The Hungering Hearts Café

What if the main characters of four separate stories convened in one peculiar place? Find out in this little something I whipped up as we wait for next week’s release of “Our Hungering Hearts”…

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The dark man in the diner booth watched the younger man’s approach. Voice smooth as glass, gaze sharp as the same, he said, “You are not my server.”

The younger man laughed cheerlessly. “Don’t I wish!” he said, his accent from either across the pond or a world away. “I came in to apply for a job, but of course they’re not hiring. I don’t suppose you are, for anything?”

Hungering Hearts Cafe pin, 02
From the “Reality As We Know It”-related Pinterest board

“No.”

“Just thought I’d ask,” the young one sighed, sinking to a seat on the booth’s opposite edge. “Your suit was so nice, it gave me the ghost of hope.”

“Hope can’t be a ghost ‘til it’s died,” came a female voice, clipped and cool. “I don’t believe that yours has, yet.”

The younger man turned (the dark man didn’t) toward the source of the sound – a fair woman of perhaps his own age, nursing a coffee at a nearby table. Her opulent gown suggested the proximity of a Steampunk convention.

“We can hope not,” he said soberly. “Goodness knows there’s death enough without that.”

“Yes and no.” The gowned woman’s pale brows drew down. More to herself than anyone, it seemed, she said grimly, “There’s at least one death to go before I can call things finished.”

Now the dark man’s head swiveled her way. “Oh, yes?” he said – too pleasant. Too interested. “Whose?”

She said only, “An enemy’s.”

The young man glanced between them, disturbed. The dark man half-smiled at him. “You should offer the lady your services, Row.”

“Entirely unnecessary,” said the woman, before the young man could reply or begin to wonder whether he’d told the dark man his name. “We’ve got it handled.”

“You hope you do,” said the dark man, quietly. “You fear you don’t. What’s the harm in accepting his help? He’s even less of a woman than your substitute sister.”

The woman sat still as an ice sculpture. The young man blinked, wholly confused.

Voice tight enough to strangle, she asked, “What do you know of anything?”

The dark man’s half-smile cut wider. “Everything you do.”

“Should I go?” the young man wondered aloud.

The dark man said, “Oh, stay, Rowan Charles.”

The woman’s gaze whipped toward the young man. “Is that your name?”

He frowned helplessly. “I never said it.”

Hand placed rather ominously over her place setting’s steak knife, she demanded, “Just who are you people?”

The young man spread his hands in a shrug. “I’m just a guy desperate to make a living wage.”

The dark man sipped leisurely at a glass of red wine. “And I, just a provocateur.”

Hungering Hearts Cafe pin, 01
From the “Reality As We Know It”-related Pinterest board

“Mmm,” came a savoring sound from yet another table – this one seating an older woman, a book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. “Oh, don’t mind me,” she said, when the three others minded her. “It’s just that word. Provocateur. Delicious. One doesn’t read it enough. But do please pretend I’m not here.”

“But you are,” the young woman said coldly.

An imperturbable smile from the older woman. “As a mere observer, I assure you.”

The young man and young woman traded a look. There was something decidedly off about the dining room’s elder demographic.

Downing the rest of her coffee in a concentrated gulp, the young woman rose from her table. “I think I’d best be on my way.”

“Should I… come with you?” the young man asked. If his name meant something to her, he imagined there must be an interesting reason.

She eyed him, expression closed. “Perhaps she’d want you to.”

He glanced at the older woman. “Her?”

“No,” dark man and older woman said together.

“Try to go with her,” the former suggested. “See if you can.”

“If any of us can,” said the latter, nodding, “it’s him.”

“You say that as if you don’t know for certain.”

“I don’t,” she said, irritated. “Of course I don’t, and you’ll know why. The more you drag me into this—”

“—The less of a mere observer you are.” The dark man’s half-smile had become a full, wicked grin. “Keep talking, reader, and lose yourself wholly to the story. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted most?”

“Definitely leaving,” said the young woman, striding for the door. The bell heralding her exit almost drowned out the dark man’s farewell: “Happy homicide, Your Highness.

A princess, who knew the name Rowan Charles. A dark man, who knew the thoughts in others’ heads. A reader, he’d called the older woman… what more did that mean?

The young man’s dizzying spin of questions scattered at the touch of a small hand, coming to rest on his knee. He looked down into the solemn stare of a little girl, a menu tucked under her arm. She asked, “Do you know what you want?”

