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Favorite Plotting Books

I know, I already listed my favorite writing books. But I recently went through and sorted my craft books for my own purposes, so I thought maybe it was time to update my list. So here are my favorite writing books that are about (or partly about) plotting and outlining.

First, my absolute favorites.

The Last Fifty Pages: The Art and Craft of Unforgettable Endings, by James Scott Bell. Okay, so it only talks about plotting the END of the book, but it’s a great book for that. I mean, great!

The Heroine’s Journey, by Gail Carriger. I used to really struggle to fit my stories into the Hero’s Journey plot points, and I thought maybe I was just too stupid to figure out. Then I read this book and discovered that I was using the wrong plot structure. I write heroine’s journeys (which can be used for male or female characters). Ta da! Problem solved! If you only write Hero’s Journey stories, don’t worry about this one (though it’s fascinating).

Next, we have a bunch of actual plotting methods.

Building Better Plots, by Robert Kernen

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland.

Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction, by Larry Brooks

Story Pitch: The How To Guide For Using A Pitch To Create Your Story, by Scott King. Create a plot from a 30-second summary.

Plotting Your Novel, by Janice Hardy.

Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between, by James Scott Bell. If you don’t feel like a plotter but think outlining would improve your story or writing speed, try this one. It starts with just three plot points–beginning, middle, and end–and tells you how to write from there.

And then some ways to improve your plotting method, or other “side” information that isn’t necessarily strict structure.

Behind the Book: Making The Death of Dulgath, by Michael J. Sullivan. A glimpse into the mind of a writer as he plots and writes an actual book. (If you haven’t read the book, I suggest doing that first, since this has major spoilers.) I discovered that my plotting PROCESS is pretty similar to Sullivan’s, so this book was a comforting revelation to me.

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology, by Brandon Sanderson et al. Like Dulgath, this is a glimpse into the process of writing & revision.

The Fantasy Fiction Formula, by Deborah Chester. So many tips on how to make your plot have the effect on readers that you want it to.

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction, by Debra Dixon. It really helps set up the conflict that will run your plot.

Understanding Conflict and What it Really Means, by Janice Hardy. Like GMC, it helps you make your plot beats more effective, but it works with any plot structure.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes, by Donald Maass. Like Fantasy Fiction Formula and GMC, this can improve the effect of your plot on your readers.

Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, by Ursula K. LeGuin. How to get structure to work for you.

Pulp Speed for Professional Writers: Business for Breakfast, Volume 9, by Blaze Ward. How to use plotting to increase your writing speed.

The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers, by Matt Bird. General story tips to improve your favorite plotting method.

How to Write Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat

Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson

What’s your favorite plotting book or method?

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

Β© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Legends 2

I was telling you about how I wrote the “fairy tales set on my fantasy world.”

Now that I had all the source-tales selected and assigned to cultures, with factors chosen for each and the rough outlines done, the next step was actually writing. My main goal was to rewrite the fairy tales as if they came from my own fantasy world, but each story ended up handling the source material in different ways. Some of the stories are based on different versions of the same fairy tale (like Snow White), some are based on similarly themed stories (like The Stonecutter), and some are the result of firmly mashing together completely different tales while cackling wildly (Twelve Dancing Princess + Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves + Rumplestiltskin. Underwater. With mermaids and pirates.). *shrug* When I got to the last story, I even threw a ballad into the mix.

For whatever reason, the two most wildly mashed-up stories ended up being set in the same culture. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s because of the culture… The Nokai are rather interesting. (They’re the mermaids-without-tails who think that there’s no such thing as too many parties. Don’t think that makes them only silly–they have plenty of experience hunting sharks, and they’ll happily bat their eyelashes at you while they bargain you out of your last coin.)

For various reasons, including chance, I ended up writing the long stories first. Some of them went fairly quickly (for me) and were pretty close to being finished after a draft or two. Some had to be majorly rewritten. The Japanese story about a stonecutter who kept wishing to be more powerful was problematic, and I had to change the entire character arc to make it fit the romance I wanted it to be. Grrr, I hate that! But it’s a better story now, which was the point.

