story

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I was plugging my own WIP of the time on a National Novel Writing Month forum, and the then-unpublished Danielle E. Shipley messaged me, asking to hear excerpts of my work.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 II

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 II

Cresting a rise, Dalvin called for a rest. Stepping to the wooded side of the path, she cast about for a rock or log to sit on. Selecting a moss-covered lump of firm but indeterminate nature, she sipped from her water flask. Vec leaned against a tree nearby, studying the terrain ahead of them.

Their path wound down between lower foothills, with grasslands sloping to the east, and rocky woodlands rising to the west. The path, its track either faintly visible or painted by Grace’s fancy, rose up through a multi-green patchwork of farmland, then to a walled city, dark on its hilltop.

She breathed in deeply, and the open mountain air smelled sharply of conifers and matted late-autumn leaf litter, of the grasses to the left of their path, of good earth and damp stone and the age of the hills themselves. She didn’t mind cities, with their closeness, commerce, and crowds, but they smelled worse than a soldiers’ camp: stale with the stain of humanity.

Even so, she didn’t mind occasionally trading the freshness for walls and a real mattress. She studied the city in the middle distance. “We’ll make that by, what, early evening? Early enough to resupply and still have plenty of time for drinks and dice?”

Vec looked up at the sun, two hours past its zenith. “If we’re brisk, and if you don’t dally here.”

She took one final swallow and stood, shifting her pack’s strap from one shoulder to the other. “Let’s haul.”

They were still several days north of Urynad, but they’d started early enough to keep ahead of winter’s onset. Grace’s back and shoulders ached under the weight of her pack, its strap digging into her shoulder and chest. Her face and hands stung with cold, and her feet ached in spite of a good pair of boots. Wish I had a horse, she thought, stretching with a sigh. Or at least a pack-mule. She’d been taught how to care for either, and even knew a bit of her way around mounted warfare, but she wasn’t even close to having the money for any such thing.

Even so, she grinned up at the birds that flew in wedge-formation, arrowing their way to warmer lands. The day was crisp and beautiful, her body was young and strong and hale, she’d eaten breakfast and lunch and marched now towards drinks and dinner. Mounts and packhorses or none, hers was about as good a life as any but nobles and merchants could expect.

Vec let out a gusty sigh as they reached the lowest point, his eyes tracking up over the foothills before them.

“Tired, old man?” Dalvin grinned across at him. “Need me to take your pack?”

He snorted. “I wouldn’t say no. But nay, I’m just not looking forward to going home. Don’t mishear me; I like walls and a hearth in winter as much as the next fellow. Even the herbs that old woman stinks the place up with aren’t so bad after a few days, and she can patch up a fever right well enough, which is a boon.” He made a face. “She’ll just be expecting me to go to market for her, and gather any winter herbs, and take care of the firewood. And I’m not looking forward to any winter babes. You’d think people would want to bear their children in the comfort of their own home, but not everyone does. All that, and the only pub of any real size is a two hours’ walk from our door.”

The girl grimaced. “At least I’ve got a city, or I’d go snow-mad. Village folk are such skittish, clumsy fawns. Why do you keep going back?”

The older mercenary shook his head. “It’s where I’ve got to go. I haven’t had a lady for years now, and who’s got the coin to hole up in an inn for a whole season? I talk like I want her to pop off, but once she’s gone, I’ll be one of the poor sons of famine who winters with the band.”

“Your mum’s not passing you the house?”

He shook his head. “That’s going to her apprentice, along with all her coin, she’s made clear to me every winter for the past ten years. Anyway, I wouldn’t have any means to keep the place up in the other seasons. Will you get your Mum’s place?”

