In Which I Contemplate the Disappointing Limitations of Reality

When I was a kid, I had one wish. I wished it on stars, on birthday cake candles, on pennies tossed into a fountain at the mall. Of all the possible and impossible things to want, I wanted to fly. And honestly, I didn’t see what was all that impossible about it.

Faith, trust, and pixie dust; that’s the magic formula, according to some. Well, my pixie dust stash was a little low, but as a child – before I hit my twenties and life finally soured me into a cynic – I had faith to spare. Countless times I hurled myself into the air off of that low bench built into the wall of my old basement, each time sure that this time was the one. This time, I would defy gravity.

Gravity, like the villain it is, was all, “Mwa-hahaha, YOU FOOL!”

By my teen years, I got wise. Flying just was not going to happen for me in this world. Fortunately, there were always other worlds. The one behind the mirror, for instance; the world where my every dream existed as everyday reality. There, I could fly. There, I owned a farm full of puppies, ponies, and tigers. There, whichever cartoon character I was crushing on at the time would adore me and want to hang out and do fun stuff 24/7. It was all there, I knew it was. If only Sarah Maria would move out of my way!

Sarah Maria was my reflection.

Sarah Maria, all grown up and still at her post.

Sarah Maria, all grown up and still at her post.

As one would expect of her, she mirrored my every move. I blinked my right eye, she blinked her left. I raised a hand to touch the mirror’s glass, she reached up as if to give me a high-five. We met palm to palm, she countering my touch with precisely equal pressure. However hard I pressed, so did she. There was no pushing past her. No faking her out and slipping around her all smooth and sneaky-quick. A professional reflection never lets their reverse image through. Sara Maria was just too good. However much I might wish and try and beg, the perfect mirror world was denied me.

Some people like to claim that we control our reality. That it’s our beliefs and attitudes and insistent perceptions that make the rules. That with the right amount of psycho-spiritual clarity, we can do anything. Anything at all. Speaking as she who was once the most blissfully naïve little dreamer there ever was? Yeah, that’d be nice, but no.

Alas for our whims, we are not the Author of this story. We are but his beloved characters. We don’t determine the world’s strictures, we don’t mastermind the plot, we don’t edit out the bits that don’t suit us. We just blunder around – amusingly, tragically, courageously, desperately, even a little impressively, sometimes – trying to find our way to our happiest available ending. For all that the Author has the book all mapped out, we characters are what you call “pansting it”, controlling maybe a little bit more and for sure a whole lot less than we’d like to believe.

With or without pixie dust, our belief can only do so much, in this world.

Thank God for fiction.

A Little Christmas Mad-gic

W.A.I.T. Button, 78 percent

“Welcome, one and all,” says Will Scarlet, with a broad smile and a bow, “to Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre!”

“Every Saturday,” says Allyn-a-Dale, “Will and I and our friends from the story world of ‘The Outlaws of Avalon ’ trilogy—”

“Coming one of these days to a book retailer near you!”

“—Will take at random two of the suggestions gleaned from you, our gentle audience, and incorporate them into… well, the sort of tomfoolery Will calls entertainment.”

“So make yourselves comfortable,” says Will, “as we now present to you: ‘A Little Christmas Mad-gic’!”

<<<>>>

[The curtain rises on a prop house with a faux-snow-covered roof in front of a starry black backdrop. Walking across the top ridge is Allyn-a-Dale, dressed in a nicely tailored Santa Claus suit, a stuffed sack slung over his shoulder.]

Allyn/Santa: Hi-ho, ho, ho, one more chimney to go,

And then home at long last, my first Christmas test passed!

[Steps up to the roof’s chimney and leans over to peer inside.]

Allyn/Santa: Hold a moment. There’s something curious about this one… whoa, WHOA!

[Between the slippery snow and the destabilizing weight on his back, he loses his balance and pitches headfirst into the chimney. While colorful lights flicker, the house turns (having been built on a rotating platform), its hollow back side revealing Allyn spinning around in a horizontally revolving cylinder, like a sock in a clothes dryer. The starry backdrop rises out of sight, revealing a sunshiny, picturesque garden scene, bordered with trees. The house’s platform base having wheels as well as rotation capabilities, it spins and rolls its way offstage, Allyn tumbling out as it disappears into the wings.]

