1920s, publishing, writing

Rabbit Trails and Sub-Genres

Between the previous post, FB, Twitter, Tumblr, and in-person conversations, the votes for “Golden Age Detective Fantasy” and “Whodunit Fantasy” are split pretty much evenly, with one extra suggestion of “Roaring ’20s Detective Fantasy.” So I still haven’t come to a conclusion as to what name I should coin for this specific sub-genre of “detective fiction in the style of Christie, Sayers, Allingham, etc, with a splash of magic.”

The points for “Golden Age Detective Fantasy”:

  • Evocative
  • Specific
  • Intriguing even for readers who aren’t familiar with mystery sub-genres
  • Sounds more alluring than Whodunit Fantasy

Points for “Whodunit Fantasy”:

  • Short and snappy
  • Easily understood even if readers aren’t familiar with mystery sub-genres
  • Covers more ground than Golden Age Detective Fantasy
  • Since “Golden Age Detective Fiction” is technically only used for authors who were writing during that between-wars era, Whodunit Fantasy is a more correct name

How’s a poor hapless author to decide? I know it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it would be nice to have a name to put on back copy and on the series page of the website. I’m still mulling it over!

In other writing news, I’ve had a great deal of fun recently concocting a magical wardrobe for Maia created in-story by Helen. There are practical aspects: dresses that fold to no larger than a handkerchief, and when unfolded are wrinkle free! Dresses with pockets that can hold more than a handbag and yet don’t alter the line of the dress! Then there are the decorative aspects: embroidery that literally sparkles; the ability to alter a hemline or neckline or change the sleeves from long to short with simply the correct word to release the spell.

I try not to go too overboard describing clothing in the books, because too many details can take a reader right out of the story, but it is sooo tempting when I have so many wonderful options to use as inspiration!

This is a fantastic demonstration of a dress that a clever magician could create to change from a day dress to a dinner dress with one snap.
I think Maia is definitely the type to wear a cape, don’t you? Even if she secretly feels it is a bit over-the-top, she just can’t resist the swoop and swish of it. And the dress beneath is practical enough even for her.
The green frock here is very close to one I just had Helen create for Maia–except hers has more embroidery, and the floaty bits at shoulders and hip are gold rather than green. I love it, and I wish I could have one myself!

This is just a tiny sampling of the patterns I’ve been drooling over these last couple of weeks. If my next blog post sheepishly admits that I broke down and made myself a 1920s dress, you’ll know why. I can justify it all as research, right?

If you are an author, what sort of fun rabbit trails does your research tend to take you down? If you are a reader, what bits of extra detail are your favorite to read about in a story? And for both parties, if you haven’t already, please weigh in on whether you prefer “Golden Age Detective Fantasy” or “Whodunit Fantasy”!

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

Categories and Genres

Genre, sub-genre, categories … when trying to find a home for a story on the shelves of a bookstore or library, the options can sometimes seem overwhelming. Is this fantasy or science fiction? Historical mystery, cozy mystery, or some other type of mystery altogether? Thriller or adventure? Memoir or autobiography?

This is made even more difficult when you have an author who likes to cross two or more genres in one book. And yes, I’m talking about myself and the Whitney & Davies series here. Since the beginning, these books have been hard to categorize. Do they go on the fantasy shelf or the mystery shelf? (One local library solved the puzzle by sticking Magic Most Deadly on the “fiction” shelf–going more generic instead of less, I guess!) It wouldn’t matter so much, aside from causing headaches to librarians and bookstore owners, except that muddled categories can make it difficult for readers to understand what sort of book they are looking at, and thus make them less likely to pick it up and read.

The basic premise of the Whitney & Davies series–taking an already-existing genre and adding a magical twist to it–is not unique to me. My first exposure to the concept was with Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s marvelous fantasy of manners Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot. Other well-known Regency fantasies are Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories, and of course Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Then there’s the “gaslamp” or “gaslight” fantasies, which take the same idea and place it in a Victorian or Edwardian England setting. Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series would likely fall into this category, as well as Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent.