I got partway through Red Riding Hood and had to delete half a chapter because I suddenly realized it was turning dark–way too dark! I don’t write dark, and I really wanted the story to be funny, so I had to back up and reconfigure a motive. In case you’re wondering, I can describe the finished story as “What if Red Riding Hood was the wolf?”

Then the last story stalled completely because The Frog Prince depends on magic my world doesn’t have. But I really liked the story, so I polled the internet for stories that fit a partial idea I had, and found a ballad that fit my needs. (Scarborough Fair, if you wanted to know.) By the time I finished fixing the problems, the ballad was the main source and The Frog Prince had become one aspect in the story, along with The Brave Little Tailor and Cupid & Psyche. I see those skeptical looks you’re giving me… Really, it works. πŸ˜‰

Some stories needed more research than others, too. The frog story, for instance, made me look into seaweed harvesting, wool infections, and the average rate of spinning thread. Yes, that’s all for the same story. I promise, it makes perfect sense within the story. πŸ™‚

And as a bonus for my beloved readers, one of the stories is exclusively available through my newsletter. I took Dick Whittington and Puss in Boots and smooshed them together into The Cat’s Fortune. And it’s FREE! (With a signup to my newsletter…)

On another world, so long ago that truth has faded into legend, a cat and a boy seek their fortune together. You think you know the story, but do you?

Orphaned and homeless, young Aktar travels to the city of Rapata for a better life.

But it seems the rumors of gold-paved streets are false. Can he find a home and a job before he starves?

Maybe with the help of a foundling kitten.

A retelling of Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington, set on the fantasy world of Kaiatan, home of the Unexpected Heroes.

Click here to get the free story!

It will give you something to read while you wait for the rest of the Legends to come out, May 2022. Preorder available now at your favorite retailer!

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

Β© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Next Book and Preorders—Oh My!

For the first time, I have a book going up for preorder months before publication!

Here’s a blurb for you:

You think you know the storiesβ€”12 Dancing Princesses, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, The Frog, The Stonecutter, and more…

But what if they didn’t happen that way? What if they really occurred on another world and the true tales were lost in the mists of time?

From the world of Unexpected Heroes, read the true Legends of Kaiatan.

Or if you prefer something even shorter:

Retold fairy tales set on a fantasy world of mermaids, shifters, and winged people.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with them. πŸ™‚

What if the girl in Red Riding Hood WAS the wolf? What if a mere kiss wasn’t enough to turn a frog back into a man? What if the twelve princesses (okay, I may have tweaked that a little, too) were trapped in an underwater cave—but that part is okay because they’re mermaids?

Like I said, I’ve been having a lot of fun bending the original fairy tales to fit my own ideas. πŸ˜‰ Some of them are based on different versions of the same fairy tale, some are based on similarly themed stories, while some are the result of firmly mashing together completely different tales while cackling wildly. *shrug* It was fun for ME. I hope it will be just as much fun for you.

It does sound like fun, you say? Where can you get it, you say?

I’m glad you asked! Did you notice I have a new setup for my Books page? https://mcleebooks.com/my-books/ And it has allllll the info you need. Please note that the preorder is already up at Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. Amazon will come later, but it will come, as will a bunch of other retailers that don’t do preorders. You can also ask your local library to stock it so you can read it for free. πŸ˜€ May 24th, 2022 is the magic day it will be available everywhere as an ebook. Print books will come out by the end of the year.

But you can’t wait that long?

Ooh, do I have a fun present for you! One of the stories is exclusively available through my website. I took Dick Whittington and Puss in Boots and smooshed them together into The Cat’s Fortune. And it’s FREE! (With a signup to my newsletter…)

On another world, so long ago that truth has faded into legend, a cat and a boy seek their fortune together. You think you know the story, but do you?

Orphaned and homeless, young Aktar travels to the city of Rapata for a better life.

But it seems the rumors of gold-paved streets are false. Can he find a home and a job before he starves? Maybe with the help of a foundling kitten.

A retelling of Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington, set on the fantasy world of Kaiatan, home of the Unexpected Heroes.

Click here to get the free story!

Okay, that’s all for today, folks! Enjoy the anticipation (and the free book).

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

Β© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Legends 1

I just finished the final edits on Legends of Kaiatan, which is pretty exciting! Looking back at old posts, I promised to tell you about them, so now seems like a good time.

