Writing Process, Book 3 (Part 2)

I just realized I haven’t given you any updates on my writing for a while. Hmm. Well, a lot has happened since… *checking post* … last year. Wow, that has been a while. Shame on me.

Remember those old melodramas that would say, “The last time we saw our hero, he was…” and review all the suspense before moving on with the current drama? Let’s do that. 😉

“The last time we saw our author, she was” finished with the first draft of book 3, Wave of Dreams, minus chapter headings and swear words. (Author’s  note: they aren’t real swear words. Honestly. Nia says things like “shipwreck” and “sparkling jellyfish.” Ludik says things like “furball.” It takes me a long time to write Nia’s because she keeps using new ones, the rascal!) Anyway, I had the first draft done.

Since then, I ran the book through two writing groups, fixing problems as I went. (If you know an author who says they never have problems, there are a few possibilities. They might have written fifty or a hundred books. They might be lying. Or they might be very mistaken.) I just admit it and then try to fix everything.

I went through several major drafts and too many minor tweaks. I rewrote the first chapter (more than once) based on feedback. I enhanced the romance and the character arcs. I filled in plot holes and smoothed dialogue. Yeah, all that boring stuff. You might not appreciate the process, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate the result. 😉

Fortunately for my peace of mind, I didn’t have to redo my plot outline this time around. It seems my new outlining process has been moderately effective. Yay! I also had several beta readers tell me how cruel I am, which is another good sign. Before you raise your eyebrow at me, let me explain. If I make you love the characters enough that it bothers you when bad things happen to them, then I’ve done my job right. And, before you ask, yes, I have to do bad things to them, because everybody being happy all the time is great to live but boring to read about. Before you throw tomatoes at me, I’d like to point out that I believe in happy endings, so just keep reading…

At some point in the process, I finished the chapter headings. If you don’t read those kinds of things in other books, I suggest you try a few of mine. I try to include information that isn’t absolutely necessary to reading the book, but many times, it is stuff that enhances the story. And they’re short…

I also spent a lot of time working on artwork with my graphic designer before she left the country for a while. She doesn’t do my front covers, but she does all my chapter pictures and digitizes the maps and stuff like that. Usually, we work on things a bit at a time, but since she was going to be out of reach, we had to do quite a bit at once, for both book 3 and book 4. (BTW, if you haven’t noticed the maps in the front of the books, you should look. They’re pretty cool! So are all my lovely little chapter pics!)

Anyway, at the time of this writing, I’m waiting for the last round of beta readers to tell me if I fixed the last problem. By the time you read this, the book should be in final edits and formatting. Oooh, I’m so excited! I’ll be sure to let you know when the book comes out. Hint: it’s Nia’s story, with romance and pirates (but not romance WITH pirates, because that’s just gross).

Do you have any questions you want to ask me about my writing process that I haven’t answered?

Happy anticipating,
Marty C. Lee

Favorite Beast-Tales

Let’s start with a definition of beast-tales. They are stories where a main character is an animal (or sometimes a monster). Most of them have the point-of-view of the animal, although occasionally I will cheat on that definition.

The Redwall series is an example of beast tales. Yes, I like Redwall. No, it doesn’t make my list of favorites, mostly because I struggle with the accents too much. The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic example of a beast tale. I like it, too, but not enough for this list. 😉

So, in random order, here are some of my favorite beast tales.

Children’s Books

Skippy Jon Jones series, by Judy Schachner

Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss

The Serendipity series, by Stephen Cosgrove

The Saggy Baggy Elephant, and The Tawny Scrawny Lion, by Kathryn Jackson

The Pigeon series, by Mo Willems

Juvenile/Young Adult

One Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith (no, not the Disney version)

The Town Cats and Other Tales, by Lloyd Alexander

The Trumpet of the Swan, and Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little, by E.B. White

Man o’ War, by Walter Farley

The Sign of the Cat, by Lynne Jonell

The Underland Chronicles series, by Suzanne Collins (ever so much better than The Hunger Games, in my opinion)

The Unicorn Chronicles series, by Bruce Coville

Dragon of the Lost Sea series, by Laurence Yep

The Cricket in Times Square series, by George Selden

Dragon Keeper series, by Carole Wilkinson

Adult

The Donkey’s Gift, by Thomas M. Coffey

The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford

There you go! It doesn’t look like a long list, but several of them are series, so it should keep you busy for a few days. 🙂 Curl up with your favorite furry friend and read a book about animals.

