Category Archives: Post Series

Favorite Historical Books, #3

I’ve been dividing my favorite history books into three sections for you: 1) ancient history, 2) medieval and renaissance history, and 3) 1700-and-later. More or less. 😉 You know I’m not always very precise…

So here’s the 1700+ History Favorites randomly within each category:

Young Adult Mysteries

The Case of the Baskerville Irregulars series, by Robert Newman

Enola Holmes series, by Nancy Springer

The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, by Theodora Goss

The Agency series, by Y.S. Lee

Cat Royal series, by Julia Golding

Young Adult Romance (more or less)

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Anne of Green Gables series, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Quaker trilogy, by Ann Turnbull

Red Moon at Sharpsburg, by Rosemary Wells

The Bracelet series, by Jennie Hansen

Dark Mirror series, by M. J. Putney

The Raging Quiet, by Sherryl Jordan

Boston Jane series, by Jennifer L. Holm

Watch for a Tall White Sail, by Margaret E. Bell

A Death-Struck Year, by Makiia Lucier (also a fine example of what a YA romance ought to be)

Water Song, by Suzanne Weyn

Other Young Adult

Gideon the Cut-Purse trilogy, by Linda Buckley-Archer

A True and Faithful Narrative, by Katherine Sturtevant

The Secret Garden, and A Little Princess, by Frances Hodson Burnett

Peter Raven Under Fire, by Michael Molloy

Montmorency series, by Eleanor Updale

Blossom Culp series, by Richard Peck

Stealing Freedom, by Elisa Carbone (biography)

Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St. John

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Stranje House series, by Kathleen Baldwin

The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Under a Painted Sky, by Lee Stacey

Charlotte’s Rose, by Ann Edwards Cannon

The Great Brain series, by John D. Fitzgerald

I Am David, by Anne Holm

The Silent Bells, by William MacKellar

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A Long Way from Chicago, by Richard Peck

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge

The House of Sixty Fathers, by Meindert DeJong

King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls (it took three of us to finish it, because we cried too hard to talk)

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park (biography)

Mabel Riley, by Marthe Jocelyn

Her Own Song, by Ellen Howard

Charlie Bucket series, by Roald Dahl (yes, it’s a series!)

The Gawgon and the Boy, by Lloyd Alexander

Shanghai Shadows, by Lois Ruby

Adult (I’m skipping romances, since they have their own post)

Seven Miracles that Saved America, by Chris Stewart (non-fiction)

The 5000 Year Leap, by Cleon W. Skousen (non-fiction)

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Emmuska Orczy

Daughters in my Kingdom, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (non-fiction)

The Work and the Glory series, by Gerald N. Lund

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson

Throstleford, by Susan Evans McCloud

Mary Russell series, by Laurie R. King (Sherlock Holmes when older)

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Sherlock Holmes series, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Night of Blacker Darkness, by Dan Wells

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why, by Amanda Ripley (non-fiction)

Lost Off the Grand-Banks, by Arthur Catherall

The Boys in the Boat, by Gregory Mone (biography)

Charlie’s Monument, by Blaine M. Yorgason

The Diddakoi, by Rumer Godden

Lady Astronaut series, by Mary Robinette Kowal

White Fang, by Jack London

 

Whew! And if that doesn’t keep you busy for a few days, you must read faster than I do!

What favorite of yours isn’t on this list?

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Favorite Historical Books, #2

I’ve been dividing my favorite history books into three sections for you: 1) ancient history, 2) medieval and renaissance history, and 3) 1700-and-later. More or less. 😉 You know I’m not always very precise…

So here’s the Medieval/Renaissance History Favorites randomly within each category:

Juvenile

Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, by Arnold Lobel (picture book)

Brave Margaret, by Robert D. San Souci

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell

A Murder for Her Majesty, by Beth Hilgartner

Dragon Cauldron series, by Laurence Yep

Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander

Dragon Keeper, by Carole Wilkinson

Young Adult (several of these are “fantasy in historical setting”)

The Case of the Marble Monster, by I.G. Edmonds (short Japanese mysteries)

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, by Barbara Cohen

Waterfall series, by Lisa Tawn Bergren

The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley

The Squire’s Tale series, by Gerald Morris (starts off hilarious and ends up so sad, fair warning)

Outlaw Princess of Sherwood, by Nancy Springer

Stravaganza series, and The Falconer’s Knot, by Mary Hoffman

The Ranger’s Apprentice & Brotherband series (plural), by John Flanagan (fantasy in semi-historical setting)

