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.

1920s, goals, mystery, publishing, Sci-fi, writing

Projects

I sat down the other day and wrote out a list of the stories I am working on, and the ones I would like to be working on within the next few years.

It’s quite the list.

First, there’s the next Whitney & Davies book, and the two I have loosely plotted to follow that one. (Both Yorkshire and Cornwall inspired a new W&D story, and I’m really looking forward to getting those written and revisiting both places in my imagination.)

Newnham College in Cambridge provided the inspiration for W&D Book 3–set at the fictional Saint Dorothea’s, the college for magicians hidden inside Cambridge University
The ruins of Fountains Abbey in the Yorkshire Dales provided the inspiration for W&D Book 4
The gloriously wild and rugged (or at least it was gloriously wild when we were there, thanks to all the storms) Cornish coast is the setting for W&D Book 5

Then there’s the unexpected sequel to From the Shadows, which might??? lead to a third book? I’m still not sure. Quite frankly, there wasn’t even supposed to be a sequel, so clearly I am not the one in charge of these stories, I just go where they direct.

I have plot outlines sketched in for a total of six novellas in the Pauline Gray series, and I would hope to be able to carry that series out even longer so long as the characters and stories don’t get stale–for readers as well as for myself.

You would think that would be enough, wouldn’t you? But no–I have ideas for a middle grade fantasy book, a young adult fantasy book, and a cozy mystery series. And this doesn’t even take into account the stories that pop into every author’s imagination and demand to be written!

I’m not complaining, not at all. It’s wonderful to have such a wealth of stories to play with, so many different worlds and characters to explore and share with readers. I am in no danger of getting bored for the next several years, that’s for certain.

So tell me: what sort of projects do you have teeming in your brain these days? What are some of your short-term and long-term creative goals? Whether it be gardening or knitting or sewing (oh, don’t get me started on my knitting and sewing projects!) or pottery or painting or baking or anything else creative at all! I’d love to get inspired by what’s inspiring you.

There’s a story waiting to be revealed here, too, it just hadn’t made itself known to me yet. Maybe you’ll be luckier … or more attuned to its whisper.
1920s, publishing, Sci-fi, writing

Spring, and a New Look!

Hullo and welcome! Notice anything different around here?

It’s an updated website, with a different theme and an added page–but most importantly, more organization, especially of the main reason we’re all here: the books!

I’ve been wanting to create separate pages for my books, organized according to series, for quite some time now, and when better to do that than while self-isolating, right? If you go up to the main menu, you will find there is now a drop-down menu under the “Books” tab, and further drop-down menus under that for the Whitney & Davies and Pauline Gray series respectively.

And while I was at it, I cleaned up the Books page itself, changed the theme, added some photos to different pages, added in a page to link to StarDance Editing (yes, I’m still offering manuscript critiques and proofreading services at my sister site), and oh yeah–notice anything special on the Whitney & Davies page and the Pauline Gray page?

Anything?

Like maybe, oh I don’t know … some new titles? And a release date?

That’s right! The second Pauline Gray novella, Diamonds to Dust, is coming out in 2020–that’s this year! I am planning a cover reveal soon, so stay tuned for that.

As for Whitney & Davies, the third book does not have a release date yet, but it does have a title.

Death by Disguise

The first draft is done, and I’m looking forward to getting deep into edits (which at this point will probably involve an entire rewrite, but even so, I’m looking forward to it) as soon as D2D is out into the world.

I know life has been topsy-turvy for us all, but I hope and trust that with spring approaching, we can all find some new vigor and joy.

And don’t forget–Magic Most Deadly, From the Shadows, and Candles in the Dark are all still free (everywhere but Amazon, but only $0.99 there)! The sale lasts until at least the middle of April.

Happy end-of-March!

My mother’s chickens have been enjoying the warm sunshine lately, and clearly are not concerned with social distancing.
1920s, Family, Life Talk, philosophy, publishing, seasons, writing

Ring out the old, Ring in the new

I was planning to write a years-end wrap-up post for 2018, but realized that almost all I could remember about the year was the move at the end of September, and everything past that. A three-month wrap-up isn’t what anyone asked for!

It was a much fuller year than that, though, at least according to my photo album.

Between January and September, we: met one of my internet friends in real life, after trying to make it happen for years; went skating on Frog Pond (and our local rink) as a family; went to a book signing by Susan Cooper; visited the beach a final time (or two); went to the aquarium where Joy and Grace got kissed by a fur seal; had my parents out for a visit; celebrated Joy finishing up all the Basic levels for figure skating; visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; moved away from Hamilton after 5 years; celebrated 14 years of marriage with Carl and I having a weekend getaway to VT; planted a tree for Carl’s mom; spent a week in Acadia National Park.

Not included in the photo collage would be the numerous family reunions, the many trips to the bird sanctuary, the bike rides, the power outages, the swimming, the schooling …

I guess, thinking it over, it was a pretty full year after all, even before the move.

We are now in the second day of 2019. What this year holds, I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind if it were a little less eventful than 2018! But whatever comes, I know we’ll meet it as a family, with determination and with laughter, and we’ll move forward together.

(Oh yeah, I also published a volume of short stories and a novel in 2018. I guess you might consider that kind of a big deal!)

I am not making specific goals, or even choosing a specific word for this year: rather, I am open to whatever comes. Let’s see what 2019 has to offer!

1920s, Books, fantasy, fiction, publishing, reading list, Sci-fi, stories, writing

Black Friday Sale

It’s sale time! From now until November 30, my first-in-series and stand-alone books are only $0.99.

Magic Most Deadly, my first published novel, the first in my Whitney & Davies series, combines murder, mystery, and magic in 1920s England. It’s Agatha Christie with magic!

From the Shadows, a sci-fi stand-alone (so far …). A journey through space and time that is really all about finding one’s place in the world. This story is especially dear to my heart!

Last but not least, Candles in the Dark, an historical mystery novella, set in the Adirondack region of NY State in the 1930s (aka my hometown). Written under the name Louise Bates to distinguish it from my fantastic writings, this is currently the only title in the series, but Book 2 is coming soon, and I hope will be followed by many more.

Happy reading, and Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I hope this week is filled with love and laughter–and good books–for all of you.

1920s, characters, fantasy, favorites, fiction, heroes, heroines, influences, publishing, stories, world-building, writing

Easter Eggs

“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!

1920s, Books, characters, fantasy, fiction, publishing, stories, writing

Glamours and Gunshots Release Day

It’s here at last!

Glamours & Gunshots, available to purchase today!

glamours_and_gunshots_final

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.