Hungering Hearts Cafe pin, 03
From the “Date Due”-related Pinterest board

“I think…” he started. Stopped. Said slowly, “More than anything, now, I’m hungry for the whole story.”

Stories,” said the older woman. “And you’ll not find them here.”

“No,” the dark man agreed. “Not in the overlap. This is a Venn diagram best read one circle at a time.”

“My Library has a copy,” the older woman said. A sneer darted across her face. “For now. You’re welcome to read it while you can.”

A silky voice not the young man’s own warned in his head, I wouldn’t.

“I should… get home,” the young man decided.

The dark man nodded amiably. “While you have one.”

The older woman tsked. “Cruel.”

“Yes.”

“Here,” said the little girl. She handed the young man a name tag.

“Thank you,” he said, puzzled. The name was not his.

The dark man’s expression softened at the little girl’s logic. “People with name tags have jobs, you see.”

Tears pricked at the young man’s smile. “Thank you,” he said again, and departed.

The dark man’s thoughts snaked toward the woman. Nobody left but us monsters. Can you find your way out?

She silently sipped at her tea, reply unspoken. There is only ever one way out, Black Man.

The end.

<<<>>>

Our Hungering Hearts, front cover

On the Menu:

“Two Spoons, the Devil’s Son” = A little girl’s soul meets its match in the family diner’s most mysterious patron…

“A Mind Prone to Wander” = An assassin princess and an incognito madman brave a monster’s mechanized fortress and the pasts that left them broken…

“Reality As We Know It” = Where otherworldly magic fails, is Row’s friendship enough to mend Singer’s grieving heart?

“Date Due” = A magic library’s guardian determines to protect her treasured books, whether their authors elect to do things the easy way … or the fatal one.

Two servings of paranormal, a taste of fantasy, and a side order of steampunk – first released in various anthologies, now served up all together in one delicious combo deal. Bon appétit!

Add the book on Goodreads! Pre-order the e-book! (Amazon, or Barnes & Noble) Both e-books and paperback editions release next week; see you on Launch Day!

Did You Kn-#OHH?

So, heeey! As I’ve been mildly remiss in shouting about, these last months, “Our Hungering Hearts: A Four-Course Short Story Collection” (#OurHungeringHearts #aka #OHH) is scheduled to launch in two (2!) weeks.

Our Hungering Hearts, front cover

(Have you added it to your Goodreads “want-to-read” list? Because you ca-a-an! You can also pre-order the e-book, via Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble)

Most of my relative silence on the subject has been due to busyness with a hundred other things. Working at Yosemite. Leaving Yosemite. Searching for work in Fresno. Buying a car (which, just… wow. What a process. I’m starting to better understand why “Ballad”-era Will Scarlet elected to acquire transportation the easy way). Not to mention prepping “So Super Dead” – y’know, that other book that’s coming out one month behind “Hungering Hearts”.

But the rigors of adulting is no excuse! Neither is the fact that I’ve already hyped all of these stories before, when they first released in their respective anthologies. There’s always something new to say, if you’re chatty enough. (Which I very much can be. Will Scarlet came by the trait honestly. Unlike his car.)

In honor, then, of keeping our mouths busy, here’s a tasty array of tidbits I don’t think I’ve shared before (interspersed with stuff I totally shared before, because #NeverForget). DID YOU KNOW…?

– The collection’s first story is just chockablock with aliases. Tidbit, the Black Man, Two Spoons … both the character, and the title. Two Spoons, the Devil’s Son is the title I originally used. Though presented in Xchyler Publishing’s “Legends and Lore” as Two Spoons only, “Our Hungering Hearts” restores the story name to its full, head-turning glory.

– By fun coincidence, all four of the stories in the collection are narrated in 1st-person (which, as one could deduce from all of my published novels and novellas to date, is not my automatic go-to; I’m often more of a 3rd-person gal). And in two of the tales, we’re never given the narrator’s name. It would probably wear me out having to work like that in a full-length work (I wonder how Daphne du Maurier felt about doing so in “Rebecca”), but for short stories, it can be an interesting exercise to see what you gain and/or lose by featuring nameless characters.

– Throwback! Read (or reread!) a character interview with Reality As We Know It’s Heartsinger, on the blog of fellow Xchyler alum Ginger Mann.

My Love, My Heart, My Singer: A Walk Through the Abréal

– In keeping with my Wilderhark side, A Mind Prone to Wander draws inspiration from multiple fairytales – Jack and the Beanstalk, Bluebeard, a touch of Beauty and the Beast, and an aesthetic or two from the Arabian Nights.