Allyn/Santa [stumbling dizzily up to his feet ]: What in the world…?

[With the house of the way, the stage right tree becomes viewable to the audience, along with Will Scarlet lounging on one of the branches in a long-tailed coat and a top hat embellished with ribbons, feathers, and pins.]

Will/Hatted Stranger [grinning widely ]: What in which world? And where in what world? And why, of all worlds, are you here?

Allyn/Santa: That’s what I’d like to know. I was about to make a delivery of gifts to the home of the Rabbit family when—

Will/Hatted Stranger: Which Rabbit? What Rabbit?

Allyn/Santa: White Rabbit, if I rightly recall the list I checked twice.

Will/Hatted Stranger [grinning more widely still ]: Whoopsy-daisy, that’ll do it! Fell down the rabbit hole; it all makes sense!

Allyn/Santa [frowning ]: Sense? It makes no sense at all.

Will/Hatted Stranger: No sense, nonsense, only sense to be found here is none-sense. Welcome to Wonderland!

Allyn/Santa [moaning ]: Oh, for pity’s sake. I only just completed one crazy quest in time for the Christmas rush. I don’t want any more madness!

Will/Hatted Stranger [laughing manically ]: Bad news for you, friend! We’re all mad, here. And you’re addressing the maddest of them all! [sweeps off hat in a bow-like gesture ] Artifice Cheshirecott, at your service – more commonly called the Mad Hatter.

Gotta love a little mashup madness. ;D

Gotta love a little mashup madness. ;D

Allyn/Santa [bows with a sigh ]: Jack Snow at yours – more commonly called Santa Claus. Now, would you be so good as to help me get home?

Will/Hatter [hopping down from the branch ]: More than good, I’ll be great! Where do you live, Santa Jack?

Allyn/Santa: In the northern polar region of Fairytale Forest.

Will/Hatter: Fairytales? Tsk, tut, you’re well off the track. Wonderland isn’t strictly a part of the fairytale genre, though you’ll find a lot of overlap – hence your stumbling in, just now.

Allyn/Santa [relieved ]: So getting back should be easy.

Will/Hatter: Should be, yes. Will be? [more mad laughter ] Oh, no! I mean to milk this plot twist for all it’s worth. Let our serial genre-hopping adventure begin!

<<<>>>

“Aaaand SCENE!” says Will.

“Thank you to audience members Susan Francino and Miranda McNeff,” says Allyn, “for providing us with the inspiration ‘hat or hats’ and ‘artifice’.”

“If you enjoyed yourselves,” Will says, “(or if you didn’t, but you totally did, right?), don’t forget to leave suggestions for future productions in the comments! Words or phrases we’ve got to include, a prop to use, a prompt to run with… anything goes! ‘Til next time, friends:  Will and Allyn out!”

I, HUMPTY, You Humpty, We All— No, Wait…

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

But if they threw their resources together, they might be able to fund the famous egg’s upcoming biography. And yoooooou can help!

I, Humpty cover

My friend and fellow reteller of fairytales, Eric Wilder of The Grimm Report, has assembled a collection of his once-upon-a-tabloids into I, Humpty, a book which I had the privilege of giving an early read. Behold, my review:

These aren’t your grandmother’s fairy tales! For that matter, they’re not your children’s, either. I, Humpty assembles the lurid scandals behind the curtain of fairy dust, from the courtroom dramas of Hansel and Gretel to the financial felonies of Robin Hood and Rumpelstiltskin – from the marital ups and downs between Beauty and The Beast to conspiracy theories of Wonderland and Oz – with gossip surrounding celebrities from Sleeping Beauty to Cinderella and, of course, the shell-breaking life story of the titular Humpty Dumpty. Shocking, silly, and sometimes hitting closer to home than one would expect from stories begun in lands so far, far away, this is journalism that doesn’t flinch from the grimmer side of “once upon a time”. Fans of the likes of TheOnion.com and James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories should find much to enjoy in I, Humpty.

To cover the costs of book production, Eric’s got a Kickstarter going, with thank-you gifts including such tempting items as the originals of I, Humpty’s hand-drawn illustrations (courtesy of artist Anna Milioutina) , signed copies of Our Brother’s Grimmest (a collection featuring articles from an assortment of contributors to The Grimm Report, including two by yours truly!), and even a shot at sainthood. Seriously.

