My family and I have had three incredible years in Bavaria, but it’s time to leave. Therefore, in honor of our time spent in Europe and fantasy readers everywhere, I’m posting photos of some phenomenal places we’ve visited. After all, what’s more fairytale-esque than cool castles and resplendent palaces?
This post is all about Heidelberg Castle, one of my favorite places. It was built during the Renaissance and is considered one of the most important legacies of the time period. We stopped here on a whim to take a break from driving. Literally, we saw the castle on the hill and thought, “Let’s stretch our legs.” We didn’t realize at the time just how amazing it was.
The castle is accessible by a narrow, curvy, one-way road that is tricky to navigate. The ruins are incredible and worth the effort of getting to them, but it’s the castle grounds that truly steal your breath.
The grounds are built in levels that start above the castle. You descend stone stairways from each expansive lawn to the next, all the way down to the ruins. It reminds me of the hanging gardens of Babylon.
Just look at this ivy! Talk about romantic.
It’s worth mentioning that all photos are untouched and taken with my embarrassingly old cellphone, so you can imagine what these would look like if professionally enhanced.
If I had to name a favorite epic-adventure fantasy writer, it would be Marty C. Lee. She’s pretty new to the publishing world, but her Unexpected Heroes series is already making its mark with its refreshingly original cast of characters, wildly entertaining adventures, and a dollop of humor.
For sixteen-year-old Nia, the best part of becoming an adult is the party. Even while holding it on land for the sake of her gill-less friends, she can flirt with all the cute boys. But her mom’s gift is unexpected— an old treasure map and the news that her long-lost dad might be alive. With her friends and a cute suitor, Nia follows her missing dad’s trail across the ocean waves to a supposedly cursed island. Will she find adventure, answers, and even love? Maybe. Unless the curse is real. Romance and danger swirl with the tide, and undercurrents could sweep her away.
Sounds exciting, right? It is.
I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Lee, and her responses are as entertaining as her stories. See for yourself…
Why write fantasy?
Oh, several reasons. Many genres tend to have an associated emotion, like “love” for romance or “fear” for horror. Fantasy leans toward “wonder” and “hope,” and I like those. And there’s no limit to the imagination in fantasy. I can make up all sorts of things, and as long as I back them up, they’re totally believable. I get a lot of fun out of that. 😉
What do you feel is your greatest writing strength?
I’ve been told I’m great at worldbuilding, dialogue, and relatable characters. I’d also add “relationships,” which includes friends and family.
What is something you struggle with as a writer?
Descriptions, pacing, and lack of confidence. I just edit the first two until I get them right. As for the third, I’m trying the “fake it till you make it” route.
What inspired your Unexpected Heroes series?
One of my children was bragging about her art and writing talents and said her art came from her dad but the writing was all hers. So I pulled out my file of old stories and tried to convince her she got it from me. She wasn’t impressed with anything (one’s own children are notoriously hard to impress) until she came to four random paragraphs and the character descriptions that went with them. “This,” she said. “I want the rest of this story.” Well, there was no story, so she asked me questions for two hours until she thought I had enough to work with. I outlined a six-chapter short story, which grew into a novel and then a series. Go figure! Oddly, I had already used the paragraphs in a class in college, even before the story was written. We had to make up a language (just a sample), so I translated those four paragraphs into their four separate languages and turned them in. (Got an A, thank you.)
You have four incredibly different main characters in your fantasy series: a shapeshifting healer, a gilled translator, a fire mage, and a winged messenger. How did you come up with these incredible characters?
I made them up in high school to live in a world I created for an assignment in junior high. I was playing around and put elemental stuff, language stuff, and color stuff in the same “jar” and shook hard. Then I dumped all the pieces on the figurative table and rearranged them incessantly until they looked good and were fun to play with. Not everything stayed the same when I wrote the book, though. Ludik’s profession changed, for instance, and Zefra’s hair is… complicated, and I had to make other tweaks to fit the story. And my personality class in college affected the way they behave. (Interesting note, if you’re a personality-test lover. No matter which test I give them, they all end up in a different category.)
Which character is your favorite, and why?
I’m sorry, did you just ask me to choose a favorite child? Good parents don’t do that.
Which of your characters are you the most like in terms of personality?
Half Ahjin, half Zefra, with a sprinkle of Ludik. Definitely not Nia. To write Nia, I usually think about what I wouldn’t do.
You have a lot of worldbuilding! Do you just dump everything in there?
Oh, no. You see a fraction of what I’ve made up, because I don’t want to clog the story. Sure, YOU know the Hotaru have a turquoise and yellow firefly, but I know the colors, emblems, and main products for all sixteen Iskrin clans. I know the naming conventions for all the Darrendrakar tribes (and please don’t ask me why they all have to be stubbornly different). I know the ranks and titles of all the priests in all four religions (and Ahjin uses one wrong in book 1 because he just doesn’t care). I know Nia’s entire family by age and hair color (fifteen siblings, guys!). I know what sounds are found in each language and have at least a guess at which Earth accent would sound the most like them. I have a list of flower meanings and name meanings. I have pages and pages of research and reference notes. If any of that sounds like fun, let me know which, and I’ll stick it on my website or something, but mostly it’s just for me.
If you don’t stick it in the books, why bother inventing it?
I do use a dash of it for flavoring in the books, and by figuring out an entire category at once, it means I won’t mess up something down the road. Also, the next time I need something from that category, I already have it.
