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.
Here’s the blurb from her latest release, Wave of Dreams:
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).
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.