Date Due is the ONLY story in the book that isn’t based on other characters of mine. Although – (Easter egg!) – one of the books in the story’s magical Library shares a title with another short story in “Beyond the Wail”, the anthology in which Date Due debuted.

– Throwback! Enjoy this sampling of images from the A Mind Prone to Wander Pinterest board, “Skycastle, Arcan-Nest, and Beyond”. …and/or click here to visit the whole board!

Mind Prone to Wander, Pinterest

– The twin princesses in A Mind Prone to Wander are mirror images of each other – as are, in a way, their names. Broken into pieces, Bellamy = Belle (beauty, in French) + Amie (friend, in French); and, same but reverse, Caralinda = Cara (dear, in Italian) + linda (beautiful, in Spanish). Yes, we authors do live for this sort of thing.

– If I had to pick a “Hungering Hearts” character with which I most closely identify… Yeah, it’s gotta be the draconic Librarian. Though I must give a secondary shout-out to Row from Reality As We Know It (because, whoof, his dispiriting job hunt has recently become too darn relatable), the parallels between me and the Librarian are blatant. Books. Tea. Questionable sanity. That’s all me. (Also, I half-lied, if setting counts as character: I totally based her house off of mine.)

– Throwback! Read (or reread!) a character interview with Date Due’s word wizard, on the blog of fellow Xchyler alum A. F. Stewart.

Beyond the Wail: Fireside Chat with Elizabeth Young

– If I had to pick a favorite “Hungering Hearts” character… that would be cruel, so I’ll be weak and pick one fave per story.

Two Spoons = the devil’s son himself (because I *heart* me a villain)

A Mind Prone to Wander = Arinward, Steward of Arcan-Nest (because his letters are champion)

Reality As We Know It = can I say the murdering Irishman? Is that allowed?

Date Due = the books (I told you: I’m the Librarian)

– If I had to pick the “Hungering Hearts” story that was most enjoyable to write… I think it was Two Spoons. I ~relished~ that one. The others were more painful, because character suffering. Whereas, for any suffering in Two Spoons, I was in Black Man mode, meaning yes, good, the pain of others; that and a scoop of ice cream, please. That guy would make a great author.

Well, would you look at that: We’ve arrived at a full-length blog post! I guess I had a handful of things left to say, after all. ;D And if YOU’VE got things to say, I hope you’ll put them in the comment section down below.

Coming Soon: A Second Helping of Shorts

Once upon a time, a certain author received notice that – because publishing is a weird, uncertain animal – all of her short stories released through various Xchyler Publishing anthologies were on the verge of going out of print, and all the rights reverted to her.

As it happened, only half of the prophecy came true. A few days of negotiations among the anthology contributors prevented the removal of the endangered titles from Amazon. Even so (because, like I said: Weird, uncertain animal), her stories’ rights were our author heroine’s, to do with as she wished.

Xchyler Antho Lineup 3

And that author – *solemn nods* – was me.

And what I wish is to reprint all four of my short stories first published with Xcyhler – urban legend-esque “Two Spoons” (“Legends and Lore”), fantastically bromantic “Reality As We Know It”  (“The Toll of Another Bell”), eccentric fairy tale “A Mind Prone to Wander” (“Steel & Bone”), and deadly “Date Due” (“Beyond the Wail”) – in a brand new, exclusively Danielle E. Shipley-authored collection.

So that’s what’s gonna happen!

As I type, I have an artist working on the cover I’ve envisioned – no other than the talent behind the faces of “Outlaws of Avalon” 1.5 and 2.5, the charming Hannah Vale. I dug my stories’ files out of the crowded archive that is my authorial past, and have begun organizing them for their new format. And wow, actually looking back at the stuff I wrote up to 4 years ago is weird.

Specifically, it’s weird when the old work’s a short story. With novels and novellas, I have clear memories of writing them. I’ll come to a passage and recall, oh yeah, I was sitting in that spot when I typed it … or I’d been working that job when I scribbled down that plot idea … or that character put up a fuss when I almost said [blah-blah-blah] instead of [yadda-yadda]… The fact that those works were longer made them, by necessity, more of a journey; a struggle; an author-and-muses collaboration. Whereas my Xchyler short stories all pretty much happened like this:

Xchyler anthology contest: “Here, have a general writing prompt.”

Me: “I don’t know if I—”

Me a few minutes/hours/days later: “Never mind, I know. From first line to end, I know.”