What’s your favorite beast tale?

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Writing Conference Report 2020–Character & Setting

As usual, I attended a three-day writing conference in February. Here’s a brief report of some of the classes I took. I’m sure you will notice that they aren’t comprehensive notes, just personal tidbits for me. But if you can get something useful from them, you’re welcome. This covers character & setting/world-building topics. Structure & plot was last month, and business topics will be next month.

Poison 101
Very few things will kill you quickly. Most of them are inhalants. Nothing will kill you immediately.
Animal: venom, sting, bacteria, penicillin & antibiotics, smallpox, viruses, allergen, etc
Vegetable: alkaloids, ricin, mushrooms (non-poisonous mushrooms can pick up poison from nearby poisonous ones)
Mineral : carbon monoxide, chlorine, radiation, arsenic, (accumulate in liver and hair)
Synthetic : drugs, pesticides, herbicides
Methods : Inhalation, topical (mucus membranes or skin, ingested, injection (including snakes and insects and platypus)
Symptoms : find in material safety data sheets
Can build a small immunity to some things (but iocane powder doesn’t exist).

Oaths & honor
Before breaking a norm /belief can touch the reader, the importance of the norm must be established.
Secondary characters are for contrast.

Loving the other (mermaids, vampires, etc)
Use a variety of internal conflicts, physical conflicts, external conflicts like societal norms.
Girls like the thought of someone extraordinary loving them.

Lost Technologies
Watch PBS Nova
Why can’t we do stuff anymore?
Tech disappears at height of its use. Mechanical calculators gave way to digital, etc.
Flint-mapping (artwork), Damascus steel, oiyas potteries (auto-water plants by seepage), metal knife for fire-starting instead of flint, Iroquois lost skills when trading for easier products, obsidian surgery tools, Saturn V rockets (each hand-built), heirloom seeds, craftsmen, enigma machine (tech parts have changed), Thor Heyerdahl, obsidian arrowheads (some made to break & slice)
Rediscovered after WWII: colossus encoder (decoder?)
When writing, if an idea doesn’t advance story, toss it.
M.S. Stirling recreated lost technology.
Why would you need to? Eric Flint (book 1600?) Town went back in time & had to fit in.
If your beta reader says bored, listen!
Look at leap tech (rich can afford) vs common tech (context is key). Example: shovel for the rich (need shoes to protect feet), poor used sticks.

Pointy Sticks & Fried Dough
What are constants in many/all cultures?
Stereotypes dominate thing that describes them.
Funeral rites: how does your culture handle it? Describes human value.
Celebrate special events, holidays, commemorations: yes, no, how?
Taboos? What do they look like?
Superstitions, myths about monsters, fears.
Ask family/friends “what did you eat for dinner growing up?”
Who has power, who makes choices?
Money, form of wealth, trade.
Social economic differences: clothing, education, where allowed to live.
What is your starting point and how do you build around it?
Show-not-tell through character’s eyes.
Read outside your genre. How do other genres discuss food, etc. Transform it to your culture, deepen & change it.
How do you balance different languages & slang?
How does language fit in the story you’re telling?

When Should Your Character Outsmart You?
Writing species smarter than humans: their learning, interactions, emotional intelligence
Smart characters come up with solutions faster than you.
Construct character from back: you do research, they have answer
Many ways to demonstrate intelligence, and they shouldn’t have them all.
So much research.
BS to make them sound smart. Make up words, things they can talk about.
Don’t go into more details than needed for story.
Make character relatable. People like human disasters.
What are environmental pressures? How do they evolve?
Culture, species, political. What was childhood environment? Vulcans=logic, Klingons=violence, etc. Find ways to relate.
What pressure drove human evolution processes? Prey or predator? Evolution & culture values?
Facial features demonstrate emotion in humans.
Communication with each other is valued.
What leads to higher intelligence?
Hive mind? For greater good?
How much do they worry about food & shelter? Once safe, can think about arts, etc.
Why does one race think they’re smarter than another?
Can intelligence be warm/welcoming?
They have something we don’t understand.
Need to be in competition with something.
Repercussions of getting intelligent?