Dalvin grunted. “I hadn’t thought about it. I expect she’s willed it to me, but I should probably make sure.” Their one-room house and the small garden around it was one of the few things that had always been there, through thin and thinner; that precious wood-and-plaster barrier between starving on the streets and simply starving. Mum had gotten it when her own da died, and it had never been sold, because without it, she could grow no flowers, and without flowers, she wouldn’t have even the slim trickle of income that she did manage. Paying the taxes on the thing had been an annual miracle.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with it,” Grace realized aloud, “once it’s mine. I guess I’ll just sell it.” Once it’s mine. She took a deep breath against the strange stitch in her chest. She didn’t like to think of losing that one thing she’d never lost. She didn’t like to think of losing Mum. “Ah, what am I saying? I’m a soldier of fortune. I’ll die long before she does.” That brought another odd stab with it. Who will look after her, then? Who will bring home coin to stretch through the winter?

“That’s what I thought, too, when I first ran off to join the Yaa army,” Vec was saying, chuckling. “I was, what—fifteen? I figured I’d fall young and handsome in a hail of javelins. And here I am, near on three decades later, marking my kill-count in dozens instead of ones, and I’ve not lost so much as a limb.” He snapped his fingers. “Chance’s Fair Daughter must like me.”

The girl shook her head sadly. “The Fair Daughter has poor taste.”

He smiled sideways. “No poorer than you.”

She smirked. “I’ve never boasted of my taste in anything but weapons, armor, and teachers.”

“Oh, you only want me for my skills, is that it?”

Dalvin swatted his arm, the muscles of it hard as packed earth. “Of course. Winner takes all. And I want to be the winner, so you’ll show me what you know.”

He grinned, reaching up to straighten his headband. “You’re as strong as any youth I’ve known, girlie, and more skillful than most your age. They think they know all they need know, already. You’re always scrabblin’ for more and better; I’ve seen it, even before you turned to me. If you do live, you’ll have a real name.”

“I’ve already got one.” She smiled. “Grace the Mace.”

“It’ll do.” The older merc scratched at his stubble. “Aye; it’ll do, and folk will learn it. You move like a waterfall—the fearful sort. Not that you don’t have plenty room to learn.”

Her smile grew more satisfied. “Aye, sure,” she said to both sentiments. Not knowing how else to take the praise, she fell silent as they began to pass farms and orchards.

*****

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.

Another excerpt to follow!

Cover reveal to follow!

Now Available!

Headshot_Ireland

Sometimes, Nine > Fourteen

Mysst is my oldest character, for all she’s the youngest of my cast. She got her start when I was twelve, as my alter-ego unwritten-fanfic persona. She/I was a sword swingin’ Redwall otter. Yeah. You read that right.

When I first heard of National Novel Writing Month at fourteen, I decided to build her a story world, turn her human, and make her — surprise! — fourteen.

I failed at 30,000 words of dull traveling scenes and a combination of cliché and totally ridiculous drama. Still, it was a victory for my writing career; for one, it started me noveling. For another, there were a few gold nuggets in my pile of words.

Mysst, unfortunately, wasn’t one of them.

Failing to see that she’d devolved into  a whiney, wishey-washey bore, I started in on her tale again the next year. Thank heavens Syawn hijacked that one early.

A year and another NaNoWriMo later, I’d finished the story. And boy, was Mysst still lame. Not to mention a little daft. Her main quest, which was intrinsic to the plot, was incredibly simple-minded.

Then inspiration, that fickle, occasionally abusive friend of writers, struck.

I rolled back the years, turning her into a nine-year-old, and with it, making an entirely different person of her. Without my trying to make her anything but five years younger, she overhauled her own character (I can only imagine she had been waiting for just such an opportunity), turning into a tough, disciplined little firebrand, a bossyboots with a wide stubborn streak and surprising adaptability.

She was exactly the kind of girl who would dream up a madcap plan and fly after it on the triple-wings of determination, guilt, and fool’s hope.

So there’s a trick to remember when your character isn’t shaping up: screw around with the numbers. It can turn out that, against all mathematical wisdom, nine is greater than fourteen.

