A long time ago–in 2013, which is about 200 years in book publishing reckoning–I published Magic Most Deadly, a fantasy-mystery set in England in the 1920s, described by one reader as “Dorothy L Sayers with magic” and another as “Agatha Christie meets Diana Wynne Jones.” It featured a reverse Tommy and Tuppence pair, where the woman was reliable and practical, ruthlessly logical and devastatingly honest, and the man was impulsive and intuitive, a dreamer and an incurable romantic. Together, they used magic and their own wits to solve the mystery, defeat more than one enemy, and forge a firm friendship.
It didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it did garner a small fandom, and I immediately set about writing the sequel.
And learned the truth of all the statements about second books being so much harder than first books.
It was so hard, in fact, that I finally abandoned it to work on a project-from-my-heart, the recently re-released From the Shadows. With that one finished, I went back to the next Whitney & Davies book.
And promptly hit a wall again. And again.
With the release of yet another non-W&D book this December, the mystery novella Candles in the Dark, my readers might be justified in thinking I had left behind this world, and these characters, for good.
I am here today to tell you that is not the case.
No, this isn’t an announcement of the sequel, although I am in the line-editing stage of that and hope to have it out to the copy-editor soon. What I am announcing is an in-between project, something to both remind readers of this world (and possibly introduce new readers to it), and tide them over until the sequel does come out.
It is …
Magic & Mayhem, a collection of four short stories set in the Whitney & Davies world (one each featuring our intrepid protagonists, two featuring brand-new characters).
And that’s not all! Magic & Mayhemalso includes the first chapter of the sequel to Magic Most Deadly, titled Glamours & Gunshots!
So, my faithful friends who have stuck with this blog and this writing journey of mine for the last five years, your patience will have its reward at last. Four short stories and the sure promise of the next novel in the series.
I don’t have an exact release date for Magic & Mayhem yet, but it will be out soon, and I will update here as soon as I have more solid information.
One of my (unexpected) Christmas presents this year was a new computer. This has been a wonderful gift; my old computer left me wondering each time I used it if this was the last time before it died.
I’ve been sorting through all my documents saved up on the old computer, figuring out which ones I want to transfer over to the new one and which ones I can say goodbye to. It’s been an interesting experience, almost a timeline of me as a writer. Not just my skill level, but my style, my interests, the types of stories I write at different times in my life, the stories I started and never took anywhere … there’s a part of me that wants to save them all for posterity.
There’s the other part of me that remembers Emily Starr burning her outgrown stories and poems every time she sorted through her stack and heartily approves.
Right now I’m working on re-typing and editing my four short stories set in the Whitney & Davies world, which I will be releasing as a collection SOON (trying to help bridge the gap between Books 1 and 2, since it has been four years since I released Magic Most Deadly and at this point I’m concerned fans of the series have forgotten about it) and so have been able to put off the document-sorting for a little bit.
Soon enough, though, I’ll be diving in for real, figuring out which stories to metaphorically burn, which to save, and which, perhaps, should be set aside for the chance to grow them into something even more beautiful.
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 …
This was BEFORE Daddy said “We’re nearly at the top!” for the fifth time and Mommy threatened to push him off the edge.
We are (almost) halfway through January! How is the month looking for everyone else?
Here, we’ve had:
Rearranged our living room and can’t figure out why we waited 3.5 years to set it up like this.
Trip to Grandma’s house to finish off our holiday traveling/festivities.
We had snow this past weekend, enough for sledding, and by Wednesday it had all vanished. No one in this household is particularly pleased about this. I want to use my cross-country skis; the kids want to play in the snow; Carl, believe it or not, wants to shovel. Plus we all just prefer winter to be winter. Hmph.
Kids are enthusiastically participating in the Read-Aloud Revival 31 Days Challenge–they have only missed a few days of reading out loud for at least 15 minutes. Gracie, at least, usually goes longer. Joy is more these-are-the-rules-so-we-should-follow-them and so even if she’s at a really good place, she stops as soon as the timer beeps. It’s great for Gracie in building her confidence (she’s a fantastic reader but thinks she can only handle easy books) and for Joy in forcing her to slow down and process what she’s reading (she reads SO FAST that I’m certain she only takes in about 80% maximum of whatever she reads).