Disabilities aren’t Superpowers
Write disabilities to give character depth
Disabilities are part of life; adapt & go on.
Are they an asset or not? Are a lot of work, but can gain a skill with practice.
Monk TV series: physical disability
Avatar movie skips training steps
Disabilities become normal over time
Don’t use disabilities to gain sympathy in romantic comedies
Mental disabilities still affects everyday life
Fight, flight, or flee? When is it life-threatening?
Sounds, like MedAlarms, are like WWII alarms & can panic vets.
Examples: Toth, Last Airbender; Numbers TV series; Captain America movie, Falcon character
Writing tips: people are people; don’t give backstory, give clues; research everyday details of disability; some people wallow until death, your character has to make an active decision. How do they compensate & get through life?
Is plot around disability or about character growth?
Borderline Curiosity Disorder & Hoarders are disabilities.
How do people live with someone with a disability? What changes are made? Look at people around character.

Casual Violence
Why is murder/honor killing acceptable? Make sure to answer why and motivation.
Killing vs murder: murder is against law/society.
Blood offerings: why?
State sanctions vs war: innocent person selected as scapegoat to satisfy god or natural disaster (usually low caste)
Honor killings by psychology today: Reputation is what protects you; if damaged, it ruins everything. Highest form of currency.
Honor: N. European gets honor by throwing lot with stronger man/best corporation. Middle/ S. European honor from family/family first. If can’t support family, someone must die. India: knock off bride for better bride. Mid East: groom pays for bride. Iran: honor killings frequent. Women used to be able to prevent, but now capital won’t listen to locals. Aztec: stage battles to capture sacrifices.
Willing self-sacrifice vs punishment: usually built into law structure.
US has so much killing (illegal but socially acceptable?) 1st degree, 2nd degree, manslaughter, etc.
Honor killings: video games, movies?
Untouchables & consequences: no one cares; tainted person becomes outcast, rejected to maintain order.
Castes of society: lower caste shame, dishonorable reincarnation, mental health issues

Horses
Cattle drive: each cowboy had seven horses. Grain-fed horses: only need one, but must bring grain.
Camping needs water, wood, and grass.
Horses are prey & prefer herds.
They sense tension & stress.
Stallions, geldings, or mares. Stallions have one-track mind when intrigued. Charge & hit hard. Mares have hormonal cycles; some will go psycho.
Read Horsetamer by Walter Farley
Cutting horses are like colliers for sheep: Youtube
Programmable.
Hard ground naturally trims hoof. Check hooves daily; stuff gets stuck in it.
Horses are afraid of paper bags & water.

Dragons
How do humans deal with being prey? Other species smarter.
Do you live in keeps? Trees, walls, etc.
Cooperative hunting, etc. Fight or flight?
Consider life cycle. Do they consume everything? Do they turn on each other? What’s the balance nature provides?
How much does predator move around? How much energy used?
Small predators: are humans scared of it? Snakes rattle, spiders, swarms. Just kill you or kill & eat you? (Hunt in groups)
Cats: watch their behavior.
Are there triggers for being attacked? (Non-threatening to attacking)
Other species attacking–do humans develop defense mechanisms?
How do humans defend against intelligent predators or societies?
How do you protect against night predators?
Species like us but different lead to war/death or truce/division.
Apex predators reproduce slower, try to protect the few left.
Can they walk among us & pass as one of us?
How can they communicate with us? What happens with the communication?
Mixed species association–learn to trust each other.
Trap/hunt together as pack.
Things that scare us are things most like us
United enemy or united problem?
Cats take care of small problems & live a comfortable life.

I always learn a lot at my writing conference, so if you have a chance to go to one, give it a shot!

Happy writing,
M.C. Lee

Mystery Books

I like mysteries, though I prefer the kind without gore. In fact, my second book is a fantasy/mystery mash-up (but we aren’t talking about that today). Here are some of my favorite mysteries. I’ve sorted them by approximate age group, but otherwise they are in random order.

