Pre-Order Glamours & Gunshots

Glamours & Gunshots is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Glamours & Gunshots Pre-Order

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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.

If you are interested in receiving an early copy for reviewing purposes, let me know and I can send you a pdf! I’ve never really done official ARCs, but unofficially, I’m all for it.

Also, don’t forget that Magic Most Deadly and Magic and Mayhem are both on sale for $0.99 until the end of August! Now is the perfect time to dive in to the Whitney & Davies series and fall in love with Maia and Len and all their friends and family yourself!

Magic Most Deadly $0.99

Magic & Mayhem $0.99

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Magic & Mayhem

A long time ago–in 2013, which is about 200 years in book publishing reckoning–I published Magic Most Deadly, a fantasy-mystery set in England in the 1920s, described by one reader as “Dorothy L Sayers with magic” and another as “Agatha Christie meets Diana Wynne Jones.” It featured a reverse Tommy and Tuppence pair, where the woman was reliable and practical, ruthlessly logical and devastatingly honest, and the man was impulsive and intuitive, a dreamer and an incurable romantic. Together, they used magic and their own wits to solve the mystery, defeat more than one enemy, and forge a firm friendship.

It didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it did garner a small fandom, and I immediately set about writing the sequel.

And learned the truth of all the statements about second books being so much harder than first books.

It was so hard, in fact, that I finally abandoned it to work on a project-from-my-heart, the recently re-released From the Shadows. With that one finished, I went back to the next Whitney & Davies book.

And promptly hit a wall again. And again.

With the release of yet another non-W&D book this December, the mystery novella Candles in the Dark, my readers might be justified in thinking I had left behind this world, and these characters, for good.

I am here today to tell you that is not the case.

No, this isn’t an announcement of the sequel, although I am in the line-editing stage of that and hope to have it out to the copy-editor soon. What I am announcing is an in-between project, something to both remind readers of this world (and possibly introduce new readers to it), and tide them over until the sequel does come out.

It is …

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Magic & Mayhem, a collection of four short stories set in the Whitney & Davies world (one each featuring our intrepid protagonists, two featuring brand-new characters).

And that’s not all! Magic & Mayhem also includes the first chapter of the sequel to Magic Most Deadly, titled Glamours & Gunshots!

So, my faithful friends who have stuck with this blog and this writing journey of mine for the last five years, your patience will have its reward at last. Four short stories and the sure promise of the next novel in the series.

I don’t have an exact release date for Magic & Mayhem yet, but it will be out soon, and I will update here as soon as I have more solid information.

In the meantime, back to editing I go …

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.)

Magic in Disguise: Progress

I have passed the halfway point on Magic in Disguise!

This book has been more exhausting than any I’ve ever worked on, published or unpublished. I started it immediately after publishing Magic Most Deadly, which was released September 2013. Since then, the plot has changed about five times, and I took a long break to work on From the Shadows instead, as well as starting Rivers Wide (which is currently in the beta-reading stage), and have discarded many, many drafts.

This one, though … this is the one that’s going to stick. The last draft was close, gave the skeleton of the story, and this one is making sense of it and filling it in. I think I had a couple femurs in place of humeri before and was missing a patella or two, but I’m getting them all sorted now.

How’s THAT for a metaphor of story-writing?

This book takes place in London 1925, when Maia has been apprenticed to Aunt Amelia for a little over three years. The London setting means we won’t see the return of certain characters such as Merry and Ellie or Julia and Dan (though we might get a cameo for one of them …), but never fear, Maia and Len and Becket are all present, as is the indomitable Aunt Amelia (for at least part of it). There will also be some new characters introduced, such as Helen Radcliffe, a young lady magician who has become good friends with Maia and gets caught up with great enthusiasm in their current investigation. The threat this time is more personal, with danger entering Aunt Amelia’s house and attacking Len, but the stakes are no less high for that. This book also delves a little bit deeper into the magic system itself, giving more spells, potions, and other ways of practicing magic while Maia learns how to control her ability and attempts to not blow too many things up in the process. And, of course, we get to see the relationship between Len and Maia grow and develop, but whether or not that includes romance I’m not telling!

It’s fun to write, even while it is exhausting, and I am getting to that point where I am eager to finish it so as to find if others will find it as enjoyable to read as it has been to create. We’ve got a long way to go still, but little by little, slowly but surely, it is coming.

