Book preview: Jean Lee’s novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen.

A Stolen-KindleCvr-MARKETINGJean Lee’s novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, is a story with a heart.  Yes, it’s a racing, pacy quest story, but the main character, Charlotte, cares.  Cares with attitude though.  Charlotte doesn’t know the meaning of passive.  She’s a girl who can and will fight for her space, and that of those she cares for.

As the story opens, Charlotte is a talented young pianist hoping to study music at Lawrence university.  She’s taking her younger sister out of their dysfunctional home, and is heading across country so they can live with their aunt.  There’s a problem on the journey, though, and the sisters transfer to the wrong sort of bus.

As in any well paced story, quite how wrong that bus is, is tricky to pin down.  Is it the vehicle?

A green bus thunders and belches a black fog of smoke as it approaches.  Only Charlotte sees the raven watch the bus as intently as the others do. Its brakes sound terrible, and the E in the old SCENIC TOURS sign is peeling off as if to flee before anything else can happen to it.  The bus groans as it halts, then regurgitates a burly man with chalky white skin.

The language is certainly sinister.  But there are other worrying elements. Amongst the unattractive other passengers is a man Charlotte calls, Potential Homicidal Maniac.  As for the driver’s mate, Jamie, it’s not just his habit of sniffing the luggage as he loads that raises hackles for Charlotte, her instincts scream, ‘Don’t go, stay here.’

Luckily for us, there’s not really an option.  The road the sisters set out on will lead to Charlotte’s quest, and the situations she encounters will reveal the true nature of her character.  Like us, she enters the realm of River Vine with no understanding of potential dangers, which may seem like a weakness, but we soon discover that this can be a strength, too.

The people of the realm are locked in a power battle that resonates beyond the walls that should contain it.  Charlotte’s involvement in the situation will lead to unforeseeable challenges to the balance of power.  Human flaws and weaknesses, it seems, can be a source of unexpected strengths too. Charlotte is not a straightforward character, she’s a girl who carries hidden scars: a dark secret.

HomerCo-incidentally, I’ve also been reading Homer’s, The Odyssey.  It makes an interesting parallel.  Both Odysseus and Charlotte journey into unknown lands to encounter beasts who may or may not be monsters.  It’s been good to see a twenty-first century girl taking up that three thousand year-old mantle and making it her own.

Nice read Jean, thanks for keeping me hooked.

  • Today, (31st October 2018) from sunrise to sundown this Halloween, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen is Free.   Click on the title to find it on Amazon.

List of Sources: MUSIC MINI POST From Jean Lee

My many thanks to Cath for such a beautiful review! To celebrate my novel’s release as well as embellish the reading experience, I wanted to share just a few snippets of music that helped inspire portions of my story. Some of these artists I’ve already written about on my site, Jean Lee’s World, and so I invite you to my site to learn more about these pieces.

“Bus,” by Mychael Danna for The Sweet Hereafter

I love the unsettling nature of this track. It’s short, yes, but it provided me with a sense of silent unease—how even when you’re around other people, an isolating landscape makes the most picturesque forest eerie intimidating.


“Overture,” by Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy

Dorjan is the first of the (good) shapeshifters that Charlotte meets. This moment of transformation stuns Charlotte—and, in its own way, Dorjan, too, having not walked on two legs in many years. I wanted to feel the pause of life with this change, that moment of awe striking Charlotte’s senses as Dorjan recovers his own.


“Heroes,” covered by Peter Gabriel for Scratch My Back

Ever since I first drafted this story, I imagined a scene of magic creation with this song. Liam is an artist, and with this song I could imagine his magic and heart’s memory coming together to build a piece of beauty for Charlotte.


“Hanging/Escape,” by Craig Armstrong for Plunkett & Macleane

When it comes time for Charlotte to face The Lady of the Pits, she’s totally out of her element. All seems lost, and her sister’s surely a goner. Yet Charlotte fights back. Hard.

This music helped me feel that.


“Love Reign O’er Me,” by The Who

I used quite a bit of The Who’s Quadrophenia when I wrote, but I love “Love Reign O’er Me” in particular because it’s a song of washing all of society’s expectations away and becoming pure and free in hope. Both Charlotte and Liam are slowly learning to overcome what their past lives heaped upon them, and wash themselves clean with hope.


