Where Are Your Roots?

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The great lady herself

I follow Susan Cooper’s fan page on FB, and when I saw a couple weeks back that she was going to be doing a book signing/reading/talk in Cambridge, MA, I gasped in delight and immediately told my husband we needed to go. After a bit of comic misunderstanding of him thinking I meant “our” Cambridge, Cambridge, England, and trying gently to remind me we didn’t have money or time for unexpected trips across the channel, and me trying to figure out why he thought we needed to plan so far in advance for a town less than an hour’s drive from us, we got it straightened out and scheduled it in our calendars.

It was rich. It honestly would have been worth flying to Cambridge, England to experience it (plus, you know, Cambridge. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm to get me back there; I’ve missed it every day since we returned from our visit last year). She was so full of warmth and wisdom, joy and humor. I couldn’t even think of any questions to ask during the Q&A session; I just wanted to sit and soak in whatever she had to say, from children’s instinctive aligning with the land and nature versus the adult idea of progress, to her anecdote of CS Lewis and Tolkien teaching them at Oxford to believe in dragons, to her advice for helping reluctant writers.

One thing she said that really struck me was when she spoke of how much her writing is all rooted in a sense of place. The best writing, it’s always seemed to me, does have a rootedness in something beyond the immediate story or theme. For Tolkien, it was language (and myth, and Story, and … look, he had a lot going for him). For Lewis, it was the notion of Truth beyond religious packaging. For someone like Lloyd Alexander, I believe it was joy. Madeleine L’Engle’s work was rooted in the idea of names and naming.

What, I mused on the way home, and that night, and the next day, and on into the next week, is my writing rooted in?

Oh, there’s lots of themes that wind their way through my writing. Joy is a big one (there’s a reason LA is my favorite author of all time). The notion of Story is another, most especially Truth as Story. Finding one’s own place is something else that comes in to most of my stories, whether overtly (as in From the Shadows, where it’s pretty much the whole plot), or more subtly (Magic Most Deadly isn’t quite as blatant, nor is Candles in the Dark, but the idea is there with both of them). Still none of those felt quite like the answer.

The answer in fact came to me just a couple days ago, as we were walking through the nearby bird sanctuary. The setting sun shone a golden, warm light on the fields and trees as we made our way back out of the woods, and I found myself stopping to take pictures, just like I always do, despite the fact that I have dozens if not hundreds of photographs of different qualities of light already.

And that’s when it hit me. Light. That’s what my stories are all rooted in. The idea of light. That’s why I write, to be a light. That’s what I most deeply resonate with. This is what my self is rooted in, so of course it is what my writing springs up out of.

Sometimes it’s a warm light. Sometimes it might be a harsher one, even blinding. Sometimes it’s the sun on the water, sometimes a candle in a window. Whatever the type, that’s where my stories are born.

It seems rather fitting that this revelation should be inspired by the woman who wrote an entire series based around the struggle between the Dark and the Light. Even more fitting that one of the books she signed for me was The Dark is Rising, the first book in that series I ever read.

I am grateful.

(Also on that same day we went to hear Susan Cooper speak I got in the mail the edition of FrostFire Worlds containing my short story “A Spot of Orange”! It is available to purchase at the Alban Lake Shop, if anyone is interested in a copy of their own. fullsizeoutput_3266 It was a really good day.)

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Candles in the Dark … Soon!

The 99¢ sale for Magic Most Deadly and From the Shadows is ending today … but don’t despair! A BRAND NEW work is coming in the next couple days!

Remember me talking about that mystery novella set in my hometown of Canton, NY in the 1930s? The one that was going to get published in June?

Well, it hit setback after setback, but at last it is ready, and it will be available on Kindle tomorrow, and in paperback soon after!

The timing has turned out beautifully appropriate after all, as the idea of shining a light in the darkness and justice interceding for the broken is so fitting for Advent.

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Candles in the Dark, by Louise Bates

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 …

In a near-future post I’ll talk a little more about the inspiration for this story and some of my reasons for writing it. For now, I’ll simply tell you to stay tuned! It’s coming soon.

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!

Two Weeks In

We are (almost) halfway through January! How is the month looking for everyone else?

Here, we’ve had:

Rearranged our living room and can’t figure out why we waited 3.5 years to set it up like this.

Trip to Grandma’s house to finish off our holiday traveling/festivities.

