hearts and the weight of four years worth of memories that we celebrated yesterday. There have been heavy burdens and many struggles along the way, but overall the memories are joyful. I am so thankful for every part of this season, the good and the hard.

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Senior Banquet, 5/5/2017

And OK, yes. I’ m SO excited about the next season, too.