Mo’ Men, Mo’ Merrier

It’s the 1-year anniversary of perhaps my single most personally life-changing project – Book 1 of The Outlaws of Avalon, “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”. (The Smashwords e-book of which, coincidentally, is currently 50% off!) And how better to celebrate than with the release of a related e-book – Outlaws 2.5, “Truly Great Words Never Die”!

“Easy,” says Will Scarlet. “Adding more Merry Men into the mix always makes things better. Invite us into your blog post!”

Like that wasn’t already the plan. ;D My question for you all:

Which of the vignettes in the “Truly Great Words” collection is your personal favorite, and why?

“It’s a tough call,” says Robin, “but I think ‘Ostent’ may be the most special to me. A snapshot of a moment where, although I couldn’t do everything I wished to save the world, I could do one thing to make one precious life a little brighter. *cough-ahem-sniff* …Sorry, I, ah, seem to have some Book 3 feelings in my eye…”

TGW, Ostent 01

Easy there, Hood. We’ve got ‘til October. Marion, what about you?

“Well, just about any of them that feature me spending time with my friends will please me,” says she. “So shout-out to the likes of ‘Lumming’, ‘Ludicropathetic’, and ‘Convive’. But if I can only declare one winner, I’ll give it to ‘Alderliefest’, because even if it’s only Allyn and Gawain on camera, the spirit of Merry Men community is strong within it.”

TGW, Alderliefest 01

“I do like that one,” Allyn agrees, snuggling closer to her.

Mr. Scarlet?

“Aw, man, that’s hard. I’m in like half of them!”

*does the math* Something like 64%, actually, you story hog, you.

Will beams. “Well, let’s go with ‘Ecophobia’, because it’s the first to star both me and Allyn. And everything’s better that way.”

TGW, Ecophobia 01

Allyn’s blushing face tries to hide in Marion’s shoulder. And, I mean, she’s got the smallest shoulders in the burly boys club of a band, but sure, dream big. Little John? Your favorite, please?

After a considering pause, he says, “ ‘Fallow’.”

“The poem? But you’re not even in that one,” Will says. “And neither am I!”

And your absence, says Little John’s stare, goes some way toward the pleasing quiet of the poem’s tone.

TGW, Fallow 01

It’s minstrel-written – ergo, bound to please. Speaking of minstrels, Allyn, your time is come. Which story’s your fave?

“ ‘Montivagant’,” he says, no moment’s thought required. “The last of the stories, and the last to star both me and Will.” He turns a shining smile on Scarlet. “Everything’s better that way.”

TGW, Montivagant 01

*rubs own Book 3 feelings out of own eye* I said wait ‘til October, darn it! Here, lemme bring it back with a reminder of Book 2.5’s blurb and pretty little cover:

Truly Great Words, w text 5, JPG,bestWelcome to Avalon, where truly great heroes – and words – never die.

Join the Merry Men and denizens of Camelot in a collection of flash fiction as neo-“ye olde” as a Renaissance Faire, every slice of their immortal life served up with an archaism ripe for revival – from “accismus” to “Weltschmerz”, with plenty of laughs in between.

Come for the language lesson, stay for the Will Scarlet shenanigans, along with a facet or two of your Fey isle friends that you’ve never seen before.

What about you, readers? Do YOU have a favorite story from “Truly Great Words”? Let me know in the comments – or, better yet, in a review on Amazon (where the book awaits you for just 99 cents!), Goodreads, your blog or social media pages, etc.!

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Open Journal: Who Am I?

My spirit’s been having a rough time, lately. Even though it’s been several months since The Trauma at the end of Germany, I still haven’t been able to write like I used to. Short stories, sure. Flash fiction and scraps of poetry. But nothing like a novel.

And it’s awful because so much of my identity – so much of my self-worth – is Danielle = writer. That was my thing. My gift. My magic. So my brain says to me, If you’re not churning out books, then who even are you? And what is the point of you?