You have a new release, Wave of Dreams. Can you tell us a little about your book?
Love to! Each of my books in Unexpected Heroes concentrates on a different main character. Wave of Dreams is Nia’s book, so you know right away you’re in for a rollicking adventure, since Nia loves fun! You’ve already read the blurb, so let me tell you something else, instead. Warning! Minor Spoiler Alert! One of my beta readers, way back when, complained that I skipped over the exciting parts of an ocean voyage in book 1. Nope, skipped the boring parts. No, it must be exciting, with pirates or something! No, really, I skipped that part because it was boring. But, in her honor, pirates ended up in book 3. So if you like pirates and castaways and fights against overwhelming odds, read Wave of Dreams. 🙂
Wave of Dreams is the third book in your Unexpected Heroes series, after Wind of Choice and Seed of War. Can we expect a fourth book soon?
It depends on your definition of soon… Mark your calendars for early 2021 if you want to find out who’s behind the new cult preaching the downfall of the gods and hunting Zefra and her friends. I will also be releasing a set of free short stories much sooner, with one story from each culture in Kaiatan. They star minor characters from the series and are spoiler-free no matter which order you read them (series first or stories first).
See? I told you she was fun. If you want to learn more about Ms. Lee’s books, you can check out her website and follow her on social media.
Marty C. Lee has told stories for most of her life, but only recently started sharing them with people. She placed in a short story contest in 2017 and published her first novel in 2019. If you catch her muttering to thin air, she’s probably writing a scene or arguing with one of her characters.
When did you start writing, and what inspired your decision?
I have always loved telling stories. Writing? It’s been a rocky relationship. I loved writing when I was in early grade school. I even wrote a book that was bound and put in the school library. Then “older” school happened. Maybe many of you had a better experience than I did, but grades 4 through college sucked the joy of writing out of me.
Then I moved out of the country.
This was before social media, during the ancient era of group emails. I would write every week to my friends and family.
I had SO much satisfaction writing about my crazy cultural experiences. The joy came back—and here I am.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
Ooooh. Good question. I’m actually both: I loosely plot a book, then pants my way through the fleshing-out. Sometimes my pantsing takes my story in a different direction—and I adjust my loose plot accordingly. I love when seemingly unrelated pieces move together. It makes me (and my readers) laugh.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you keep writing?
I don’t ever run short of ideas. I DO run short of self-confidence, motivation, and time.
I’m still figuring out how to deal with expectations in a healthy way. What keeps me writing is silencing my inner critic and editor when I’m initially “brain-vomiting” my stories out. I have to remind myself and trust myself that I’ll clean up the lame-ness of my ugly first draft later. Just because I don’t have the perfect wording or idea for something now, doesn’t mean it won’t come later. I have to remind myself that I can write place-holders in the middle of my stories and fill in the awesome later when I’m not stressing about it so much.
When I’m avoiding writing (due to a lack of confidence or motivation), I talk to fellow writers and friends. It helps to not feel alone in the struggle.
What do you do in your free time when you’re not writing?
I have a large family. That’s where a lot of my free time goes. Honestly, my family is my main focus and writing is my “free time” gig. Also, I’m kind of addicted to projects and big ideas, so I usually have a couple of art/music/dance/creative projects in the works. I’m a sucker for functional art. I also love to read – but that’s a given.
Where did you get the idea for For the Birds—Uinta Urraca of Utah?
I’m married to an ecologist, and we’re really good at coming up with hilarious ideas together. One night we were talking about stories that would be quick and fun to read, and the ideas started to build as we bounced them back and forth. Utah came up because we know a lot of people there. And it starts with “U.”
Are you a bird watcher, and do you have a favorite bird?
I like to watch birds in the casual sense. I had fun driving around this morning thinking about birds as tiny dinosaurs. I like bluebirds. You know… happiness and all. When it comes to sound, canaries are amazing. I once walked past a school library that had a canary singing in it. It was magic.
Which of your characters is your favorite, and why?
It’s hard to pick between my two main characters. Trisini is my spirit animal, but Sammy is my comfort zone. There’s a character named Norgan in one of my future books that has me laughing every time I write about him.
Trisini and Sam’s interactions in For the Birds—Uinta Urraca of Utah are priceless. Can readers expect to see these characters in your next story?
The For the Birds series isn’t really about the birds. (*gasp!*) It’s about Tris and Sammy’s hilarious interactions, adventures, and relationships. So yes, readers can expect to see lots of Trisini and Sammy in every For the Birds book!
Can you give us a preview of your next story?
That depends on what my readers vote on. One of the fun things about this series is that books A-Z can be read in any order. So I’ll be writing them in whatever order my readers vote. Currently the vote on the Facebook page is between Alaska and Patagonia. I will say if my readers vote for Alaska, the next book will probably come out faster, as I have a good portion of the Alaska one written already, where I only have a general outline and some rough scenes written for the Patagonia book.
My preview comment for the Alaska book is that it probably has one of the worst salmon puns in history. Ooooh yeah.
Sunny Lark likes hanging out with Bronies, Trekkies, and friendly fans of Tolkien, Zelda, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. Sunny would live in the Disneyworld castle if it were possible. Writing clean and hilarious new and young adult fiction is Sunny Lark’s cup of herbal tea. Follow Sunny on Facebook, and get Sunny’s latest story, For the Birds—Uinta Urraca of Utah, on Amazon.