Royal Ruins

I was recently challenged to dash off a piece of flash fiction in response to a visual prompt – this photo of the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers:

Castle Ruins

And so, after a few minutes’ creative consideration, the following piece was born.

<<<>>>

There was beauty in ruin, he thought.

In the breath of winter, cold as death, encasing all it touched in diamonds and lace.

In the masterful chiaroscuro of smoke and soot against the palest plaster.

He’d always thought his childhood residence too neat, too clean, too plain in its strain to be perfect.

For “pretty” things, “respectable” things, he had neither use nor desire.

But now… upon his return, all these long years later… the castle matched its prince.

Broken, darkened, forsaken by all.

More than a match.

It was home.

<<<>>>

I hope you enjoyed the read! And if you’d like to enjoy more gorgeous photos – plus a video – of a burned-out French castle, this link is for you.

Between Heartbreak and Hope

The other day, I came across this series of tweets from author @veschwab.

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For any of you unable to view the screenshots, it reads as follows:

3 years ago, THE ARCHIVED hit shelves.

2 years ago, my first publisher discontinued the series.

2 years ago, my career could have stalled.

2 years ago, I decided to keep going.

2 years ago, I decided to write through it.

By the time THE UNBOUND hit shelves, I’d been told it was over. Told the series wouldn’t finish. Told it was my fault.

And now we’re here together, lovelies. 16 books under contract. 9 on shelves. 7 earning royalties. Thank you for believing in me.

This is Victoria “V.E.” Schwab, guys. The author I discovered when the world could not shut up about her novel of superheroes sans heroes. The author who had me jumping out of bed and running to the door to see if the mailman brought my story of multiple Londons. The one who kept me up at all hours, engrossed in a tale of grief and guyliner. Pretty much the most popular / beloved / raved about author I follow on Twitter.

And this is her backstory.

Vicious Cards, All

To say nothing of my giddy state when these trading cards arrived in the mail.

Reading that was like a left hook to my emotions. I sat there, not quite in tears, my spirit spinning somewhere between heartbreak and hope.

This author life is hard. Not just the writing part, which is its own special breed of struggle, but what comes after:

The constant fight to be read.

To be reviewed.

To be seen at all in this cold and noisy world.

To make a living off of all your exhausting work.

To make any sales, period.

Anyone who tells you, “If you just write a good book, it will sell”? I’d love to live in the reality where that’s true, but tell you what: It ain’t here.

Victoria knows this. Victoria was dealt a blow that could have flattened her – or me – or any of us in such a devastating situation. But she didn’t let the hurt stop her. And look at her now.

Y’know what that says to me? Maybe this isn’t forever. Maybe this blue period I’m slogging through … these on-and-off feelings of anonymity and discouragement, anxiety and fear … maybe this is my “2 years ago”. Maybe I’m still waiting on my “Vicious” to explode and put me front and center on the reading community’s radar. Maybe my “A Darker Shade of Magic” is still out there, poised to become all the buzz.

If I just keep going.

If I just write through it.

We the-“E”-stands-for-“Elizabeth” fantasy authors can be tough to kill.

Local Author Open House Recap, By the Numbers

Well, all, we’ve got another authorial first in the books. (Unintentional puns = 1. Apologies = 0.) This past Saturday saw me at Cook Memorial Public Library, taking part in their first annual Local Authors Open House. Here’s the rundown:

A heck-ton = The friends I invited to drop by and support me.

0 = The friends who came. *sad trombone*

(Part of me wishes this could’ve come as a surprise. The rest of me is just grateful I was braced for the total letdown, saving me from a brutal crush of devastation.)

Over 30 = The members of the public who I’m told did make an appearance – including my parents, sisters, and baby nephew, as well as a friend of a friend who even went so far as to bring me a cup of coffee. So props and thanks to all of them!

12 = Other authors in the [open] hizz-ouse.

More than 0 = The books I needed to sell in order to feel like a non-failure.

