“Yes, And” or “Just When You Thought You Had One Day or More…”

This just in! …Well, this in last night, but I didn’t see the e-mail until this morning, so we’ll consider this one hot off the presses: Today’s the day that We the Authors of the One More Day anthology, in Order to form a more perfect Union… no, wait, I’m getting off track. J. Taylor Publishing didn’t tell us to draft a Constitution, but what we do get to do is share a tiny taste of our stories with the world at large!

That is swell, and that is kinda inconvenient, ‘cause I already had a blog post I was about to put up when I saw the news. Oh, well. First rule of improvisation: “Yes, And”. Take what you’re given and run with it. So you’ll all just have to read my intended post of awesomeness another time, for today, I give you the opening few hundred words of my “One More Day” contribution, “A Morrow More”!

* * * * *

Lorrel lifts his gaze from his writing desk as the autumn breeze and I enter his tent. His glossy black lips smile before his dark brow furrows. “Good morrow,” he says. “Word from the commander?”

“Good morrow,” I say. “Only this.” I step forward to present him a small square of old cloth.

Lorrel folds and sets aside the cloth already on his desktop, the patch I’ve delivered now taking its place. He opens the desk’s shallow drawer, extracts a broad-tipped painter’s brush, and removes the tie holding his hair in a knot at the nape of his neck. As he slides the brush through the sleek black waves hanging free just above his shoulders, it takes immense effort on my part not to blatantly gaze.

I have yet to lose my fascination with Inkborn hair.

Or Inkborn movement.

Or the king’s part-Inkborn son.

The brush now coated, Lorrel sweeps the bristles back and forth across the face of the cloth before him, and the fabric quickly begins to stain—save, of course, for the sections treated with a solution specially devised to withstand the oils of Inkborn hair. In moments, the once-hidden message is plainly visible, unstained lines forming the words, The war is over.

Lorrel lifts his chin, his mouth twitching toward a smile like the one spreading unchecked across my own face. “This is old news, word-runner.” If he means to sound reproving, the twinkle in his eyes spoils the effect.

“And, yet, it is good news,” I say, wishing it were my place to throw my arms around him in shared victory, shared relief, shared love.

Standing, he comes around the desk and clasps my hands, my needle-pricked little fingers lost in his strong and sinuous ones. Not the embrace I wish for, but a touch I relish. “Yes, Raeve,” he says, voice weighty and warm. “It is good news. Every bit as good this morning as when first delivered two days ago. For a moment, I feared you brought word to contradict it.”

I shake my head happily. “The old word stands. The Vale is won. Your company turns toward home tomorrow.”

His liquid black eyes search my face. “And what of you?”

“That will depend,” I say, my meaning as carefully encrypted as our military’s textile code, “on what the Crown may require of me.”

“Less of you than of me, perhaps.” His gaze drifts past me toward the wind-fluttered tent opening and the castle of Likanstone—a long day’s travel beyond.

* * * * *

…Yes?” you prompt me. “And?

Well, that’s all you get for now, guys! For the rest of the story, you’ve got to wait ‘til the anthology’s release on December 2nd! But if you simply must have One More Taste of the book before then, you can go get your fix via my fellow anthology authors, who’ve got excerpts from their own stories cropping up on their blogs, too. (: Need a refresher on their names? No worries: It’s all in the blurb.

OneMoreDay_Cover-blog

What if today never ends?
What if everything about life—everything anyone hoped to be, to do, to experience—never happens?
Whether sitting in a chair, driving down the road, in surgery, jumping off a cliff or flying … that’s where you’d be … forever.
Unless …
In One More Day, Erika Beebe, Marissa Halvorson, Kimberly Kay, J. Keller Ford, Danielle E. Shipley and Anna Simpson join L.S. Murphy to give us their twists, surprising us with answers to two big questions, all from the perspective of characters under the age of eighteen.
How do we restart time?
How do we make everything go back to normal?
The answers, in whatever the world—human, alien, medieval, fantasy or fairytale—could, maybe, happen today.
Right now.
What would you do if this happened … to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! How’s the opening of “A Morrow More” strike ya? ^^

“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?

“Audition” or “Acting Like an Actor (and Hoping No One Calls the Bluff)”

Once upon a time, there was a Renaissance Faire.

            It was a truly fantastic place, full of laughter and song, jousts and mythic beasts, British accents galore and – perhaps best of all, in the mind of one infatuated young lady – Robin Hood. Of course, for all his charm and total day— nay, summer— no, LIFE-making qualities (he kissed the infatuated young lady’s hand!!! *swoons*), he wasn’t the real Robin Hood. While the young lady’s mind was happy enough to entertain delusions to the contrary (which would serve as the premise for her first NaNoWriMo novel), this “Robin Hood” was in truth no more than a regular man who happened to portray a legend.

