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!

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!