Lloyd Alexander and Diversity

An incomplete (but pertinent) bibliography of Lloyd Alexander’s works for young people:

Time Cat, 1963. Takes place in ancient Egypt, Rome, Britain, Ireland, Japan, Italy, Peru, Isle of Man, Germany, and America, all extensively researched and handled with great respect and affection.

The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha, 1978. Takes place in fantasy Persia, extensively researched.

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, 1991. Takes place in fantasy China, patterned after Chinese folklore and fairy tales, extensively researched.

The Arkadians, 1995. Takes place in fantasy Greece and neighboring islands, patterned after Greek myths with very obvious affection.

The Iron Ring, 1997. Takes place in fantasy India. Patterned after Indian myths, incorporates traditional Indian caste systems and the importance of honor and karma, extensively researched. (Also the first Lloyd Alexander book I ever bought with my own money.)

Gypsy Rizka, 1999. Features a Romany heroine.

The Rope Trick, 2002. Takes place in fantasy Italy, pre-unification.

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, 2007. Takes place in Arabia.

In all the calls for the need for more culturally diverse books, I have not seen anyone mention Alexander’s works, and that’s a shame. Because I grew up enthralled with fairy tales and folklore of many different lands, and infused with the desire to immerse myself in and explore all sorts of “other” cultures in my writing, and I never considered that an odd way of thinking, and that is due almost entirely to Lloyd. To me, respectfully, excitedly, and lovingly exploring different cultures through fantasy was normal, and sticking with basic European traditions was weird.

We do need diverse books. So let’s not forget the man who was writing them long before any campaign for such notion began, the man who wrote diverse books solely because he loved the richness of them.

I would also like to note that all of the female characters in Alexander’s works are strong, no-nonsense (except for the ones who like nonsense), independent, intelligent, witty characters, at least if not more so as well-rounded as the male characters. And most of them are capable of physical fighting as well, though they tend to be clever enough that they avoid the need to fight much of the time.

(Lloyd Alexander has also written a few picture books which are beautifully illustrated and also culturally rich. The Fortune-Tellers, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, is set in Cameroon, and is witty and charming. Dream-of-Jade: The Emperor’s Cat I (sadly) have not yet read, but it is illustrated by D Brent Burkett and set in Ancient China and looks just as marvelous as all Alexander’s other works. The King’s Fountain, another I’ve not yet read, is illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats and set in the Middle East.)

TL;DR

Lloyd Alexander was awesome.

Top Ten Unique Books

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1. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers A detective story, a romance, a psychological novel, or something else entirely? I’ve never been able to make up my mind, but never have I read something so utterly unique and intriguing. I love this book.

2. Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein This one seems an obvious choice. A book one can’t even discuss without giving away crucial parts? Totally unique.

3. Jinx, Jinx’s Magic, Sage Blackwood At first glance, these seem like typical MG fantasies, with shades of Diana Wynne Jones, Lloyd Alexander, CS Lewis, (even Doctor Who!), and many others. But Jinx himself is such an unusual protagonist, a quiet, self-contained boy, enormously observant, often rude without realizing it, responsible yet frequently impulsive … I like to call these books quiet fantasy, which in no way takes away from their intensity. In fact, it might just increase it.

4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie It’s not entirely unique, because after she wrote this many others have copied the same trick – even Christie herself managed to recreate it a few times – but she was the first to attempt such blatant trickery of the reader, and to do it in a way no one could even justifiably resent afterward. Genius.

5. The Rope Trick, Lloyd Alexander All of Alexander’s books are faintly reminiscent of each other, with similar character types popping up in all. The Rope Trick stands out, though, in that Lidi, the main protag, is not like most of his heroines. And I’ve certainly never read any other fantasy of this type that ends with (Spoiler!) all of them dead.

6. Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace Oh, Emily. I’ve talked before about how much I love her. What makes this book truly unique, though, as well as contributing to its beauty and strength, are three things: (Spoilers ahead) Emily doesn’t marry her first crush; she doesn’t get to finally achieve her dream of going to college at the end; she is a quietly strong character, without a hint of feistiness. All three so very rare.

7. Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, AA Milne OK, random yes (although not if you know my household – we either listen to the audio books or have the hard copy lying around for anyone to browse through almost all the time, and Carl just finished reading them to the girls for bedtime stories AGAIN), but still. Have you ever read any other children’s book that is even remotely similar to these? That has humor for both adults and kids, that can suck you in whatever your age, that makes stuffed toys come so vividly alive? Good old Winnie-ther-Pooh.

8. Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen Turner Another obvious choice. I love these books, and even more do I love how MWT writes the books she wants to write, without worrying about conventions or expectations of the genre. These books are their own books, and they aren’t ashamed of that. (Because they’re AWESOME.)

