novel

A Vicious Tribute

A cosplay shoot depicting V.E. Schwab’s novel, Vicious. Modeled and photographed by Tirzah Duncan (me!) and Danielle E. Shipley (the bestie!).

Blackout 05

The marker hissed as he drew another line, blotting out several sentences in the middle of the page… He skimmed the words and smiled as he found another section to ink out. By the time the first bell rang, signaling the end of Victor’s art elective, he’d turned his parents’ lectures on how to start the day into:

Be lost. Give up. give In. in the end It would be better to surrender before you begin. be lost And then you will not care if you are ever found.

He’d had to strike through entire paragraphs to make the sentence perfect after he accidentally marked out ever and had to go on until he found another instance of the word. But it was worth it. The pages of black that stretched between if you are and ever and found  gave the words just the right sense of abandonment.

Ice 04_best

Victor perched on the tub, clutching a drink as he stared down at Eliot Cardale’s corpse.

Eli hadn’t screamed. Pain had been written across every one of the forty-three muscles Victor’s anatomy class taught him twisted together in the human face, but the worst Eli had done was let a small groan escape between clenched teeth when his body first broke the surface of the icy water. Victor had only brushed his fingers through, and the cold had been enough to elicit a spark of pain up his entire arm. He wanted to hate Eli for his composure, had almost hoped―almost hoped―that it would be too much for him to bear. That he would break, give up, and Victor would help him out of the tub, and offer him a drink, and the two would sit and talk about their failed trials, and later, when it was a safe distance behind them, they would laugh about how they’d suffered for the sake of science.

Knife 01

But he needed a sign. God had seemed, in the past few days, like a match-light next to the sun of Eli’s discoveries, but now he felt like a boy again, needing sanction, approval. He pulled a pocket-knife from his jeans, and clicked it open.

“Would You take it back?” he asked the dark apartment. “If I were no longer of Your making, You would take this power back, wouldn’t you?” Tears glistened in his eyes. “Wouldn’t you?”

He cut deep, carving a line from elbow to wrist, wincing as blood welled and spilled instantly, dripping to the floor. “You’d let me die.” He switched hands and carved a matching line down his other arm, but before he’d reached the wrist, the wounds were closed, leaving only smooth skin, and a small pool of blood.

Cards - Eli, back

“Wouldn’t you?” He cut deeper, through to bone, over and over, until the floor was red. Until he’d given his life to God a hundred times, and a hundred times had it given back. Until the fear and doubt had all been bled out of him. And then he set the knife aside with shaking hands. Eli dipped his fingertips in the slick of red, crossed himself, and got back to his feet.

Cards - Victor, back

Eli was like a thorn beneath Victor’s skin, and it hurt. He could turn off every nerve in his body, but Victor couldn’t do a damn thing about the twinge he felt when he thought of Cardale. The worst part of going numb was that it took away everything but this, the smothering need to hurt, to break, to kill, pouring over him like a thick blanket of syrup until he panicked and brought the physical sensations back.

Cards - Eli, front 01

“―Self-righteousness,” Victor said. But when Sydney looked confused, he added, “He heals. It‘s a reflexive ability. In his eyes, I think that makes it somehow pure. Divine. He can‘t technically use his power to hurt others.”
“No,” said Sydney, “he uses guns for that.”
Victor chuckled.

Cards - Victor, front

The paper had called Eli a hero.

The word made Victor laugh. Not just because it was absurd, but because it posed a question. If Eli really was a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain?

He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that.

Cards - Eli, deuces

She wrapped her arms around Eli’s waist and kissed the back of his neck. “You know I don’t want this kind of control,” she whispered. “Now put the gun away.” Eli’s hand slid the weapon back into its holster. “You’re not going to kill me today.”

He turned to face her, wrapped his hands, now empty, around her back, and pulled her close, his lips brushing her ear.

“One of these days, Serena,” he whispered, “you’re going to forget to say that.”

Cards - Victor, deuces

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Thirteen,” she lied, because she hated being twelve. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two. What happened to you?”

“Someone tried to kill me.”

“I can see that. But why would someone try to do that?”

