Beautiful Books (and the Big Ideas Behind Them)

Somewhere, out in the blogosphere… specifically, on the blogs Paper Fury and Further Up and Further In… a meme is under way…

Beautiful Books Meme

Just like every year, we’re giving our monthly link up “Beautiful People” a small rest so we can focus on “Beautiful Books” [and] our NaNoWriMo projects. The format is the same as Beautiful People. We’ll post 10 questions to answer about your WiP — aka your beautiful book.  Answer the questions in a blog post of your own and then come back here to link up!

I enjoyed taking part in the Beautiful People meme, that one time in August, and I’ve enjoyed participating in National Novel Writing Month several times, though not this year. Fortunately, you don’t need a NaNo project to take part in Beautiful Books. Any story in progress will do. So I’m jumping in with my debut novel, scheduled to re-release in a brand new edition, March of next year – “Inspired”!

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Cover w Text 06.3, front

What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

I’ve got brainstorming notes on the earliest iterations of “Inspired” going back to May 2011, and the first draft came out over the following December. The spark behind it all started around the NaNo before, when my (brand new, at the time!) best friend and I created the Stranger Than Truth club. Originally, the novel was going to feature not just one author navigating the fictional realm, but two, imagining in tandem. And there’s still room for that to happen, if I ever get around to a sequel centering on that. I just felt there was a lot of groundwork to lay down first.

Describe what your novel is about!

Happy days – I’ve got a blurb ready. ^o^

For a muse like Lucianíel, one story’s end is another’s beginning.

In the wake of his author’s sudden death, Luc takes ownership of her surviving creations—four fantastical characters with tales yet to be told—saving them from unwritten lives crumbling around them and giving them a second chance at a literary future.

Luc finds that chance in the unsuspecting mind of Annabelle Iole Gray, a quirky teen with her head in the clouds, nose in a book, and imagination ripe for a brilliant muse’s inspiration.

Or so he hopes.

Neither Luc nor Annabelle, however, realize all they’ve undertaken. Even with a to-write list including accounts of a shape-shifting cat creature, gentle knight-in-training, vigilante skater girl, and a mystery boy smothering in unspoken fear, the most remarkable saga created between author and muse just may turn out to be one stranger than fiction.

Their own.

What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!

Oh, the “Inspired” gallery on my website may have a few applicable images…

PhotoFunia-Luc and Jean

Inspired, Only the Beginning, 02

Inspired Avengers

Introduce us to each of your characters!

Whoof, there’s a lot, so let’s restrict it to three words each:

Lucianíel = That lightbulb moment

Abishan = Just… total cat

Wilbur = Chivalrous sweetie pie

Uri = Entirely judging you

Yves= Smol, with secrets

Annabelle = Danielle E. Shipley

How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

Step 1 = Talk to myself in a Word document until I’ve got a fairly solid idea of the book’s shape.

Step 2 = Outline chapter by chapter, to ensure every puzzle piece gets slotted in somewhere.

Sometimes, Step 3 (or 1-and-a-half, or at whatever point on the list I feel thus compelled) = Ask the characters questions so that I can begin to hear their voices in the answers.

Cover 2 w Text, front

What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

Since it’s already been written and published once, at this point I’m just eager to have it back on the market again – and with such a beautiful new face! Plus this time, it comes out with a sequel. I’m always excited to give the world something brand new to read. ^o^

List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

Oh, perfect, ‘cause there are three different settings.

1 = The Material Plane – aka, the real world. Like Annabelle’s home, inspired by the house where Childhood Me used to visit my dad’s family over Thanksgiving.

2 = The Immaterial Plane – aka, the world of imagination. Where muses live, and where some characters may choose to hang out, if they’re self-aware enough to know they’ve got an author’s mind to roam.

3 = Book Worlds. The intersection of material and immaterial. Fictional, yes, but no less real to the people who inhabit the story. One of “Inspired”s special charms is that it offers a glimpse into several.

