Falling Into October

Some days it’s hard to believe we’ve been in our new house, new life for a month already–but most days it feels like we’ve been here forever. Which can make it tricky when we are trying to figure out why we’re so tired, or suddenly so cranky with each other. “Oh, right,” we remind ourselves. “We moved a month ago.”

People ask us if we miss the seminary life. No, not really. We miss our friends there, obviously–but we’re so close we can have them over for meals (in a proper dining room, huzzah!) or get together for tea or meet up at a park if we want to. Admittedly, we haven’t done much of that yet, but that’s more due to the fact that we’ve had house guests off and on for the last three weeks than anything else.

The girls and I have started our Thursday classes–they take Latin and Science in the mornings while I get writing done, and then I teach American Lit, then we have lunch and come home. It’s been marvelous. Not only are they getting a fun class experience and I am getting two straight hours of writing time out of it, I’ve discovered that I’m actually pretty good at teaching! Or, as Grace put it: “Your first class was really boring, Mom, but all of them after that have been a lot of fun.” What can I say, it took me that first class to figure out what I was doing.

We finished reading Johnny Tremain this past week and will be starting The Sign of the Beaver after break. The kids are all in agreement that parts of JT were interesting, but it started out too slow and none of them feel like reading it again for fun–“Not like the Harry Potter books,” one student said. (“Actually, I think Harry Potter is kind of boring,” said Joy. “But I might like them when I’m a little bit older,” she generously admitted.) I loved having conversations with them about the book and their impressions of it, and especially loved their responses to some of the assignments (the letters they wrote from book characters to someone outside the city about the events of the Boston Tea Party were hysterical).

As for the writing, that’s proceeding at a snail’s pace (when does it ever not?), but it does progress. I finished the major rewrite of Candles in the Dark (remember that? Remember the novella I was supposed to publish in June? Hahahahasob it’s coming, I promise) this past Thursday, sent it to my betas, and am now trying to figure out if I should start editing the short story collection I was supposed to publish in July (guys, I am SO BAD at deadlines) or get back to the next Whitney & Davies novel, which I had optimistically hoped to publish in September.

I think I need to stop planning on getting projects finished in the summer.

And mostly, we’ve been enjoying living life, instead of surviving it. We climbed Mt Monadnock recently, tomorrow we go apple picking, we’ve been able to have various family members out without them having to stay in a hotel, we’re working on the gardens out front, we’ve walked to the library once a week …

Our year of rest is still off to a good start.

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September Brings New Beginnings

We are moved! Still surrounded by boxes in various stages of unpacking, but the kitchen is organized (it will have to be re-organized at some point; Carl put all the tea on a top shelf where I need a step-stool to reach it. That will never do!), the bedrooms are all in good shape, we are eating meals on our dining room table, and we are starting to move onto the best stage of unpacking: putting up the bookcases and replacing our books on them.

The move happened on Saturday. It went remarkably smoothly, thanks to the crew of friends who showed up to help starting at 8:00 in the morning and sticking it out until close to 3:00 that afternoon. A far cry from when we arrived at seminary, when one or two people helped out for an hour or so after we arrived and then we had to do the rest ourselves! We were setting up the kids’ bunkbeds at midnight while they fell asleep curled up on top of their toychests with blankets and pillows. This time, a friend gave us dinner once everything was moved and the apartment cleaned, and then we drove to our new house, put together the kids’ new beds (in their OWN BEDROOMS), put together our bed, and were still able to call it a night by 10:00. Thank you, God, for good friends.

We are still in the fall-into-bed exhausted each night stage, of course. Moving is never easy, regardless of how many friends you have helping. But any exhaustion-induced irritability is easily assuaged when we look around at our kitchen, where an easy meal is, in fact, easy; when the kids can go into their own rooms when they get annoyed at each other; when we have the option of using our second bathroom if the first is occupied; when we can do laundry in our own machine without having to first collect quarters; when we are able to wander around our own yard with tea in hand, discussing improvements we want to make in the gardens; when we think how God gifted us this house beyond our expectations or even hopes. Our seminary years (hashtag: #seminarylife) were wonderful, a time of growth and fruitfulness. But they were also hard, and we have been in survival mode for a long, long time.

Even in the midst of our physical exhaustion from this move, we are more at peace than we’ve been in ages. Carl is at work today; gymnastics and skating lessons and homeschool classes all start this week (I’m teaching American Lit–pray for me!) (and my students); by God’s grace I will be able to start focusing on my writing more this week as well.