The Importance of Story

(Note: This is the first part of my presentation at the H-W Library, edited for this blog. The rest of the talk was on From the Shadows specifically, which may or may not make it into another post; we’ll see.)

I believe stories are immensely important—even essential—to us as human beings, because they convey truths we can’t get at in any other way. Which is a tricky point to attempt to elucidate, because as soon as you ask, “what sort of truths, Louise?” I say, “well, I can’t exactly explain them, that’s why we need stories,” and there we are. But I would like to try to delve at least a little bit into what I mean by that.

Truths we can’t get at in any other way: what does that mean, and how does it affect us? What sort of truths, and why do we need them? How can “mere” stories help us live fuller lives? We’d need far more than a blog post (or two) to fully cover this. But I think we can at least touch the edges of the concept.

There’s a moment in Tolkien’s Return of the King, toward the end, when Gandalf and the hobbits are nearing the Shire and realizing that there are problems there needing to be dealt with. Merry comments that they won’t have any difficulties there, because they have Gandalf with them. Gandalf’s reply is this: “I am not coming to the Shire. You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for.” All their epic adventures—the greater story they got caught up in, as Sam mentions more than once—was preparation for living an everyday life. The great journey, the destruction of the Ring and overthrow of Sauron, the establishing of the true King, as great and important as those things were in and of themselves, they weren’t the end goal. They were giving the hobbits the tools they needed to live more deeply and more completely. They have returned to their own world, but not the same as how they left. “You are grown up now,” Gandalf continues to them. “Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.” And of course he is right. They overcome the trouble in the Shire with wisdom and wit, mixing mercy and justice with a shrewd hand, and restoring to right all the ills that had been done there.

In mulling over this point, I realized I had come up with a catchphrase for my own writing: carrying the epic into the everyday.

Something that is epic is, by its very nature, larger than life. Gods, magic, and heroes, as in The Iliad or Beowulf, which are two of the first stories that come to my mind when I hear the word “epic.” Stories that are meant to inspire, to carry us out of ourselves and into greater realms where a hobbit can be a hero and a schoolboy become a king. But we cannot live in that exalted realm, after all. We are not gods or monsters; we are human, living in a world of school and work, families, paychecks and taxes. We live in the everyday; we need the epic to help us make it a glorious adventure in and of itself.

This is what stories do: they sink into our hearts and give us the tools we need to live more fully, more richly, in the everyday world around us. As the hobbits found their grand adventure—their story—was giving them truths and tools they could then carry back to their world and use to live a fuller life, so we find the wondrous epics of story make us more fit for living in our world. The very best stories do far more than entertain or even enlighten us; they transform us into more than what we are, into the better version of ourselves, so to speak. One comes away from the best stories saying, “Yes, I may not be able to put it into words or even understand it completely, but something about this story makes me see things a little more clearly, love more deeply, speak more truly.” They show us truth about this world, about ourselves, about all possible worlds, in ways we never could have seen on our own. They can raise us up or humble us—sometimes both at the same time—encourage and exhort us.

But they are not instruction manuals thinly disguised as entertainment! Perish the thought! If you set out, in writing a story, to point a moral or teach people something, you have failed before you’ve even begun. No, one starts with the story—whether it be the characters, the plot, even the setting, whatever seed it is that each writer’s story grows from—and it shows one its own truths as it grows. That is the only way it can reach the reader. Otherwise there is no joy in it, no life, and no truth. That’s the miracle of the best stories: they start as one simple thing and grow to become more than themselves—which is just exactly what they do for their reader, as well. We can feel, after reading Return of the King, as ready to face the small troubles in our world as the hobbits were for theirs, because we have journeyed right along with them, to Rohan and Gondor and Mount Doom, and have grown up right along with them. Or take Narnia—when the children are told, at the end of various books, that they have gotten too old for Narnia, it is not a punishment or a statement that Fairyland is only for children. The point is that they have gained what they needed from Narnia, and now they must apply that to their real world. Narnia was their training, so to speak, and now the training is complete and they are ready to put it to use. And in The Last Battle we see that even the real world had its ending for them, that they had learned and grown and gleaned all they could from that and were now ready to move to yet deeper and truer adventures. How lucky are we as readers, that we are able to return as often as we need, to remind and refresh ourselves of those lessons and those truths!

