Open Journal: Muse on the Fritz

#CampNaNo July was a weird one.

I mean, I guess…
I mean, I guess…

April’s laid-back version of the internationally acclaimed National Novel Writing Month was a breeze, with me getting through my edits of “The Sky-Child and Other Stories” easy as a minstrel strumming a lute. Then came July, and I don’t even know where my brain went.

I’d originally planned to collaborate with Tirzah on a superhero novel set in an alternate universe Hawaii. But as the first of thirty-one days of worldwide writing madness drew near, mounting stresses on several fronts compelled me to beg off on beginning that project until another time. (Bless you, my writing bestie, for your understanding.) What I needed, I decided, was something fluffy and fun. And what better fit that description than a continuation of the “Lord of the Rings” spoof I once wrote for Tirzah’s birthday?

StT LotR Bookmarks
Good, clean, stranger-than-true fun.

Featuring (among many others) Edgwyn, Lute, and Rosalba from The Wilderhark Tales, Allyn-a-Dale, Will Scarlet, and Robin Hood from my (coming soon enough to taste, I swear it) “Outlaws of Avalon” trilogy, Tirzah herself, characters of her creation, and yours truly, the first part of my parody of the classic Tolkien novels and their film adaptations was a glorious mess of a romp. I couldn’t wait to pick up where I left off.

Until, like, Day Three or Four.

The view from my Camp NaNo cabin.
The view from my Camp NaNo cabin.

Out of nowhere, I just didn’t want to do it anymore.

I wanted it written. And I wanted to write. But I didn’t want to write that.

I was hungry for words, and apparently running high on inspiration, but satire just didn’t satisfy. I craved additional scenes to insert in “Outlaws of Avalon” Books 2 and 3. I hankered to begin work on a potential Wilderhark Talette idea that had been sitting for a few weeks. I followed my nose to a couple more verses to the start of an Allyn-a-Dale song found years ago. (And accompanied the finished composition on my Rosie, of course.)

Maybe it was a reflection of my less than stable psycho-emotional state. Maybe it was just these unexpected projects’ time to move up from the back burner to the front of the stove. Maybe somebody spiked the punchbowl at the muse party, because it wasn’t just me – basically my whole cabin reported feeling similarly out of whack this time around, so what even, people?

I didn’t end up getting very far on the story I’d planned to. But I remained committed, at the least, to writing more than zero words every day until I hit my overall goal. And when I was working on whatever I guess I was meant to be, I was in my happy place. (Particularly with the “Outlaws” additions, since those books are always my happy place.)

There may be any number of morals, here.

“Same moral from circa NaNo 2014, if you ask me,” says Will. “Again I say: You need a vacation.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…

“Tailor” or “Meet Edgwyn Wyle!”

Love and prince,

Both true, wed rose of white in realm of stone;

For blood begins,

But naught can be put right by blood alone.”

One thoughtless act is all it takes to bring the curse threatened

on Rosalba’s christening day to pass. Now the princess must combine

her desperate determination with the service of benevolent tailor Edgwyn Wyle

to find the second half of the key to her kingdom’s restoration.

<> ~ <> ~ <>

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, chances are you’ve heard me make mention of Edgwyn before. But now that the release of his introductory book,The Stone Kingdom (Book Two of The Wilderhark Tales), is close at hand, I finally get to show him off properly with an interview! So, a warm welcome, please, for my tailor* and dear fictional friend, Edgwyn Wyle!

*(No, he doesn’t actually do my clothes, much to his regret. Our planes of reality don’t mesh up well enough for that.)

Edgwyn, color final
Edgwyn Wyle as drawn by Yana Naumova.

What is your role in the story?

“Oh, I’m the fellow who shows up by accident just in time to be a bit of help to a lovely enchanted princess,” he says happily. “I couldn’t have asked for better!”

What is your main motivation?

“Well, that goes hand in glove with my role: To help Rosalba save her kingdom by finding her princely true love. I mean, before that, I was just trying to get my career off the ground, but a friend in need comes first, even if the friend happens to be a stranger.”

Avoiding spoilers, which part of the story did you enjoy the most, and why?

“Hmm… Meeting Rosalba was fun. Riding all over the countryside with Rosalba was fun. Any scene that involved working with beautiful cloth was fun. And at one point, there were blackberry tarts… but no, the cloth was better than that. I pick meeting Rosalba,” he decides. “It was magical.”

Still avoiding spoilers, which part of the story was the hardest to live, and why?

“The part where I was horrendously sleep-deprived, flat broke, heartsick about Things That I Cannot Discuss, and to top it all off, my charming horse trod upon my foot. We’ll label it the ‘darkest hour before the dawn’ scene.”

What’s the one thing in the story you wish you’d done better?

His brow furrows in concern. “Oh, dear, I don’t know. I tried my best. But I suppose my temper came a bit close to getting the better of me, a couple times. And, oh, I oughtn’t to have upset Rosalba with that whole ‘awakening kiss’ debacle. That’s a snarl I’d take back, if I could.”