“Alice’s Theme” by Danny Elfman for Alice in Wonderland

This likely feels like a given, as this music helped me write the moment Charlotte chases one of The Lady’s followers through a forest behind the Wall. It’s very much a “down the rabbit hole” moment, with disregard for the unknown surroundings in order to pursue a magical small creature. Elfman’s got the perfect balance here with the strings in their heavy arpeggios and the choirs singing to Alice as she leaves her reality behind.


“The Promontory” by Trevor Jones for The Last of the Mohicans

There comes a time when you’ve got to face an old demon, that which represents all that you once stood for. This music helped me feel this moment for Liam when he stands alone against The Lady of the Pits and her followers. When your heart burns with love instead of fear, you move with a warrior’s unwavering rhythm, just as Jones’ strings and percussion do here.

Dr Who?

There’s been a Who-fest in our house for the last few weeks.  As the launch of the new Doctor series approached, we decided to do our own bit of time-travelling, for a reminder of what happened in 2005, when Christopher Eccleston re-booted the series.  We didn’t plan to watch the whole story, but apart from one or two episodes that we couldn’t access, we’ve kept going and were roughly at the halfway point of Peter Capaldi’s term of office, when the new series began to broadcast.

Watching both has been beneficial.  I’ve enjoyed the contrast of the Jodie Whittaker version.

drwho-bigIt takes time for us to know each new regeneration.  First we get used to the face, accent and clothes, then the personality begins to refine.  Meanwhile, the journey through time and space continues.

Where do we find The Doctor, doer of good deeds, protector of the universe?

In the prologue to the ninth series, Ohila, leader of the sisterhood says, ‘Right behind you and one step ahead.’

There’s nothing like a good paradox to add layers to what is really a fairly simple and even familiar format.  A community is in crisis, threatened by tyrannising outsiders.  One or two try to take a stand against them, but are overcome. Things are looking grim, until a stranger enters the scene.  We’ve met such heroes before.  That’s no surprise.  Stories are continually being regenerated.

One of the forerunners I see for The Doctor is a re-imagining of the pioneer-days of the western United States.  I’m talking about, The Lone Ranger, who despite his name, always had two trusty side-kicks, Tonto, his native American friend and Silver, his horse.

The Doctor mostly travels with a loyal companion (or sometimes several), in a surprisingly wise and knowing Tardis, but there is another reason for my choosing this source rather than Shane, for instance.  Often, as The Lone Ranger rode off into the sunset, one character would ask another, ‘Who was that masked man?’

The Doctor’s true name is a secret, so invariably in new situations the introductions are:

‘Hello, I’m The Doctor.

To which, the pedantically inclined reply, ‘Dr Who?’

They might also say, Dr Why? Where? When? or How?

The twelfth doctor says, ‘I try never to understand, it’s called an open mind.’ I liked the twelfth doctor, particularly in the Steven Moffat stories.  And more particularly, the ninth series, when the character interactions seemed to jell perfectly.  There was something special happening in the interactions between The Doctor, Clara Oswald and Missy that seems, in retrospect, to have anticipated this recent regeneration.

Dr Who michelle-gomez-peter-capaldi-jenna-coleman-season-9Watch this new series carefully, and what becomes apparent is how much of the old Doctors are being referenced. The key themes are still there, (what is the nature of friendship, of guilt, of love?) though maybe the interpretation is getting a little shaken up.  I’m looking forward to finding out Who this latest Doctor really is.

What happens when you go to the Cheltenham Booker?

At the alternative Booker Prize five novels, from a year that predates the beginning of the Man Booker in 1968, are considered by five speakers from the Cheltenham Literature Festival programme.

Claire and I have attended this  three years in a row. It has become not a question of ‘would you like to?’ or ‘shall we?’ rather, ‘are you okay for the Booker?’

Despite a few hiccups when we thought we might have to miss this year, everything got worked out at the last minute. So I didn’t discover which titles had been set until we were on our way, and Claire read the blurb out:

“Our all-star line-up of novelist Madeleine Thien, journalist Alex ClarkThe Times Literary Editor Robbie Millen, Mostly Lit’s Raifa Rafiq and author Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott debate the merits of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, The Bell by Iris Murdoch and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe. They fight it out to determine which would have triumphed, had the Man Booker Prize existed 60 years ago.”

Claire paused, then added, ‘I’ve heard of some of them, but not read any.  I rely on this event, and you, to provide me with interesting new reading experiences.’

