You Can’t Miss It

I made it back to Germany alive! …Which is mostly important because it means that my next novel – i.e. the first installment of my three-part love letter to the Robin Hood legend –  is still on track to release on schedule.

Fact 1: One of the very many things that makes “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” a delight of a book is… it comes with a map.

Ballad Cover, front 02

That’s right. A professionally hand-drawn fantasy map, up at the front of the book. I’m told readers go nuts for that kind of thing, so when I rubbed elbows with a mapmaker at my home Renaissance Faire – (big thanks, Jesse Kennedy!) – you better believe I commissioned him to cartographize* the magical Avalon Faire, home to Camelot’s heroes and Sherwood’s most wanted.

*(Pretend“cartograph” has a verb form.)

But why stop at a map in a book when you can have, say, a print of a map on your wall, too?

Benevolent overlord author that I am, I would like to gift you this.

I would also like to sell a heck-ton of copies of “Ballad”.

I have hopefully thought up a way to achieve both.

Fact 2: E-books of “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” are **Now Available For Pre-Order**

…And those who pre-order said e-books will be rewarded.

Step 1: Hit up Amazon, Smashwords, and/or Barnes & Noble and make your early purchase of “Ballad” – yours to read the instant Release Day hits on July 12. (Also distributed through Kobo and Apple iBooks, if that’s your jam.)

Step 2: E-mail me at Danielle.E.Shipley@comcast.net with

2a) proof of your “Ballad” e-book purchase (a receipt or screenshot of such will suffice), and

2b) the address to which you would like me to mail your very own print of the Avalon Faire map.

Step 3: Reap your thank-you goodies.

*Offer good through July 5, 2016 (one week ‘til Release Day)*

Avalon Faire Map, sneak preview
Avalon Faire Map, sneak preview

Fact 3: You won’t get only a map…

Your prize map will be autographed by none other than Robin Hood and his merry band!

That is, it’s my hand doing the autographing, but I worked out with the band what each of their individual signatures would look like, so huzzah.

What’s more, the first 20 people to pre-order will receive a Smashwords coupon for a second “Ballad” e-book for a friend! Know somebody who you think could use more minstrelsy, magic, or Merry Men in their lives? Give them the coupon with my regards!

And if I reach 50 pre-orders? *wiggles brows* Everybody gets an additional mystery prize.

Whereas if I reach 100 pre-orders, I’ll probably ugly-cry with joy. But we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

What about the paperbacks?

I’d love to have those available for pre-order too, buuuuut I don’t know how to make that work. So you’ll have to wait ‘til closer to Release Day for a “Ballad” hard copy. And of course, Launch Week will come with its own giveaway prizes, so here’s looking forward to July!

In summary: Maps are awesome. I’ve got “Ballad” and maps. Tell your friends. 😀

Next Day Edit: Apparently I can’t type my own e-mail address. <_< That’s Danielle.E.Shipley@comcast.net, folks. Apologies to anyone who may have tried to contact me without that all-important second C.

Less-Than-Hidden In Plain Sight

Everybody know what day it is?!

“My birthday!” cries Will Scarlet.

No, that was actually yesterday.

“The Ides of March,” says Allyn-a-Dale.

Caesar beware. But that’s not what I’m talking about either.

Elaborate fake shrugs from both. “Then we give up.” “Whatever could it be?” “The suspense!” “Oh, pray, do tell!”

You goof-nuts know perfectly well: It’s Cover Reveal Day for your very first novel!

“Noooooo!” Will gasps in delight.

“Show!” Allyn commands.

Very merrily do I…

Cover and Spine, Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale
(Pictured here: Front cover and spine)

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.

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale (The Outlaws of Avalon, Book One) — a contemporary YA fantasy coming your way on July 12, 2016!

Huge thanks to Lars and Milan van de Goor for the photography and design!

You can read my thoughts on the cover (and maybe a sneak peek inside of the book itself… *wiggles brows*) via the wonderful volunteers who have joined me in sharing “Ballad”s face on their blogs. (To see me pointing and hollering thanks to them individually, watch my Twitter.) As for here and now, I’mma step aside and let certain other relevant parties share their opinions. Merry Men: Sound off!

Robin Hood

Robin Hood = “Nice,” he says, eyes a-sparkle. “Very ‘spirit of Sherwood.’ Why, the way through the woods looks good enough to commit robbery upon!”

