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, mystery, publishing, writing

Pauline Gray Sale

I had a book come out this past weekend!

Which is, naturally, tremendously exciting.

But! I have other exciting news.

I don’t know about you, but I hate having to start a series in the middle. So, to make it easier for people to introduce themselves to Pauline before jumping into Book 2, I have put Candles in the Dark (i.e. Book 1) on sale for the rest of this month. Now, for only $.99, you can find out all about Pauline’s first venture into the world of detecting before you read about her second.

So don’t delay, pick up your copy of Candles in the Dark first and then snag Diamonds to Dust to read as soon as you finish! As novellas, they are the perfect bite-size read to enjoy in these last few days of summer. Not many more beach days left to us, so make the most of 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, mystery, publishing, writing

Diamonds to Dust Preorder and Print

I am so happy to be able to let you know that Diamonds to Dust is now available to pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords. Wow!

You can also order a print copy now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble (it hasn’t shown up on Bookshop.org yet, but I’m hoping that will come through soon).


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.

I am so looking forward to sharing this story with all of you!

writing

First Fruits

Happy Lammas Eve!

Lammas is one of those old holidays I had no idea existed until I moved to England for a time. I knew about May Day (May 1) and All Saints Day (Nov 1), but Candlemas (Feb 2) and Lammas (Aug 1) were nothing more than vague names that occasionally popped up in the English novels I read, akin to “Michaelmas,” which at one point in my childhood I thought was the British way of saying Christmas.

But no, those four days mark the four quarters of the year in Britain, and Lammas is the Harvest Festival. Its name is most likely derived from “loaf mass,” and traditionally it was marked by bringing bread made from new grains to the church to be consecrated, thus symbolically blessing the harvest.

Last Lammas, we were still in England, and I was still running my Patreon, writing monthly flash fiction, among other things, for my patrons. Since this story was published a year ago, I think I can safely share it here on my blog now, to mark this Lammas. This particular adventure did not actually happen to me, but such is the magic of Cambridge that I was pretty sure it could have, had I cycled down by the river at just the right time.

Enjoy.

First Fruits

By E.L. Bates

It was the first of August, and Effie had just cycled past a two-headed dog.

It flashed past her so quickly the oddness hadn’t registered at first. By the time she whipped her head back to look again, the dog and its owner were out of sight.

Probably just two dogs so close together it looked like only one body, she told herself, but a sense of unease remained.

Usually this was the time of year she liked best in Cambridge: it was warm and sunny, the students had all gone home, the tourists weren’t too bad outside of city centre, and everything was peacefully awaiting the start of the new school year.

Today, though, everything seemed off. As she rode along the Cam, she caught glimpses of oddities all along the other side of the river … a boy with goat horns poking through his curly hair sitting cross-legged under a willow, waving cheerfully at her before returning his fingers to the holes in the panpipes held to his lips … a strange, sinuous creature that was surely no fish raising its head briefly out of the water, green riverweed dripping from its sharply-toothed mouth … a girl in a delicate green dress with meadowsweet crowning her leaf-like hair dancing barefoot along the bank … two owls sitting on a single tree branch though it was the middle of the day, watching her solemnly.

Effie applied her brakes abruptly and skidded to a stop. “Okay,” she said under breath. “This has gotten weird.”

She briefly wondered if someone in one of the houseboats that lined the river in this part had been smoking something that had affected her. It didn’t seem likely, but neither did … this.

“Whooo?” asked an owl.

Effie looked up to see it had left its original branch and was sitting on a tree branch above her head.

“Great, now I’m talking to animals,” she muttered, then cleared her throat and spoke more clearly. “I’m Effie. Who are you?”

The owl stared at her unblinkingly. Effie blushed scarlet and hoped no people had been close enough to hear her. Had she really expected an answer? What an idiot.

She glanced around, but thankfully no one was around.

That was strange in and of itself. Where had everyone gone? Granted this wasn’t the touristy part of the river, past Midsummer Common as she was, but still … there were always some people out and about.

