Seed of War is out!

I try to write one book-related post each month, and one writing post. This one is supposed to be a book post, and I was struggling to come up with a topic (feel free to suggest some in the comments for the future) until I realized it’s a good time to make an announcement. I hope you’ll forgive me for making this post about a book I wrote instead of a regular book review. 🙂 I know I mentioned this last time, but this is the *official announcement!*

My second book just came out in ebook a couple of weeks ago! It’s available in many online retailers and at libraries (if you get the librarian to order it through Overdrive, Bibliotheca, or Baker & Taylor).

It’s the sequel to my first book (not so oddly), though it’s more “the further adventures of” than “the continuation of the story.” It does continue the story in a way, but Wind of Choice is a complete story with no cliffhanger ending, and so is Seed of War.

I also switch main characters to someone else in the group instead of Ahjin. Yes, we still get his POV (point of view) in a few chapters, but most of the time, we’re in Ludik’s head.

And I mash up genres just a little. It’s still definitely fantasy, but I throw in a bit of mystery. If you liked the bits and pieces of shapeshifting in book one, you should read book two, because we spend the entire book in Darrendra and meet a lot of shapeshifters!

It’s already listed in Goodreads, with at least a couple of nice reviews. (Thank you, nice ARC readers!)

And speaking of nice reviews, here’s an endorsement for you:

If you want an adventure with lots of fun banter and laugh-out-loud situations, or if you want a journey that will make you cry and think deeply about forgiveness, read Seed of War.
– M. L. Farb, author of The King’s Trial

If you want to read some of the book before you buy, you can do that with Amazon’s peek inside, or you can get a free sample at MyBookCave, StoryOrigin, or ProlificWorks. (The same applies to Wind of Choice.)

So, what’s the book about?? I’m so glad you asked…

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Saving the world from feuding gods made eighteen-year-old Ludik miss his wedding. Now his second chance is here, and nothing will stop him from marrying his sweetheart this time.

Except maybe a dead body.

In a mad race to hunt a misguided witness, Ludik must confront a fierce wolf, follow the trail through hostile territory, and escape his own execution.

Even with the help of his outkindred friends–-a gilled translator, a fire mage, and the winged messenger of the Gods–- Ludik might not be able to prevent war from igniting between the shapeshifting kindreds.

Danger lurks among the trees, and if he can’t solve the clues, more than his marriage is on the line.

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Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

Writing Process, Book 2 (Part 3)

So I ran book 2 through two separate writing groups, trying to make sure I fixed all the problems. And it got a lot better! I mean, so much better. I love my writing groups. When I thought I had the book polished all shiny, I rounded up a few beta readers and turned them loose on it. Some pointed out a few little problems. Some loved everything except the cliffhangers and mean-author moments (which I promise I used for very specific reasons and not because I’m sadistic).

Then, after I thought all I had left was a little editing for grammar and so forth, my last, lagging beta reader turned in a blistering critique. Okay, I’m exaggerating. She was actually extremely polite, but she did point out what she thought were two *major* problems throughout the story. After licking my wounds, I asked a couple of trusted people which parts were true and which I could ignore. After some discussion, I decided that one problem could basically be ignored. She was judging it by a different ruler than I use. I did add a sprinkle of “fix it” for that problem, but mostly I crossed it off my list. The second one–well, unfortunately for me, she was mostly right. Sigh. I hate finding out that I did things wrong, especially when I think I’m done.

Anyway, I made a plan for fixing the problem that didn’t require me to rewrite the entire book (though it did stick its grubby fingers into almost every chapter and several chapter headings, and some chapters did get bigger rewrites). It took me two weeks to do the edits, and when I ran them by people, one of them pointed out another problem that my fixes had created. *bang head on desk* So I fixed that one next.

