“Historical” Fantasy Favorites

Here are juvenile and young adult fantasy books that I really like in “historical” fantasy subgenre. Some have a trace of magic. You can read the original post with more recommendations and links here.

Some books cross categories:

Hilari Bell has written several series and a bunch of standalones, and so far, I’ve liked everything. She’s good, I tell you.

Shannon Hale has also written a lot. Some of hers are rewritten fairy tales and some are unique. She can be a little trickier, but give her a shot.

My favorite of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s is the False Prince series. Even though I guessed the twist very, very early, it was still written very well. Basically, the royal family is all killed except for the exiled prince, and now villains want to put a pretender on the throne. The story follows a young man considered to be the best option for their fraud.

I have a complaint about V. Briceland. I don’t think the series is ended, and I want the next one! Preferably soon! Argh. Actually, one of my children called me a while back, asking me to identify a forgotten book for them, and Briceland was the answer. The series has good plots, great characters, and immersive writing. Though the series is connected, the stories are moderately stand-alone and move on to different characters. Setting is similar to a magical medieval Europe.

Mary Hoffman wrote a lovely portal fantasy series. Modern Earth teens get transferred to historical/magical Italy (please don’t yell at me if I forgot a setting).

Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series is very good if you like slow, complex books with hidden turns, and very frustrating if you don’t. 😉 They’re actually more fun to read the second time, because then you know where the jokes are.

Emily Rodda writes middle grade rather than young adult, but I still like them. Her heroes are rarely the brave and bold kind, but they find their courage to do what is right. The Deltora series also includes puzzles the readers can try to solve themselves.

Elizabeth Winthrop wrote a charming middle grade series about a magical castle in the attic, so I’d call it portal fantasy.

Holly Bennett writes about elves as well as humans, but not in a Tolkien way. She combines romance and adventure and families.

Gerald Morris is always my recommendation for King Arthur stories that are funny and heart-warming and not so much about King Arthur. And up until the last book, they managed to have happy endings, too.

Lloyd Alexander wrote tons of books, and they’re all good. Some are contemporary-ish, and some are portal-ish, but the Prydain Chronicles are firmly in the “historical” camp. I grew up on the series, and I’m still in love with the characters so much. When a reader told me my books “felt” like Alexander, I nearly cried.

The Great and Terrible Quest, by Margaret Lovett (one of my “ought to be a movie” books). Since the main character is only a boy, not even a teen, I suppose it could be considered middle grade, but somehow, it doesn’t seem that way. I read this book out loud to my family, and they all enjoyed it.

John Flanagan has several series set in the Ranger’s Apprentice world, which is clearly based on Earth even though he cleverly disguises the names. His characters are great, and though he could use a few more girls, the girls he does include are strong heroines without being cliches.

The Minnipin series, by Carol Kendall, is charming and funny. The heroes (male and female) save the day because they must, not because they are strong warriors or trained scholars or anything like that. In fact, the first heroes are the outcasts from the village. I love how Carol uses their real strengths to win the day, rather than forcing them into a trope.

The Princess and the Goblin (and Curdie sequel), by George MacDonald. I will admit, the old-fashioned language can be a bit of a barrier, but I love Curdie and Irene.

Silver Woven in My Hair, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy, is a Cinderella retelling with a realistic romance. So there.

The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye. Simple but sweet, and my favorite romance, even though it’s a children’s book. If you like friends-to-lovers, this is for you.

Crown Duel & Court Duel, and the Wren series, by Sherwood Smith. Crown/Court Duel is enemies-to-lovers, though the romance waits for the second book. Mel is a heroine who doesn’t fight well, doesn’t make the right choices, doesn’t know what she’s doing, but she just won’t give up. Wren is middle grade with another heroine who muddles through everything.

Cameron Dokey writes lovely fairy tale retellings with romance and magic.

Most of Robin McKinley. Some are fairy tales, some are original. She specializes in strong heroines, some who wear armor and swing weapons, and some who don’t.

Gail Carson Levine is funny and magical and romantic and you should definitely read the books instead of watching a certain movie…

Shattered Stone, by Robert Newman. I went to a lot of trouble to buy this book because my library didn’t have it and I wanted it in my house forever. I could spoil the romance for you, but I won’t. This is one of my feel-good favorites.

Bethany Wiggins’ Transference series is a cool take on dragons and an even cooler take on romance. As in, realistic instead of instalove or lameness. She also has very realistic family relationships.

I hope something sounds like fun (or all of them!) and that you get to settle down with a nice book.

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

Character Personalities

“So, how do you write your characters?” people ask me.

“Do you fill out a questionnaire? Do you figure out their personality type first?”

No to both. I just write them. But AFTER I know them well, I’ve been known to run them through a personality test. *clears throat* Or six.