I had the idea for this story collection a long time ago, back when I was working on… books 3 & 4, I think. At the time, the premise was pretty vague. Stories “loosely based on Earth fairy tales, as they would be if they came from Kaiatan.” Back then, I frequently used Red Riding Hood as the example when I was gushing to people. What would that story look like in a land of shapeshifters? (Oddly, Red ended up being almost the last story I finished, because it gave me troubles. Ahem.)

When I finished book 5 (the contemporary short stories) and started working on the fairy tales, they gave me more trouble than I expected. As is always the case.

I started by reading through all of Andrew Lang’s “colored” Fairy Books. Yes, all of them, I think. Plus some Asian and Irish and English fairy tales and some Greek/Roman myths and the Arabian Nights. So much reading… Fortunately, I like reading.

As I read, I made notes about potential story ideas. Anything based on pure magic wouldn’t work, since Kaiatan doesn’t have “magic that can do anything.” Anything with ghosts as a vital part wouldn’t work. Actually, lots of them wouldn’t work. Sigh. But I did end up with a list of 20-30 fairy tales that MIGHT work.

From there, I sorted the ideas into the Kaiatan cultures that would work best. Then I took the list to my critique group and discussed possibilities. Finally, I selected ten stories that I thought I could write well. Armed with that list, I started plotting.

I wanted a variety of stories, so I chose some to be romantic and some not, some long and some short, some funny and some serious. And mixed those up among the cultures. Yes, I am very good at over-thinking. It’s a superpower of mine. On the other hand, it does let me give you some very deep worldbuilding and interconnected plots…

I copied summaries of the source tales into my plotting files and started sorting the different versions into major plot beats, marking differences. For instance, in the Snow White story, I noted the different villains (not always the step-mother, did you know?) and forms of murder, as well as the general timeline.

I spent weeks copying and pasting and summarizing and reordering and deleting and altering…

Once I had the plot beats identified, I started deleting what I couldn’t use and translating what I wanted to keep into outline notes.

In the process, some ideas died and had to be replaced with others. I thought I was going to use Icarus, for instance, but even though it’s a winged story already and I have winged people, when I started plotting, I couldn’t make it work. Le sigh. All my ideas should be good ideas, but sadly, that isn’t true.

And I’ll talk about the actual writing in the next post. πŸ˜‰

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

Β© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Favorite Contemporary (and Recent History) YA & MG Books

I didn’t really sort these, except that the early-mid 1900’s are near the top and the truly contemporary are near the bottom. πŸ™‚

The Blossom Culp series, by Richard Peck. I think I’ve mentioned this one before, but it also belongs under the historical category, so here’s another shout-out.

The Death-Struck Year, by Makiia Lucier. Although depressingly set in during the Spanish Flu, this is an uplifting story and a fine example of a real YA romance (e.g. no insta-love).

The Silent Bells, by William MacKellar, is a short children’s book about mysteriously silent bells and the Christmas gifts that the town hopes will bring them back to life.

I am David, by Anne Holm. A touching story about a boy who escapes a concentration camp only to discover that not everything on the outside is as nice or easy as he expected.

The War That Saved My Life (series). Despised by her mother for her club foot, the girl makes her escape with her brother and finds a better life in the country.

The House of Sixty Fathers, by Meindert DeJong. Caught in the middle of a war and separated from his family, a young boy finds solace among the enemy.

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. You might have seen one of the many movie versions, but I’ve never seen one that quite managed to capture the charm of this book.

The Great Brain series. A very smart (and not-very-ethical) boy tricks all his friends, to his younger brother’s dismay. Set in the early 1900’s and based on true stories of the author’s brother.

The Gawgon and the Boy, by Lloyd Alexander. Though his Aunt Annie is terrifying, David learns to love her and the adventures she shares with him.

White Fang, by Jack Landon. A boy and his dog–er, wolf. The story actually follows the canine through his many adventures.

Her Own Song, by Ellen Howard. A touching story of adoption and prejudice and the many people who love one small girl.

