1920s, Books, characters, fiction, influences, mystery, reading list, stories, writing

Happy (Belated) Birthday to the Queen of Crime

Yesterday was Agatha Christie’s 130th birthday. I wanted to write a tribute to her, but I was already late for the Self-Published Fantasy book recommendation post, and I didn’t want to push it back yet again. So I’m writing my tribute today!

When it comes to fiction authors, there are two who top my personal list for “writing stories that shaped me.” Not necessarily stories that I love the best, though these two are always on that list as well, but stories that have played the largest role in shaping who I am and how I view the world: Lloyd Alexander and Agatha Christie.

They might seem an odd combination, a writer of children’s fantasy stories and a writer of murder mysteries, yet their stories share certain important traits. A passion for truth. The constant struggle to find the appropriate balance between justice and mercy. The need for integrity in every aspect of one’s life. The importance of humility, and what happens when humans lose that.

As well, they share a warm, wry tone, a way of slicing through the deceptions we humans surround ourselves with, seeing the very heart of a person, and then displaying it with love. They both seem to say throughout all their works, “Look at how funny we humans are!”

It is one thing to be able to incisively see humanity without rose-colored glasses; it is one thing again to be able to warmly embrace and love our fellow humans. It is far rarer to be able to see humans as we are, and to recognize the same follies and flaws in one’s own self, to show it without falling into either satire on one side or gush on the other, and to include oneself in that portrayal. Mrs Oliver and Fflewddur Fflam alike are some of the only authorial inserts into a story that really work, and that’s because their creators are as unsparing of their own flaws as they are of others, and as warmly amused by them.

The first Christie book I ever read was The A.B.C. Murders, and it is still one of my all-time favorites. So much so that my husband bought me the gorgeous new hardcover edition for our last Christmas in England, and I adore it.

My mystery reading up to that point had been mostly Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown (I was twelve); I’d been wanting to try Christie for a while but my mom was concerned I might get nightmares. I don’t remember exactly why she decided I was ready, but I remember getting so drawn in, despite the creepiness of the cover (this one), that I couldn’t put it down, and promptly went on to read all the Christies Mom owned, and then pillaged the library for more. The only book I refused to read for years and years was Curtain, because I couldn’t bear to read Poirot’s last case (now I think it’s one of the most brilliant books she wrote).

At twelve, I loved Poirot the most, for his cleverness. In my late teens and early twenties, it was Tommy and Tuppence, for their zest for life and clever banter (more on that in a moment). At this point in my life, I adore Miss Marple, for her keen wits and gentle ruthlessness. I probably identify most with Mrs Oliver, though!

In my mid-twenties, I struggled with finding joy in my writing (that has happened more than once since then; this was the first time, however, such a thing had happened to me). I had written a bog-standard epic fantasy that was, in retrospect, dreadful; I had written a light romance that was also dreadful; I was having fun with LM Montgomery and CS Lewis fanfiction but really wanting to write something of my own, yet not having any sort of ideas or characters. I had one idea, of an eldest sister in a fantasy world turning out to be the one to save the day rather than the traditional fairy tale convention of the eldest sister being the bad one, but I couldn’t gain any traction on it, and then I read Howl’s Moving Castle, and clearly there was no point in me trying that story when Diana Wynne Jones had already perfected it.

Then I picked up a Tommy and Tuppence story to re-read for fun, and slowly, ever so slowly, a few glimmers of light came to me. What if Tommy and Tuppence were in a 1920s England … with magic? Solving magical crimes? Working for a magical intelligence agency? What if I swapped their personalities, so that the Tommy character was the one who worked off impulse and instinct, and the Tuppence character was calm, stolid, and practical?

The mostly-abandoned eldest sister project came back to me at that point and the story started to fill out. What if the practical Tuppence character had two younger sisters? What if her parents were fairly useless and her sisters given to drama and the entire family leaned on her to keep them going? What if she was bored, fed, up, frustrated with being the responsible one, and looking for adventure? What if she suddenly discovered she had the use of magic, and got thrown into this new magical world that existed underneath the real world, and had to partner with this exasperating magical intelligence agent to solve a crime and save the day? What if underneath his flippant exterior the exasperating intelligence agent was kind, thoughtful, and really tired of always having to put on a mask for everyone, and he delighted in the elder sister’s wits? What if they became friends and partners?

