Writers

Driving Forces

I learn more about my characters by letting them hang out in my real life, even if it’s nothing like their own world.

Dalvin, for instance, likes to blare pop rock music and take the wheel when we’re in the car. She’s a surprisingly competent driver, for a girl from a world in which mills and magic are the height of technological advancement.

When I ask her why she likes it so much, she answers, “It’s a lot like battle, isn’t it? One wrong move and you’re dead or injured, and there’s nothing for it but to let your body outpace your mind and do what you’ve taught it to do. It’s very relaxing.”

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Relaxing? To think that you’re one wrong move away from injury or death? I certainly don’t want to think of driving in that light… How on earth do you find your looming mortality relaxing?

Rarely interested in self-reflection, she only shrugs. “Everything’s too immediate to be fussed with thinking about it. I don’t like thinking.”

Huh. That’s an odd thing to say. Why don’t you like thinking?

She gives me a dirty look. “I don’t know,” she says slowly. “Do you want me to think about it?”

Ah. Looks like I’ve used up her introspection for the day.

*****

Check out Grace the Mace

In which Dalvin is forced not only to fight for her life… but to think about it.

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The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale: Book One of The Outlaws of Avalon

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Cover and Spine, Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

Okay, full disclosure time: I’m best friends with the author.

Fuller disclosure time: this book is the reason I’m best friends with the author.

I was plugging my own WIP of the time on a National Novel Writing Month forum, and the then-unpublished Danielle E. Shipley messaged me, asking to hear excerpts of my work. Flattered, I sent her my opening scene. Then she sent me her opening scene in return.

Full disclosure again? I winced when I saw the message. Fact is, most people’s first drafts aren’t worth looking at, and I hadn’t actually volunteered myself as a reader for some stranger’s project. But, feeling obligated–after all, she was reading my first draft–I decided to look it over.

I was stunned. It didn’t read like a first draft at all. It read like a–like a novel! Like one I’d keep reading! And so I did, eagerly awaiting every section as she wrote it, as she awaited mine. And over the course of those shared manuscripts and conversations, we became fast friends.

It’s been a few years since then, and the manuscript has been through some revisions. It’s even better now. It’s been through some drafts, and she’s become a better writer. She’s now worked as a player at the Faire that inspired the “What If” behind the story, and she’s gotten to know and understand the hearts of these characters better than ever.

It’s rich and silly and beautiful and hilarious and deep. It’s not one hundred percent to my taste–I tend to like “grittier” and more intrigue-fraught books than this–but it’s an exactly perfect version of what it’s meant to be.

For fans of the Wilderhark Tales, this is the urban fantasy continuation you didn’t know that you needed–but that you desperately needed. For newcomer’s to Miss Shipley’s works, know that The Outlaws of Avalon, while connected to the Wilderhark world, is a series all its own, and a perfectly good place to start. It’s where I started!

 

My Review

For fans of the Merry Men, Ren Faires, or lighthearted, magic-just-around-the-bend urban fantasy, The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale is an automatic win.

As with all of D.E. Shipley’s works, characters are the driving force behind the unique story and beautiful style–and as usual, they are individual, charming, and full of life.

Meet Allyn-a-Dale, a young minstrel whose heart is fresh from a tragedy. He’s just as freshly fallen from the magical secrets of his own world, and into the magical secrets of a modern Renaissance Faire. With his late father’s voice still ringing in his head, (Gant-o-the-Lute is quite the charismatic figure in his own right, even as an imagined echo,) the adaptable bard tentatively finds a new family in the Merry Men.

The Merry Men… you’ll find the upstanding and surprisingly straight-laced Robin Hood, Marion “the fun aunt” Hood, the frighteningly-quiet and hilariously deadpan Little John, and… Will Scarlet. Incorrigible, indomitable, energetic, babbling, brave, manic, shameless, luminous fan-favorite Will Scarlet. Just wait till you meet him. You’ll see. You’ll see.

What might have been a sweet, comedy-filled coming-of-age story takes a sharp and sudden turn into action-adventure, theft, a car chase, magical shenanigans, and battles with fantastic forces. I wish I could show you some of my fan art, but–alas, spoilers! Suffice it to say, Ballad drew me in with its voice, characters, and worlds, but it riveted me with its peril.

In a melodic style that matches the magic and minstrelsy inherent to the story, Danielle E. Shipley spins out a story that is at once fantastic, funny, sweet, melancholy, and dangerous.