Lost Off the Grand Banks, by Arthur Catherall. I don’t know if you can get your hands on this one, but it’s an exciting sea adventure. A temporary cook on a fishing boat ends up helping to save the men of a sunken submarine. It haunted my memory enough that decades later, I found it worth an interlibrary loan.

Where the Red Fern Grows. Another boy-and-his-dogs story. Be prepared to cry. When I was a kid, three of us couldn’t get through a certain chapter because we were all sobbing too hard.

Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. Cheaper by the Dozen series. A funny family drama. The old movie is okay (though the book is better), but the new movie is a total disappointment. Read the books instead!

One Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith (like NIMH, I like the cartoon, but the book is so much better). Someone tried to argue with me that I liked this book because of the old-fashioned language, but they lost. I like the sweet characters and the happy ending.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and I’m-not-crying touching, this is the story of the horrible siblings who terrorized the school and took over the town’s Christmas pageant.

Caroline B. Cooney, Jennifer L. Holm, and Andrew Clements have written lots of great contemporary stories. Seriously, they can keep you busy for weeks (or at least days, if you read like me). No, I’m not going to list them all; that’s what the internet and your librarian are for. I’m just here to tell you they’re all great.

North of Beautiful, by Justina Chen. A girl with a birthmark has to learn what real beauty is.

Sex Education, by Jenny Davis (not what you’re thinking…) When their teacher gives them a service assignment for class, their lives are changed forever. (Seriously, no sex in it at all.)

The Only Alien on the Planet, by Kristen D. Randle. The mystery behind a silent teenager is heartbreaking.

Halfway to the Sky, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Appalachian Trail). When her brother dies, a girl takes to the Trail to deal with her sorrow, only to learn that life is more complicated than she realized.

As always, feel free to leave me suggestions in the comments.

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Β© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Finding an Editor

As I mentioned in an earlier writing post, I’m in a lot of Facebook author groups. A frequent question is “How do I find/choose an editor?” (Sometimes preceded by “Do I really need an editor?” but the answer to that is “Usually.”)

So, let’s talk about editors.

First, not all editors do the same thing.

Developmental editors work on big picture items, like plot, character, theme, broken endings. Sometimes they give you a shorter report, like an editorial assessment, and sometimes they give you comments all through your book. Ask what they do…

Line editors work on your prose. Do you have paragraphs in the right order? Do you make sense? Can your sentences be improved? Are you having the effect you want? If your story is good but you want to sound better, this is frequently the kind of editor you want.

Copyeditors work on the nitty-gritty stuff. Did you get your character’s eye color the same every time? Is the spelling and grammar right? Did you accidentally use the wrong word? Did you have Thursday and Friday and then Thursday again? Some editors will combine line and copy editing, so ask. Editors will sometimes define their own work a little differently, too, so ask…

Proofreading. Here’s the controversy: true proofreading is done AFTER formatting (reading the proof…) to make sure it’s formatted correctly and printing errors haven’t crept in or the layout gone wonky. Now that most formatting is done electronically, you frequently find editors billing light copyediting (grammar, spelling, punctuation only) as proofreading. So ask how they define it. πŸ™‚

Now that you’ve chosen a kind of editing, where do you find an editor??

Lots of places. Facebook groups. Linked In. Professional organizations like EFA or ACES. Referrals from other authors or from reading the acknowledgement page in your favorite books. If you have a local university with an editing program, you can ask if they have any last-semester students who want work. Seriously, this is the easiest step, even though I used to think it was hard.

So how do you choose the right one?

An excellent question.

Research.

Start by reading their websites or Facebook pages or whatever they have. Check out their reviews or testimonials. Look for experience in your genre. See if they offer a sample edit (free or paid). They probably don’t have samples already posted, but if they do, read them. They might or might not have prices listed, but if they do, eliminate any that are out of your budget. No, you may not ask them to drop their price or take a royalty share. If you really like them, you can haunt their page to see if they ever have a sale.

And/or you can post your project on a job board at one of the professional organizations and THEN do the research for the responders.

Talk to them and/or request sample edits.

