Check It Out: MAGIC MOST DEADLY, by E. L. Bates

I just finished re-reading E. L. BatesMagic Most Deadly. It’s Agatha Christie meets Harry Potter – or, to put it another way, Christie’s Tommy & Tuppence crossed with Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (which, in turn, is Jane Austen/Georgette Heyer with magic). Ugh, too many analogies, which only the true aficionados among you will understand.

To put it quite plainly: Magic Most Deadly is a 1920’s murder mystery with magic. And it’s great.

The main character is Maia Whitney, a young woman who served as a nurse in the Great War. Maia is eminently likeable, and what’s more, quite real. She’s intelligent, she’s capable – but she reads quite true as a young woman who needs to find out who she really is. What I particularly like about her is that even though she has no qualms about taking  drastic action when the situation calls for it, she doesn’t just shrug off the experience and go on her merry  way – she needs time to process it, to come to terms with her actions and with its consequences. Maia is both sensible and sensitive, and the reader gets to appreciate both of those sides to her, and to enjoy her growth as she makes her way through the events of this story.

Maia’s relationship with Len is very believable, too, and the more so for Maia’s not spending most of the book bellyaching about him and how she should react or relate to him – and vice versa. The focus of the plot is the mystery – in a sense, a “magic mystery” as much of a “murder mystery”. We know fairly early on “whodunnit” (at least we think we do – did he actually do it, or not?), but the real question is what is really going on – and what’s it all have to do with magic, which Maia is only just discovering exists.

It’s an intriguing story which keeps me reading, and keeps me rooting for the characters. And at the end of it it leaves me wanting more. I sure hope to see more Maia and Len stories in the future!

And here’s the official blurb, with links to where to buy it at the bottom:

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Magic Most Deadly

Book One in the Intelligent Magic series

by E.L. Bates

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?

Available through Amazon, Smashwords, Nook, and soon-to-come iTunes.

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The Power of Story, or, RIP Leonard Nimoy

vulcan saluteIn case you hadn’t heard, Leonard Nimoy died this morning. The Internet is going to be buzzing with remembrance over the next few days; everyone and their pooch will be posting pictures of him, throwing each other the Vulcan salute, and discussing their favourite Star Trek episodes ad nauseam. The whole of Silicon Valley, I’m sure, will go into mourning.

But why? An 83-year-old Jew from Boston passes away peacefully in his LA home after a long and prosperous life – so who cares?

We do. Millions of us do. Because Leonard Nimoy was not just a person beloved by his friends and family, and a man highly gifted in his chosen profession. Leonard Nimoy was Spock. And as Spock, he brought something to our lives that was unique.

In fact, Leonard Nimoy’s passing, just like the tragic death of Robin Williams last year, illustrates with brilliant clarity just how powerful the impact of Story is on our lives. Nimoy became Spock; he became Story. His embodiment of this character, his telling us of who this – entirely fictional! – person was, allowed us to enter into Spock’s being, let us become, for a short time, another. He, like Robin Williams did in his many roles, gave us a powerful gateway into the realm of Story.

We need Story; we live in Story. And that is why so many of us are touched by the passing of a man who lived thousands of miles away from us; whom we have never spoken to; who, in real life, did not have pointy ears and go around classifying everything as “logical” or “not logical”. It almost feels heretical to say that – Spock is not real, he does not exist. But, actually, he does. He existed in what Nimoy created, and took root in our imagination. And as such, the death of Leonard Nimoy does not put an end to Spock’s existence. The power of Story simply carries on. There was no Spock before Nimoy became him (and created the all-memorable Vulcan salute – there is a very interesting video clip here, where he explains its origins). But now, there always will be Spock.

And we can continue to draw inspiration from his story, from the portrayal of the man who lives in logic but yet has to come to grips with the emotion seething inside him; a story that draws us out of ourselves and lets us grow with him. Leonard Nimoy brought us the empowerment of seeing Spock live – of being Spock.

Life, the Universe, and the Power of Story. Rest in Peace, Leonard Nimoy – you lived long and prospered.

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Just Some Vanilla

amo:

A beautifully inspirational story from Stuart at Storyshucker. We all need that sense of being needed – we all need our bottles of vanilla.