IMG_1871_5

<<<>>>

Marion Hood = “I love the light,” she enthuses. “You couldn’t do this book’s cover without a touch of magic, and those golden rays provide just that. Plus, how could I not love the robin?”

<<<>>>

Will Scarlet = “Needs more Will Scarlet,” he declares. “Preferably shirtless. Or in lieu of that, at least throw in a showy splash of red, somewhere. But I mean, if we’ve got to go in another direction, this is pretty, too. *Cough*, just not as pretty as me.”

<<<>>>

Little John = *silent nod of approval*

Meekest of Minstrels

<<<>>>

Allyn-a-Dale = “It’s the wrong lute, of course,” he murmurs, with a glance toward me. “A photograph of your instrument, not mine. But the facts aside, the book’s truth shows through rather well. Though it does not show everything – no cover could – I believe it hints at the heart. I can hear my story in it – shining in the sunlight, breezing through the trees, captured in the letterwork’s curves. The music is a match, so I am pleased.”

I could ask for no more. ^o^ …No, scratch that: I could ask that the gorgeous book be out and in readers’ hands YESTERDAY. Alas, we’ve still got a few months to wait. Feel free to add “Ballad” to your to-read list on Goodreads in the meanwhile!

So, world at large – what do YOU think of the cover and novel soon to come? Share below!

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.)

zLocalAuthorsOpenHouse

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.

“Gapeseed” or “Hole-ier Than Thou”

It’s Save-a-Word Saturday! For any who need a reminder of/never knew what that means, here’s how it goes:

Save-a-Word Saturday

1) Create a post linking back to the hosts, The Feather and the Rose.

2) Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in the post. (If you find yourself in want of options, Feather ‘n’ Rose recommended a site that may have some word-lovers drooling. Luciferous Logolepsy. Even its name is old and delicious!)

3) Provide a definition of your word, and use it in a sentence/short paragraph/mini story vaguely related to the particular week’s chosen theme.

4) Sign up properly on the host post’s linky list so participants can easily find each other and share their logophilistic joy.

5) Be a hero by sharing these retro words with the world!

I’ve been participating in the weekly fun via my Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page, giving myself the extra challenge/fun of relating every word I pick to my re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend (a.k.a. the magnum opus to be self-published after the completion of “The Wilderhark Tales”). But I figure, hey, since I’ve gotten in the habit of having my vignettes all pre-written and ready to go, no reason I can’t pop over here real quick and post it for the blog-inclined to see, too!

So, without further delay, here’s my word-saving civic duty of the day.

The theme: Earlobes.

The word: “Gapeseed”, a noun meaning “anything that causes stares; or someone who stares”.

The example: Robin followed Allyn’s focused gaze across the lawn toward the ethereal figures dancing in firelight beneath the stars, and chuckled. “The Faeries will make a gapeseed of anyone, eh?”

Allyn came out of his reverie. “Pardon?”

“The Fey folk,” Robin repeated. “A captivating sight.”

“No.” Allyn shook his head. “I mean, yes, they are. Breathtaking. It’s only… many of them wear earrings.”

Robin’s head tipped in puzzlement. “Yes… and?”

The shadow of a furrow appeared between Allyn’s brows. “With their healing magic going strong enough to keep a Faire full of violently killed men alive and whole, how do they manage to maintain punctures for jewelry in their earlobes?”

“Um.” Robin blinked. “…It’s magic?”

“Perhaps I’ll ask one of them,” Allyn said, his attention once more on the Avalon natives’ fluid movement. “If my breath returns to me at their dance’s end.”

“Tralatitiously” or “Swordsmanship, Kangaroos, and You”

It’s Save-a-Word Saturday! For any who need a reminder of/never knew what that means, here’s how it goes:

Save-a-Word Saturday

1) Create a post linking back to the hosts, The Feather and the Rose.

2) Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in the post. (If you find yourself in want of options, Feather ‘n’ Rose recommended a site that may have some word-lovers drooling. Luciferous Logolepsy. Even its name is old and delicious!)

3) Provide a definition of your word, and use it in a sentence/short paragraph/mini story vaguely related to the particular week’s chosen theme.

4) Sign up properly on the host post’s linky list so participants can easily find each other and share their logophilistic joy.

5) Be a hero by sharing these retro words with the world!

