Tag Archives: E. L. Bates

In Defense of the Detective Novel

My friend E. L. Bates just wrote this quite excellent piece on the value of detective fiction. I agree with everything she says – and her point about the timeliness of detective novels is an interesting one. Check it out and see what you think.

StarDance Press

This essay came out of some thoughts I had on detective novels and their function in society. I’m not sure any of it is terribly earth-shattering–I’m fairly certain it’s all been said before–but it was important to me, so I wrote it all out, then decided it was worth polishing and sharing. So here it is.

Truth, justice, mercy. All very big, abstract concepts that can be hard to wrap our heads around in concrete terms. What is truth? How do we balance justice and mercy? To whom do we show justice, and when is mercy appropriate? If I were to tell you I was writing a story exploring these concepts, you might reasonably expect some weighty, literary piece of work, with dense prose and a somber tone. What you might not expect would be a detective novel.

Yet it is in mystery stories that I have had some of…

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Zootopia and The Power of Story


I’ve been thinking about the importance of Story again. My friend E. L. Bates recently posted the transcript of a talk she gave at her local library on that topic (read the full thing here, it’s well worth it). “This is what stories do,” she says, “they sink into our hearts and give us the tools we need to live more fully, more richly, in the everyday world around us.” Yes, exactly.

Last weekend, we went to see the new Disney movie, Zootopia. I’d heard that it was good, so while I wasn’t expecting any great profundity of the flick (it’s a Disney talking-animal movie, after all), I went into it hoping to be amused for a couple of hours and not have too many groaner moments. And those hopes weren’t disappointed.

But what bowled me over was the message of the film. That’s right, a Disney talking-animal flick with a message that I actually found really meaningful. And not the standard follow-your-heart-you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be one, either (which nowadays just causes an eye-roll reflex in me, but that’s a rant for another day). Now, I don’t want to give any spoilers, the movie still being as new as it is. But what I found astounding is that the makers of Zootopia, who have been working on this movie for, I dunno, years, put out a film that hits right smack-dab at the bull’s eye of the current social issues. It’s as if they’d had a premonition of what the political and social climate of March of 2016 was going to be like, and they set out to tell a story that makes its point far more effectively than any sermon or political rant could do.

And that’s something I found profoundly encouraging. Because, you see, young children aren’t going to go to political rallies. And, let’s face it, most of their parents and grandparents won’t, either. But they’ll go to this movie, because it’s Junior’s birthday and you’ve got to do something with that horde of little hoodlums he’s insisted on inviting. So you take them to the movies to see the story of a perky little bunny rabbit from the country who wants to be a big-city cop, and hope that her and her sly-fox sidekick’s adventure will keep the kids quiet for a couple of hours. And in the process, Junior, his friends, and Mommy, Daddy and Grandma, without even noticing it, are being taught some lessons that couldn’t be more important in this moment in history, lessons about the insidiousness of fear and prejudice and of the power of acceptance.

But let me quote E. L. Bates again: “But [the stories] are not instruction manuals thinly disguised as entertainment! Perish the thought! If you set out, in writing a story, to point a moral or teach people something, you have failed before you’ve even begun.” In the case of Zootopia, Disney most certainly did not fail. It’s a well-told story in its own right, full of endearing characters that will enter the Disney canon, with great animation and jokes (including quite a few that will zip right over Junior’s head, but provide Mom & Dad with a good chuckle – including the teensy little Mafioso shrew with his nasal Godfather drawl). We’ll keep watching this film for decades to come for its story, because it’s a good movie – and in the process, its profound message is going to be absorbed into our collective psyche.

The pen (or in this case, film camera) is mightier than the sword – and that is something that can give us all hope.

Life, the Universe, and Zootopia. Story wins again.

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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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