Then, as I’m running through “one last edit” to make sure I didn’t create more problems while I was fixing everything else, I ran into a couple more things that could be improved. Lucky me, they were pretty minor, but all this meant that I had to do another round, so I finished “final edits” a month later than I anticipated, and ending up working a lot of extra hours for weeks and getting to bed very, very late on the last day I had available. *no, don’t bother me, it can’t be morning yet*

Blech. There are some days I wonder why I write. Then my characters start talking in my head again and telling me how cool this next scene would be. (Come on! Shapeshifting spies! Pirates! Ooh, and…) And my small batch of fans ask for their next fix and tell me how my first book made it into their small collection of owned books. And I hover my fingers over the keyboard and take a deep breath.

Anyway, by the time this article posts, SEED OF WAR should be live in e-retailers all over the world, and available to e-libraries, too. As for me, I will be sitting at home steadfastly eating ice cream and telling myself that it will be fine. Really, it will be fine. I need another spoon…

Be kind to my baby,
Marty C. Lee

P.S. I don’t have an eating disorder. Really. But ice cream makes an excellent *occasional* stress reliever, and it tastes yummy. And I eat it out of a bowl, not the carton. With only one spoon, because I only have one mouth. 🙂

Strong Heroines

I was thinking about my last book post and that started me thinking about what makes a character, particularly a woman, strong. Now, I know men and women are just people, and a strong character is a strong character regardless of gender. (Did you stop throwing tomatoes yet?) But sometimes some people think a “strong woman” has to be strong physically, or good with weapons, or compete in a “man’s world.”

Since that’s never what I’ve thought, I wanted to talk about my definitions.

Let’s start with the difference between “strong” and “gentle,” since some people think someone can’t be both. Here’s what I decided. “Strong” is how well you resist pressure exerted on you. “Gentle” is how much pressure you exert on others. So while the terms are related, the direction of the pressure is important, and one person can be both at the same time.

Now, back to our heroines (and heroes). Is a strong warrior a strong person? Maybe, maybe not. The neighborhood bully that threatens people with his sword might be a strong warrior, but he isn’t a strong person. The unarmed traveler who gently refuses to comply with the demands of a robber is a strong person. (Possibly a dead strong person, but we can hope not.)

I’m going to borrow some of the heroes/heroines from last month’s post as examples. 🙂 And yes, I cheated and threw in a couple of men. Strong is strong.

In The Great and Terrible Quest, the two main protagonists (heroes) are a wounded knight and a young boy. The knight is physically strong enough to fight multiple enemies, climb a cliff without a rope, and keep moving after enemies split his head. That’s not what impresses me most about him, though. He continues on his quest for ten years(!) through near-death and total memory loss, not to gain a reward for himself, but to give his own inheritance to the true owner. Wow, that’s strength of character. As for the little boy, he has very little physical strength (he is just a little boy), but he defies his robber-baron grandfather and the entire robber band to save an injured cat and then the wounded knight. He risks his life (Grandfather is a dangerous jerk) to save others, and he leads the knight ever onward despite enemies at every turn and almost no help from the knight. His strong determination and faith carry the story, and I love it.

The Ordinary Princess, Amy, is like Cimorene in some ways, like not wanting to be a princess. (Enchanted Forest series, by Wrede. Add it to your list.) But in others, she is very different. Amy doesn’t have a spitfire personality. She never picks up a weapon and doesn’t know any magic or even how to cook. She never fights anyone and doesn’t have any enemies. Amy is a cheerful, gentle soul. But when her parents decide to hire a dragon to attract a suitor, she runs away to protect her kingdom and ends up working as a kitchen maid until she’s drooping with exhaustion. I call that strength.

In the Crown Duel duology, our heroine does fight with a sword (very badly) and ride a horse (adequately) and try to improve politics (oh-so-disastrously). She doesn’t even know how to read, but I can’t call her weak. She keeps trying against overwhelming odds, even when torture and execution seem the inevitable next steps. And (spoiler) she wins. Not by feat of arms or might of army, but by one voice saying the right thing for morally right reasons. How strong can you get?

The heroine of Seven Daughters and Seven Sons is another non-combatant. I almost said non-fighter, but she does fight. She fights for her family’s financial security with her wits. She turns enemies into friends or finds ways to render them helpless, and all without a weapon. By the end of the story, her father, long thought cursed because he had only seven daughters, is praising her name and counting her better than his brother’s seven sons. Smart and caring is strong, too.

