“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.)

“Alderliefest” or “Alone No More”

It’s Save-a-Word Saturday! For any who need a reminder of/never knew what that means, here’s how it goes:

Save-a-Word Saturday

1) Create a post linking back to the hosts, The Feather and the Rose.

2) Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in the post. (If you find yourself in want of options, Feather ‘n’ Rose recommended a site that may have some word-lovers drooling. Luciferous Logolepsy. Even its name is old and delicious!)

3) Provide a definition of your word, and use it in a sentence/short paragraph/mini story vaguely related to the particular week’s chosen theme.

4) Sign up properly on the host post’s linky list so participants can easily find each other and share their logophilistic joy.

5) Be a hero by sharing these retro words with the world!

I’ve been participating in the weekly fun via my Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page, giving myself the extra challenge/fun of relating every word I pick to my re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend (a.k.a. the magnum opus to be self-published after the completion of “The Wilderhark Tales”). But I figure, hey, with this week’s vignette all pre-written and ready to go, no reason I can’t post it here for the blog-inclined to see!

So, without further delay, here’s my word-saving civic duty of the day.

The theme: Love.

The word: “Alderliefest”, an adjective meaning “dearest of all”.

The Example:

“Good morning, Allyn-a-Dale,” the sturdy knight of Camelot greeted the minstrel as they met on the road.

Allyn matched the other’s courteous bow. “And to you, Sir Gawain.”

“We have not had the opportunity to speak since the night of your arrival in the Faire. How have you enjoyed your stay among the Merry Men, these few days?”

“It’s been… odd.”

Gawain tipped his head in polite interest. “How so?”

“They are a strangely physical company,” said Allyn, brow furrowed. “They are forever taking hold of me – Robin clasping my shoulder, Marion looping her arm through mine, Will Scarlet clutching my body to his like an overzealous bard with his alderliefest instrument…”

“Ah, yes.” The knight nodded. “I believe it is their way of showing affection.”

Allyn blinked. “What has that to do with me?”

“Perhaps they love you,” Gawain suggested. “You are one of them now, after all.”

“Oh,” said Allyn, voice faint with surprise. He turned toward the Faire’s little Sherwood, an unfamiliar feeling stirring in his lonely heart. “I suppose I am.”

“Tralatitiously” or “Swordsmanship, Kangaroos, and You”

It’s Save-a-Word Saturday! For any who need a reminder of/never knew what that means, here’s how it goes:

Save-a-Word Saturday

1) Create a post linking back to the hosts, The Feather and the Rose.

2) Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in the post. (If you find yourself in want of options, Feather ‘n’ Rose recommended a site that may have some word-lovers drooling. Luciferous Logolepsy. Even its name is old and delicious!)

3) Provide a definition of your word, and use it in a sentence/short paragraph/mini story vaguely related to the particular week’s chosen theme.

4) Sign up properly on the host post’s linky list so participants can easily find each other and share their logophilistic joy.

5) Be a hero by sharing these retro words with the world!

As mentioned in a post o’ the past, I’ve been participating in the weekly fun via my Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page, giving myself the extra challenge/fun of relating every word I pick to my re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend (a.k.a. the magnum opus to be self-published after the completion of “The Wilderhark Tales”). But today I figure, hey, I’ve got this week’s vignette all pre-written and ready to go – no reason I can’t post it here for the blog-inclined to see!

So, without further delay, here’s my word-saving civic duty of the day.

The theme: Kangaroos.

The word: “Tralatitiously”, an adverb meaning “metaphorically; figuratively”.

The example: “Stop.” Will’s curt command came almost at once. “You did it again.”

Allyn’s face reddened in frustration and shame. “I know. I’m sorry.” He didn’t mean to keep stepping backward, but the sight of the Merry Men’s most brilliant swordsman bearing down on him, even with only a practice wooden blade, sent the skittish beginner into retreat every time.

“You need to be more aggressive,” Will told him. “Look, remember the commercial I showed you the other day? The one with the car cruising through the Australian Outback like an all-terrain boss?”

“I’m to approach you like a vehicle with relentless off-road capabilities?” Allyn guessed.

“No, forget the car. Be a kangaroo.”

“W-what?” Even understanding that the instruction was meant tralatitiously, it didn’t make even the usual low amount of Will Scarlet sense.