Rhiannon, by Vicki Grove

The Queen’s Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner

Toads and Diamonds, by Heather Tomlinson

The Cassaforte Chronicles series, by V. Briceland

Sisters of the Sword, by Maya Snow

The Wild Orchid, by Cameron Dokey

The Edge on the Sword, by Rebecca Tingle

Kingdom of Aggadorn series, by Liz McCraine (fantasy romance)

Samurai Detective series, by Dorothy Hoobler (based on the real Judge Ooka, who also appears in The Marble Monster, earlier on this list)

Adult

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (and here I’m going to let down you traditionalists by recommending you find an abridgment that cuts out all the political commentary of the day)

Seven Women: And the Secret of their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas (crosses time periods) (non-fiction)

Other Heroes in The Book of Mormon, by Jay Fullmer (non-fiction)

Simon the Coldheart, by Georgette Heyer (romance)

Firebird, by Mercedes Lackey

MacLeod and de Piaget series, by Lynn Kurland (romance)

Ladyhawke, by Joan D. Vinge

Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters

Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn

 

There you go! That should give you enough for a few days. 😉 Did I miss something that should be on the list?

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Favorite Historical Books, #1

I think I’m going to divide my favorite history books into three sections for you: 1) ancient history, 2) medieval and renaissance history, and 3) 1700-and-later. More or less. 😉 You know I’m not always very precise…

So here’s the Ancient History Favorites randomly within each category:

Juvenile & Young Adult

Great Myths & Legends, by Childcraft

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park

Mara, Daughter of the Nile, and The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

Deborah, by H.B. Moore

Behold Your Queen, by Gladys Malvern

Hercules and Other Tales from Greek Myths, by Olivia E Coolidge

Mark of the Thief series, by Jennifer A Nielsen

Alphabet of Dreams, by Susan Fletcher

Nobody’s Princess series, by Esther M. Friesner

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

Adult

The Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points That Saved the World, by Christ Stewart (crosses time periods) (non-fiction)

Researching History for Fantasy Writers, by Dayle A. Dermatis (non-fiction)

The Whole Armor of God, by David C. Belt (non-fiction)

The Robe, by Douglas C. Lloyd

The Lance of Kanana, by Harry Willard French

The Donkey’s Gift, by Thomas M. Coffey

 

It seems I need some recommendations for good historical fiction in the pre-medieval time period! So, tell me, all you historical readers— what do you recommend? 😀

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

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

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

Christmas Fantasy

Today, I want to talk about fantasy tropes.

A trope is a commonly occurring motif or cliche, by the way. In Romance, for instance, you have a Happily Ever After. In a Detective Story, you get the big “reveal” explanation at the end.  While I talk, you can think about your favorite fantasies and what tropes they have.

(I’ve capitalized the tropes on purpose, for easy recognition.)

Almost all fantasy stories have a Hero, who is sometimes a Farm Boy or Poor Orphan but sometimes a Secret Prince (and sometimes both). Sometimes he’s a Chosen One, with or without a Prophecy. Sometimes he’s marked with a Special Sign that tells people he’s the Hero, and sometimes he’s so ordinary that nobody, including himself, believes that he’s the One. Sometimes the story starts with the Hero ready to Combat Evil, but sometimes the story starts earlier and the Hero has to Come of Age before he can really face his adversary.

Our Hero isn’t the only one in the story, of course. The Hero usually has Allies to help him Conquer His Enemies. There might be a Mentor of some kind. Sometimes his Allies include a couple of Best Friends, and sometimes, unfortunately, a Traitor. There’s sometimes a Damsel (or Dude) in Distress. On the other side, there’s almost always some sort of Dark Lord, though he might be called something else, and he has his Minions of Darkness, of course.

Most fantasy stories are about Good vs Evil, so all these characters will eventually face each other. They frequently go on some sort of Quest first, to gather a Weapon or learn how to use the Magic, or to collect their Allies. Sometimes they have a more ordinary Magic and depend more on personality characteristics to rally the troops and win, and sometimes their Magic is so spectacular that we can hardly believe it. There are usually some intermediate battles to fight before the Last Battle. The Protagonists (or Good Guys) will appear outmatched, but in the end, after several apparent defeats, they will Conquer their Enemies.

