Of Starlight and Shadows

Today, for your reading pleasure: A pair of short stories inspired by pieces discovered via deviartART. Enjoy!

<<<>>>

And there they were again: The flying whales.

The man paused rowing to stare in wonder – wondering, specifically, at the artistic fascination with whales in the sky.

A magic, majestic aesthetic, to be sure. The grace of great beasts, swimming not through water, but air. A marvel. But nothing, anymore, like an original one.

Well! said the whalesong, musically moaning across the night. I suppose that’s that. Back to the ocean, everyone! Back to what’s original!

The man frowned. He’d only meant—

No, no, sang the sky whales. We’ve clearly let you down, so down we go. Shall we take the stars to sea along with us? Nothing original about a starlit sky.

Or a top hat, sniffed the stars. And yet, you’ll note, he wears one, and probably calls Victoriana vintage. Too hipster for a surrealist skyscape, but never the re-Turn of the Century!

Shamefaced, the man conceded that perhaps he’d judged unfairly. Nothing wrong with an old motif’s variation. There was yet room aplenty in the sky for whales.

Ahem.

And stars, of course.

Quite so.

“Bluescape of the other side” by Ebineyland - http://www.deviantart.com/art/Bluescape-of-the-other-side-628736598

“Bluescape of the other side” by Ebineyland – http://www.deviantart.com/art/Bluescape-of-the-other-side-628736598

<<<>>>

“That’s the one,” the shadows whispered. “The one who carries light.”

“Do we fear him?”

“Of course we do. He is utterly strange, and a danger. We cannot exist where he does.”

“And yet, he is surely a wonder…”

“Most surely. How close can we go? How close do we dare?”

“How does he do it?”

“Why does he do it?”

“Send in the bird to learn of him. Light’s no bother to her.”

“But her shadow!”

“The bird is not her shadow.”

A thunderous silence fell. Then…

“The bird is not her shadow.”

“The shadow is not the bird.”

“Then what are we?”

“How can we know?”

“Unless…”

“…We brave the light.”

“And see what lasts.”

The shadows eyed the luring light.

“Well, then. Who shall be the first?”

“Meeting with Umbrella Man” by yanadhyana - http://yanadhyana.deviantart.com/art/Meeting-with-Umbrella-Man-408400454

“Meeting with Umbrella Man” by yanadhyana – http://yanadhyana.deviantart.com/art/Meeting-with-Umbrella-Man-408400454

<<<>>>

(Enjoyed what I wrote? There’s loads more where that came from! Browse the DEShipley catalogue, why dontcha. Or if you wish, leave a tip on my GoFundMe page; I’m covered for Outlaws of Avalon 2, praise God, but there’s always Book 3 and beyond… ;D )

The Pro Con

“Professional”. I have… feelings about this word.

So often when I see it bandied about – particularly as it pertains to the publishing industry – it seems to have most or all to do with appearances. Writers are told to look professional, as if professionalism were an aesthetic. That rubs me wrong, because it sounds so superficial and snotty. Look like what the infamous They have decided counts as professional, or you’re assumed to be lesser than.

This is professional art.

This is professional art.

I’ve always understood professionalism to be more a matter of competence, and of attitude. My “professional” means punctuality and promises kept. My “like a pro” evokes skill and confidence. In my world, the pros are the ones who know what they’re doing. …Or the ones who fake it like whoa.

You want professionalism in publishing? Treat it like a profession. Sure, that can in part mean showing up in your power suit – your fancy book cover, your elite-approved font, your slick BigShotDomain.com with the killer coding. I’m not knocking those things. No shame in putting your prettiest face forward. That is, after all, exactly why I ran that GoFundMe campaign: To pay the photography and design professionals to make my next Outlaws of Avalon novel looks its beautiful best. But that stuff’s hardly number one on the list of “must do”s, if it belongs on the list at all.

Writing’s never struck me as a power-suited position. Dressing for the job I want involves an assortment of hoodies. And possibly a wizard’s robe. …or a Dark Lord’s.

You want to come off as a professional writer? To me, that’s like math homework: Show me your work.

I’d rather not see a slapdash cover, an illegible font, and a messy web presence not because it says “automatic amateur”, but because it makes me question how much time and care you put into it. I want you to demonstrate that you take your work seriously, whether or not you’ve yet come to the realization that neither you nor any of the rest of us have a clear clue what we’re doing. More than the visual itself, that means a sure command of language. That means engaging with your peers and your public with basic levels of courtesy. That means giving your writing career the best you’ve got.