As mentioned in a post o’ the past, I’ve been participating in the weekly fun via my Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page, giving myself the extra challenge/fun of relating every word I pick to my re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend (a.k.a. the magnum opus to be self-published after the completion of “The Wilderhark Tales”). But today I figure, hey, I’ve got this week’s vignette all pre-written and ready to go – no reason I can’t post it here for the blog-inclined to see!

So, without further delay, here’s my word-saving civic duty of the day.

The theme: Kangaroos.

The word: “Tralatitiously”, an adverb meaning “metaphorically; figuratively”.

The example: “Stop.” Will’s curt command came almost at once. “You did it again.”

Allyn’s face reddened in frustration and shame. “I know. I’m sorry.” He didn’t mean to keep stepping backward, but the sight of the Merry Men’s most brilliant swordsman bearing down on him, even with only a practice wooden blade, sent the skittish beginner into retreat every time.

“You need to be more aggressive,” Will told him. “Look, remember the commercial I showed you the other day? The one with the car cruising through the Australian Outback like an all-terrain boss?”

“I’m to approach you like a vehicle with relentless off-road capabilities?” Allyn guessed.

“No, forget the car. Be a kangaroo.”

“W-what?” Even understanding that the instruction was meant tralatitiously, it didn’t make even the usual low amount of Will Scarlet sense.

“Yes.” Will gave a decisive nod. “Kangaroo. That’s your mindset. Why? Because they are physically incapable of jumping backward. Sword up,” he ordered. “We’re doing this until you get it right. It’s Avalon, minstrel boy; we’ve got nothing but time.”

“Beautiful” or “What Does Your Character’s Face Say About You, Them, and the World’s Eyesight?”

Prompted, in part, by this blog post I read, today I reflect upon beautiful characters.

Sometimes I look at the collection of people I’ve created and pal around with, and I wonder: Do I write an inordinate number of characters “having qualities that delight the senses, especially the sense of sight”? Are their looks a blatant reflection of what I wish my mind’s eye to shamelessly gaze upon?

To some extent, yeah, probably. But there’s more to the story than that.

Take my tailor / life coach, Edgwyn. I happen to find him unfairly attractive, but I recognize that he may not be everybody’s type. That said, a lot of ladies in his world are attracted to him, too. Part of that is due to his being reasonably handsome – facial symmetry, glow of good health, good hair, that sort of thing.

But what really gets the gals’ attention (and mine) is his smile – twinkly-eyed, friendly, full of genuine warmth and love. It’s a smile that says, “I like you. You’re important to me. I wish you every good thing in the world.” People are drawn to that. That smile is an outward manifestation of his heart. Can I help it if his inner beauty makes his outside all the more beautiful to me? Particularly when he looks an exhausted mess after doing philanthropic things way past his bedtime. (:

The smile, as close as I can sketch it.
The smile, as close as I can sketch it.

Meanwhile, in a magical Renaissance Faire, you’ve got one of my most physically beautiful characters… no, Will, I’m not talking about you. I’m referring to Allyn-a-Dale. Oddly enough, I didn’t intend to make him extraordinarily good-looking, and didn’t even notice that I had until a couple months after I’d written his first book. How’d that happen?? Well, I blame his childhood.

Allyn wasn’t raised around mirrors. The only face he saw regularly was that of his father, a.k.a. the supreme and unattainable standard for everything. Father’s face was beautiful. Every other face was therefore lesser. Allyn barely knew what he looked like, and he didn’t care. And that attitude subliminally influenced his author’s early perception of him.

Don’t worry, I caught on eventually.
Don’t worry, I caught on eventually.

So, what can we learn from all this? One might think the moral of the story is that characters’ looks don’t matter, since what the character, their fellow characters, and we on the other side of the page will see may not have much to do with their actual faces. Sure, I can concede some partial truth, there.

On the other hand, that very disconnect between what’s really there and what we see can be used to the writer’s advantage. You think I knew the psychology behind the Allyn example all along? Nope! I had to figure it out once I realized, “Hey, wait a minute… he’s gorgeous! How did he and I miss this??” The puzzle of his invisibly beautiful face forced me to root around in his mind and uncover just how badly life had messed him up. And that made really good material for his second book.

And Edgwyn’s just a shining example of what we should all aspire to be, but he doesn’t like it when I talk him up, that way, so we’ll cut this paragraph short.