Read all about it HERE, and do consider chipping in. If the project meets its goal, Humpty Dumpty’s not the only one who’ll crack up. ;D

 

Relax, I Read a Ninja Novel

My childhood of learning martial arts under duress notwithstanding, I looked forward to giving this novel a try ever since I took notice of the author talking it up on Twitter. How’d the book measure up against my hopes? Find out, after these messages! (And by messages, I mean the usual details that precede the actual review portion of my review posts.)

The Book: “Relax, I’m a Ninja” by Natalie Whipple.

Genre: Urban Fantasy YA

Blurb: A Clan of ninjas in San Francisco may sound improbable—but as the son of a ninja master, Tosh Ito knows what lurks in the shadows of his city. Or at least he thought he did.

When a killer with a poisoned blade starts cutting down teens, Tosh enlists Amy Sato—newest ninja recruit and his best friend’s crush—and sets out to uncover the killer’s identity. What they find is ninjutsu more evil than they could have ever imagined.

As Amy and Tosh grow closer, they discover their connection unleashes a legendary power that could stop the murders. Problem is, that power may be exactly what the killer is looking for, and wielding it could cost them both their souls.

Me with my copy of the book. I know, you can’t see me. I’m just that ninja-sneaky.

Me with my copy of the book. I know, you can’t see me. I’m just that ninja-sneaky.

My Thoughts: I’d call this one a solid read. I could have done with less training and waiting around bits and more this-is-not-a-drill ninja action on top of the Golden Gate Bridge or something to really get my blood racing, but that was my only real complaint.

I like that the story didn’t go for the obvious. (Because, really, wouldn’t we want a ninja book to be sneakier than that?) Plenty of plot points and character revelations caught me by surprise, or veered in a direction I hadn’t predicted. So props to the author for that, and props to Tosh for being pretty much made for his role as narrator, laying down the facts and expressing his inner conflict well, never leaving me feeling disconnected or frustrated with him for being dense/crazy repetitive/otherwise super annoying.

As for the romance, it felt startlingly normal. And I do totally mean that in a positive way. Like, there were the flirty parts, the mushy parts, the episodes of drama – not to mention the supernatural element – and none of it was completely over-the-top or ridiculously scripted or felt like, “oh, brother, tell me people in real life wouldn’t behave like this.” And can I just say, in a literary world full of those “oh, brother…” romances, I really appreciated that. So more props to Tosh, Amy, and their author lady.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): If I told you that this book legit ninja-flipped out of my hands when I reached the last page, would you give this book a read? Because I kid you not.

Your Thoughts: Put ‘em in the comments, and I’ll know!

Scarlet’s Fairytale Spin, Finale

W.A.I.T. Button, 78 percent

“Welcome, one and all,” says Will Scarlet, with a broad smile and a bow, “to Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre!”

“Every Saturday,” says Allyn-a-Dale, “Will and I and our friends from the story world of ‘The Outlaws of Avalon ’ trilogy—”

“Coming one of these days to a book retailer near you!”

“—Will take at random two of the suggestions gleaned from you, our gentle audience, and incorporate them into… well, the sort of tomfoolery Will calls entertainment.”

“So make yourselves comfortable,” says Will, “as we now present to you: ‘The Anti-Antichristmas’!”

<<<>>>

[The curtain rises on a backdrop painted with the menacing front of gates of the Antichristmas Beast’s castle. In the fringes of the prop-tree forest stage right stand Will Scarlet as Peter “The Woodsman” Pan and Allyn-a-Dale as Jack Snow, bearing Songsteel, the sword voiced by Gant-o’-the-Lute.]

Will/Woodsman: Sixteen acts of assorted fairytale shenanigans, and it all comes down to this. Are you prepared, Jack Snow, to face the Antichrismtas Beast and seize your destiny as the chosen Santa Claus?

Allyn/Jack [solemnly ]: I am. But there is yet the possibility that I shall fall to the Beast’s power. Will you not please wait in safety with Mother and Simian?