Because my brain is not my friend.

Fortunately, Will and Tirzah are.

I was speaking my sadness to them; sighing my wish that I were a cooler character in my life’s story. And thus spake they of me:

Tirzah: Hold on. Someone, write up all the things about her that she would find cool if she heard them about someone else.

Will Scarlet: Well, we’ve covered the hell-ton of written/published works and Europe. Also: Ren Faire.

She can hear dialogue and music cues from childhood movies and radio in her head. Surely that’s a low-grade superpower.

She has a lute. She owns a cool hat bought in Manchester, and epic boots reminiscent of Merry Men.

She makes friends of fountains. She’s in love with the moon.

She’s never too old to sing the songs she likes from kiddie stuff, and geeks out at krakens and balrogs.

She apologizes to books for dropping them, and takes care not to smother her stuffed animals.

She drove the back end of Maui – where even the locals dare not wend!

Me: Okay. You make me sound credible.

Will: Then I’m failing, cuz you’re INcredible.

Tirzah: She’s created great art. She’s adventured far and wide. She’s written, lived, and loved stories.

She’s had an eye for the beauty in every place she’s been, and faced many fears for the sake of beauty and adventure.

She’s come up against Giants and been wounded, but not defeated. She rises up again after every blow.

She’s kind in spite of all, and true of heart in spite of much. She’s always pushing onward, herself and others – sometimes in vain, sometimes too hard, but sometimes to glory. And sometimes to simple survival.

She’s noisily brave. She’s faced trials in and out. She has kingdoms hidden under her hats, of which she has many – figurative and otherwise. She’s always pressing forward and branching out and learning new things.

She’ll do what she must. And what she must is, in her mind, a far higher standard than most would dare raise their eyes to.

Me [through literal tears]: Thanks for liking me, guys.

Will: Pssht. Why wouldn’t I?

And I share all this not so readers can see me, but so that those among them who need to can maybe see what they’ve been overlooking in themselves.

Being cool, being somebody, being Enough – it’s not all about Big Things you can do or have done. It’s not all about achievements or talents.

It’s also about the little ordinary things, and the everyday weird things, and the quirks and the quiet strengths that all add up to the person you are.

I needed to hear that – and probably will need it again, before I’ve healed enough to return to my old word wizardry. Hearing likely won’t always mean believing, but as the West Wind once said, “what is true does not require your belief to be.” So believe it or not, Danielle, here is the truth:

Danielle = writer is inaccurate math.

Danielle > that.

Kingdoms Hidden Under Her Hats 06

Wish I Were Here and There

What I’ll Miss Most About Germany, which I am soon to leave:

with-tirzah-in-the-woods

– Walks through the woods with Tirzah

– Walks through the fields with Tirzah

– Climbing to sit in stands erected for deer hunters

– …With Tirzah

with-tirzah-in-a-stand

– The green smell of after-rain

– The golden smell of summer

– The spicy, fruity, woody wood smell of lumber in the forest

– Smelling it all with Tirzah

with-tirzah-in-the-fields

– Sunsets like a painting and moons like a nocturne

– Rolls of hay and carpets of moss

– Greetings (mine and Tirzah’s) to the water spirit of the little town fountain

– Greetings (Allyn-a-Dale’s) to the slumbering souls in the local graveyard

– Greetings (Will Scarlet’s) to… pretty much everything we came across, while climbing on stumps and picking up sticks and shouting at slugs, etc.

with-tirzah-at-the-fountain

– French fries with mayo from the doner kebab shop

– Cheese and sweet bread from the supermarket

– Coffee and crepes in that selfsame supermarket’s “cool people” corner

– Roasted potatoes at midnight

– Sniffing shot glasses of whisky in the wee hours

– Endless mugs of tea, morning, noon, and night

with-tirzah-at-crepes

– Tirzah, minus all the parts of her that drive me crazy

– …

– Craziness with Tirzah

with-tirzah-craziness

What I’ll Most Love About Returning to the States, which I am soon to do:

*

– My parents, in person, more than half an hour, once a week

– My Baby Nephew, who blessedly has yet to forget me

– My sisters, now and then

– No roommates who are neither family nor Tirzah

*

– A library within walking distance

– Another library just a short drive away

– More libraries to which my mother knows the way

– Barnes & Noble and Half-Price Books

– (Also, the within-walking-distance post office, its lack of books notwithstanding)

*

– YouTube unblocking several of my favorite tunes

– Netflix allowing access to the U.S. list of shows

– Keeping up with “Once Upon a Time” as it airs

*

– Going to grandmother’s house for Christmas, as in those happy golden days of yore

– My native tongue as the language of the land

– Not living 7 hours ahead of my baseline time zone

– Being allowed to kill any and all creepy-crawlies invading my space

– Pizza as a household staple

*

– …

– …

– Phone conversations with Tirzah

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Altered

Hey, yo. Mostly just trying to keep myself together as I prep for the “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” summer release and my upcoming return to Germany. Meanwhile, though, I felt like gifting the dear ol’ blog with a bit of attention. So here – have one of those out-of-the-blue bits o’ fiction that sometimes spill out of my brain. I call it: “Altered”.

<<<>>>

“Dragon Mountain” by eddie-mendoza on deviantART

“Dragon Mountain” by eddie-mendoza on deviantART

Today, the dragon comes.

They’ve chained you to the altar stone and left you – this winter’s sacrifice. I can’t know if your shaking’s from dread or from cold.

Your eyes are wide and darting, searching for me. I told you I’d be here for you. I told you I’d see you freed. I am, and I will. I hope you can trust me, even if you can’t work out my hiding place.

My gaze moves between you and the sky. The sun’s dipping lower, the Cursed Mountain’s shadow stretching closer. As near as anyone can figure, the dragon’s roars never sound ‘til the shadow’s crossed the altar’s runes. We have minutes left.

I flex my grip on my sword, bought with every coin I had, plus a few more I saw no choice but to steal. It will be worth it, once the dragon’s slain. Once I’ve broken the hold the mountain’s had over our land for years longer than anyone’s sure of. Once you’re free to live your whole life long, and I’ll never again have to fear losing you to a monster.

Shadow and altar touch. You pull away, as far as you can, as far as your shackles allow. I turn away, my eyes on the mountain. Any moment now I’ll hear—

The roar. The air ripples with it. The power of the sound knocks me to the ground, and for the space of the breath I can’t take, I’m too scared to move. Because the roar came from too close.

It came from you.

When I can lift my head, I catch only the end of the change. The stone’s runes glowing unearthly-bright beneath you, you stretch and twist and thrash and grow. Another roar, riding from your throat on an eruption of flame. Somewhere within the sonic blast, I hear your scream of terror.

There never was a dragon. There were only the sacrifices, cursed upon the altar. What have we been doing?

Your alteration complete, your first chain breaks, the sharp sound shocking me out of stillness. I burst from my hiding place, sword drawn, calling your name the best I can with a voice scared half-worthless. Your eyes have finally found me, and they shine red, the pupils slitted like a snake’s.

You speak, your voice again somewhere inside the dragon’s.

“Please…” you say. You back away, your head dropped low on the end of your long neck, shimmering with scales. “Please. You promised.”

“To slay the dragon,” I say.

“To see me freed,” you plead. “And free I am, to be gone from this place. To discover the truth of what I have become. Will you let me go in peace? Or are you my champion only when I am powerless?”

My racing heart slows as, beat by beat, you make no move against me. At last, I swallow. Fill my lungs. Speak.

“You loved me when I was the stronger,” I say. “I will do no less for you now.” I plant my blade’s tip in the snow. “Fly, my friend.”