Links!

The beautiful paperback is available on Amazon and at Createspace, and the e-book is available via Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Overdrive.

Here’s Danielle’s release post–complete with potential prizes! 😀

 

Grace the Mace: Now Released!

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

Grace the Mace Cover

Now available for $2.99 on Kindle and for $5.99 in paperback!

My Five Favorite Things About This Book

(Sans Spoilers)

1.  I finally get to introduce a bit of the world I’ve been building for the last eight years! This isn’t the story I expected to be sharing first–I thought that would be Sy’s story, Ever the Actor, but the story and world grew so complex, with each new draft trying to catch up to my latest revelation, that I had to take a step back from the manuscript. What better way to do that than to write an entire novella set over two centuries earlier in the same world?

2. Grace herself. She was an enigma of a character for several years, angrily stewing in the back of my mind. When I finally unlocked her, I was delighted by her (often hilarious) contradictions–chill and passionate, self-serving and selfless, stubborn and flexible, cruel and kind. It’s been a fun challenge, trying to show the truth of her dual and tangled nature throughout the narrative.

3. The swearing. That girl’s got the most interesting, varied, and versatile curses I’ve ever heard, borrowing indiscriminately from the filthiest sentiments of four different cultures. All my other characters have been pretty basic– “Chance damn it,” and “Seed of man and beast!” and “Early frost, woman!” and “What complete rot,”–but this chick’s on a whole new level.

4. The cover. Yeah, I’ve got to admit, one of my favorite things about my book is the picture on the cover. The sum total of my contribution to the cover was, A, a detailed commission request, and B, the all-too-necessary but faintly detracting addition of the title and author’s name. The talent behind the art is DarianaLoki… But I spent a whole other post gushing about that!

5. It’s a book I’d want to read. I’d enjoy the characters, the voice, the themes, the plot, the setting… It can be hard to step back and look at a work objectively after months spent immersed within it, but evaluating it as accurately as I can… I think Reader Me would love this even more than Writer Me. That’s partly because Writer Me has an anxious ego at stake, but mostly because this is exactly the sort of content Reader Me pores over shelves in search of. And that, my friends, is sweet success.

My Five Least Favorite Things About This Book

(Sans Spoilers)

1. It’s got hardly any magic, so I don’t get to show off my awesome system! Bah!

2. It’s a little tough to categorize. My instinct is to call it fantasy, but I don’t want people thinking there’s more magic and mythical creatures in it than there are. But they’re there! They’re just… fringe. But it’s still got a very fantasy world feel. Should I call it Fantasy Lite? Diet Fantasy? Low-Mana Fantasy?

3. It’s a novella! No hate to novellas, but I’m more of a novel fan, and I was sort of surprised when it didn’t come out longer. Still, I’m not going to force it full of fluff to fulfill some arbitrary page-count ideal in my head. She is what she is.

4. Oh, this had me banging my head against a wall: trying to write dialogue for a major character who’s reluctant to say anything. At all. Who has a lot to say, but likes to talk like a minimalist, if he must be more than a mime. Oh my gooooooosh. Just taaaaaaalk like everybody else, man. But! That struggle is in the past. I think I found the balance for him to express what had to be expressed without violating the truth of his character.

5. Writing blurbs and short pitches for it! Trying take the central themes (“Uh, sacrifice, mommy issues, bitterness, and trust?”) and the more concrete aspects of the story (“Oh, lots of snark, warriors doin’ macho stuff, ye olde inner city gang wars, death and struggle, some sex, some flowers, and tense family dinners,”) and fit them together–and to do it in two to four tight paragraphs? Impossible. But that’s ever my aim, nonetheless.

Now available for $2.99 on Kindle and for $5.99 in paperback!

I look forward to hearing about your five favorite–and yes, even your five least favorite–things about Grace the Mace!

Excerpt I

Excerpt II

Excerpt III

 

Write it Wrong

There’s something about writing in a separate document from my work-in-progress document that really takes the pressure off. For one thing, in the slag pile, there’s no such thing as a blank page. For another, when I’m writing something in a story that’s been going really well, looking really good, and suddenly I’m not confident about what I’m writing, I’ll usually slow down. Stop. Re-do a sentence or paragraph over and over, question the content, the concept. Here, it’s a slag pile. I’m writing the scene that needs to be written, but I’m writing it in between free-form babble and concept prattling and brainstorming notes for a future epic, emotional journal entries and… well, what I can only describe as word-doodles:

Missing wishing pity smithing wherewithal to find the binding grind of cogs that wind up doing the f—ing thing I asked for in the first place, eh? Can’t screw my eyes right into my brain.