We had snow this past weekend, enough for sledding, and by Wednesday it had all vanished. No one in this household is particularly pleased about this. I want to use my cross-country skis; the kids want to play in the snow; Carl, believe it or not, wants to shovel. Plus we all just prefer winter to be winter. Hmph.

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but the sledding was fun while it lasted. as was throwing snowballs at daddy.

Kids are enthusiastically participating in the Read-Aloud Revival 31 Days Challenge–they have only missed a few days of reading out loud for at least 15 minutes. Gracie, at least, usually goes longer. Joy is more these-are-the-rules-so-we-should-follow-them and so even if she’s at a really good place, she stops as soon as the timer beeps. It’s great for Gracie in building her confidence (she’s a fantastic reader but thinks she can only handle easy books) and for Joy in forcing her to slow down and process what she’s reading (she reads SO FAST that I’m certain she only takes in about 80% maximum of whatever she reads).

I finally passed the halfway point on my current draft of Magic in Disguise, the next Maia and Len book. Technically this is the first book in the Whitney & Davies series, as this is the one that really starts them off on their detecting careers together, but it is the second book about them–Magic Most Deadly, I’ve decided, really works best as a prequel when compared to how I want the rest of the series to go. Is that over-complicated? Sorry. At any rate, every step of the way with this book has been a slog, but the fog is starting to lift. I had it ready to send to my critique partner (which is when I consider a story done the same way a cake is done–all the editing and polishing I do after that is icing and decorating, but the heart of it is finished) last May, and ever since she sent it back to me I’ve been crawling on it. But I’m getting there, and it’s going to be ready for beta-ing by the end of the month, barring any unforeseen accidents like spraining an ankle or some such nonsense (rap wood).

We got back to Classical Conversations (the kids’ homeschool co-op) and back to school in general. We aren’t quite where I’d like to be yet–our morning time keeps getting started late, so we haven’t been able to work in our Shakespeare memorization this semester yet, and schoolwork keeps spilling into our free time in the afternoons–but we’re getting there. It’s always tricky settling back into our routine after winter break.

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working on their nature journals. sunny but windy today!

I am taking a break from refined sugar and wheat for January, in an attempt to break my body of its dependency on both. I know from experience that a little is fine, a lot wrecks me, and thanks to the holidays, I’ve been having a LOT of both. I’ve also started exercising again, something that slid away when I sprained my ankle last May (see above) and never got picked back up. So far, I’m grumpy and sad because of the diet change, but the exercising is going well.

I’ve managed to catalog each of the books I’ve read so far this month in a book journal. Whether that means I’m reading more mindfully is still up in the air.

Getting prepared for the Bible Study I’m co-leading this semester for the women in our apartment building. We’re going to be going through Philippians this semester, which should be great. I’ve discovered somewhat to my surprise that I really enjoy teaching and leading a study, and thanks to Carl, I have commentaries a-plenty at my fingertips. And I can always ask him if there’s any particularly tricky translation issues!

The only other really interesting thing that’s happened this month is that Carl finally convinced me to give Duolingo a try, and I’m diving back into French. Parts of the app really frustrate me (like when you fail a lesson because they expect you to know something they haven’t yet taught you), but overall it’s been fun. I thoroughly enjoyed taking French back in college and have always wanted to get back to it, and so now I am! I’m already wondering what language I should tackle next after this, Russian or Welsh. I desperately wanted to learn both of them in high school, and now I have a chance!

Oh, and I also got to do an impromptu mini-presentation at CC this week–all the kids have to give an oral presentation each week, and this week they got to pick a topic out of a hat. One of the drawn topics was “why are books so important,” and the tutor laughed and asked me if I wanted to take that one, so I said sure. It wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as my library presentation last March, but it was a lot of fun and made me think how much I’d love to give a proper, adapted version of my “why stories matter” speech at a school or children’s library sometime. Add that one to my dream list!

And that is my mid-January report. Nothing tremendously spectacular, but I don’t want to look back in December and not remember anything about this month, so I’m writing it down even if it seems simple and small. It’s the little moments that add up to a life anyway.

In Defense of the Detective Novel

This essay came out of some thoughts I had on detective novels and their function in society. I’m not sure any of it is terribly earth-shattering–I’m fairly certain it’s all been said before–but it was important to me, so I wrote it all out, then decided it was worth polishing and sharing. So here it is.