I could name more, but I think I’ve babbled long enough. Which characters in books you’ve read impressed YOU with their strength? What kind of strength did they have? What strength do you wish you had?

Trying to be stronger,
M. C. Lee

Forbidden Words

If you’re a writer, or a prospective one, you might hear a lot about “rules” of writing. What you don’t always hear is a good explanation of when to follow the “rules” and when to break them, or even an explanation behind the “rules.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen that lead to some really bad writing. I’ll work my way gradually through some of these rules, but the one I want to address today is “forbidden words.” (Did you hear the spooky theme music? No? Let’s try again… “FORBIDDEN WORDS…”)

You might think these are the kinds of words you disguise by typing on the top row of your keyboard, but that’s not what I mean. (Although you might want to watch those, too.) No, I’m talking about when other well-meaning people tell you to never use an adverb. Or an -ing word. Or was or were. Or “just,” or any other particular word. Don’t take their advice.

I’m not saying to ignore the advice, either. I’m saying you should understand it so you know when to take it and when to ignore it. I think it’s time for some examples. (Cue suspenseful music…)

If you search the internet, you can find lots of lists of “words to avoid in writing.” Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to look. Done now? They usually list words that are overused or nearly meaningless, like really, just, or completely. What’s the difference between beautiful and really beautiful? Maybe nothing, or maybe you want to use gorgeous as a stronger word choice for the second example. But sometimes you do need those nearly meaningless words. (They were invented for a reason.) For instance, “he slid into his seat just before the bell rang” is considerably more urgent than “he slid into his seat before the bell rang.”

Let’s look at adverbs for a minute. When shouldn’t you use them? When they merely reinforce a word that doesn’t need reinforcing. He whispered quietly. she smiled cheerfully, the bell dinged musically. Yup, we got the idea with the verb, thanks. When should you use adverbs? When it either clarifies something the verb can’t do alone (she painted frantically) or turns the verb on its head (“Death kindly stopped for me.”–Emily Dickinson).

In other words, if you CAN cut an adverb or a “meaningless” word, do, but if cutting it changes the sentence, keep it for the sake of the poor reader and your dear story.

Now let’s talk about verbs. You might have heard about “passive writing” and the horrible use of “was, were, and -ing.” Take a deep breath while I tell you the rumors of their demise ought to be greatly exaggerated. “If you can finish the sentence with ‘by zombies,’ then it’s passive writing and ought to be destroyed” (by zombies) is one I frequently hear. Okay, fine, I added the second “by zombies” because I wanted to make a point.

There are reasons to use passive sentences. Here’s one: you don’t know the acting subject. “She was murdered!” but we don’t know by whom. Here’s another: you don’t want the emphasis on the acting subject. “She was murdered!” and until we get over the shock, we don’t care who did it. Does that mean its okay to blithely sprinkle passive sentences all over your writing? No, I didn’t say that, either. Use them when you need to use them, and for the sake of your action, don’t use them when you don’t need them. (Which, really, is the basic rule for all writing techniques.)

One more point about was, were, and -ing. It might shock you to know that sometimes they are ACTIVE verbs, not passive! “The apple was red” is an active sentence. (Not a very interesting one, granted, but still active.) When you usually start getting in trouble is when you combine was/were/are and -ing verbs, because even if the verb is active, the sentence might not be as strong as it could be. “The robot’s eyes were glowing” is weak, while “the robot’s eyes glowed” is strong. But if you try to cut every being-verb in your story, you’ll end up with monstrosities like “She seemed a pretty girl, despite her plain brown hair.” She SEEMED pretty, or she WAS pretty? Don’t laugh; I didn’t quote, but I’ve seen sentences that were even worse, that didn’t make any grammatical sense at all because the author “heard WAS is bad” and cut them all without regard to necessary sentence structure. (Read the “pretty girl” sentence without either *seemed* or *was* to see what I mean.)

So, next time you see a writing rule, figure out the reason behind the rule before you start applying it wildly across your writing. Your readers will thank you.