4 = The books I sold; three “Swan Prince”s and an “Inspired”. (If I rightly recall. I have yet to do an official cash/inventory count, ‘cause I’m kind of person who needs recovery time after this sort of thing.) So… roughly 1 in 7 or 8 attendees purchased a book up front. Doesn’t sound too shabby.

In retrospect, I’m wondering whether or not I would have done well to lower the price of the books on the table. I had them at their regular Amazon price, minus shipping and handling, rounded up to the nearest whole dollar number. Perfectly fair pricing, to be sure, though perhaps if I’d been willing to throw away any dreams of profit in favor of asking for a more attractive amount (say, $5 for each Wilderhark Tale, $10 for the novel), I might have moved more merchandise. Hard to know for sure. In any event, pretty much everyone who stopped at my table at least made off with a free “Swan Prince” bookmark, complete with my web address on the back, so time will tell whether I manage any down-the-road sales that way.

More than 1 = The people who saw my advert for “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” (which you can totally add on Goodreads, as of yesterday!) and essentially said, “Oh, that’s not out yet? It looks cool.” Which, of course, is just what one hopes to hear. ^_^

Number 1 best part of the event = There was this girl who showed up. Let’s call her Carolyn. Bright little ray of sunshine, asking about my self-pub experience, trading stories about participating in NaNoWriMo. She moved on from my table after grabbing a bookmark to investigate the other authors present, and later made her way back around again to chat with me, my mother (aka the one to thank for all the photos present in this blog post) and Bruce, the author seated next to me.

By and by, Bruce took it into his head to give Carolyn a free copy of his book – a “we semi-established authors have to reach out and nurture the up-and-coming writers of tomorrow” sort of gesture. And darned if Bruce’s act of generosity didn’t ignite a wildfire in me, roaring, “CAROLYN’S AWESOME! I WANNA GIVE HER A BOOK, TOO!” So just like that, our young friend made off with two gladly given freebies, including a signed copy of “Inspired”.

Whoever would have guessed that the highlight of my sales opportunity would be the chance to make a gal stammer with joy over a book given away? ;D

Many more = Events like this that I hope I’ll get to do in the future!

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Whazzup, Writing-Wise

We interrupt my periodic reflections on walking around Germany to bring you – *drumroll* – actual authorial updates!

1) Anthologically Speaking

Guess who’s got another short story slated to appear in an anthology? *points to self* This gal! Coming to you from my word-bro Alexander Nader and his Hair Brained Press, it’s “Manifest Reality”, a horror antho of stories focusing on the twisted sh*t in our heads™.

(To my knowledge, that is not actually the book’s trademark, just how Alex once described it on Twitter.)

Word is the collection should drop around Valentine’s Day – because nothing says “crazy-commercialized day of lovers” like a psychotic tale or thirteen, amirite? Further details to come as time marches on. Stay tuned. (And if you’d like to nab an early copy for review, poke me or Alex. We probably won’t tell you “no” and run you out of town. No promises, though.)

2) Novel News

A large part of #NaNoWriMo2015 was a throwback to my first-ever NaNo, back in 2010. I spent the first half of this past November (yes, even while on a river cruise across Europe – insanity or bust) going through the last big edits on my next big publication. Ladies, gentlemen, and miscellaneous so-and-sos, I am thrilled to announce that my Outlaws of Avalon trilogy will make its debut this summer – beginning, of course, with Book One, “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”!

*Not the actual cover*

*Not the actual cover*

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.

This is it, you guys! Of all the series I’ve ever written (heck, maybe even among all the series I’ve ever read), this one is dearest to my heart. And now the manuscript is all but complete, the cover art is underway, and the finished product is scheduled to launch this July.

Ballad ARC Request

If YOU are a reader who’s game to give a contemporary Robin Hood fantasy a whirl, I wanna hear about it! Click the pic above to go fill out the request form I figured out how to whip up (*victory dance*), and I’ll send an eARC your way.

“Rejoice, my fangirls-‘n’-boys!” Will Scarlet says, grinning ear to ear. “The wait for my official story draws to a close! Slowly. Excruciatingly so. Rejoice and die of impatience, basically.”