Me, over the course of 3 to 10 days: *copies down the fully formed tale onto the laptop*

It’s all over so surreally quick, I barely feel like I’m part of the process. So maybe putting these stories out a second time, all by myself, will be a good bonding experience. Maybe by the end of the project, my heart will better know these four fun-size word babies as my own.

If nothing else, it’ll be something to help tide us all over while we wait for the debut of “So Super Dead” in the fall!

So, stay tuned for the reveal of the collection’s title, cover, and blurb. In the meantime, if YOUR brains have managed better than my defective model to hold onto any interesting memories of short stories, written and/or read by you, feel free to chat about ‘em in the comments!

IF WILL SCARLET … Were a Super-Powered Plane-Hopper

A continuation of “If Will Scarlet Showed Up Out of the Blue— I Mean Red

“So, yeah,” he’d say. “I can totally just pop in and out of your head at will. Ha! At Will. Anyway, is there food?”

This would fly in defiance of everything I know and/or speculate about the relation between planes, as featured in such literary masterworks as Inspired. Not the part where Will’s asking about food. That much is par for the course. But be-bopping from the Abréal to the Réalis (as featured in Reality as We Know It, newly-released in The Toll of Another Bell: A Fantasy Anthology) just isn’t done!

“You can’t just do that,” I’d say, because, again, he shouldn’t be able to.

“Yeah, I know,” he’d say, striding into the kitchen. Getting to watch him stride would do wacky things to my lungs. It’s one thing to imagine it. Quite another to see with my own eyes. He’d pull open the fridge and freezer, looking for… well, probably pretty much whatever. “But I’ve developed super powers.”

“How?” I’d want to know. Now that I’ve either gotten over the first wave of shock or, more likely, have overdosed on it to the point that it doesn’t much matter anymore, I can begin to take an authorial interest in the how. One doesn’t like plot holes.

He’d crinkle his face at me – one eye going scrunched. “How in the deuce should I know?”

“ ‘In the deuce’?” I’d repeat. “Pretty sure it’s just ‘the deuce’, man, no ‘in’.”

“Couldn’t just let that slide, could you?”

“Could have, but didn’t. Why don’t you know?”

He’d shrug a shoulder. “Don’t know that either. I guess we could speculate. Can I have ice cream? I’m having ice cream.”

I would point out that, as long as his enjoyment of ice cream doesn’t involve him trying to force feed it to me (as is too often the case when he’s free-riding in my head), he can have all the ice cream he wants without me giving a single darn. This would result in a massive grin on his part, and probably his grabbing a spoon from the silverware drawer to shove directly into the carton of, I dunno, let’s call the flavor cookie dough.

“So,” he’d say, after sucking down a spoonful with relish, spinning around to lean back against the counter by the sink, “what could have happened that resulted in me being able to step in and out of your head as easy as crossing a threshold, but minus the imps?” Thresholder imps, of course, being a reference to another Inspired-world story of mine (which is due to feature in a super special Luna Station Quarterly thing in May. Stay tuned!).

A thought would at that point occur to me. “Wait. How do you know you can get back in? Have you tried?”

“Well, I—” He’d stop. Blink. “No, I haven’t.”

“So what if you can’t?”

“Ummmm, I’m pretty sure I can, but I mean, if you want me to try…”

“NO!” I’d say quickly. “What if you could get back in, but you couldn’t get back out? That would be a stupid waste; we haven’t done anything with you here, yet!”

“Mm, yeah, there’s a good point.” He crams more ice cream into his face, eyes trained thoughtfully toward the ceiling. “Well. What do you want to do, then? I could just stay here, indefinitely. I’m sure people in your head wouldn’t miss me that much. I mean, they totally would, but we’d still be sort of together. Like how you and I were together before I was here, sharing your plane.”

“That wasn’t the best sort of togetherness,” I’d say, already dreading the thought of things going back to normal. Because they’d have to, right? Things that are too good to be true don’t tend to last long.

“Not totally optimal, yeah,” he’d agree. His smile would change, going warmer and more deeply into me. “This is actually great. I never get to look at you, like this. I mean, I’ve looked at you, but…”

“I know what you mean,” I’d say, having observed the same sort of thing during his stride to the kitchen. “This is… we should hug again,” I’d decide. And we would. A longer hug, uncut by shock and the delivery of ponies. He’s a really great hugger. Not quite Edgwyn caliber, but definitely up there. Plus, Edgwyn wouldn’t be outside my head to compete, so Will would have the leg up.

“I am pretty sure I could get back out, though,” he’d murmur over my head. “I can tell. Like you can tell that you can, I don’t know, sing a song. A song you know, but just haven’t gotten around to singing yet, like… are there any songs like that?”