Also professional art.

Also professional art.

And personal bests will vary – from person to person, and from Past You to Present You to Future You. Some people will like some bests more than others. That’s individual opinion, which everyone’s got a right to. That’s subjectivity, which for better or worse is the name of the game, in the arts. That’s why I don’t want you telling me or anyone else what their work has to look like to count as professional. Go for what you’re going for, and give it your 120 percent.

#LikeAPro

Of Artist and Muse

Today, for your reading pleasure: A pair of short stories inspired by pieces discovered via deviartART. Enjoy!

<<<>>>

Well? said the art. How’s it coming?

“Getting there. Just a little more detail.”

And I’ll be beautiful, right?

“You’re beautiful now. You’re just not finished.”

I don’t see why not, the art sighed. You’ve been working on me forever.

“Well, you have forever. You’re a timeless creation, and sure to outlive me. That’s part of the point of you.”

Only part? What’s the rest?

“Oh, mostly just the joy of watching you come alive.”

You dearly love me, don’t you?

“Yes, I dearly do.”

Tell me why.

“Because you don’t know, or because you like to be told? Don’t tell me I’ve passed on my fragile ego.”

Like artist, like art! Now tell me.

“Because you’re you. And because you’re me. Because you keep me breathing.”

Like your lungs?

“More like my heart.”

And when you’re done with me?

“Oh, my little masterwork. That will never happen.”

<<<>>>

You never gave up.

Never stopped searching.

Never stopped chasing your muse.

You fought on without me. Strained through the dark for glimmers of genius long after you’d forgotten how to hope.

I’m sorry. I should have slowed to let you catch me. Should have stayed to help you find your way.

I was wrong to let you suffer so, but don’t you see? I couldn’t bear to end it.

It filled me, somehow, watching you empty. It thrilled me to feel your dreams fall and fade with every failure.

I was a dreadful muse, but you…

You inspired me.

<<<>>>

(Enjoyed what I wrote? There’s loads more where that came from! Browse the DEShipley catalogue, why dontcha. Or if you wish, leave a tip on my GoFundMe page; I’m covered for Outlaws of Avalon 2, praise God, but there’s always Book 3 and beyond… ;D )

Writing Book Reviews: A Merry Guide

“Hey-ho, all! Will Scarlet, here, luminous fan-favorite* from the lately released Robin Hood fantasy, ‘The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale (The Outlaws of Avalon, Book 1)’. If you’ve chanced to purchase the e-book edition (as opposed to the also-available paperback), maybe you’ll have come across the following message from the author, tucked away at the back.”

Thank you so much for reading my book! I hope you loved it. If you did (or, hey, even on the off chance you didn’t), would you please do me the invaluable favor of leaving a review on your online retailer(s) of choice?

You may or may not be aware of this, but just a few publicly posted sentences of feedback from a reader are a huge deal to the author. So if you’ve got an honest opinion and a handful of minutes, that is all I ask you share with the world. It will be much appreciated.

Thanks once again, and happy reading!

~ Danielle

“And if you’re a reader on the receiving end of that sort of authorial plea, you may have responded with something like this.”

Oh, but I’m no good at writing reviews.

Book Review Guide

“And hey, for all I know, that’s just the plain truth. After all, you’re not the writer here – just a regular person who read a book.

“But guess what, gorgeous? That’s all you need to be! Because your book review doesn’t have to be brilliant; it just has to be honest.**

“Even so, I know consolidating your genuine opinions into a basically coherent review can feel intimidating. That’s where this blog post comes in. A few of my Merry Men friends and I are going to break down the process and show you just how supremely simple writing a book review can be!”

Step 1: Ask yourself, Did I like [insert whatever book title here]?

Marion Hood, adopting the role of Hypothetical Reader A, says, “I absolutely loved it!”

Allyn-a-Dale, as Hypothetical Reader B, says, “I didn’t enjoy it.”

Little John, Hypothetical Reader C, says, “I have mixed feelings.”

“Great,” Will Scarlet replies to all. “Write that down.”

Step 2: See if you can pinpoint any reasons why.

“Reasons?!” cries HRA Marion. “It was just… gaaaauuugh, SO GOOD. So practically flawless! I loved everything!”

