influences, Life Talk, stories, writing

Community

In my most recent blog post, I spoke about the defaults I revert to when writing characters. Today I’ve been thinking about one of my other storytelling defaults, which is the importance of community.

Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire. The monks who built this place knew more than a little about the importance of community.

I was going to say that this theme shows itself most strongly in From the Shadows, but then I thought, No, actually it comes out most strongly in the Pauline Gray series, and then I dithered about it for a while before realizing hey, it doesn’t have to be a competition. So let’s simply look at the three different worlds I’ve built and see the way community plays out in each, without holding one against another, shall we?

First up, From the Shadows. On the surface, it looks like the main problem of the book for our protagonist, Riss, is that she’s stuck on a spaceship in the future with no way to get home. But actually, as the story develops, we see–and Riss learns along with us–that her real problem is her deep, unsatisfied need to be part of a community where she is valued both for her own self and for her gifts. The community aboard the Caledonia is a close, tight-knit, self-contained group, and Riss’s struggle to figure out if she could belong there is really what makes up the heart of the story.

Then there’s Pauline Gray. The need to find and/or build community doesn’t play as active a role in Pauline’s stories, but the community of a small, rural town in the midst of the Depression is the firm backbone of the series. This is a place where the people look out for each other, and even if they don’t like each other very much, they come together in difficult times to do what needs to be done. That’s why murder is such a shattering thing each time it happens in Pauline’s world–because it tears apart the fabric of the community, and it breaks the unspoken trust that people have in their neighbors. Pauline is less aware than Riss of her need for community, but she feels the tearing of it even if she is not aware that’s what the problem is.

Well, what about Whitney and Davies? I will admit the theme of community isn’t quite so strong in these books as it is in the others I’ve already mentioned–but it is there. In Magic Most Deadly, Maia’s discovery of magic allows her to enter into the community of magicians, and in Glamours & Gunshots she starts to figure out what she wants her role in that community to be. Len, meanwhile, is moving out of the community he’s always been part of and searching for a new one, one where he doesn’t always have to hide who he is and what he does. Together, they are forming their own microcosm of a community and seeking ways to serve the larger community at the same time.

When I was younger, I was pretty oblivious to the human need to exist within a community, but the older I get, the more I value it. I’ve lived in places without any sort of community–was a young mother in some of them, which I 100% do not recommend–lived in others where there ought to have been community and wasn’t, and hardest of all to endure, lived in some places where they was a community and I was on the outside of it. Those experiences have all shaped my own deep desire to be an active and valued member of a community. Not a selfish wish to be part of some hidden “inner circle”–like Mark in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength–that’s when community turns into a clique, and is one of the ugliest things in the world. But a genuine community, where people look out for each other and take care of each other and help each other out when needed, and everyone has something to give and everyone’s lives are woven together.

I don’t talk about politics on this blog, but it isn’t political to say this country is experiencing a deep division right now, a tearing apart of what we value and how we view the world and our place in it. There is a limit on how much each ordinary person can do to change that on a grand scale. But here’s what we can do: we can look out for our neighbors. We can take care of the vulnerable in our towns, villages, and counties. We can cut down that limb from the tree in our yard that is threatening to fall on the next-door neighbor’s house. We can thank our town officials for their hard work during this election season. We can buy a coffee for the guy (6 feet) behind us in line at the local bakery, just because. We can make a meal for the new parents down the street. We can encourage our kids to talk to the outsider at school, the one shy kid who always stands in the corner and can’t seem to believe that anyone would want to be their friend.

Community doesn’t exist simply by a group of people living in close proximity to each other or being part of the same activities. It comes about when people commit to caring for one another, to seeing each other, to not living as though others don’t matter.

That’s a message I keep needing to tell my heart, which is probably why it keeps cropping up in my stories. Maybe you need the encouragement as well? Covid-19 has created a lot of loneliness for a lot of us, and made community something out of reach in many cases. I hear you–moving to a new place in the midst of a pandemic means it’s been awfully hard for our family to do anything toward finding a community. But it’s worth it to keep trying.

