My Fair Lady Outlaw (Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell)

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

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

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

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

As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn says, “While guest-posing on the blog of Luna Station Quarterly two summers ago, she introduced herself thus:

Hello, Internet. My name’s Marion – perhaps more popularly known as “Maid Marian”, except I don’t use that spelling and I’m quite consummately married.

“Welcome, Marion!” Will greets the woman now seated in the chair across from his own. “So glad you could join me. First things first – how the devil did you snag a guest post spot in a spec fic magazine?? I network my hose off in our author’s world, and I’ve never received any such invitation!”

“I’m afraid you were just at a disadvantage this time around, Will,” says Marion, shrugging none too apologetically. “LSQ’s a platform for women’s voices, and you… well, you are, by some definitions, a man.”

“Humph. Shows how far being in touch with your feminine side will get you.”

“I wouldn’t know,” she says, chin propped on fist. “I’ve never felt femininity to be my strongest suit. Yes, certainly I identify as a lady. But strip away the stereotypes, and you’re not really left with much to go on regarding what that definitively means. How much of me is Marion, and how much is the outlaw who’s also a chick? These are the existential questions one wrestles with. And when I say ‘one’, I mostly mean my author after she’s spent too long on Twitter. I’m usually too busy helping Robin try to keep the band in some semblance of order.”

“So, if not ‘the chick’, what do you consider your character role to be?”

“According to one review? ‘The fun aunt.’” She laughs in delight. “I wouldn’t say that’s far wrong. Nor would I say that I’m any one thing in an extreme. On the contrary, what I most try to do is act as a balancing agent within the group. Fill in the gaps, you know? If Robin gets too focused on the job, I give attention to the people doing the work. Where Little John can intimidate just by occupying the same space as the rest of us, I strive to set everyone at their ease. And when you… well.” She rolls a slim brown hand Will’s way. “When you’re you, I’ll usually see what I can do to provide a voice of relative calm and reason. Not always easy, that.” Even as her brows affect a stern set, her eyes are all smiles. “You were a poor influence on me in my formative years.”

“One does try,” Will says graciously. “Now, if you asked any of the other outlaws in ‘Ballad’ who their favorite fellow Merry Man is, their reflex answer would probably be you.”

“What, not Robin?”

“He’d be the first to tell you leaders don’t count.”

“Eh,” says Marion, nodding concession.

Will presses, “But if you had to choose your own bestie among the bandmates…?”

“Oh, that’s nothing like a fair question,” Marion protests. “You, Robin, and Little John have all three been my best friends since the English throne sat King Henry II. And now there’s sweet little Allyn – the Precious Baby Nephew to my Fun Aunt. I can’t be expected to pick a favorite.”

Will wags a finger. “It’s that sort of indecision that creates a love triangle, lady fair.”

She gives him a flat look. “There is no love triangle, Will.”

“But, I mean, technically, isn’t there, kinda?”

Her full lips purse. “Given that I’ve already married one of you? No.”

The host’s shrug is over-casual. “Just ‘cause you’re with one person doesn’t mean you can’t want to kiss another.”

Marion glances ironically at the camera. “Where could this line of conversation be going, I wonder?”

“Which brings me to my final question,” Will continues. “Tell me, what is our author Danielle E. Shipley’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret? Or would you rather—”

“How ‘bout a fun fact instead?” Marion says brightly. “Readers may wonder: Why did Danielle choose to end my name in ‘-on’ rather than the more traditional ‘-an’? Answer: For years prior to her first-drafting of ‘Ballad’, she had a Marian-with-an-‘a’ in another story world. Nothing to do with the Robin Hood legend at all, just the little sister of one of the MCs. And that Marian? A good deal more obnoxious than me. Danielle didn’t think the brat deserved to share a name with me, so she gave mine a different spelling to help keep us well separate in her imagination. And after all that, wouldn’t you know? That character ended up getting her name changed in that other story’s reboot. #AuthorLife!”

“Ain’t that the truth,” says a visibly dejected Will Scarlet. “Allyn, why don’t you round out the fun with a word from our sponsor?”

“Today’s Kiss & Tell segment,” says Allyn, “and a number of enticing prizes for those who care to try for them, was brought to you by the Launch Week+ celebration of The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale’ (The Outlaws of Avalon, Book One) by Danielle E. Shipley – available now!