She shook her head. “It’s not your turn. Why couldn’t you become a doctor?”

“Because I went to jail,” he said. “Why would someone try to kill you?”

She scratched her shin with her heel, which meant she was about to lie, but Victor didn’t know her well enough to know that yet. “No idea.”

Wineglass 04

The air was crisp and he relished it as he rested his elbows on the frozen metal rail, clutching his drink, even though he ice made the glass cold enough to hurt his fingers. Not that he felt it.

Graveyard 21

Truth be told, Victor didn’t care for graveyards either. He didn’t like dead people, mostly because he had no effect on them. Sydney, conversely, didn’t like dead people precisely because she had such a marked effect on them.

Graveyard 15

He hardly felt the cold through his coat. He was too busy trying to picture what Eli’s face would look like when he received their message. Trying to picture the shock, the anger, and threaded through it all, the fear. Fear because it could only mean one thing.

Graveyard 17

Victor was out. Victor was free. And Victor was coming for Eli―just as he’d promised he would. He sunk the shovel into the cold earth with a satisfying thud.

Graveyard 12

Thud. Thud.

“Are you one of the bad ones?” asked Sydney. Her watery blue eyes stared straight at him, unblinking. She wasn’t sure if the answer mattered, really, but she felt like she should know.

“Some would say so,” he said.

Thud.

Shovel 11

She kept staring. “I don’t think you’re a bad person, Victor.”

Victor kept digging. “It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Thud.

“About the prison. Did they… did they let you out?” she asked quietly.

Thud.

Victor left the shovel planted in the ground, and looked up at her. And then he smiled, which she noticed he seemed to do a lot before he lied, and said, “Of course.”

Shovel 01

There was a moment of silence, almost reverent, before Victor’s hand came down on her shoulder.

“Well?” he said, pointing to the body. “Do your thing.”

Shovel 08

“Oh, sure I can,” he said pleasantly. “I can shut the lid. Put the dirt back. Walk away.”

Frenemeses 01

Hate was too simple a word. He and Eli were bonded, by blood and death and science. They were alike, more so now than ever. And he had missed Eli. He wanted to see him. And he wanted to see him suffer. He wanted to see the look in Eli’s eyes when he lit them up with pain. He wanted his attention.

Frenemeses 02

“You can’t kill me, Victor,” said Eli. “You know that.”

“I know. But you’ll have to indulge me. I’ve waited so long to try.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Cards - Schwab

Eli: Wha…?

Victor: Who?

V.E. Schwab: It’s great to be the one pulling the strings. 😉

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 excerpt III

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 – Excerpt III

The track became busier, people from the outlying farms and villages trotting towards or away from the city, sometimes with horses, mules, carts. Farmers working to bring in their harvests looked up at the mercenaries, giving them the flat stares of folk used to strangers, but no less wary for their familiarity. Dalvin nodded and waved to them, smirking at the narrowed eyes she got in return. Like a fearful waterfall. Well should these serfs and civilians fear her.

As they drew up to the city walls, somewhat impressive shrines dueled on either side of the city entrance, one an ornate well to Old Man Chance, the other, with the brass motif of Unicorns in obeisance, an altar to the Maker. Vec reached in his purse for a pair of Yaa copper pups, skillfully slinging one into the center of each.

“Hedging your bets?”

“I prefer to play it safe, when it comes to forces beyond the blade,” the man said, rubbing at his stubble. “If a copper will sate ‘em, why not try it?”

Grace snorted. “I play it safe by keeping my coin to myself,” she said, patting her own purse.

“It’s only a couple of coppers.”

She shrugged, letting the matter fall as they drew up to the gate guards. The greensmen on duty eyed them suspiciously up and down, calling for them to halt, herding them to the side. Dalvin smiled tightly, slowing to a stop and spreading her arms away from her body, letting her cloak open up to freely reveal her leather armor and the mace-and-chain. She met their eyes, challenging.

Von officers hated to let mercenaries into their cities, but for all the trouble they caused, they brought too much revenue to the taverns, inns, and brothels for the cities to afford turning them away. The two in front glowered and questioned them about where they’d been, where they were going, and how long they intended to remain in the city. A third stalked around behind them, looking them up and down.