I started writing. There were a few false starts, and plenty of difficulties along the way, but eventually all those “what ifs” turned into Magic Most Deadly, a book I chose to self-publish because it was so different from anything else out there at the time I thought no publishing house would look at it. It was my debut novel, and while looking at it now I can see all its rough spots and places where I would now write it differently, I’m still proud and fond of it, as well as of Maia and Len, my two detectives.

I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve a Christie-like insight into human nature, or her ability to turn those insights into characters that live and breathe and sparkle through her stories, but she has given me something to strive for in my own writing, not to mention principles that have stayed with me through all the ups and downs of my own life: the importance and beauty of truth; the need for justice balanced with mercy; the value of humility; the necessity of a good sense of humor no matter what life throws at you.

Thank you, Dame Agatha. May your legacy continue for years and years to come.

Books, fiction, reading list, stories

Self-Published Fantasy Month Week One

Happy September, friends! We survived the summer, and now we get to enjoy cooler temps, harvest delights, cozy sweaters (that’s cosy jumpers for my friends across the pond), your hot beverage of choice … and self-published fantasy books galore!

I saw Self-Published Fantasy Month advertised yesterday and decided it was the perfect chance to highlight some of my favorite self-pubbed authors, as well as hopefully finding some new ones to appreciate as well. I’ll try to do one post every Monday morning after this week–but we’ll see how well I am able to keep up that schedule once school begins for the kids!

I am starting off with my three most favorite self-published authors, and the ones whose books I return to again and again.

First up is my good friend A.M. Offenwanger, who has written and published the Septimus series: Seventh Son (free across all platforms, so a perfect way to introduce yourself to the series!); Cat & Mouse; Checkmate; and Star Bright. There’s also a free short story available on her blog!

These books follow Cat, a woman whisked from our world to one where magic is subtle, domestic, and omnipresent, and where she has a particular gift of her own. The cast of characters expands as the books progress, as does the world, yet they never lose that quiet, close-knit feel.

Next is Stella Dorthwany, who has written Sand & Storm and Blood Traitors, as well as some short stories in the series, and has newly released a standalone book, Song & Flame (I have this on my Kindle but I haven’t read it yet–I’m saving it for a time when I really, really need a brand-new good read. I know it won’t disappoint).

Dorthwany’s books contain some of the most detailed and complex world-building I’ve come across, fascinating magical structures, and characters who are vivid and complicated. Warning: these are not stories that are easy to put down!

Finally, for this week anyway, is Laura Josephsen, whose Dust & Gold is one of my favorite comfort reads; I find myself picking it up along with Miss Read, Agatha Christie, and LM Montgomery on days when I feel particularly gray. She’s also published the Rising quadrology, which is heart-rending in places but ultimately hopeful.

If you’ve ever wondered how the characters in a fairy tale might really react to their situations, Josephsen is the writer for you. Dust & Gold, as well as the Rising books, looks at the personal consequences that would come out of kingdom conquests and other standards of fantastic fiction, and then manages to bring redemption, love, and even joy out of them. These stories never sugarcoat pain, nor is magic ever a, well, magic cure for anything, but the darkness is never allowed to triumph, either.

And there are our first three authors for this month! I hope at least one of those has whetted your appetite. Go, check them out, and then come back to let me know how much you loved them!

Books, characters, fiction, heroines, mystery, publishing, reading list, stories, writing

Diamonds to Dust Published

No time to waste on fancy intros–let’s get right to the heart of the matter.

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.

Diamonds to Dust is out today! You can buy it at …

Amazon

iBooks

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

You can also purchase a paperback copy through Amazon

Wow, that’s great, Louise, you might be saying right now. But why should I buy this book? What’s it all about?

I’m so glad you asked!

Diamonds to Dust is the second book in the Pauline Gray mystery series, though it can be read and enjoyed on its own (if you do want to read the first book first, it’s on sale right now for $.99 at all the above retailers–links can be found at this page.)