Ballad Cover, front 02

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

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

IF WILL SCARLET … Went Commercial YA

A continuation of “If Will Scarlet Broke the Economy

By this time, Will would be ready to eat a horse raw, so it would be food court time. A smoothie for me, and maybe some Panda Express. It would be all Will could do to refrain from ordering one of absolutely everything – two, in the case of cookies.

“You know what’s hard?” he’d say, if ever he paused to switch out the inhalation of lunch for that of air. “Self-restraint. Self-restraint is bloody hard, and the bloody point of it is easily forgotten when you feel constantly on the point of starvation.”

“What’s got your metabolism up, dude?” I’d ask – since, when his appetite hits this level of frenzy, there’s usually some sort of emotional trigger behind it. That, or we’re shopping in Fresno and I haven’t eaten enough to suit him, and, oh, Lord have mercy, that aisle has snack cakes in it.

To my surprise, he’d say, “I think it’s you. Shopping with you. It’s exciting.”

Wary face would be wary. “What kind of exciting?”

He’d flash the slightly madder version of his smile. “It’s all the same excitement to me.”

“Yooooou need to learn to differentiate,” I’d assess.

Yooooou need to not be so awesome,” he’d return.

“I really hadn’t thought I was.” I’d gesture helplessly. It’d be like when someone called Annabelle from INSPIRED a strong character all over again. I don’t think of myself as a strong character, or an awesome one. I’m just a person – and barely that. It feels weird when people make a fuss over me, like I’m not just extraordinary (which I know), but wonderful (which I guess I’m too close to see). Extra weird when that person is one of my characters, since I’ve started to figure that their resenting me is just a matter of course.

Will would make a scornful noise. “Don’t be that MC who’s all, ‘But how could he like me? I’m just me! ’ Nobody wants to read about that.”

I’d lean back in my chair, giving him a look. “So you’re trying to set yourself up as one of the interests in my love triangle, now?”

“The best friend boy next door,” he’d say cheerfully. “Been like a brother to you all this time, until suddenly you notice how cute I’ve gotten.” He’d flex a bicep, feigning shock. “Lord-a-mercy, have I always had these guns??”

“Idiot.” I’d throw a balled-up napkin at him. I’d miss. I’d groan. Laughing, he’d bend down to scoop it off the floor to prevent me from getting up and doing it myself.

“Who’s the third, then?” I’d ask. “In the love triangle. There’s gotta be two hot guys fighting over me, or what will I have to dither over in book two of the trilogy that didn’t need to be a trilogy?” Not to hate on YA literature, but let’s face it; there’s a pattern.

“The Resistance?” Will would suggest innocently. “Whether to stand up to the dystopia or just roll over and become a vampire?”

“Now, now,” I’d say, before this turned into a Twi-bashing party. I happened to enjoy the books, thank you very much.

He’d finish whatever I’d left behind of my Chinese. Mostly peas, probably. “I don’t know who the other guy is. We could try to have Allyn take the part, but I can’t see him cooperating. And anyway, that’d be lame, because we’d all know from page one that you wouldn’t pick him. He’s not your type.”

You’re not my type.”

Which would result in him being far more bummed-out than I would like and mumbling that it’s time to go home.

I wouldn’t want our mall trip to end like this. It had been such a great day, ‘til now. But I wouldn’t know what to do to get Will’s spirits back up, until a light bulb would click on over my head, powered by the sight of one of those goofy photo booths.

PhotoFunia-Photobooth 3
Via PhotoFunia

“Hey, Will,” I’d say, tugging on his sleeve. I would point. He would see. His eyes would light up brighter than my overhead bulb.

“Oh, HELL yes!”

In we’d go to take our strip of idiotic pictures. Tongues out. Eyes crossed. Bunny ears over each other’s heads. Probably one where he smashes a kiss to my cheek. Maybe even one where we just look happy and halfway normal. When we got home, I’d tape it to my wall – right between my calendar and the photo manipulation of the Backstreet Boys’ Kevin as LoTR’s Aragorn.

Of everything we bought that day, I don’t think any of it would mean more than that.