Truth, justice, mercy. All very big, abstract concepts that can be hard to wrap our heads around in concrete terms. What is truth? How do we balance justice and mercy? To whom do we show justice, and when is mercy appropriate? If I were to tell you I was writing a story exploring these concepts, you might reasonably expect some weighty, literary piece of work, with dense prose and a somber tone. What you might not expect would be a detective novel.

Yet it is in mystery stories that I have had some of my most profound realizations regarding said subjects. From Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot I have learned that the truth has a beauty and a virtue of its own, quite apart from its subject. From Lord Peter Wimsey and Brother Cadfael I have learned the importance of understanding human nature and acknowledging one’s own weaknesses. I have grasped the concept of not setting oneself above others–that elusive idea we call humility. These books have taught me the danger of shrugging one’s shoulders at small evils, because they open the way for larger ones. Above all, I have learned that justice must be pursued for those who have no voice of their own, that it the responsibility of everyone who can be heard to speak for those who can’t.

In Dorothy L Sayers’ second Lord Peter novel, Clouds of Witnesses, Lord Peter falls victim to a bog in which he is almost lost. At first glance, it can read as cliche, but I think there’s a deeper metaphor to be drawn from it–whether Sayers meant it or not. Sometimes, in the pursuit of truth and justice, it is easy to get lost in the fog, to get stuck in a mire and lose our way, nearly drowning in uncertainty and confusion. It is only through steadfast patience–as Bunter showed in keeping Lord Peter up until rescue came for them both–and light to show the way that we can make it out.

As a result of his unplanned fall into the bog, Lord Peter comes across the clue which allows him to unravel the entire mystery. The origin of the word “clue,” as I’m sure many of you already know, comes from the ball of thread Theseus used to guide himself through the Labyrinth. In that way, mystery stories themselves can act as clues, providing a thread for people who are stumbling in the miry dark, trying to see truth, walk the path of justice, practice mercy. In the assurance that justice will come, that the killer will be punished, that the dead are not left voiceless, mysteries act as lights against the darkness that can sometimes cause us to despair as we look at all the injustice and horror in the world around us.

I think it is no coincidence that the “Golden Age” of detective fiction was the between-war period, a time when life was changing, the rules by which everyone had always lived were upended, the values and morals they had always held immutable shifted and changed under their very feet. It was a time when an entire generation was trying to learn who they were, and what sort of a world they lived in–perhaps more importantly, what sort of a world they wanted to build. In a time of chaos and uncertainty, when the very ideas of truth and justice seemed like fairy tales, detective stories provided some assurance that good could conquer evil, and that justice was worth pursuing.

We are living in a time of chaos and change ourselves. We hope that the change will be for the better, but sometimes we can lose faith when we look at everything around us. I see an entire generation passionate for justice and truth, and sometimes getting too weighted down by the burden of those concepts to keep going, sometimes feeling like they are one lone voice shouting against the dark. Now, more than ever, we need detective stories to help give us that clue, to help guide us through these times, to remind us that we are not alone, and that even the small acts of justice, mercy, and truth we can do in our everyday lives matter.

Underrated Books

I saw this theme floating around today, and I was intrigued. The stated limit is “books with under 2,000 ratings on Goodreads,” and I cheated a little by including one with 2,039 ratings. I was pleased to see how many of my favorite books were not as underrated as I always suspected–Emily of Deep Valley, for example, had too many ratings to make it onto the list, as did several of Lloyd Alexander’s books. I still managed to find ten, though, and probably could have kept going did not supper interrupt!

Seaward, Susan Cooper. I love The Dark is Rising series, but this book of hers is little known, and deserves better. It is haunting and mysterious, hope-filled with a hint of terror behind it, and it’s the sort of book that stays with you for days afterward. Lovely, lovely writing. More people should read it.

The Rope Trick, Lloyd Alexander. Much as I love Lloyd, I did not love this book the first time I read it. The second (because even an unloved Lloyd warrants at least a second read), I realized it was one of the more powerful books he’d written, and that the very aspects that turned me off at first were its strengths. By the third time I read it, it had become one of my favorites. Again, it’s the sort of book that seeps into your soul and stays with you for a long time after you’ve closed it.