Her pride blistered as Vec answered, but these were gate guards. What do you think you’ll find—weapons? Dalvin wanted to say, but held her tongue. Besides the lead-cored batons carried by regular patrol officers, these also bore nasty blackwood staves, for dealing with anyone with swords, spears, or polearms trying to rush the gate. It was their right and their responsibility to ensure that the armed parties that entered their cities were not at that time under the employ of enemy nations, and to see that suspicious numbers of them didn’t enter at a time.

Dalvin’s stomach rumbled as the interrogation continued, and standing still with her cloak hitched back over her shoulders and her hood down, the chill started working through the layers. Her smile turned to a bare-toothed grimace, and one booted foot began tapping against the earth. If they kept her here until she started shivering, she’d—she’d—well, she’d continue to grimace at them and otherwise do nothing.

At last—after Vec said for the fifth time that they were heading home for the winter, told the name of their band, that they’d come from Nor’Hiymar, that they were headed to Urynad and Southhold respectively, that they intended to remain two nights in the city—the von waved them through. One swept his stave as she passed, swatting her rear with a loud crack. The others snickered as she kept her face smooth of a wince, her hands seizing into fists to prevent them from reaching for her flail.

She waited until they turned the corner, then snarling, she reached back to touch the broad welt. “Rot-spawned, seedless, plague-ridden midden heaps,” she snarled, loud enough that several passers-by glanced at her in surprise, but not so loudly that the gate von would hear. “I’d like to shove those greenies’ staves through the brains in their assholes. Chance’s Ill Daughter and a goat, that hurt!”

Vec gave her an amused look. “I’ve seen you take worse in sparring without grousing with such a concentration of obscenity.”

She only growled, her cheeks flushed. It wasn’t about the pain. Well, it was halfway about the pain. It was the insult of it, and her inability to answer the insult. It was infuriating to know she could likely have clobbered any one of those men senseless, but to be barred from the brawl by their greens and the medals of office on their chests.

“Calm down.” Vec tried to sling an arm around her shoulder, but she sidestepped. “Come now, Grace. I know the von are a bitter brew to swallow, but you simply must let it go.”

Of course she did. Because they were too powerful. However strong she got, there were still, there were always those that were too powerful. Too connected. The greensmen in each city reported only to the city’s lord, which reported only to their high court and king. Who was a mercenary in all that?

As she stewed, a skinny youth darted across their path, stumbling against Dalvin and muttering a hasty apology before darting into a side alley.

A surge of energy jolted through her, and, silent, she lunged into the shadows after him. An outlet for her rage! Her hand closed on his shoulder and she spun him around, slammed him back against the wall, and covered his mouth with her hand. They were of a similar size, but she had lean muscle where he had slack skin over thin bones. She caught his knife hand and stripped the blade from it, not caring that she nicked her fingers, and flung it into the recesses of the alley. She rammed an elbow up into his sternum, then reached for the purse he still clutched in his other hand.

As she yanked it away from him, he sagged, going limp in her hold. She growled, looking at the sliced leather cord. The reparation would cost her. She pinned it under her arm, her hand going to seize his throat. She squeezed and lifted, glaring as he looked back at her with hopeless eyes.

“Weak,” she growled. “You’ll never get anywhere without some fight in you.” She spat and released him, and he sank down against the wall, cringing. “Fire and famine. You’re not worth two copper pups,” she told him, pulling open the mouth of the purse and fishing out two of the coins. She flung them at his feet. “You can’t just give up when it’s all gone to rot. You’ve got to look for the salvage. Maker take it, man, you’ve got to want to survive.”

She took out another coin and scraped it against a buckle, then checked its edges. It would be a fine thing, giving a speech like that, to later find that he’d switched her purse for a pouch of coin that was shaved or painted.

“Idiot,” she told the cutpurse, who hadn’t moved. “What are you lying there for? Think you’re getting anything else off me? Scat, thief.”

Grabbing the pair of coppers, the cutpurse ran, scrabbling to snatch up his knife as he did. Grace glowered after him, shaking her head. “Some people don’t deserve to live.”

