Tag Archives: Honor and Lies

What I’m Working On

It’s Revision Hell time for The Guardian Book 2 (Sharlene Gallagher). That’s the hard part. And the fun part. And the work part. And the part where I get to research and play with the words to make them their best. I’m doing this Fast Draft style. So far I’m loving everything about Fast Draft. I don’t think Revision Hell will change that. I’ll keep you posted.

This is also the week Letting Go by Mary Beth Lee debuts on Amazon. YAY! (blurb at the end).

Great news for one of my books: Honor & Lies has been in the top 50 almost all month for paid coming-of-age fiction stories on kindle. That’s awesome. In two more months the ebook will be available everywhere.

If you have questions about publishing, ask away. If I don’t have the answer, I might be able to help you find it. If you need motivation and encouragement, let me know. Writing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. I you’re like me and you’ve gotten bogged down with life and change and rejection, and you wanted to write but now you just don’t know, go get The Artist’s Way and do the work. It changed my life.

Letting Go blurb: Clarissa Dye doesn’t put down roots. Stearns, Oklahoma, is a stopping point on her path to self-reliance. And God? Don’t even get her started. Enter Mackenzie Dillon and her cowboy dad, Jed. From the moment Mackenzie runs into Clarissa, the little girl worms her way into Clarissa’s heart, which proves to be terrifying. The fact that her strong father happens to work his way in there, too, only scares Clarissa more. Letting Go: a story of forgiveness, second chances and finding a love that lasts forever.

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Easier isn’t always right

This 110+ degree heat is driving me crazy. Crazy was used in the 186Os. Unlike the words genetics or cool (as in neat, not the weather). One if the neat things abut writing historical is looking up etymology. Not that I got everything right in Honor and Lies. The problem with Texas other than the heat, at least during Civil War times, was that before the war, former slaves were free, but once the war started, in several areas, free people of color were enslaved even if they had papers proving they were free. I chose to make the North Texas ranch areas slave free for the purpose of my novel. In reality, my research showed a different kind of Underground Railroad in Texas. One that utilized Native American tribes to get those seeking freedom to Mexico. I was shocked that people who had always been free, people who owned property and businesses found themselves enslaved suddenly when Texas joined the South. It didn’t happen everywhere in the state, but it wasn’t uncommon either. We didn’t learn much about slavery when I was in school. I think we do a better job now. In England our tour guide told us they spend a long time talking about the slave trade, and he said they are very honest about confronting tough truths. I know any time we talk about racism and prejudice in class, it can leave an uncomfortable awkwardness if the teacher doesn’t do the pre-discussion work and then facilitate. It’s often easier to skip the discussion altogether. Easier isn’t always right, though.

Fair and Forgiveness

“When I was a kid, my mom was murdered by a serial killer.”

Week one of my teaching career, Two Truths and a Lie.
I searched my mind for the right thing to say. You can’t lie about something like that!
But then he followed with, “No, really. The killer went to this school.”
And I remembered the headlines. I remembered the stories.

His mother had been killed by a serial killer who had graduated from this school, and this child was using the fact in a game I’d planned as an icebreaker.

Years later the young man had the chance to witness the execution of his mother’s killer. He thought it would bring closure. He said all it brought was sadness.

Sometimes, I think there are things that should be unforgivable.
But then I weigh the things I’ve done, and I realize, no way do I want God to hold my sins against me. If He weighed our sins, how would it work? Would I be judged against my grandma? Well, Mary Beth, I’d like to forgive you, but you don’t measure up to Mary Ella. Or would I get a ringer: Come on in, Mary Beth. You beat Al Capone without even trying.

I read once that forgiveness isn’t for them, it’s for you. Without it you can’t go on, move forward. I’ve seen people destroyed because they can’t move forward. The past crushes them. It doesn’t have to be that way. When we forgive, God gives us peace. The same peace He gives us when He forgives us.

Not too long ago our area was consumed with the murder of a cheerleader. The story had all the salaciousness of a Lifetime movie. The girl was beautiful, she’d snuck out to be with friends. Turned out the girl had been murdered by three of those “friends.” One was her ex-boyfriend. He was prom king to her prom queen, football player to her cheerleader, beautiful, just like her. Only not. The thing that stood out to me about the story wasn’t this, though. It was that the girl’s mother forgave the boy in court. She wasn’t saying he didn’t deserve punishment, but she found a way to forgive him for what he’d done. That forgiveness gave her peace that had alluded her from the time they’d found her daughter’s body.

In Honor and Lies, Sissy doesn’t forgive on the page. I couldn’t write the words even though I realized that lack of forgiveness would lead to a constant search for peace that could never be. At the time I wrote the novel, I was still fighting with the idea that God forgave everything, even the very worst sins. It didn’t seem fair.
Thank GOD He doesn’t work on FAIR.