I started off with Meyers-Briggs and Color Code

I was already familiar with those two personality systems. (MBTI in college and CC from reading).

In Color Code, each of my four main characters in my secondary world fantasy series ended up a different personality color (of four). Hmm. I always thought they were very different, and I guess they are. But one test is hardly conclusive, right? So I ran them through the MBTI. Each of them ended up not only a different type (of 16), which was not surprising, but in an entirely different section (of four). More hmm. Considering I wasn’t TRYING for that much diversity, it’s pretty impressive.

Then I found a Hogwarts test online.

My stories aren’t even set on Earth, so the characters certainly wouldn’t go to school there, but okay, I’m curious. Guess what? Yeah, that’s right — each of them ended up in a different House. And, by the way, Slytherin isn’t automatically bad. They just feel that “their” people are more important than “all” people. Obviously, that can get out of hand, but go ahead, tell me you’ve never once given preference to someone you love just because you love them… (No, I’m not Slytherin, but I can imagine how they feel.)

Then I read about the Four Tendencies and the enneagram

Of course, I HAD to run them through those, didn’t I? (The answer is yes. Don’t be silly.) Both of these were trickier. In the Four Tendencies, I’m pretty sure the four characters ended up in four different areas all over again. And oddly, this was the only test where I was like one particular character, whom I usually write by saying, “What would I NOT do.”

The enneagram took even longer, but I finally figured it out. I’m sure you can predict that they all ended up different. Some of them overlapped a smidge, some didn’t even touch.

Recently, I found the DISC system.

And all four characters still scored in different areas. By now, I was very amused but not at all surprised. A little more surprisingly, all four fit fairly solidly in one of the four main groups, rather than overlapping (which is allowed). When I took the test for myself, I overlapped…

I have not yet figured out their CliftonStrengths.

I’ve been very busy and frankly, it’s intimidating. But I’m willing to bet they’ll end up different. 😉 Of course, with CS, that’s less surprising, since there are 34 strengths and millions of combination/orders of having them in your top 5 or 10. (I did take CS for myself, and wow, that was an eye-opener. Some of my top strengths are so ingrained that I couldn’t imagine people NOT using them, but now I see it just is not so… But seriously, people, how do you not think all the time??)

By now, I have reams of notes.

I rarely use them in plotting or character development, unless I’m stuck on something, but I read them for my own enjoyment. Because that’s the nerdy kind of person I am…

Surprisingly, I found things as I studied that fit my characters perfectly even though I hadn’t known them as belonging to a certain personality before I wrote the books. For instance, one character is pretty intense— except when he isn’t. He can quite suddenly flip into humor or pranks (oh, his pranks!). I’ve had readers call me on that as not fitting his personality, but according to the MBTI, it’s a real thing for his type. LOL. I’d really like to claim I’m a genius and planned it all, but really, he just told me that’s what he does, so I wrote it down.

People also ask me if my characters are like me.

Well, they can’t possibly ALL be like me, since there are four of them (not counting minor characters or all the short stories) and only one of me.

But really, the answer is still no. Some of them are a little like me in this way or that, but none of them are really like me. Of course one of them shares a Color with me, since there are only four, and a Hogwarts House and a Tendency for the same reason, but our MBTIs are different, and our enneagrams are different, and because DISC allows for partial overlaps, we’re still different. And whenever I break down and figure out four sets of Strengths, there will probably be some overlap, but also some significant differences.

“So will I like your characters? Is one of them like me?”

I hope you’ll like all of them, whether or not they’re like you! But with four very different characters, chance are pretty good that you will feel a kinship in something with someone. And if you don’t feel kinship, I hope you will at least find friendship.

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

Favorite YA Sci-Fi

I used to have this listed with YA fantasy, but for my new “expanded” lists, I decided to break them out.

“Contemporary” Science Fiction (not all set in current day, but less intense science)

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex (SO much better than the movie!). Alien invasion meets humor and cross-country road trip to save Mom.

The Girl with the Silver Eyes, by Willo Davis Roberts. Four kids with psychic powers from a prenatal drug find out about each other and conspire to get together.

Pamela F. Service. She also writes very good fantasy, but The Reluctant God is time travel, and Stinker from Space and Weirdos Unite are aliens-come-to-Earth.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry (but unfortunately not the sequels). It’s ever so much better than the movie, too, which changed a few vital elements in not-very-smart ways.

Alexander Key. The Forgotten Door, Witch Mountain (movies are okay, honestly), and more. I bought Forgotten Door when I moved somewhere that had a library that didn’t stock it.

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory series, by Roald Dahl. Not too much science in book 1, but book 2 shoots into space. And yes, the crazy poems are in the book, not just the movie.