“But you gave him—”

The girl whirled on her fellow-mercenary, who’d followed her down the sideway. “Shush. Not in the mood, unless you’re telling me those von are behind us on bended knee, offering me their skulls to crack. Let’s resupply, then get smashed. I want to leave first thing after my hangover in the morning.”

*****

After talking about other people and their works for as long as I have, I’m not sure how to say this, but…

It’s mine! That’s the work of Tirzah Duncan, my own self. That’s the from my novella. Here’s the opening.

Now Available! 

Headshot_Ireland

Cover Reveal: The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

 

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

            Excerpt

Allyn would have known Will Scarlet for a relation of Robin Hood’s even had he not been introduced as his cousin. Though clean-shaven, younger, and framed by thick locks of gold tinged with the color of his name, Will’s face was patently similar to Robin’s, with the same blue eyes that sparkled cheerily at Allyn when the two were presented to each other.

“And where’d you pick this fellow up, then, Robin?” he asked blithely.

“In my tent,” replied Robin, “with Marion.”

Will’s brows leapt toward his crimson cap’s pointed brim. “Wish I were Allyn!”

“Will…”

“Joking, joking,” Will waved aside Marion’s halfhearted rebuke. He coughed. “…Mostly. So, Allyn-a-Dale — looking to join the Merry Men, are you?”

“I don’t really know,” Allyn said doubtfully. “What are the Merry Men?”

To Allyn’s heart-thudding dismay, Will answered, “We’re an infamous band of outlaws.”

“Not really,” Marion hastened to jump in.

“Not anymore,” Little John amended.

“It’s complicated,” said Robin. “But we’re really not at liberty to tell you much more about it until we’ve spoken to Merlin.”

“That would be King Arthur’s chief counselor and illustrious wizard,” Will said in answer to Allyn’s questioning expression. “He literally runs the show around here, so—”

“No,” said Little John, his gaze a grim weight on Will Scarlet.

“Oh, would you chillax, you pedant?” Will huffed, facial muscles ticking with minor irritation. “I know you think the Outsiders have been using the word with nary a care to its meaning, of late, but I know what ‘literally’ means, and in this case, I literally meant ‘literally’!”

The marginal lowering of Little John’s brow silently warned what he would literally do to Will if he said that word but once more.

“And they’re off,” said Robin, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, Allyn, they only bicker like this when they’re both breathing.”

Allyn’s lips twitched toward the beginnings of a smile, but froze halfway, his mind only just now becoming fully conscious of what he’d heard. “Robin,” he said, fighting a sudden swell of anxiety. “Did Will just say we’re off to see a wizard?”

The Author’s Thoughts on the Cover

 The Outlaws of Avalon trilogy is my baby, so I knew its faces had to blow me away. For Book One’s cover, there were a couple elements I for sure wanted to highlight: 1, the forest (because SHERWOOD), and 2, the lute (because Allyn-a-Dale). The rest, I mostly left up to my designers – photographer Lars van de Goor, and his son Milan.

A couple drafts later, this was the gorgeous result. The elegant swirls! The delightful rosette on the spine! Of all the darling touches – a ROBIN perched over “Ballad”s second A! And, of course, the must-have lute sitting sedately amongst the trees.

The minstrel blue, the greenwood green, the magical splash of sunlight… This cover doesn’t just say “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”: It sings it.

About the Author

Danielle E. Shipley is the author of the Wilderhark Tales novellas, the novel Inspired, and several other expressions of wishful thinking.

She has spent most of her life in the Chicago area and increasing amounts of time in Germany.

She hopes to ultimately retire to a private immortal forest. But first, there are stories to make.

Author Photo, Danielle E. Shipley, jpeg

 

Inspired – The man behind the lightbulb

Welcome, readers–Syawn, here, with a brilliant guest. Let’s all give a round of applause to my fellow character-muse, Lucianíel. Before we get started, Luc, let’s take a look at the blurb and cover for your newly released novel!

*****

For a muse like Lucianíel, one story’s end is another’s beginning.