Now email/call/message all your chosen finalists to get a quote. If they offer a free sample, ask for one. If you’re willing to pay for sample, you can query the editors who do those. Don’t ask a paid-sample editor to do a free sample. Follow their guidelines for how much and how to submit. DON’T ask twenty different editors to sample-edit twenty different chapters in hopes of getting your book edited for free. First, that’s rude. Second, the different styles will show, and your book will be weird.

Also, developmental editors rarely do samples because of the nature of their work. If you’re looking for a dev editor, you’ll have to depend heavily on testimonials and an interview with them.

Read your sample edits.

When you get the samples back, don’t even look at the quote yet. Read all the comments in detail. Read your work before and after editing. See what you like and what you don’t, both in corrections and in communication style. It’s okay if you don’t agree with everything they say, but if you don’t agree with MOST of it, at least after thinking about it, then they aren’t the right editor for you. (I once declined an editor who uncorrected my subjunctive mood. If you don’t know what that means, then don’t use it as a filter.) Competence is important, but a good fit for your book is just as important. If they don’t get what you’re doing with your story, they aren’t the right editor for you. If they make you feel bad, they’re not the right editor for you.

If you have questions about any of the suggestions, follow up with the editor. Ask lots of questions. Now is a much better time than after you’ve paid a deposit and suddenly decide you don’t like the editor. If they can’t explain their suggestions, they’re not the right editor for you. If they’re rude, they’re not the right editor for anybody.

Look at budget and scheduling.

Hopefully, you’ve narrowed your choices down after going through the samples. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a clear favorite. NOW is the time to read the payment quotes. If you can afford your favorite, go with that editor. If you can’t afford your favorite but the next two or three choices are pretty satisfactory, pick one you can afford. If you can’t afford any of your favorites, you either need to save up or start the process from the top.

No, I really don’t recommend picking an editor solely by price. I see a lot of horror stories about authors who did that and then had to pay for ANOTHER editor to fix what the first editor did.

Also make sure the editor has an opening for you that will meet any deadlines you have. Some editors are booked for months in advance.

While you’re at it, read the contract, too.

Sometimes it’s called Terms of Service or something else. It’s perfectly normal to ask for a deposit, even a non-refundable one. It’s normal to reserve copyright on the edits UNTIL final payment, but then it should be released to you. Make sure you know when payments are due, and how. Make sure you know the deadlines on both sides. When you have to have the manuscript in? When will it come back? How do you submit, including prep work and app/format? What format will you get back? Read all of it, boring or not. If you can’t go along with all the terms, you can ask the editor for an amendment, but if the answer is no, find a different editor with a contract you can fulfill.

Did I miss any of your questions? What else do you want to know?

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

Β© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Favorite Books Read in 2021

In random order, folks, as I always do them.

Science Fiction:

Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. I do like a nice First Encounter story. πŸ™‚ I’ll admit I skipped some of the science pages, but eh, that’s okay.

Some of the Vorkosigan saga, Lois McMaster Bujold, but some of them crossed lines for me. Consider this a content warning.

Dragonback series, Timothy Zahn. A reread, but I liked it just as much this time around. What if dragons were really aliens that needed humans to keep them alive in a symbiotic relationship?

Fantasy:

Farilane, Michael J. Sullivan. Ignore the publication date; I got it early. πŸ™‚ The MC is smart and funny and kind of crazy… Think: Sherlock Holmes with a smart mouth and a sense of adventure.

Nolyn, Michael J. Sullivan. I really liked the team dynamics.

The Dragon With the Unbearable Family, Stephanie Burgis. Funny and touching.

The Prydain Chronicles. A frequent reread because I love them so much.

Sadly, this wasn’t a great year for fantasy. I gave a lot of 3 stars (which is still good in my system), but the only other ones that got higher from me were my own, and I think that’s rather biased. *cough*

Fantasy Romance:

A Drop of Magic, Liz McCraine. I’d forgotten how much I love Liz’s characters until I picked up this book. Real people with real problems, dumped in a situation they have to deal with, like it or not. And though there’s a drop of magic in this book (tee hee), most of the solution comes from plain old human ingenuity and stubbornness. Actually, the same could be said of the problems, too… Though the book is easy to read because it’s so well-written, it’s not simplistic. Liz is a master.

Scales & Sensibility, Stephanie Burgis. Regency-with-magic-and-dragons and a heroine who finally learns to stand up for herself.