At the end of the day – or at the beginning of this blog post – when I’m looking around at all my characters, the conclusion I reach is that, yeah, I’ve written some beautiful people. I’ve also written some more mediocre-looking people that still get a good share of my shameless gazing. Why? Because I love them, of course. And what you love is always beautiful, in your eyes.

“Saturdays” or “The Words I’ve Been Saving Off-Blog”

Previously, on Ever On Word – more specifically, in this post – I joined in a little weekly blog hop called Save-a-Word Saturday. To refresh your memory, the rules of the hop were these:

Save-a-Word Saturday

1) Create a post linking back to the hosts, The Feather and the Rose.

2) Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in the post. (If you find yourself in want of options, Feather ‘n’ Rose recommended a site that may have some word-lovers drooling. Luciferous Logolepsy. Even its name is old and delicious!)

3) Provide a definition of your word, and use it in a sentence or short paragraph vaguely related to the particular week’s chosen theme.

4) Sign up properly on the host post’s linky list so participants can easily find each other and share their logophilistic joy.

5) Be a hero by sharing these retro words with the world!

I had such fun the first time, I determined to participate every “seventh day of the week”. …To which you may say, glancing through my blog’s archives, “So, what happened to that resolution?

Well, I haven’t been doing it here, readers; I’ve been doing it on my Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page. And to add an extra element of fun, I’ve given myself the challenge of relating every word I pick to my take on the Robin Hood legend.

So, for those of you who have been missing out – and as a wish of “Happy Birthday” to Allyn (whose otherworld date o’ birth corresponds to our March 5th) – I’ve collected below all the Save-a-Word vignettes that I’ve shared on the “Ballad” page to date. Enjoy!

* * *

Feb. 9/13 – The theme: Dreams – The word: “Weltschmerz”, a noun meaning “sadness over the evils of the world, especially as an expression of romantic pessimism”.
The example:

Robin’s eyes tracked the path of the wagon, laden with ill-gotten gains. That was the second tax taken from the villages in as many months, and for what? The people could lose every penny they had thrice over and not make so much as a splash in the well of their oppressors’ greed. Robin shook his head in a moment of Weltschmerz, made to wonder again whether an England in which this injustice was less than routine was a dream with no chance in reality. Another shake of the head to rouse himself, and a whistle to his band mates hidden nearby. Realistic or not, it was the dream they fought for. The wagon would not get far.

* * *

Feb. 16/13 – The theme: Traitors – The word: “Ramage”, a noun meaning “boughs of a tree”.
The example:

Allyn paused in the plucking of his lute strings; that one note had sounded rather like a muffled sneeze. Tipping his head back against the tree trunk that served as backrest to his seat among the roots, he looked up through the overhead ramage and spied a dash of red veiled in the greenery. “Will, what are you—?”

“Hush. Nothing. Hiding. Don’t let on I’m up here.”

“What have you done this time?” Allyn asked. When it came to Will Scarlet, one could hardly begin to guess.

“I may or may not have had something to do with the – ‘choo! – bucket of pepper rigged to tip over onto any particularly tall people who exited Little John’s tent.”

“God bless you.” Allyn smirked. “You’ll need it.”

“What I need is a minstrel I can count on not to turn traitor,” Will hissed. “Just keep playing like you’ve been. Anyone asks, you haven’t seen me in ages, and there’s no one in the tree.”

Lips pressed tight over silent laughter, Allyn resumed his song. It would make for lovely background music during Will’s inevitable comeuppance.

* * *

Feb. 23/13 – The theme: Music – The word: “Simony”, a noun meaning “buying, selling, or otherwise making a profit from sacred or spiritual things”.
The example:

Gant-o’-the-Lute stood silently aside as his apprentice sang in the square. The boy looked younger than his almost twelve years, and handled his instruments, lute and voice, with the skill of one who’d trained for twice as long. Naturally, he still had leagues to go before he met his minstrel master’s lofty standard, but the sooner the lad grew accustomed to performing for crowds, the better. Besides, Lute reasoned, if he were going to engage in the simony of taking tiresome money for the priceless perfection of music, he might as well capitalize on little Allyn’s impossible cuteness, too.

* * *

Mar. 2/13 – The theme: Unicorns – The word: “Habromania”, a noun meaning “extreme euphoria”.