Well, okay. Stay away in the grey miry May. Sweltering in the aimless heat of the mind.

Wtf is that? I did that? I do that? Holy cuss. I’ll quite literally write anything that goes through my mind in this document, won’t I?

And that’s the beauty of it. I can start a section when I’m not sure whether it will work. I can write a paragraph I’m uncertain of, and then continue past it to write more. Because whatever it is, for heaven’s sake, it’s competing with “Missing wishing pity smithing”! (And believe me, I was kind to myself in choosing an excerpt with real actual words.)

It might work, it might not. It might have to be heavily edited, it might not. I might throw the whole thing out altogether, I might learn only what won’t work in the section I’m looking for. But dude, now I’ve written it, because there was no pressure to make it fit with the rest of the story, no pressure to get it right, no pressure to make sure it’s functional. Only the pressure to type, to try, and to see what the muse gives me today.

If the section works, sounds good for a scene or a blog post or whatever, then I copy it over to its appropriate document and edit it into place. If it doesn’t work, if it’s not good enough, no big. It’s a slag pile. It’s where I pour out all the word-buildup that gunks my brain. It’s okay if I write it wrong. It doesn’t need to be anything.

And because it doesn’t need to be anything, especially, I can let it become something, particularly.

The Muse Valentine’s Day Partyfest

The author-muse cohorts over at The Faux Fountain Pen issued an open invitation to The Muse Party Blogfest: (Anti)-Valentine’s Day Edition. We took her up, my Sy and I, and here’s our contribution.

  1. Who did you bring to the party? Is he/she your Valentine or anti-Valentine?

Honestly, Sy brought me, telling me it would be good for my blog. I said okay, because it sounded like fun. That’s a good glimpse into the way of things, actually: he thinks “advantage,” I think “cool!”

As for Valentine or anti-Valentine? Neither. He’s basically my big brother. (For the best, what with both of us being married.)

When I first found him, I had a crush on him, and then we had a massive power-struggle, and then I feared him and he resented me, and then we came to cautiously respect each other. Five years into this relationship, and I’m his lazy little-sister writer-person.

  1. Which one of you is the more romantic person?

“Probably me, by a hair,” Sy admits. “Although neither of us are especially romantically inclined, at least not in the Valentine’s Day sense. The more original definition, the romance of adventure, battle, and life’s great balladry, appeals to us both.”

  1. What gift are you giving to your (anti) Valentine?

“If I can wrangle it out of her, she’ll be giving me the gift of making something nice out of the inspiration I’m giving her. It’s an uphill battle, getting her to write.” He grins. “Nevertheless, as I’ve already pointed out, I’ve a fondness for glorious battles.”

  1. Are you guys wearing red or pink (or black…)? 

“Theme colors are for military affairs. I’ve put all that behind me.”

I’ll be wearing a snazzy (yes, black) suit jacket over some fandom t-shirt. As for him, I can hardly say. He jumps around from one style, era, and world however he likes, sometimes drawing on fashions I haven’t fathomed yet and so can’t see.

“I’ll make it easy on you this time,” he says, straightening the tie on his three-piece suit with a green velvet cloak over it. “A bit of your world, a bit of mine.”

The guns and knives hidden about his person also serve as a good demonstration of the principle.

  1. Did you bring any Valentine’s Day treats? 

I’ve baked brownies, one of the few baked goods I’m semi-confident about. Sy has doubtless cheated and pulled any number of ready-made confectionaries out of the air, catered to perfectly suit whomever he’s offering them to…

  1. Name a song for our Love Playlist or Anti-Love Playlist (or both)! 

My Immortal, as covered by Gregorian Chants,” Sy says at once. “I think that qualifies for both, actually.”

The Impossible Dream. Maybe it’s not a love song so much as madman’s glorious and passionate assertion, but–oh hey, wait. Yeah, I guess it’s a love song.

  1. Got a great anti/Valentine party game? 

“How about ‘Spin the Broken Bottle’?” Sy suggests, grinning. “Whoever it points at, you’ve gotta decide whether you two are going to kiss or brawl.”