9. Dark Lord of Derkholm, Diana Wynne Jones A rollicking, wickedly funny tear on traditional fantasy, this book, as with most DWJ, also manages to slide in some pretty sharp truths amidst the humor and nonsense. A book that both makes you laugh hysterically and catch your breath with its poignancy.

10. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell I include this mainly because of my husband. He’s not a fan of most Jane Austen movies, because he can tell right off the bat what’s going to happen, who is going to end up with who and why, and he finds the progression boring. W&D, however, he started out confidently predicting how it was going to end up, and then found himself confounded at every turn, and ended up truly loving it. So I say that makes it pretty unique in its genre! It also happens to be one of the only unfinished books I love and adore and don’t even care that it’s unfinished, so there’s also that.

And there you have my top ten! I am realizing there’s a great deal of overlap between all of my top ten books. Either that means I have a very narrow selection of books to choose between (possible, since although I read a lot, most books I forget about almost as soon as I finish), or that my favorite books are my favorites for good reason: they all share a lot of great qualities.

Head over to The Broke and the Bookish for more lists!

Secret Project, Secret No More

You remember that post I wrote back in February, about the need to finish the first draft I was working on so I could get started on the first draft of the book I was supposed to be writing?

Well, I finished it. The first draft of a story that jumped into my mind sometime in … either November or December, I really don’t remember now … and I knew that I had to start writing it then and there. If all I did was outline it, I knew I wouldn’t come back to it later. The outline would just sit, and languish, and collect metaphoric dust in my documents.

It wasn’t supposed to be very long, only around 30,000 words, a short, fun, MG. Of course, me being me, that turned into 51,000 words, closer to YA than MG, and with some surprisingly deep themes woven in amidst the lighter-hearted bits. In fact, I need to make sure the light-hearted bits are as prominent as I want them to be when I go back for the second draft.

I couldn’t talk about it at all, to anyone, for fear of losing the momentum. I didn’t even tell anyone I was writing it until I was halfway through, and then I finally broke down and told Carl what I was writing – but I wouldn’t tell him what it was about. Only that it wasn’t what I “should” be writing. A few weeks ago a friend asked me on Twitter what I was writing currently, and all I could say was “A secret project.” It didn’t need to be secret for any outside reasons – but I was afraid talking about it would have the same effect as outlining it. Death to the story itself.

So. It’s the messiest first draft I’ve ever had the privilege of finishing, because most of my first drafts are more like third drafts by the time I’m done with them. I break The Rule, you see, of first drafts. I am a compulsive go-back-er. I can be three chapter ahead, realize a way to make that past chapter better, and if I don’t go back and fix it right then and there, it eats away at me until I get it right. If I introduce a character that later on doesn’t fit, I have to go back and take that character out immediately, instead of just dropping the character from then on and removing it entirely later. I write a few chapters, go back and fix a few chapters, write a few, go back and fix a few … which is why I always cringe when I hear someone declare that all first drafts, every time, are junk. Because mine aren’t. Usually.

This one is, though. I just needed to get it written. So I skipped the edit-as-I-go this time (and yes, it drove me nuts, but I did it, and I’m kind of proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone. And I don’t plan to ever do that again) and just got it all done. I’m not going back and immediately fixing anything now that it’s written, either.

I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist for a while. Go back to working on Wings of Song and Magic in Disguise, the second Maia and Len book (it’s been six months since Magic Most Deadly published, and I think I’m finally ready to get back to their world). And then, once I’ve finished the initial drafts of both of those, I can drag this one back to life, tear it apart, and put it back together again better.

It’s been a fun interlude. And it was what I needed when the stories I was supposed to be writing (see previous paragraph) were not working, and I was feeling a considerable amount on ennui about my writing in general. Sure, it took me almost four months to write a draft I thought I would have done in six weeks, but hey. It’s there. It’s done. And it put the zest back in writing for me.

And now, it’s back to work.

Introducing …

It has exactly one sentence so far, but I couldn’t resist taking a screen shot to show you:

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Yes, in the midst of writing Wings of Song, I have started work on Magic Most Deadly’s sequel. Working title Magic in Disguise.

I have a broad plot outline and, as I said, exactly one sentence of story written.

I’ve also come up with a name for the series overall. Intelligent Magic, bringing together the Intelligence work that Len does and the magic that Maia is learning to master. Intelligent Magic was one of my discarded title ideas for Magic Most Deadly, so I’m pleased to be able to recycle it and use it now for the series.

Squee!

Magical World-building, Louise Style

I distinctly remember the first time I discovered the world of Cecy and Kate.