But now, no matter how far she looked in any direction, Effie could see no other human but herself.

The sounds of cars from the road had faded, too. No boats came down the river. A swan floated serenely past, but that was the only sign of life.

Effie swallowed. “This is officially creepy.”

“Whoo?” the owl insisted above her head.

Effie glared at it. “I told you, I’m Effie! What else do you want from me?”

“You’ll drive yourself mad trying to get sense out of old Henry,” chimed in a new voice.

Effie spun around to see the goat-horn boy had crossed the river and was now standing behind her. Now he was standing, she saw that his legs were fully human, but a goat’s tail switched behind him to match the horns.

“Not a faun,” she abruptly said aloud. “You’re a satyr.”

He bowed, eyes twinkling merrily. “Well done! Come along, we don’t want to be late.” He waved up at the owl. “It’s all right, Henry, she’s with me.”

He took Effie’s arm and led her down the path before she could think to argue. “That’s all he wanted, to know whose guest you are.”

“Guest for what? Where are we going?”

“The festival, of course. I have to play for it, but don’t worry, no one will expect anything from you. Guest, you see.”

Effie didn’t see, but her new satyr friend was whisking her along at such a rapid pace she couldn’t spare any breath for questions.

 At last they stopped at Stourbridge Common, or some version of it.

Wild, mythical creatures of every description filled the green, some coming up out of the river, others fluttering down from the trees, still more pouring in from every side. They had nothing in common with each other, any more than they did with Effie, save that each one carried a small, round, golden-brown loaf in their hands, talons, mouths, or tentacles.

“I’m off,” the satyr said abruptly. “Must tune up for the dancing that follows the blessing. Join the queue there, and I’ll see you later.”

He vanished into the crowd, leaving Effie utterly bewildered.

With no better options, she joined the end of the queue as suggested, right behind a naiad whose gown clung to her body and legs and shimmered when she moved.

“Um,” Effie said. “Sorry, but—what are we doing here?”

“Receiving the blessing on the loaf,” the naiad replied. “Didn’t Myles tell you?

Assuming Myles was her satyr friend, Effie shook her head.

“That numpty,” the naiad said. “Today is Lammas. We bring a loaf baked from the first harvest, it is blessed, and then we celebrate with a feast, music, and dancing.”

“I … don’t have a loaf,” Effie stammered. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around these fantastic beings receiving a blessing, just as though they were villagers going to church.

And yet, why not? Weren’t they all creatures of the same King?

She could see the priest now at the head of the queue, a centaur with a golden horse’s body and flowing beard, and the wisest, deepest eyes she’d ever seen on any living creature, human or otherwise.

“Here,” the naiad said, tearing her loaf in half and handing part over. “You can share in mine.”

Effie took the bread, suddenly deeply, humbly grateful. She had no idea why she’d been chosen to attend this celebration, why she got to experience this magic, but the memory of it would stay with her forever.

“Thank you,” she said.

The End

influences, mystery, world-building, writing

The Story Behind Pauline Gray

A few years back, I had finished a re-read of North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, and was pondering on what an unusual protagonist Margaret Hale was. Someone who was quiet and reserved, yet passionate for justice and a fiercely loyal friend. It was her quietness that stood out the most to me. How often do we see a protagonist who is deeply reserved, quiet, and yet never a pushover and rarely passive?

I had already, at that point, been mulling over the possibility of writing a straight-up detective story, no fantastic elements involved at all, and one set in my home town, or at least the region around where I grew up.

My ever-present love for Dorothy L Sayers’ scholarly-minded and ruthlessly honest Harriet Vane combined with my appreciation for Margaret Hale, and behold, I had the start of a new character for a new series: Pauline Gray.