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

Books I Had to Buy

Obviously, I read enough that I can’t possibly buy every book I read. I can’t even buy every book I RE-read. That’s why I love my public library. 🙂

But there are some books that I bought from my teeny book budget because I couldn’t stand not having them around whenever the craving hit. Here are some of them.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis. A classic for a reason. Despite being slightly light on characters, heart and meaning are written into every book. I have the original-order set, both for sentimental reasons and because they are more meaningful when read in the order the author intended.

The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. I am permanently in love with the characters. Permanently. Don’t fight me on this, because I. Will. Win.

The Great and Terrible Quest, by Margaret Lovett. I had to search this one out on the internet, but it was so worth it. This one is less well-known, so let me tell you a bit about it. A young boy hides a wounded man from his nasty grandfather and his band of thieves, then decides to help the man succeed in his forgotten quest. And by forgotten, I mean the man has amnesia, but whatever memory he lost is important enough to keep him moving despite a split head. Because nobody in the story knows what’s going on for a while, it can be confusing, but it’s worth the wait for the reveal.

Minnipin series, by Carol Kendall. I like Gammage better than Glocken, I’ll admit. I love the spunky (but very ordinary) heroes, who don’t fit in but save the village BECAUSE of their differences.

Silver Woven in My Hair, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. It’s a Cinderella story (oddly enough, with a heroine who collects Cinderella stories), but I love the realistic romance and the heroine who keeps trying no matter what.

The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye. This is my favorite romance, even though it’s a children’s book. Really, truly. It’s actually marketed as a fantasy, which totally makes sense, because Princess Amy runs away when her parents decide to get a dragon to enhance her marriageability. But it’s a story of true love, and I adore it.

Crown Duel & Court Duel, by Sherwood Smith. Here is another can’t-say-die heroine. I feel a lot of empathy for her social awkwardness and her burning intent to do the right thing no matter what others say or how much trouble it lands her in. I always wince when those two traits wrap themselves around each other in the most troublesome ways, but oh, it makes a wonderful story.

Shattered Stone, by Robert Newman. I used to just check this one out from the library regularly, but then I moved and my new library didn’t have it. Can’t have that! This is a fantasy mystery about traitors and war and lost identities, but I also love the romantic ending.

Enchantress From the Stars, by Sylvia Engdahl. It’s sci-fi, but with a fantasy feel, with a heroine who is determined to do the right thing even if it kills her. Literally.

A Wrinkle in Time series, by Madeline L’Engle. Granted, I like some books in the series better than others, but I still own the whole thing. This is another classic-for-a-reason, and the movies totally miss the reason.

The Baker Street series, by Robert Newman. You can call it a Sherlock Holmes spin-off, which is accurate enough. Though they are mysteries, it’s the characters that make me return to the series over and over and wish Newman wrote a few more of them.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, by Barbara Cohen. A historical fiction about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to make her family’s fortune. Yes, I like strong heroines, and no, I don’t think “strong” means “good with a sword.”

One Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith. This is not the Disney version. Let me repeat, this is the original, not the Disney version. Disney made a cute movie of the book, but he lost the inherent sweetness of Dodie’s story.

The Belgariad and The Mallorean series, by David Eddings. I once stood in a bookstore reading part of the newest book and laughing so hard that everyone stared. Fortunately, I got to do my crying in private. More characters that I love ever so much.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Not for the faint of heart, I admit, but I’ve been hooked since I was eight years old. I’ve reread them so many times that my husband assures me I am a TERRIBLE person with whom to watch the movies.

Most of Georgette Heyer’s romances (with The Masqueraders at the top of the list). Heyer, in general, writes romances that feel real. Real characters, real situations (for the time), real reasons to laugh and cry, and most importantly, real reasons to love.

I’m sure I’ve missed something, but that should give you at least a few days of reading. 😉

What book did you HAVE TO BUY?
M. C. Lee

Author Goals vs Character Goals

This morning, I woke up realizing what problem was behind certain recurring issues in the books of a friend of mine. With her permission, I’m going to use her work to explain the difference between author goals and character goals, why they SHOULDN’T be the same, and how the conflict between them makes a better story.