And if you can’t find it in real life right now, I hope you can find enough of a community in books to tide you over until you can.

Our seminary family–or part of it, at least. I didn’t think those years were that long ago, but boy do we all look young.
characters, heroines, influences, writing

Defaults

I don’t write fanfiction anymore (no time; too many original projects requiring my writing attention these days–I have FOUR stories in progress right now, three that I’m actively working on and one that’s on hold, and so, so many more just waiting for their turn), but I do still find myself imagining fanfic-type stories just for fun, stories that won’t ever get written down. I was daydreaming this morning about an Emma sequel focusing on Emma’s daughter, and I automatically pegged her as a calm, sensible type, who starts out the story quite content with doing what everyone expects of her, and then her life gets stirred up and turned inside out when romance and excitement come her way without her ever wanting them.

Then I realized, wow, do I have a penchant for writing that sort of character or what? Going through my published books, we have:

Maia Whitney: So practical and sensible I had to rewrite her character several times to keep her from being utterly boring, and is in fact frequently dismissed by her family and even some of her friends as dull.

Pauline Gray: Practical and calm, solves murders because of her strong sense of justice but does not enjoy the excitement of them at all, in fact wishes she could hide away in a library somewhere researching something dull and safe.

Riss Waldon: Falls into a space opera, is immediately determined to enjoy it because what’s the point of an adventure if you spend your whole time panicking and trying to get out of it, continues to act sensibly through the entire thing because she can’t stand irrational behavior.

Going back through my old LMM fanfics, for original characters I have:

Meggie Blythe: starts out as a practical 10yo with a touch of dreaminess, ends as a young wife and mother who is still both practical and dreamy. (I loved Meggie with all my heart, but I can admit that she didn’t really get all that much character growth throughout that series of stories, nor did she have much in the way of flaws.)

Gwen Blake: impulsive and clumsy, but definitely grows throughout her stories into someone more practical and sensible, and always more on the common sense side of personality traits than the dreamy, romantic side. Much more Elinor than Marianne, basically.

Not to mention that the non-OCs I’ve written about are Jane Stuart, Shirley Blythe, and Diana Blythe, all canonically practical and down-to-earth.

Even looking at the short stories I’ve written, they tend heavily toward “ordinary, sensible person gets sucked from a boring, everyday life into adventure and then has to be the only level-headed person when everyone around him/her is mad.”

Which has led me to wonder if I can write a madcap adventurer. But, my creativity rises up in protest, I like sensible people getting dragged against their will into adventure! I don’t want to write about people who want adventure, that’s boring!

Ah well. Maybe someday the pendulum will swing about in the other direction. For now, practical characters it is!

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.
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, Sci-fi, seasons, writing

Sparks of Light

There’s a lot of heaviness in the world right now. The holiday season can be rough–while there is a great deal of joy that comes with Christmas, it can also be a time of sorrow and/or weariness to many. Even in my own family, we’re struggling to maintain a Christmas spirit against 3+ weeks of illness and some unexpected travelling for Carl to be with his family in their time of need, as his aunt is in the hospital with pancreatic cancer.

Here in the UK, there’s been a lot of stress and tension over the recent general election, and a great deal of fear on all sides about what comes next. The US political scene isn’t much better, frankly.

Sometimes it can feel like the darkness presses in too closely, and looking around, there’s very little hope to be seen.

So on an impulse this weekend, I chose my most hope-filled book (aka the only one without any murders) and made it free until 1 January. No gimmicks, no strings, just my way of lighting a candle against the dark.

Kind of appropriate, when you think about it, that this book should be titled From the Shadows. Here’s to stepping out of the shadows and into the light.

Whisked from her troubled, solitary life to a spaceship centuries in the future, the young widow and 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 …

Available at:

Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, and Amazon (Amazon will only let me drop the price to $0.99, but if enough people report it as free elsewhere they just might lower it all the way there as well–it’s worth a shot).