“I don’t know. I tend to sing the songs I know.”

“Well, the point is, you’re not worried that you can’t do it just because you haven’t.”

“That’s not a great metaphor, Will,” I’d break it to him. “I’ve sung songs before. So far as I know, you haven’t been doing much plane-hopping, ‘til now.”

“And how am I ever going to master my power,” he would chide, “if you won’t let me practice? Imagine a superhero movie where the guy gets a power but never tests it out because, oh no, what if he makes the face and it stays that way?! Is that how you make an X-Man? No.”

“Ally-y-yn…!” I’d wail, because I wouldn’t know how to cope with this conundrum.

“Yes?” Allyn would say, through me.

I’d point across the kitchen’s tiny space, tattling, “Will Scarlet’s on my plane!”

“Yes, I know,” Allyn-through-me would say. “He does that now, apparently.”

“That is so weird,” Will would say, because it would be – him listening to Allyn through the author filter instead of face to face, Allyn looking at him through my eyes, my eyes looking at a material Will… yeah, “weird” pretty much covers the basics. Then, “Hiiiiiiii, Allyn!” he’d call.

“Hello, Will,” Allyn would say, tugging my mouth up toward his sort of smile. “You’re very far.”

“Not so very,” Will would say.

“Feels like very, from here,” Allyn-through-me would murmur.

Will’s face would do a different sort of crinkling. A different sort of deep-into-you smile, laced with a grimace. “Aw, Allyn… Are you missing me?”

“Perhaps a little.”

“Want me to pop back in, real quick? Give you a hug?”

“No, wait!” I’d cry. “Allyn, is it safe for him to do that? Could he come back out? How is he doing this?

Allyn would answer evenly, “Yes, it is. Yes, he could. And didn’t he tell you? It’s his superpower.”

“But… but…” I’d probably wave my hands around to underscore my flabbergasticity, like one does. As of that moment, flabbergasticity would be a word. “How did he get superpowers??”

“Vat of toxic waste?” Will would say. “Multi-colored meteor of unknown origin? Bite from a radioactive spider… monkey?”

“You’re guessing!” I’d accuse. “You are completely guessing, and your guesses are getting strange!”

“Don’t ruin the magic!” Will would shout. “Also, hey. Watch this.”

And then the punk would totally hop back into my head and out again before I could die of panic from staring into the eyes of my projected worst-case scenario. Because worst-case scenarios are like Medusa, don’t you know.

“WILL SCARLET!”

“Ta-da!” he’d say with zero apology. He’s an “all’s well that ends well*, never mind that I could have inadvertently doomed us all” sort of guy. (*Or “Ende gut, alles gut,” as they say in German.) “Told you. Just like singing a song.”

“That was not a great metaphor,” Allyn-through-me would tell him. Because when I’m right, I’m right.

Will would stick out his tongue, then polish off the rest of the ice cream.

[To be continued…]

A Little Heart-to-Heart[singer]

My friend, fellow author, and anthology sister Ginger Mann has recently begun a new series on her blog, Notes from Ginger.

Titled “Character Walks”, the series features unique, in-depth conversations between Ginger and various fictional people their authors were able to corral into the interview. To my gratification and his, Ginger requested a talk with my very own Heartsinger from “Reality As We Know It”, a short story that debuted alongside Ginger’s “Jilted River” in The Toll of Another Bell.

As of Valentine’s Day, the post is live! So hop on over to share in Ginger’s deeper discovery of my tortured, otherworldly musician.

Notes from Ginger

Toll_Webkit_TheNovel

Real World Problems (Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell)

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

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

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

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

As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn says, “Our guest’s roommate describes him thus:

Singer… well, he’s been through a lot, over the last year or so, and it’s left him with a lot of emotional damage. The sweet, openhearted little boy he used to be isn’t as easily seen, anymore. …if he’s still somewhere in there at all. I’ve got to hope he is.

“Welcome, Singer!” Will greets the young man now seated in the chair across from his own. “So glad you could join me. First things first – how in the world are you so freaking pretty??”

Singer’s chin tips to a scornful angle. “It’s nothing to do with your world at all – not your proper world, though perhaps a bit like this in-between place where you host your show. People in the Abréal can look any way they wish at any given time, so appearance doesn’t count for much.”

“No, I’d imagine not.”

“That’s just it: Imagination. The Abréal is essentially ruled by it. People in the Réalis – the real world, you know – like to say such things as, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it,’ but for them, it’s not true. For us, it is. …or ‘was’, for me and Row.” Singer’s full lips turn down into a petulant frown. “Now we’re stuck in the real world with the rest of the ineffective dreamers.”