“Yes.” Will gave a decisive nod. “Kangaroo. That’s your mindset. Why? Because they are physically incapable of jumping backward. Sword up,” he ordered. “We’re doing this until you get it right. It’s Avalon, minstrel boy; we’ve got nothing but time.”

“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

“’Twas” or “A Visit to Avalon Faire”

Now, there’s a word that’s not enough a part of everyday English vernacular anymore. It gives us all just one more thing to love about Christmastime: ‘Tis the season for archaic contractions of “it was” (and “it is”, in the case of “’tis”) to fall lightly from everyone’s tongues, not just those people who tend to talk like they live in a Renaissance Faire.

Of course, as a minstrel who does indeed live in Avalon Faire, it’s twice natural for my Allyn-a-Dale to employ the word “’twas” – thrice natural, if he happens to be delivering a parody of the classic holiday poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, best known for that famed first line…

* * *

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Faire

Not a creature was stirring, save those who dwelled there.

The boughs of Sherwood were by Fey hands adorned

All with holly and ivy, to be viewed come the morn.

 

Little John and the Hoods had retired to their beds,

Though yet sleepless were I and my brother in red.

Will Scarlet was keen for a long night of games,

And we’d scarcely begun the third round of charades

 

When, out beyond the forest, there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my tent to see what was the matter.

Away toward Camelot I flew like an arrow,

Prepared to face any that our Isle would harrow.

 

The moon- and starlight on the fresh-fallen snow

Cast a mystical gleam over Avalon below,

While, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

 

With a little driver so lively, bright, and brisk,

I thought surely my eyes must be playing some trick.

Swifter than wind-flight, his antlered team came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

 

“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the tower! To the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away, all!”

 

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Scarlet, just now come alongside.

Pointing up to the roof of the castle, he cried,

“I’d never have thought such a thing to be true,

But we’re looking at Santa Claus!

I replied, “Who?”

Sleigh Over Avalon

“You’ve never—?? Forget it. I’ll show you!” he said,

And taking my hand, through the castle’s gates led,

Just reaching the room of the Knights’ table round

As the one he’d called Santa came in with a bound.

 

He was dressed all in blue, from his head to his toes,

His silken hair shining a dawn golden-rose.

A stringed instrument he had strapped to his back,

And his hands bore a bundle like a peddler’s sack.

 

His eyes, how they twinkled! As merry a pair

As you’d find any place with the Merry Men there.

His mouth was drawn up like an outlaw’s longbow

In a smile that, any time or place, I should know.

 

I laughed, “Santa Claus, say you? Nay, were you astute,

I believe you would find this is Gant-o’-the-Lute!”

“But he’s dead!” Will observed. “And even in life,

Did he hitch sleighs to reindeer and fly through the night?”

 

“Perhaps it’s a dream; if so, of it I’m glad!

Hello, Father!” I said, and he embraced his lad.

A wink of his eye and a pat on my head

Warmed my heart, never minding whether he was dead.

 

He spoke not a word, singing lyricless tunes

As he pulled from his sack lights to hang round the room.

Then a twist of the wrist in a minstrel salute,

And out of the castle blew Gant-o’-the-Lute.

 

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas, my Allyn, and to all a goodnight!”

* * *

And a Happy Christmas to you, readers! And to all, a joyous day!

“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?

“Scarlet” or “Give Him an Inch, and He’ll Talk a Mile a Minute”

Today’s Buccaneer Blogfest mission, if I choose to accept it (and I do), is a bit of merriment known as the character interview.

People who’ve been around the blog a few times know that conversations with characters are right up my alley; I’ve even let a few of them guest blog for me. (Thanks again, Bruno, Allyn, and Lute.) And once I’d done that… well, I kind of sealed my fate.

Y’see, I’ve got this character. Goes by the name of Will Scarlet. Perhaps you’ve seen him on the “Ballad” page. Harder not to have seen him, if you follow the page. He’s a talker, an attention hog, and has been begging me to let him have his own blog for months. That’s not happening. I don’t have the time. But since I’ll be sitting down for a chat with a character today, it may as well be him. (I’d not soon hear the end of it, otherwise.)