“Heavier” Science Fiction

Have Space Suit–Will Travel, by Robert Heinlein (no, I don’t like all his stuff). A teenage boy and a young girl are kidnapped and marooned in space. If they can’t find friends among aliens, they’ll never get home again.

Stephanie Harrington series, by David Weber. No, I haven’t gotten into his other stuff, even the rest of the Harringtons, but I do like the Treecat Wars. I think I’m more of a “friendly alien” type reader than a “space opera” reader.

Devil on My Back series, by Monica Hughes. Post-apocalptic “utopian” (really dystopian, of course), where the hero doesn’t WANT to upend his society but finds out truths he eventually can’t ignore.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. RPG-lit. Here is also where I admit that although I liked the first one a lot, I really, really didn’t like the sequel.

Alan Gratz. Alternate history steampunk where seven unlikely heroes band together to save the day against hideous giants. Probably more middle grade than young adult, but I’ll leave it here, anyway.

Douglas Arthur Hill. Some of his fit better under fantasy, but the ColSec series is sci fi, as are a lot of others. ColSec is humans-crashland-on-alien-world, and the aliens are NOT friendly.

Janet Edwards. I admit, I haven’t read all her stuff yet, because my library won’t stock it, but I really like her Earth Girl series. Post-apocalyptic, where the slow decline of Earth was solved when most humans migrated to other planets. The few that stayed behind because they were allergic to other worlds are considered sub-human, and one of them decides to prank an entire archaeology class. It all goes wrong, of course.

Adrian McKinty’s Lighthouse trilogy is another aliens & humans story, with a disabled main character. (He thinks disabled, but he does more with one arm than most people do with two.)

Sylvia Engdahl (sci fi with a fantasy feel). Enchantress from the Stars has dual POV, one sci fi and one fantasy, and the contrast is super cool. The Far Side of Evil is more sci fi. I like Enchantress better, but Far Side is still good.

A Wrinkle in Time series, by Madeline L’Engle. Classics for a reason. Each book is different (space, time, size, aliens, angels…), but they all talk about the difference one person can make to the world/universe.

Timothy Zahn’s Dragon series. Also sci-fi with the feel of fantasy, and another friendly-aliens story. Okay, it’s a some-friendly some-enemy aliens story… With a touch of mystery and a really cool twist on dragons.

Let me know if you read any of these, and what you thought.

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Writing Update: Tales of Kaiatan

My next planned book (not counting an omnibus with bonus material) is a collection of short stories set “contemporary” to the Unexpected Heroes series. The earliest one is 60 years before the first book, and the latest one is a couple of years after the last book. (The NEXT planned book will be “legends” from much earlier in “history.” Think “fairy tales not placed on Earth.”) You can read a few of these contemporary stories already, in Unexpected Tales.

In a way, short stories are easier to write, because the plotting is much simpler. On the other hand, description and character have to be squished into a smaller space, and there’s no time to meander.

Anyway, all of the stories have ended up being connected to the series rather than merely set in the same world, though some are tightly connected and some are merely side stories of characters or expansions of casual mentions. Three of my four main characters have parents-meeting stories (the fourth was an arranged marriage). I’ve got survival treks and new jobs and races and pirates and weddings… It’s an interesting mix. A few of the stories have sequels in the collection (or in the series).

Some of the stories were easy to choose, for one reason or another. The last handful were harder, because I was looking for holes to fill. (Like needing a story from a female Nokai POV that took place between books 2 & 3. Yes, really.) In fact, I just figured out the last tagline in January, because it ended up being the prequel to another story I decided on the week before. And by “figured out,” I mean very generally. I actually finished writing that story before I finished one of the earliest planned stories, which gave me fits. It was supposed to be a short, one-chapter story but expanded to four chapters and almost 10,000 words. Some of the older stories in the collection had to to be rewritten to have complete arcs instead of just being bonus scenes.

I discovered a few entirely new characters for this collection, and they still ended up tying into the series. I can never read chapter 2 of Wind of Choice the same way again because the new backstory explains so much. I cried writing the last scene, literally. My mom cried when she read the sequel, then she backed up to read and cry again. Um, okay.

For my short stories, I use an abbreviated version of my usual outlining process, and sometimes I wing it (now that I’ve written almost half a million words). Except for that ornery romance… I had to research romance beats, alas. I still always start with a character and a situation and an ending and/or premise, and then I connect the dots from there. Sometimes I use more than one POV, sometimes only one. I’ve balanced stories from each country as well as male and female POVs. I tried to sprinkle the stories between the novels, but they still ended up heavily pre- and post-series with only a few between the books. Most of the stories have happy endings, because I like that, but a few ended up being sad or dark. I can’t help it! Some stories are sad!

One of the stories that’s already in Unexpected Tales has gotten so many questions about what happens next that I’m pondering turning into a complete novel. I’ll let you know…

Mmm… what else do you want to know? Toss me a comment, and I’ll either comment back (for a short answer) or write a post (if it needs a long answer).