“About you and Row,” says Will. “I’m told the two of you are something called a ‘kindred pair’. What is that, exactly? Like a couple, or…?”

“A romantic couple?” Singer scoffs. “Nothing of the kind. It’s more of a spirit-level symbiosis. We need each other. Supposedly.” He scowls, gaze slanting away beneath his long lashes. “I don’t suppose there’s much good either of us can do the other, now.”

“No?” says Will, his manner all of concern and of listening. “Why not?”

The colors in Singer’s face abruptly shift – already fair skin gone whiter, save for the angry red high in his cheeks, eyes snapping bright. “What is this, a talk show or a therapy session? Never mind why. Ask something else.”

Will waves a hand of resignation. “Fine. How’s merry old England? It’s literal ages since I’ve been.”

“Well, I haven’t made it all the way out to Nottinghamshire, but London’s not so entirely dreadful, just… inflexible. You wouldn’t believe the trouble it is just to make breakfast! Got to actually walk into the kitchen, physically pull out the food which you’ll need to have gone out and bought, and take time to fix it into something edible, only to realize you can’t conjure any tableware out of the air!”

“Bloody hell,” Will observes.

“It is, too. But Row insists we’ll manage. And really, we haven’t any other choice.”

“There is one choice left before you: The infamous final question! Will you tell our mutual author’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?” He smiles winsomely. “Or would you rather kiss me?”

For the first time, something smile-like lurks behind Singer’s eyes and mouth. “I don’t think Danielle would be terribly mortified were I to share the secret behind my story.” Definitely smiling now, he looks slyly beyond the host. “But Allyn might be.”

The dismay in Allyn’s off-camera voice is evident. “You’re going to tell everyone that?”

“It’s that or kiss Will,” Singer says flippantly. “And one or the other of us might enjoy that too much. I’d rather drop this little fact: I, Heartsinger of the Abréal, am essentially an alternate reality version of Allyn-a-Dale.”

“Several layers of reality removed,” Allyn is quick to emphasize.

“Yes, I know.” Singer slumps deeper into his chair. “You’re the likeable one.”

Will leans across to pat Singer’s hand. “Likeable characters are overrated. Say, Original Allyn – how ‘bout a quick word from our sponsor?”

“Today’s Kiss & Tell segment,” says Allyn, happy for the subject change, “was brought to you by Danielle E. Shipley’s ‘Reality As We Know It’, a short story included in the ‘Toll of Another Bell’ fantasy anthology (officially launching tomorrow, available for preorder now, online Release Party tomorrow at 6pm Central).

The Toll of Another Bell

In a realm of infinite possibility, impossibility, and immortality, a broken boy begs to die.

Devoted childhood companion to the shattered Singer, Row will do anything to resurrect his friend’s will to live, including join him in exile in real-world London, where if the grueling battle against unemployment doesn’t kill you, the dodgy neighbor in the upstairs flat just might.

But as Singer’s grief festers and eviction looms, even irrepressible Row begins to doubt whether single-minded determination is enough to make ends – and two hurting hearts – meet.

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

A Review Miraculously Free of Bell Puns

Be proud of me. I thought of two such puns without hardly trying. But seriously, folks…

The Book: “The Toll of Another Bell”, edited by McKenna Gardner.

Genre: Fantasy short story anthology.

Blurb: A collection of out-of-this-world short stories that ring true in mortal hearts.

The Toll of Another Bell

“Breath” by Jodi L. Milner: The Guardian of Souls realizes her life is incomplete and sacrifices everything to find what’s missing.

“Awareness” by Timothy Vincent: To achieve the status of Magi, Jyn must pass his father’s ultimate test.

“Phoenix” by Elise Stephens: Orion loses his wife on their wedding day and uses dark magic to seek her in the afterlife.

“Life Under Research Conditions” by Thaxson Patterson II: Can a bioweapon possess a soul and make choices to save humanity?

“The Year of No Foals” by Scott E. Tarbet: A miraculous colt and a mysterious old man bring healing to a family ripped apart by tragedy.

“Naoki No Yokai” by F.M. Longo: Yokai have overrun a local village, and it’s up to Saga Naoki to discover the reason why.

“Jilted River” by Ginger Mann: An Appalachian fairy tale attracts visitors to a state park, but then they start to disappear.

