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?

Books, mystery, publishing, writing

Diamonds to Dust Preorder and Print

I am so happy to be able to let you know that Diamonds to Dust is now available to pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords. Wow!

You can also order a print copy now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble (it hasn’t shown up on Bookshop.org yet, but I’m hoping that will come through soon).


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.

I am so looking forward to sharing this story with all of you!

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!

mystery, publishing, writing

Diamonds to Dust Cover Reveal & Release Date

It’s time! My editor A.M. Offenwanger has sent back the MS from its final proofread, and that means we are awfully close to publishing. Which means it’s time to celebrate by sharing the cover and back copy!

First, though, you all remember Pauline Gray, yes?

Picture borrowed from a vintage dress pattern

Journalist by day, secretly writing adventure novels by night, she dreams of the day she can turn her attention to “serious” academic work rather than these frivolous stories she has to churn out to pay the rent. In the meantime, her attention keeps getting distracted by mysteries no else cares enough to solve. Pauline would prefer a quiet life, but she can’t deny aid to people suffering from injustice, not if it’s within her power to help. Her first adventure was in Candles in the Dark, but it’s by no means her last …

Pauline’s second adventure begins with a plea for help from a local woman bemused by a strange inheritance. It takes her outside of Canton, NY, into the Thousand Islands region, about 60 miles away.

Vintage postcard from the Thousand Islands
Fox Island, still privately owned but alas, no longer by my family. Wouldn’t it be fun to have your own island? Maybe I’ll have to write a story about that someday.

This is the area my dad’s family comes from originally–when my sixth great-grandfather (Samuel Bates) came to the US from England, he eventually settled in Cape Vincent, buying a farm on the mainland as well as one of the smaller of the “thousand” islands on the river. My dad’s mother’s parents had a dairy farm in Clayton for years until they moved to Canton, and my dad was born in Clayton.

It was great fun for me to be able to explore beyond my own hometown and “visit” another area that has ties to my family roots in this story. One of the best parts of writing these novellas is getting to know all these places a bit better than I did before thanks to all the research I do! (And is there any better form of research than calling your dad and saying, “So, Dad, about that island our family used to own …”?)

But enough about the background, I know what you’re interested in is the story itself.

Introducing …

(Are you excited yet?)

(Is the anticipation building?)

Diamonds to Dust, the second Pauline Gray novella, coming August 14, 2020.

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.

It will be available all the usual places–Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Amazon, in the usual ebook and paperback formats. I can’t wait to share it with you all! My one regret in taking 2019 off from non-Patreon writing was putting this story on hold. It was worth it, though–the finished product you’ll be reading is much, much better than it would have been if I’d tried to push the book to be ready sooner.

Mark your calendars! August 14 is the day!