What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

Boiled down to one word, Luc’s main goal = security. In this, Annabelle is both a tool and an obstacle, because while she’s willing to be the author for Luc and his loved ones, she’s basically just in it for the fun. Clash of motivations. Expect fireworks.

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

Nothing like putting in the time on the craft to mature an artist! Not that Annabelle doesn’t still have plenty of growing up to do by novel’s end, but you can see she’s getting there.

What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

Themes… How ideas are planted… How stories grow… How people can blossom, with a little help from their friends – real, imaginary, and in between… As for how I want readers to feel at novel’s end, how else? Of course I want them to walk away inspired.

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And that is that! Related note: I am currently seeking folks interested in providing an early read ‘n’ review of “Inspired”. Is that you? Talk to me!

Over, out, and good luck to any o’ y’all doing NaNo this year. ^o^

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I Quit; Here’s Why

As of November 6th, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year.

I signed up because it’s tradition – as much a part of my Novembers as going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving.

I signed up because I always think back to my first NaNo in 2010. The rush of the race. The camaraderie on the forums. The blessing of making my Avalon outlaws’ acquaintance.

I signed up because I said I would. I said it because I felt I had to. Felt like I needed someone’s permission not to participate, or a Valid Reason™ not to.

Well, I’m giving myself permission, and declaring my reasons’ validity.

nanowrimo_2016_quitting

I quit because this year, my heart doesn’t have the energy to throw its whole self into a project of any ambition.

I quit because over the first less-than-a-week of this year’s NaNo, I started stories that I quickly became too scared to continue, because how could I give them the tender attention they needed in the scant hours between the new day job and bedtime?

I quit because the NaNo numbers game is not playing well with my depression, and does not suit my process right now.

I quit because I’d rather let myself fall in love with a few hundred words every day – or every two days, or a few days here and there with a rest in between – than miserably churn out thousands of words I don’t have the wherewithal to care about.

I quit because, if I can’t relax into writing, then for the sake of my mental, emotional, and physical health, I really need to let myself find that rejuvenating downtime somewhere else.

I quit this arbitrary writing deadline so that instead I can read and color, play music and play with my nephew, take walks through autumn’s glory, and maybe sometimes just do nothing – all without a self-imposed burden of guilt.

I quit because, contrary to my anxiety’s belief, I don’t actually have anything to prove by forcing myself on.

I quit because I already know I have the discipline to make myself finish NaNo. Now it’s time to exercise one of my weaker strengths: The strength to say “no” and walk away.

I quit because, just as you can come out of a NaNo a winner even without hitting 50K, there are ways to lose even if you do.

So auf Wiedersehen, NaNoWriMo. Maybe next year. Peace out.

(Emphasis, I hope, on peace.)

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…

Black and White and Red[Eye] All Over

About a month ago, those who check in with my author page on Facebook may have noticed the giddy announcement of my first-ever authorial newspaper interview.

FB Status Screenshot, RedEye Interview

I received a tip from a friend (what up, Stace!) that one Lauren Chval was looking for Chicagoland participants of Nation Novel Writing Month to chitchat with for a piece in the Chicago RedEye (a subset of its parent paper, the Tribune), and you betta believe I passed along word that I’d be interested.

Next thing you know, I’ve got an e-mail from Lauren, kicking off arrangements for us to meet up. (Cue the squeals of honor and delight!) As of this past Friday, the end result of our get-together – “30 Days and 30 Nights to Write” – is online for the world to see! (Article in print, still to come.)