The example:

“One last order of business,” said Merlin, glancing at the end of the agenda in his hand. “Due to an influx of requests in our suggestion box, we’re adding something new to Avalon Faire’s joust, this summer. Specifically…” He looked over his spectacles at the tall, blond knight drumming impatient fingers on the surface of the Round Table. “Sir Lancelot will be riding a unicorn.”

Lancelot’s chiseled jaw dropped. “You can’t be serious.”

“A real unicorn?” Sir Gawain wondered.

“There’s no such thing as a real unicorn!” Lancelot snapped.

Sir Bedivere raised an eyebrow. “Lance. We’re undead immortal knights of legend employed by a wizard in a magical Faerie land. If the man says you’re riding a unicorn in the joust, then let the habromania in the stands commence.” He grinned at Merlin. “Will it be pink and sparkly and snort rainbows?”

“Despite Will Scarlet’s repeated contributions to the suggestion box, no,” Merlin said. “Meeting adjourned.”

“’Twas” or “A Visit to Avalon Faire”

Now, there’s a word that’s not enough a part of everyday English vernacular anymore. It gives us all just one more thing to love about Christmastime: ‘Tis the season for archaic contractions of “it was” (and “it is”, in the case of “’tis”) to fall lightly from everyone’s tongues, not just those people who tend to talk like they live in a Renaissance Faire.

Of course, as a minstrel who does indeed live in Avalon Faire, it’s twice natural for my Allyn-a-Dale to employ the word “’twas” – thrice natural, if he happens to be delivering a parody of the classic holiday poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, best known for that famed first line…

* * *

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Faire

Not a creature was stirring, save those who dwelled there.

The boughs of Sherwood were by Fey hands adorned

All with holly and ivy, to be viewed come the morn.

 

Little John and the Hoods had retired to their beds,

Though yet sleepless were I and my brother in red.

Will Scarlet was keen for a long night of games,

And we’d scarcely begun the third round of charades

 

When, out beyond the forest, there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my tent to see what was the matter.

Away toward Camelot I flew like an arrow,

Prepared to face any that our Isle would harrow.

 

The moon- and starlight on the fresh-fallen snow

Cast a mystical gleam over Avalon below,

While, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

 

With a little driver so lively, bright, and brisk,

I thought surely my eyes must be playing some trick.

Swifter than wind-flight, his antlered team came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

 

“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the tower! To the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away, all!”

 

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Scarlet, just now come alongside.

Pointing up to the roof of the castle, he cried,

“I’d never have thought such a thing to be true,

But we’re looking at Santa Claus!

I replied, “Who?”

Sleigh Over Avalon

“You’ve never—?? Forget it. I’ll show you!” he said,

And taking my hand, through the castle’s gates led,

Just reaching the room of the Knights’ table round

As the one he’d called Santa came in with a bound.

 

He was dressed all in blue, from his head to his toes,

His silken hair shining a dawn golden-rose.

A stringed instrument he had strapped to his back,

And his hands bore a bundle like a peddler’s sack.

 

His eyes, how they twinkled! As merry a pair

As you’d find any place with the Merry Men there.

His mouth was drawn up like an outlaw’s longbow

In a smile that, any time or place, I should know.

 

I laughed, “Santa Claus, say you? Nay, were you astute,

I believe you would find this is Gant-o’-the-Lute!”

“But he’s dead!” Will observed. “And even in life,

Did he hitch sleighs to reindeer and fly through the night?”

 

“Perhaps it’s a dream; if so, of it I’m glad!

Hello, Father!” I said, and he embraced his lad.

A wink of his eye and a pat on my head

Warmed my heart, never minding whether he was dead.

 

He spoke not a word, singing lyricless tunes

As he pulled from his sack lights to hang round the room.

Then a twist of the wrist in a minstrel salute,

And out of the castle blew Gant-o’-the-Lute.

 

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas, my Allyn, and to all a goodnight!”

* * *

And a Happy Christmas to you, readers! And to all, a joyous day!

“Libretto” or “Novel Writing: The Musical!”

More “Making of…” memos from my days of drafting “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, the NaNo novel that seemed to think it was “the text of a dramatic musical work, such as an opera”.

The Making Of…: “Whistle While You Work” or “With a Smile and a Song” or “Some Other Line Pirated from Disney’s Snow White

Even giving my novel the title I did, I somehow originally thought I could get away with not having to actually write a single song.