However, I’ve not yet found anyone besides myself taking Golden Age Detective Fiction and inserting fantasy into that, and I’ve been racking my brains for ages now trying to coin a phrase to neatly sum up this sub-genre to make it clear from one glance what type of a story the reader is getting. “Mystery-fantasy set in 1920s England” is, let’s face it, way too clunky.

I’ve narrowed it down to two options, although I am open to suggestions for something else! I like “Golden Age Detective Fiction” for its descriptiveness, but on the other hand it is still long and a little bit clunky. Then there’s the short and snappy “Whodunit Fantasy,” but the downside to that one is that it doesn’t necessarily convey the sense of time and place–between wars in England–that the other does.

So I am tossing the choices out there for my readers! Which do you prefer? Which one conveys the feel of Whitney & Davies best to you? And if you haven’t read my books yet, you may still feel free to comment–I’d like to know what type of story you think of when you see either of those two categories.

I would also be curious to know if you have any comparison books or series that come to your mind when thinking of W&D–you know, the old, “If you like _____, you will like Whitney & Davies.” The closest I’ve come up with is Martha Wells’ Death of the Necromancer, and I’m not exactly sure that’s the best match. I think that’s the sort of thing that is difficult for an author to judge about his or her own work, especially when one of the main reasons for writing the books is that no one else out there is!

1920s, Books, fantasy, mystery, publishing, Sci-fi

All Books, All Retailers

The switchover is complete, and just in time for the holiday season to begin! You can visit each book’s page to click on the new link, but for your ease, I’ll also include them all in this post.

Magic Most Deadly

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?

Glamours and Gunshots

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.

Magic and Mayhem

Four exciting short stories set in the magical England of the Whitney & Davies series!

The Third Thief: Maia Whitney has returned home for her sister’s wedding determined to stay aloof from family dramas. Alas, the disappearance of a valuable and possibly cursed bracelet alters her plans. Can this magician’s apprentice solve the crime and save her sister’s wedding from doom and disaster?

Many Magical Returns: On Susannah’s seventeenth birthday, she learns why her mother has always insisted she never use magic in front of Uncle Ernie. Escaping her uncle’s greed and learning magic on the run are tall orders, but one thing is certain: this is a birthday Susannah will never forget.

Passion & Practicality: Steady, sensible Evelyn has always looked after and protected her flighty, feather-brained older sister Violet. So when Violet accidentally kills a man, of course Evelyn is going to take the blame. But her former fiancé Henry, now working for the magicians’ Domestic Protection Agency, has other plans.

Masks & the Magician: Who is the mysterious woman? Is she the Grand Duchess Anastasia, as she claims, or a fraud? The English magician calling himself Merlin has his own ideas, but untangling truth from lie is a difficult task in this mission. When everyone wears a mask, who can be trusted?

From the Shadows

Whisked from her troubled, solitary life to a spaceship centuries in the future, widowed folk musician Riss Waldon must first figure out how she got there, and then if it’s possible to get home. Before long, she is visiting strange and deadly planets and meeting new alien races, and forming friendships with the crew. Even as they strive to discover a way for her to return, she wonders if it possible to step out of the shadows of her past life and stay here. But when the well-being of the entire crew rests on her shoulders, she isn’t sure she’s up to the task. What if she fails them? All she can do is try …

Candles in the Dark

Pauline Gray, journalist by day and novelist by night, 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 uncovering evidence of a local smuggling ring and stirring up secrets some people would rather 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. No matter what the cost …

Diamonds to Dust

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.

Whew! Long post, but there you have it. All my books, one post, each with one simple link to get you to all the stores where they are sold. If you are looking for something to read over Thanksgiving (or over the weekend, for non-Americans), now’s your chance!

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!