Let’s start with a basic definition of character and author goals. Characters want “something” that will make their life better. The lover, the job, the house, the winning goal. Whatever it is, they think it will make them happy. Authors, on the other hand, want their characters to be unhappy. Temporarily! Because good stories are made of conflict against desires. It is the tug of war between what a character wants and what they get that leads us down story lane. Will they succeed or will life/villain/better team defeat them??

Now, on to the examples.

Example #1: Author “Jane” (name has been changed) has the goal of a big reveal at a dance. The reader knows earlier that character “Hero” is turning his life around and coming back to church, but the other characters don’t yet know that. Because Jane wants a dramatic scene at the dance, she decides that Hero must also wish to save the reveal until then. He feels nervous and secretive and unready to tell anyone about the changes in his life, but thinks unveiling the surprise at the big dance will be exciting. That’s great writing, right?

Well, no. There are a few problems. First, Hero is hiding things from people he’s close to, which is odd for his character. Second, Hero is hiding things from his desired “Heroine” which would knock down some of the barriers between them, AS HE HAS BEEN WISHING. Third, most people who are coming back to church are relieved and happy and want to share the good news with their family and friends. (There are exceptions, but those haven’t been set up in this story.) Fourth, if he doesn’t want to reveal it now, privately, why would he want to save it for a public event? So all this means that his idea of hiding everything until the dance feels very unrealistic.

Does that mean Jane’s hope for a dramatic reveal is sunk? Not at all! In fact, by acknowledging Hero’s desires, yet making his life detour according the author’s wishes, we can make an even more dramatic reveal. Let me illustrate how it COULD happen, with “old” and “new” examples from the story.

Old #1: The desire. Hero doesn’t want to tell his family, friends, or wannabe girlfriend because… they will tease him? They won’t be happy for him? He wants to shock them? This scenario, besides being poorly explained, makes him seem selfish and weak and makes his loved ones seem like jerks.

New #1: The frustration. Hero wants to tell everyone (notice the change in character goal and how it opposes that of the author). He decides to do so in person, as such good news deserves. Hero calls, gets a busy signal or answering machine, and doesn’t want to leave a message. He goes by in person, but people are gone or busy with the doctor (in the case of the friend in the hospital). Hero tries composing an email, but it just doesn’t feel personal enough. He will have to try later. This scenario has us rooting for Hero, who is trying to do the right thing and keeps hitting obstacles. When is the poor guy going to get a break? Now when Jane does the big reveal at the dance, we cheer that Hero finally gets to tell his family, and the author’s goal conflicting with the character’s goal has made a better story.

Old #2: The weekend. Hero attends a different church to avoid seeing his friends and family. Ouch! Again with the selfish and weak…

New #2: The unavoidable weekend. Hero is sent out-of-town for his job. Obviously, he won’t be attending church with his family, but it’s not his fault. Again, we get to root for Hero.

Example #2. In this case, Hero has been trying to find “Lady” who saved his life and then disappeared. Author goal: Keep the characters from realizing the other’s “secret identities” until the big reveal. Character goal: Find each other! Remember, the way we’re going to get the two goals to meet is not by aligning the character goals with the author’s or by letting them give up, but by yanking our poor characters off their chosen path and ramming them into obstacles until the only way left is the author’s way.

Old #3: The picture. Hero, who is a reporter, sees a picture on Heroine’s laptop that makes him realize she is probably Lady. When he says he wants to ask about “some picture,” (without mentioning Lady or the rescue), she tells him to go away, and he does. He’ll ask later. Wow, a reporter who gives up when his source isn’t cooperative? Since when? He gave up much too easily. Author goal has taken over at the expense of the story, and we no longer believe his goal is important.

