I remember reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (which I looooooved and read in one day even though it’s non-fiction and it usually takes me MONTHS to read non-fiction) and being amused and a little taken aback at how casually she referred to herself, her writing, and her reading as “lowbrow.”
“Max is highbrow,” she says casually, of her second husband. “And I am decidedly lowbrow.” And then she goes on to detail all of their differences in taste, in a comfortable, matter-of-fact manner.
I read beautiful prose, writing that is definitely “highbrow” even when it is, say, MG fiction, and I think “Ooh, I wish I could write like that.”
But I’ve tried, and it’s ridiculous. Seriously, I can’t even read it myself without snickering.
I’m lowbrow. My writing’s never going to be considered great literature. No one’s going to talk about Tolstoy and Bates in the same category. I write for pleasure, for enjoyment, for fun, for a chance to put a smile on someone’s face. I hope, usually, to also sneak some Deep Themes underneath it all, but let’s face it, nobody’s reading Magic Most Deadly in hopes of finding out the Meaning of Life. And they aren’t going to find it even if they look.
In one of the Anne books by LM Montgomery, Anne and Gilbert are discussing their future goals. Gilbert has decided he wants to be a doctor, to fight disease and help people live better lives. Anne, though she knows wanting to help people and teach them is more noble, just wants to add some beauty to other people’s lives, to give them one or two moments of joy that they might not have had otherwise.
You know what? That honestly seems pretty noble to me. If that’s lowbrow, I’ll take it.
I don’t have to write Great Literature to bring joy to others. I just have to write joyously. And that I can do.
It has exactly one sentence so far, but I couldn’t resist taking a screen shot to show you:
Yes, in the midst of writing Wings of Song, I have started work on Magic Most Deadly’s sequel. Working title Magic in Disguise.
I have a broad plot outline and, as I said, exactly one sentence of story written.
I’ve also come up with a name for the series overall. Intelligent Magic, bringing together the Intelligence work that Len does and the magic that Maia is learning to master. Intelligent Magic was one of my discarded title ideas for Magic Most Deadly, so I’m pleased to be able to recycle it and use it now for the series.
Hello! Welcome to Stanbury, ancestral home of the Whitney family. Come right in! Let’s use the side entrance; it seems more friendly, doesn’t it?
Maia used to swing on the gate when she was a child. It drove her mother mad, of course, but she loved the freedom of swinging combined with the ability to see the world passing by on the road. Even if “the world” were usually only a few stray escaped sheep.
Mind your step here. You wouldn’t want to trip on these stairs. Ouch!
Shall we pop into the kitchen a moment? Mrs Humphrey won’t mind. If we’re lucky, she’ll even give us a cup of tea (and possibly a slice of fresh-baked bread).
The sitting room gets marvelous light, wouldn’t you agree?
Mrs Whitney says it’s terribly draughty, though.
Yes, the bathroom is rather small. But so elegantly decorated! Ellie insisted on that.
The Whitneys are so very proud of this room, an addition the current Mr Whitney had built after he was married (but before the War, naturally. One doesn’t indulge in unnecessary expenditures in this day and age. Have you heard that they had to sell the London house? Terrible shame, but one can one do? Mr Whitney was only thankful to be able to hold onto Stanbury).
And here we are back onto the grounds! Sorry we couldn’t take more of a detailed tour, but really, it is terribly gauche to peek into people’s lives too much, don’t you agree? Besides, you wouldn’t have wanted to see Ellie or Merry’s bedrooms, believe me. They are a terrible mess, especially since Merry keeps chasing away all the maids with her Socialistic notions.
I hope you enjoyed the tour! Stanbury might not be the grandest showplace of the county, but the local folk are proud of it all the same. After all, as Maia says, it has character, and that’s even better than impressiveness.
I distinctly remember the first time I discovered the world of Cecy and Kate.
I was in the Scranton library, one of my first visits there after we moved from our apartment to the duplex and our former library was too much of a drive for every week (it was here, by the way, a great little jewel of a library that I truly loved). I was exploring the YA section, and wanted to see how many of the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C Wrede they had. Instead, they had this collaborative effort by Wrede and someone I’d never heard of before, that read, upon skimming it over, like a blend of Jane Austen and … well, Patricia C Wrede.
I have always been skeptical of collaborative books, but this looked way too intriguing to pass up. I borrowed it, and promptly fell in love. Not only with Kate, Cecy, Thomas, and James, but with the idea of insinuating magic into the real world, into real history.
When the first glimmers of plot for Magic Most Deadly were swirling about my brain, my first thought was to make the world very similar to the Kate & Cecy world – where magic was an open, accepted part of everyday life, only in the 1920s instead of 1820s.
In the end, I just couldn’t make that work, though, and had to rely on magic existing, but being hidden. Which had its own set of challenges, but fit the story and characters’ needs much better.
