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!”

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…

<<<>>>

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.

“Female 2” or “Equality vs. Fairness”

A guest post by Marion Hood. (Also published on the blog of Luna Station Quarterly.)

Prior to my husband Robin Hood’s admittance of Allyn-a-Dale into the band, the ratio of women to men among the Merry Men of Avalon Faire was 1 to 4. With the addition of Allyn, it slid down to 1 in 5.

Well, there you have it: Minstrels are damaging to women’s rights.

Not actually. Yet it seems like the sort of conclusion some would be quick to draw.

I stand corrected. This infographic was not particularly quick to draw at all. No end amusing, though.
I stand corrected. This infographic was not particularly quick to draw at all. No end amusing, though.

My author finds it a bit irritating when she happens across statements like, “Only X percentage of fill-in-the-blank are women! This is an outrageous, unacceptable disgrace!” Is it really?, she wonders. Is it all to do with an oppressive glass ceiling keeping us ladies down? Are we to blame the shopping aisle with its profusion of pink and dearth of raw building materials for hoodwinking our little girls out of their bright futures in engineering?

Danielle happened across an article with a paragraph lamenting how few architects were women. Do you know she considered becoming an architect, once? Or perhaps a landscape or interior designer. All those hours of building homes and amusement parks on her Sims and Rollercoaster Tycoon computer games (whichever gender they may or may not have been marketed toward) sparked her interest. What stopped her from pursuing a career in these fields? Did she discover them to be an unwelcoming boys club? Was she told such pastimes were unsuitable for young ladies? Not at all. She’s not an architect for the same reason she’s not a master chef, an accountant, or a naval officer: Because a writer’s what she is and wants to be.

She doesn’t write because she sees it as a woman’s job, or to stick it to anyone who sees it as a man’s job. It’s her job. Her passion. Her talent developed into skill over thousands of hours and millions of words. How many men or other women write or don’t write has nothing at all to do with it.

Why say we need more women in any given field? Is it for what we feel they would bring to the table? Or are we simply obsessed with the numbers? Must women = men in every sphere before we lower our cry of discrimination, or can there be fairness without numerical equality?

Why so few Merry Women, anyway? If Robin Hood cares so much about justice, how come his wife’s the only girl in the band? Have sexism and nepotism combined to land me the role of Token Chick?

In absolute honesty, I’d say the answer’s a mix of “yes” and “no”.

There’s no pretending young ladies in my day were encouraged to be outlaws. (Which isn’t to say the authorities were exactly rooting for the men to turn criminal, either…) I grew up with my own version of the pink aisle, raised to be a noblewoman with all the feminine trappings that came with the gig. While I don’t recall it ever striking me as the most entertaining future, I made no plans to openly rebel. …Until the man I loved absconded to Sherwood.

That settled that. I put in a few months of basic weapons training to lessen the chances of making a fool of myself and/or getting killed, then found my Robin and made it clear I meant to stay with the band, never mind society or chivalry or the Law telling me it was no place for a girl. When you love something enough, you go after it.

Robin let me in because he loved me. He let me stay because I showed I could. He is as fair, and as in favor of equality, as any man I’ve ever known or heard of. And he has one woman in his band.

Is it an outrageous, unacceptable disgrace? Do the Merry Men need more women? Should I petition for a new quota to ensure females aren’t getting elbowed out by the patriarchy? I suppose I could. Or I could rest content in the knowledge that, had Allyn-a-Dale been a woman, the Men would have been no less eager to welcome her as our minstrel.

No getting around it: There is injustice in the world. A Merry Man is more keenly aware of that than most. But not all inequality is unfairness. Not every woman wants to be an architect, no matter how many “boys’ toys” she happily played with in her youth. By all means, do not force her out. Likewise, do not pressure her in. Out of every “women’s right” – out of every right for all – the right to pursue passion sits atop the list of those Danielle and I stand most firmly behind.

Your thoughts welcome below. …Unless You’re A Girl! (*laughs* I jest.)

“Females” or “I’d Say ‘Y’know, the Ones That Aren’t Males’, But I Expect a Man-Contrasted Definition Would Breed Contention”

(Also published on the blog of Luna Station Quarterly.)

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 – and I’ve been most graciously asked by my author to tackle a writing topic she’s seen all over the web. That topic is female characters. And I chance to be a female character. (Ah, yes… it’s all coming together for you now, isn’t it?)

It has lately come to Danielle’s attention that writing girls/women/“members of the sex that produce ova or bear young”/whatever-you-call-us is challenging for her. She’s not sure why, though I’ve got my suspicions (among them, that women don’t inspire red-hot crushes in her the way fellows do and therefore interest her significantly less, and that she hasn’t the foggiest idea what it’s like to be a half-normal girl anyway). Well, admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step, and she’s been giving increasing thought toward how she might populate her stories with more female characters that she actually likes.