I finally passed the halfway point on my current draft of Magic in Disguise, the next Maia and Len book. Technically this is the first book in the Whitney & Davies series, as this is the one that really starts them off on their detecting careers together, but it is the second book about them–Magic Most Deadly, I’ve decided, really works best as a prequel when compared to how I want the rest of the series to go. Is that over-complicated? Sorry. At any rate, every step of the way with this book has been a slog, but the fog is starting to lift. I had it ready to send to my critique partner (which is when I consider a story done the same way a cake is done–all the editing and polishing I do after that is icing and decorating, but the heart of it is finished) last May, and ever since she sent it back to me I’ve been crawling on it. But I’m getting there, and it’s going to be ready for beta-ing by the end of the month, barring any unforeseen accidents like spraining an ankle or some such nonsense (rap wood).
We got back to Classical Conversations (the kids’ homeschool co-op) and back to school in general. We aren’t quite where I’d like to be yet–our morning time keeps getting started late, so we haven’t been able to work in our Shakespeare memorization this semester yet, and schoolwork keeps spilling into our free time in the afternoons–but we’re getting there. It’s always tricky settling back into our routine after winter break.
I am taking a break from refined sugar and wheat for January, in an attempt to break my body of its dependency on both. I know from experience that a little is fine, a lot wrecks me, and thanks to the holidays, I’ve been having a LOT of both. I’ve also started exercising again, something that slid away when I sprained my ankle last May (see above) and never got picked back up. So far, I’m grumpy and sad because of the diet change, but the exercising is going well.
I’ve managed to catalog each of the books I’ve read so far this month in a book journal. Whether that means I’m reading more mindfully is still up in the air.
Getting prepared for the Bible Study I’m co-leading this semester for the women in our apartment building. We’re going to be going through Philippians this semester, which should be great. I’ve discovered somewhat to my surprise that I really enjoy teaching and leading a study, and thanks to Carl, I have commentaries a-plenty at my fingertips. And I can always ask him if there’s any particularly tricky translation issues!
The only other really interesting thing that’s happened this month is that Carl finally convinced me to give Duolingo a try, and I’m diving back into French. Parts of the app really frustrate me (like when you fail a lesson because they expect you to know something they haven’t yet taught you), but overall it’s been fun. I thoroughly enjoyed taking French back in college and have always wanted to get back to it, and so now I am! I’m already wondering what language I should tackle next after this, Russian or Welsh. I desperately wanted to learn both of them in high school, and now I have a chance!
Oh, and I also got to do an impromptu mini-presentation at CC this week–all the kids have to give an oral presentation each week, and this week they got to pick a topic out of a hat. One of the drawn topics was “why are books so important,” and the tutor laughed and asked me if I wanted to take that one, so I said sure. It wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as my library presentation last March, but it was a lot of fun and made me think how much I’d love to give a proper, adapted version of my “why stories matter” speech at a school or children’s library sometime. Add that one to my dream list!
And that is my mid-January report. Nothing tremendously spectacular, but I don’t want to look back in December and not remember anything about this month, so I’m writing it down even if it seems simple and small. It’s the little moments that add up to a life anyway.
Literally (it has suddenly remembered it’s winter here in New England, and along with the delightful snow we are enduring some not-as-delightful bitter cold. Not to worry, though, it’s supposed to pop back up to the mid-40s on Tuesday), and metaphorically as well.
I hesitate to talk too much about changes to my writing plans, simply because if I talk about them and then change my mind again, people will get confused. These changes, however, I’ve been mulling over for quite some time, so I think it is safe to reveal at least one of them to you all.
Here it is: I’ve been referring to the magical detective stories – Magic Most Deadly, the upcoming Magic in Disguise [working title], and any future books to come – as the “Intelligent Magic” series. It seemed a clever name when I thought of it, tying in Len’s Intelligence work to the magical aspect.
Except … I think now it was a little too clever. So I thought, well, I’ll have Maia say something specifically about it, or Aunt Amelia make a nasty crack about the need for intelligent magic instead of magical intelligence … but it didn’t work. It just never fit.