Another time, I’ll try to remember to tell you about the “legends,” which I frequently describe as “loosely based on Earth fairy tales, as they would be if they came from Kaiatan.” For instance, Japan has a story about a stonecutter who kept wishing to be more powerful. What would that story look like if the main character was a shapeshifter??

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

YA Fantasy with Princesses, Dragons, or Magic

Some of my favorite YA fantasies with princesses, dragons, and/or magic, in random order:

Patricia C. Wrede: Lyra Chronicles are unrelated stories set in the same world. My favorite is The Raven Ring, but they’re all good. Frontier Magic is kind of an urban fantasy series, except “urban” is wilderness. Anyway, it’s about twins, the seventh son of a seventh son and his sister, the thirteenth child. Cecilia and Kate is historical fantasy with magic, and so is Mairelon. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles tell of a princess who seeks out a dragon to avoid an unwanted marriage. One of the short stories that goes with the series is called The Frying Pan of Doom, and it’s a hoot. Wrede also has good standalones.

Clare B. Dunkle: The Hollow Sky (sci fi) is good, but The Hollow Kingdom is better. Goblins and elves in new ways, with strong heroines who aren’t necessarily good fighters. To quote the king’s advisor (more or less), “One of your parents saved the kingdom, and sometimes I forget which.”

Michelle Knudsen: Trelian series. What are you supposed to do when you find a dragon egg in the forest? Keep it, of course. But how do you tell your parents?

Jonathan Stroud: Bartimaeus series, about an apprentice who steals a magic amulet, calls a demon, but things don’t go exactly as he planned. If you like the footnotes, check out Terry Pratchett.

Laurence Yep: any of his fantasies are good, but I’m particularly fond of his Dragon Steel series. If you’ve been looking for a good Asian fantasy, start with this classic.

Garth Nix: Abhorsen series. On one side of The Wall is the normal world, with no magic except when there’s a strong breeze from the other side.

Brandon Mull: Fablehaven. Magical creatures in a secret reserve. All is well, until everything goes wrong and the children have to save the day.

Elizabeth Haydon: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme. Ven is a shipbuilder’s son, and on his first “check out the ship” voyage, he’s kidnapped and lost. He’s a very kind hero.

Jane Yolen (also found in adult fantasy): She has a LOT of books, but I’ll mention The Seelie Wars, in which a hostage faerie prince and a common human reluctantly team up against both sides of the faeries. The Pit Dragon series is kind of a sci-fi/fantasy blend where dragons are perfectly natural creatures who are mostly raised in breeding barns and used in wagered fights like cocks or bears.

Dawn Cook: Truth series. A girl searches for her missing father and discovers she has magic. With a boy from the plains, she must fight an evil sorcerer to win back her father’s magic book. And there are dragons, but they aren’t what you think…

Julie Kagawa: Fey series. A teenage girl discovers her father was really a faerie king, and she has the power to save—or destroy—the fae.

Sheila A. Nielson: Forbidden Sea series. Mermaids! Can a girl save her younger sister from a vengeful mermaid? (First book is trad-published, second is indie.)

Lou Anders: Thrones and Bones series. Elves, giants, and trolls in a setting reminiscent of old Norse.

James M. Ward: Halcyon Blythe. Steampunk with dragons. Halcyon is a sailor on a dragon-frigate. No, the ship doesn’t hunt dragons; the ship IS a dragon.

Elizabeth Kerner: The Tale of Lanen Kaeler. Lanen has dreamed of meeting dragons all her life, so when she gets the chance to go to their island, nothing will stop her.

Andre Norton: Halfblood Chronicles series. Elves rule all the known lands, keeping humans as slaves. But there is a prophecy of a halfblood who can destroy their reign…

Tui T. Sutherland: Wings of Fire. All dragons, all the time. Different races of dragons in different lands, always fighting until five unlikely dragonets become friends.

Jessica Day George: also LOTS of books. Dragon Slippers, in which a girl in need of a job accidentally gains the one thing that allows her to control dragons. The Rose Legacy, where horses are forbidden and so is magic, but both are returning. Castle Glower, where the royal castle rearranges its rooms on a regular basis and one young princess holds the key to defeating the enemy. The Princesses of Westfalin, where each new book is a different retold fairytale about another sister in the royal family.

C.S. Lewis: Narnia, which is accessed through a few magical gates that throw unsuspecting Earthlings into a land with talking animals and satyrs and magic.

Pamela F. Service: Winter of Magic’s Return duology. Many years in the future, after an apocalypse, Merlin returns, but can he find his magic in the new world?

Tamora Pierce: Tortall series (plural). Strong heroines and honorable heroes, warriors and gods, magic and monsters. For a cleaner standard, skip the first series, which has a “relationship” (undescribed) and some accidental nudity.