The Nellie Oleson Factor

When I was a kid I read and watched Little House constantly. I loved to hate Nellie Oleson. To be honest, I wasn’t all that happy when they reformed Nellie and made her into a nice person on the show.
Nellie was the perfect villain. Only she was a kid, so she got away with being awful without us holding her too responsible for the outcomes of her actions.
Cordelia on Buffy was a Nellie Oleson first season.
Mean Girls, yep, Nellie Olesons.
In Honor and Lies Savannah is somewhat of a Nellie Oleson. She’s the main secondary character, but she’s not really likable. In fact, she more than the villain, Miss Celinda, stands in the way of Sissy’s quest.
Sometimes people ask why I let Savannah be so unheroic.
It’s funny because when I first started writing Honor and Lies, Sissy and Savannah were one and the same. I wanted them both to be heros. It wasn’t possible. I tried to make Savannah someone the reader could route for even though she’s such a snot at times. She’s a product of her environment, she’s protected and coddled, and in the end, she’s shocked by the realities of the world she lives in. I hope the reader can have more empathy for Savannah than I ever did for Nellie Oleson.

Bravery

Watching the long lines of Syrian protestors from the safety of my living room TV, I can’t help but wonder if I’d ever be that brave.
These people know soldiers will fire on them. They know hundreds if not thousands of their fellow countrymen have already died. And yet, they still make their way to the streets where they march in non-violent protests of a government regime they feel is corrupt.
Pictures of torture inflicted on young protestors caught and then murdered break my heart.
I don’t know anyone in Syria, and yet, I watch.
I’ve been watching for months, ever since the Egyptians took to the streets to protest Mubarak. Or really, I’ve been watching for a couple of years off and on, since the protestors started marching in Iran.
The Syrian government’s response is something different, something horrible. Nightmarish.
And yet, the protestors continue to march.
And as they march I wonder WOULD I?
Would I be brave enough to defy an authority that has no problem mowing down scores of people in cold blood? Would I be there day after day crying out for freedom, hoping the world would see me, knowing every second there’s a chance my death could be seconds away?
I ask myself the same thing when I read my bible. The martyrs through the ages continued to preach the gospel even when faced with death for doing so.
It’s easy to organize protest rallies in Wichita Falls where the most danger you find is from some angry man who wonders why everyone is being so nice.
It’s easy to show a belief in God and Jesus and profess christianity in Wichita Falls where the most dissent you find is from atheists who feel christianity is filled with hypocrisy and judgment. It’s especially since 90% of the people in the area are christians.
I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to fight for freedom in the face of death. But I sure am glad the news is showing people who are. Those people challenge me. I hope if I’m ever confronted with the reality of what that kind of bravery takes I’ll be able to say yes, I AM THAT BRAVE. I’m afraid my answer would be no, leave me alone.
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Honor and Lies barely touches on the kind of bravery it took for the slaves of the south to run for freedom, but it’s there, especially in the character of James. I remember studying about the Underground Railroad in school and thinking how terrifying it must have been to leave the atrocities you know for the unknown that is freedom. I wondered then if I would be brave enough to take the risk when often that choice ended in death.  Honor and Lies coupon:  50% off for one month: coupon code is LH94Z.

Elizabeth Lee’s Smashwords Author Profile:http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/elizabethlee
Book page to sample or purchase Honor and Lies: http://smashwords.com/b/65497

When Do Dreams Die?

When my fourth grade class found out I was moving to Texas, they were all excited.
Dallas was our main Friday night entertainment, so everyone thought I’d have a horse, live on a ranch, and be connected to the oil industry somehow.
I didn’t know about any of that because Dallas meant one thing to me: Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, which is weird considering I couldn’t even do a cartwheel.
At nine that didn’t matter. I dreamed of two things: being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader or Miss America. Back then your only chance of being Miss America was to be Miss Texas, Miss Oklahoma or Miss Arkansas.
Miss Minnesota NEVER won. I was moving to Texas and my chances were increasing astronomically.
At nine I believed I could do anything.
The move to Texas was a bit of a shock. No ranch, no horse, and while there were oil wells down the street (and around the corner and across the fields…), those wells had nothing to do with my Air Force family.
That fact didn’t stop me from pretending or dreaming.

I remember in kindergarten my teacher crumpled up my paper and threw it away because I colored my people purple. But that didn’t break my dreams. Not even when she told me there was no such thing as a purple people eater. She was wrong. The end. It didn’t bother me that she didn’t realize it. I believed I could be and do anything.