So go check out my story, along with those of two other ChiTown Wrimos. And, y’know, feel free to share it with everyone you know. That’s what I’m doing. ;D

Heck yeah, the interview came with a legit photographer! Photo cred to Andrew A. Nelles

Heck yeah, the interview came with a legit photographer! Photo cred: Andrew A. Nelles

So, Wow. THAT Happened. (A Tale of NaNoWriMo in Three Acts)

Prologue

2014: The year I mean to see my way to the conclusion of the Wilderhark Tales. The first new Wilderhark Tale I’ve written in years, the others close to completed when I decided to take the plunge and publish. For the first time, I’m working under the burden of expectation, and in the countdown leading up to the event’s start, the pressure was driving me nuts, to the point where I said to myself, “Y’know what? Screw this. The only way to be less nonsensically afraid of this thing is to just start writing it. And NaNo is not the boss of you. Now’s neither the time nor the place to be the punctilious rule-follower you’ve ever been. Put on your writer pants and seize the day!”

So on Wednesday, October 29th, I branded myself a NaNo Rebel by starting work on the book’s opening chapter.

My fifth NaNoWriMo, you are the one I reclaimed as my own.

– “NaNoWriMo, What Are You to Me?

Act One

There are some beasts you can face down simply by demonstrating you’re not afraid of them.

And then there’s Gant-o’-the-Lute.

Yes, the minstrel in blue introduced in Book Three and spotlighted in Book Four takes center stage once again in the Wilderhark Tales’ grand finale. And though there were some entertaining highlights along the way, neither of us went easy on the other for this one.

Those who follow along on my author page on Facebook had pretty good seats for the drama.

NaNo '14, the View from FB 1

As one could easily gather from my real-time updates, Book Seven’s been an emotional punch to the face. People who would otherwise assume that a Danielle E. Shipley fairytale series must by necessity have a happy-ever-after ending, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

But by Barry Manilow, I made it through the rain. Draft one of the novella = completed. Which left me without only about twenty thousand words to go…

Act Two

The following quotes have been lifted directly from a message thread between me and an anonymous friend.

Me: Seriously. I need to decide what I’m doing after this book runs out. I thought about whipping out some Wilderhark short stories, buuuuuut I’m kind of feeling Wilderharked out, right now, what with all the feels I’ve been going through in that world for the past dozen days. I want something easy. Something fast.

Will Scarlet: Sounds like a job foooooor…!

Me: Pfft. You always want me to write about you. … I don’t want to plan anything, ‘cause planning is work. But when I jump in without a plan, angels lose their wings.

Will Scarlet: It’s only 20K. You can dash off 20K like NOTHING if you just turn your brain off and type. Could be fun. Could be cathartic. How ‘bout a fanfic of your life? I could feature in that, hintity-hint.

Me: That idea is dumb. But it also sounds like a lot of stupid crazy fun.

Spoiler alert: It was all those things. For a happy-go-lucky quartet of days, I babble-typed to myself about what I expect would happen if Will Scarlet were to become an actual physical presence in my life. This is the first NaNo I ever let myself write something with zero expectation of ever charging anyone money for the finished product, which for me, slave to arguably useful pursuits that I am, is actually kind of a zany big deal. And who knows? I might be persuaded to share pieces of the story on this blog, sometime. I mean, if there’s an interest.

“HECK, YES!”

Besides yours, Will.

Act Three

And then, out of the blue—

“Ahem?”

Pardon – out of the scarlet… this happened.

Me: Every time I happen across the info for [this] one publisher’s upcoming short story competition, I think, “Man, I wish I knew the first thing about writing steampunk.” … I do have one idea that I might be able to make work… I’m just chicken to try. ‘Cause visualizing the fancy trappings is hard for me. Plus I’m still psychologically wrung-out from my last book.

“Tell you what, D,” Will says – which always makes me hopeful/nervous, ‘cause he’s about to make me do a thing… “Pause on your Will Scarlet fanfic, and we’ll work on drafting a steampunk submission.”

You’ve all met Will Scarlet, right? So I don’t even have to tell you how big— nay, HUGE of him it was to do that. At that point, I basically had no choice.

NaNo '14, the View from FB 2

And, in an instance of exquisite symmetry, this short story idea begun on November 15, twenty-fourteen was a new manifestation of my old nemesis of a project begun on November 15, twenty-twelve – a tale that, I quickly discovered in this latest attempt to finally see it through to the end, has the same mulish soul it ever did.