Originally posted on Storyshucker:

I’m no fan of snow, but as my eyes roll in disgust at weather forecasts I concede there were times when snowfalls thrilled me. Not due to missing school, sleigh riding, or building snowmen, but because Vicki and I would go to the store for Nannie.

At an unknown point in our youth, after one snowstorm or another, my sister Vicki and I decided we must plod across the field through snow, no matter the depth, to see if our grandmother needed anything from the store. Nannie lived in a huge old farmhouse, had always cooked for many, and could have at any point in time prepared a meal for forty out of what she had in her cabinets and refrigerator. Not even touching what was stored in her cellar.

Still… Vicki and I were sure Nannie needed something and we’d save the day by trudging through snow to ask…

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“That’s Funny,” He Laughed

quillandqwerty cropI just read a quite interesting article about “The Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue”, i.e. what not to do when you’re writing fiction dialogue. And yes, I quite agree with the author on almost all points.

For example, a nasty writing habit is replacing “said” with other verbs like “queried” or “cajoled”. Or even worse, practising what they call “Impossible Verbing”.  “As a reader, that jolts me right out of the story,” I shuddered. ← There, that was one of those. One does not shudder a sentence. Try it – scrunch up your shoulders, let that shiver run over yourself from your head down your arms into your finger tips, and see if you get any sound out of that, let alone words. If you do, you’re a better vocal cord acrobat than I am.

However, there is one point on which I beg to differ with the authors of that article. Well, one sub-point. Under “Impossible Verbing”, they emphatically state that you should never use any verb other than a variant of “to say” as your speech tag, and they continue: “[E]ven more experienced writers can sometimes have a character laugh or sigh or cry a line that could not logically be produced in any of these ways.” That’s a statement I’ve heard more than once. But I’m sorry, just because people who lecture others on writing – uh, sorry, give out writing advice – like to repeat that statement that does not make it true. You can so laugh a line.

How would they suggest you describe it when someone says something while laughing? I presume the approved form would be “he said with a laugh” or something like that. But think about it: that’s actually quite a different thing than “laughing” the words. I don’t know about you, but laughing makes noise come from my vocal cords. Right? Hahaha. That’s sound. So, try this: ‘”That’s funny!” he said and laughed.’ What are you hearing in your head? Me, that arrives as: “That’s funny! Hahaha!” But now look at this: ‘”That’s funny!” he laughed.‘ Mental audio: “Thahahahat’s fuhuhuhunny!” Two different effects, no?

Okay, I’ll give you that you could write the latter as ‘”That’s funny!” he said laughingly.’ or even ‘with a laugh.’ But there’s a certain amount of clunkiness in that – too many “-ly” or “with a” would yank me out of the story more effectively than the occasional “he laughed” and “she sobbed”. (‘”You don’t love me!” she said sobbingly.’ Uh, no. Not with clunky language like that, I don’t.)

So, Impossible Verbing aside (she shrugged), I vote that laughing, sobbing, hissing, snarling, groaning, and sighing can take their occasional (very occasional) place alongside shouting and whispering in the lineup of acceptable synonyms for “saying”. After all, they do all make sounds. I will, however, draw the line at burping – yes, I know there are people who can burp the alphabet, but really, there are limits. If not of language, then of good taste.

“Life, the Universe, and Speech Tags,” she said. “Try laughing it sometimes.”

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SEVENTH SON, the Movie: a Review

We went and checked out the competition the other day. By which I mean to say, we went to see the Seventh Son movie that was released last week, which, just to reiterate, has nothing to do with my Seventh Son novel, beyond the concept that the seventh son of a seventh son has special magical abilities.

I was, quite frankly, a little apprehensive about going to that movie. You see, I read the book it’s based on, Joseph Delaney’s The Spook’s Apprentice, or rather, The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (that’s the American title). That book has the potential for a SCARY movie. Plus, the film is rated 14A around here, and that alone would make me, usually, stay away from it. I don’t do scary.

But as it turns out, the movie has very little to do with Delaney’s novel, either. Oh, they retain the basic premise, and the names of the characters. But other than that they’ve taken a quite innovative storyline, and pounded it flat into a stereotypical, run-of-the-mill fantasy movie plot, which might have been okay as a made-for-TV story, but on the big screen is a waste of money, special effects and great acting talent.