It made the world-building and research process so much fun. How does one fit the War in with the concept of magic? Would magicians have been involved? (Hey, my brain said, there’s a good backstory plot point.) How does magic work? How do they keep it secret? How do they keep track of all the magicians? Is it a world-wide thing, or does each nation have its own set of laws regarding magic, or what? (Ooh, said brain. FUTURE plot points.)
What I did not do is what almost every writer of fantasy insists you must: I did not write out a detailed, complete outline of how magic worked, a complete alternate history, maps, et cetera.
Part of that was because I was coming off an exhaustively researched, meticulously detailed, carefully plotted project that had sucked the life and joy right out of writing for me. Magic Most Deadly was never intended to be publishable. It was just a fun project to help me recover my zest for story. So more meticulous detailing and back-plotting was the exact opposite of what I needed then.
The other part is that it’s really hard for me to think of all the necessary details to build up an alternate history completely, right out of hand. Rather, I do much better with a vague, broad outline, filling in the details as I go. I also happen to have a rather good memory for what I’ve already said and detailed, so it is very rare that I end up tripping myself later on with details or writing myself into a corner (with magic or history details, that is. Len’s eyes went from brown to blue probably half a dozen times in the course of the story in the first two drafts, and I still have to think twice if you ask me what color they are. And don’t even bother asking which leg Dan lost in the War. Are Maia’s friends the police officers Ray Maddox and Alan Andrews, or Ray Andrews and Alan Maddox? I’d have to check the book to tell you for certain. But the magic details, those all stayed perfectly plainly, and very neatly labeled and organized in my head.)
Magic! Yes. Part of nature! Yes. Can only work with natural items! Well, that certainly makes sense, and provides a good limitation. Wait, then can magicians be mechanics? Don’t know, don’t need to know now, file that question away for later when it’s relevant.
Can people do magic on other people? Sure, but with limits. What limits? Hmm, I probably do need to work this one out. … Able to, but banned because it’s wicked. (Which ended up being the main plot point for my short story If This Be Magic.)
But wait! Banned by who? OK, need some sort of magical government. Hmm … we’ll call it a council, work out more details as needed.
(Later on, it turned out I did need those more details, and then I sat down and wrestled into submission the idea of Master Magicians, Journeymen, Apprentices, and Ordinary Magicians. That each nation had its own system of governance seemed obvious, so I didn’t bother messing with any other countries’ methods – I still don’t know how they all work, though I will have to figure out some for the sequel, featuring as it does magicians from the US and Russia.)
I don’t necessarily recommend this method for everyone. It can get sloppy, and if your memory doesn’t have the knack of holding onto the important details, it can get you in trouble. But it worked for me, for this book, and it saved me at a time when I have squeezed all inspiration out of my writing process by trying to be too businesslike about it. As I was working on the very final draft, I finally narrowed down various other details: where in England the story took place, what Stanbury and Little Oaks looked like, that sort of thing.
By then, the polishing stage, I needed all those little bits and pieces. Back at the beginning, the first few drafts?
They would have gotten in the way and bogged me down.
So this is what worked for me, for this book. It’s unconventional, sure, but it was also a whole lot of fun.
(I just realized, when I close my eyes and picture Dan, he is definitely missing his right leg. So there you go.)
I recently read Emma Thompson’s charge against the current generation of film stars, how they don’t seem to believe enough in their work to promote it, and that if one loves what one does enough, one should be willing to shout it from the rooftops.
It hit home. Because I have been doing a terrible job of promoting Magic Most Deadly. Granted, it’s not because I don’t believe in it, but it’s fear of being found annoying or arrogant or pompous. Or who knows? Maybe it is a lack of self-confidence – not it the book, but in me. I’m not going to try to psycho-analyze myself too deeply here. I just know that, to do justice to my book, I need to be bold about it.
Magic Most Deadly is the best damn thing I’ve ever written. It’s not highbrow literature. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But it is a fun story, with characters who became very real and individual people to me throughout the writing, and with a twisty and entertaining plot. It’s my tribute to Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Lloyd Alexander and Brian Jacques and all those writers I’ve mentioned in every one of my “Influences” posts.
I loved writing it. I even enjoyed editing and polishing it. I researched the heck out of that thing, and even enjoyed that part. I grew as a writer (and a person, really) throughout its creation process.
It’s a great little book. And I hope everyone who likes mystery and fantasy and humor and English country houses and strong-minded heroines and a hero who respects that and a fussy, stubborn mentor in the background will pick up a copy and give it a read.
Not because I want to be rich and famous and everybody loves meeeeee and thinks I’m wonderful! But because I really, I honestly do, think you’ll enjoy it.
Magic Most Deadly is now available through Nook, and the paperback version is available through Amazon. iTunes has proven … challenging, so I’m still working on that.