Will/Woodsman [shaking his head ]: No indeed, dear boy. I am sworn to stand by your side to whatever end. If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. [draws blade from scabbard ] You have my sword. [slings recurve bow off of back ] And you have my bow. [unhooks hatchet from belt ] And my axe!

Lute/Songsteel: A vow with the golden ring of fellowship, to be sure. But unlike me, your arsenal is useless against this particular enemy.

Allyn/Jack: I fear he speaks true, Woodsman.

Will/Woodsman [sighing ]: Well, at least take a token for luck. [reaches into pocket, produces a large feather ] I nicked this from Simian’s wing. Here, stick it in your cap. You’ll look totally macaroni.

Allyn/Jack: I’ll look what?

Will/Woodsman: Cosmopolitan! Très chic! Yankee Doodle dandy!

Allyn/Jack: O-kaay… [affixes feather to cap ] [takes a deep, bracing breath ] Right, then. Here I go. And in case I never get another chance… [flings arms around Will in a fiercely tight hug ] Thank you for everything. You’ve been a wonderful father.

Will/Woodsman [squeezing back just as hard ]: Blast all, Jack, it’s too early in the scene to make me tear up like this. Get out there and kick tail before I start bawling.

[The embrace concluded, Allyn steps out of the trees and up to the towering gates.]

Allyn/Jack [raising Songsteel high ]: Let the dark lord of this castle come forth! And let justice be done upon him!

Little John/Beast [appearing – yipes! – out of the tree shadows right behind Will Scarlet to place a massive hand around his throat! ]: Brave words, Jack Snow.

[Allyn whips around, face taut with horror.]

Little John/Beast [cont.]: But are you brave enough to let this man die for your cause? For die he will, if you make one move against me.

Will/Woodsman: Never mind me, Jack! Attack! At-aughck! [chokes dramatically in the strangling hold ]

Allyn/Jack [stage-whispering ]: Now, Songsteel!

Lute/Songsteel [singing with heartrending beauty ]: Chestnu-u-uts roasting on an open fi-i-ire… Jack Fro-o-ost nipping at your no-o-ose…

[Little John stumbles away from Will, clawing at his own ears and yowling in pain as the carol goes on through the bits about turkey, mistletoe, and glowing-eyed tots. Then come the lyrical revisions.]

Lute/Songsteel [cont. ]: The chosen Sa-a-anta’s on his way. He’s brought his singing sword to Antichristmas slay. Wendy and Woodsman’s child bids you goodbye. Your night is ending, and a new dawn is nigh…

Little John/Beast [sinking lower and lower ]: I’m melting! I’m melting! Oh, what a world, make it stop!

Allyn/Jack [voice ringing with power ]: There is no stopping this. Now, Songsteel! Now, Woodsman! Now, monkey and Wendy! Now, all who’ve a part played here, your voices lend me!

[The gate backdrop rises, revealing Marion as Wendy Darling-Pan, Robin Hood as Simian the winged monkey, INSPIRED’s Abishan as himself, Sir Gawain and Sir Bedivere as the bridge trolls, and Edgwyn Wyle as the Puffwolf. Their voices join those of Allyn, Will, and Lute, not to mention the orchestra and a twenty-piece handbell choir.]

Ensemble [singing with beautiful gusto ]: And so we’re offering this simple phra-a-ase, for kids from one to ninety-two… Although it’s been said, many times, many wa-a-ays, Merry Christmas!…

Little John/Beast [“melted” nearly to the floor ]: Nooooo!

Ensemble: Merry Christmas!

Little John/Beast [feebly ]: Noooo…!

Ensemble: MERRY CHRIST-MAAAAAAS TO YO-O-OU!

[A mighty cheer goes up from everyone left alive on the stage. Hugs are exchanged, hats are tossed, and a sparkling snow begins falling from above.]

It's a Christmas miracle!

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Will/Woodsman: The magic of music and Christmas combines, and ding-dong, the Beast is dead! I’m so happy, I could crow! [proceeds to do so, his discreet harness raising him up to fly in joyous loops over the stage ]

Allyn/Jack [laughing ]: And so shall we all live happily ever after, for with this, our fairytale ends.

Ensemble: [takes a bow ]

[The curtain falls.]

Will[‘s voice from behind the curtain ]: Wait, what? It’s over? Already??