In the wake of his author’s sudden death, Luc takes ownership of her surviving creations—four fantastical characters with tales yet to be told—saving them from unwritten lives crumbling around them and giving them a second chance at a literary future.

Luc finds that chance in the unsuspecting mind of Annabelle Iole Gray, a quirky teen with her head in the clouds, nose in a book, and imagination ripe for a brilliant muse’s inspiration.

Or so he hopes.

Neither Luc nor Annabelle, however, realize all they’ve undertaken. Even with a to-write list including accounts of a shape-shifting cat creature, gentle knight-in-training, vigilante skater girl, and a mystery boy smothering in unspoken fear, the most remarkable saga created between author and muse just may turn out to be one stranger than fiction.

Their own.

*****

 

I, Sy, have a few questions for my fellow fantastic fictional male lead. So glad you could join us today, Luc. Though as I hear it, that’s not too tough for you—is it true that you have the power to be in multiple places at once?

Even if I didn’t, it would yet be my pleasure to visit your author’s blog. You’ve done fine things with the platform, Syawn. But as it happens, yes, that is within my power. As a being of light, I can move with light’s speed; tens of thousands of miles per second. Zipping back and forth between a few spots of interest quickly enough that nothing’s had time to change since I left is, for me, as easy as it would be for you to pace around the room.

Quite the talent, that. I could certainly have used such a device in my own story—though I’m not sure I would have been willing to give up my material existence to acquire it. 

In your story-world, you’re a muse, the acting liaison between a writer and her stories. How different does it feel to be a character in a story of your own?

It’s a refreshing change, I must admit. Not to say that my work behind the scenes ever felt limiting or inadequate, or that I pined for the recognition proper characters are far more likely than a muse to receive. Still, as I judge my story to be as worthy of print as any, it is rewarding to have it told. And if I do say so myself, I make a remarkable character.

Having read your tale in its earliest stages, I would quite agree. (Indeed, if I recall, I was with my author in suggesting you play more of a role at certain points.)

Now you mention it, I believe you’re right; I could name one scene right off that may never have entered the book otherwise. My thanks to you and Tirzah for your own bit of muse-like inspiration!

It’s never mentioned in the pages of Inspired how such a remarkable being as yourself came to be… well, inspired, in the first place. Do you remember your origin?

That I do. Ideas beget ideas. When a creative mind imagines, it generates the matter of which muses are made. Over much time and many ideas, the matter accumulates into a being which can imagine for itself, at which time it can take any form it fancies. …or any form it suspects its creator will fancy. A muse does well to ensure his artist’s mind stays active, you see. One must look to the continuance of one’s species.

You have four strong characters under your wing—your children, as you call them. Are you the sort of “parent” to choose favorites? If so, which is your favorite?

I’m not above favoritism, no. Truth be told, one of my precious four is particularly dear to my heart. But in the interest of precluding any unfortunate sibling rivalry between them, I shall withhold the name as one of my necessary little secrets. Readers are, however, welcome to speculate.

That… that is enigmatic; that is textbook enigmatic. If you’ll not answer that question, then, will you at least step up to this next challenge? Describe each of your four children of the imagination, in single sentences—one sentence for each.

Now, there’s a request I can gladly oblige. Going in order of their introduction in “Inspired”, I’ll begin with Abishan. He’s a pampered pussy cat of a god who cares for nothing so much as his own comfort and those who contribute to it.

In contrast, Wilbur thinks of himself last of everyone, all the young man’s kindhearted attention devoted to those around him.

Uri, meanwhile, prefers to affect an air of utter apathy, partly to do with her being a teenager, but primarily as a defense against the pain and confusion that comes with trying to give a damn in a corrupted world.

And little Yves is as a wisp of flickering flame, dancing in a gale of adversity that shall either blow him out or fan him brighter, in the end.

If you could claim credit for any other fictional creation (not one in Annabelle’s universes, nor in Danielle’s), who would you wish you could call your own?

Hmm! An intriguing question to which I’ve not hitherto given much thought. If I could name but one (and at the risk of seeming to have been influenced by Danielle’s list of fictional favorites), I believe I would choose Sherlock Holmes.