[To possibly be continued, if Will happens to compel me to write any more of these.]

“Mad” or “Yay for Books That Don’t Drive Me Crazy!”

Confession: I’ve never read Lewis Carroll’s classic works. Seen a good half-dozen movies based on Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and/or through the Looking Glass? Yes. Read the originals, no. Of course, to hear some novels tell it, it’s not like Carroll got the story right, anyway…

Splintered cover pic

The Book: “Splintered” by A.G. Howard.

Genre: Young-Adult Fantasy.

Blurb: Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and insects. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family since her great-great-great-grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem.

To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland.

But no one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…

My Thoughts: So I won this book in some giveaway somewhere (perhaps I ought to keep track of such things, but clearly I don’t), got a whiff of the premise, and thought, okay, this book could be cool… but will it deliver?

Short answer: Yeah, I’d say so.

Long answer: What struck me most about this author’s handling of the story is that she almost always managed to pull back from the brink of making me mad – angry, crazy, or otherwise. It should be known books can easily rub me the wrong way, and while I try to go into every new tale with an open mind, it often isn’t long before I can’t see the forest for the non-engaging and/or downright irksome tress. So let’s break “Splintered” down so I can show you where A.G. Howard went right.

We’ve got Alyssa and Jeb – girl and boy who’ve been crushing on each other forever and have yet to do anything about it. That can get old real quick. But then, hey! – Alyssa and Jeb spend time together and start talking more or less honestly with each other and adventure together in the story’s fantasy realm! I love it when characters are given the chance to communicate…and then take that chance!

Then there’s the love triangle. Perhaps on the day I have two crazy-attractive guys fighting over me, I will cease rolling my eyes at this YA plot staple, but in the meantime, *rolls eyes*. And yet, throwing Morpheus into the mix didn’t have me going, “Oh, please, go away and leave the high school sweethearts in peace.” For one thing, he didn’t just show up out of nowhere and start jacking things up; he and Alyssa had some legitimate history going on (which I won’t go into; spoilers and all that), which contributed to Alyssa’s dual feelings on the matter actually making some solid sense. For another thing, I liked the guy. He’s a mystery and a paranormal weirdo who you suspect to be lying as often as telling the truth, and… that worked for me. Plus he has wings and an accent and wears hats; awesome points all. So while I wouldn’t say I was rooting for him to nab the coveted Love Interest spot, I did want him to stick around and, y’know, not get his head ripped off by a Jabberwocky* or something.

*(For the record, there wasn’t exactly a Jabberwocky in this book. But there was a walrus monster with tentacles, and isn’t that, like, twenty times as cool?)

This book being about Wonderland, there was naturally a hefty dose of dreamlike madness that I’m not sure I was always able to perfectly wrap my mind around. Part of that may have had to do with my pretty consistently waiting until past my bedtime to breeze through a few chapters. Still, since the story kept moving at a decent pace and, as I said, characters were communicating, being sexy in hats, and having tentacles, I wasn’t much bothered by the bits that went over my head. I’m not a reader who needs every little question tidily answered, just the pressing ones, and I never felt that I was missing anything crucial, so I let my occasional “huh?” moments slide.

The only aspects of the book that crossed a line with me were the overemployment of the word “appendage” (I get that we don’t want to say “wing” and “tongue” and stuff three times in the same sentence, but by the end of the book, every instance of this substitute of choice was like a poke in the eye), and the overeager and less than subtle attempts to establish Alyssa as strong, capable, far from helpless, yadda-blah-etc. Yeah, I get it, empowered females and stuff, but I dunno, whenever Alyssa narrated something like, “I realized no one was going to come to my rescue. I needed to be strong and save myself,” it sounded less to me like how a girl actually thinks, and more like how she’s told to think. And since thinking what people say you’re supposed to is like the opposite of empowerment, in my eyes, I trust you can see why that didn’t sit right with me. Apart from that, though, no major complaints.

Unhinged cover pic

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): Go for it. I felt the concept was handled with originality and, in general, deftly skirted the pitfalls that would have shaken off my interest. That giveaway that won me “Splintered” also came with a Barnes & Noble gift card to pick up the sequel, “Unhinged”. More Morpheus, you say? Don’t mind if I do…