Knee-Deep in Thunder, by Sheila Moon: a boy finds himself in a world where insects are his size and monsters roam free. In order to get home again, he must help the animals defeat the monsters.

Liz McCraine (indie): her Kingdom of Aggadorn series has magic, the occasional princess, and unicorns. The series is lightly connected, but you can start anywhere. I love her characters, her realistic (and clean) romances, and that there is always a main plot besides the romance.

Laura M. Drake (indie): Unexpected Magic. If you like Harry Potter and The Last Airbender, then you might like this elemental-magic academy series.

Lloyd Alexander: Chronicles of Prydain. A pig-keeper’s apprentice gets tangled in dangerous matters when he accidentally rescues a prince from a dark lord. With an odd assortment of companions, including a princess, a dwarf, a bard, and a whatever-he-is, his quest to find himself will change the kingdom. I thought it was a great compliment when people told me my books “felt” like Prydain, because I love the series.

M.L. Farb (indie): King series. When a silent revolutionary and a spoiled princeling meet, the kingdom will change forever. I’m not really happy with the romance of book 2, but the characters and the writing are as good as book 1.

Robin McKinley: The Hero and the Crown. Aerin is the daughter of the king and a witch. Now dragons are stalking the land, and she is the only one who can fight them. While I would classify Aerin as a strong heroine, it’s her honesty, her determination, and her desire to protect her land that make her the hero.

And if you’ll forgive the self-promo, I’ll mention my own series, Unexpected Heroes. The first book is Wind of Choice: When their world is threatened by feuding gods, four strangers bury their differences and forge an alliance. Only the combined talents of a winged young man, a gilled islander, a shapeshifter, and a fire mage can prevent utter destruction. Each book switches to a new main character and adds a different secondary genre (mystery in book 2, romance in 3, spies & conspiracies in 4). If you want to visit the world first, Unexpected Tales is a free collection of short stories.

Enjoy, and feel free to comment if you found something you liked.

Marty C. Lee

If you missed any of the blog posts in this tour, you can catch up here:

March 1, 8, 14, 21, 28 Storyquest Academy
March 2nd Ellie Naomi
March 3, 17 Julie Gilbert
March 4th Jasmine Natasha
March 5th Liz Delton
March 6, 11, 26 Mark Hansen
March 7th Ian Vroon
March 9, 19, 30 Nicholas Kotar
March 10th J.M. Hackman
March 12, 20 Courtney Kasper
March 13, 29 Debbie Schreffler
March 15th Steven Guglich
March 16th Laurie Lucking
March 18th Meg Dendler
March 22, 25, 31 Molly Casperson
March 23rd D.J. Edwardson
March 24th Marty C Lee (here!)
March 27th Allison Tebo

Grammar Rant

I’ve been thinking about writing a grammar post for a long time. Stop groaning; I can hear you all the way over here. I’m not going to talk about the technicalities of commas and capitalization. Instead, I want to talk about the motivation *behind those technicalities.

So, why do we care about grammar and punctuation? They are just nitpicky traditions, anyway. Aren’t they?

Yes and no. They serve an important purpose by smoothing the way for your reader/listener to hear your message instead of your medium. It is their JOB to be invisible but to make your words shine brighter. If you mess them up, your reader might have to struggle to figure out what you meant, which means they are no longer engrossed in your story. They might have to reread a sentence (or more), which means they aren’t reading forward. Or if you forget to break your paragraphs when you switch to a new character’s speech/action, your readers might have to reread to figure out who said or did what. By failing the technicalities, you have failed your reader.

Written punctuation also allows you insert drama and emphasis where *you want it. Yes, by making your reader unconsciously pause longer or shorter, you can shift emphasis to a particular word or phrase or idea. You can influence the voice of the character. You can slow the action or speed it up. You can shift emotions in the character *and the reader. That’s right— you can hijack your reader’s brain and make them think what you want them to think. And sure, the words do a lot of the work, but I assure you, sneaky punctuation can make them not even realize what you did…

So, am I just advocating for following stupid rules all the time? Nope, not what I said. I’ve been known to use commas incorrectly to help a sentence be easier to read. And then there are big rule-breakers, like fragments and run-on sentences. The “rules” say to never use them, but they are actually useful to a writer when used sparingly. Fragments can speed action and add emphasis. Run-ons can create voice or show emotion. Changing where your paragraphs break can add drama.

I just said breaking rules is okay, so what difference do they make after all? Okay, let me rephrase. You should follow the rules almost all the time, so that *when you break them on purpose* it has the precise effect you want. For instance, if half your sentences are fragments, then nothing has emphasis and your reader will struggle to figure out which half-sentences belong together rather than feeling the one-two punch of the isolated phrase.