With the snap of your second chain, you raise your head. Your wings unfurl, starkly silhouetted against the twilight sky. Your tail sweeps around to rest before me, the ridges rising like a staircase up your spine. Your dragon voice rings out: “Fly with me.”

And so we rise together, our whole lives long awaiting.

<<<>>>

(Enjoyed what I wrote? There’s loads more where that came from! Browse the DEShipley catalogue, why dontcha.)

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: Disconnected

Recent-Past Me writes…

I met my best friend in the forums of NaNoWriMo. It’s a story we’ve rehashed a ton of times, to curious outsiders and among ourselves: Her foxy Thief Lord, my legendary outlaws and Song Caster of minstrel; a passing connection between states-away strangers that, somehow, went beyond passing to lasting these four years and counting.

A once-in-a-lifetime miracle.

At least, not a miracle I’ve seen repeated yet in my life, and don’t expect to during NaNo ‘14.

I haven’t spent much time in the forums, this past month. By which I mean, I’ve half-heartedly poked my head in once, lurked around for a short while, then wearily closed out the tab. I don’t have the energy for socializing chitchat. For dragging on a smile and feeling around for common ground. For friendly emoticons and exclamation points.

There are few things I want to deal with less, in this state, than exclamation points.

Besties For Good 02My best friend just got married, moving even further out of reach. I was her Maid of Honor; her personal assistant; the collected, efficient go-getter striding around with a rapidly marked-up notebook. My brain, it seems, works differently than the average human. (Gasps of faux surprise all ‘round.) The bride-to-be and her family, the wedding itself, needed me in cyborg mode. Cue three weeks of setting self aside that I might to best ability serve.

Greater love hath no one than this: To lay down her life for a friend.

My insides feel slain on the altar where she spoke her vows.

I pushed myself so far, strained so hard, strove so long, and I’m proud of me, but I’m injured.

It’s not the first time I’ve maimed myself like this. The summer I published “Swan Prince” then dove straight into my second season on cast at the Renaissance Faire blew me out in much the same way. Strained, sprained, drained.

My brain works differently than the average human.

Participant, mm? I hardly feel like one.

Participant, mm? I hardly feel like one.

I’m not made to deal so intensely with so many people for this length of time. I’m slowly recovering; better now than I was days ago, and likely better by the time this post goes live than I am during its drafting. But in the meantime, much as I’d love to get back into the international camaraderie of NaNo – one of my favorite parts of the event, in years past; what separates NaNo from just another month of me bingeing on word-making; the gateway, once, to a friendship like I’ve never had before – I just can’t with the socializing, right now.

So a world of Wrimos is over there, and I’m over here, with days to go ‘til THE Writing Month begins, feeling wholly disconnected from it all.

My tired = sad.

My sad = lonely.

My cyborg powers, experiencing technical difficulties.

“The girl needs a vacation,” Will Scarlet opines.

The girl doesn’t believe in vacation.

Edgwyn says kindly, “That’s why the girl’s a wreck.”

I’ll sleep when I’m dead. ‘Til then, I’ve got writing to do.

“Mercy on our souls,” Allyn murmurs.

“Mental” or “Minstrel Mind Control”

W.A.I.T. Button

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

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

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

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

“So make yourselves comfortable,” says Will, “as we now present to you: ‘Minstrel Mind Control’!”

<<<>>>

[The curtain rises on a spotlighted set made to resemble Will Scarlet’s bedroom, complete with faux stone walls, ornate rug, canopied bed, and elegant wardrobe standing in the corner. Sporting bright red headphones, Will’s jamming out in the setting’s center to music nobody can hear when Allyn-a-Dale enters, stage left.]

Allyn: Will.

Will: [continues dancing, apparently oblivious]

Allyn [louder, closer, waving his arms]: WILL.

Will: [still dancing, still oblivious]

Allyn [clasps hands behind his back; speaks at a conversational volume]: Pizza.