Juvenile (there’s cross over between here and YA)

Robert Newman’s Case of… series, which has loose ties to Sherlock Holmes (but is better) (I had to buy these second-hand because I was borrowing them too often)

The Case of the Marble Monster, by I.G. Edmonds

Sammy Keyes series, by Wendelin Van Draanen (until the last one)

Brixton Brothers series, by Max Barnett

The Puzzle Book & Mathemagic, Childcraft

The Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart

Echo Falls series, by Peter Abrahams

The early Box Car Children books, by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Cat Royal series, by Julia Golding

The Happy Hollisters series, by Jerry West

Encyclopedia Brown series, by Donald J. Sobol

A Murder for Her Majesty, by Beth Hilgartner

Young Adult

The Agency series, by Y.S. Lee

Enola Holmes series, by Nancy Springer

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

Knight & Rogue series, by Hilari Bell

Montmorency series, by Eleanor Updale

Rhiannon, by Vicki Grove

Too Much Information, by Dale Britton

Blossom Culp series, by Richard Peck

The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Trixie Belden series, by Julie Campbell  & Kathryn Kenny (it’s hard to get your hands on the later ones)

Stranje House series, by Kathleen Baldwin

Samurai Detective series, by Dorothy Hoobler

The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson

Adult

The early Aunt Dimity books, by Nancy Atherton (the late ones aren’t BAD, just a little duller)

Meg Langslow series & Turing Hopper series, by Donna Andrews (who really should finish the Turing series! *hint hint*)

Sherlock Holmes series, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Frank Shaw series, by John D. Brown (I’m afraid I could never finish his fantasies)

The Falconer’s Knot, by Mary Hoffman

Mrs. Pollifax series, by Dorothy Gilman

Sacred Ground, by Mercedes Lackey

The Lady & the Highwayman, by Sarah M. Eden

The Cuckoo’s Egg, by Clifford Stoll (true story)

Mary Russell series, by Laurie King (IMO, the best new Sherlock Holmes series for adults)

This Just In, by Kerry Blair

Brother Cadfael series, by Ellis Peters (also a TV series which isn’t bad)

 

So, did anything look interesting to you? What is your favorite mystery?

Happy sleuthing,
Marty C. Lee

Writing Conference Report 2020–Structure

As usual, I attended a three-day writing conference in February. Here’s a brief report of some of the classes I took. I’m sure you will notice that they aren’t comprehensive notes, just personal tidbits for me. But if you can get something useful from them, you’re welcome. This post covers structure/plot topics. There will be another next month on character & setting, and one after that on business topics. Whew!

Firming Up a Sagging Middle
Use cliffhangers every chapter, such as physical danger, new characters, bad news, epiphanies, messages, romance, what’s behind the door, something to cheer about, decision to make, foreshadowing, awe, death, blow up something.

Everything about writing in 3 minutes
Stories are ripples in status quo.
Hero has problem. Acts. Makes problem worse! Deal with worse problem. Hero solves problem or problem solves hero. Can’t return to prior status quo.
To help your subconscious, clearly state the problem, then give it 1-2 days to work.
Write down the ideas.
Feed your subconscious with books, movies, walk, zoo, etc.

Story Mapping
Plotting or outline 3 ways:
1) Intuitive (pantser)
2) Plotters (story map), sometimes start at end & work backwards
3) Hybrids
Character-driven stories lend themselves to intuitive writing.
Plot-driven stories (mystery, thriller, sci-fi) have to know outline.
Historical & fantasy can go either way.
Why create story map in advance? Shorter writing time, place clues/red herrings, force reader to turn page by placing & answering questions, avoid dreaded blinking cursor, easier revisions, most publishers require story map in advance, helps with unexpected problems like ghostwriters/dead authors.
Proposal for trad pub is first three chapters + outline.
Does plotting story in advance stifle creativity? Depends.
Story mapping process.
1) Start with really cool idea.
2) Let idea marinate.
3) Record ideas.
4) Timing.
5) Write synopsis.
6) List of scenes.
7) Write book.
Some people like to color-code by POV or character.

Light in Darkness: Horror Stories
Horror is 7% words, 55% body language, and the rest is voice.
Subtlety/description is better than all dialogue/narration.
Horror as genre is a myth, created by booksellers to sort books, first invented for Frankenstein.
Hollywood can’t replicate the feelings in books, so they use gore and shock. Books can convey feelings.
Uniquely moral setting genre–good vs evil.
Two kinds of horror: hostile (not good) and redemptive (you can climb out of dark pit of soul).
Bible is godly horror (redemptive story).