            Still, there was something to be said in the coolness department for being even a non-legendary part of this Renaissance Faire, and this young lady that you’ve been hearing about harbored a deep desire for just such a position. She kept her eye on the Faire’s website and Facebook page, hoping for information on how to go from mere patron to cast member. When she saw that the Faire would be holding open “trial performances, as by an actor, dancer, or musician, to demonstrate suitability or skill”, she panicked, fretted, and cowered, even as she hit “send” on the email scheduling the first step to her fantasy.

This is the headshot I presented to the Bristol Ren Faire powers that be, with my acting resume printed on the back – all part of a ploy to seem like less of an amateur than I feel like and/or am.

            And that young lady… *solemn nods* …was me.

            So, fast forward to Audition Day. The internal panicking, fretting, and cowering had yet to abate, but I’m used to dealing with that. (In this respect, several years of piano recitals/competitions have served me well.) I arrived at the venue in good time (phew! – one less worry in the mix), signed in, and joined the moderate crowd milling in the waiting room. I did not smile foolishly when “Robin Hood” came in to give everyone a pep talk; looked pleasantly interested and squealed on the inside, yes, but there were no foolish smiles to be seen.

            As auditionee number 53, I had a few hours to wait. At first I stood around being nervous by myself, then I gradually ended up hanging out with a woman who found me hilarious and a pair of guys with a recorder and ukulele whom I found hilarious; and between watching a mock duel (with the aforementioned guys’ instruments standing in for swords), joining an impromptu, ukulele-led, all-room sing-along (which had to be shushed, because apparently it was overpowering the actual audition happening in the next room), and wishing I had a harp like the lady sitting over yonder, I occasionally forgot just how nervous I was.

            At last, my number was up, and in I went to perform my prepared monologue (written by me), sing a song (also written by… well, Gant-o’-the-Lute), and improvise a quick scenario in which people I thought were on vacation walk in on me cleaning their house. Yes, I was still a mess of nerves. Yes, “Robin Hood” was sitting right there the whole time. But I think I did well.

            Directly after my individual audition, nine others and I were called in for some quick group exercises, just to see how we could handle being told we’re suddenly parts of an exploding machine, or transitioning through different gravity zones, or to debate why dogs are evil and mountains taste great. I think I did okay then, too, but things had gotten so surreal, by then, it’s hard for my brain to hold onto any sensible memory.

            Next thing I knew, it was all over, and I was heading home to do the same thing I’m doing now: Squirming with anticipation as to what this daring adventure may bring.

            Further details to follow approximately one week hence

“Spontaneous” or “When Plotters Get Pantsed”

Thus far in my illustrious blogging career, I’ve generally done my best to stay ahead of my own game by stockpiling posts well advance of actually posting them. That way, if I ever found myself in a stretch of days – or even weeks – where I couldn’t find time to write new material for Ever On Word, not to worry, I’d simply put up the piece I’d had scheduled for this particular day since a month ago.

            It’s a good system, if one can manage it, and has served me well since September. But today I find myself feeling rather “unconstrained and unstudied in manner or behavior”, so I’m writing on impulse, with no clear idea of where this post is going to go, and with the intention to post it for your view immediately afterward (well, following a reread to check for typos, of course).

            Now, for a lot of bloggers, the type-and-post method is nothing out of the ordinary. For whatever reasons of their own, that’s simply the way they prefer to do things. Me? I prefer to plan. I like knowing what’s to come with time to spare, so I can work around it, or prepare for it, or at the very least just know. This goes for life, and since it’s such a huge part of my life, it goes for my writing, too.

            Off in the world of NaNoWriMo, they’ve got a word for people like me. They call us the Plotters – those who like to outline their novel’s plot and learn the bios of the characters and perhaps even work out a chapter-by-chapter idea of where the story will go before they put down a letter toward their word-count goal. That’s me, all right. Prep work and self-imposed guidelines are my friends, as I further explained (oh, wow, over a year ago!) in a piece entitled “Staying Within the Lines” (a part of my “The Making Of…” series of Facebook notes for my “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” page).

            Then there’s the other group: The Pantsers. These are the ones whose decision to write a NaNo novel might not have been made until November 3rd, but since they don’t require (or even do best without) a month of prep work, they can just go, trusting the story to build itself along the way.

            There’s something to be said for both sides – for knowing how to plan, and for knowing how to improvise. And particularly for control freaks like me, it’s probably good, every now and again, to look for low-pressure opportunities to practice leaving our comfort zone and just go with the flow, just to remind ourselves that we can operate on the spur of the moment without the sky falling or time exploding or our heads getting bashed in by some abnormal forestland’s creature’s magical stone.

Because “spontaneous” and “random” go hand-in-hand, that’s why.

            So that’s what this blog piece has been: Me pulling a Panster-like type-and-post, and not getting brained by a rock for it. Be encouraged, my friends.