The Darkening of Avalon

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”s Launch Week+ continues!

First, a quick reminder that time’s running down on my Wilderhark Tales e-book sale; only one week left to get every book in “Ballad”s prequel series for just 99 cents each on Amazon. Don’t miss out on the chance to fill your e-readers with fairytale goodness!

And second, for this post’s main event, a behind-the-scenes story for you:

Once upon a while back, my BFF Tirzah talked me into watching “Firefly” with her*.

*(By which I mean, I was in my house, she was off in her time zone, and the two of us were on the phone, trying to get our respective computers to stream the episodes in sync with each other. Good/frustrating times.)

My reminiscence could go off in any number of directions from here, but for the purposes of this blog post, the takeaway was this: Looking upon Gina Torres in her role as Zoe Washburn, I found myself thinking, “I could see her as Marion**.”

Zoe

**(By which I of course meant Marion Hood, from my “Outlaws of Avalon” trilogy.)

This idea was noteworthy because, ‘til then, I’d been imagining Marion as white, same as the other 90-some percent of all my characters ever. It’s either my brain’s default setting (call it internalized racism, if you wish; gosh knows I’m privileged in my own mind), or a matter of white imaginary people gravitating toward me more than other races for whatever reasons of their own, but there it is. And on the one hand, Reader Me isn’t much bothered by books or other media with a predominantly white cast. (Unless, y’know, it’s set somewhere that would realistically call for more color.) As I’ve said in the past, that’s not my axe to grind. Then there’s Writer Me, who figures that the other side of the coin is, if it’s not a big deal to me one way or the other, I might as well make an effort at an equal-opportunity mind.

In this instance, there were only a few truths of Marion’s appearance set in stone: Long dark hair, bright eyes (brown or hazel, I can’t quite tell), full lips prone to smiling, middle height, lean build. Based on that, there was zero reason she couldn’t be something other than white. And as far as her background is concerned, it’s not far-fetched to suppose that her father – a noble of some title or another from medieval England – may have had a black wife or mistress. (Fun fact: Black people have existed throughout pretty much all of history.) So boom, executive decision made: My Marion is half-black. (Which I am broadcasting in no uncertain terms now, so that if “Outlaws” ever hits the big screen, fewer people will be shocked that she’s not white even though the book totally told you so, dude.)***

***(Rue and Thresh from “The Hunger Games”, anyone? Sheesh.)

Avalon’s Fey Folk, meanwhile, may or may not be black per se, but they’re definitely dark. Not all of them, mind you; heck, there’s probably a huge range of them that aren’t even human-passing. But Morganne le Fey and most of Avalon’s other resident Faeries? Yeah, they’re brown. Same re-envisioning process as I went through with Marion. All I knew about Morganne’s looks were hair and eye coloring and build. No reason the magical people who populated Europe before it called itself Europe had to be light-skinned all across the board, so they aren’t.

Meaning this gorgeous portrait I did of Morganne years ago is obsolete. Aw well.
Meaning this gorgeous portrait I did of Morganne years ago is obsolete. Aw well.

Meanwhile, Will Scarlet gets agitated when I remind him that he’s totally white, because he likes to fancy that he and I are somehow biological siblings. And I mean, I love being his sister, and I wouldn’t mind if he looked like me. Except he doesn’t.

Some characters’ appearances in my imagination are fluid. Others look like they look, and there’s no changing it. Scarlet falls into that latter category – as do Allyn-a-Dale, Robin Hood, Little John, and Merlin, to name a few other prominent members of the “Outlaws” cast. And as it happens, Allyn is mixed-race; his paternal grandmother, for instance, was brown as I am (*waves to Wendara, back in “The Sky-Child”* – which, again, is currently on sale with the rest of the Wilderhark Tales. Juuuuust sayin’). Yet he’s the palest member of the band. Go figure.

There’s still plenty of room for me to balance the ratio of light to dark characters in my written works. And straight up, a “perfect” balance – whatever that looks like – may never happen. I’m okay with that. My characters’ outsides are far from my main concern. So long as I serve up plenty of diversity of spirit, I’ll feel I’ve done my job.

What about you, fellow writers? How do you settle upon your characters’ looks? And writers or not, recall ye: Leaving a blog post comment is one method of many to obtain entry points in my ongoing Rafflecopter giveaway. So if you’ve got thoughts, I’d love to read ‘em below! And speaking of things well worth reading…

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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.

AVAILABLE NOW!

*Bonus*: #HypotheticalFAQs

If the Merry Men were Disney princesses, which would they be??

Robin Hood = Mulan (title princess): The best way to bring honor to us all? Stick it to the law in the name of fighting for what’s right!

*Runner-up = Merida (Brave), cuz dem archery skillz.