Fine, you’re convinced that grammar and punctuation are the good guys. Why not just let your editor fix your mistakes?

  1. You want to be a professional. Learn to use your tools. Words might be your hammer and sentences your screwdriver as you assemble your story, but grammar and punctuation are your nails, screws, and veneer. (If you don’t want to be a professional, which is totally fine, please see #5.)
  2. Editors charge more to clean up a bigger mess. Yes, they do, whether they tell you that or not. So the cleaner your manuscript is, the less you will pay. No, you can’t possibly clean it up enough for it to be free— you still owe something for their time.
  3. If you are submitting to a publisher, which do you think they would rather buy? A good story with a ton of technical errors to fix, or a good story with few errors? “But,” you say, “I’m competing against the BAD stories, and I’m better, with or without errors.” Nope, you’re competing against the good stories. The bad stories already got kicked out.
  4. Remember me talking about creating the precise effect you want? Do you think your editor is going to know exactly how you want to hijack your reader’s brain? Um, probably not. He or she will certainly try, but if you want to be sure of getting it right, you need to do it yourself. Yes, your editor will still help you fix typos and misplaced commas. Nobody expects you to be perfect, just competent.
  5. If you are still at the beta reading stage, or if you are writing only for fun, then the icky technical details don’t matter, right? Wrong! Imagine for a moment that you are visiting a famous garden. You heard it was full of beautiful roses and acres of meadow flowers, but when you arrive, you discover it’s covered in weeds. “Oh, never mind that,” your guide says. “The flowers are still there, and we’ll get it weeded next month, before the Queen comes. For you, just pretend the weeds are gone. Look, there’s a flower. All those yellow things there are flowers. Over here are the blue ones. Smell how gorgeous they are.” And the flowers ARE there. But can you concentrate on them, or do you still see the weeds? And how do you feel about getting the weeds when the queen gets the flowers? Uh huh, that’s what I thought. So have mercy on your readers *and your story, and clean up the weeds before you show off your garden. This is actually one of my pet peeves. No, I can’t ignore the errors and just tell you about the story problems, because the weeds are setting off my hayfever!

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

Favorite Adult Fantasy Books

Since nobody voted for anything else, *ahem, I’m talking to you…* I decided to go back through my oldest posts and see what I can break out in more detail.

I read about 40% fantasy, according to Goodreads. It’s not a majority, but it is my largest category. I read more YA than adult, mostly for content reasons, but there are still adult books that cross my path. Here are some of my favorite adult fantasy books and authors. (And yes, I have enjoyed many, many more books that are listed here. These are my very favorites, for one reason or another.)

In random order:

David Eddings, particularly the Belgariad and Mallorean, which I’ve probably read at least a dozen times. When Guardians of the West first came out, I started reading it in the store while I waited for my parents. I hit a certain scene with a thunderstorm and laughed so hard that everyone stared at me. I also like the Elenium and Tamuli and the side stories of the Bel/Mall series. I’m not a fan of The Dreamers series.

J.R.R. Tolkien. Okay, I must admit I haven’t waded through all the backstories, especially those put out by Christopher. But the original four (Hobbit + LOTR) are deep favorites. I started reading them when I was eight years old (all four), and I used to read them every few months. When my sister dropped her book and lost her bookmark, she called me to find out where she was. LOL. My husband hates watching the movies with me because I complain when they ruin things. Despite spending so much time with them, I don’t write like JRR in either content or voice. Sorry?

Brandon Sanderson (also found in Sci Fi and YA fantasy, and excluding a few of his more violent books). Mistborn had a few scenes I had to skip, so I refused to read Way of Kings when it looked like more of the same. But I liked Elantris, Warbreaker, & Wax & Wayne. I think all of his YA books made the list, too.

Mercedes Lackey (not everything of hers, but a lot of it). I like most of the very extensive Valdemar series, though the short story collections aren’t as good. I like Bardic Voices, Fairy Tales, and the Hunter series. I liked the Elemental Masters for a long time, but the recent ones have not been my cup of cocoa. Obsidian Mountain/Enduring Flame and the 500 Kingdoms series I like with severe reservations for the adult content (violence and other). I’ve read several of her other series, but they don’t make my favorites list.

Sharon Shinn, including Castle Auburn, Twelve Houses (with reservations), and Gateway. My favorites, though are her YA series, Safe-Keepers.

Terry Pratchett. Not fond of his early one-chapter-per-book style, but his writing is great. I used to be fonder of the Wizard track, then the Witches, but the Watch grew on me until it became my favorite.