Web of Art, part II

Web of Art

Rapture in the story,
power in the strands,
beauty in the blood and sweat and tears.
The web in all its glory,
the best of men’s laid plans,
ensnares us in our greatest loves and fears.

The Strands

The Strands of the Web are the elements that make up the Story. They are the stuff that story is built of, the glue that holds it together, and the structure upon which it is built.

Specifically, in writing terms, the Strands are– everything. Plot and prose and punctuation, every decision the writer makes– every decision the director or painter or choreographer makes– is a strand in the Web of Art.

It is a fine thing, as a reader– or viewer, or listener– to take pleasure in the story, to be caught in a well-woven web. That is, after all, its purpose. But would it not be finer yet to take joy in the Story and the Strands both?

The Strands– spun right, strung right– are powerful in and of themselves, and it can be awe-inspiring to look past the tapestry to the stitches.

Can you love the composition of a paragraph, not simply the paragraph itself? More than being swept along in its flow, to step outside of it and run your eyes over the workmanship and wordcraft.
That carefully chosen, single-word sentence, then the poignant line ending in a semicolon, followed by a breathless string of commas, ’til the words smash into the period– then one short sentence, the wrap-up or summation or stroke of finality.

To look at a well-built anything, in awe not just of the finished product, but of the craftmanship, will add levels to your love and layers to your life.

 

Web of Art, part I

Web of Art

Rapture in the story,
power in the strands,
beauty in the blood and sweat and tears.
The web in all its glory,
the best of men’s laid plans
ensnares us in our greatest loves and fears.

The Story

I have never heard of anyone who did not find rapture in story– some story, some way, somehow. Certainly, there are people who don’t like reading stories, but stories stretch far beyond and above and behind the art of writing.

Movies and mothers and Marvel comics tell stories. Barroom braggarts and quick-witted liars tell stories. Grand greek statues and modern pop hits tell stories. And all these tales, long or short, clever or cliché, wicked or wise or warning or wonderful, have this in common:

They seek to capture, to enrapture, or at the least, to hold their prey suspended by fascination. All stories seek this, whether their artist knows it or not.

Even the palest lie whispered in the heart is there to capture; to hold the tale-teller wrapped up in what they wish to believe.

And the story I see in the spread of a tree, branches sparse and stark against the sky, or drawn in close to the trunk like a cloak, can take my breath away as I wonder at the whole tale.

But most artists know they are creating a Web of Art, whether they intend to catch themselves, their family, or millions of readers and viewers.

Story Sculpting

Sure, I enjoy the first draft– botching whatever I like, breaking down the fourth wall, chatting with my characters, amusing myself. For example:

“Upon entering the city, Sy and Mysst made for the best recommended inn.
Since their author was, most unfortunately, failing in her authorial pursuits, they found themselves walking inside the tavern below the inn with nothing to observe about their surroundings or interactions to that point.”

Because anything goes, the imagination is released from its straitjacket, and the soul spills out in incredible plot twists and inspired prose. These geysers of ink are unmatched by the editor’s stern red pen.

However, that wonderful, freeing Anything Goes is also the worst thing about the first draft. Within all the loveliness of this great release-of-soul, there bursts a dungheap.

This is where the red pen shines.

This is where dead prose is resurrected, where rants and brambles are cut away to reveal the fairy glade. This is where every stray thread of plot is wound up, or snipped, or new threads woven throughout, till they stretch across your loom to form a tale…

From the cold-hearted, cold-minded task of the red pen leaps the glory that the first draft only dreamt of.

The first draft is a miracle. From nothing to something. From blank page, to ink. It is the pure creation of a block of finest marble– fine, shapeless marble.

The editor sculpts, taking hammer and chisel to this unrealized dream, shattering the creation in horrifying sprays of stone. And then, beneath the careful pen, the dream begins to emerge. With every cautious, destructive stroke, the editor frees the story from its first draft, then smooths and polishes till every sentence gleams.

Then, art.