So, I have scrapped the “Intelligent Magic,” and have gone to what I should have done in the first place: Whitney & Davies. After all, Dorothy L Sayers’ detective novels are simply known as the Lord Peter Wimsey series; Agatha Christie’s works are divided into the Poirot novels, the Miss Marple books, and the Tommy & Tuppence series; we have the Cadfael series, the Inspector Alleyn series, the Mrs. Pollifax series … etc. Naming a cozy mystery (with magic) series after your main protagonists is not only common sense, it is continuing the tradition established by the greats.
So, Magic Most Deadly is now Book 1 in the Whitney & Davies series … and if I ever get through these revisions, we should get Book 2 before too much longer!
And on that note, I should really get back to revising … making some significant changes there, too, but I’m not ready to talk about them until I know for certain they will stick. Au revoir, friends!
Those of you who enjoyed Magic Most Deadly will be happy to know that I am currently hard at work on revisions of the sequel (thus far, the working title of Magic in Disguise seems to be sticking). You might remember me posting here a few months back that I had finished the first draft? Now I’m filling it out, deepening it and padding it, putting events in their proper order, inserting clues (now that I know both the point of the crime and the criminal, two things I was clueless on when I started the first draft), creating a few red herrings, all that fun stuff.
I know some writers who dump everything into their first draft, and then spend subsequent drafts pruning, cutting away words and tightening it all up. That is not how I craft my stories. No, my first drafts are always the barest of bones (as a teen, I used to write my first drafts as scripts – just dialogue and a few terse “stage directions”), which then have to get filled out a little more in each draft. Right now my chapters stand at about 2500-3000 words each – I need to get them to 4000-4500 by the final draft. Whew!
It’s fun, though. And it’s fun to challenge myself by seeing if I can include enough background details in each scene to keep my beta readers from saying “more details! We need more details!” (I’ve never yet managed it, but it’s a goal). Today, for example, I spent some time figuring out the layout and general decor of Len’s London flat. While the readers of Magic in Disguise won’t necessarily need to know that the flat has two bedrooms, and the exact location of the cloakroom, or what the color scheme is of the dining room, having all that information at my fingertips will make it easier to sneak in subtle details to fill out the story and make it more vivid.
More vivid! That’s what I hope for with all my stories – that they live. I have a hard time re-reading Magic Most Deadly these days – my fingers itch to start editing, to fix all the flaws I see in it now, to make all these improvements. But one thing that does still satisfy me with it is how alive it is. Flawed though it might be (hey, it’s a debut novel), creaky though it may be in places, it does live, and that gives me great joy.
I hope that Magic in Disguise, when it is finished, not only is an improved book craft-wise from MMD, but is even more alive than its predecessor. A joyous, laughing, living book (as much as a murder mystery can ever be those things!), which brings as much delight to its readers as it did/does to its writer.
And now I’d best stop talking about writing it, and get back to actually writing the thing …
I have been working exclusively on Rivers Wide (my 1930s Thousand Islands novel) for quite a while now, trying to get it to the point where I can start serializing it (I have to at least have it in a coherent draft form, and then I can edit/polish each installment as I go). So it took a wrench today to set it aside and immerse myself back in From the Shadows just for a day. My editor’s schedule has cleared, and she is ready for me to send it to her for line edits, and I had just a few issues I wanted to fix before mailing it off to her.
A wrench, yes, but exciting. Because – line edits! That’s a big step closer to publication. And as much as my head is full of Julie (of Rivers Wide) and her cousins and siblings, and their world of dairy farms along the St. Lawrence River in 1935, it was fun to revisit Riss and the crew of Caledonia and polish them up to meet my editor.
September was an exhausting month, with school starting back up (for Carl, for the kids, and our brand-new Classical Conversations homeschool group), the kids’ extra-curricular activities starting, Carl and I going through church membership classes, weekly Bible Studies, and a lovely whirlwind visit from family in the midst of it all. Not much time for writing at all, frankly.
But I knew that was going to happen, which is why I pushed so hard to get so many first drafts done this summer. Because, for me, second drafts/editing/polishing/et cetera, require much less intensive effort than the initial story creation. So I can pick a story up and do a little at a time without it taking me an hour just to get back into my characters’ heads and figure out where the plot is going. It’s still slow going, but it is progress.
And seeing that progress advance another entire step for From the Shadows is tremendously exciting, and I really can’t wait to hear what my editor has to say about it! Only another couple months before publication, guys!