I don’t write fanfiction anymore (no time; too many original projects requiring my writing attention these days–I have FOUR stories in progress right now, three that I’m actively working on and one that’s on hold, and so, so many more just waiting for their turn), but I do still find myself imagining fanfic-type stories just for fun, stories that won’t ever get written down. I was daydreaming this morning about an Emma sequel focusing on Emma’s daughter, and I automatically pegged her as a calm, sensible type, who starts out the story quite content with doing what everyone expects of her, and then her life gets stirred up and turned inside out when romance and excitement come her way without her ever wanting them.
Then I realized, wow, do I have a penchant for writing that sort of character or what? Going through my published books, we have:
Maia Whitney: So practical and sensible I had to rewrite her character several times to keep her from being utterly boring, and is in fact frequently dismissed by her family and even some of her friends as dull.
Pauline Gray: Practical and calm, solves murders because of her strong sense of justice but does not enjoy the excitement of them at all, in fact wishes she could hide away in a library somewhere researching something dull and safe.
Riss Waldon: Falls into a space opera, is immediately determined to enjoy it because what’s the point of an adventure if you spend your whole time panicking and trying to get out of it, continues to act sensibly through the entire thing because she can’t stand irrational behavior.
Going back through my old LMM fanfics, for original characters I have:
Meggie Blythe: starts out as a practical 10yo with a touch of dreaminess, ends as a young wife and mother who is still both practical and dreamy. (I loved Meggie with all my heart, but I can admit that she didn’t really get all that much character growth throughout that series of stories, nor did she have much in the way of flaws.)
Gwen Blake: impulsive and clumsy, but definitely grows throughout her stories into someone more practical and sensible, and always more on the common sense side of personality traits than the dreamy, romantic side. Much more Elinor than Marianne, basically.
Not to mention that the non-OCs I’ve written about are Jane Stuart, Shirley Blythe, and Diana Blythe, all canonically practical and down-to-earth.
Even looking at the short stories I’ve written, they tend heavily toward “ordinary, sensible person gets sucked from a boring, everyday life into adventure and then has to be the only level-headed person when everyone around him/her is mad.”
Which has led me to wonder if I can write a madcap adventurer. But, my creativity rises up in protest, I like sensible people getting dragged against their will into adventure! I don’t want to write about people who want adventure, that’s boring!
Ah well. Maybe someday the pendulum will swing about in the other direction. For now, practical characters it is!
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.
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?
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 …
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 …
“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!
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.
Two years ago, I published my second novel, a short space opera titled “From the Shadows.” It was my first time doing my own formatting, and while the finished product was acceptable, I was never thoroughly happy with it. As time went by and I learned more about the craft of self-publishing, I began to see the errors I had made, and how to fix them. I wasn’t sure, though–was it silly to release a second edition only two years after the first? Would readers even care? Was it worth the effort?
In the end, the questions boiled down to this: did I care enough about this story to make it the best I possibly could, no matter how difficult or awkward it might be.
The answer, after a lot of soul-searching, was yes.
From the Shadows has never been a popular book. I get far more requests for the next Whitney & Davies book (it’s coming, it’s coming) than I do a sequel to From the Shadows. I doubted it had a fandom that would be at all affected by a new edition.
But I love this story. I love the characters, I love the theme that surprised me by weaving through it, I love the adventure, I love the world. This story meant something to me. It still does. I knew that I would always be unhappy about it if I knew I could make it better and didn’t.
So, I got to work. I reformatted. I went through and eliminated a few typos that had slipped through (there are always typos that slip through). I took out dozens of “justs” and “verys” and my other nemesis words that also always tend to slip through. I included a short story at the end, because if I’m already going to all this work I might as well include some new content, right? I kept the basic cover (because it’s gorgeous and I can’t imagine a better one) but updated the title and author font as well as the back copy.
It was tedious work, but I found I didn’t mind. In fact, going through the book with a fine-tooth comb was even joyful. It felt like getting reacquainted with old friends. I fell in love with the story all over again.
I received my proof copy in the mail today, and I’ve begun the process of retiring the old paperback so I can bring out the new one, as well as updating the Kindle edition (which will carry through to the other retailers as well). I’m hoping to have everything up and running by November 30, two years minus one day since the book first came out.
I hope it makes even more friends this time around, and that readers will fall in love with this world and these characters just as I did in writing them.