mystery, research, world-building, writing

A Day of Research

Canton, N.Y. is a small town tucked between the Adirondack Mountains and the St. Lawrence River. It is home to St. Lawrence University as well as SUNY (State University of N.Y.) Canton. The Grasse River winds its way through the town, as well as numerous streams and brooks. The park in the center of the village has been there–if not as long as the town has existed, then pretty darn close. It shows up on every old map I’ve seen, and I’ve looked at a lot of them.

It is my hometown, where I was born and raised, and it is also the setting for the Pauline Gray mysteries. All the characters in the Pauline stories are fictional, but I have done my best to keep the setting as authentic to Canton in the 1930s as possible. The photos and memories posted on the Historian Town & Village Canton Facebook page has been one great resource for this; family has been another.

In the end, though, nothing beats poking around the town in person for inspiration and authenticity. For all that I spent my formative years there, there’s a lot of the town I never explored growing up, and so now I take advantage of any trip up to visit my folks to drive around and re-familiarize myself with the landscape.

(I am embarrassed to admit that all the way up until the final proofread of Candles in the Dark, I had misplaced the street where Pauline lives to the other side of the village–even looking at a map hadn’t helped me properly orient it until I actually drove down it and said, “Whoops.”)

On this most recent jaunt to the north country, I corralled Carl as my chauffeur so I could focus on the landscape and not on the road, and we set out to figure out which street looked the most promising for the setting for a murder. It didn’t take long before we found it, on the road that leads to Morley (readers of Candles might remember that Morley is the home of the mill that was the setting for that murder). It was a beautiful day, with the sun shining and all the fields shining greenly in the sun thanks to the frequent rains this month, a light breeze blowing … the kind of idyllic day in the country people dream about but rarely get to experience. Just right for a mild little adventure.

My specifications were fairly simple: it needed to be by the river, fairly lonely, not frequently traveled, and beautiful. Off Rt 27, we found the exact right side road. Don’t you love it when that happens?

All these houses are far too fancy for my fictional house that is the heart of this story, but they certainly provided plenty of inspiration as well as admiring gasps as Carl drove very slowly past while I took frantic snapshots out the windows.

Back on Rt 27, we stopped by St. Mary’s Cemetery to poke around a bit–ostensibly for research purposes, but mostly because I have a hard time resisting the lure of old gravestones. So many fascinating stories hidden behind the names and dates and epitaphs!

Both so young–obviously the twelve-year-old even more so, but the twenty-three-year-old as well.
I never think about Canton being a hot spot for immigrants, but there certainly were a lot of Italian and Irish names here in the Catholic cemetery.
What a full and adventurous life Patrick must have had! I bet he had stories to tell his grandchildren.

I got the lowdown on the different roads (and what they would or would not have been called in the ’30s) from my dad when I got back to the house, which made for the perfect cap to the day.

Sometimes research looks like hunching over a computer or old books, poring over details to make sure yours match, and that has its charm (though it’s best if one remembers to take frequent breaks to rest one’s eyes and stretch one’s back), but this sort of research has to be my favorite. A beautiful day, a drive through the countryside with my husband, followed by a chat and reminiscing with my dad. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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?

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!

Life Talk, publishing, writing

Welcome, June

It is splendid to live so close to the ocean again, and to have our state opened up enough that we are able to cautiously enjoy it, so long as we follow the common sense guidelines. We escaped painting, cleaning, and all other house-related duties on Sunday and fled to the ocean, where we walked along the shore, clambered over rocks, hunted for sea glass, only saw a few other people and kept our distance from them all, and came home smelling of salt and sun. It was so very much needed.

Updates since my last post: we have a couch! And flatware. Still short one dresser. Many books are still in boxes, but the girls’ rooms both have bookcases now so their shelves are slowly filling up as their boxes empty. We are done with Round 1 of painting (finished that AFTER our shore excursion on Sunday): girls’ bedrooms, living room, dining room/kitchen, entryway/stairs/upstairs hall. Round 2 will be the mudroom and the downstairs bathroom, neither of which are crucial for comfortable living right now. Round 3 will only happen after we’ve done some other big projects, like turn the wall of closets in the library into built-in bookcases, and strip and refinish the floors in my study.

We are hoping to update our drivers licenses to reflect our new address this week, likewise change our license plates on the car so people stop glaring at us when we drive through town or park at the beach. It’s okay, we quarantined, we live here now, we’re not just out-of-staters coming in to spread disease! I can understand people’s suspicion of us, but it will be nice to no longer have it be an issue. The Town Hall and BMV have both just barely re-opened, so fingers crossed we can get an appointment SOON.

We’ve discovered lots more flowers on the property, including a honeysuckle bush tucked away in a back corner by an old apple tree. Hurrah for both! We’ve also made plans to have all the pines on the property removed (hopefully next year, maybe two years from now), and replace the ones that line the watery ditch with a couple spruce trees and a row of elderberry and highbush cranberry bushes. We have lots of landscaping plans, none of which we have time or energy to tackle this year. That’s ok, as we keep reminding ourselves–for once we’re not on a time limit in a place. We don’t have to do things within one, two, or even three years, because we are staying put for the indefinite future. That idea still takes some getting used to.