Allyn[‘s voice, likewise from behind the curtain ]: What do you mean, “already”? We’ve been dragging this out for months!

Will: Well, yeah, but… I mean, do we even get an epilogue or something?

Allyn: That strikes me entirely superfluous, so no.

Will: Phooey. Ah, well. I’ll just have to come up with a new serial saga then. Whaddaya think? Space opera?

Allyn: Oh, dear…

<<<>>>

“Aaaand SCENE!” says Will.

“Thank you to audience members Chelsea de la Cruz and Steven Bourelle,” says Allyn, “for providing us with the inspiration ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ and ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’.”

“If you enjoyed yourselves,” Will says, “(or if you didn’t, but you totally did, right?), don’t forget to leave suggestions for future productions in the comments! Words or phrases we’ve got to include, a prop to use, a prompt to run with… anything goes! ‘Til next time, friends:  Will and Allyn out!”

Here There Be Writing Adventures!

Now that I’ve had half-a-sec to catch my breath following “Song Caster” Launch Week (…well, maybe two-fifths-of-a-sec. …okay, so maybe I’m not breathing), I thought it high time to let you in on some other writing-related news bits – sort of a “What’s Up Wednesday” for the Thursday crowd. In order of immediacy:

Can we talk about how this gorgeous button feeds my seafaring soul?

Can we talk about how this gorgeous button feeds my seafaring soul?

1) Hosted by Emily at Oh Magic Hour and Lindsay of The Broke Book Girls, it’s Swashbuckling Summer, a blog event dedicated to all tales pirate-y! Emily asked me if I wanted in, and I replied with a resounding, “AYE!” Check out my guest post on why the fantasy of the high seas calls to me, “Here There Be Adventure”. And be ye informed, there’s more booty to be won than you can shake a cutlass at in the event’s kraken-sized giveaway – including postcards featuring “The Song Caster”s Gant-o’-the-Lute impersonating a pirate! So chart a course that-a-way, mates.

Captain Gant

Ahoy, Captain Gant!

Imminent Danger cover

2) Meanwhile, in the blog space of another friend, Michelle Proulx has gifted me with a short story – “Under Pressure” – starring Dani L (an alternate-dimension me!) and a hottie on the run called Korlethi, also known as Varrin from her humorous sci-fi novel, “Imminent Danger and How to Fly Straight Into it”. The short’s a fun little read, and makes me all the more determined to get my hands on Michelle’s novel the next time I’m on a book-buying spree (which will likely be soon, since Rachel Aaron’s “Nice Dragons Finish Last” is set to launch on the 15th, and you know I love me my Rachel Aaron books!).

LSQ Button

3) Also related to blogging: The blog of Luna Station Quarterly – the women-authored speculative fiction magazine which I’ve been honored to have feature a few short stories of mine – is bursting with new life thanks to a full schedule of reviews, guest columns, and such. And guess who’s on the roster to contribute a little something once every quarter? By golly, it’s me! So you can bet you’ll be getting further bulletins as events warrant there. Also feel free to follow along with LSQ via their many social media presences to stay up to date on even the non-Danielle E. Shipley-authored stuff they do. ;D

4) And speaking of my short stories and publishing, I am ecstatic to announce that I’m signed on for inclusion in a paranormal anthology through Xchyler Publishing, slated to release this fall! This will be my first time working with The X as an author (as opposed to just reading their stuff and attending their launch parties on Facebook), and I’m all kinds of thrilled that they smiled upon my submission during their recent contest. (By the by, writer friends, they’re running another contest through the end of August for their next fantasy anthology. Think about it.) Extra squeals of delight due to the fact that my beloved pal Alyson Grauer (famed author of “Lavenza, or the Modern Galatea” from Xchyler’s steampunk antho “Mechanized Masterpieces”) shall ALSO have a story in the paranormal collection! Huzzah for anthology sisterhood!

Xchyler Button

And that, my dears, is all the latest. …not counting my Camp NaNoWriMo project which, so far today, has gone woefully neglected. Let’s see what I can do to remedy that.

Fare thee well, readers! And if you’ve got any exciting stuff happening in your world, the comments section is open to you. Share your glee!

How to Make Characters Fall in Love

I can see it now: A mob of angry characters jabbing their fingers at this page and demanding, “What kind of a title is that?!