‘No pressure then,’ I said. ‘Well, Things Fall Apart has been on my shelf for a couple of years,’ I said, ‘but somehow I keep putting off starting it.’

‘I’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ said Claire.  ‘Does that count?’

‘I loved that film,’ I said. ‘But it was very different from the book.’

‘So, what do you think of the list?’

‘It should make an interesting debate.’

With which statement I ascended to the role of prophetess. You may all stand and raise you hats in recognition of my perspicacity. Thank you.

Okay, okay, so maybe there’s a teeny particle of exaggeration at play here.  It was clearly a strong list.

Claire and I discussed the other years we’ve watched, when one, or even two, weak titles were included.  In fact, we once watched the champion of a novel vote his own book out at the first stage. I couldn’t see anything so obvious in this 1958 list.

‘Maybe the Achebe?’ said Claire.

‘The thing is,’ I said, ‘it’s been recommended by so many interesting readers and writers that there’s got to be a lot going for it.’

This year’s panel had as much difficulty as I did in reducing the selection even by one.  Interesting doesn’t begin to touch what happened next. Once each panellist had pitched the novel they were championing, the discussion opened up, and soon shifted to the nature of judging in general.

The question was, how one title could be selected when the choices are so dissimilar in style and content.  The conversation developed – oh boy, this was right up my street. Panellists identified historical context and social commentary; examined characterisation; explained plot; considered philosophical depth and insight.

On the one hand, pity ‘the chair’, James Walton, who struggled to keep the conversation focused on compare and contrast, and to prompt the panel to stop agreeing, and backing each other up.  Then cheer for a panel that took up their task with such good natured energy, that they turned this from an interesting event into one that I would happily have seen extended for another hour… at least.

The outcome? Claire’s going to borrow my copy of The Bell, and I’ve moved Things Fall Apart to the front of my TBR shelf. Oh, yes, it was the Achebe that won.

Who tells the story? Not always the point-of-view you expect.

gwnWe had a lovely evening at the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network writing competition award, last week.  It’s an annual event that happens at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The theme for the festival and the competition, this year, was East meets West.  It drew in some lovely pieces of poetry and prose from writers across Gloucestershire, and most of the authors were brought together to read them for us.

‘What did you think?’ I asked my friend Louise, when we caught up six days later.  She’d had to rush off to another event just as that one finished, and we’d not had chance to compare notes since. ‘How did you find your first time at a reading?’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it was good.’ She paused. ‘And interesting: aren’t poems quick?’ Louise fronts a band. ‘One minute they were stepping up to the mic, the next it was over.’

‘It felt like a lifetime when I did it,’ I said.

Louise laughed and shook her head. ‘They all read really well, though, and the stories were excellent. I did like the one about the shawl, by the woman from your writing group.’

‘Lynda’s,’ I said. ‘It is a lovely story.’

‘I’m looking forward to sitting down quietly with the anthology,’ Louise said. ‘It was a really subtle approach to the theme.’

‘It was perfect,’ I said, ‘a lovely piece of flash fiction.’

How do you tell a grim story without dealing out graphic detail?  Lynda did it by giving voice to a scarf. ‘I remember,’ she begins, ‘how she held me up to the window and I delighted in the way the sun shimmered through my rich magenta and green folds, throwing rainbow patterns across the tiled floor.’

The scarf can observe and remember, but has limited understanding of the events that disrupt it’s soft, perfumed life: that’s left for us to interpret.  This is where the power of words becomes clear. It’s not just a question of finding the specific order that describes a picture, the other side of fine writing leaves spaces that the reader cannot avoid filling.

Dust seeped through the bag and cries and shouts accompanied the endless days of trudging. Later it became quiet and the cold crept through my silky sinews.  How I longed for the warmth of that sun…

What does it mean to be a refugee? Lynda provides us with a sense of it in around six-hundred words.

Guest Blog: Jean Lee describes her route to becoming a published author

A Stolen-KindleCvr-MARKETING

When Jean Lee, writer of fiction for young adults agreed to write a guest blog for me, she asked what topic I would like her to cover.  Knowing that her new novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, is due for release later this month, I said:

At what point did you decide, ‘Okay, I’m going to send it out’? Were you nudged by anyone, or was it your decision?  What were the key factors?

Short Answer: I was nudged by my husband. Key factor: panic.

Let’s back up a moment.

See, I didn’t actually set out to publish The Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. We are here because of what you’d call a most happy accident.