The Dragon’s Revenge, Bethany Wiggins. Okay, I saw the plot twist a long way back, but it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story. πŸ™‚ Gotta love a determined heroine and a kind hero who love each other for more than their pretty faces.

Romance:

Charming Artemis, Sarah M. Eden. The latest (last?) in the Jonquil family saga. Sadder than usual, for a variety of reasons including a forced marriage, but it came out okay in the end.

Forget Me Not, Sarah M. Eden. Arranged marriage, friends to lovers. All about the characters.

The Best-Laid Plans, Sarah M. Eden. *cough* Yes, you sense a theme. What can I say? Sarah is good.

The Hairdresser & the Hero, Jessica Marie Holt. I picked up this ARC because it sounded cute. And it is. But it’s also well-written, with realistic, funny characters and a believable story. Even the secondary characters feel real (and funny). The dialogue is real, motivations are believable (even for the semi-villainous beautician, poor lady), and the romance grows from positive interactions and a dash of attraction. 

An Uncommon Early, Sian Ann Bessey. Not much to the plot, but well-written and touching with nice characters.

To Con a Gentleman, Sarah Adams. When a con goes wrong, two hearts are at risk.

The Duke Meets His Match, Karen Tuft. Enemies to lovers, in a gentler, more social battle.

Otherwise Engaged, Joanna Barker. I thought it had a big plot hole, but the characters were engaging enough to overcome that.

Non-fiction:

Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry. This is the book I wanted the original EI book to be. Instead of just talking about how important EI is, it actually gives ideas for improving your EI skills. Okay, MY skills…

The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, Judith Orloff. I read several “sensitive” books, and this was the only one that actually felt like it had usable strategies.

Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? Ally Carter. A lovely writing book for young adults, but the advice in it is solid even for adults.

The Last Fifty Pages, James Scott Bell. I’m adding it to my list of great writing books.

In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks, by Richard E. Turley Jr. A nice biography.

The Second Coming of the Lord, Gerald N Lund. If the subject is of interest to you, this is a great book.

Other Juvenile:

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, Leslie Connor. A nice about-families book. Though he was raised in a prison with his mother, Perry has solid optimism.

Jungle Night, Sandra Boynton. Okay, so it’s a little kids board book. Cute pics, though, and did you listen to the music?

I read 211 books in 2021, according to Goodreads, so the problem is not that I wasn’t trying. I gave out a LOT of 3-star ratings. Three stars is still very solid, no regrets about reading. But I never buy anything for keepsies unless it hits at least 4 stars, because I have to want to reread it several times. Actually, my book budget is pretty small, so 4 stars is no guarantee, either, just a minimum threshold. πŸ˜‰

What were your favorite books last year?

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Β© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Blessings

I’ve been pondering for a while what I wanted to say about Christmas this year. In the past, I’ve sometimes managed cute Christmas + writing posts. This year… that’s not happening.

Instead, I think I’ll just talk about blessings, which are gifts from our Heavenly Father, even when they don’t look like it. In random order, because life is random…

I’m thankful for the gift of my family, even when they drive me crazy. I’m thankful for my “new” house (and my new office!), even though the envelope of repair receipts is now bulging. I’m thankful for a loving husband who thinks I ought to be a writer. I’m thankful for sunshine. I’m thankful for snow, because the earth appreciates it even when I don’t. I’m thankful for books to read that I didn’t have to write. I’m thankful for being able to write the stories in my head. I’m thankful for shoulders that are healing and only hurt sometimes now. I’m thankful my mom finally agreed to wear a bicycle helmet around the house to protect her head when she falls. I’m thankful for the gospel and for Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for easy access to food, and for chocolate. I’m thankful for space to open my hobbies again. I’m thankful for clean water and electricity. I’m thankful for the internet to keep us connected even during a pandemic. I’m thankful for a computer that let’s me type faster and neater than I can write by hand. I’m thankful for modern medicine and transportation. I’m thankful I don’t have to do laundry by hand. I’m thankful for cute pictures of baby animals and awesome pictures of nature. I’m thankful for a billion stars and one moon in the sky. I’m thankful for hot showers. I’m thankful for tissues I can throw away when I have a cold, instead of laundering handkerchiefs. I’m thankful for colored pens and automatic pencils and white boards and computer files full of notes. I’m thankful for old and new friends. I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn lots of new things and put them into practice. I’m thankful for electric blankets and central heat.