Better cut this introduction short, since I know his answers won’t be. Scarlet, come on down!

Will: Yes! Right! Awesome! Hello, everyone, you all look beautiful – I mean that!

Me: You can’t see them.

Will: Maybe I meant “beautiful on the inside”. It’s not all about looks, Danielle, no matter how hot mine are. So! What questions have you got for me?

Me: Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit – A LITTLE BIT, Will – about who you are?

Will: I’m an outlaw undercover at a Renaissance Faire that’s actually Avalon. (Y’know, Arthurian legend? That Avalon.) Anyway, back to me, I’m one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. Yes, THE Robin Hood. I’m his cousin, as well as his left-hand man, you might say, since Little John snagged the title of right-hand man, and I’m left-handed anyway, so that all works out. I’m also the brains of the group.

Me: Really, Will? You’re actually claiming that?

Will: Well, I mean, not that the others aren’t smart, too. Robin with his leadership savvy, and Marion all on top of interpersonal relations, and Allyn the musical genius, and Little John… well, he’s just big, isn’t he? Intelligent enough, but mostly huge. And quiet. It’s creepy. And okay, so I don’t always act like the brains of the band – or even necessarily like I’ve got a brain in my head. But I totally do! I’d like to see any of the others think up half the stuff I do! Who do they turn to when they need a plan fast? You’re looking at him. Particularly if it’s to do with the Outsiders—

Me: Hold right there. Tell us about the Outsiders.

Will: What? Oh. You know. You people. The modern folks who live outside of Avalon. The awesome ones with computers. Sure, Merlin’s got a computer, too, but what good does that do me? He never lets me use it. I need an iPhone.

Me: Okay, we’re quickly losing the thread of it. Let’s back it up. Now, my dictionary defines “scarlet” as “a strong to vivid red or reddish orange” or “flagrantly immoral or unchaste”. Any of this come into play when you chose your outlaw name?

Will: The red bit, mostly. I love red; so bright and expensive. And my hair’s got some scarlet blended in with the gold, so that’s all very apt. As for flagrant immorality and unchastity—

Me: Not a word.

Will: Coining it. —Well, it’s a bit of a “yes and no”, there. I can be a gentleman, when absolutely necessarily. When it’s not, then God save you. All in good fun, though, you understand.

Me: Yeah, that’d be a “yes and no”, too. Next question: What do you like best about being in the Merry Men?

Will: Um, being awesome? Come on, look at this gig: I got to be a thief led and sanctioned by the most honorable man I know; I get to be practically immortal (did you know that, readers? By virtue of dying a heroic death back in the Middle Ages, and with a little help from Avalonian magic, I get to be eternally young forever! #Winning!); I get to play myself in a Renaissance Faire; I look really good; I—

Me: What does looking good have to do with being a Merry Man?

Will: I don’t know, maybe not much. But muscles developed in fighting for our lives have to help, right? And the glow of fame?

Me: Sure, Will. Last question: Why do you think people should read “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, once it’s published? …Besides the fact that you’re in it.

Will: Ha-ha! Preempted! Well, how about this: Action! Adventure! Mystery! Suspense! Magic and music, witty dialogue, and an all-star cast (naming no names in particular, apparently). I had a rousing time living it, so they’re bound to love reading it. Plus Allyn’s in it. I can mention Allyn, right? He’s not me, and he’s awesome.

Me: Yes, mentioning Allyn is fine. Thanks for your time, Will. It’s been… breathless.

Will: Yes, I do tend to have that effect on women. Pleasure mine, Danielle. Great to be here. An honor just to be nominated.

Me: …Right.

Once everyone out there finds a space to slip a word in edgewise, if you have any additional questions or comments for Will, toss ‘em below. He’ll be only too happy to respond.

“Spoof”

Some words are just fun to say. “Spoof” is one – an entertaining word for an entertaining concept (that is, “a gentle satirical imitation; a light parody”.) As an extra-special, super-sized treat for all my lovely readers, today I’m sharing one such parody written by yours truly. Inspired by the musical children’s story “Peter and the Wolf” (summary provided here, for those unfamiliar with the tale; spoofs are most fun when the audience is in on the joke), and featuring the protagonists from my novel “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, my Merry Men and I proudly present…

Will and Allyn’s Storytime Musical Theatre!