Pauline Gray is a single woman in her mid-twenties, living in the small town of Canton, NY, nestled in the foothills of the Adirondacks in northern NY state. The year is 1934; Prohibition has just been repealed, the country is in the thick of the Great Depression, and rural farming communities in the northeastern part of the US, though not suffering as badly as other parts of the country, have all had to pull together to try to get through this.

Pauline thinks of herself as a scholar, first and foremost. Yes, she writes a column for the local newspaper to pay the bills, and yes, she secretly writes cheap adventure novels on the side to supplement the newspaper income, but in her heart, she is still an academic, dreaming of the day she can return to the world of study and research she loved so well in college. In the meantime, those traits serve her well when unsolved mysteries trouble her neighbors and friends. Pauline’s compassion and drive for justice combine with her ability to sort facts and sift truth from falsehood to make her a formidable detective. Not that she ever seeks out trouble, mind you, but somehow it always seems to find her …

The Pauline Gray mysteries are for you if you like:

Mysteries with plots that keep you guessing all the way through

Stories set in and informed by the 1930s, or historical periods in general

Stories set in small towns with a tight-knit community

People doing the right thing even when it’s difficult or unpleasant

Women supporting other women

Justice served for those the world tends to overlook.

Sound like your cup of tea? Then pick up your copy of Diamonds to Dust today! What are you waiting for?

Books, characters, families, heroines, Sci-fi, stories, writing

Home is where you find it

A few years ago, as I was struggling to find my footing for the sequel to Magic Most Deadly, I was struck instead with inspiration for a science fiction novella, a tribute to Star Wars, Star Trek, and other hope-filled space operas. It demanded I put aside everything else and write it–so I did.

(That version of MMD’s sequel was terrible, anyway.)

Somehow or other in the writing of it, the story turned into so much more than this light-hearted tribute I had originally intended it to be. A theme of found family, of home, of finding the place where you belong, wound its way through. It became a letter of solidarity with all the other people in this world who feel stuck in the shadows of life and have a hard time feeling they belong in the light.

When I finished the novella (the song in the final act was written late at night, after I was supposed to be sleeping, because it came to me complete with tune and I was afraid that if I waited until morning I would lose it–which proved to be a good call, as I re-read the song the next day and said, “Wait, I wrote this?”) and sent it to my beta readers, they one and all sent it back saying it needed to be longer; it needed to be a novel.

Nah, I said. The story did what I wanted it to do. It was just a fun side-project. Now I needed to get back to my real work, that darn sequel.

But the story wouldn’t let go of me, and finally I broke down and expanded it. Filled out the side characters a bit more, developed the plot more deeply, made the protagonist’s journey a bit more winding, less jumping from Point A to Point Z without anything between. As usual, my beta readers were right. This was what the story needed.

This was the second book I self-published, and I made a lot of technical mistakes with it. The font was too small, the margins off, etc. So a couple years after publishing it, I went back to it. I loved this story, and I believed it deserved a better package. I went through and did a basic copy-edit, cleaning it up a bit without changing anything significant. I altered the font on the cover and made the back copy a bit cleaner. And I fixed the font and margin size and other issues in the physical copy. I added a brand-new short story at the end as a bonus, since the novel itself is on the shorter side of the spectrum.

From the Shadows is still my least popular published book. Yet those who have read it and reviewed it love it just as deeply as I do. My friend Laura still nudges me every so often asking when I’m going to write a sequel (I keep trying, but so far all the plots are too dumb or contrived. If it’s meant to happen, eventually something will come to me). My dream for it is that eventually it finds its own family, that the people for whom it will mean the most will discover it and take hope and encouragement from it.

To that end, I occasionally do things like write this blog post, reminding people that I did, once, write a story that was not a detective and/or fantasy tale, and that if space opera, character-driven stories, found families, and found homes, sound like something you would enjoy …

Here it is. Available on Amazon and Smashwords, as well as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.

As a favor, to those of you who have read and have not yet left a review anywhere, would you mind doing so, either on one of the above sites or on Goodreads? They really do go a long way toward helping others who might also enjoy the book discover it. Those of you who have already done so: thank you! The more we all spread the word, the more we help this story, and these characters, find its, and their, home. After all, as one of the major themes of the story and the title of this post says …

Home is where you find it.