Intelligent, complex, highly influential, and enduringly popular. He was so beloved in his day that his author couldn’t get away with keeping him killed off, and he is no less adored more than a century later. Such staying power is a rare and exquisite thing. How proud I would be to have him for a child! Though, I expect he would make for a better feather in my cap than he would a son. For all that I envy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s muse his triumph, I would not trade my family.

A brilliant choice, one of which I’m sure Holmes, Doyle, and Doyle’s attendant genius would heartily approve. That said, your loyalty to your fictional family, even over and above such literary success, is extraordinarily admirable. I wish your book the best of luck—and who knows where it might sit in people’s hearts, come a century, eh? Only a hundred years will tell…

So true. I look forward to learning how my story stands time’s test. And that goes for your story as well, Syawn, when it at last goes out into the world. Until our next meeting, gracious host: Farewell.

 

Let us hope the man fares well indeed, himself. Inspired is available for purchase at Amazon in paperback and Kindle forms, Barnes and Noble for you Nook users, and on Kobo.

War is in the Wind

Yesterday, I reached my goal of writing 50,000 more words of my second novel. By my reckoning, the draft is still a good 25,000 words from completion, but it’s satisfying to have such a good chunk written.

In celebration, I’m going to let you see a sneak preview of Scriptless. What’s this, an excerpt from Scriptless before Ever the Actor is even released? Yes, I’m crazy– not least because I’m letting you, my lovely viewers, read a section of a first draft. I’m sure I’ll regret this once I wake all the way up.

Couple things I should clarify before tossing this out at ya:
The Mynore are a conquered people, essentially serfs on their own land, and the “Crows” are what they call their mage masters. And this is a first draft, I reiterate.

*****

Harn forced his heart to be as stone, keeping his eyes on his work as the pair of Crows watched him. His axe, a small woodcutter’s axe, not his waraxe, thunked with rhythmic repetition into the trunk. The pine shuddered each time he drove it home. For a moment, he imagined that he was burying the axe head into the Crows’ hearts, but he quickly dropped the fantasy. The tree deserved better in its final moments.
“What have you got here, twenty logs?” One of his unwelcome spectators asked.
Te gule h’n chark, kein. May you be pinioned and de-beaked, bird, Harn thought in the Old Tongue. Aloud, he answered mildly in Kapatak, “You can see well enough for yourself, sir.”
A buffet of air smacked his head from behind, nearly causing him to stumble forward into the tree. “We know that, hoary-headed fool. I asked you your count. You give me a number.”
Blinking against the bright patches that spotted his vision, Harn turned to inspect his handiwork. Yes, twenty-five logs, all loaded onto the cart, ready to take home. He would hew this last and call it good.
“Twenty-five,” he answered, still mild. “Twenty-six, if you count this one.”
“Get on with it, then,” the Crow answered. “Then bring it to the fortress when you’re done.”
Harn swung the axe again, trying to bite his tongue. He failed. “The tax is eighty-five percent, is it not?”
“Yes?” The Crow had a dangerous edge to his voice, but Harn’s tongue carried on in spite.
“So I’ll be bringing you twenty-three logs.” The Crows demanded that they round up.
Another clout of air. “Don’t be selfish, man—the load will be deducted from your overall taxes.
Harn clenched his teeth, knowing it never would. “Yes, sir.” He drove the axe into the trunk a final time, then withdrew and stepped back to watch it topple. Instead it stood, wavering against the natural tilt. It twisted oddly, then gravity took over, bringing it down towards him. He just managed to scramble out of the way, his heart in his throat as the pine crashed into the ground half a yard shy.
The mages who’d caused this phenomenon snickered. “Better learn your  trade, woodsman, before you turn to pulp yourself,” one said. “Be sure we see that at the fortress gates before the sun sets, man,” said the other, before both turned and strolled away from clearing.
Harn swung the axe with a fury, letting it bite deep into the fresh stump. It was the only way to stop himself from charging those complacent fledglings. He closed his eyes, breath coming hard as tears tried to rise. That was exactly that attitude that had killed his wife.
“Patience, love,” he had told her at least every day, as he dragged her away from one Crow or another. “Patience. Havr merz,” he would whisper. War is in the wind. And, soothed by the Old Tongue’s sentiment, she would reel her hatred back inside, letting it build for the battlefield.
Until the day he couldn’t stop her. He had always feared that such a day might come.
It had been the law against white. The Crows knew the wearing of white held a special place for the Mynore, and so like every good thing—like dancing and drums and his sweet violin—they outlawed it. So in the presence of their overlords, there were no pelts of the white bears. No white rabbit skins stitched together, no white wool and no white cotton. Of course, every Mynore family kept some piece of white cloth in their secret cache. If it had been special before, white was now a sacred symbol of rebellion.
But it wasn’t the hidden roll of white linen that killed her. It was the grey. The great problem with the law against white—the great advantage, as the Crows saw it—was that white was a debatable color. There was rarely cloth as pure white as fresh fallen snow, so shades just off of white were also outlawed. And maybe shades just off of that. And maybe a pair of Crows patrolling through the village glanced at a medium grey cloak and decided that, though they’d walked past it without comment for the three years it’d been around, today it was white.
“That’s against the law, you know,” one had told her, his magic yanking Harn’s wife to a stop by her hair. “I could bring you in for that, but I’ll let you off easy.” And the cloak had burst into flames. She’d dropped to the snow and rolled, of course, but every time she put it out, it would ignite again, until the whole thick wool cloak had burned to ashes, and the clothes underneath fared little better. And all the while, the Crows stood and watched and laughed.
Harn, running towards the scene from the time he saw the flames, had dropped to his knees in the melting snow and reached to help her up. “Havr merz,” he’d whispered, afraid the Crows would overhear the Old Tongue, more afraid of what would happen if he didn’t say it. “Havr merz, darling.”
But the phrase had worn thin, and no longer bore her fury. With a snarl, she yanked out of his hold, suddenly throwing herself at the Crows.
Thanks to the element of surprise, she snapped the neck of one before the end. Then there had been an unexplained flash of red, a twist of horrible magic, and her head and body had lain separately in the snow, leaking liquid bright as cherries. Harn had been unable to move, and that had surely saved his life, for he’d have gone the same way if he could’ve.
But now he was here, many years a widower, gripping an axe handle with shaking hands and still telling himself that havr merz.