My favorite story has a lot of these fantasy tropes. The Hero is a Poor Boy (a carpenter instead of a farm boy, and living with his mother and step-father instead of being an orphan), but he’s also a Secret Prince whose real father is a king. He’s a Chosen One, Prophecy and all, but the Special Signs were all temporary, so he grows up with almost everyone believing he is totally ordinary. There are a few hints that he’s Special, but they are easily overlooked. The story starts with him as a baby, so he definitely needs a Coming of Age before he can Fight Evil.

As usual, he’s not the only one in the story. After he Comes of Age, he travels on a Quest, though is less physical than it is philosophical. He gets to know his real father, the King, and is given Power from him to save his Kingdom from the Dark Lord. Most people don’t believe him when he says who he is, but he is recognized by a Mentor and still Gathers Allies. He has *twelve* Best Friends. He combines the Rescue of Damsels/Dudes with the Quest to Learn to Use Magic, saving many as he goes. He even uses his Magic to bring one of his Allies back to life, which makes his Enemies very nervous.

This is the ultimate Good vs Evil story, and as the Hero’s Allies and Magic increase, the Minions of Darkness fight back. The Minions, of course, have a bigger army and more weapons and hold the current power in the Kingdom. Even though the Dark Lord commands his Armies from a distance through his chief Minions, his influence is strong, and his armies outnumber the Good Guys. They have no intention of letting the Hero gain power in the the Kingdom.

Despite the Good Guys being outmatched, they continue to gain Allies, partly because of his Magic, but mostly because of his personality. Then a Traitor among the Hero’s Best Friends swings the Battle to the side of the Enemies, right at a pivotal time. Our Hero is captured, illegally tried, tortured, and killed. Yes, really. It’s not a trick of the Author. And yes, it’s terrible.

It looks like the Chosen One and the Good Guys have lost. For three days, the Dark Lord’s Minions celebrate. Evil has won. The Hero is dead, and his Allies are hiding in fright. The story seems to be over.

Then our Hero pulls out his next bit of Magic. As it turns out, his capture and death were all part of The Plan. He uses his Power to come back from Death, and his Allies rejoice. The Enemies start the chase all over again, but they can’t catch our Hero anymore. Now he’s the Not-so-Secret Prince, and he rules the Kingdom. He doesn’t wipe out his Enemies yet, but only because he’s waiting for everyone to pick sides before the Final Battle.

Pretty cool story, huh? The best part is that it isn’t a Fantasy Story at all. It’s not even fiction. It has certainly inspired a lot of imaginary fantasies, in blatant or subtle ways, but it’s real, and we’re all part of the Epilogue.

So, in this Christmas season, I encourage you to read The Story with your family and think about the Hero of us all. (If you haven’t figured it out and need to know where to find The Story, let me know. I suspect you have The Book somewhere in your house.)

I wish for His Peace to be a Power in your life.
M. 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. 🙂

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

Writing Process, Book 2 (Part 2)

With the help of my critique group, I improved the setting, description, and physical cues of my second book. But they still complained that the first third was too slow. (By the time we reached halfway, there were no brakes on the story and no complaints about pacing.) I tried this and that to increase the tension and the plot movement, and it improved, but people still complained.

After rewriting things several times, I wanted to tear out my hair. Yeah, being an author is sometimes not much fun at all. Then I had to go out-of-state to help my parents declutter–again. Since I knew I’d be too busy to actually write, I decided it was a good time to do a lot of brainstorming and figure out how to fix my pacing at last. One advantage is that my mom is very familiar with my stories and characters and is willing to talk to me about them.

We went over each chapter, one at a time. For some of them, we figured out small things to increase the tension and pacing. Then we got to chapter six. Plot: inadequate. Chapter character goal: missing and unfulfilled. Dialogue: lots and lots of that… Pacing: very, very slow. We tried to fix the poor thing, but eventually decided it was just broken.

*We will pause for a moment of silence for a dead chapter.*

I hate broken chapters. I really do. This wasn’t my first one and probably won’t be my last. Still don’t like it.

We talked it over for two days and still got nowhere. Though Mom knows my stories and characters, she’s a novice with story structure and beats and other writerly jargon. Then one of my author friends kindly offered to call and chat about the problem. We brainstormed several bad solutions (okay, not bad, just not very workable for the rest of the story) and then finally hit on something I hope works.

Yes, I still have to rewrite the entire chapter. No, I’m still not happy about it. Yes, I’ll do it anyway. And again, and again, and again, until it’s finally good enough to share with the rest of you.