An unimpressed HRB Allyn says, “I thought the writing quality was poor. The characters all annoyed me, and the story just felt so… done to death.”

HRC Little John shrugs. “It was interesting to a point, but then dragged too long and got boring. Fun sidekick, though.”

“Fair,” says Will, nodding. “Write that down.”

Step 3: Would you recommend that others read this book?

“READ IT,” Marion demands. “Everybody read it, and somebody make it a movie!”

“If you liked [ostensibly similar book / movie / Broadway show],” Allyn says dubiously, “maybe this book will entertain you. Otherwise, I’d skip it.”

“Fairly sure I’m not this book’s intended audience,” says Little John. “Your mileage may vary.”

“Write that last bit down,” Will Scarlet directs. “And BOOM: You’ve each got yourself a book review!”

Step 4: Post what you’ve got on book review sites (like Goodreads) and dot-coms where the book is available for sale (like Amazon and Barnes & Noble) for the benefit of the author and your fellow bookworms alike!

I absolutely loved it! It was just… gaaaauuugh, SO GOOD. So practically flawless! I loved everything! READ IT. Everybody read it, and somebody make it a movie!

*

I didn’t enjoy it. I thought the writing quality was poor. The characters all annoyed me, and the story just felt so… done to death. If you liked [ostensibly similar book / movie / Broadway show], maybe this book will entertain you. Otherwise, I’d skip it.

*

I have mixed feelings. It was interesting to a point, but then dragged too long and got boring. Fun sidekick, though. Fairly sure I’m not this book’s intended audience. Your mileage may vary.

Will Scarlet grins. “See what I’m talking about? No university-level thesis paper required. Just a few sentences outlining your impression of the book, then choose how you many stars you wish to award. Other valid, even simpler reviews could include:

Super fun. Would definitely recommend.

*

A new favorite. Can’t wait to see what [author name] does next.

*

Reminded me of [some other story]. I really liked it.

“Piece of cake, right? So if you haven’t yet, why don’t you give it a try? For ‘The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale’, another Danielle E. Shipley title, and/or any novel, novella, or short story collection that’s had the honor of your readership. Even if you don’t fancy yourself any kind of writer, believe me, friend: Your words have power.”

* “Heck yes, I copped that description of me from a review! ;D”

** “Or, I mean, you could lie, but I’m not sure who that’d be helping, in the end.”

Of Drabbles and Dreams

Today, for your reading pleasure: A pair of drabbles (stories exactly 100 words in length) inspired by pieces discovered via deviartART. Enjoy!

<<<>>>

In his dream, he faced the Darkness. But this time, the fire was his to wield.

Cold blue flame shivered down the length of the blade in his hand, a match for the ice burning in his gaze. In waking, he’d borne no such weapon. In truth, Darkness had overcome.

But what were dreams if not a hope for something more?

He stood as the prince he once was – as the king he might have been, had the world spun differently. Memories of fear and loss, he cut adrift to vanish on the wind.

Tonight, he fought for the light.

<<<>>>

The Prince of Below murmured, one night, “I wonder… Have you ever seen rain, Friend Moon?”

“Alas, I have not,” the sad moon sighed. “For it falls from the clouds. And when clouds fill the sky, my eyes see nothing of Below.”

“That is a great shame, for rain’s a pretty sight. Perhaps…” A pause. A thought. A smile. “Here. I can show you.”

Up, a wish of the heart.

Up, an umbrella of dreams.

Up, a voice of magic for which Below has no words, though those Above remember.

Thus did the Prince sing down a shower of stars.

<<<>>>

(Enjoyed what I wrote? There’s loads more where that came from! Browse the DEShipley catalogue, why dontcha. Or if you wish, leave a tip on my GoFundMe page; I’m covered for Outlaws of Avalon 2, praise God, but there’s always Book 3 and beyond… ;D)

Of Cabbages and Book Making

The time has come (the author said) to talk of many things:

Of novels and their sequels – books and their coverings –

And why the day ducks stay in rows is when the pigs have wings.

Of Lemons and of Lemonade

Those of you following me on Twitter may have caught this vague reference to some of my latest news, earlier this month.

JTP News 1

While those who keep up with me on Facebook will have gotten a brief, but more concrete explanation.