Will [yanking off the headphones]: Whoo! Where? Cheese in the crust?!

Allyn: Perhaps you misheard me. I said, “Will.”

Will: Oh. That’s not the same as pizza.

Allyn: Not entirely, no. But now I have your attention, I think it’s time we spoke about our weekly skits.

Will: Yeah? What about them?

Allyn: Following review of the scripts you’ve written to date, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that you’re out of your mind.

Will [laughing]: You’re a bit late, Allyn. That hasn’t been front page material since the Middle Ages.

Allyn: Or, put more precisely, your mind is out of control. If you must carry on like a jester on no one knows which questionable substances, would you not rather it be because you’ve chosen to, rather than because you’re a maniac who couldn’t act sane if he tried?

Will: Sanity is highly overrated.

Allyn [taking Will’s hand in his own]: Will. Let me help you. I know a thing or two about discipline of the mind. Step outside with me. I’ve got an idea.

[The light moves with them from the bedroom set into an area with a background of trees, the stage floor covered in artificial snow.]

Will: All right, minstrel, what’s the plan?

Allyn: I’m going to bury you.

Will [startling back]: Your idea of mental discipline is murder??

Allyn: Alive in the snow, Will. I’ll cover you with cold, and you will focus on convincing yourself you feel warm.

Will: Oh. Shall I strip down first? Make it a real challenge?

Allyn: I’m in charge of costuming, this once. Keep your proper clothes on.

Will [toward the audience]: I tried, ladies.

[Grabbing a shovel leaning against a tree, Allyn covers Will neck to foot in snow.]

Will: Lord Almighty, it’s bloody frigid!

Allyn: Naturally. Now, concentrate. Think warm thoughts. A sandy beach. A summer ocean. Burning for lack of suntan lotion.

Will: I’d applaud the rhyme if I weren’t dying of hypothermia. Of all the harebrained schemes that didn’t come from me, Allyn! As if this could ever work. No one can do this!

Allyn: I can.

Will: Oh, you can, can you? And just when did you have occasion to cultivate such a skill? Kept your eye out for blizzards in which to get in some practice?

Allyn: I learned this skill as I learned most every other: Traveling with Father.

Will [jerking upright indignantly]: He buried you in the snow and told you to figure out how not to freeze?!

Allyn: No. But neither did he seem to recognize the existence of winter coats. I’ve been cold. I’ve been hungry. I’ve been footsore after miles of marching o’er hill and dale, and finger-sore after hours of drills upon my lute. And it trained me to think of other things so I could bear it. It’s made me the man I am today.

Will [grimly]: Yes, I daresay it has. [rises to his feet and places a hand on Allyn’s shoulder] And while I love that little man with all his screwed-up psychology, I’m more interested in the man you’ll be in days to come. And to get there, you need at the very least two things: More substance-abusing jester skits, and a whole lot of pizza. Let me help you. I know a thing or two about being warm, fed, and slaphappy with friends.

Allyn [with a quiet smile]: Friendship is the one thing I know I’ll never have to teach you.

Will [hugging Allyn]: Because your being here already has.

<<<>>>

“Aaaand SCENE!” says Will.

“Thank you to audience members Susan Francino and Steven Bourelle,” says Allyn, “for providing us with the inspiration ‘someone gets buried under snow’ and ‘beach/warm ocean/suntan lotion’”

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

“Not next week, actually.”

“What? No? Why not?”

Allyn shrugs. “Something about some big deal of a special post on Friday, and Danielle not wishing us to crowd it.”

“What sort of a special post?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“What sort of surprise?”

Allyn cranes up to whisper in Will’s ear.

“Oh-h-h,” says Will, understanding dawning. “Ri-i-ight. That’s happening. Got little enough to do with us, but have it her way, seeing as some might argue it’s her blog. AMENDMENT: Until week after next, friends! Will and Allyn out for realzies!”