I had written the first draft back in 2010 for the National Novel Writing Month. It was the first time I’d written since the dark days of graduate school, and it felt so, so bloody good to be writing a story I genuinely cared about. But I was also a first-time mother, still a part-time teacher, so my time was very rarely my own. Over the years I’d pick at the story’s characters/plot/setting, and in 2015 I tried sending it out to a few agents. No interest.

So I put Stolen away. It was destined to be that “unsellable first novel”: the story that got me back into writing, but also the story that’d never see the light of day.

In the meantime, I started my site Jean Lee’s World and was writing there every week. I’d also taken up a challenge from indie author Michael Dellert to write a YA Fantasy series about shield maidens, so I was brain-deep in that. I’d visit Stolen every now and then, its voice finally coming in from the shadows with bleeding knuckles and a mouth full of sass. But still…surely no one would want to read this.

Enter Wattpad & Aionios Books.

Wattpad’s a free publishing platform for stories, poems, plays, and so on. Since my website had been dedicated to writing about craft and music, it was cool to find a place A Middler's Pridewhere I could specifically share fiction and receive feedback on my YA Fantasy Middler’s Pride. My shield maiden series had gotten some excellent feedback as well as some honest to goodness readers—including the lead editor of Aionios Books, Gerri Santiago.

I still remember getting the Twitter message from Gerri while waiting to pick up my sons from 4K one November day: “Have you signed on with a publisher yet?”

My hands start shaking. Who’d want to publish me? A gazillion other fantasy writers are out there probably doing way better. I’m just…I’m just me.

Another tweet: “I love Meredydd’s tough vulnerability in Middler’s Pride.”

Oh! Well… Huzzah, then!

Now you’re probably wondering A) How long is this nattering going to continue and B) isn’t the novel we’re talking about Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?

  1. A) I’m almost done.
  2. B) Publishing often takes unexpected turns.

Gerri asks me to send her a complete manuscript of Middler’s Pride. “Sure!” I start to type. Freeze. I’d been reworking a few key elements inside the story to better fit a series, and that reworking was nowhere near done.

But I can’t afford to lose this opportunity! If I say it’s not ready, she may say thanks and move on. Then who knows how long it’ll be before I get someone’s attention like this again?

I panic myself into a hyperventilating mess—always a smart state for driving preschoolers home from school—seeing all manners of defeat awaiting this exchange with Gerri. I should tell her to forget she ever saw my work. I should flee Wattpad. The internet. The…well you can’t get much more rural than a Wisconsin farming town, so I suppose this is flight enough.

Bo gets home from work and listens to my breathless, teary telling of the Twitter tale. He gets me some cocoa and sits me down. “Can you send her something else to buy you some time?” he asks.

“No. Well maybe. There’s my Fallen Princeborn story. But that’s not totally revised, either.”

Bo considers this. “True, but it’d probably keep her attention long enough so you can get that Middler thing done, right?”

I nod. Okay, that made sense. Distract with the giant green head projection that is Fallen Princeborn: Stolen while I frantically move Middler’s Pride things around behind the curtain. Gerri will also then see I’ve got more than one voice and style in me, which will hopefully make me sound more marketable. Okay. Okay okay. This all makes sense.

So I write Gerri a really, REALLY long rambling email (yes, even longer than this guest post) about time and the importance of storytelling and hey, would you like to read this while you wait for me to fulfill your request?



I think only two days pass, maybe three. Bo’s doing what he can to get out of work early and handle the kids so I can finish Middler’s Pride sooner.

My phone beeps: an email from Gerri.

Oh no. She must be wondering what’s going on. She wants Middler now or never. Dammit, Jean, get the thing done!

I open the email.

“I just LOVE this story! The characters are so complete, and so compelling! Do you have more Fallen Princeborn? I NEED to know what happens next!”

I beam. These characters I’ve known as long as my daughter—they’re loved by someone else. People I made from my own pain, anger, and yearnings have connected to someone else, and made a home in someone else’s imagination.

Could these characters find homes in other readers’ imaginations, too?

Only one way to find out.

Now here we are. While Gerri liked Middler’s Pride, in the end it wasn’t a fit for Aionios Books—and you know what? That’s okay. Meredydd and the other shield maidens found a home with stories by fellow indie authors on the subscription site Channillo. Gerri sent me a contract for Fallen Princeborn: Stolen in December, and she’s been challenging me to build upon the story’s world ever since. I’ve written a collection of short stories featuring characters of this world, and am planning four more novels to follow Stolen, the next volume to come out next spring.