Future of Fantasy
RPG is going into fantasy & ebooks, like Choose Your Own Adventure.
Noblebright is next trend, trying to do good & right.
Need motivation that makes sense. Need to elicit emotional reaction from reader. Does character impact reader?
Covers for youth are different than covers for adults.
Jen Lyons uses footnotes in ebooks to do worldbuilding. (Big debate: distracting vs expansive. Runs risk of breaking narrative.)
If you rely on a map, rewrite it to let readers know where characters are.
Mental health stories (heroes & villains) are upcoming trend. Makes them more relatable.
Second-world fantasy will always have place but needs to be relatable to humanity.

Lines Between Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Sci-fi: technology
Fantasy: magic, nature
Marketing might be only difference. Genre exists for shelving purposes. Trappings determine how book is classified & need to be at beginning of story.
Star Trek is soft sci-fi (about people). Inception is hard sci-fi, then fantasy in dream machine.
Tailor presentation to audience.
Gandalf is soft magic system. Hard magic system/science needs same tone throughout book.
Don’t spend too much time worldbuilding. You can get away with anything if it’s entertaining.

Structure vs Character-Led Stories
Rules base vs follow heart type
Writer needs to know ending of plot-based story or will have issues.
Review structure & character journey
If you paint yourself in a corner, is that the story?
Needs to be a set up and pay off
Need red herrings
Get readers involved by the how (thought & motivation)
Character & world building is the what
Types of structure:
Heroes Journey
Broadway
3-act Hollywood
Shakespeare
Aristotolian structure: boom, everything goes
Characters: What do they want? Include foreshadowing/hints.
Sometimes you pants it, then go back & structure
Don’t write directly to story beats
Look at ending, promises you made.
Need a good motivation for characters.
Understand difference between plot (logical sequence of evens to reactions) & conflict (creates plot)
Characters in relationship & environment create conflict
Character vulnerabilities: why?
Character needs to CHOOSE, not be blown in wind.
Anything that makes you want to write is good for you.
Goal, motivation, conflicts (relationships), should be felt.
Need smarts & hearts.

Stereotypes & Tropes
Stereotype: usually demanded by fashion
Cliche: overused ideas, becomes tiresome
Trope: literary shorthand to achieve emotional effect. Can’t be the rule & the journey.
2nd world fantasy: have stereotype, then break it.
Stereotype reveals a lot about a character. They exist for reason–why? It’s reasonable to expect certain things, cultural expectations.
Make your villain somewhat identifiable.
Characters are more compelling when there are dynamic aspects.
Zombie: no reasoning, no race, an elemental force.
Write a story from the POV of an orc.
Tropes: when to avoid? When used wrong. What does it accomplish? Use for emotional response. Reflect reader’s expectations in your genre. Do not use trope to replace plot.
TVTropes.org
Examples:
Romance: happy ending
Horror: evil villain
Thriller: master mind
Action: needs romp at start
Sci-fi: tech, sounds futuristic
Fantasy: discover, sense of wonder
Western: watch Silverado
Things not to do:
Romantic comedy: She’s been terrible to him & he still kisses her. Or honorable the whole time & then turns bad.
Don’t use stereotype to avoid character development.
Read short stories to learn tropes.
Read reviews on genres you want to write, pos or neg.

If you ever get the chance to attend a writing conference yourself, I recommend you do. 🙂

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

Funny Books

Just for the fun of it, I’m declaring March to be Comedy Month. Well, right here on my website, anyway. So here’s a list of books I found to be amusing. (Some of them have made it on other lists.)

Children’s Comedy

The Skippy-Jon Jones series, by Judy Schachner

Pigeon series, by Mo Willems

Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp Monster, by Mercer Mayer (if you can read it with an accent, it’s a great touch)

Juvenile Comedy

The Great Brain series, by John D. Fitzgerald (based on true stories, no less…)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

Pippi Longstocking series, by Astrid Lindgren

Ramona series & Henry Huggins series, by Beverly Cleary

The Case of the Mistaken Identity, by Mac Barnett

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex (so, so much better than the movie)

Teen Comedy (the line between Juvenile & Teen can be iffy, so feel free to pull from both categories)

Goldfish, by Nat Luursema

Chickens in the Headlights, by Matthew Buckley (also based on true stories)

Homer Price series, by Robert McCloskey

Howl’s Moving Castle series, by Diana Wynn Jones

The Girl Who Invented Romance, and Hit the Road, by Caroline B. Cooney

Romeo and Juliet–Together (and Alive!) at Last, by Avi

Janette Rallison

Enthusiasm, by Polly Shulman

Adult Comedy

The List, by Melanie Jacobson

Phule’s Company series, by Robert Asprin (content warning: adult content)

A Night of Blacker Darkness, by Dan Wells

The Donkey’s Gift, by Thomas M. Coffey

And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling Over Niagara, by Cody Cassidy

Enchanted, Inc series, by Shanna Swendson

 

What books have made you laugh hard enough to cry?
Marty C. Lee

Broken Writing, Growing Writer

I’ve had lots of people point out problems in my writing. That’s actually a good thing, since it lets me fix the problems. I’ve also had a few people say mean personal things to me because of my writing, and that’s not okay. So today, I’m going to talk about the difference between you and your writing.