I was in the Scranton library, one of my first visits there after we moved from our apartment to the duplex and our former library was too much of a drive for every week (it was here, by the way, a great little jewel of a library that I truly loved). I was exploring the YA section, and wanted to see how many of the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C Wrede they had. Instead, they had this collaborative effort by Wrede and someone I’d never heard of before, that read, upon skimming it over, like a blend of Jane Austen and … well, Patricia C Wrede.

image courtesy of Goodreads

I have always been skeptical of collaborative books, but this looked way too intriguing to pass up. I borrowed it, and promptly fell in love. Not only with Kate, Cecy, Thomas, and James, but with the idea of insinuating magic into the real world, into real history.

When the first glimmers of plot for Magic Most Deadly were swirling about my brain, my first thought was to make the world very similar to the Kate & Cecy world – where magic was an open, accepted part of everyday life, only in the 1920s instead of 1820s.

In the end, I just couldn’t make that work, though, and had to rely on magic existing, but being hidden. Which had its own set of challenges, but fit the story and characters’ needs much better.

It made the world-building and research process so much fun. How does one fit the War in with the concept of magic? Would magicians have been involved? (Hey, my brain said, there’s a good backstory plot point.) How does magic work? How do they keep it secret? How do they keep track of all the magicians? Is it a world-wide thing, or does each nation have its own set of laws regarding magic, or what? (Ooh, said brain. FUTURE plot points.)

What I did not do is what almost every writer of fantasy insists you must: I did not write out a detailed, complete outline of how magic worked, a complete alternate history, maps, et cetera.

Part of that was because I was coming off an exhaustively researched, meticulously detailed, carefully plotted project that had sucked the life and joy right out of writing for me. Magic Most Deadly was never intended to be publishable. It was just a fun project to help me recover my zest for story. So more meticulous detailing and back-plotting was the exact opposite of what I needed then.

The other part is that it’s really hard for me to think of all the necessary details to build up an alternate history completely, right out of hand. Rather, I do much better with a vague, broad outline, filling in the details as I go. I also happen to have a rather good memory for what I’ve already said and detailed, so it is very rare that I end up tripping myself later on with details or writing myself into a corner (with magic or history details, that is. Len’s eyes went from brown to blue probably half a dozen times in the course of the story in the first two drafts, and I still have to think twice if you ask me what color they are. And don’t even bother asking which leg Dan lost in the War. Are Maia’s friends the police officers Ray Maddox and Alan Andrews, or Ray Andrews and Alan Maddox? I’d have to check the book to tell you for certain. But  the magic details, those all stayed perfectly plainly, and very neatly labeled and organized in my head.)

Magic! Yes. Part of nature! Yes. Can only work with natural items! Well, that certainly makes sense, and provides a good limitation. Wait, then can magicians be mechanics? Don’t know, don’t need to know now, file that question away for later when it’s relevant.

Can people do magic on other people? Sure, but with limits. What limits? Hmm, I probably do need to work this one out. … Able to, but banned because it’s wicked. (Which ended up being the main plot point for my short story If This Be Magic.)

But wait! Banned by who? OK, need some sort of magical government. Hmm … we’ll call it a council, work out more details as needed.

(Later on, it turned out I did need those more details, and then I sat down and wrestled into submission the idea of Master Magicians, Journeymen, Apprentices, and Ordinary Magicians. That each nation had its own system of governance seemed obvious, so I didn’t bother messing with any other countries’ methods – I still don’t know how they all work, though I will have to figure out some for the sequel, featuring as it does magicians from the US and Russia.)

I don’t necessarily recommend this method for everyone. It can get sloppy, and if your memory doesn’t have the knack of holding onto the important details, it can get you in trouble. But it worked for me, for this book, and it saved me at a time when I have squeezed all inspiration out of my writing process by trying to be too businesslike about it. As I was working on the very final draft, I finally narrowed down various other details: where in England the story took place, what Stanbury and Little Oaks looked like, that sort of thing.

Sheepy Lodge, the inspiration for Little Oaks. Isn’t it gorgeous?

By then, the polishing stage, I needed all those little bits and pieces. Back at the beginning, the first few drafts?

They would have gotten in the way and bogged me down.

So this is what worked for me, for this book. It’s unconventional, sure, but it was also a whole lot of fun.

(I just realized, when I close my eyes and picture Dan, he is definitely missing his right leg. So there you go.)

Magic Most Deadly Launch Day

This is it! Today is the day my firstborn book child officially enters the world. I am so pleased and proud to be able to announce …

Magic Most Deadly

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For Maia Whitney, life after the Great War is dull, monotonous, and drab. Nursing soldiers in the bloody fields of France hadn’t been easy, but it was better than life at home, standing in her sisters’ shadows. There seems no chance for a change until the night she witnesses a murder in the woods.