New #3: The investigator. In this scenario, our intrepid reporter wants to actually tell Heroine which picture he’s talking about and ask if she is Lady. Remember, we’re going to FORCE Hero into the author’s path, despite his desire to follow his own goal. So, some ways to do this would be to have Heroine cut him off mid-sentence and walk away or tell him to mind his own business (she’s mad at him), or to have someone else interrupt with something that can’t wait, or to have his boss suddenly call with an urgent message, or… You get the idea. Keep the goal, create an obstacle! Now Hero can say to himself, “Well, if I can’t find out that way, I’ll put my reporter skills to work on the problem.” Jane will string Hero along for a while longer with more obstacles, while the reader chews on his/her fingernails. By the time we get an answer to the dilemma, we’ll be excited for it.

What examples (good or bad) have you found (or written)?

Happy writing,

M. C. Lee

Paperbacks

My first book, Wind of Choice, finally came out in paperback as well as ebook. It’s been a surprising experience, so I thought I’d talk about it.

The first surprise was how much more REAL the paperback felt than the ebook. It has the same cover and the same contents. I have a copy of the ebook on my phone. People have bought the ebook, but the paperback is so new it hasn’t sold anything. So why did holding the proof copy make me feel like I might finally be a “real” author? I still haven’t figured out the answer to that one.

Second, while there wasn’t much wrong with the proof, it surprised me how strongly I reacted to imperfections. Oh, it needs a higher quality picture there. Oh, what happened to the border line on the map. Tsk, tsk, the Author page should all fit on one page. Now, mind you, my publisher had checked all these things before the proof was released, and I didn’t mind them in the ebook (why not??), but somehow, it looked different on paper. Thank you, all you people who told me I should really read the proof! So I got my publisher to make the changes (honestly, they were little ones) so it would be as perfect as possible.

Third, I was surprised at the reactions of those around me. “Oh, you published a book.” “Well, the ebook came out months ago.” “Yeah, but… I don’t read ebooks and I can hold this in my hands. This is real.” So I guess Surprise #1 shouldn’t have been a shock, since other people apparently feel the same way. Of course, I didn’t know they would!

Go ahead and explain it to me in the comments? Why does a paper copy make a difference?

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

My Favorite Newbery Winners

I haven’t read all the Newbery winners since 1922, but I have read a lot of them. Here are my favorites, all four or five star reads for me.

Science Fiction

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. Meg’s father disappeared a year ago, and now three crazy ladies claim she and her little brother and a new maybe-friend can travel instantly across space to rescue him. This has been made into movies, but none of them are as good as the book. Controversial at the time for a children’s book, this has become a classic for very good reasons. I love the characters, love the fantastic settings, love and hate the way the plot makes me think about the world and good vs evil, and love the way Meg succeeds. The rest of the series is also good, though the first two books are the best.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry. Okay, not exactly sci-fi, but sort of. In a future world, Jonas lives in the perfect society, without fear, poverty, or war. Then his new job as the Receiver of Dreams reveals secrets that could destroy his entire world. This has been made into a movie, too, with mixed results. The book is still better. While not a “fun” read, this is very thought-provoking, and Lois does a great job of dribbling out the revelations until we finally understand. I did *not* enjoy the others in the series.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien. This one is also hard to classify. In part contemporary beast tale, in part speculative sci-fi, this is the story of a mouse who discovers her deceased mate was an escaped inmate of scientific experiments that increased his intelligence to human levels. When Mrs. Frisby’s house and sick son are threatened by the plow, she turns to the likewise intelligent rats for help. The movie is cute, but the book is touching. Mrs. Frisby isn’t as smart as the rats, but her courage and motherly love carry her through the story.

Fantasy

The Grey King, by Susan Cooper. The finale in a series between the Dark and the Light. Memories lost to illness, only a broken riddle can guide Will to retrieve a magical harp from the most powerful Lord of the Dark, the Grey King. Though the book is set in “modern” times, at least in part, it definitely has the feel of ancient fantasy seeping down through the years. Will is a great hero, strong despite weakness, and the book wraps up the hanging threads from the rest of the series into a tidy conclusion.

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley. Aerin is the daughter of the king and a witch. Powerless though she is, her tainted blood has banned her from the throne. 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 not her sword fighting or horse riding that makes her so. Instead, it’s her honesty, her determination, and her desire to protect her land that make her the hero of the story.