“Tower Gods” by J.R. Potter: A thirteen-year-old boy with an oxygen mask befits the role of hero in Watcher Benson’s eyes.

“Reality As We Know It” by Danielle E. Shipley: Where otherworldly magic fails, is Row’s friendship enough to mend Singer’s grieving heart?

“60 Seconds to Midnight” by TC Phillips: Fleeing an ancient evil, a young woman from amongst the stars finds unlikely refuge on Earth.

My Thoughts: As one would hope of a fantasy-themed collection, “Toll” displays a vast diversity of imagination. But more than only stories to tickle your flights of fancy, these are, on the whole, stories to make you feel. Stories where the pain of what’s lost is but one turn away from the finding of something more.

Some highlights for me as a reader included Jodi L. Milner’s elemental myth “Breath”; the humor winking from F.M. Longo’s tale of spies and samurai, “Naoki no Yokai”; and “Phoenix”, Elise Stephens’ modern retelling of the Orpheus/Eurydice tragedy, the prose holding my heart like a melancholy song. There’s more powerful music to be discovered when a family goes up against a siren in Ginger Mann’s “Jilted River”, and a meticulous balance of fatal magic awaits in Timothy Vincent’s “Awareness”. Readers whose tastes lean in a more Sci-Fi direction may find particular enjoyment in Thaxson Patterson II’s out-of-this-world creations in “Life Under Research Conditions”, or young Kip’s larger-than-life summer adventure in J.R. Potter’s “Tower Gods”.

If I had to choose a favorite story from the collection (excluding the title attached to my own name, of course), I think that honor would go to “The Year of No Foals” by Scott E. Tarbet, a homey, futuristic yarn that reads like it could have happened yesterday or a generation ago. The blend of ordinary and extraordinary is magic and left me smiling. And I strongly advise that all comers stick around for the book’s world-hopping, mind-bending, heart-pounding adventure of a finale, “60 Seconds to Midnight” … though maybe not right before bedtime, lest TC Phillips’ horrific Daimons hunt you down in your dreams.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): Xchyler Publishing delivers another worthy anthology in “The Toll of Another Bell”. Yeah, you should read it! Preorder the Kindle e-book now, and it will deliver to you just as soon as it launches. January 31st, y’all! – same day as the online Release Party. Be there and play for free stuff! Anyone who had a chance to make it out for the Xchyler release party for “Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions”* knows it’ll be a good time. (:

*Speaking of “Legends and Lore”: Read it? Loved it (or didn’t)? Don’t let Amazon’s customers miss out on your thoughts – share them in a review! All its authors will thank you. ^_^

An Introductory Chime

Only two-and-a-half weeks to go until the official release of Xcyhler Publishing’s new fantasy anthology, “The Toll of Another Bell”! (Which is available for preordering, by the way!) High time for a sneak peek at my story therein, I say. So here, to tease and tantalize, is the opening scene from “Reality as We Know It”.

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Chapter heading by D. Robert Pease, the talent behind the cover/interior design of “The Toll of Another Bell”.
Chapter heading by D. Robert Pease, the talent behind the cover/interior design of “The Toll of Another Bell”.

My Singer has asked to die again.

I heard it with my own ears, though of course he didn’t come to me. He never does, anymore, and it’s no use going to him. He doesn’t want anything I have to give. And so he goes to the judges.

I watch from a distance, my inner vision blurring my immediate surroundings while the image I desire comes into focus. As ever, my sight is set on Singer, seeking to see as he sees. He sits on his heels before the three judges in their room of shifting walls, dark and defiant, daring them to refuse. I pray they will, and fear they won’t. Though elected by the various peoples of the Abréal to maintain some sense of order within it, they are as susceptible as any of us to quirks of chaos.

Judge Ffionn’s shining eyes regard the small, slender supplicant from above. The massive fox towers over everyone else, even though his pillow seat rests no higher than theirs. In measured tones, he says, “We have already granted you death, Heartsinger. Death once a day—random time, random cause, life restored at midnight. Why is that not enough for you?”

“I’ve told you.” Far away, I cringe at my Singer’s voice, harsh and beautiful as a winter wasteland. “I want to see her now.”

Beside the great fox, Judge Rowan’s rapid blinking is not enough to prevent his tears’ escape. They trickle in rivulets from the corners of his flame-blue eyes, down the handsome planes of the face we almost share. As a rare duplicate pair—both of us one and the same person, me made in his image and brought into this world at a different life stage—there’s a lot we share more absolutely. Our root name, Rowan Charles. Our genetic makeup. Our inevitable love for our Singers. “And if we let you decide when you go,” he says wretchedly, “if you return to life at the stroke of twelve only to snap your fingers and die again at twelve-oh-one, how is that any different than permanent death?”