Which of your actions in the book are you most proud of?

His eyes light up. “Rosalba’s ball gown! I mean, I’m glad of everything else I was able to do for her, too, but to think that I created such a masterpiece in such outrageous working conditions… It’s nothing short of a professional triumph!”

Who would you say had it the roughest in the book, and who had it easiest?

“Roughest? Poor Rosalba, of course! Her entire kingdom in dire straits, the prince she sought so elusive, and no one in the whole world to turn to but me – Highest Good, how could you but pity her? As for easiest… I really don’t know. Somebody who wasn’t much involved with Denebdeor’s national crisis, I suppose. Seemed to be a merry lot of revelers on the sidelines, for a number of scenes.”

How would your co-star, Rosalba, describe you?

Blushing laughter on Edgwyn’s part. “Some bit of rubbish about how thoughtful and selfless I am.”

“And too modest to take a compliment like a man,” Rosalba tosses in.

“And that,” Edgwyn agrees.

If you weren’t a tailor, what would you want to be?

“Distant second career choice, hmm? Probably something to do with horses. Maybe rehabilitate poor creatures that had been abused, neglected, or injured, then pass them along to anyone who will love and care for them properly. Ooh, I would also love to use them in riding therapy for people with special needs and disabilities! Yes, that would be a very nice way to spend my time, if I weren’t making clothes to enhance people’s beauty and confidence.”

Your best quote from the book?

He laughs. “Oh, goodness, that’s a lot of chatter to wade through! Still, if I had to settle on the bit I liked best, it would likely be: ‘Oh, by all means, compliment away, if you like. It’s nice to hear pleasant things about me in a voice other than my own. Don’t forget to include something about what wonderfully symmetrical ears I have.’” He gives a twinkle-eyed smile. “It’s about the closest I come to accepting flattering remarks with any sort of manly grace.”

What would you say is the moral of “The Stone Kingdom”?

“‘Do the best you possibly can, and everything will work out the best it possibly can’?” He shrugs. “I feel that was my takeaway from the tale.”

Miranda McNeff asks via the Danielle E. Shipley Facebook page: If you were to have access to modern technology, what would be your favorite device (and none of this “what do you mean by modern technology?” junk. I want serious answers!)?

“I want a sewing machine!” he says, all excitement. “I enjoy sewing by hand, but I could get so much more done faster with a modern machine. And you’ve got fancy gizmos to print designs on fabric, don’t you? One of those, too!”

Kimberly Kay asks, also through the FB page: Be honest. If you could tackle any other character in the story, who would it be and why?

“Tackle?” he says, startled. “You mean, knock over? Goodness, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that to anyone. I’d feel like a bully, picking on all the less-than-huge people. Unless… Do you think it would hurt her to tackle my horse? I mean, if she doesn’t know how to fall without injuring herself, then never mind it; but if there’s a nice mound of hay for her to land on… That would actually be rather funny,” he sniggers, “giving a horse a flying tackle hug. I doubt she’d appreciate it. Such violently demonstrative love isn’t for everyone.”

Kay also asks: What Harry Potter Hogwarts House would you be sorted into?

He smiles with certainty. “Hufflepuff. According to Danielle’s friend who has actually read the books, I am a thorough Hufflepuff.”

Thank you, Edgwyn! Happy sewing, helping, and being a goofball (i.e., the things you do best)!

If any bloggers reading this want a turn at putting my tailor on the hot seat, you have only to ask. Perhaps you couldn’t tell, but he’d be overjoyed to oblige you.

“Rose” or “Meet Princess Rosalba!”

Love and prince,

Both true, wed rose of white in realm of stone;

For blood begins,

But naught can be put right by blood alone.”

One thoughtless act is all it takes to bring the curse threatened

on Rosalba’s christening day to pass. Now the princess must combine

her desperate determination with the service of benevolent tailor Edgwyn Wyle

to find the second half of the key to her kingdom’s restoration.

<> ~ <> ~ <>

Today, in anticipation of the release of The Stone Kingdom (Book Two of The Wilderhark Tales), I introduce you to the riddling rhyme’s “rose of white” – aka, Princess Rosalba! My story’s FMC (that’s “Female Main Character”, to those who knew it not) was gracious enough to join me for an interview so that you all would have a chance to get to know her a bit before her story goes public. Give it up for the visiting royalty, everyone!

Princess Rosalba as drawn by
Yana Naumova

What is your role in the story?

“I suppose that might be answered a number of ways. Crown Princess of Denebdeor. Heroine. Primary protagonist. Unintentionally (on my part), the cause of a nationwide curse.”

What is your main motivation?

“To save my parents, household, and kingdom as a whole from the enchantment cast upon them by an offended witch. The spell’s requirement that I hunt down my true love made for a nice side benefit.”

Avoiding spoilers, which part of the story did you enjoy the most, and why?

“Enjoy…” She pauses, reviewing the plot. “Well, the hours spent dancing at the ball in Walzscoria were quite agreeable. The local prince made sure of that.”