3) [Ever] On the Blog

I haven’t committed to blogging on a regular schedule since I fled to Europe. And you know what? I’m enjoying the freedom more than I thought I would. (Fun Deshipley fact: I don’t tend to enjoy things that lack structure. I’m a darling stick in the mud, like that.)

So for the indefinite future, I’mma keep doing as I’ve been for the last few months: Posting if and when I’ve got something I want to share. And we’ll see how that goes.

4) On Another Book-Related Note

Heeeeeey, people in and around Lake County, IL: One of my favorite childhood hangouts – Cook Memorial Public Library – is hosting a Local Author Open House. And I’m flying all the way back to the States to be there! (And, y’know, to reunite with my family for a bit.)

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This will be my first time as a part of an event like this. I am excited and nervous and pessimistic and hopeful and ready to ROCK. IT. OUT. If you can make it, I’d love to see you there. If I feel like it afterwards, I’ll tell the Internet how it was. (See point 3. ;) )

Aaaaaand that’s all she wrote for now. Anyone else got any good news to share? The comment section awaits you.

A Thing Isn’t Beautiful Because It Lasts

Up after another too-short night, made shorter by a cold smothering shut my sinuses. This is a morning for tea.

A mug of green with honey – my mug from Tirzah that calls me “aunt” in German, so near to what I go by with my treasured baby nephew. I don’t like the taste ohne Zucker (without sugar), but this is better for my condition, so I endure, knowing better is to follow.

A pot of loose-leaf – Tirzah’s pot from me. It pours out prettily pink and smelling of almond cookies – or, I joke, of cyanide. A momentary smile for pleasant thoughts of murder.

We take to the couch and light a rose incense stick, standing upright in a mug of its own. My NaNoWriMo mug, a had-to-have purchase for the minstrel-esque muse on the side.

The flame burns down, the smoke curls up – drifts and dances and hangs in the air. It appears as a magic fog, or perhaps like a soul’s departure. Wouldn’t it be a sight to burn such a stick in an open casket at a wake?

Sitting and sipping. Character chatting. Bracing our spirits for household chores done in a blink. Time for a walk.

* * *

Patches of clean, airy blue peek through the overcast sky. A sprinkle of rain, there and then gone, though the ever-changing clouds remain.

Scarlet gestures at the world before us. “You’d think it’d be gloomy, but it’s not.”

Sy’s head shakes in agreement. “Too bright through the gray, and the ground too green.”

Variegated greens and browns and purples. Always purples, like the work of a character – (none of you have yet met him; let’s call him Gilbert, since it’s his name) – who makes art through me, some nights. I don’t much care for the current coloring book fad, but his artist’s vision sees the possibilities in the pigmented pencils and the blanks between the lines. With my hand, he’s managed masterpieces. And with his eyes, we walk and see the subtleties of wood and leaf and sky. We joke that it’s nature imitating his art, but really, Gilbert just does beauty like God.

(Samples of Gilbert’s work)

* * *

We choose the road not taken. With so many paths running like veins between villages, we can easily find a new walk every time. We cross the street, then cross a field, nestled half-wild in the hills.

A cloud of birds rises in unison, then – for no reason we know – divides in two. Bigger, blacker, crows or ravens hop and flap and hoarsely caw. We’ve seen then form clouds, too, some evenings, filling the sky like some strange omen. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see a corvid perched upon a branch or roof. It’s their town; we’re just living in it.

Shaggy horses stand a fence away – majestic as lions, with the sturdy nobility of dwarves. We unofficially name the black ones Thorin Oakenshield. We exchange greetings with a Thorin as we pass, blowing at his nostrils while he politely sniffs.

“A pleasure making your acquaintance,” we say in parting.

A gracious bow of his great head. “The pleasure was mine.”

Such a gentleman. (Assuming he was male.) Nothing like the horses just up the road from our house, who always glare as we pass like we’re bringing down the neighborhood.