Speaking of acting talent, as I mentioned before, one of the reasons I made myself go see the movie is that it has the daughter of a friend of mine in it, Lilah Fitzgerald. But that, too, was a disappointment – Lilah gets hardly any screen time; apparently most of her scenes were cut. And that’s too bad, because Lilah’s character, Tom’s little sister, had the potential to carry one of the major themes of the story, that of Tom having to give up his family in order to do the work he is called to do.

But then, most of the key themes of the book were simply left out of the movie. Just to give you a brief synopsis, what the story is about is Tom Ward, a farm boy, the seventh son of a seventh son. He becomes apprentice to the Spook, whose job it is to deal with spirits or creatures of magic. Their greatest antagonist is Mother Malkin, an evil witch, who is out for revenge for the Spook’s having locked her up in a hole for the last however-many decades (or centuries, or something). There’s also a young witch named Alice, with whom Tom gets involved, who throws all kinds of wrenches into the works.

Incidentally, none of that is a spoiler; it’s no more than what you get from watching the movie trailers. And because the trailers hit those major plot points, which are also the main points of the book, I fully expected the film to live up to the book – hence my apprehension about going to see it. But as it turns out, the things that would have made the movie really bothersome to watch were left out. Yes, the film is still scary; I wouldn’t recommend it for young kids or other sensitive souls. But it doesn’t warrant the 14A label it got here in BC; I think the PG13 it was given in the US is closer to the mark in comparison with other fantasy movies out there, say, Harry Potter or The Hobbit, which have equally scary scenes (albeit with better narrative reasons).

Seventh Son is bristling with fire-breathing movie monsters; however, they’re rather stereotypical as far as movie monsters go – again, if you watch the trailer, you’ve pretty much seen it all. And even the most hideously scary character from the book, the witch herself, is stereotyped to such an extent she loses in translation. Mother Malkin, in print, is creepy; her evil is profoundly frightening. Julianne Moore’s screen version is just another nasty character with a grudge against an old guy in a white beard – as a matter of fact, Moore is more antagonistic as Mrs Cheveley in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, where she’s playing a mean Victorian lady trying to blackmail an honourable man, than she is as a shape-shifting witch.

Another character that is completely changed from the book is Tom’s mother. I don’t want to give anything away here, but the film version of the mother is turned into, again, a stereotype, the Fantasy Hero’s Mother who wrings her hands at her boy’s departure into war and danger and wants to keep him safe at home – which is the exact opposite of the character in the book, who has been planning for this very thing since Tom’s birth. One minor beef I have with the casting here is that Tom’s mother is played by Olivia Williams, who is no more than thirteen years older than Ben Barnes (Tom), and it shows. He is supposed to be her seventh son – when did she start having kids, at three years of age? It’s just one of those inconsistencies that made me scratch my head. Ditto for all the changes of clothing that Tom seems to have at his disposal, without a suitcase in sight or anything.

Well, I’ll stop grousing now. All told, the film isn’t really all that bad. I went into it with fairly strong expectations, most of which were disappointed. But it’s not like I hated it, and the fact that it wasn’t as scary as I’d feared is a good thing (for me – I hate getting nightmares). I did spend a couple of rather enjoyable hours in the theatre; there are some definite good points about this movie.

The actors are one – Ben Barnes is excellent (and oh-so-handsome); Julianne Moore is good, of course; and even though Lilah Fitzgerald didn’t get nearly as much screen time as she deserved, I did get to see her in a movie, so that’s great. Another fun aspect for me was that the movie was shot in and around Vancouver; the outdoor scenes are recognisably West Coast with its majestic scenery. The visuals are good; in fact, if we weren’t so utterly spoiled nowadays by over-the-top-fantastic special effects, they would probably be utterly mindblowing. My favourite CG scene (it’s in the trailer) is the one where the wizard transforms himself into a dragon, trailing chains turning into wings. Pretty nifty, that. And even the ‘simple’ visuals, like costuming, were enjoyable – I kept looking really closely at Tom’s knitted sweater, trying to figure out what kind of yarn this is meant to be (at some point in the movie it even changes into looking almost like knitted wire – chain mail stitchery?).

So, bottom line: I’d give this movie a three out of five. It’s not great, but it’s not horrible either. If you’ve got a couple hours to spend on a Tuesday evening when movies are cheap, you could do worse than to watch this one. Or, alternatively, just wait until it comes out on Netflix, and put the money you’d spend on tickets towards buying a copy of my book instead – I picked the title first (better yet, buy several copies, and give some to your friends).