In fourth grade I was mortified when my teacher crumpled up my paper for writing in the margins. (I thought margins meant the area with the holes! Not the area with the lines on both sides.) I believed I be and do anything.

In sixth grade I was mortified that I couldn’t do a cartwheel in PE when everyone else was doing that and more! But my coach didn’t ridicule me, she just had me do somersaults. I believed I could be and do anything.

In eighth grade I was mortified when my math teacher told me girls couldn’t do Algebra and then made me stand at the board in front of the class until I could figure out the right answer. My friends were trying to signal the answer, but I couldn’t see because I had a cold. I sneezed and the teacher wouldn’t even let me go wash my hands. I believed I could be and do anything EXCEPT Algebra! And maybe Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, since by this time I could STILL not do a cartwheel.

I don’t know when the absolute belief in my abilities to be and do anything changed to a quiet acceptance that dreams were just that: figments of an overactive (ridiculously overactive!) imagination.

Some people call this growing up. I mean, come on, Miss America!?! Really? Part of me gets that. But part of me misses that kid with the imagination, that kid with the ability to do and be anything.
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Honor and Lies deals with failure and dreams and daring to live beyond expectations. I wrote it 12 years ago, and I still love the characters. Honor and Lies coupon:  50% off for one month: coupon code is LH94Z. Find the book here.

Failures Define Us If We Let Them

The First Time:
The secrets lived in the books on the top shelf.
Some books were paperback, new, glossy with names Like Southern Living’s Best and The Joy of Cooking, but my favorite was the giant, splotched on the outside red and white flecked, yellowed paged hard back Betty Crocker.
I don’t know how old I was, I think 10, when I first dared to take it from its home and make a meal.
French Toast. I served it as breakfast in bed to Mom and Dad.
After that I was fearless.
I made pie crust and chiffon pies. Popovers. Pasties. Pancakes of every kind imaginable.
Once I nearly burned down the house making a surprise anniversary dinner for my parents. Not because of the cooking, but because I didn’t have any matches to light the candles so rolled up a ton of paper towels and caught them on fire using the electric stovetop. Paper towels burn fast! I was 11 or 12.
The food was good, though.
The burnt spot on the new carpet…well, we just moved furniture around to cover it.
In sixth grade my love of cooking landed me in cake decorating classes.
In high school, I worked for Del Taco, and my favorite job was prep where I’d spend two hours shopping and mixing.
A fearless belief in my abilities to cook anything led me to fun in the kitchen.
I don’t know when or how that changed.
It’s funny that The Artist’s Way has brought it back to me.
My failures in the kitchen became fodder for funny family stories, and I let them identify me. I quit trying.
I’m going to reclaim the fun. Unfortunately, I sold the ancient Betty Crocker Cookbook in a garage sale.
Will I still have failures? I’m sure. But they won’t define me. I won’t let them.
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Honor and Lies deals with failure and dreams and daring to live beyond expectations. I wrote it 12 years ago, and I still love the characters. Honor and Lies coupon:  50% off for one month: coupon code is LH94Z. Find the book here.

Someone to Believe

Sometimes all you need is a chance and someone who believes in you.

It seems pretty generic. I was in a class studying scripts, and my professor gave us the assignment. I was a junior in college, a single mom, a little confused about what I wanted to do with life.

In stepped Dr. Hoffman with the assignment: write a one–act play.

Groans went up around the room, but not from me. I was worried and excited and ready to write.

Years before I’d written on a regular basis, but real life stepped in, and the writing stopped. At least the writing that wasn’t in the form of a paper or news story for my classes.

I don’t remember a lot about the play except it was a young adult romance and I made an A.

Dr. Hoffman didn’t know it then, but he’d rekindled a dream. It just needed a little more time.

Three years later I was done with school, teaching English and newspaper and enjoying life with a job that paid the bills and gave me weekends and summers off. My daughter and husband were suffering through my multiple attempts to become a gourmet cook. I didn’t really know something was missing.

Until Dr. Hoffman called to tell me he was offering a seminar class at the graduate level, and he’d like me to take it.

Two years later, I was done with grad school. All I needed to do was write my thesis.

When I submitted my idea, my committee didn’t hide their doubt. A coming-of-age historical novel set in the pre-Civil War era didn’t seem to fulfill the requirements for the assignment.

Dr. Hoffman stood up for me, said I needed a chance.

Thus Honor and Lies was born.

The research that goes into a book like Honor and Lies was crazy intense. I’m sure I still got some of it wrong.

What I didn’t get wrong: the idea that sometimes all you need is a chance and someone who believes in you.

Thanks for being the person who believed in me!