JTP News 2

Receiving that kind of e-mail from your publisher is probably NOT on any author’s list of to-dos, but there you are. J. Taylor Publishing has de-listed their catalogue of books from all retail channels and reverted the rights to their respective authors. What this means:

1 = “Inspired” and the “One More Day” anthology are no longer being printed and sold.

1.5 = Congratulations to any of you who’ve already bought your copies – you’re now in possession of a literary rarity. They’ll be worth big bucks once I finally attain author superstardom!

2 = I dunno about the antho, but if I want “Inspired” back up for sale, I’mma have to put it there myself. Which, I mean, I had already been planning to do, once the novel’s rights came back to me. That just ended up happening a couple years sooner than I expected.

So! Look for the re-release of “Inspired” in Spring 2018, complete with a brand new cover, probably some bonus short stories thrown in at the end, and – guess what? – a delightful sequel! I’ve been sitting on “Inspired 2”s manuscript for a little while, now, and am very much excited to get it out in the world alongside its predecessor, just as soon as I’ve finished with my scheduled plans for The Outlaws of Avalon. Which serves as a perfect segue into my next topic…

Of Trials and Traveling

To quote myself:

Hello, all! Author Danielle E. Shipley, here. And this is my tale:

I’ve recently published the first novel in the three-part story of my heart: The Outlaws of Avalon trilogy (a contemporary fantasy retelling of the Robin Hood legend, with some Arthuriana and Renaissance Faire fun thrown in). With Book 1, “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, out in the world, it’s time to ready Book 2 for its March 2017 release. But I’ve run into some unforeseen difficulties.

You see, I’ve been living with a friend in Germany for the past few months, with the intention to stay until next year. However, the situation unexpectedly changed, requiring my return to the U.S. this fall. …Meaning my travel expenses and the cost of Book 2’s cover design will land in my lap at roughly the same time.

As an author – particularly a largely unknown, self-published one – I don’t make a lot of money. Truthfully, at this stage, I’m investing far more in my career than it’s earning back. With time, effort, and luck, that may change. Until then, if I want Book 2’s cover to look every bit as beautiful as “Ballad”s, I could really use your help.

My cover designer’s fee comes to 750 euros. Convert that to U.S. dollars, add in the usual percentage owed to the site hosting this campaign (*tips hat to GoFundMe*), and a fundraising goal of $875 should see me through. The bill comes due at the cover’s completion, which I aim to attain by November’s end. I understand that not everyone can afford to support me by purchasing my books, just now. But if each of you reading this made even a small donation to this campaign – 1 to 5 dollars, 10+ if you’re a Robin Hood-level hero – it could add up to what I need to keep me fiscally afloat.

I would be enormously grateful for whatever amount you can give – so much so, that I happily pledge to thank every donor by name within the acknowledgement pages of Outlaws of Avalon 2. (Unless, of course, you indicate that you’d like to be lumped in with “Anonymous”.)

It’s the characters that make my stories come alive. It’s me that puts it all on the page for readers to experience. And this time around, it’s you that will help make the novel’s face a reality. Bless you for it.

~ Danielle

That’s right – I’ve taken a chance and started a GoFundMe campaign! I very much hope you’ll do me the grand favor of donating and/or sharing the link with others who may be in a better position to give.

GoFundMe

Callooh! Callay! Your help I pray!

(My thanks for listening. ^.^)

Will He, Nill He (Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell)

“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”

Danielle whipped up a logo for me, because she is awesome first class.

The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.

“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”

“It’s—” Allyn breaks off, scowling at his notes. “Oh, for pity’s sake.”

“What?”

“‘Outlaw, Rennie, general life enthusiast. Lord, I’m sexy’? That’s your bio from the Stranger Than Truth Club Minutes! You can’t interview yourself, Will!”

Will’s brows rise with a distinct lack of unconcern. “Why not? The rest of the Merry Men got interviews. Fair’s only fair. Tell you what, though – if it’ll untwist your hose some, I’ll let you ask the questions. Deal?”

Allyn regards him warily. “Questions of my own devising?”

“As it please you.”

“All right, then.”

Will blithely bounds across to the guest seat, Allyn taking his place. Pulling up a smile, the lovely minstrel assistant-turned-host greets, “Welcome, Will Scarlet! So glad you were open to reasonable alternatives. First things first – why do you think readers should embrace ‘The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale’? Apart from the fact that you’re in it.”