* * *

The paths curve up, down, and around. We take the forks that most appeal to our whims. Some days, some walks, the paths are busy, full of people, their bikes, their children, their dogs. But today, we are blessedly alone – just two girls and their closest imaginary friends.

We head further into the unknown, never fretting that we’ll truly lose our way. Tirzah’s smartphone aside, all roads eventually lead to another road big enough that there will be signage. Unfettered by fear, we wander freely. Unbothered by rain, we ramble on. Unheated by the further cooling of the air, we’re not sorry to find ourselves on the path back home.

Back on the familiar side of the street. Back to the neighborhood horses whose stares seem almost tolerant today. Back to warmth, the riddance of wet boots, and hot cocoa – salted caramel, and just the ticket to tide us over ‘til dinner’s been made.

We’re startled to realize (and equally pleased): This has been a really good day, all through. Mugs raised in a toast of contentment, all the sweeter for the knowledge that it cannot last forever.

The Old and the New

My New Year’s Eve with Tirzah

Walking through her German village – (our German village, I can say for now) – our latest heated argument punctuated by the battle sounds of fireworks.

Staring at the bursts of color in the foggy sky, my expression sobbing while the tears refuse to fall. It’s been a wretched day.

Is this how the old year ends? I mourn. Is this how the new begins? In painful misery? I don’t want that kind of year. Not again.

Maybe a bottle rocket will shoot me.

* * *

Meandering back down a side path. Stopping to stare at a tree – bare except for water droplets glittering in the smoky glow of a streetlamp. Silent music, melancholy beauty.

“That tree is Allyn-a-Dale,” Tirzah says, then looks to the flamboyant sky. “The fireworks are Will Scarlet.”

Will’s laugh through my throat. “Yeah they are.”

* * *

We – the hosts and the host inside of them – take a seat on pathside boulders. Embracing the mists like we’re born of them. Craning to watch the comets erupt.

“It’s hard,” Will says for me, eyes on the showers of light, “when someone who might otherwise be a happy person just… can’t, a lot. It’s like a flu of sadness. You try to drink plenty of fluids, try to get your rest, but all you can really do is let it run its course.”

Through Tirzah, Sy nods. “In her way, your author gets sick as often as mine does.”

“It’s pathetic.”

“It really is.”

Will arches a brow. “Take bets on which of ‘em dies first?”

Sy puts his money on my death; Will goes the other way. Winner’s author gets custody of the dead one’s characters.

Like that hadn’t already been agreed upon.

* * *

Back to the house for a New Year’s toast – she, me, her husband makes three, classy glasses of wood-flavored whiskey for all.

I snap pics of her in her hat and sharp jacket, Gandalf’s pipe balanced at the corner of her mouth. She raises the glass. “Happy New Year, old sport.”

“Mm, yes, I say, rather, *bluster-bluff*.”

She laughs at the toothpick I swirl in my drink and contently chew. “Who needs wood whisky when you can have whisky wood?”

A masterpiece of a movie, thanks to my sister’s Netflix. (“The Illusionsist” – you seen it? You may wish to.)

Always cold, but – with three top layers, a beanie, and T’s ski pants over my jeans – almost warm enough.

Always at risk to feel sad and angry and scared that life will swallow me and my inner fog whole, but for now – through the wee hours – happy enough.

* * *

I expect the year will be much like this.

Happy ‘til I’m not, sad ‘til I’m better, my people and me weathering it all like we do.

It will be hard.

Bits will be glorious – pockets of silent music in the mist.

Open Journal: River Cruisin’ Europe

I promised my loyal readers (and whatever random people happen to drop by the blog) that I would eventually tell all about my magnificent river cruise with Tirzah from Amsterdam to Budapest.

But I don’t wanna.

(Aboard ship and in Amsterdam, Netherlands)

The whole thing was just too amazing. Too grand. Too gorgeously surreal. Trying to write it down would be like trying to get last night’s dream on the page upon waking. Maybe I’d capture some of the facts, but it would only further fuzz the memories of the truth – turn what was so rich in the moment into a dry, tired record I’d be totally over chronicling halfway through.