Okay, maybe “make” is too incendiary a word choice. How about, “How to Guide Characters into Love”?

Better,” they might concede with a grumble.

Alright then. Before we get into the “how”, we’ve got to talk about the “why”. Why bother putting any real thought into this? Why not just jump in with something along the lines of…

Once upon a time, Boy met Girl, and each became obsessively devoted to the other on sight.

That’s a little something they call “insta-love”, and while it was a technique par for the course in fairytales of old, a lot of readers today won’t go for that.

A song at first sight is a great start, but not much of a middle and end.

A song at first sight is a great start, but not much of a middle and end.

They want to know why Boy and Girl love each other. What do they see in each other, and how was that discovery made? “One look in the princess’s eyes, and he fell straight into the depths of goodness in her heart” cannot be the go-to. We need more than a look. We need…

Conversation. You want characters to develop emotional attachments among themselves? Have them talk to each other!

Have them bond over hopes, dreams, and fears, the mutual sense of feeling trapped in their current situations, and reminiscence about that time they ran that impromptu apple heist in the marketplace.

Have them bond over hopes, dreams, and fears, the mutual sense of feeling trapped in their current situations, and reminiscence about the time they ran that impromptu apple heist in the marketplace.

What people say to one another (and, often enough, what they don’t say) can reveal a lot about them – their personalities, opinions, and sense of humor, their likes, dislikes, views on life’s big questions. One meaningful dialogue between characters can make all the impact in the world on their feelings toward the other guy. And the more they talk to each other, the longer and more twisted of an emotional journey you can take them on.

“He said this? We’re soul mates!”

“He said that? Ugh, I can’t stand him!”

“Wow, the way she phrased that… Be still, my heart!”

“I don’t know what she’s going on about, but sheesh, what a total turnoff.”

“Not gonna lie, I wanted his head on a platter … until that beautiful, humorous, heartfelt apology. *swoony sigh*”

And the best part? All those hypothetical quotes don’t apply only to the characters doing the talking; the eavesdropping readers get to experience the ups and downs, too!

Environmental Aid. …Or, as Sebastian put it in “The Little Mermaid”, you’ve got to create da mood. (And that crab really had his work cut out for him since, with Ariel’s voice gone, conversation with Eric was drastically impaired.)

Kiss the Girl GIF

While it’s not always necessary to throw your characters into an atmospheric song number (though, as readers of “The Song Caster” and any other minstrel-infested story of mine will come to learn, a song number is totally an option!), there are environmental cheats storytellers can perform to turn up the sense of romance in the air. Stick the characters in inspiring settings – a lovely garden, perhaps, or underneath the stars, somewhere with a breathtaking view… Places like these can work on both conscious and subconscious levels to put the characters in a dreamy or passionate state of mind.

Speaking of passions, take those of the characters into account! Not everyone’s into gardens and stars, but if Boy’s wild about marshlands or Girl’s captivated by some old semi-haunted shack of a cabin or they’re both intrigued by historical ruins or iffy back alleys, these unconventional locations may stimulate their feelings far better than somewhere more generic.

Work Smarter, Not Harder. Want Boy and Girl to fall in love? You can make it leagues easier on everyone if you put in some thought during the story’s planning stages about what kind of person they’d be attracted to. Be a savvy matchmaker. What traits do they admire and value? Do they have a “type”? Which actions can you see turning them on and off?

True-Love's-Kiss-enchanted

Remember, not everybody’s looking for the same sort of guy/gal. Plenty of people aren’t looking at all! A character actively against falling in love will need to be handled differently than one who dreams every night of True Love’s Kiss – handled differently by both their author and by the other half the author wants to pair them with. The more strategic you can be from the beginning about how to orchestrate this romance, the smoother sailing you’re likely to have.

Don’t Force It. Truth is, short of a love potion or something (which can be a valid plot device, though I’d use it sparingly, were I you), the angry character mob is right: You really can’t make them fall in love. You can set everything up beautifully, but if they’re not feeling it, they’re not feeling it, and trying to play it off like they are when they aren’t would be a crime against truth in fiction. So listen to your characters’ hearts on this one. If a pairing’s meant to be, true love will find a way.

Love Will Find a Way