Shanna Swendson. The Enchanted, Inc and Fairy Tale series are urban fantasy. Rebel Mechanics is steampunk and YA. I’m eclectic enough to like all three. 😉

Michael J. Sullivan. I only discovered him a few years ago, but I think I’ve read everything he’s written, including his “how I wrote it” stuff. A lot of the time, I find elf/dwarf stuff to be too derivative to enjoy, but Michael is just plain good. And sneaky, very sneaky. He’s very good at throwing in little clues that end up being very important in hindsight.

Patricia Briggs is best known for her Mercy Thompson series, I think, but I’ve actually been reading her for years before she started writing about werewolves. (And some of that series are great, but some are questionable for me.) My favorite is her Hurog series, but Raven and Sianim/Aralorn and Hob’s Bargain are all good.

Martha Wells. I like both the Murderbot series (sci fi) and Ile-Rien (fantasy), but my favorites are the Raksura (let’s call it alien fantasy, since the POV is very non-human).

Joanne Bertin’s Dragonlord series. Again, I have to add reservations. Why do so many adult fantasy series think it’s necessary to add certain elements? On the good side, it has a unique tack to the dragon genre.

Mel Odom managed to make me cry over unlikely characters and then turn around and laugh out loud. He’s a master of turning a trope on its head.

Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold, by Terry Brooks (the rest of the series is readable, but not as good). A millionaire buys a “fantasy kingdom,” expending it to be a fraud—but it’s real. Now he has to figure out how to really be a king before an evil knight takes everything, along with his head.

Mary Robinette Kowal writes sci fi (Lady Astronaut et al: colonize Mars in the 50’s because of an apocalypse) and romantic fantasy (Glamourist Histories: Jane Austen with magic), and I like both. She made me cry, too, the stinker. (And if you’re a writer, you should definitely listen to Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal on Writing Excuses.)

Innkeeper/Sweep series, by Ilona Andrews. I tried her other stuff and didn’t care for it, but I do like the innkeepers. When I remember to check, I read them in serial on her website, but between books, I frequently forget and then have to catch up or ask the library to order the next book. *cough*

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Writing Process, Book 4

Sigh. Yet again, I’ve gone too long without giving you an update on my writing. That’s probably a good thing for me (indicating fewer frustrations), but maybe not as good for you (assuming your interested in the topic).

So, book 4 has actually come out already. *cough* Writing it was easier than the first three in some ways and harder in others. Each of my books has had different problems.

How was it easier, you ask? My plotting system is working better now that I’ve had some practice and fine-tuned my process, so I didn’t struggle as much with the beats. I write a little faster than I used to. I’m very familiar with the characters by now. 😉 I got to wrap up all the little strings I left in the other books.

How was it harder? I had to wrap up all the little strings I left in the other books. Several characters wrote themselves into the story with quite a bit of determination, and they insisted on being important instead of walk-on characters. I wrote myself a pretty little dilemma (how does an entire world lose the key to a city, and how would one person find it?) and had to figure out how to solve it.

I have become much more of a plotter than I used to be, but I still make up a lot of things as I go. In this book, that involved both character and plot elements. For instance, I found out (and yes, it really feels more like “found out” than “made up”) that Ahjin has a cousin I didn’t know about. She used to be a priest and left when Ahjin told Irajahan he couldn’t force recruits anymore. Now she’s a diplomat from Ioj to Iskra. I thought that was the extent of her involvement, but no, she wiggled her way into the climax of the story, too.

Then there’s Tarakh. He’s a nice boy who likes Zefra. (Zefra isn’t sure how she feels about that, especially when he says outrageous things to her…) I thought he was going to be a minor character for a few chapters, but no, he really wanted to be part of the adventure. Also, if you’ve read any of my books, you’ve seen my cute chapter headings with cultural info or book excerpts or “world” proverbs. It takes me a long time sometimes to choose those sayings, even when I’m borrowing proverbs. (“Which one fits this chapter?”) Then Tarakh comes along, and he’s spouting proverbs like crazy, and I don’t even have to make them up, because he’s supplying them. (I promise I’m not insane. Writer-brain is just weird sometimes.)

Let’s not forget the lost city. I hadn’t planned on it being lost or a maze, honestly, but I hit a spot in my beat planning where I needed something, and I had nothing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I outlined 2/3 of book 4 and then discovered some major problems and had to start over. It was pondering what kind of song I’d write for this book that gave me the clue out of my mess. 😉 After I had the first missing part figured out, I reread the prior books for inspiration, and lo and behold, I’d accidentally left a trail of clues for myself without realizing it.

Book 1 had the newly rediscovered starting point for finding the lost city and a casual mention of Zefra’s grandparents’ occupation which I threw in just because it was convenient but now it was important. Book 2 mentioned the collection of “legend” maps AND the fact that some of them came with songs. Book 3 and a short story that hasn’t been published yet had some villain characters I needed, as well as the beginnings (continuation) of the conspiracy. Nia’s language talents became important again, and this time, her singing was important to the plot instead of just everyone’s mood. I managed to tie in the romance from book 3 in an important way, and Ludik’s children became plot-essential. Ahjin’s political shenanigans in book 1 made a difference to book 4. Everything started tying together in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Yeah, the first three books can be read as standalones if you really want (though *I* think they’re better in order), but book 4 is much more dependent on the others.