(Kinderdijk, Netherlands)

So I’m not going to bother with a detailed narrative. Can’t do it justice, not gonna try. Instead, I’ll talk impressions. Also – *gestures throughout the post* – there will be pics.

(Cologne, Germany)

1 = Gant-o’-the-Lute has the right idea. I made the questionable decision to travel with two suitcases, a backpack, a lute in a case in a box… and none of the strapping men in my head to manage it all for me. I should’ve taken a page out of my minstrel’s book: Just whatever clothes I was wearing, and the lute strapped to my back. It would have made the nightmare of train connections at the end of the trip a lot easier, lemme tell you.

(Marksburg Castle in Koblenz, Germany)

2 = There are actually competent people in this world, and their prince was our program director. I don’t tend to trust people any farther than I can throw them. Humans have a terrible habit of letting me down. And frankly, the lack of solid communication during the registration process for my trip with Viking River Cruises left me none too reassured as to the quality of the hands into which I was placing myself for two weeks.

But our ship’s program director – a German fellow by the name of Oliver – was an absolute dream.

(Miltenberg, Germany)

His manner was just so… on top of it. Steady and punctual and a brilliant blend of good-humored and no-nonsense. And not only did he keep us regularly informed regarding our onboard schedules and onshore excursions, but when we had to change ships (twice) due to impassably low water levels (rainfall had been scant for some while, along the river route), he made the transition so smooth that we didn’t have to do anything but make sure our bags were packed – he and his people took care of the rest while we sightsaw on land.

The man made me feel secure. Which I never feel.

Really, my only complaint is that he’s already got a fiancée.

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(Würzburg, Germany)

3 = Cruises are a great place to meet the elderly. And a terrible place to avoid them.

(Bamberg, Germany)

4 = Apparently, Tirzah and I come off like a lesbian couple. Was it her green hair? The way we finish each other’s sandwiches sentences? Our tendency to hold hands when we are particularly delighted or I’m in need of comfort while slogging through a depressive slump? There’s no telling. All I know is, the hordes of senior citizens were continually surprised to learn that Tirzah has a husband. Who is not me. Heck, I’m not sure all of them believed us. Fortunately, I didn’t notice us suffering any discrimination based on the ship-wide assumption, so… good on ya for that, yester-generation.

(Nuremberg, Germany)

5 = So, that’s what it’s like to be rich. I’ve written royalty and gazillionaires. I’ve seen movies featuring the likes of Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, and Daddy Warbucks. I can well enough imagine the kind of luxury people like that experience on a daily basis. But I’ve never lived it.

(Shärding, Austria)

Three gourmet meals a day. Attendants standing by to hand you flutes of champagne and warm freshening towels when you return from an intimate Mozart concert in a palace in Vienna. (Yes. We did that.) I just… what even is that life?? And how many books do I have to sell before I can afford to do it again?

(Passau, Germany)

6 = I finally know what a lock is. Not the sort that comes with a key, or a tendril of hair. The locks of rivers and canals. I’d heard of them while proofreading J.D. Spero’s “Forte, but I couldn’t visualize what they were. Now I know: The boat goes in the narrow passage, the gates close behind, the water fills in and raises (or lowers) the boat to the level of the river on the other side, then onward it sails. Our ship passed through several such locks over the course of our journey. It was cool to watch.

(Melk Abbey in Melk, Austria and on the river through the Wachau Valley)

7 = The Baroque aesthetic was insane. Check out the Prince-Bishop’s palace in Würzburg, sometime. See if you can make it past the front stairs without your jaw hitting the floor from opulence overwhelm. It’s really just as well they don’t allow photographs in there; my poor little iPod and I couldn’t have done even a fraction of the place justice.

(Vienna, Austria)

8 = Europe is bae. I shall never tire of castles and cathedrals. I’ll swear the growing greens are greener, the air more delicious, the very cobblestones somehow awash with a magic rarely seen in the U.S. of A. I don’t know where, and I don’t know when, but my home is somewhere on this continent. And I’m closer to finding it than ever before.

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(Budapest, Hungary – end of the line)