The Goodreads giveaway is still going – it’s open until the 10th, so go enter if you haven’t done so yet!
If anyone would like an autographed bookplate for Magic Most Deadly, just send me an email with your name and address, and I’ll send one to you, free of charge. If you want to send me your actual physical copy of the book to autograph, I’ll do that, too, but I’ll have to ask you to pay for the shipping on that.
So then! There’s the housekeeping done (if only real housekeeping could get taken care of that easily).
My first week of being a “Real Author” with a “Real Published Novel” has passed, and I’ve learned some important things.
1) I don’t like self-publishing for the sake of self-publishing. By which I mean, I understand and appreciate what self-publishing allows me to do. I do not like messing about with figuring out formatting, hunting for a cover designer (even when I find a good one!), uploading the book to each seller, marketing myself, etc.
There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. I just get frustrated with the time doing them well takes away from actual writing. I don’t have a whole lot of time to devote to writing as it is (okay, and I do waste some of it just because I am SO TIRED these days and so much of my free time is spent on cat naps or comfort reading), and I get twitchy when I have to sacrifice my writing time to business time.
It is a business, and I get that. I’m not complaining. But I felt it was a rather important discovery for myself – that I do the self-publishing because it is the best choice for me right now, but I don’t have to love it. I love what it does for me. I’m not crazy about the process. And that’s okay.
One of the other things I’ve learned is that even being a published author doesn’t change a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Dishes still had to get washed, laundry still had to be done, schoolwork taken care of, meals made, friends visited with, insomnia dealt with, life lived.
On the other hand, accomplishing a goal you’ve held since second grade is pretty damn awesome even if it isn’t earth-shattering, and I’m not gonna lie. Last Monday, I felt more like a rock star than I ever have and likely ever will again.
(Unless my fairy godmother suddenly gives me the ability to skate at the level I’ve always dreamed of, and I get to join Stars on Ice. And Scott Hamilton, Kurt Browning, Torvill & Dean, and Kristi Yamaguchi are all in it again as well. So yeah, not likely to happen.)
The only other matter of interest from this week is that I finally broke down and joined Instagram. Yippee! I’m trying not to go too crazy with it.
How was this first week of October for all of you, friends?
This is it! Today is the day my firstborn book child officially enters the world. I am so pleased and proud to be able to announce …
Magic Most Deadly
For Maia Whitney, life after the Great War is dull, monotonous, and drab. Nursing soldiers in the bloody fields of France hadn’t been easy, but it was better than life at home, standing in her sisters’ shadows. There seems no chance for a change until the night she witnesses a murder in the woods.
The last thing Magic Intelligence Agent Lennox Davies needs is this outspoken, independent lady crashing his investigation. Bad enough that a murder happened on his watch; much less that she had to see it happen. He works alone, and he does not have time for Miss Maia Whitney’s interference.
But as Maia’s own magical talent blossoms and danger thickens around the two with every step they take, before long Len and Maia must rely on each other in a fashion neither has ever done before. If they can’t learn to work together, England itself might topple. Even worse, if Maia doesn’t learn to control her magic soon, she might do more to destroy them even than their shadowy enemy.
Can they set aside their stubbornness and self-reliance in time to save themselves—and all England?
This book brought so much joy to my heart in the writing of it. I wrote it for fun, for me, without any initial thought of publication. I justified watching Downton Abbey as research for it, and snorted in amusement to myself at some of the parallels between the Crawley sisters and my own Whitney sisters, and knew that, if ever it did get published, I would hear claims that I was copying Downton.
I read and re-read all of Agatha Christie’s books set in the ’20s, and took great glee in turning the Tommy-and-Tuppence relationship on its head with Maia and Len – where she was the methodical, practical one, and he was the one given to impulse and flashes of insight.
I realized partway through that not only was I thoroughly enjoying writing this, it was shaping up to be the best thing I’d ever written, and the most publishable.
I wrote two short stories set in the same world, but with different characters and in different eras, and in doing so ended up solidifying the way the magic works and the rules surrounding its use.
I wrote, and re-wrote, and sent to beta readers and editors and friends, and re-wrote some more, and polished it up again, found an amazing cover designer and formatter, and now, at last, about four years from starting this project –
Here it is.
Magic Most Deadly is available right now in ebook form through Amazon and Smashwords. Nook and iTunes should be available by the end of the week (I’ll post live links as they become available). The paperback is available through Createspace right now, and through Amazon by the end of the week as well (ditto with that link).
The Goodreads giveaway for a paperback copy is still running, and will be open until October 10.
A thousand thanks to everyone who has encouraged, helped, watched, and cheered me on along the way. I couldn’t have done it without any of you.
Special thanks especially to A.M. Weir, Angelika O, TJ Loveless, Laura R, Kathryn Jonell, Amanda McCrina, and MOST especially to Carl, Joy & Grace, Mom & Dad, and Lis.