Yeah. Right. Really should have known better than that.

For one thing, I’ve always been a fairly prolific spontaneous songwriter, frequently singing to myself when I’m feeling happy, or sad, or impatient, or hungry, or simply feel a rhyme coming on; and I often find myself inserting musical interludes into my stories.

For another thing, come on – I did call it “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”. You don’t write a book about the famed bard of Robin Hood’s Merry Men and stick “ballad” in the title and not throw in a ditty or two… or seven original songs and parts of songs written just for the book, as well as part of a song written previously.

So it was bordering on inevitable that I create music for this novel. Once I woke up and realized this (a handful of days before I began writing the book), I figured that a good place to start would be with an actual ballad of Allyn-a-Dale. With a melody in my head decidedly similar to the traditional English ballad “Scarborough Fair”, I composed what ended up being a 23-stanza rhyming summary of the story from Chapter One all the way through the epilogue.

The exercise was time-consuming, by my songwriting standards (read: It took a couple of days), but it ended up being really useful. Firstly, it helped me to solidify my outline, providing a chapter-by-chapter guide of all the action I wished to show and tell. It also gave me something fancier to stick at the beginning of each chapter than just a number. Now, for example, the first chapter is headed:

ONE:

Hear now the Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale,

Minstrel prince of Carillon land,

Who wandered ‘lone at start of this tale,

Heart-led down the path of the wind.

That’s right, future-readers: You get to look forward to twenty-three of these!

Turns out minstrels like to sing to themselves, too. Go figure.

The next song came about by accident. I got blindsided mid-Chapter One with Allyn’s sudden desire to break into song, and was forced to scramble for some lyrics so I could get the story moving again. Danielle Musical Tip #1: When obliged to write a song on the fly, take care to select rhyming words which give you a lot of options. “Hill” or “trail” (both words utilized as line-enders in Allyn’s wistful wandering song), good. “Orange” or something… wouldn’t recommend it.

Now, following that incident, Allyn and I had a nice little talk about character-to-author courtesy, and it was agreed that I would be given adequate notice before he pulled out his lute again. I knew a couple of chapters in advance, for instance, that there would be a brief battle of the bards between my main minstrel and another balladeer inside of their Renaissance Faire.

Thus prepared, I employed Danielle Musical Tip #2: When appropriate, you might make it easier on your songwriting self by turning to preexisting hits for inspiration. I actually followed this tip twice – once for the “Ballad-Off” songs, which were based off of a little number by Shakespeare, and again for the snippet of a hip-hop song to be heard on a car radio later in the book.

Of course, the term “adequate notice” is up for interpretation. On the five-minute drive home from church one Sunday, I received a last-minute memo from Allyn, requesting a travel song to be sung in the chapter I was slated to write that day. Danielle Musical Tip #3: When half-formed fragments of potential song lyrics float into your head, write ‘em down, stat! Take it from someone who’s written and forgotten at least twice as many songs as she remembers: Those lyrics won’t wait around forever. Record them somewhere, or they’re gone.

I had no idea what I wanted the finished travel song to be, but what few bits and pieces came readily to mind, I jotted down while waiting for my bread to toast and my tea to steam. (Eating breakfast was delay enough; I wasn’t going to waste additional time by waiting to work on the song until after!)

These are the harmonic highlights of my novel. Now that the madness of writing the book in under 30 days is concluded (huzzah, by the way), I plan to eventually take time to transcribe at least some of the songs onto my music-making computer program*, that I and others (e.g. you folks!) might be afforded an auditory taste of the tunes that have helped to make this up-and-coming masterpiece what is today. Keep your ears open!

*For those who care to hear, a couple recordings of the book’s tunes are available for your listening pleasure, here and here.

“Pre-Blog” or “Writing Like an Addict Even Before I Ever Looked Onward”

Way back during National Novel Writing Month 2010 – almost a full year before the inception of Ever On Word, the blog I never seriously thought I’d have – I got the zany little idea that trying to write 50,000 words was not an outrageous enough 30-day goal. Oh, no, not for this writing maniac! I was going to do a few thousand better than that: On top of the novel, I was going to write very much blog-like articles and post them weekly in the notes of my Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page!