Clover, Susan Coolidge. More confessions: I don’t really like What Katy Did. The next two books in the Carr family series are better (What Katy Did At School will always be cherished by me if for no other reason than it introduces the always-delightful Rose Red), and this one’s my favorite. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people give up before they get to this point. Don’t. As with Louisa May Alcott and LM Montgomery, and Maud Hart Lovelace, these books are more revolutionary and progressive for their era than they appear at first. Plus, this one has some of the most gorgeous descriptions of Colorado I’ve read anywhere in it. I’ve never been further west than Minneapolis, but boy does this book make me want to.

The Keeper of the Mist, Rachel Neumeier. I haven’t come across a Neumeier book I dislike yet, but this one is my favorite of them all. Dreamy, fairy-tale-ish, with a strong edge of practicality, with fabulous characters and beautiful prose. My review on Goodreads itself says it all!

The Gate of Ivory, Doris Egan. Sci-fi that is sheer fun, with some more serious matters snuck in around the edges. Can you say tailor-made for me? It’s delightful.

The Runaway Princess, Kate Coombs. This is the book that goes 39 ratings above the limit, but I don’t care. It’s so much fun, and it’s shamefully under-read. Plus it’s the book that introduced me to one of my best internet friends (hi, Amy!)–after reading it, I looked up the author online, discovered her blog, started commenting on her blog, discovered another blogger who shared my love for Henry Tilney also commenting on her blog, and the rest was history.

Resistance, Laura Josephsen. Laura is one of the first indie authors I ever discovered, and the one who proved to me that independently-published fiction could in fact be brilliant, gripping, and well-written/edited. Sadly, this book and its sequel are now out of print, but I believe you can read them, broken into four parts instead of two, on Wattpad.

The Grass Widow’s Tale, Ellis Peters. I love Peters’ Brother Cadfael books, but I also thoroughly enjoy her lesser-known Inspector Felse books. The Grass-Widow’s Tale focuses on Bunty, Inspector Felse’s wife, and it is another one of those books that makes me want to shout with joyous strength by the time I finish.

The Castle Behind Thorns, Merrie Haskell. A Sleeping Beauty retelling that is really well done, something hard to find for that particular fairy tale. Cinderella, Snow White, even Rapunzel … those all seem easy enough to put a spin on that remains true to the original intent while still making it engaging for readers. Sleeping Beauty, not so much. Which is understandable, given that the heroine of it has pretty much zero agency throughout her entire story, and in order to give her agency one has to twist said story into something else entirely. Haskell manages to avoid both pitfalls, and create an engaging story to boot. It’s lovely.

Seventh Son, A.M. Offenwanger. I am the lucky beta reader who gets to see each tale in this series before publication, and have watched this world and these characters grow from the first. Offenwanger is another of my dear internet friends, and her books are always a joy to read. Seventh Son is especially fun, combining fairy tale elements with everyday life, and introducing some truly lovely characters. I would love to see these books get more appreciation!

As an author who has yet to break double digits for Goodreads reviews myself, I know how hard it is when your books continually fly under the radar–especially when self promotion is so hard to do without being tacky*. So, give some of them a chance and try one or two from my list, and see what you think!

*granted, for the dead authors on my list self promotion is well nigh impossible, and they aren’t exactly weeping into their morning coffee over lack of reviews, but I’m sure their heirs would appreciate the attention.

DE Stevenson

“I am grateful for all my blessings; amongst them the Gift of Storytelling, which seems to please and amuse so many people all over the world.”

“It seems to me that this job of interpreting my own people to other people is the most important contribution I can make to the world and to peace.”

-D.E. Stevenson.

I discovered D.E. Stevenson thanks to Goodreads recommending her “Miss Buncle’s Book” to me based on my fondness for Miss Read. Curiously enough, the Miss Buncle series are among my least favorites of her work; I prefer her stand-alones, or the ones with two or three loosely-connected books. However, they were enough to get me intrigued, and now I’ve read everything of hers our library has, and am starting to expand through ILL to others in our network.

Like Miss Read, Stevenson writes stories about ordinary people, stories in which (generally) not a lot happens. Nice, friendly, meandering stories, that give you a glimpse into somebody else’s life and fit into their shoes for at least a few brief moments. Stories which, as a kid, bored me to tears, and now I love.

And along with enjoying her books, I appreciate her philosophy as well. Aren’t those quotes up above lovely? Sums up a lot of my feeling toward writing and storytelling.

So, if you enjoy “quiet” stories, give D.E. Stevenson a try! She wrote dozens of books; if you enjoy them, you won’t run out of reading material for a long, long time. Also? She was the cousin of the great Robert Louis Stevenson!