Will: Good evening, audience mine! …or “ours”, I suppose I ought to say. So glad you could join us for opening night, best decision you ever made, you’re going to love it. I am the one, only, and epically awesome Will Scarlet, and mine will be the role of narrator-slash-leading man in tonight’s performance. And here, putting the “music” in “Storytime Musical Theatre” the way only a minstrel can – (and putting the “Allyn” in “Will and Allyn’s” the way only someone calling himself Allyn has any right to do) – is every crimson-clad outlaw’s favorite little partner in crime, Allyn-a-Dale!

Allyn [with a minstrel-bow]: Welcome, one and all.

Will: Our story is inspired by that old Russian classic, brought to you by the inimitable What’s-his-name—

Allyn: Prokofiev. Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev.

Will: Yes, him, what he said. –That fellow’s symphonic fairytale, adapted now into a little yarn I like to call “Scarlet and the Wolfhound from Hell”!

Allyn: I thought we decided it was to be simply “Scarlet and the Wolf”.

Will: Yes, yes, I know, but I like to call it the first one.

Allyn: Stick with what we wrote, please.

Will: Bah, have it your way. (Anybody else suddenly want burgers?) Ahem, anyway…

Once upon a time, in a Renaissance Faire, there lived a vibrant young man by the name of Will Scarlet – and you could usually tell when he was being talked about, because he had an orchestral string section to play his lighthearted theme song at a moment’s notice.

[Allyn plays a variation of the highly-recognizable “Peter” theme on a Faerie-crafted fiddle.]

Will: Now, Will was the adventuresome type, and wished to explore the world outside his Ren Faire home, but some of his companions chose to be sticks-in-the-mud about it – among them, his band’s right-hand man, Little John.

[Allyn sets the fiddle aside to play a tune reminiscent of the “Grandfather” theme on bassoon.]

Will [now wearing a false beard, glowering darkly, and pitching his voice as low as it will go]: “No, Will, for the millionth time: You don’t get to go Outside. You don’t get to so much as glance at the Faire gates with a suspect look in your eye. You don’t get to have any fun at all.”

[Allyn resumes the fiddle refrain, and Will casts off the beard.]

Will: Fortunately, Will knew better than to take Little John’s spoilsport talk too seriously. After all, there was still a good measure of fun to be had inside of the Faire walls – playing in the woods with his cousin Robin, for instance.

[Allyn takes up a flute to play a chirpy “Bird”-esque song.]

Will [now wearing a green hood, smiling brightly, and holding a bow and arrow]: “Chin up, Will!” he’d say. “How about a game of Archery Tag, to keep your wits sharp?”

“Oh, but Robin,” Will would protest, “you always win! Have a handicap for once, why don’t you, make it fair: This time around, you’re not allowed to touch the ground – you can only move about in the trees.”

“Tree travel, a handicap?” Robin would laugh. “Hardly, Scarlet! For what sort of robin would I be if I could not fly?”

And even with Robin in the trees, there would be trouble enough on the ground – for, skulking through the underbrush with feline stealth, making her way toward the cousins at play with predatory intent… was Marion.

[Allyn winds a “Cat”-like melody on clarinet.]

Will [now in a long wig and longer skirt, crouched and forcing his voice into a feminine half-purr]: “Heh-heh-hmm – those boys are in for a surprise. I shall pounce upon my Robin and do him all sorts of mischief rated inappropriate for some younger audiences.”

Allyn [halting his clarinet piece mid-measure to glare at Will]: We didn’t write that.

Will: It was implied. I’m reading between the lines.

Allyn: You’re reading with your head down your leggings. Knock it off.

Will: Fine, fine, sorry. In any event, Marion wanted in on the good, clean, wholesome, general-audiences-admitted fun, so in she jumped, and there was a duck somewhere.

Allyn: Firstly, that was really random. Secondly, we wrote out the duck character. We couldn’t settle on anyone to represent it.

Will: Because you didn’t want to be the duck.

Allyn: Because the duck gets eaten!

Will: Okay, wow, Allyn, spoiler much? –Ooh, sudden brainwave! Allyn, be the duck, okay? Just trust me and be the duck.