The last thing Magic Intelligence Agent Lennox Davies needs is this outspoken, independent lady crashing his investigation. Bad enough that a murder happened on his watch; much less that she had to see it happen. He works alone, and he does not have time for Miss Maia Whitney’s interference.

But as Maia’s own magical talent blossoms and danger thickens around the two with every step they take, before long Len and Maia must rely on each other in a fashion neither has ever done before. If they can’t learn to work together, England itself might topple. Even worse, if Maia doesn’t learn to control her magic soon, she might do more to destroy them even than their shadowy enemy.

Can they set aside their stubbornness and self-reliance in time to save themselves—and all England?

This book brought so much joy to my heart in the writing of it. I wrote it for fun, for me, without any initial thought of publication. I justified watching Downton Abbey as research for it, and snorted in amusement to myself at some of the parallels between the Crawley sisters and my own Whitney sisters, and knew that, if ever it did get published, I would hear claims that I was copying Downton.

I read and re-read all of Agatha Christie’s books set in the ’20s, and took great glee in turning the Tommy-and-Tuppence relationship on its head with Maia and Len – where she was the methodical, practical one, and he was the one given to impulse and flashes of insight.

I realized partway through that not only was I thoroughly enjoying writing this, it was shaping up to be the best thing I’d ever written, and the most publishable.

I wrote two short stories set in the same world, but with different characters and in different eras, and in doing so ended up solidifying the way the magic works and the rules surrounding its use.

I wrote, and re-wrote, and sent to beta readers and editors and friends, and re-wrote some more, and polished it up again, found an amazing cover designer and formatter, and now, at last, about four years from starting this project –

Here it is.

Magic Most Deadly is available right now in ebook form through Amazon and Smashwords. Nook and iTunes should be available by the end of the week (I’ll post live links as they become available). The paperback is available through Createspace right now, and through Amazon by the end of the week as well (ditto with that link).

The Goodreads giveaway for a paperback copy is still running, and will be open until October 10.

A thousand thanks to everyone who has encouraged, helped, watched, and cheered me on along the way. I couldn’t have done it without any of you.

Special thanks especially to A.M. Weir, Angelika O, TJ Loveless, Laura R, Kathryn Jonell, Amanda McCrina, and MOST especially to Carl, Joy & Grace, Mom & Dad, and Lis.

Magic Most Deadly Cover Reveal

This cover.

You guys.

I thought it was going to kill me. The delays. The parting of ways with my first cover designer. My blithe assurance to her that I had it all under control. The near panic as I realized I, in fact, had nothing under control. The frantic search for a new designer who would meet my budget and give me what I desired. The – literally – sleepless nights as my mind wouldn’t stop worrying the matter, like a dog with a bone.

(It probably didn’t help that all this was taking place right before, during, and after our move.)

Then, in a serendipitous bit of Google searching, I came across Fly Casual. I loved the name first, quite honestly (Star Wars FTW!), even before I saw samples of Amanda’s work or realized that her cover and formatting package fit my budget exactly.

Amanda is a writer herself, as well as graphic designer, and a fan of many of the same mystery novels I love, and which inspired Magic Most Deadly. We hit it off right away. The very first concept design she sent was amazing, and we were off and running from there.

Less than a week from our initial contact, she was emailing me the final product. And it all was more perfect than I ever dared to hope.

mmd_small_res_final

For Maia Whitney, life after the Great War is dull, monotonous, and drab. Nursing soldiers in the bloody fields of France hadn’t been easy, but it was better than life at home, standing in her sisters’ shadows. There seems no chance for a change until the night she witnesses a murder in the woods.

The last thing Magic Intelligence Agent Lennox Davies needs is this outspoken, independent lady crashing his investigation. Bad enough that a murder happened on his watch; much less that she had to see it happen. He works alone, and he does not have time for Miss Maia Whitney’s interference.

But as Maia’s own magical talent blossoms and danger thickens around the two with every step they take, before long Len and Maia must rely on each other in a fashion neither has ever done before. If they can’t learn to work together, England itself might topple. Even worse, if Maia doesn’t learn to control her magic soon, she might do more to destroy them even than their shadowy enemy.

Can they set aside their stubbornness and self-reliance in time to save themselves—and all England?

Magic Most Deadly, by E.L. Bates, coming out September 30, 2013.

Hurrah!

If anyone is looking for a cover designer and/or interior formatter, I highly recommend Amanda of Fly Casual. She understood almost instinctively what I wanted, listened to all my nit-picky suggestions with infinite patience, and produced an amazing, professional, meticulously crafted finished product even sooner than her projected finish time. All around, working with her was just a wonderful experience!