I’m thankful for life.

What are you thankful for?

Merry Christmas,
Marty C. Lee

Β© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Favorite YA & MG Historical Books

I’m sure you know by now that I’ve been expanding old posts. So here you go for historical books (without magic or fantasy). I stopped around the end of the 1800’s. Anything later will go in my “Contemporary” recommendations, coming up soon.

In roughly chronological order:

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. Set in ancient Korea, a young boy is apprenticed to a potter, but an important errand to court goes very wrong.

Mara, Daughter of the NIle. Mystery and intrigue swirl in teh court of Egypt, and Mara must choose where she stands.

The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Another Egyptian mystery.

Behold Your Queen, by Gladys Malvern. My favorite version of the Queen Esther story.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, by Barbara Cohen. Two brothers each have seven children, but one has all daughters while the other has all sons. When trouble strikes, one of the daughters dresses as a man and travels to another land to seek her family’s fortune. I like the heroine who is strong without being a warrior.

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare. A Roman-Christian era story of revenge and forgiveness.

Alphabet of Dreams, by Susan Fletcher. I read this for the Beehive Awards, and it was one of my very favorites for the year. Set at the time of Christ’s birth, it tells the story of a young girl and her little brother who discover that even as a baby, Jesus could heal their wounds.

Rhiannon, by Vicki Grove. A young girl must help a mysterious shipwrecked stranger regain his lost memories and solve a local murder.

Ann Turnbull writes Quaker stories from the 1600s, where the main characters find love despite religious persecution and cultural expectations.

The Raging Quiet, by Sherryl Jordan, is about a deaf man and the troubled woman who figures out how to communicate with him.

King of the Wind. A small, mute Arab boy is sent with an Arabian horse who becomes the main stud for the American Arabian breed.

Little House on the Prairie series. I realize they aren’t perfect, but I still find them amusing and charming.

Boston Jane, by Jennifer L. Holm. A pioneer girl must choose between her old identity as a society girl or her new persona of a spunky frontier woman.

Charlotte’s Rose, by Ann Edwards Cannon. When the mother dies and the father is grief-stricken, a pioneer girl adopts the infant girl and struggles to keep her alive.

Stealing Freedom, by Elisa Carbone. A young girl seeks freedom through the Underground Railroad.

Under a Painted Sky, by Stacey Lee. Two girls disguise themselves as boys and set off on the cowboy trail, but their troubles merely follow them.

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. Thanks to my local librarian to identifying this from my childhood. A young girl moves in with distant relatives and discovers an enchanting house and mysterious horse.

The Anne of Green Gables series, of course. It’s a classic for a reason. Gotta love the spunk in that girl!

Okay, that’s the end of the list. Feel free to leave more recommendations in the comments. πŸ™‚

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Β© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

How I Deal With Feedback

I’m in a lot of author (and reader) groups on Facebook, and recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people asking questions about how to deal with beta or editor feedback. So I thought I’d tell you how I do it. πŸ™‚

(I usually work in Google Docs, though Word’s commenting functions work in the same general way.)

So, I sent a book or short story to a beta reader or editor, and now I’ve gotten it back. What next?

First, I just read through it.

If I find something I easily agree with (spelling errors, stupid mistakes), I might or might not hit “accept” as I read. Either way, this is just a preliminary run. The goal is to read, not to change. I don’t have to agree with the edits. I’m just reading.

Second, I put it down and cry.

Okay, really, this step is optional, but I frequently use it. Feedback hurts sometimes, guys, and it’s okay to admit that. I find that I recover faster if I just admit the hurt. So I take a break, rant PRIVATELY (not in public, not on social media!), cry, take a nap, eat chocolate… whatever I need. Sometimes this only takes a few minutes. Sometimes it takes a couple of days before I feel ready to face the feedback again. The more years I’ve spent getting feedback, the shorter this step USUALLY is. Thicker skin is truly something that develops with practice for most people. Anyway, I stay away from the feedback until I feel ready to face it.

