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!

mystery, publishing, writing

Organization Achieved

The votes are in! The final tally is:

  • Pauline Gray: 6
  • Caledonia: 5
  • Whitney & Davies: 4

I will admit, the results surprised me. I didn’t realize until after I counted up all the votes that I had fully expected Maia and Len to win by a landslide. Instead it was a tight race, and they came in third!

So, Pauline it is. In honor of the choice, here’s an unedited snippet from the third book, accompanied by an illustration borrowed from a fashion illustration of the 1930s.

“How about a cup of tea before you go, dear?”

Miss Lewis said this every time, and every time, Pauline smiled and accepted. She didn’t care very much for tea, but she had said “yes” the first time out of politeness, and now it had become something of a ritual.

She enjoyed watching Miss Lewis prepare the brew. First she brought the kettle to a boil while she washed out the flowered china teapot. Then she poured the boiling water into the pot to warm it while setting out the two delicate teacups and adding a cookie from her always-filled tin to each delicate saucer.

Once the pot was warmed, Miss Lewis emptied it, added the fragrant black leaves, filled it once again with boiling water, turned her three-minute hourglass over, set the fine wire mesh tea strainer over the first teacup, and at last, when the three minutes were up, poured the tea.

It was an elaborate process, and it put Pauline in mind of the Old World, and the ritual that afternoon tea had been in Victorian England. She appreciated this touch of European elegance into her life, and in truth, the flavor of the tea wasn’t so bad once one got over wishing it was coffee.

Today’s cookie was molasses, much to Pauline’s relief. Some days it was a peanut butter cookie, which took all her grace to eat without grimacing. Those were the days she had to hurry home and eat an apple or drink a glass of milk, anything to rid herself of that cloying taste and feel in her mouth.

Today, she was happy to linger over the tea, looking out the kitchen window at Miss Lewis’s garden. Mostly vegetables, there were occasional bursts of color and bloom from various types of old-fashioned flowers: sweet peas, peonies, narcissi, sweet-smelling lavender, and of course roses.

“There is such a peacefulness here,” Pauline said, a trace of wistfulness in her voice.

“I do love to give out my books and flowers. I let the neighborhood children pick flowers out of my garden to take home to their mothers, you see. They do the weeding that my arthritic hands can’t manage anymore.” Miss Lewis looked ruefully at her gnarled fingers. “That’s the way to get through life, Miss Gray. Give what you can to others, and allow them to give to you when you have need.”

Pauline’s motto was more along the lines of “take care of oneself and never be beholden to anyone,” but she thought Miss Lewis’s way was, perhaps, the better.

Cycling back home with Barchester Towers and Cranford nestled into her basket beside a nosegay of roses and campanula, she was sure of it.

That passage is from Secrets of the Past, and I hope you will enjoy meeting Miss Lewis as much as Pauline does, and the story that unfolds from that meeting.

1920s, fantasy, goals, mystery, publishing, Sci-fi, writing

Organizing Projects

If you’ve spent any time at this blog at all, or even if you wandered here wanting to learn more about my other writings after reading one of my stories, you probably know that I have three “universes” I mainly write in: The Whitney and Davies universe, aka Golden Age Detective Fantasy, aka Whodunnit Fantasy, aka Agatha Christie with magic; what I call the Caledonia universe, or the setting for From the Shadows; and the Pauline Gray historical mysteries, no magic at all.

I currently have projects in mind for all of these universes, and choosing between them for what to work on next can be almost as much of a challenge as the writing itself–or at the very least, a distraction from actually doing the writing. So I thought I might toss the options out there and see if there’s a preference from readers as to what project I turn the majority of my attention to first. So far my plan of “write whichever one strikes my fancy at the moment” has resulted in a pile of unfinished drafts, shockingly enough. (I KNOW. Who would have thought?)

The first question, then, is: which universe are you most eager to read another story in?

  • Whitney & Davies
  • Caledonia
  • Pauline Gray

After that, it gets a little more complex.

For Pauline, the options are fairly straightforward: the next installment of the series. Actually, that’s not “fairly” straightforward, that’s completely straightforward, and it’s not even “options,” it’s one choice: the next novella.

For Caledonia, I think it would look like a long short story that works as an interlude between the events of the first novel and the events of the next, followed by said next novel. It is possible that I might be able to jump right into the next novel without the interlude, but the way things stand for story development right now that would leave a gap between the stories, and so I think we really do need that bridge.

In the W&D universe, the choices are:

  • Another collection of short stories, this time mostly featuring Maia, Len, Gwen, and Becket
  • A one-off novella or long short story set in the same world but featuring entirely different characters
  • The next novel in the series

My instinct here is to get the next novel out there, but I don’t know, are people interested enough in the short stories that they would be a nice filler between novels? Is the novella something only I would be interested in? Would readers like the occasional short story in between novels but not necessarily an entire collection of them?

So these are the questions I am asking you all to answer: what do you want to see next from me–the next Pauline Gray novella; the continuation of Riss’s story; the next W&D novel; a short story or stories around W&D, or a novella set in their world but featuring different characters? Feel free to answer with only one option or with putting your choices in order of what you want most to read down to least.

As I shuffling off the responsibility of organizing my work onto my readers? Yes, I absolutely am. Do I feel guilt over this? Nope, not a bit.

Let me know in the comments, or send me an email if you’d rather keep it private! Also feel free to let me know some of what you hope to see from any or all of these universes by way of long-term storytelling. I know what my ideas are for the futures of these stories, but what are yours? Let’s chat!

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!

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?