Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver

This month I’m celebrating YA fiction with posts, prompts, and guest bloggers all dealing with the genre I write. I had a tough time picking a book to highlight, and then I remembered Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver.

As a child, I was first introduced to the story through the 1974 movie that was made from the novel. I only saw the last quarter of it, but I was drawn to the story about four siblings trying to hold their family together in the North Carolina mountains after their widowed father dies. I know what attracted me was the setting and people looking and speaking like my relatives. Appalachian stories have always snagged my attention, especially when I was a kid because it often seemed to me that everyone lived in cities, and that environment was alien to me.

At my first library job, I found the novel and read it. The story is told from the POV of fourteen-year-old Mary Call. She takes over her family when her father dies because her eighteen-year-old sister Devola is “cloudy-headed”. Her biggest help comes from her brother Romey, who is twelve. They also have to look after their five-year-old sister.

A Heroine You Can Root For

One thing I love about the novel is the character of Mary Call. She is an inferno of determination. Following their father’s instructions, Mary Call and Romey bury him in an unmarked grave in the mountains and then try to keep up the pretense that he’s alive they won’t get separated. But Mary Call also comes across as a realistic fourteen-year-old, who doesn’t understand much of the adult world. The kids’ lives go from bad to worse before Mary Call realizes that she can’t keep the promises she made to her father, but she hangs on as long as she can, like the loyal daugher she is.

A Setting You Can Live In

Another great quality of the novel is the setting. I feel like I’m experiencing life in the Appalachian mountains. To make money, the kids resort to wildcrafting, the science and art of collecting wild plants for medicine, as their mother had done. So the setting is more than just a backdrop to signal the poverty the kids lives in.

If you get a chance to see the movie version of Where the Lilies Bloom, you won’t regret it. It’s an excellent adaptation of a book, sticking closely to the novel and capturing its tone. According to Wikipedia, it was filmed in North Carolina and local residents were used in small parts. I love it when a movie uses authentic locations. Several years ago, the History Channel made about the Hatfield and McCoy feud, which took place in West Virginia and Kentucky. They filmed it in Romania. Huh?

If you’d like to read about another one of my favorite YA novels, click here for my review of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

What are your favorite YA novels?

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Every writer should own a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Yes, that E.B. White. I bought my copy when a professor required it for a class. I’d forgotten how essential it is until author Edwina Perkins recommended it in a workshop I took at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. The reason why I forgot is that this book teaches the very basics in good writing, going over rules I now know instinctively but forgot how I knew them. Those rules are so important to any kind of writing that I’m perusing the book. I can’t read it cover to cover or my brain will pop. But I’m finding it so helpful to review chapters as I tackle the edit of my WIP novel.

I own the third edition There’s a fourth available, but aside from a forward, I couldn’t find any differences. I studied the table of contents are identical in both volumes. But be sure to get the latest edition. Writing style does change over time and it might contain a few, small differences.

Including the index, my copy isn’t even a hundred pages long. But it has so much to offer. I’m eager to reread chapter four, “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused”, such as the substitution of “utilize” for “use” and the explanation that there are no degrees of unique. Unique means “without like or equal.” So if I’m describing a book, it can only be “unique”. The book can’t be “very unique” or “more unique”. I love seeing a pet peeve of mine upheld. Chapter five, “An Approach to Style”, lists twenty-one tips to make our writing understandable.

What books do you recommend for editing?

Christmas Book Giveaway!

CHRISTMAS BOOK GIVEAWAY! To celebrate the Christmas season, I’m holding a drawing for the prize package in the picture.

Almost everything you see is from the Buckeye State. The candies are from Marie’s Candies, founded in West Liberty, Ohio. The ornament comes from the shop Celebrate Local, which features only products made in Ohio. From the Lake to the River is a collection of short stories all set in Ohio, past and present, by Ohio authors, including my YA mystery “Debt to Pay”. Although stories in Christmas fiction off the beaten path take you as far away as the fantasy realm of Callidora and ancient Bethlehem, three of the six Christmas stories are set in Ohio. My YA mystery “A Rose from the Ashes” takes place during a snow-bound December in southeast Ohio.

TO ENTER: Leave a comment on any post here or on my Instagram or Facebook pages from now until 5 p.m. Dec.15. I will announce the winner on Dec.16.

You must be a U.S resident and 18 years or older. If you are younger than 18, you must provide proof of permission from your parents. If your name is drawn, you have two weeks after I contact you to claim the prize.

I’m so excited to give you all a chance to sample the best of the Buckeye State!

Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel

When you’re done with NaNoWriMo, you’re faced with the hardest but I think most rewarding part of writing–editing. This phase can make you want to tear your hair out or tear your manuscript up, but it will add magic to your prose if you stick to it. Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel by Stephanie Morrill and Jill Williamson provides all kinds of help through this crucial process.

Edit Your Novel is an inaccurate title because the books covers so much more than that. A little over half of the book concerns editing, both macro and micro. Don’t know what those words mean? Get the book because it will explain that macro- editing is revising the big issues, such as character development and theme. Micro-editing is all the tiny things that need taken care of, like knowing when to insert or remove commas.

One of the most helpful sections under micro-editing is the chapter on punctuation. Author Jill Williamson sets out the rules from how to punctuate dialogue to how to correctly type and use en-dashes and em-dashes. I would have loved to have had this handy guide earlier in my career

The other half of the book provides all kinds of advice on how to get published with chapters on how traditional publishing works, how to write a synopsis and a query, find a literary agent, and deal with rejection.

The extra chapters at the end are the kind of bonus material I love. There’s self-editing checklist, brainstorming ideas, and the authors’s list of weasel words and phrases, which are words and phrases each author falls into the habit of using over and over again in their first draft. “Just” is a particular weasel word of mine. When I edit, I have to find them and retain only the ones that actually serve a purpose.

For those of us who’ve found so much help in Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel or on the Go Teen Writer’s website, there’s good news. Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel is coming out December 3! Be sure to pre-order a copy.

What books on editing do you recommend?

The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries by Otto Penzler

Since I love mysteries, picking one to feature this month is so difficult. So I chose one book with a ton of mysteries, The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries by Otto Penzler. The series of books under the Black Lizard banner is a great way to sample the best in mystery short fiction since the genre was created. I own four in the series, and Locked Room Mysteries is my favorite.

Locked room mysteries and impossible crimes are a subgenre of crime fiction as old as the genre itself. Edgar Allan Poe’s first published mystery short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, is a locked room mystery and the first story in the collection. The sixty-eight stories are arranged in different categories, such as the seven “most popular and frequently reprinted impossible-crime stories of all time”, stabbing under impossible circumstances, people who disappear when they couldn’t possibly do so, and murdered bodies found without any way for the murderer to have reached or left the victim.

After reading so many of these stories, I’ve noticed a trend in locked room mysteries: an author either hits it out of the ballpark or fouls badly. There isn’t any room in the subgenre for an okay story. The explanation either works so well it astonishes readers or is so contrived it makes them groan.

Below are my favorite stories from this collection.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

One of the best Sherlock Holmes stories. A young woman hires Holmes after her sister dies under mysterious circumstances, her last words being “The speckled band!”

The Doomdorf Mystery by Melville Davisson Post

This story features one of my favorite detectives Uncle Abner, a strong-minded, Christian cattleman, who lives in West Virginia before the Civil War. The Uncle Abner stories, written between 1911 and 1928 may be the first example of historical mysteries.

Uncle Abner accompanies Squire Randolph to confront Doomdorf, a man whose liquor is raising havoc in the area. When they arrive at his home, they find he’s been shot while locked in a room overlooking a cliff. The solution is one of the most imaginative I’ve ever read.

A Knife Between Brothers by Manly Wade Wellman

I enjoy this story because the setting is so unusual for its time. Written in 1947, the detective is David Return, a policeman and member of the Tsichah tribe. His grandfather is the senior policeman on the reservation. David goes to settle a dispute between two elderly brothers and finds one murdered. He knows the living brother wasn’t strong enough to commit the crime, but how was the man murdered in an isolated cabin?

The Twelfth Statue by Stanley Ellin

This is another story I liked because of the setting, a B-movie unit working in Italy in the 1960’s. Mean, greedy, lecherous movie producer Alexander File disappears from a movie studio near Rome one night. With no shortage of suspects, the Italian police get nowhere. The writer working on the movie is equally baffled until he watches the finished product.

The Problem of the Old Oak Tree by Edward D. Hoch

Edward D. Hoch was the master of the mystery short story. One of his detectives, who appears in this story, only solves impossible crimes. Dr. Sam Hawthorne practices medicine in a rural American town in the 1920’s through the 1940’s. A stunt man dies in a scene being filmed near the small town. He’s found strangled with a wire after jumping from an airplane. And there’s no way anyone could have strangled him after he left the plane.

The Locked Bathroom by H.R.F.Keating

This is a fun story. Shrewish Mrs. Marchpane is in the bathroom with her husband when he disappears from the shower. No one can explain the disappearance but the cleaning lady Mrs. Craggs, who figures out the Great Locked Bathroom Mystery isn’t that mysterious at all.

What locked room or impossible crime stories do you recommend?

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