Life, the Universe, and Seventh Son. Just go read my novel.

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Enough!

Enough already. Enough with the Facebook posts, the rants, the forwards; enough with the anti-anti-vaxxer posts, anti-Fifty-Shades, anti-Muslim, anti-everything. Enough with the hating.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’m necessarily for any of the ideologies those posts are against. I’ve had my kids vaccinated; I haven’t read Fifty Shades; I’m not Muslim; and I don’t intend to change any of those practices.

But I’m so very, very tired to hear the harping, the incessant banging, clanging, beating of the drums, the tapping of the hammer that keeps driving home the message that YOU are right, and [insert opposing position on issue du jour] is wrong, evil, and to be resisted with every fibre of our beings.

Telling me of your opinion once is fine – please, I really do want to hear what my friends have to say. But not over, and over, and over. Because, you see: all that energy you’re using to be AGAINST, that is energy that is no longer available to be FOR. It’s negative energy, energy that takes away. And it’s sucking the life out of me.

Darkness, someone once said, isn’t an active force – it’s simply the absence of light. Contrary to what Star Wars would have you believe, The Dark isn’t a power in its own right – bring one single candle into a dark room, and you no longer have darkness. Light is the overpowering force. I don’t have to push back against the dark bits underneath my couch, build barriers to keep the darkness from flowing out into the room and overwhelming the light that is coming in the big picture window. I don’t have to relentlessly draw attention to the fact that there is darkness under the furniture, hold my book beneath the sofa to demonstrate just how dim and impossible to read it is under there. All I have to do is draw back the curtains.

Candle cropI let off a plea for the antidote yesterday, on Facebook. I asked my friends – rather with a tongue-in-cheek attitude at that moment, not expecting to be taken seriously – to post some cute pictures of their kids, or pets, or what-have-you, because I was just so very fed up with all the controversy. And within minutes, I had responses. Picture after picture of smiling children, furry critters, funny captions – it was wonderful. Because trivial as those images might seem, they testify to what really matters. They put the attention back on the light.

And that, people, is what it’s about. Don’t bewail the darkness, light a candle. Or throw the electric light switch, as it were; draw back the curtains; step outside into the sunshine.

If you’re concerned about unvaccinated children, show me how you are keeping yours strong and healthy. If you are worried about extremist Muslims, show me that your religion does not inspire you to similar self-righteous hating – and let me see the potency of your faith in engendering life-giving love. If you despise Fifty Shades, show me what powerful romantic love is really about – or even better yet, write a heart-gripping novel that lets me experience it for myself when I identify with your heroine, and leaves me feeling empowered and inspired, ready to take on the world – because that is what love can do.

Don’t show me everything that’s bad – let me see what is good. I’m tired of being asked to stare into black holes. Show me the light, instead.

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First Draft

So the first draft of Checkmate, Septimus Series Book 3, is in the bag, as of two hours ago. And by first draft, I mean raw, unvarnished, un-spell-checked, NaNoWriMo-ish, plot-hole-riddled, wordy etc etc. (you get the picture). I had frozen in place at the end of NaNo in the middle of a scene, having crossed the 50K-word finish line. Then Christmas happened, aka no writing for about a month, and then a January full of sort of limping along, stuttering my way to the completion of the book. But now it’s done – there is a STORY here.

And I’m exhausted. Writing is tiring, you know? Especially if you write the way I do, which is in spurts – nothing, nothing, nothing, writewritewritewrite, nothing, nothing… I’ve yet to master the fine art (which some of my friends are experts on) of writing so many words a day, come rain, shine, or cloudy-with-a-chance-of-meatballs. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do in little bits every day – I tend to be an all-or-nothing person, sort of a single-track mind. I obsess on whatever-it-is until I’m done, or lose interest and pick up the next subject.

So, draft is finished, dinner has been had, and now I think it’s time for another glass of wine and an episode or two of Once Upon a Time (we’re up to Season 2, Episode 10). And tomorrow, or whenever, it’s back to the drawing board for Checkmate. Re-read, re-write, rinse and repeat.

Life, the Universe, and Finished First Drafts. Checkmate!

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Sunrise on sea of fog – this morning as I started writing.

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