The High King, by Lloyd Alexander. Another series finale. When the most powerful weapon in  Prydain falls into the hands of Arawn-Death-Lord, Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, and Prince Gwydion raise an army to march against Mount Dragon, Arawn’s stronghold. I love the characters so, so much, and while this last book is sad, it is the fulfillment of the series in many ways. The characters have matured into even more wonderful people who make hard choices because it’s the right thing to do.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Let’s call this one urban fantasy. It’s set in modern times, but with ghosts and other supernatural creatures. Nobody Owens, known as Bod, would be completely normal if he wasn’t raised by ghosts. If Bod leaves the graveyard, he will come under attack from the man who killed Bod’s family. The book can get a little spooky at times, but isn’t actually horror. The mystery builds and builds, and while I guessed things ahead of time, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of watching the author draw all the strands together into a tapestry. While the basic story is very good all by itself, the little touches Neil adds in puns and allusions made it even more enjoyable for me.

Historical Fiction

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare. Daniel bar Jamin wants to revenge his father’s death by forcing the Romans from Israel. His hatred wanes only when he starts to hear the gentle lessons of Jesus of Nazareth. The historical aspects are good, but what really touched my heart was the vision of love winning over hate.

King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry. The Sultan sent six of the best horses in the kingdom to the King of France! Agba, the mute horseboy, knew his horse Sham would be chosen. But when a corrupt boat captain steals the food for their journey, the horses nearly die by the time they arrive. And the King of France sends Sham to be a workhorse! Will he ever be able to prove himself the champion that he is? I don’t know if Agba or Sham is the better character, but I felt for both of them throughout the story. I’m not a true horse-enthusiast (call me pleasantly neutral), but I still liked the horse parts and the history.

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. Tree-ear, an orphan, wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is determined to prove himself–even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard. Tree-ear is another ordinary hero who wins through determination and character rather than flashy skills and big battles. The historical aspects make an excellent backdrop to Tree-ears character arc.

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan. Sarah comes from Maine to the prairie to answer Papa’s advertisement for a wife and mother. Will Sarah be nice? Will she sing? Will she stay? Though a children’s book, this is a great example of a historical romance. Love grows slowly as the characters get to know each other, and in the end, we believe because we’ve seen why. The movie is pretty good.

Contemporary

Holes, by Louis Sachar. Stanley Yelnats is under a curse that has followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center where the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending every day digging holes. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize the warden is looking for something. The mixed-up timeline is a little confusing, but the reasons for it become clear by the end. Louis doesn’t waste a word as he lays out the clues, and the revelations at the end tie everything together perfectly. The movie for this one is actually pretty good.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would live in comfort at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She saved her money, and she invited her brother Jamie to go, mostly because be was a miser and would have money. It takes a mystery and Mrs. Basil to teach her how to go home again. I enjoyed the mystery, but the biggest draw for me was the relationship of the siblings.

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson. Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys’ side and outruns everyone. He and Leslie Burke become inseparable, creating Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits. Imagination and friendship are the true kings in this book, despite its sad ending. (My husband watched the movie with tears rolling down his face and accused me of cruelty for recommending it.)

There you go! Fourteen books from the Newbery Award Winners. How long will it take you to read them all?

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Writing Process, Book 3 & 4 (Part 1)

When I started writing book 3 around March 2018 (after plotting from January), I tried to be a little smarter than prior times. I made my usual beat sheet first (with an extra plotline for the romance), then cut it up (literally) to try a new step in my outlining process. I spread out all the beats and rearranged them several times to finalize chronology and chapter point-of-view. Once I had them the way I thought I wanted them, I typed them up again in my old chapter-tracking form.

I had finally noticed that one of the things that made me write more slowly was trying to figure out the “steps” of a chapter as I was writing. Sure, I’d know where I was going, but how do I get there? (The other thing that slows me, besides life getting in the way, is trying to make it perfect the first time, so starting with book 3, I gave myself permission to add [author notes] and fix it later.)