Wait, you say, it’s pretty obvious that I’m not the same as my writing. I’m a person, not words on a page.

You’d certainly think so, but it doesn’t always work that way in real life. First, your words can be a reflection of yourself, and they’re a product of your creative soul. When someone is tearing into your heartfelt words, it can feel like they’re attacking you personally. (Usually they aren’t…) Second, some people forget there’s a difference between who you are and what you write. A few unfortunate souls DO attack the writer instead of the writing. Instead of saying “I’m confused at this point,” they say say “You don’t care if your reader is confused.” Instead of saying, “I didn’t believe the motivation,” they say “You can’t write good characters.” Instead of saying, “This plot is too convoluted,” they say, “You’re stupid if you think anyone is going to follow this.” Can you see the difference?

Here’s the lecture part of this post: don’t be that person. Yes, point out problems you find, but do it nicely, with specifics, and only about the writing. That does not mean keeping your mouth shut “to be nice.” Friends don’t let friends send their writing public when they know it still has problems. It just means to focus on the issue in a way that the writer can fix the poor thing.

Here’s the encouragement part of the post: if this happens to you, and it probably will at some point, go ahead and cry (preferably in private). Then pick yourself up and repeat with me: “Their bad manners are not my problem.” Did you repeat it yet? Several times, maybe? Rinse and repeat until you believe it. Now repeat this: “I am learning. Though my writing needs work, I can learn from my mistakes and grow as a writer. I’m better than I was last year, and next year, I’ll be better than I am now. I am not defined by my skill, especially not by my current level.”

Okay, now sit down and edit their rude comments. Look for words you CAN use. “You don’t care if your reader is confused” becomes “confused.” Granted, that’s not the most specific advice, but at least it tells you where to start looking for specific problems. If they flat-out insult you with no actual advice included AT ALL, take a nice red pen and enjoy striking out the entire sentence.

Now, take your edited comments and solve what you can. Anything left over, run by a trusted friend/critique partner for help. “I was told this section is confusing.” (Yep, just skip the rest of what they said.) “Can you tell me where and/or why you get confused? Thank you!”

If you have no choice but to work with the insulting person again (English class, maybe?), it might or might not be worth talking to them about how to give feedback. (It depends on their personality and a bunch of other stuff.) If you can’t talk to them about giving better critiques, then buckle on your Impervious-to-Insults armor before you meet with them, and keep it firmly in place until you’ve finished going over their comments. If you do have a choice about working with them, it’s worth considering ending your critiquing relationship. (Please note that I didn’t say “end your entire relationship.” If they’re a friend/family, don’t do that…)

Remember, you the writer are a person, inherently worthwhile and full of potential, no matter your current state of anything. Your writing is not you, no matter how much it feels like a piece of you. Both you and your writing can be improved if there is a problem, but they are still two different entities that should be judged entirely separately and not by the same people.

Go forth, improve your writing and be a better person, but don’t confuse the two.

M. C. Lee

Favorite Romance Books

Since Valentine’s Day is coming up soon, I thought I’d talk about some favorite romances. I don’t read steamy romance, so if that’s your style, you’ll need to get a list from someone else. I’ll try to remember to update this every year. You can remind me. 😉 Please don’t consider this a comprehensive list. Also, as you read “what I liked less,” remember that these made my favorites list, so their faults are pretty minor.

Romance (clean)

most of Georgette Heyer’s romances (with The Masqueraders at the top of the list). What I like: believable situations, engaging characters with a wide variety of physical and personality traits, fun historical settings, and people who fall in love for realistic reasons. What I like less: slower plots, lots and lots of historical vocabulary.