May this be a season of hope for you, friends, whatever your circumstances. That is my earnest prayer for all of us.

Books, characters, families, heroines, Sci-fi, stories, writing

Home is where you find it

A few years ago, as I was struggling to find my footing for the sequel to Magic Most Deadly, I was struck instead with inspiration for a science fiction novella, a tribute to Star Wars, Star Trek, and other hope-filled space operas. It demanded I put aside everything else and write it–so I did.

(That version of MMD’s sequel was terrible, anyway.)

Somehow or other in the writing of it, the story turned into so much more than this light-hearted tribute I had originally intended it to be. A theme of found family, of home, of finding the place where you belong, wound its way through. It became a letter of solidarity with all the other people in this world who feel stuck in the shadows of life and have a hard time feeling they belong in the light.

When I finished the novella (the song in the final act was written late at night, after I was supposed to be sleeping, because it came to me complete with tune and I was afraid that if I waited until morning I would lose it–which proved to be a good call, as I re-read the song the next day and said, “Wait, I wrote this?”) and sent it to my beta readers, they one and all sent it back saying it needed to be longer; it needed to be a novel.

Nah, I said. The story did what I wanted it to do. It was just a fun side-project. Now I needed to get back to my real work, that darn sequel.

But the story wouldn’t let go of me, and finally I broke down and expanded it. Filled out the side characters a bit more, developed the plot more deeply, made the protagonist’s journey a bit more winding, less jumping from Point A to Point Z without anything between. As usual, my beta readers were right. This was what the story needed.

This was the second book I self-published, and I made a lot of technical mistakes with it. The font was too small, the margins off, etc. So a couple years after publishing it, I went back to it. I loved this story, and I believed it deserved a better package. I went through and did a basic copy-edit, cleaning it up a bit without changing anything significant. I altered the font on the cover and made the back copy a bit cleaner. And I fixed the font and margin size and other issues in the physical copy. I added a brand-new short story at the end as a bonus, since the novel itself is on the shorter side of the spectrum.

From the Shadows is still my least popular published book. Yet those who have read it and reviewed it love it just as deeply as I do. My friend Laura still nudges me every so often asking when I’m going to write a sequel (I keep trying, but so far all the plots are too dumb or contrived. If it’s meant to happen, eventually something will come to me). My dream for it is that eventually it finds its own family, that the people for whom it will mean the most will discover it and take hope and encouragement from it.

To that end, I occasionally do things like write this blog post, reminding people that I did, once, write a story that was not a detective and/or fantasy tale, and that if space opera, character-driven stories, found families, and found homes, sound like something you would enjoy …

Here it is. Available on Amazon and Smashwords, as well as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.

As a favor, to those of you who have read and have not yet left a review anywhere, would you mind doing so, either on one of the above sites or on Goodreads? They really do go a long way toward helping others who might also enjoy the book discover it. Those of you who have already done so: thank you! The more we all spread the word, the more we help this story, and these characters, find its, and their, home. After all, as one of the major themes of the story and the title of this post says …

Home is where you find it.

publishing, Sci-fi, stories

From the Shadows Short

In honor of the second edition of From the Shadows, I’m sharing a short story I wrote about Tyler and Sapphira’s first meeting. I love the friendship between these two, and I wanted to explore how that friendship began–was it always so easy and comfortable? Has Tyler always had that protective streak? What was Sapphira like as an ensign? How did an enlisted man and an officer get to be such good friends, anyway? And just what is Tyler’s full name?

This story, First Contact, answers all those questions and a few more. Check it out, and if you haven’t read From the Shadows yet, I hope this whets your appetite! You can follow the links on the “Books” page to purchase a copy of From the Shadows, free everywhere except Amazon, where it’s 99¢. (Or $9.99 if you want it in paperback)

In the meantime, enjoy “First Contact” for free right here on this blog.