Oh yes, lots and lots of violets. I love the white ones best–Anne of Green Gables friends will know why

Writing-wise, what are my updates? Well, I will very soon have a cover reveal for you for Diamonds to Dust, the next Pauline Gray novella, to be soon followed by the novella itself. I’ve taken a bit of a break from that these last few weeks to work on the first draft of the (unexpected) sequel to From the Shadows, but I’m starting to get back into proofreading mode instead of drafting mode, so D2D will benefit from that switch. I am also tentatively attempting some sort of writing schedule, so I am either writing, researching, or doing important writing-related things like updating this blog, every day Mon-Fri. We’ll see how it goes.

Speaking of the cover to the new novella … how does everyone feel about cover reveals? Love them, hate them, find them a waste of time? Would you prefer the cover just show up on my blog, or do you like a countdown and a big splash made of revealing it? I never know how I feel about them, so I thought I’d leave it up to my readers.

In fact, here, let me see if I can set up a poll about it:

I hope June turns out to be more peaceful and joyful than the rest of this year so far–in all our lives and around the world. Keep carrying the light, friends! That’s all any of us can do, each in our own way.

Books, fantasy, Sci-fi, writing

Sale Extended

Hello friends! Long time no chat. I wonder why? Oh, that’s right.

Moving Day!

We bought a house! Which I have no photos of yet because we’ve been too busy moving in, ha. I do have a few shots of fun features, though.

Hyacinth growing in our front garden, a pantry AND a china cupboard, a study/sewing room all my very own, and the girls turning the door off an unnecessary outbuilding into a seesaw of sorts as Carl demolished it.

Moving in a time of pandemic is … challenging, to say the least. One doesn’t exactly want to buy a sofa without first testing it. And how can one tell if flatware is going to suit one’s hand without hefting it? Not to mention choosing paint colors …

But we’re managing. We have plates, bowls, and glasses now, even if we’re still using plasticware. We all have beds, mattresses, sheets, and blankets. Three out of the four of us have dressers. We have no couch, but we have a dining room table and chairs. The books are still packed away (weep, weep), but the boxes are easily accessible, for a change.

And speaking of books …

As the title of this post indicated, I am extending the sale on Magic Most Deadly, From the Shadows, and Candles in the Dark until the end of April. Since the quarantine seems to be extending (at least in many places), so shall the sale! So until May 1, those three books are still FREE.

And hey, if you’ve already downloaded and enjoyed those stories, Glamours and Gunshots and Magic and Mayhem are not on sale, but are still less than the price of the wonderful coffee drinks none of us are able to indulge in right now (do I miss Carl’s and my weekly dates to our favorite coffee shop in Cambridge right now? Boy howdy, do I miss them). So you could definitely pick up one or both of them to round off your Whitney & Davies collection as it stands right now without it breaking the bank!

Hang in there, friends. In the words of the inimitable Red Green, “I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.”

Books, influences, publishing, research, writing

Last Sale Day

Today is the last day to get Candles in the Dark for free! It’s had a fantastic opening weekend, THANK YOU to everyone who has bought a copy and/or spread the word. It means so much to me.

The seed for this story was planted last September–I had finished a reread of Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North & South” and was thinking how rare characters like Margaret Hale are in fiction: quiet, strong-willed, filled with integrity, passionate about justice, willing to acknowledge when she’s made a mistake, fiercely loyal, yet still, and I repeat myself here because this is the rarest bit, quiet.

That mixed in with thinking about how fun it would be to read a mystery set in the Adirondacks with a scholarly protagonist along the lines of Harriet Vane. I grew up “in the foothills of the Adirondacks,” as we always described ourselves in Canton and Potsdam, two towns about ten miles apart with four colleges between them. So many mysteries–or indeed, stories in general–set in small towns focus only on the quirkiness of them, a la Gilmore Girls; or else portray the people in them as small as the towns themselves, narrow-minded and blindly prejudiced.

I wanted my story to show my small town as I knew it–warm, welcoming, open, accepting, full of hard-working, real people. I wanted my protagonist to have that same integrity and passion for justice that Margaret Hale had, with the scholarly mind and desire for honesty Harriet Vane shows. I wanted my story to show the real struggles of a rural, northern farming community during the Depression, which were very different from rural farming communities in the south and midwest. Above all, I wanted it to be a story where justice and truth prevailed and light shone in the darkness.

CANDLES_final

As to how well I succeeded in all those goals, only you, the reader, can tell. Pick up your copy of Candles in the Dark today, for free, and let me know what you think in a review!

The old Grist Mill I based Wharton’s Mill on, situated on the beautiful Grasse River.

This photo essay shows a little bit more of the Canton I know and love as it is today. It is indeed a beautiful little village!