So, if you’re one of those with the “unsellable first novel” in a file somewhere, pull it out. Chances are enough time’s gone by that you can read it as the audience, not the creator. Sure, the heroine sounds too nice for escaping from a personal hell, or the world’s rules don’t make sense, or the villain doesn’t have enough to do. Know what? Now’s the time to right those narrative wrongs. You know better now. You can hear the voice beneath the noise. You’ve only to dig it out.

My deepest thanks to Cath for inviting me to her to her sanctuary of words and wanders. My novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen will be available for purchase starting Halloween.


Jean Lee is a Wisconsin born and bred writer excited to share her young adult fiction with those who love to find other worlds hidden in the humdrum of everyday life. Lee’s short story collection Tales of the River Vine is currently available for free download on Amazon, Nook, and other markets. Her serialized fantasy Middler’s Pride is available via the Indie E-magazine Channillo. Lee’s first novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, debuts Halloween 2018 from Aionios Books. She currently lives in the Madison area with her husband and three children.

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I’d like to recommend reading too much.

woman who read too much 2The Woman Who Read Too Much, (TWWRTM) by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, was a book I picked off my to-be-read (TBR) shelf at random.  The sand coloured cover told me nothing, how I wish the British publisher had opted for something like this. I could not remember knowing anything of the author or the title, yet at some point I’d decided that this novel would be worth spending time with.

My TBR shelf is not a guaranteed source of delightful writing, is anyone’s? But this one delivered.  The story is told in four books, Mother, Wife, Sister and Daughter. Each describes the events leading to the death of Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn, ‘the poetess of Qazvin’, in 1852.  It spans the period between two assassination attempts on The Shah of Persia, Nasiru’d-Din, in 1852 and 1896.  Both key events are described in the first few pages, and form a recurring reference point.

After that, it’s a question of keeping your wits about you as we jump backwards and forwards through time, with a cast of characters who, on first acquaintance, don’t seem attractive.  The poetess is a phantom, for a large part of the novel.  Other characters hate her, fear her, love her, spread gossip and rumours about her exploits, and in doing so, demonstrate why she was so controversial.

Nakhjavani says the book was written to ‘tell the unrecorded stories of mothers daughters, sisters, and wives in nineteenth-century Iran.’ It is a story about power and dynasty, and builds outwards from the palace through the households of key political figures.

From the first scene, when the Shah dies in the lap of an old beggar woman ‘notorious for her lies and her deformities‘, while visiting his wife’s grave, the question about the significance and worthiness of women is raised.

Since it was inconceivable that his majesty should have had traffic with such a creature and would have caused a scandal to arrest her, given the circumstances of his death, they simply kicked her in the ribs and let her go.

It is not just some character’s who grow in this novel, what happens as they grow, is that I learn to look beneath the surface.  Take the mayor’s wife who, seen from the perspective of the Shah’s mother in the first book, has seemed only loud and greedy.  In the following books, we get closer to her.  I love the playfulness of this description from The Book of The Wife:

The Mayor’s Wife was known for her volubility.  Her shrill voice was as familiar as garlic in the mosque, and rendered the veil irrelevant in the bazaar.  Her words drifted over the walls and down the alleys, like the sizzling of kebabs and the smell of fried onions.  Her opinions even penetrated through the palace gates at times, and lingered in the royal anderoun with the persistence of fenugreek.

The food analogies are appropriate, because…

…the Mayor’s Wife was the queen of cuisine as well as gossip, despite her lack of court and clerical connections.  Few had attained the perfection of her pickles, none achieved the orthodoxy of her rice.  Her jams had the consistency of truth, according to connoisseurs, and were the despair of all but the philosophical.  Her conserves, too, were suspended in pure faith, and needed no interpretation.

woman who read too muchThis, without apology, is women’s writing.  It deals with the domestic, observing how, even in a society where their lives are controlled and seem to be completely subservient, they impact on his-story.

As might be expected with such a story, a central theme is education.  What is it?  How does having or not having it impact on lives and events? This novel that made me think about how much many of us take our access to learning for granted.

It also allowed me access to a society that I otherwise know either from the perspective of news and documentary stories, or through the stories of Sheherazade’s, One Thousand and One nights.  It’s so easy to stay in a rut with my reading.  I must explore more.