I could list so many books to illustrate my point—Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence; Lloyd Alexander’s—well, everything he ever wrote, really, there’s a reason he is my favorite author, but especially his Prydain Chronicles; Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, Diana Wynne Jones’ books … all of them able to delight and entertain us, as well as strengthen us. They give us a little piece of epic to tuck in our hearts and carry with us to strengthen us for the everyday. Are there other mediums that can do that as well? Yes, of course. Art, music, dance—I am a passionate lover of figure skating, which also has the ability to move and transport its viewers. But a story works more directly, and, I believe, is more universal. But I admit to being biased. After all, I AM an author. In any case, it doesn’t have to be a competition—one can appreciate and respect the nature of story without in the slightest diminishing any other artistic mediums.

You may have noticed, when I rattled off the authors I find inspirational, that they were all writers of speculative fiction—speculative fiction, for any who are not familiar with the term, is the catch-all phrase covering fantasy and science fiction. I mention them specifically not because I don’t think you can convey profound truths through everyday, realistic stories. You can. I love LM Montgomery, Maud Hart Lovelace, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens … and don’t get me started on my love for mysteries, which is a post for another time! I have enormous respect for those who can convey truth and beauty powerfully through realistic fiction. But I think the kind of truths I’m speaking of here, that epic in the everyday, are most easily conveyed through speculative fiction. As Neil Gaiman puts it so succinctly in his paraphrase of GK Chesterton: Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. Speculative fiction allows us the best kind of symbolism, the kind that stands on its own at the same time it stands for something deeper. One can read Lord of the Rings as a fantastic adventure—because it is! But even reading it on the most surface level leaves one with a sense of satisfaction that evil can be beaten, that good can overcome due to the efforts of the smallest and most humble of all, and that everyone has a vital role to play in life, whether we can see it or not. And that’s only one level down beneath the obvious! One can go deeper, and deeper again—or, as Lewis puts it, “further up and further in.” There are always richer truths to be discovered behind the fantasy. I believe speculative fiction strikes chords within the human heart that other kinds of fiction cannot reach.

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Still round the corner there may wait A new road or a secret gate, And though we pass them by today, Tomorrow we may come this way And take the hidden paths that run Towards the Moon or to the Sun. -JRR Tolkien

Joyful Work

Those of you who enjoyed Magic Most Deadly will be happy to know that I am currently hard at work on revisions of the sequel (thus far, the working title of Magic in Disguise seems to be sticking). You might remember me posting here a few months back that I had finished the first draft? Now I’m filling it out, deepening it and padding it, putting events in their proper order, inserting clues (now that I know both the point of the crime and the criminal, two things I was clueless on when I started the first draft), creating a few red herrings, all that fun stuff.

I know some writers who dump everything into their first draft, and then spend subsequent drafts pruning, cutting away words and tightening it all up. That is not how I craft my stories. No, my first drafts are always the barest of bones (as a teen, I used to write my first drafts as scripts – just dialogue and a few terse “stage directions”), which then have to get filled out a little more in each draft. Right now my chapters stand at about 2500-3000 words each – I need to get them to 4000-4500 by the final draft. Whew!

It’s fun, though. And it’s fun to challenge myself by seeing if I can include enough background details in each scene to keep my beta readers from saying “more details! We need more details!” (I’ve never yet managed it, but it’s a goal). Today, for example, I spent some time figuring out the layout and general decor of Len’s London flat. While the readers of Magic in Disguise won’t necessarily need to know that the flat has two bedrooms, and the exact location of the cloakroom, or what the color scheme is of the dining room, having all that information at my fingertips will make it easier to sneak in subtle details to fill out the story and make it more vivid.

More vivid! That’s what I hope for with all my stories – that they live. I have a hard time re-reading Magic Most Deadly these days – my fingers itch to start editing, to fix all the flaws I see in it now, to make all these improvements. But one thing that does still satisfy me with it is how alive it is. Flawed though it might be (hey, it’s a debut novel), creaky though it may be in places, it does live, and that gives me great joy.

I hope that Magic in Disguise, when it is finished, not only is an improved book craft-wise from MMD, but is even more alive than its predecessor. A joyous, laughing, living book (as much as a murder mystery can ever be those things!), which brings as much delight to its readers as it did/does to its writer.

And now I’d best stop talking about writing it, and get back to actually writing the thing …