Still avoiding spoilers, which part of the story was the hardest to live, and why?

“Those first moments of realization of just what the curse had done were utterly horrifying. Bad enough to see such a thing happen to your family, but to know that you are largely to blame, and to as yet have no idea how you can set things right? There are few people upon whom I would wish such an experience.” Her expression hardens. “That witch is one. I’d say the other one knows who he is, but he probably doesn’t, the louse.”

What’s the one thing in the story you wish you’d done better?

She sighs. “Perhaps if I’d demonstrated a bit more maturity, early on, I wouldn’t have triggered the curse. Of course, if the witch were truly determined to see it done, she may have found a way around me and set off the curse anyway. Still, it rankles to know how childishly I played into her hands.”

Which of your actions in the book are you most proud of?

“There were two characters encountered on my quest whom I would have liked very much to slap goodbye. Neither of their faces bear my handprint. So that’s two out of three times maturity won the day, anyway.”

Who would you say had it the roughest in the book, and who had it easiest?

“The prince of Peasequay has a much harder life than he really deserves,” she says, brow creased in sympathy. “I consider it a pity we weren’t able to do more for each other. In contrast, I believe the prince of Walzscoria could have used a harder life. Might have taught him a bit of empathy.”

How would your co-star, Edgwyn, describe you?

She gives a smiling roll of the eyes. “Oh, nothing but the kindest of things. Beautiful and brave, a magnificent ruler-to-be, and I don’t even know what else. He could go on for ages; he’s almost as chatty as he is generous.”

If you weren’t a princess, what would you want to be?

“Queen, of course.”

Your best quote from the book?

“I’m rather pleased with this one: ‘Rulers need to be strong. And isn’t strength best gathered a little at a time while one is still young, rather than hoping it will just miraculously appear the night before one’s coronation?’” She nods. “I stand by that.”

What would you say is the moral of “The Stone Kingdom”?

“I do more or less say it,” she points out, “partway through the second-to-last chapter. To state it here would be a deplorable spoiler, so we’ll leave it be.”

Stone Kingdom Cover, front

Miranda McNeff asks via the Danielle E. Shipley Facebook page: If you were to have access to modern technology, what would be your favorite device (and none of this “what do you mean by modern technology?” junk. I want serious answers!)?

“No fear, Miranda,” Rosalba reassures. “I know as much of the technology of the world of my author as she herself does. …Which, admittedly, isn’t a great deal, but quite enough to answer your question. My favorite device… Probably one of your multifunctional phones, or tablets. Something handheld that grants me access to more information and communication that I’ll ever have a use for. What an incredible organizational tool that would be!”

Kimberly Kay asks, also through the FB page: Be honest. If you could tackle any other character in the story, who would it be and why?

She lifts an eyebrow. “Tackle in wrath? Were it feasible, I’d be tempted to body-slam that witch out of a high tower window. It would be just like her type to survive the assault, though. If you were angling toward a more playful sort of tackle, however, I suppose it would have to be Edgwyn. Though I’m not much for rough play, he would doubtless enjoy it, laughing all the way down. And honestly, sometimes the man just begs to be knocked over.”

Kay also asks: What Harry Potter Hogwarts House would you be sorted into?

“Hmm. The Sorting Hat might have a bit of difficulty with me. I could easily see myself going Ravenclaw, as my father definitely would be, or Slytherin, as I suspect my mother would be, or even Gryffindor. If offered the choice, I think I’d prefer Ravenclaw first, Gryffindor close second.”

Thank you, Rosalba! And best of luck to you and your kingdom.

If any bloggers reading this want a turn at putting my royal rose on the hot seat, you have only to ask. Best for a future queen to get used to a schedule of public appearances while she’s still young. (:

“HYSRT!” or “The Glass is 2/3rds Full”

As of now, National Novel Writing Month is one-third over. How’s that novel coming, Wrimos?!

…What’s that? Novelist #1 has stalled? Novelist #2 is in a motivation slump? Novelist #3 hasn’t even gotten started??

Dear, dear. Difficult situations, to be sure, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome! You doubt me? Then I would suggest that, hey, y’all should read this.

Not far from this time of the month during last year’s noveling November, she known on the NaNo site as “eehornburg” wrote this piece for her blog, Love Woke Me Up This Morning. Entitled “Go Write Your Novel”, it speaks of the midseason writing struggles with which many of us can relate, and includes a video with a pre-November perspective which could be just the inspiration somebody out there needs to jump back into their languishing novel headfirst – or to actually begin it, for those who’ve dithered over whether or not to attempt this worldwide 50K-in-30-Days madness.

November is young, writers! 10 days gone? Pshaw, 20 days remaining, more like! If you think you’ve got a novel revving its engine inside of you, just waiting for you to give it the green light so it can speed toward completion the way I never hope to see any of you driving on the freeway, then Hey, You Should Write It!

For that sizeable demographic that can’t put words on paper without their coffee, here’s hoping their mugs are at least 2/3rds full, too.

“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?