She likes me well enough, I’m happy to say. But then, I’ve got an “in”: I’m a Merry Man.

There might be some readers who cry “boo” at this. Why call Robin’s band the Merry Men? Isn’t that terribly sexist? Oughtn’t we to be the Merry People or the Merry Unisexual Outlaws or some such? I could take it up with my husband, if you like, but I warn you now, we’ll only both of us laugh it off and continue on as we have been since the Middle Ages. I take no issue at all with being a Merry Man. If anything, I’ve got the best of it, being a Merry Man and a Merry Woman both. Nothing to get offended about at all, though doubtless somebody will be. Somebody always is.

That’s the first thing to keep in mind when writing female characters: You can’t please everyone, so try not to lose too much hair over it. That goes for any character, any story world, any plot, any prose style, and we lady charries are no exception. …No, I take that back, we may actually spend a disproportionate amount of time under the critical microscope. No matter how we’re written, somebody, somewhere, will think we’re not good enough. Not strong enough. Not flawed enough. Not feminine enough. Not masculine enough. Really, I don’t know that even the readers are entirely certain of what they want, though they’re very good at deciding what they don’t.

Talking of strength, though, that does come up a lot: The Strong Female Character. Unfortunately, there’s no consensus on what exactly is meant by that, and so you end up with a lot of fictional women who — how did that post by Rewan Tremethick put it? —“have a left hook that could knock a bison over”, and who feel nothing beyond a cold anger that prompts them to out-swear every male character within a hundred yards… I won’t start a rant about it, but you’re bound to have seen what I meant all over books and the big and small screens; it’s a pretty rampant mess. Danielle avoids writing such characters, because she can’t stand them. Her idea of a strong female characters is— well, why should I presume to tell you? Author Girl, tell the good people: Your idea of a strong female character is…?

“Mm?” says Danielle, startled to find herself in a place to be quoted and narrated about as if she were the imaginary person, here, not her guest blogger. “Oh, well, the way I see it, strength of character is about being multidimensional and a person, not just a name and a role. It’s about the character having her own feelings and motives and self, beyond whatever the story calls for. That’s where I used to go wrong a lot, actually; I didn’t bother about who the girls were apart from what I wanted them to do. Frankly, a lot of the guys weren’t much better, in the beginning. I only improved on them quicker because I wrote more of them.”

Very nice, thank you. There you have one opinion on the issue. A cursory search online can produce countless others, but in the meantime, that’s our premise: Strength is more than muscles. Or superpowers. Or, I don’t know, political clout. And it’s certainly more than slathering the worst sort of male stereotype in lipstick and calling it a heroine. I’m not by any means the physically strongest Merry Man. For pity’s sake, the band includes Little John! Robin and Will are far from feeble themselves, and Allyn’s not even fair, he’s got otherworldly whatsits powering him up. I’ll never win an arm-wrestling match, with this crowd, never mind a stave match with Little John, a swordfight with Will Scarlet, or a shoot-off with one of the best archers legend’s ever seen. But with a lot of practice on my end, I don’t slow them down, and none of them yet can throw a knife like I do.

I mean, honestly, look at the size of these people! If strength of character were measured in body mass,I’d be bloody out of luck.
I mean, honestly, look at the size of these people! If strength of character were measured in body mass,
I’d be bloody out of luck.

More importantly, though, I do more in the books than just poke my head in from time to time and say, “Oh, by the way, I’m a woman. Hear me roar. Carry on, lads.” I talk among them. I fight alongside them. I’m off living my own life, when adventure permits. I’m certainly not sitting about analyzing every action, wondering, Was what I just did girly enough? Or was it perchance too girly? Phooey, how do I balance this?… I don’t worry about balance, I’m just me. I don’t even have to take on the role of the sex symbol. (According to Will Scarlet, that’s what he’s there for.) I act and I react – not the way a man would, not the way a woman would, but the way Marion Hood would. Is Marion Hood a strong character? I would jolly well like to think so! Some will say yes, some may say no. Some won’t be satisfied until I yank the longbow from Robin and bark, “All right, gentlemen, enough’s enough. It’s my band, now, and things are going to change around here…”

Don’t hold your breath for that plot twist, readers. You ask me, real strength isn’t too intimidated to acknowledge the (occasionally superior) strengths of others. I’m quite happy to let Robin Hood be Robin Hood, with me as his staunch supporter slash lover. Because, let’s be honest about it, Danielle can write red-hot-crush-worthy male characters rather well.

That’s where the authoress and I stand on the matter. If you’ve got aught to add – agreements, disagreements, mini-rants, links to other posts on fictional females, requests for my autograph or something – put it below. Ta-ta, Danielle, and thanks for the guest spot. Cheers, all!

 

Related articles: “Tossing Heads With Heroines” by There And Draft Again

“On Writing Women” by Elizabeth Gillian, Xchyler Publishing Blog