NaNo '14, the View from FB 3

Little did this story know, I had a few new tricks up my sleeve.

1 = I’d lowered my goal from a novel to a short story, cutting out all the parts I’d never fully figured out anyway in favor of focusing in on that one piece of the story that I haven’t been able to give up on for the last two years.

2 = The imminence and narrowness of the story competition’s submission window served as concrete motivation to wrestle this thing onto the page once and for all.

3 = Oh, silly project, have you not heard? This NaNo is mine. KNEEL BEFORE YOUR MASTERMAID.

“Pretty sure megalomania isn’t a new trick for you, Danielle.”

But it got the job done, Will, and that is what counts.

Epilogue

As of November 16, I have ripped out my heart for Wilderhark, had a field day with my imaginary BFF, throttled my two-pronged fear of steampunk and a punk of a story, and, incidentally, written over 50,000 words.

NaNo-wise, it’s been a year for the books. ;D

Muse Mug 02.2

I’ll drink to that. …in my new NaNoWriMo mug that’s so perfectly me, it’s not even funny.

 

NaNoWriMo, What Are You to Me?

2010: The year I was first told of you, at just about October’s start. The year I stepped out with no expectations, just a challenge I was itching to meet. 50,000 words, 30 days. A longer book than I normally wrote, but not too terribly intimidating, since I went in with a plan.

NaNo '10 Cover PicAn idea inspired by my home Ren Faire’s Robin Hood. The delightful discovery that my Merry Minstrel was descended of none other than Gant-o’-the-Lute. My main character and I getting to know each other at the same, adventuresome pace. A side character in scarlet, willing and eager from Day 1 to step up to the plate and deliver whatever I needed. A girl and her Thief Lord lurking foxlike in the forums.

My first NaNoWriMo, you were the one of new beginnings.

2011: The year I set you aside for psalm-making. A poem or song a day, working to heat up my sub-satisfactory spiritual life with my fiery passion for words. A more solitary endeavor, followed by a December of drafting a novel just past the official month of writerly hoopla.

Inspired Mock Cover

It was half like having two NaNos, and half like having none at all. And in the end, I’d managed a bit of soul food and the first iteration of my debut published novel, INSPIRED.

My second NaNoWriMo, you were the one of faith in treasure yet unseen.

2012: The year I upped the ante, trying for not one novel, but two, in addition to my trip to California – to Tirzah, and to San Francisco’s Night of Writing Dangerously. Memories of starting precisely at midnight – a frustrating false start, with a voice I was too tired to get quite right. Of starting over, moving on stronger, pushing myself to cover ground as fast as perfectionism allowed. Of struggling to focus even as I got my hair did [sic] in braids so I wouldn’t have to fuss over it while I was out of town.

NaNo '12 Cover Pic

Novel One cooperated, wrapping up in a demented 12 days. Novel Two… oh, Novel Two, who knows when I’ll ever finish you? In my defense, you lied to me, but that’s another story, perhaps for another day. Between being led on a wild goose chase by a petulant protagonist, the glorious distraction of my best friend at my side, the lure of my heart’s city, and the overawing shindig that is THE NaNo write-in, I may have produced the words, but they were nothing like a novel.

My third NaNoWriMo, you were the one that defied all expectations.

2013: The year I couldn’t settle on a project. It was not for any lack of ideas. New concepts came and went, replaced by yet more, no sooner decided upon than abandoned for— for what? Something better? It didn’t have to be better. It just had to be right. And nothing at all was speaking to me. Nothing was singing to my discontented soul.

NaNo '13 Cover Pic

Three hours to the midnight kickoff, and I still wasn’t sure, but there wasn’t time, so I chose almost at random from the string of ideas I’d played with for a month. So close to the deadline, I was a mess of nerves, fearful of repeating the failure that was NaNo ’12, Part 2. Rarely has the blank page seemed so full of potential doom. But the words came, and with them, the story. And within that story, I released the kraken.