*Second runner-up = Tiana (The Princess and the Frog), cuz dat work ethic.

Marion = Cinderella (title princess): Makes most sentient creatures fall in love with her kind heart, resilient spirit, and timely sass.

Will Scarlet = Ariel (The Little Mermaid): A redhead full of reckless curiosity about being a part of that world beyond his own.

*Runner-up = Anna (Frozen), in every way. (Is he elated? Gassy? Who can tell?)

Allyn-a-Dale = Snow White (title princess): Doesn’t let an oppressive, abuse-filled childhood get him down – instead ventures forth with a smile and a song to make a lasting, loving impact on a weirdo familial unit in the middle of the forest!

*Runner-up = Rapunzel (Tangled), cuz same deal, just replace the forest family with – whaddaya know – a thief. Also wouldn’t be shocked if his hair was magic.

Little John = Aurora (Sleeping Beauty): If only because I’m pretty sure she’s the princess with the fewest lines of dialogue out of all the rest. Plus he’s probably favored of fairies.

“Movie” or “Why Hollywood is *Not* Making One of ‘The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale’ Without Me”

Any authors out there dream of having their book turned into a “connected cinematic narrative represented in a sequence of photographs projected onto a screen with sufficient rapidity as to create the illusion of motion and continuity”? I know I do. But much as I would love to see “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” up on the big screen, I’ve been disappointed by enough movies based on… er, inspired by… um, mutilating the source material found in books, that I would approach any potential movie deal with great caution and firm stipulations regarding my involvement in the project. I can predict all too easily what would happen with my back turned…

1) Charming, jocular Will Scarlet would be dragged over the line separating “cool, fun character” to “annoying character who thinks he’s funny, but seriously, nobody’s laughing”. Heck, knowing Hollywood, they’d make him Black, if they could get away with it, disrespecting both Will Scarlet and the Black community in one sick-making move…

2) Meanwhile, the sexual tension between Will and Marion would be through the roof – expect at least one kissing scene, maybe worse – even though in the book, both of them know how to keep that kind of nonsense under control for the sake of her marriage to his cousin/leader and the wellbeing of the Merry Men as a whole.

3) Speaking of Marion, do I even want to know what they’d do to her? It could go one of two ways: She’ll either a) be so worthless that you can tell that the only reason they didn’t write her out was so she could hookup with Will, or b) she’ll act like, as the only technical Merry Woman, she somehow has something to prove, and be a bothersome rhymes-with-“witch” (and, ironically, she’ll still be worthless).

I mean, I get it, Morganne’s is a gorgeous face… but it’s supposed to also be an *elusive* face!

4) Casting will screw me over at every turn. The actors playing the North Wind (if they bother to include him, which somehow I rather doubt) and Little John will not be imposing enough. They’ll get some “big name” actress to play Morganne le Fey and then give her way more face time than the book ever did, just to make it worth the several thousands it took to hire her. Anyone who’s supposed to be good-looking will be… by Hollywood standards… which half the time reads “not so much” or even “downright eew” to me. (If they have Kristin Stewart playing Marion, I will scream fit to wake the dead, I kid you not.)

5) They’ll probably make it so Allyn really is conversing with his dead father’s ghost or something, instead of it all just being in his head. …Or maybe they’ll act like those imaginary conversations mean that Allyn is truly delusional. Either way = wrong.

6) They’ll no doubt overly-simplify the “villain” and his/her/its motivations. For all I know, they’ll make the wrong (and perhaps painfully obvious) person the one whodunit, just so they can get away with editing out a few characters.

7) There will be some dramatic final battle I never wrote between Allyn and whoever they select as the baddie, and Allyn will come out on top by some really contrived, stupid means. Yay, hooray, the Faire is saved, too bad no intelligent viewer could care less at this point.

8) They won’t include any of my song numbers. *massive frown-y face*

In conclusion: Hollywood is making this movie without my final say-so over my dead body.

How ‘bout the rest of you? What’s your book-to-film experience been like?

And for the writers in the house, what are your thoughts regarding your books’ possible translation to another medium?

“Character” or “It’s Our World, Author; You’re Just Writing About It”

Another gem mined from the notes on my Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page!

The Making Of…: “Write a Novel – it Builds Character”

Some writers put Story above all else. The main aim of others is to get a message across. But while I would certainly consider a good story necessary, and an important, masterfully-conveyed message a great bonus, the number one focus in my writing has ever been the characters.

I love fictional characters – the good ones, anyway. And by “good”, I do not necessarily mean that they are noble and pure of heart; I’m all for a great villain or antihero, too. One can have bad a “combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another” and still be an awesome “person portrayed in an artistic piece, such as a drama or novel”.