“Because I’m in—! …Oh. In that case, because,” Will rallies, “it’s all kinds of fun!” Counting off on his fingers, he lists, “We’ve got the Ren Faire kind, the road trip kind, the portal fantasy kind, the crazy old wizard trying to run an entertainment business on a faerie island smackdab in modern Midwestern America kind – and that’s a kind you just don’t see enough of these days, IMO. And of course, to quote my dear cousin Robin, ‘The Merry Men make everything fun.’”

“Or die trying,” Allyn observes. “What think you of the story’s underlying premise: Robin and company dead, only to return to life in a 21st-century Avalon?”

Will’s smile stretches and sparkles to an alarming degree. “I think it’s bloody insane. But an entirely original addition to the Robin Hood canon, as far as I’ve encountered. Which is good! I love a retelling based in medieval England as much as the next fan, but there’s only so much a writer can feasibly give us to do, in that setting. Whereas if you yank us a few hundred years into the future and expose us to all the wonders of the Information Age…”

“…Which Merlin, in large part, refuses to do…”

The manic smile drops in frustration. “Ugh, I know, he’s the worst. It’s like— you ever watch Disney’s ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’? Well, not to vilify the guy, but Merlin’s a Frollo whose Bible’s the ballads of yester-Britain, and I am a Quasimodo with the radiant good looks of Phoebus, singing to gargoyles about how I need to get the hell out of this cathedral prison and LIVE.”

Allyn blinks. “Father says he’ll accept that analogy if he gets to play Clopin.”

“Oh, for sure. And Esmeralda’s all yours, if you want her. You’re legit part-gypsy, right?”

“One, that’s not politically correct terminology. Two, as far as my world’s ethnicities qualify, yes I am. Three, leaving the Disney crossover alone now, would you say our debut novel does your character justice?”

“Pfft, Lord, no,” Will laughs. “There’s no fitting all of me into one book. That’s literally why it ended up being a trilogy: We needed more storylines to make room for all of our character development! Yours and mine, predominantly, though we get to go deeper with our other bandmates, too. But as far as an introductory tale goes, ‘Ballad’ does well for itself. You get the shiny surface me, as well as important glimpses into the mess I shoved into the closet when I heard guests were coming over. Never you worry,” he says with a wink. “I don’t stay closeted long.”

“On that note,” says Allyn, “since you will not be kissing me…”

“WHAT?! No, come on, you have to make the offer! It’s the title of the show, for crying out loud!”

The minstrel wags a finger. “Allyn’s in the host chair, Allyn makes the rules. So tell me: What is our author’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious Scarlet-centric secret?”

Will’s glum expression brightens. “Scarlet-centric?”

Allyn reaches over to pat Will’s knee. “There, you see? I’m not so cruel. No future book spoilers, though.”

“Right. A Scarlet secret, hmm? This is tough, since I tend to just blab everything… Oh. Well, here’s something. For all that we project confidence to the point of arrogance on her end, narcissism on mine, Danielle and I actually share some similar insecurities. She’s afraid that she doesn’t know how to be interesting, and is annoying, and nobody will want her – which is to say, her books. I’m afraid that I’m too interesting to handle, and am annoying, and nobody will want me – which is to say, me. And also the books I’m in.”

“Well,” Allyn reassures, “I’m close enough to the both of you to know that you are, in fact, frequently annoying. Even so, you have made a remarkable book together, and I trust there’s an audience out there who will have the good sense to love it. Now, how ‘bout a word from our sponsor?”

Grinning widely, Will says, “Today’s Kiss & Tell segment was brought to you by the Launch Week+ celebration of The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale’ (The Outlaws of Avalon, Book One) by Danielle E. Shipley, provider of prizes to the following Rafflecopter giveaway winners.”

Avalon Faire Map = Donna S., Laure E., Kimberly D., Mandi S., and Miranda M.

Society6 Tote Bag = Kimberly D.

Paperback of “Grace the Mace” by Tirzah Duncan = CommonBookSense

Surprise Bookmark = Miranda M.

“Congratulations!” says Allyn. “Danielle will be in touch to ensure your winnings are soon are their way. Thank you for taking part in the launch of ‘The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale’ – available now!”

Ballad Cover, front 02

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.

“Thank you, Allyn,” Will says, adding with a laugh, “Thank me, too, Will. And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided here, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”