Picture cropped from a vintage dress pattern

Set in my hometown of Canton, NY, in the 1930s, the series begins with Candles in the Dark. In it, we meet Pauline Gray, a young woman and scholar who graduated from St. Lawrence University with honors and has struggled to find work she considers meaningful ever since. She writes a regular column for a local newspaper and secretly supplements her income by writing cheap adventure novels, something which she is ashamed of, as she considers it an affront to her dreams of writing something that matters.

Into this imperfect but well-ordered life comes a mystery which she feels compelled to solve, because no one else cares or has the ability to pursue it. Even though her instinct is to stay as far away from anything so sordid as murder and anonymous letters as possible, her sense of justice won’t let her indulge such fastidiousness.

In Diamonds to Dust, the second novella, Pauline is a little more ready to jump into a mystery when asked to help, though she still struggles with the ugliness of it all. She has found she takes both intellectual satisfaction as well as moral satisfaction from solving troubles no one else can or will. She would still prefer not to have to write her adventure stories, but so far no better work has turned up. (It might take her a while to get her priorities straight and figure out the true nature of meaningful work.)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Pauline, as well as her friends and neighbors, through these first two novellas. This series combines two wonderful things for me as a writer: a character I find challenging and satisfying to draw, and a setting that reflects an area I know and love well.

I am already working on the next novella in the series, and I have tentative outlines for three more after that. After that, who knows?

If this description of Pauline Gray has intrigued you, Candles in the Dark is available to purchase through all the usual channels, and Diamonds to Dust will be out August 14. One small request: if you read and enjoy Candles in the Dark, would you be so kind to leave a review at whatever retailer you purchased it from, and/or at Goodreads? The more reviews a story has, the easier it is for other readers to discover it. Thank you so much, and happy reading!

mystery, publishing, writing

Diamonds to Dust Cover Reveal & Release Date

It’s time! My editor A.M. Offenwanger has sent back the MS from its final proofread, and that means we are awfully close to publishing. Which means it’s time to celebrate by sharing the cover and back copy!

First, though, you all remember Pauline Gray, yes?

Picture borrowed from a vintage dress pattern

Journalist by day, secretly writing adventure novels by night, she dreams of the day she can turn her attention to “serious” academic work rather than these frivolous stories she has to churn out to pay the rent. In the meantime, her attention keeps getting distracted by mysteries no else cares enough to solve. Pauline would prefer a quiet life, but she can’t deny aid to people suffering from injustice, not if it’s within her power to help. Her first adventure was in Candles in the Dark, but it’s by no means her last …

Pauline’s second adventure begins with a plea for help from a local woman bemused by a strange inheritance. It takes her outside of Canton, NY, into the Thousand Islands region, about 60 miles away.

Vintage postcard from the Thousand Islands
Fox Island, still privately owned but alas, no longer by my family. Wouldn’t it be fun to have your own island? Maybe I’ll have to write a story about that someday.

This is the area my dad’s family comes from originally–when my sixth great-grandfather (Samuel Bates) came to the US from England, he eventually settled in Cape Vincent, buying a farm on the mainland as well as one of the smaller of the “thousand” islands on the river. My dad’s mother’s parents had a dairy farm in Clayton for years until they moved to Canton, and my dad was born in Clayton.

It was great fun for me to be able to explore beyond my own hometown and “visit” another area that has ties to my family roots in this story. One of the best parts of writing these novellas is getting to know all these places a bit better than I did before thanks to all the research I do! (And is there any better form of research than calling your dad and saying, “So, Dad, about that island our family used to own …”?)

But enough about the background, I know what you’re interested in is the story itself.

Introducing …

(Are you excited yet?)

(Is the anticipation building?)

Diamonds to Dust, the second Pauline Gray novella, coming August 14, 2020.

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.

It will be available all the usual places–Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Amazon, in the usual ebook and paperback formats. I can’t wait to share it with you all! My one regret in taking 2019 off from non-Patreon writing was putting this story on hold. It was worth it, though–the finished product you’ll be reading is much, much better than it would have been if I’d tried to push the book to be ready sooner.

Mark your calendars! August 14 is the day!