Our Year of Rest is off to a good start.

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The clouds roll away and light breaks through

Journal as Story

I recently finished a re-read of Andrea K Höst’s Touchstone series (I almost wrote trilogy, but since she’s added two books to the original three I think it’s definitely a series now), and am currently reading Melissa McShane’s “The Summoned Mage,” which is a fantasy written in journal format (I’m about halfway through and enjoying it so far), and both are reminding me of the experience of writing From the Shadows.

I don’t generally write even in first person, so writing FTS was a new experience for me in a lot of ways–first person, journal format, and oh yeah, my first time writing science fiction. It was also the first time I wrote a novella and then stretched it out into a novel (a short novel, but a novel nonetheless).

Journal format is interesting, because it lets you inhabit your main POV character in a way even first person doesn’t. It feels very real, and I know FTS felt far more personal to me when it was finished than Magic Most Deadly or any of my other (non-published) novels. Even though Riss wasn’t me (yes, we have a lot in common, but this was not a thinly-disguised autobiography), by the end I had almost become her, so to speak. Which sounds a whole lot creepier than I intended.

It’s also a challenge to write in journal format without making it sound too tedious or ridiculous–nobody actually writes in a diary or journal the way we have to do it in a novel, reporting conversations in dialogue and giving background information and the like. So the author either has to ignore that and hope the readers can suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the story, or else give a reason for why everything is written the way it is. I went the route of “someday this might become historical record and I might become the official recorder for this journey so I’m going to start organizing my entries that way now,” and I think it worked pretty well, though there obviously still has to be some suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. However, since FTS started with time travel and involved aliens, faster-than-light travel on spaceships, and a future earth where humans live in harmony with nature, the story format was not likely going to be the thing a reader got hung up on (though I will say I did MOUNDS of research so as to make all those things, if not believable, at least as easy-to-accept-and-move-on as possible. It involved a lot of conversations about physics with my engineer husband, also, weirdly enough, conversations about infrastructure).

The biggest difficulty for me with using the journal format for FTS is thinking about replicating it in any possible sequels (not that there’s been a great call for sequels, as the book has a pretty small readership as of this point, but you never know). For Riss, her journal was her safe place to express her feelings. By the end of the book (this is spoiler-ish but only in terms of character development, so I think it’s safe to continue even if you haven’t read the book) she had gotten to the place where she doesn’t need to rely on it anymore. So why would she pick it back up? Another historical record-type thing? (Like in the Cecy & Kate books?) Because she decides she likes the act of writing down her experiences, even though she doesn’t need it in the same way? I don’t want her to go backward in character development, that’s one thing I loathe in a series, where each book starts with the main character somehow back to where he or she had been at the start of the previous book, and all that character development in said book is wiped out (or in TV shows, where that sort of thing is all too common).

Or would it be possible to write any future books in straight first person, not as a journal? Or even in third person? I’ve written a few short stories* set in the FTS world, and in all of them, including the Riss-centric ones, I use third person. Which works for a short story, but I’m not sure if it would be too jarring in a novel. Megan Whalen Turner might be able to get away with switching POV characters and bouncing from first to third POV (and back again), but hoo boy, I don’t know if I’ll ever reach her level of prose mastery.

So I don’t know–I don’t know that I’ll ever write another story in the FTS world, or if I’ll ever write another story in journal format. I am, however, deeply grateful for the experience of having done it once, and reading the stories that I am right now are making me smile as I remember the experience. I loved that world, and those characters (I think I might have to do another post sometime soon on how the story and the characters developed), and I know working on it made me a better writer overall, no matter if I never use that style again. I can’t give much higher praise than that.

*I have written six short stories revolving around the FTS characters at different points in their lives, but I haven’t yet figured out what to do with them. Offer them up as freebies here on the blog? Publish them together as a FTS short story collection? Release a second edition of FTS with one or two of the stories included at the end? I’m still undecided, but once I’ve made up my mind, I’ll let you all know.

June Dreams

This June was our last ballet recital. Maybe not forever, but for a while. Not only are we moving, both girls want to move on to something new. In our four years here, Grace has done ice skating, ballet, gymnastics, and then ballet again, and has decided that she really, really loves gymnastics the best and wants to pursue that. Joy did ballet all four years and loves it, but is ready for a change and has asked for figure skating lessons next year (she did skating lessons for a couple of years in Albany and loved it).

