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.

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.”

1920s, characters, fantasy, favorites, fiction, heroes, heroines, influences, publishing, stories, world-building, writing

Easter Eggs

“Think how exciting it would be,” went on Tuppence, “if we heard a wild rapping at the door and went to open it and in staggered a dead man.”

“If he was dead he couldn’t stagger,” said Tommy critically.

-Partners in Crime, Agatha Christie.

If you’ve read Glamours and Gunshots, the above passage might ring a faint bell. I open G&G with:

Merry birdsong filled the air on that bright April morning when the dead man stumbled into Aunt Amelia’s front hall.

Technically, he was dying, not dead, else he couldn’t have stumbled anywhere; corpses in general being no longer animate.

Glamours and Gunshots, E.L. Bates

I try not to do too many obvious “Easter Eggs” in my books, since it can be irritating to a reader when an author goes overboard with clever allusions (or allusions that attempt to be clever) to other works. This one, I hoped would be subtle enough to pass without annoyance to anyone, and I had to include a tip of the hat to Tommy and Tuppence–Maia and Len wouldn’t even exist without them.

I’ve shared this before, but it’s been a while–the idea for the story that eventually became Magic Most Deadly sprang from having recently finished reading Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s The Enchanted Chocolate Pot immediately after having read a Tommy and Tuppence book, and wistfully wishing someone would write a Tommy-and-Tuppence-with-magic story.

Being a writer, my very next thought was, “well, if no one else has written it, I guess I’d better,” and voila, the seed took root.

I swapped the personalities around so that Tommy’s steady and cautious nature became Maia’s, while Len had Tuppence’s craving for excitement as well as tendency to act on impulse. As the characters came to life their personalities grew more rounded and took on characteristics of their own, but the initial forming remained at their core.

Today is three weeks since I published Glamours and Gunshots; three more days marks Magic Most Deadly’s fifth birthday. This world and these stories have come a long way from that initial seed, but my appreciation for Tommy and Tuppence has not abated. My opening sentence of G&G was a small, private way for me to show that appreciation.

(PS: there’s also a subtle nod to Dorothy L Sayers in the book–did you spot it? Hint: it’s NOT the conversation Maia and Len have regarding detective stories.)

A brief reminder that reviews for Glamours and Gunshots are most appreciated! So far it has one on Amazon and one on Goodreads, but it needs more than that in order for it to fit into their algorithms and help other readers find it. 50 or more reviews is ideal! I’d settle for making it into double digits.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends! We are one week and one day away from leaving for England, which means my next post will be written on the other side of the pond!

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

Glamours and Gunshots Release Day

It’s here at last!

Glamours & Gunshots, available to purchase today!

glamours_and_gunshots_final

If you enjoy mysteries set in 1920s England, stories set in the real world but with a twist of magic, if you enjoy men and women working side-by-side as friends and partners, if you enjoyed Magic Most Deadly and wished for more books in the series, I have good news for you! All that in one book is ready for your reading pleasure. And even if you haven’t read Magic Most Deadly, Glamours & Gunshots can stand alone.

It was a long five years getting here. But the end result is worth it. I am so proud of this book. I hope you love it, too.

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

Pre-Order Glamours & Gunshots

Glamours & Gunshots is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Glamours & Gunshots Pre-Order

glamours_and_gunshots_final
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.

If you are interested in receiving an early copy for reviewing purposes, let me know and I can send you a pdf! I’ve never really done official ARCs, but unofficially, I’m all for it.

Also, don’t forget that Magic Most Deadly and Magic and Mayhem are both on sale for $0.99 until the end of August! Now is the perfect time to dive in to the Whitney & Davies series and fall in love with Maia and Len and all their friends and family yourself!

Magic Most Deadly $0.99

Magic & Mayhem $0.99

1920s, publishing, writing

Glamours & Gunshots Release Date

Friends, I am so pleased to be able to announce, at long last, that Glamours & Gunshots, the next book in the Whitney & Davies series, will be released August 30, 2018!

glamours_and_gunshots_final
Maia Whitney has held men as they died before, but never in peacetime, and never in her aunt’s front hall. But this 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. 

I am so, so excited to share this book with you all. Sequels are notoriously hard to write, and this one was a doozy, but at last it is ready and I can’t wait for you all to read it.

Because I’m just that excited, I have put both Magic Most Deadly (Book 1) and Magic & Mayhem (short story collection) on sale for $0.99 each at Amazon from now until Glamours & Gunshots publishes. Click on each title to be taken to their respective pages! If you haven’t begun the series yet, now is the perfect time to dive in! They are great end-of-summer reads, if I do say so myself.

Three more weeks to go!

1920s, Books, editing, fantasy, goals, publishing, writing

Magic & Mayhem

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 …

m&m_cover

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 & Mayhem also 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.

In the meantime, back to editing I go …