The main thing they need to have is realness.

I am not necessarily recommending that the characters become quite as real to the readers as they are to their authors. Mild schizophrenia is not for everyone. Please speak to your doctor before hanging around an imaginary Sherwood with your immaterial buddies. That having been said, a writer has to create something – and someones – that readers will be willing to suspend their disbelief for, or else all you’ve got is a dry summary of a tale full of stick figures standing in for actual people.

A good story is all about the people. After all, the story is theirs; we’re just reading it. …Or, in some cases, writing it.

So, where do I get my characters? Is it as simple as throwing together a name, hair and eye colors, and “one thing you should know about me…” and saying “ta-da”?

No, thank goodness. That would seriously take a lot of the fun out of my vocation.

I happen to enjoy taking a little time over the discovery of my protagonists, supporting cast, and random extras who may or may not land a bigger role someday if their planets align. Cool as it would be to have a mysterious stranger walk up to me in a dream and tell me, “Hey, this is me, this is my story: Write it up”, I think that would leave me feeling less like an author and more like a secretary taking dictation. Not exactly what I was going for, here.

I can approach character creation from several different ways.

In one instance, I was struck with a word that demanded to be a name, and I let that name sit in my “to be utilized in its due time” file until an unrelated inspiration collided with the first, and my talking fox was born. (Disclaimer: This character is from a project separate from “Ballad”. There are no talking foxes in this particular novel. Sorry if I got anybody’s hopes up.)

“Oh, come on, Author. You know a book can only benefit from the inclusion of foxes!”
Time and place, Glyph; time and place.

Much more often, I’ll have a vague idea for a story, determine the roles that need filling, and set to work tackling the vacancies, one by one. I’ll muse over different physical appearance combos, pore over baby name books and websites and wait for something to strike a chord, add a pinch of this attribute from me, and a dash of this attribute from some anonymous guy I can’t stand, and a feature reminiscent of insert-name-of-movie-character here, only cooler because… You get the gist.

I figure out what I’ll need the characters to do or feel (based on the bare bones of the story I’ll have plotted up to that point, or the dynamic I hope to achieve within various relationships), and I’ll look at the character and his/her environment and try to understand where the actions and attitudes are coming from. Truthfully, I don’t always know all the answers. Correction: I never know all the answers. I can get to know a character as well as I know my own self, and that will still leave a lot of holes in their psychological makeup. I guess that’s a good thing; if I understood them completely, how real could they really be?

I had a bit of a head start when putting together the cast of “Ballad”. Countless storytellers before me had unintentionally hooked me up with ready-to-go names: Robin Hood, Arthur Pendragon, etc. All I had to do was decide on my personal spelling preferences for people like Allyn-a-Dale and Morganne le Fey, and I was ready to fly ahead to the next step.

Uncovering the personalities of my main characters, the Merry Men, was my favorite part. I had only the haziest of preconceived notions, going in. As you’ll recall, I was on a crazy deadline (NaNoWriMo, y’all); for all of my compulsive planning, my actors were basically stuck doing improv. Fortunately, improvisation turned out to be one of my Will Scarlet’s greatest strengths, so he proved invaluable to me. (You want to crank out maximum word-count in minimum time? Partner with Will. Your back will be had.) Robin stepped up when I was looking for an authoritative voice of reason; Marion provided me with an extra dose of humanization; Little John was acting as a straight man one minute and zinging his comrades in brilliant deadpan the next; Gant-o’-the-Lute showed up out of the blue to steal all those scenes in which I’d never intended to include him (which, as many could attest, is just Lute all over)…

And then there was Allyn. The poor boy had a lot of live up to. When your name’s in the novel’s title like that, you kind of have to deliver, and frankly, I wasn’t sure if he could. That had more to do with doubt in myself than in him; I’ve had a rough time, in the past, imbuing my leading men and ladies with the depth or pizzazz displayed by their costars. I worried that I’d accidentally turn a wuss loose in the spotlight. (Every author’s worst nightmare! That, and the one where you meant to hit “save”, but it turned out to be that other button that erases half your work. Horror…)

But my fears were for naught. Artistically sensitive and traumatized by his sadistic author’s plot choices though he was, Allyn let me know from Chapter One that he intended to make something of himself. (To which I said, “You go, boy.”) Together, with all the delicacy of archeologists at some big-deal dig, we uncovered bit by bit what my newest minstrel was made of. (Some of our findings actually came after the book was over, so I totally had to write a sequel.) By the time the novel ended – and for several chapters before that, really – I didn’t just have cardboard cutout people standing around to prop up my fabulous story idea: I had characters!

And that, my friends, is pretty much why I do what I do.

What about you, fellow writers and readers? How do you like your character discovery?