[Allyn mutters about Will’s inability to stick to his own bloody script, but picks up an oboe to improvise on a “Duck” theme.]

Will: Allyn-a-Dale was hanging around the lake, as duck-inspired characters will do, playing his lute – or, well, oboe – with nary a care in the world, when suddenly, completely out of nowhere, what should appear but… a Chihuahua!

[Allyn pulls out a Spanish guitar and composes a peppy little “Chihuahua” theme on the spot, wondering just how many times Prokofiev would turn over in his grave over this.]

Will: There were, of course, no pets allowed inside of the Faire, with the exception of the horses for the jousts in Camelot. So Allyn was all set to carry the little doggie to one of the Faire’s administrators and have them deal with it, little knowing that the dog had already been to the castle – had, in fact, nosed his way into the secret, magical, off-limits belongings of the Faire’s resident wizard – and had erroneously ingested some outlandish concoction that was even now working its way through the animal’s blood and hideously mutating its DNA!

[Allyn plays an ominous motif on French horn.]

Will: Before Allyn’s eyes, the harmless Chihuahua morphed into an enormous, two-headed, red-eyed, poison-fanged, slavering canine of DEATH!

[The “Wolf” horn theme intensifies.]

Will: But while other duck characters may have been promptly eaten, Allyn refused to go down like that! Taking up his staff, he flew at the monster, dodging claws and teeth and more teeth to deal it blow after blow! The hellhound howled in fury, the sound naturally carrying to the Merry Men goofing around in Sherwood.

“What in the world—??” said Robin.

“It sounds like a demon by the lake!” noted Marion.

Allyn’s by the lake!” Will cried, and would have dashed in straightaway to join the fight, had not Little John grabbed him by the shoulder to make him stay put.

Will couldn’t believe it. “Oh, come on, Little John, none of this nonsense supposedly for my own good, not now! Allyn needs us!”

“Yes, I know,” said Little John. “But you forgot your sword.”

“Oh. Right. Ha-ha. Thank you.”

Sword now in hand, Will charged the beast who dared mess with the wrong minstrel. Together, he and Allyn kept the monster puh-lenty busy, I can tell you! And Robin fired a volley of brilliant shots with his bow, sticking their foe full of arrows without hitting his friends once! Ideally, the hellhound would have been vanquished by now, but whatever mutation it had undergone had made it unnaturally resilient to arrow, sword, and stave wounds, and it just wouldn’t bloody die!

Fortunately, Marion and Little John had a plan. Slipping into the fray in that fray-slipping way she had, Marion wove around the hellhound’s legs with a sturdy rope, getting the creature good and tangled up. Back at the other end of the rope, Little John pulled with all his might – which, you’ll hardly be shocked to know, was quite a bit – and the monster dog was dragged down to the ground. The hound still had a good bit of struggle in him, though, and threw up such a fuss that it rolled itself right into the lake… taking Will Scarlet with it!!!

[Allyn swiftly alternates between frantic notes on horn and fiddle.]

Will: …Because of all the confounded luck, Will got caught by the throat in the rope! (No fault of his own, mind you – it’s just one of those disastrous things that will sometimes occur in the heat of a battle with mutant Chihuahuas.)

Down into the lake they went, and things were looking very bleak for our outlaw in red, especially as one of the hellhound’s heads was in the act of trying to take off the head of his opponent! But Will Scarlet was nothing if not opportunistic. He let those super-sharp teeth get just close enough to touch the rope around his neck, then he thrust his sword upward into the monster’s chest! The dog’s head drew back with the sort of yelp nightmares are made of, one of its fangs slicing neatly through Will’s bonds in the process. Happily freed, Will swam up to the lake’s surface and onto dryish land, where he was joyfully received by his fellows.

[Allyn plays a few bars of much-alive-and-glad-to-be-so music on the fiddle, then switches over to a set of kettledrums to signify the entrance of the “Hunters”.]

Will: At this time, the valiant knights of Camelot ride in to save the day. They’re practically too late, of course, since the day’s already been all but saved by Will Scarlet.

Allyn: He didn’t save the day. He saved himself.

Will: What are you talking about? He tied up the demon wolfhound, didn’t he?

Allyn: No. Marion and Little John did that.