What are the lessons here?

  1. When you get stuck, ask for help.
  2. Don’t give up.
  3. You won’t succeed without lots of hard work.
  4. Don’t call a book finished until you’ve fixed everything you can possibly fix and polished it until it shines.

My brain died on my “vacation,” but as soon as I get it back in working order, chapter six is up for a complete remodel, and I have a page of other edits to incorporate. (That doesn’t sound as bad, but they aren’t simple “change this word” things. Nope, more rewriting all over the book.) Once I finish (*pause for hysterical laughter*), I hope to have it ready for beta readers. Or at least alpha ones. My publisher would still like me to get it out in a reasonable amount of time after the first one.

(Update: That chapter passed my critique group. Another chapter still has to go through the process. Sigh.)

Wish me luck, and good luck in your own writing,

M. C. Lee

LTUE 2019 Business Class Notes

Every year for several years now, I’ve gone to the Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi/fantasy conference in Utah. It’s sort of a writing conference, and sort of not. They also have art classes, and a game room, and presentations of academic papers, and meet-and-greets.

But I mostly go for the writing classes. And the business classes. And the worldbuilding classes. And the oh-that-sounds-super-cool classes. Two of my family members got to attend a weapons class with real weapons. They raved for weeks.

I wrote about my other classes here, and now I’m moving on to the business classes. If the class was a panel, I didn’t list the speakers and I didn’t keep track of who said what.

Finances
Rules to pass audits: Keep mouth shut. Answer questions clearly and succinctly. Don’t volunteer anything.
One-time sales tax must be paid right after. Regular sales must have license.

On the Road
Road stuff is no fun
Write what you love, and lots of it

Video trailer
Stock video sites for video clips
Kaden live free software or Adobe premiere
Sony Vegas good for beginners $50
DaVinci resolve free

Tools of the Trade
Scrivener is good for disorganized
Storyoriginapp.com, Prolifwords, and Mybookcave for reader magnets
Bundle rabbit
Kdp rocket

Working with Reviewers
Be polite & professional
Try to build a connection
Kirkus reviews are useless

What I Wish I Knew When I Started Indie, by M.A. Nichols
Don’t wait for book to be perfect
Income is the goal, not sales
Write more books!

Realistic Self-Publishing (all notes for rest of page), by Keary Taylor
Smashwords is a common source of piracy
Publish 2nd book before spending money on ads
She spends $60/day on ads
Be organized

Are you willing to:
Find & hire editors, proofreaders, cover artists, & formatters?
Manage your own marketing & PR?
Learn a lot of new skills?
Get creative with books AND entrepreneurship?
Treat this as business?

Average costs:
Editor/proofreader: $300 for 70K book
Format: $175 e & print
Cover designer: $150+
=$600-1000 to launch book that has a chance

Series starter marketing:
Only book: launch $2.99-5.99 depending on genre/length (pref 2.99-4.99)
Once established, first-in-series:
Full price= more cost to marketing
$0.99= charging a little helps pay for marketing
Free= no risk for readers

Follow-ups in series:
Increase by $1 each book (2.99, 3.99, 4.99)
Same price for each in series
Same price until last book, then increase $1

Backmatter:
Immediately after The End, have lead-in to next book with LINKS
Also by with LINKS
Thanks for reading, ask for review
Author bio
Social links
Follow on Amazon
Newsletter signup
CHOOSE SOME, NOT ALL. Keep it clean & simple.

Don’t get caught up in swag or book signings. They’re fun, but not profitable.

2000 books published/day on Amazon
WILL have to pay for visibility
Readers WILL forget you
Market constantly changes
For full-time, can’t take this casually

Set up social media sites, Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon Author Page, website.
Study what other authors are doing

Places to advertise:
Facebook
Amazon Ads
Bookbub
Other paid sites (in order of effectiveness)
eReader News Today
FreeBooksy
BargainBooksy
Free Kindle Books
RobinReads
FussyLibrarian
BookBarbarian
BookAdrenaline
BookSends
ManyBooks

Schedule sales around book releases
Stack ads (same day or close together)
Cycle ads, including backlist
Plan at least 6 weeks ahead (sites fill up early)
Mailing list advertisers WILL list permafree books

Downfalls: Genre bouncing, not interacting/getting personal with fans, not collaborating with other authors

Whew! I feel overwhelmed now. How about you?

Happy writing,

M. C. Lee