So I invented another new process step. This time, I thought I’d try outlining a little more detail for each chapter. After a little experimentation, I decided aiming for about 10% of the anticipated finished words for each chapter might be enough. I worked on this “tithe outline” at the same time I started writing chapters for book 3. That might not have been the best way to do it, honestly, since it slowed down both parts.

I got three chapters written between July and September, which was still pretty slow, and another two before the end of October. Not acceptable, even when I’m busy with the first two books. I finished the outline barely in time for NaNoWriMo.

(As for books 1 & 2, I was desperately trying to prepare book 1 for publication and get book 2 through my critique group. Lots of editing and rewriting. I was busy.)

In November 2018, I used my extended outline to zip through sixteen chapters and actually win NaNo, but the book still wasn’t finished. Fantasy tends to be longer than some genres, thank you, and I tend to complicate things. But the more I got used to my new outline, the easier it was to work with it, and the faster I got. I even had a few 3000-4500 word days. Yes, I know there are authors who can write 10-20K per day, but my brain doesn’t do that yet.

In December, I finished two-and-a-half chapters of book 3 and got the beats, POV/chronology, and four chapters of book 4 outlined. By the end of January 2019, I wrote another four chapters of book 3 and outlined 2/3 of book 4 before I discovered some major problems and had to start over. (But at least I found it in the outlining stage and not after I’d WRITTEN 2/3 of the book!) It took until May to figure out how to fix my outline, partly because of publishing and partly because I spent a month helping my parents. And it was pondering what kind of song I’d write for this book that gave me the clue. 😉

I finished the first draft of book 3 in February (excluding stuff to fix and things like chapter headings and Nia’s curses). Thirteen months for drafting is still pretty slow, but it’s half my time for book 2, so it’s still progress. Now that I have some experience at it, I’m hoping book 4 will go even faster.

Wish me luck!

M. C. Lee

Get to Know Yourself in Book Club

My sister thought a list of book club suggestions would be great for summer. She said, “List ones that make you think and have things to discuss.” So I was looking through my posts of favorite books and ran across my Personality/Cognition list, which is thankfully much shorter than the almost-200 personality/behavior books I have listed as “read” on Goodreads. Reading about personality and behavior always makes ME think about myself, others, and the world. Maybe it will do the same for you.

This time, let’s go over the Personality books, and maybe another time I’ll cover some of the Cognition ones.

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, by Don Richard Riso

The Enneagram splits personalities into nine categories. One of the unique things about this system is that it discusses the difference between healthy and unhealthy versions of each type, and what traits you should aspire to gain (based on type). It took me a long time to figure out my type under this system, but I learned a lot about myself when I did.

The Color Code: A New Way to See Yourself, Your Relationships, and Life, by Taylor Hartman

The Color Code sorts people by motivation: power, intimacy, peace, fun (or a combination). It also helpfully discusses how to deal with people of other “colors” in more productive and less frustrating ways. For instance, red and blue are the most controlling colors, but for completely different reasons. If you don’t understand WHY they are trying to control you, you might fight the battle on the wrong front entirely.

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better, by Gretch Ruben

The Four Tendencies sorts people by how they respond to external or internal expectations. If you’ve ever wondered why some people can set and follow goals all by themselves and others can’t, this is for you. This one also gives tips on how to deal with people of other types. If you have a rebellious (by nature, not stress) teen in your life, you can learn tips here.

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman

Love Languages has a narrow focus on how to feel/share appreciation, but in that field, it’s a gem. If you’ve ever lavished extra loving care on your significant other, only to have him/her complain that you never appreciate them, you probably have a disconnect in your love languages. This book can tell you how to identify and fix that. My significant other and I have very different primary languages but the same secondary. We use our secondary a lot…

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, by Anne Bogel

Reading People is the “sampler” book of personality discussion. It dips into the Meyers-Briggs (16 Personalities), the Enneagram, StrengthsFinder, Highly Sensitive People, and more. It doesn’t discuss any of them in “enough” detail, but if you’re looking for variety or want to figure out where to go next, this might be the book for you.

So, do any of these sound like something your book club would like to read and discuss?

Happy reading and personality-analyzing,
M. C. Lee