*****

Hobby Noveling

In a few days, I will be starting Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s right, all the joy and madness of November’s National Novel Writing Month, now deliciously available in August.

For those of you who don’t know what normal NaNoWriMo is, it is anything but normal. The challenge: 50,000 words. One month. Go. More specifically, the challenge is to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel. The rushed writing model (1,667 words per day) is designed to shut down people’s Inner Editors, allowing and forcing them to simply get the thing done.

This program has proven instrumental in pushing me off the cliff of “I want to write a novel or two on the side” and into the wild rushing ether of “I want to write novels for a living!”.

But don’t lay the blame on too thick! Such was never their plan. In fact, NaNoWriMo began with the intention of being nothing more than a wild ride and a kick in the pants to the sorts that say they’re going to write a book “someday”.

Their intention, in short, lay no further than hobby noveling.

Hobby noveling: writing a novel, just because you want to. No plans for publication. Writing for your own eyes, perhaps for the eyes of a small circle of friends; perhaps even for no eyes ever again, once the first draft is laid down in type.

Preposterous? Ridiculous? Insane for someone to put so much effort into a private project? Indeed! As preposterous as someone painting for pleasure and never planning to get a gallery. As ridiculous as remodeling that master bathroom that hardly anyone but you and your spouse ever sees. As insane, I say, as personal satisfaction ever is.

So yes, I think writing “just for kicks” should be respected. Writing seems to be the only sphere where people are frowned upon for not desiring to share their work. Hobby novelers, as a rule, are pressured to publish, while someone can write songs and poetry, whittle wooden figurines, and sketch in a private notebook without being pushed to publicize (unless they’re really great).

I really think the idea that the only reason to write is to publish needs to change, and I thank NaNoWriMo for aiding and abetting that change.

And if, by some fluke, a hobby novelist tumbles down the slippery slope towards career writing… I feel their pain. Maybe we can form a support group.