Third, I accept the easy stuff.

If I didn’t hit “accept” as I went, I go back and do it now for all the changes I already agree with that don’t require rewriting. Punctuation, grammar, spelling, small word choices, fixing oopsies. All the easy things. Yes to this one, yes to that one, sure whatever, yes, yes, if you say so, yes.

Fourth, I fix or make a list of the harder but obvious fixes.

These are the things I agree I should fix and I see how to fix, but they require actual rewriting, rearranging, additions, subtractions, whatever. Depending how much I’m dreading the rest of the feedback, I’ll either do all the fixes now or start a list to fix later.

Fifth, I reconsider the icky stuff.

These are the reasons why I have the crying step in my process… This is the comment about hating my character. This is the comment about needing more emotion. This is anything I don’t know how to fix. This is anything I don’t agree with. “What do you mean you don’t like my favorite part, buster?”

Unfortunately, this is usually the part that takes the longest. Ick.

I pull out the homework.

I make a list of the might-be-right-but-don’t-know-how-to-fix to ponder and/or discuss with my critique group and set that away for later. Maybe I need to learn a new skill. Maybe I need to rewrite the whole scene or write something elsewhere in the book to support it. Maybe my critique group will tell me the beta reader is crazy and I don’t need to change anything. (Sadly, that’s not the most common answer.) When I figure out how to fix the problems, I’ll come back to them.

“You put in too much world-building here. It’s boring.” Okay, well, most of my readers like my world-building, but let’s look at that page very carefully. What do I absolutely need to have? Keep that, of course. Is there anything that is completely frivolous? Move it to my deleted scenes file. Now the borderline stuff… it adds color and makes the world more realistic, but what’s the minimum amount necessary to do that? Can I cut it in half? Add just a vibrant detail or two? Split it into bits and pieces so it’s less dump-y? Several of the above? Slice, slice, slice.

“Your characters did something stupid.” Did I not give enough mental explanation/motivation? Did I make a change-of-direction too quickly? Did I miss a step in their character arc? Did I skip a setting/plot description that would explain why their decision was necessary under the circumstances? Did I not exert enough pressure on them? Did I leave any “smarter” possibilities open? Do I need a confrontation scene? Did they ACTUALLY do something stupid??

That only leaves comments that might be wrong.

I very carefully read the rest of the comments, one at a time, very slowly. I dissect those suckers down to their component parts, looking for any part that might be right.

Sometimes they’re right about the symptom but wrong about the disease.

“Your ending stinks.” Ouch. WHY does it stink? Let’s go research endings, shall we? Add it to the homework list… (As it turns out, my ending was fine. My lead-up to the ending needed work and a lot more page-time, and I needed a confrontation scene. Now my ending is great, thanks.)

Sometimes the reader is not my audience or doesn’t get the book.

(This kind of comment should rarely come from your editor, or else you have the wrong editor.) “I think you need more romance.” Sorry, honey, this isn’t a romance book. “When are we getting to the sex?” Yeah, never. Actually, if the answer is that simple, they’ll get eliminated in the first round, but sometimes they’re more complicated and I have to think if they fit my genre/book or not. “Why did you skip over the interesting part in the middle? I think there were pirates!” Um, no, there were no pirates, and I skipped the boring journey. And pirates aren’t going to fit. But hey, I can put pirates in a different book for you, okay? “Your use of contractions is lousy.” Well, the different cultures use contractions differently, but I can explain it better, I guess.

Even with these comments, though, I analyze to see if I somehow gave the wrong cues and skewed reader expectations. Do I need to fi something ELSE to avoid making future readers ask the same wrong questions? Depending how far off the comments were, the reader is sometimes added to my do-not-beta list.

Sometimes the reader is just wrong. Or a jerk.

As always, I analyze these comments to make sure I don’t need to change something, somewhere. Then I delete the comments with a fair amount of satisfaction. Take that. If “jerk” is the problem, I also add the reader to my do-not-beta list. Look, don’t be a jerk, people.

By the time I get to this point, I should be finished with everything except my list of homework. Time to go write again!

In a later post, I’ll talk about choosing an editor.

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

Β© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.