Ballet has been a wonderful experience for us–yes, all of us, not just the kids. We found our church through ballet acquaintances, we made friends who led us to our Classical Conversations community through ballet, the kids learned perseverance and self-discipline, Carl and I learned how to encourage and push without being pushy, we all discovered a deep appreciation for this beautiful form of artistic and creative expression.

I was a little emotional the week of their last classes and then the recital.

Luckily, we had family out for the recital, and my parents stayed a few days after and we had a lovely, lovely visit.

We went to all our favorite spots and discovered a couple new ones, too. We got a wee bit sunburned at the beach–but it was okay, because the recital was over and we didn’t have to worry about skin clashing with costumes! (Every year, I swear. Not this year! This year Mamma was obsessive with sunscreen for weeks beforehand.)

The kids also finished up piano lessons this month, and we got through our social studies book, hurrah! (We do math and Latin sporadically throughout the summer, so that it doesn’t get rusty.) We’ve said goodbye to a few more friends, planned visits to other friends in July, and started thinking about (gulp) packing up the apartment.

So. Many. Books.

Carl’s almost finished with his thesis, I’ve been plugging away at several different short stories as well as editing Whitney & Davies Book 2 (and gearing up to publish Candles in the Dark in a few weeks), and we’re preparing for a major road trip later this summer.

I hope your June has been lovely, friends, and that your July will be even better!

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!

Farewell to May

After Carl’s graduation midway through May, the rest of the month was pretty low-key. We mostly spent the days recovering from all the graduation excitement and poking ever-so-slightly at the monster that is the logistics of our upcoming move.

Our biggest adventure after the graduation was Gracie’s eighth birthday. Eight! The kids are getting old enough to not want that much shared about them publicly (and I concur, frankly–the older they get the more fiercely I want to protect their privacy), so I won’t say too much about Gracie except that at eight, she loves art and animals, and when she grows up she wants to be an artist and own a zoo so that she can protect endangered animals and teach people how to respect them. She’s smart, funny, and an incredibly hard worker, and her favorite superhero is Supergirl.

To celebrate her birthday, we went to the zoo and saw, among other animals, the red pandas, her favorite animals (and found out that one of the pandas shares a name with her!).

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The rest of the month was filled with little things: lots of rain, a friend sending books to Joy to help her manage her emotions about our upcoming move, swimming in the pond on one of our rare hot days, helping friends move out, celebrating births, trips to the library, and oh yes–I finally finished knitting Joy’s sweater I started a year and a half ago.

 

Writing-wise, May proved to be a good month for me, as I finally started writing down monthly goals and using that to keep track of what I was doing. Along with the mystery novella I’m planning to publish at the end of this month, I’ve managed to make progress on an upcoming short-story collection set in the Whitney & Davies world (two stories featuring brand-new characters, one story each for Maia and Len); I submitted a children’s book to several publishers, and I made (minimal) progress on editing the next W&D book.

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Whew! On to June: ballet recital for the kids, visit from family, more writing, and more preparation for moving to Cambridge.

NEW Mystery Novella, Coming Soon!

Back in September, I wrote this tweet:

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the next day, I tweeted this:

That idea ended up being a 20,000 word mystery novella set in my hometown of Canton, NY. It’s titled Candles in the Dark, and here is the blurb:

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 …

It was a step outside my comfort zone, writing-wise, to do a story that was not fantasy or sci-fi, and to try to capture the flavor of a real place in a real time. Thankfully, along with local historians (the Facebook page Historian Town & Village Canton was hugely useful, the photos alone were amazing), I could call or email my dad any time I got stuck on something, and he could pass along memories from his parents, or stories he’s heard from other folks of the previous generation. He was my first beta-reader for this story, and was able to correct a few of the physical details I’d gotten wrong, and confirm places where I’d hit the nail on the head. This was my first time writing a story where the setting turned out to be as much of a character as the people themselves.

In the end, I really loved it.

Of course, the problem with writing a mystery novella is that they aren’t easy to get published. Short stories or novels themselves can find homes well enough, but a novella is a strange beast, neither one nor the other.

So, I’m publishing it myself.

I don’t have an exact date yet, but it will be coming soon–possibly even next month!–and I will update here as I get more details down.

I hope you enjoy Pauline and her adventures in my hometown as much as I do! If I get a positive enough response to the story, I might even be able to turn it into a series after all.