Garden Tales Because Forgetting Isn’t the Answer

I think my love affair with gardens started as a child enamored with dirt.
It didn’t matter where we lived, dirt was my friend.
You could dig dirt and turn it into roads and mountains and cities and caves.
You could add water to the dirt and turn it into something you could mold, change, create.
On a hot day, water added to dirt left a cool smushy mixture I’d stomp around in for hours.
In the summers I’d spend weeks with my grandparents and their dirt and their gardens. I loved that time.
It was a simple time, a time before we were all so connected, so busy.
Watching seeds turn to plants and plants turn to vegetables and fruits was fascinating to a kid.
Grandma and Grandpa spent hours in the garden. They always let us help.
Back then, I was a master gardener. I grew peas and corn and potatoes and beans and squash and tomatoes and onions and watermelon and more.
Today, I can’t grow much of anything.
A few years ago, I tried.
I had a gorgeous garden in the back yard, but the drought hit and the birds started attacking my tomatoes looking for a way to get to moisture.
We put netting up over the garden, thinking it would help. I guess it did. Unfortunately, it also killed the birds because they got caught in the netting.
I didn’t plant that garden. I just tended it.
Last year I spent hours in the garden. And killed it.
This year I decided to give up on the garden. But my husband bought some plants anyway. We have them in pots on the front porch. Maybe I’ll have more luck with that than with the gardens of my childhood
In my research for Honor and Lies, I learned a lot about plantation systems and dirt. They called an area that ran across the deep south the black belt. The soil there was black and rich and could grown anything. At least a million slaves were forced to work the land there.
Sometimes people like to romanticize the plantation age. They like to think of balls and gorgeous homes and chivalry instead of violence and death and forced servitude.
Honor and Lies is told through the eyes of young women. They get to think of the dirt as a place to play, a place to pretend. By the end they see they’re trapped in a society that won’t let them go just like those birds were trapped in the netting above my garden. I can’t imagine the lives the slaves led. I’m sure I didn’t capture the reality of the horribleness of that system.
Some people say the answer is to ignore our past, to push it away and pretend it didn’t exist. I disagree.

She was a racist, but she didn’t know it

 “Do you think he can read?”
She asked the question in all seriousness as she stood outside the door to my friend’s classroom.
The he in question was a star athlete.
She knew that.
She also knew what he looked like on the outside.
Black.
And in her mind, that meant uneducated.

This wasn’t the 1860s or even the 1960s.
It was the early 1990s and I’d started my teaching career in a district in the midst of political turmoil. I didn’t know it then, but within a handful of years we’d be facing a desegregation order courtesy of a federal judge.
It’s not that we were segregated, per se. Not Remember the Titans segregated, anyway. But my school was 90% white, and that was way off of the city’s demographics.
Welcome controlled choice. A process where students were able to choose the high school they attended, however, there were racial quotas.
The woman was visiting our school before choice went into effect, and her question was serious.
She didn’t understand why we were offended.

A handful of years later, I wrote Honor and Lies.

The woman stayed in my mind with every word I wrote.
As did some of the other conversations from my classroom.

“But, Miss, I’ve heard the stories. Lots of people were nice to their slaves. It wasn’t always a bad thing.”

Back then I was fearless in the classroom. I think I didn’t know any better. Instead of telling the kids how wrong they were, I’d ask questions and make them draw their own conclusions. I made them defend their statements. I made them debate with each other.

These kids were 16 and 17, and they were tackling huge, controversial issues, and I was encouraging them.

Often my kids explained the above sentiment this way:
“Slavery with a nice family was like being a teenager all the time. Your parents love you, and they take care of you. And you do your chores, and things work out okay.”

I don’t think my kids really believed this, but they wanted to make slavery okay. They didn’t want to face the ugliness of what slavery was. That slaves were owned. That freedom was impossible. Slaves could be, and often were, raped, sold or killed. They had no rights. They weren’t even considered whole people. It didn’t matter if owners were nice. They were owners.

By the end of class, the students realized this. They learned by reading Frederick Douglass and Mary Chesnut’s Civil War and other American Lit. stories from the time. And we talked about racism and hate and hate crime and stereotypes and tolerance and ignorance and stupidity. And when I told them about the lady asking if the student could read, they were as outraged as my friends and I were the day it happened.

Today, I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to teach English with such an in your face style. My classroom is filled with kids I know and kids who know me. Kids I spend YEARS with, not 180 days. Debating controversial subjects in the newsroom isn’t brave. It’s normal.

Honor and Lies wouldn’t have been possible without those early days. I wrote the novel when I was still that young teacher, still teaching English, angry that people in my community thought black meant you couldn’t read. Sissy and Savannah are products of that classroom. I hope you enjoy.

Honor and Lies coupon:  50% off for one month: coupon code is LH94Z; find the book here.