Juliane Donaldson. What I like:  I once described her books to someone as “Georgette Heyer with a faster plot and a simpler vocabulary.” What I like less: the faster plot doesn’t allow as much time for emotional development, though she does well with what she has.

Sarah M. Eden. What I like: most of the same things I like about Donaldson, honestly. What I like less: sometimes she succumbs to the lure of a love triangle.

Lynn Kurland, until recently. What I like: lots of emotion, funny dialogue, characters you love to love. What I like less: sometimes repetitive, and when she’s having a bad year, it all falls apart.

Mary Robinette Kowal. What I like: Regency romance with magic. Plus realistic characters. What I like less: Stupid pride. Also, I want to smack several parents.

Suzanne Weyn and Cameron Dokey (not co-authors, but write for the same series). What I like: fairy tales with a twist, well-written with good characters. What I like less: depends on the book, but sometimes the fairy tale is twisted pretty far out of shape.

A Death-Struck Year, by Makiia Lucier. What I like: a realistic YA romance that doesn’t include soulmates, love at first sight, or purely physical attraction. What I like less: since it’s about the Spanish Flu, it’s pretty sad.

Ann Turnbull. What I like: quiet Quaker love and standing up for what’s right. What I like less: sometimes heavy on history at the expense of the characters.

The Ordinary Princess, by M. M. Kaye. What I like: a princess with character, a romance based on friendship, and such realistic, fun-to-love characters. What I like less: um… it’s too short. 😉

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. What I like: an ordinary girl in an extraordinary situation who solves her own problems with strength of will. What I like less: reading the other languages, and the total mess the movie was.

Silver Woven in My Hair, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. What I like: a romance based on friendship, and an ordinary girl who doesn’t give up. (Okay, so I have a “type.” I bet you do, too.) What I like less: I wanted to see the throne scene in person instead of flashback, thank you very much.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, by Barbara Cohen. What I like: a romance based on friendship, an intelligent girl, a family who loves each other. What I like less: the jerky cousins, of course.

Beauty, by Robin McKinley. What I like: by now, if I say it’s my “type,” you know what I mean, right? 😉 What I like less: the ending was too abrupt. (Rose Daughter is also quite good, though different.)

Carla Kelly (some of them). I have to put a warning on this one. She used to write according to publisher’s dictates, and those books do not fit my “clean” standard. When she got popular enough, she started writing the way she wanted, and those are the ones I like. So just be careful, and if you find one that shocks you that I recommended it, it’s not one I recommended… What I like: realistic characters, fun situations, believable love. What I like less: picking up the wrong book of hers and being appalled.

Kathleen Baldwin. What I like: humor, gumption, and a refreshing lack of love at first sight in YA romance. What I like less: withholding secrets.

Janette Rallison. What I like: contemporary YA with more humor than angst. What I liked less: not much depth beyond the “life lesson moral.”

Earth Girl series, by Janet Edwards. What I like: YA sci-fi on Earth with a spunky heroine and a hero who won’t give up. What I like less: some things are very convenient—too convenient—including the heroine’s ever-ready answers.

Karen Witemeyer. What I like: non-Regency historical, realistic characters and motivations. What I like less: sometimes their actions don’t match their motivations.

Tiffany Odekirk. Contemporary romance. What I like: characters with real problems to overcome. What I like less: sometimes kind of depressing.

Jessica Day George. What I like: fun characters and loving families. What I like less: a bit scant on emotion. (Sorry, Jessica. Don’t worry, I’ll still read the next one.)

Shanna Swendson. What I like: what if the real world actually had magic? Plus fun characters. What I liked less: sometimes she lost track of the fun stuff.

Kerry Blair. What I like: the romance is the subplot, and there’s always something else going on. What I like less: sometimes I have to scratch my head about the convenient coincidences.

Liz McCraine. What I like: fun characters, lots of magic, happy endings. What I like less: sometimes a little too YA.

Carol Malone. What I like: historical fiction from the 50’s that captures the cadence of the time as well as the vocabulary, plenty of danger in the plot. What I like less: I’m not a big sports fan.

Do you have a favorite to recommend to me? 😀
M. C. Lee

Science Fiction & Fantasy Conference

Every year for several years now, I’ve gone to the Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi/fantasy conference in Utah. Last year, I told you about it after the fact, so I’m trying to do better this time, in case you’d like to go. I’m telling you, if you like science fiction or fantasy, it’s a really cool conference to attend.