My fourth NaNoWriMo, you were the one as changeable as the sea.

2014: The year I mean to see my way to the conclusion of the Wilderhark Tales. The first new Wilderhark Tale I’ve written in years, the others close to completed when I decided to take the plunge and publish. For the first time, I’m working under the burden of expectation, and in the countdown leading up to the event’s start, the pressure was driving me nuts, to the point where I said to myself, “Y’know what? Screw this. The only way to be less nonsensically afraid of this thing is to just start writing it. And NaNo is not the boss of you. Now’s neither the time nor place to be the punctilious rule-follower you’ve ever been. Put on your writer pants and seize the day!

So on Wednesday, October 29th, I branded myself a NaNo Rebel by starting work on the book’s opening chapter.

My fifth NaNoWriMo, you are the one I reclaimed as my own.

NaNo was made for the author, not the author for NaNo. I don’t know what surprises are in store for me this writing month, but as far as victory is concerned, I’m already feeling like I’ve won more than the certificate waiting at the end of it all.

Who out there is sprinting toward the finish line with me? ^^

Open Journal: Disconnected

Recent-Past Me writes…

I met my best friend in the forums of NaNoWriMo. It’s a story we’ve rehashed a ton of times, to curious outsiders and among ourselves: Her foxy Thief Lord, my legendary outlaws and Song Caster of minstrel; a passing connection between states-away strangers that, somehow, went beyond passing to lasting these four years and counting.

A once-in-a-lifetime miracle.

At least, not a miracle I’ve seen repeated yet in my life, and don’t expect to during NaNo ‘14.

I haven’t spent much time in the forums, this past month. By which I mean, I’ve half-heartedly poked my head in once, lurked around for a short while, then wearily closed out the tab. I don’t have the energy for socializing chitchat. For dragging on a smile and feeling around for common ground. For friendly emoticons and exclamation points.

There are few things I want to deal with less, in this state, than exclamation points.

Besties For Good 02My best friend just got married, moving even further out of reach. I was her Maid of Honor; her personal assistant; the collected, efficient go-getter striding around with a rapidly marked-up notebook. My brain, it seems, works differently than the average human. (Gasps of faux surprise all ‘round.) The bride-to-be and her family, the wedding itself, needed me in cyborg mode. Cue three weeks of setting self aside that I might to best ability serve.

Greater love hath no one than this: To lay down her life for a friend.

My insides feel slain on the altar where she spoke her vows.

I pushed myself so far, strained so hard, strove so long, and I’m proud of me, but I’m injured.

It’s not the first time I’ve maimed myself like this. The summer I published “Swan Prince” then dove straight into my second season on cast at the Renaissance Faire blew me out in much the same way. Strained, sprained, drained.

My brain works differently than the average human.

Participant, mm? I hardly feel like one.

Participant, mm? I hardly feel like one.

I’m not made to deal so intensely with so many people for this length of time. I’m slowly recovering; better now than I was days ago, and likely better by the time this post goes live than I am during its drafting. But in the meantime, much as I’d love to get back into the international camaraderie of NaNo – one of my favorite parts of the event, in years past; what separates NaNo from just another month of me bingeing on word-making; the gateway, once, to a friendship like I’ve never had before – I just can’t with the socializing, right now.

So a world of Wrimos is over there, and I’m over here, with days to go ‘til THE Writing Month begins, feeling wholly disconnected from it all.

My tired = sad.

My sad = lonely.

My cyborg powers, experiencing technical difficulties.

“The girl needs a vacation,” Will Scarlet opines.

The girl doesn’t believe in vacation.

Edgwyn says kindly, “That’s why the girl’s a wreck.”

I’ll sleep when I’m dead. ‘Til then, I’ve got writing to do.

“Mercy on our souls,” Allyn murmurs.