That’s right, I was insane even then. But the insanity produced a novel I love and some writing-related nonfiction pieces I’m not actually ashamed of. In fact – and partly in honor of my current participation in Camp NaNoWriMo – I’d like to share them with you. And you can’t stop me. So I’m gonna. (: Below is the first of my pre-blog posts (slightly abridged. Like I said: Writing maniac).

The Making Of…: “Where Did That Come From??”

I’m one of those people who really enjoy finding out more about the creative process behind the media I like. Things like chats with the actors and viewing early conceptual art are way cool to me. My personal library includes “behind the scenes”-type books for “Narnia”, “Lord of the Rings”, even the “Everybody Loves Raymond” syndicated sitcom. I get a bigger kick out of watching “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” with the director’s commentary than with watching the movie straight. That’s just the way I roll.

So, since I’ve got this “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” page going, and since I believe that you – my fans (or whoever is reading this… Mr. Stranger Danger, is that you? It’s been too long) – deserve more than merely a daily word count update and out-of-context quotes, I decided that in honor of this first weekend of National Novel Writing Month, I should begin a new bit o’ fun here in “BoA-a-D”-s notes: “The Making Of…:” behind the scenes special feature! *cheers, fanfare, confetti…*

For my first topic, I thought we could start at the very beginning.

…Which, as Fraulein Maria pointed out,
is a very good place to start.

Let’s answer some “who”-s, “what”-s, “where”-s, etc.

Who do we have to thank for alerting me to the big fat fun that is NaNoWriMo? That would be my dear aunt, who – knowing of my literary aspirations – thought that I might find this international phenomenon worth checking out. Spoiler alert: She wasn’t wrong.

What did I do to start preparing mentally/emotional/physically/psychologically for the challenge that is writing a 50,000+-word novel in 30 days? Starting October 1st (the day I was told of NaNoWriMo; my sister’s birthday; the Frabjous Day according to the Vorpal One’s FB page… however you want to remember that long-ago day), I began letting the back of my mind sift through ideas for what I might want this new project to be about. A few weeks later, I finally signed-up on the NaNo website and started trying to make my presence known by “adding writing buddies”, contributing in various forums, and – even before any of that – customizing my profile page to suit my NaNo alter-ego (who bears a strong resemblance to the actual me, I must say…).

By the end of October, I was spending more time chatting with complete strangers than I was with my near-and-dear family, glued to the seat in the house guaranteed to offer up the best internet signal strength and thus my best chances for actually being able to operate online, and going some three or four hours after waking before remembering that, oh yeah, I should probably have some breakfast.

That’s when I knew that I was ready.

Where did the concept for “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” come from? Honestly, I can’t even remember where the idea first started; and whenever I try to, my brain just ends up making up more and more gorgeously serendipitous lies. All I know is that a) I love Robin Hood, b) I love the Renaissance Faire, and c) I can’t seem to get enough of filling my books with cameo appearances by characters from other books I wrote, making overcomplicated interconnections between them and their “realities”, and otherwise making the whole Danielle E. Shipley canon into one, big, happy family of a story, each separate piece acting as but a tiny snapshot of this world of my creation as a whole.

So with all that in mind, writing “BoA-a-D” was kind of a no-brainer.

Why do I think that copies of the finished “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” will one day (sooner, hopefully, rather than too much later) be in bookstores around the world, on the shelves of homes everywhere, and (crowning glory!) be found in a slightly sorry state that can only mean much appreciative handling by kids who haven’t got the faintest clue about how to treat a library book?

Because I intend for the finished product to be good. Very good. So good, that it just might be the book that gets me that long-awaited A-OK from a literary agent, and that literary agent will arrange for all the selling and hyping and other business-aspect-of-writing stuff that I’d much prefer not to do alone. And of course, you – my fans (and Mr. Stranger Danger, too) – will be right there with pen in hand, wanting your copies signed, because you’ve been following my progress right along and already know in your heart of hearts that you can’t WAIT to read this “Ballad” you’ve been reading so much about!

Well, we’re all just going to have to be patient, aren’t we? Because the book isn’t written yet* – nor will it be, if I spend too much more time in side pursuits like this. So I’m gonna wrap this up, get it added to the notes where it belongs, and then get back to where I left Allyn and Will Scarlet at the Faire.

*P.S. and happy days: It’s written. Happier days when it’s at last up for sale. Still being patient…