1920s, Books, fantasy, fiction, publishing, reading list, Sci-fi, stories, writing

Black Friday Sale

It’s sale time! From now until November 30, my first-in-series and stand-alone books are only $0.99.

Magic Most Deadly, my first published novel, the first in my Whitney & Davies series, combines murder, mystery, and magic in 1920s England. It’s Agatha Christie with magic!

From the Shadows, a sci-fi stand-alone (so far …). A journey through space and time that is really all about finding one’s place in the world. This story is especially dear to my heart!

Last but not least, Candles in the Dark, an historical mystery novella, set in the Adirondack region of NY State in the 1930s (aka my hometown). Written under the name Louise Bates to distinguish it from my fantastic writings, this is currently the only title in the series, but Book 2 is coming soon, and I hope will be followed by many more.

Happy reading, and Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I hope this week is filled with love and laughter–and good books–for all of you.

1920s, characters, fantasy, favorites, fiction, heroes, heroines, influences, publishing, stories, world-building, writing

Easter Eggs

“Think how exciting it would be,” went on Tuppence, “if we heard a wild rapping at the door and went to open it and in staggered a dead man.”

“If he was dead he couldn’t stagger,” said Tommy critically.

-Partners in Crime, Agatha Christie.

If you’ve read Glamours and Gunshots, the above passage might ring a faint bell. I open G&G with:

Merry birdsong filled the air on that bright April morning when the dead man stumbled into Aunt Amelia’s front hall.

Technically, he was dying, not dead, else he couldn’t have stumbled anywhere; corpses in general being no longer animate.

Glamours and Gunshots, E.L. Bates

I try not to do too many obvious “Easter Eggs” in my books, since it can be irritating to a reader when an author goes overboard with clever allusions (or allusions that attempt to be clever) to other works. This one, I hoped would be subtle enough to pass without annoyance to anyone, and I had to include a tip of the hat to Tommy and Tuppence–Maia and Len wouldn’t even exist without them.

I’ve shared this before, but it’s been a while–the idea for the story that eventually became Magic Most Deadly sprang from having recently finished reading Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s The Enchanted Chocolate Pot immediately after having read a Tommy and Tuppence book, and wistfully wishing someone would write a Tommy-and-Tuppence-with-magic story.

Being a writer, my very next thought was, “well, if no one else has written it, I guess I’d better,” and voila, the seed took root.

I swapped the personalities around so that Tommy’s steady and cautious nature became Maia’s, while Len had Tuppence’s craving for excitement as well as tendency to act on impulse. As the characters came to life their personalities grew more rounded and took on characteristics of their own, but the initial forming remained at their core.

Today is three weeks since I published Glamours and Gunshots; three more days marks Magic Most Deadly’s fifth birthday. This world and these stories have come a long way from that initial seed, but my appreciation for Tommy and Tuppence has not abated. My opening sentence of G&G was a small, private way for me to show that appreciation.

(PS: there’s also a subtle nod to Dorothy L Sayers in the book–did you spot it? Hint: it’s NOT the conversation Maia and Len have regarding detective stories.)

A brief reminder that reviews for Glamours and Gunshots are most appreciated! So far it has one on Amazon and one on Goodreads, but it needs more than that in order for it to fit into their algorithms and help other readers find it. 50 or more reviews is ideal! I’d settle for making it into double digits.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends! We are one week and one day away from leaving for England, which means my next post will be written on the other side of the pond!

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

Glamours and Gunshots Release Day

It’s here at last!

Glamours & Gunshots, available to purchase today!

glamours_and_gunshots_final

If you enjoy mysteries set in 1920s England, stories set in the real world but with a twist of magic, if you enjoy men and women working side-by-side as friends and partners, if you enjoyed Magic Most Deadly and wished for more books in the series, I have good news for you! All that in one book is ready for your reading pleasure. And even if you haven’t read Magic Most Deadly, Glamours & Gunshots can stand alone.

It was a long five years getting here. But the end result is worth it. I am so proud of this book. I hope you love it, too.