No, you don’t have to be a writer. They also have art classes, and a game room, and movies, and presentations of academic papers, and meet-and-greets.

Yes, they do have writing classes. And the art classes, and business classes, and worldbuilding classes. And oh-that-sounds-super-cool classes. Two of my family members got to attend a weapons class with real weapons. They raved for weeks.

Yes, you can meet writers there. Yes, you can attend any of the classes, presentations, movies, games, book signings, etc with your pass (except for a very few “bonus” things that either cost extra or require an extra sign-up). It’s a pretty reasonable price, as these go. Check it out at ltue.net

If you decide to go, here’s a little practical advice.

Have someone drop you off, or be prepared to walk from farther parking. Or stay in the hotel and don’t worry about it!

Wear good shoes and comfortable clothes/hairstyle. Layers allow you to go from Utah-winter-outside temps to variable inside-room temps.

Take food to eat, especially if you aren’t going to take an actual lunch break. (An actual lunch break is a great idea, but sometimes the classes are just too tempting…)

Look for a freebies table. There are usually bookmarks, business cards, and who-knows-what-kind of goodies.

Check out the book room. Besides books, they have swag and art and authors.

Talk to people–lots of people. Pretend you aren’t shy. Understand that lots of people around you are also desperately trying to pretend they aren’t shy, and just say something (nice) to them.

If hauling weight bothers you AT ALL, slim down your bag to lighter than you think you can carry all day.

Ask experienced attendees which bathroom tends to have shorter lines, and use it immediately after class.

Drink lots of water (if you lightened your bag, take a small bottle and refill it every hour). I know, it will just make you need the bathroom, but trust me, dehydration will not enhance your experience.

Wash your hands frequently. If you are sick, don’t shake hands with anyone, even your favorite author that you ran into in the hall. (Elbow bump, perhaps?)

If you have business cards in a related field, bring them. Give them out to anyone that wants one, or leave them on the freebie table. But be nice! If someone doesn’t want one, they don’t have to have one…

If the class you want to take is full, try something else or find someone for a conversation.

Take a shower (obviously), but please, please don’t wear perfume, cologne, essential oils, scented lotions, or other scented products. Not only are there a LOT of people, and scents pile up, but some people are allergic, and it’s not very polite to make things uncomfortable for them.

Be nice. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that, do I?

And have fun! Maybe I’ll see you there,
M. C. Lee

Self-Help Books

In honor of New’s Year goals, and because my sister was asking, here’s a list of some of my favorite self-help books. I haven’t included “help me understand myself” or “help me with parenting/marriage,” though I do have posts about those (click for the links). I also didn’t include religious books, but I do recommend religion as a way to improve yourself.

I’ve sorted the list by the goal you might be making. Other than that, it’s in random order.

“I want to get stuff done.”

The Power of When: Discover your chronotype and maximise your potential, by Michael Breus. What is the best time of day for you to do different things? Based on your wake/sleep cycle and body chemistry. If you’ve heard of early bird/night owl, this is the same kind of thing, but with four choices and actual explanations.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister, John Tierney. This is less of a body book and more of a brain book. I can’t possibly be the only person who wants to understand my brain, can I?

“I want to make better decisions.”

*Choose Your Own Adulthood: A Small Book about the Small Choices that Make the Biggest Difference, by Hal Edward Runkel. Because even adults can get more adult-ish.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely. Why we sometimes trip ourselves in our thinking, and what to do about it.

How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. If you want to understand more about the processes of decision-making. Yes, I like brain books…

“I want to do better with my money.”

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness, by Dave Ramsey. I’m sure there are other great finance books, but this is one of the first I recommend to anyone. It starts with the basics.

“I want to figure out what to do with my life.”
(This is a rather loose category, sorry.)

Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. What makes someone the best of the best. Okay, so it might not actually help you figure out what to do with your life, but maybe it will help you see some talents and potential you overlooked.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield. This is the book I credit for pushing me the final step toward author. No, he doesn’t talk about writing, just about life and going for what you want.

*Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, by Kelly Williams Brown. Doesn’t help you pick a profession, but could help you do better at general “life.”

*Warning: one of the “Adulthood/Adulting” books swears. I’d tell you which, but I can’t remember.

Feel free to leave your favorite goal in the comments, or recommend a book I might like.
Happy New Year, happy reading, and good luck with your goals!

M. C. Lee