Never heard of that one. Sounds like a promise of chemistry, that’s for sure.

  1. Feeling the love or just feeling nauseous? How will you have fun at the party?

Given Sy’s input, I might well have a fine time here.

He lifts his glass in toast. “I live to serve.”

I can’t tell whether he’s being ironic or earnest. Probably a little bit of both.

  1. Has your muse been a good Valentine? 

The perfect gentleman, depending on your definition of “perfect” and “gentleman.”

“I’m just glad she’s here with me today,” the insufferable perfect gentleman says, voice dripping high fructose corn syrup as he pats my head. “That’s really all I can ask, given she sometimes treats that as too much.”

Club Photo_Tirzah

Club Photo_Sy

Scrap from a Slag Pile

With this document, I hope, begins a new era. But then, I’m always hoping for a new era, aren’t I? But don’t I get them? New eras, they don’t come because of one decision, one thing, but they do come, because I won’t stop trying another new thing. I won’t give up my attempts. So maybe this will languish, and falter, and fall, but it’s an attempt, and for that, I’m glad. It’s a sign that I keep trying.

Trying what, you say? Oh, a hell of a lot of things. Trying to write, to blog, to finish something. Trying to do a good work. Trying to sort out my thoughts. Trying to give my life shape, to fashion it into an arrow, aim it at an end goal, see it fly true. To change. To become more. To become great.

How will one new document, one new project idea, help me do that? Oh, it probably won’t. I’ve tried enough of them by now to know that I’m likely going to stop in a week or so. That makes me sad. But it’s… it’s almost not the point. The point is that I’ve got to keep getting up and trying something, another something, another something, until all of these attempts and false starts and unfinished stories and stories finished years after they were started add up into something, add up into MY story, the story I want to tell.

The big idea with this little concept is that if I create a slag pile, maybe I’ll be able to do year-‘round what I do during NaNoWriMo. Write. Write every day. Write bullsh*t if I must. And when I say that, I mean serious, face-to-keyboard, weeping-on-my-knees, copy-and-paste-a-paragraph-in-pure-cheating-disgrace bullsh*t. Hideous. But I do what I must to get my daily count.

And apparently, that’s something I need to do. Because for every day I write like a worthless gobsh*te, there are two other days. One is a journal day, where I write the sort of thing I’m writing right now, writing from my soul, writing to explain myself to myself. And that is good. Sometimes it becomes a blog post, sometimes it goes nowhere, but that’s not the chief point. The chief point is that sometimes, to quote Flannery O’Connor, I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.

And then there’s that other day. Zombie-mumble days, Dear Diary days, and, glory be, Story days! These are good. Hard, harder than writing like this. So much harder to be satisfied with any passing paragraph; that’s why I can’t do it every day. Some days, I just don’t have it. But if I don’t try, I don’t know. Do I have it today, or not? How many days have passed that I could have written good story and I didn’t?

So this is what it’s for. A thousand words every day, a thousand words of I-don’t-give-a-crap. Just to see… can I do it today? Can I write something that means something today? Can I write a story today? If not, ah well. But now I know. This is a grab for the brass ring, and whether I reach it or not, I mean to lean out, stretch my fingers, and snatch at it on every single go-‘round.

Will this 1K-a-day challenge collapse? Probably. I’m bad at doing anything every single day. But another challenge will rise up after it. I’ll find one, or make one up. One desperate gambit at a time, I will drag myself into authorship. This is my story.

Beyond the Wail Blog Tour: Go Gentle

OF MICE AND MONSTERS by Tirzah Duncan: Troubled by ghosts within and without, Benjamin struggles to become the man his girlfriend needs instead of the monster he is.

GO GENTLE by Julie Barnson: After the death of her boyfriend, a young musician uses her talents and a fabled violin to stop the fatal accidents at a dead man’s curve.

DEAD WATER by Amanda Banker: A stalled truck, an abandoned graveyard, and a town not found on any map take two brothers on a detour they’ll never forget.

COLD SPOT by Jay Barnson: When a laptop is stolen from their computer security company, two high school buddies go to extremes to investigate. But, will they manage to return?

THE WEEPING LADY by A. F. Stewart: Eva Douglas must face her mother issues, past and present, when the disappearance of her sister forces a confrontation with a terrifying ghost.

THE POLTERGEIST AND AUNT BETTY by Ginger C. Mann: Aunt Betty is eccentric, but how much is ghost, how much is medication, and how much is just plain crazy?