One of my biggest headaches came when I needed to write the “key” to the maze. I already had the design for the maze, but I needed two pathways through it (“right” and “wrong”) and a poem that would lead BOTH ways depending which way it was interpreted. If you aren’t groaning already, then I haven’t adequately explained how awful this was… To make it worse, I had to wrote music for the poem that would have clues in it, which meant I had to write the music THEN instead of waiting until I finished everything else, as usual. And even though I’ve written four songs for the books, music and all, I am not actually a musician. As if that weren’t enough, then I had to figure out how Zefra unraveled the mystery in the story, and she’s no musician, either!

Whew! Writing the book ended up being almost as tangled as the conspiracy IN the book, but at least I got to write some really cool scenes, like shapeshifting spies and a midnight duel and a race through the desert. And Tarakh flirting with Zefra. 😉

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

2021 Foresight

2020 hindsight is supposed to be perfect (but usually isn’t). I’m sure my plans for 2021 won’t be perfect, either, but I’ll give it a shot. I want to change my methods a bit next year, and I know some of it, but thought I’d also give you a chance to vote on what you see in the coming year.

First, I’ll be shifting my blog to every three weeks instead of every two, so that I can spend more time writing. I still plan to alternate book posts and writing posts.

Second, unless you have another category for which you want a list of recommended books, I think I’ve run out of ideas for lists. I thought maybe I’d go back through my lists and start writing more detailed reviews for some of them. Please feel free to leave a comment requesting a new list that would help you, or your opinion on leaving reviews and which category you’d like me to start with.

Third, I wondered what topics would be most helpful to you in the “writing” posts. Are you interested in personality stuff? I could tell you about the personality tests I took for my main characters. Do you like the “how to be an author” posts? Do you like posts about outlining? Plot? Characters? Something else? Do you like hearing about my progress in the books I write? Would you like to hear more? Less? About the same but some kind of different? Do you want to hear about writing groups or critique partners? Do you want to hear my lecture on why an editor is not a replacement for learning grammar and punctuation? 😉 Do you have questions you’d like me to try to answer? Go ahead and put all your ideas in the comments, and I’ll see how many I can tackle during the next year (or two, if you give me lots of ideas!).

Fourth, did I miss something you’d like to vote for? Consider this a blank essay space where you may right anything (legal, moral, and polite) that you’d like. Go ahead, give me a comment about anything… 🙂

I promise to read all the comments. 🙂

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in January,
M. C. Lee

Creativity

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently. I was answering a survey about a writing tool I use, and it was much less technical than I expected. One of the last questions wasn’t about the tool at all, but about what my writing means to me. To my surprise, and probably to the surveyor’s, too, I found myself talking about God.

(Spoiler warning: If you don’t want to hear about God, you should change to another page now.)

This is more or less what I told him.

I believe we are children of our Heavenly Father. As his children, we share some of his attributes and powers (in a lesser portion, of course). One of these is the power of creativity. Yes, I believe that the ability to create comes from God, even though it can be misused for ungodly purposes.

Since it is a gift from God, I believe I should use my creativity and practice my talents. Doing so honors Him and helps me become a little more like Him.

Now, creative talents come in all sorts of varieties. We hear a lot about music and sports, art and writing, and other “performance” talents, but I don’t think those are the only ones that exist. Some people create friendships easily. Some people create a tidy, happy home. Some people create fresh bread or delicious meals that are always on time. Some people create happy children. Some people create beautiful gardens. Some people create sewing masterpieces or amazing crafts. This is not an all-inclusive list. If I didn’t name something you can create, then go ahead and add your personal talents to this list. 🙂

I do a few of those, though not necessarily the ones I most want. But for the survey, I was talking about my writing. I do believe that I write because of a gift from God. (No, I’m not saying my writing is a gift from God; I’m saying my ability to write is a gift from Him. What I do with it after that is up to me.) Of course I have to work to improve my talents, especially since I’m not one of those amazing writers who seems to know everything already. But it doesn’t matter how much talent I start with it, or end with, only how much I improve and use it.

So when I write, I hope my stories find readers who like them. I look forward to the day they touch someone who needs it. But even if that never happens, I believe I’m honoring my Heavenly Father by using a gift from Him, and I will continue practicing to be more like Him.

This Christmas season, I hope you reflect on all the gifts your loving Father has given you, both the tangible and intangible. And then I hope you look for a way to share your gifts with those who need help or hope or a loving hand.

Merry Christmas,
M. C. Lee