Will: Oh. Right. Well, he… um, they wouldn’t have been able to do that if Will hadn’t kept the dog distracted.

Allyn: Robin and Allyn could have done that on their own. In fact, Allyn was doing it on his own before Will showed up.

Will [grumbling]: This is what comes of trying to make everyone look good. Proko-whatsit had the right idea. Next time, the wolf eats the duck.

In any event, although Will would have been perfectly capable of dealing with the aftermath all on his own, thank you very much, the knights were allowed to earn their paychecks by hauling the sodden hound from the lake, caging it, and guarding it until their wizard superior could locate and administer his potion’s antidote, returning the doomful doggie into a sweet little Chihuahua once more.

[Allyn strums a triumphant chord on the Spanish guitar, then returns to the fiddle for the grand finale.]

Will: The dog was given to a local shelter, whence he was eventually adopted by a loving family; the Merry Men celebrated their successful exploit with the consumption of much pizza with cheese in the crust; and most importantly, Will Scarlet lived on to pester Little John another day. And the Faire existed in peace and safety for the rest of eternity – or until the next awesome threat came to offer some excitement, whichever came first. The end!

[Flamboyant bows on the parts of Will and Allyn. Feel free to clap and cheer, now, audience theirs. 😉 ]

“Sequel 2”

From the blogger who brought you “Name”… “Read”… and the blockbusting masterpiece “Homeschool… comes a continuation of the commentary on continuation itself. “Sequel” is back – and this time… it’s a sequel.

            Clearly, the end of my last blog piece on this topic didn’t feel like The End. There was another aspect of this “story” that I felt merited discussion – namely, the experience of writing a sequel versus its original.

            As of this piece’s typing up, I am in the middle (or, well, maybe in the first third) of drafting a sequel to the novel that demands near-future publication, “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”. I wrote “Ballad” as my project for my first-ever National Novel Writing Month. For someone who typically took a couple of months to craft a twenty-five- to forty-thousand word novel, cranking out 50K in thirty days or less proved an appealing and only slightly daunting challenge. “Ballad”s production was a wild ride, my untried characters and I flying along together by the seats of our pants and hosen, with naught but a lengthily drawn-up plot outline to keep us careening down a fairly straight course. It was great fun, and I immensely enjoyed collaborating with my Merry Men for what I expected would probably remain a standalone book.

            Then, in the following months, I, the Men, my writing buddy Tirzah, as well as a growing number of various other characters of hers and mine, took to chillin’ out in an immaterial Sherwood Forest together. The place turned out to be kind of a hotspot for character growth (much to my bullheaded chagrin… and Tailor and Tirzah’s delight). Allyn-a-Dale, in particular, underwent some remarkable evolution, and I had occasion to delve deeper into the psyche certain other members of the outlaw band, also. It eventually got to the point where to not write a second book and share some of this stuff with “Ballad”s future fans would be a literary sin (and that’s not authorial arrogance speaking, that’s Tirzah shouting), so here I am today, trying to make a sequel happen.

            Is writing a sequel easier than writing the original? Some aspects of it can be. Certainly, characterization may come more easily, since I’ve already got some time with most of the cast under my belt. And if I haven’t spent too much time away from the preceding work, then getting back into the rhythm and tone of it for another round will tend to be less problematic than the often rocky start of a completely new project. But on the flipside, I’ve got the additional pressure of wanting to make the sequel good. Bare minimum, on par with its predecessor; ideally, even better. The challenge set before me is to make this second installment feel both agreeably familiar and delightfully new.

            And as I embark on the creation of what I’ve codenamed “Ballad 2”, that’s exactly what it feels like.

            It feels great to hang around Avalon Faire again (and beyond?… You better believe it!). It’s a joy to listen to Allyn think and speak in graceful poetry, and to get high off of Will Scarlet’s incurable enthusiasm. It’s exciting, knowing the curveballs I’m planning to throw at the Sherwood gang, and having no idea what sort of curveballs they’ll end up winging right back at me! Hey for the writing process! (…I cheer, tossing my immaterial cap in the air.)

            Now that I’ve gotten myself good and wound up, I’m going to call this blog piece a wrap and get back to where I left a pair of my outlaws about to get into some misguided monkeyshines. Until next time, readers!

            To be continued?…