THE ‘GRIM’ REAPER by L. K. McIntosh: When a soul reaper loses the source of their power,
they must either find the witch who stole it or a new purpose for living.

SHRINE OF MIRRORS by F. M. Longo: A spy on a mission becomes a believer in the supernatural when the theft of three ancient relics threaten to bring down the empire.

DEAD MAN HOCKING by T.N. Payne: A world-weary zombie learns to beware what you wish for, and not all sure bets are worth the gamble.

ST. PETER’S FISH by Alex McGilvery: Sam is a walking disaster of biblical proportions, but how much is he willing to sacrifice to escape, and will the Powers That Be allow it?

THE DIORAMA by Sebastian Bendix: A play set turns life around for Martin Taper, but things take a turn for the worse when he neglects it and the lonely child obsessed with it.

DATE DUE by Danielle E. Shipley: A magic library’s guardian determines to protect her treasured books, whether their authors elect to do things the easy way . . . or the fatal one.

BtheW_Webkit_Review

Today, we’re taking a closer look at Go Gentle, and its author Julie Barnson.

I very much enjoyed the myths woven into this well-told story. Music and magic have always belonged hand in hand, and I appreciated the stories Julie drew on for this–a  fabled violin, miraculous in origin, played as Rome burned, played as the snakes fled from Ireland, and now in the hands of a bereft young woman.

The atmospherics were handled marvelously, the mood as haunting as fiddlesong. Go Gentle is a classic ghost story well told, eerie and bittersweet. I found it straightforward, but rich with new details, and had no regrets for the ride.

Now, a few questions for the author herself!

*****

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?  When I was in third grade.  Then I became an adult and decided that I didn’t have anything to say.  Recently my children have been growing up and leaving home, and I’m starting to realize that maybe third grade me had the right idea.

2. How does writing impact other parts of your life?  I’m a professional storyteller, and I’m hoping to use writing to tie in to some of my performances and to define who I am as a storyteller of the oral AND the written word combined.  

3. What was the hardest part of writing your story, and how did you overcome it?  Me.  I was the hardest part. When I decided to be a professional storyteller, I promised myself that I would give up being a chicken.  I have been able to do amazing things with my storytelling because of it.  Writing, however, was a big terrifying hurdle that I was avoiding.  Writing this story was a reminder of that promise that I gave up being a chicken, and that applies to writing too.  This was an exercise in bravery, that I could actually write and finish something and submit it.  I never expected to get in, but it has been so worth it!  

4. What are some of your other published works? I have a CD that I self published, and have stories in two other cd’s that were produced by the Utah Storytelling Guild.  Beyond that and a few contributing recipes in local recipe books, this is my first foray into the publishing world.  

5. Name one entity that you feel supported your writing, outside of family members.  Amanda Banker. The idea of writing and really trying to enter a contest or get published was terrifying.  I didn’t tell most of the people that I knew that I was even thinking about it.  I knew she wanted to be a writer, I knew she was a great writer, so I told her she should do this with me.  She didn’t read my story until just a little while ago, but she and I were both starting out in this together, and I felt like I had someone in my corner cheering me on.

*****

JULIE BARNSON

Julie Barnson has been a professional storyteller in Utah for over ten years. Many authors call themselves storytellers, but in this case, she means the oral tradition, not the written one. She is a member of the Utah Storytelling Guild, and performs to audiences all over the state.

Her favorite stories are ghost stories. Her Octobers are filled with jobs telling stories for ghost tours, cemetery tours, Halloween parties, and other spooky events. She has a huge ghost story collection, and studies ghost folklore over the summers to prepare for her Halloween obsession.

It is only natural that her first published story be a ghost story. She is married to Jay Barnson, who also has a story in this anthology.

Spooky is a family affair.

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*** Website ***  Twitter *** Facebook *** Goodreads ***

Star Wars or Star Trek? Star Wars

Hunger Games or Divergent? Hunger Games.

James Bond or Jack Ryan? Jack Ryan

Sherlock: Robert Downey, Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch? Benedict Cumberbatch, absolutely

Spock: Leonard Nimoy or Zachary Quinto? Leonard Nimoy

X-Men or Avengers? Avengers

Aliens or Predators? Aliens

Minions or Penguins? Neither

Batman or Superman? Batman

Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean? Yes.

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