Singer does not meet his gaze. “I might choose to live here, sometimes.”

“Might you?” says Judge Ffionn, his drawl heavy with skepticism.

In his lap, Singer’s hands curl tight into fists. The cascade of black hair down the back of his elegant frock coat shifts in a breeze of his bottled emotions’ making. “I might.” His gaze snaps up. “If there were anything here worth living for.”

I double over with a whimper of pain. Singer, my Heartsinger, you don’t mean that, you can’t. Or perhaps my old Heartsinger couldn’t have meant it. There’s no telling with this new creature. Since death first came to the Abréal a year ago, I’ve known less and less who this Heartsinger is.

While I curl in on myself, Judge Ffionn’s snarl rips through the air. “Careless words! It was words such as those that ended your mother, boy. Would you allow yourself to become like her killer?”

Singer recoils as if slapped by Ffionn’s mighty paw.

“Leave him alone,” Judge Rowan moans, dropping his face into his hands. “For pity’s sake, leave him alone.”

Ffionn jabs his claws toward the young man before them. “The pup’s got more than enough self-pity. He needs none of mine.”

“Can you wholly blame him?” Rowan demands. “We conjured the boy to give him a good life; one better than the first Singer ever had. This world gave him a mother’s love, then it ripped her away! Is it to be wondered he’s come to hate living here?”

“This,” Singer hisses through gritted teeth, “isn’t living.”

“No,” the third judge says quietly. “No, it’s not. And perhaps that’s your trouble.”

Judges Ffionn and Rowan’s gazes, Heartsinger’s, and mine fix on the inscrutable eyes of Judge Soothsinger. The first Singer. Judge Rowan’s Singer. A Singer so near and so far from what mine has become.

The judge with the face and voice of an angel addresses his younger duplicate. “How many forms have you adopted this last year?”

My Singer’s shoulders move in a petulant shrug. “A girl. A goat. A grownup. A griffin. I’ve lost count.”

I remember each phase as if it were last week—which one of them may well have been. Hard to tell for sure. Time doesn’t mean a lot here. It’s marked out less in minutes and hours, days and years, than in changes. And Heartsinger’s changed more than most. From an adolescent boy to a girl, in the days when he loved me enough to think he might like to be my wife, once we were older. From a girl to a goat-legged faun, with me flitting about in the form of a fairy companion while he frolicked in the fields. From a faun to a grownup, in an exasperated attempt to be seen by the judges as more than a child, and me gamely aging up to twenty-one with him. From there to a griffin, in response to his craving for flight, and for death. Back when the blood of conjured prey was enough. Before he begged permission to spill his own.

“And why have you settled on none of these forms, or on any other?” Soothsinger asks.

The Toll of Another Bell

My Singer—male, human, and aged down to eighteen years old, for now—shrugs again, frowning fiercely to hold hopeless tears at bay. “Nothing sticks.”

Soothsinger nods with an enigmatic hum. Absently, his pale fingers strum the air like strings, pulling music from nothing. The sound looks like snow at sunrise, and smells like distant stars. “The Abréal,” he says, “is a world of infinite possibilities, and impossibilities. We create our environment. We create ourselves. We construct and deconstruct; build and rebuild; watch Rome rise and fall, all in a day. In asking for death, you ask for permanence—one of the very few things outside this world’s power to give.”

Ffionn asks his fellow judge, “Have you a solution to offer?”

“Yes,” says Soothsinger, stilling his fingers. “I propose we send him to the Réalis. With Row. Permanently.”

Judge Rowan chokes on his breath. “To the real world?”

I gasp. “With me?”

Quick as thinking, since a thought’s all it takes to traverse space here, I appear before the judges, still keeping a respectful distance from Heartsinger, who gapes at his duplicate.

As do we all, he knows of the Réalis—the world alongside our own. We are that world’s dreams, they are this world’s stories. And some of us, I’m told, exist in both places at once, having been born there only to be conjured here at the judges’ whim.

We call the world real—not because it is any truer than ours, for it’s not, but because it is fixed, its base rules inflexible, unaffected by the merest wish of its inhabitants. Heartsinger rasps, “Why would anyone want to go there?”

Judge Soothsinger answers, “To live.”

“That,” Judge Ffionn says thoughtfully, “is not such a bad idea.”

“Consequences,” Judge Rowan muses. “Actions that matter. The constraints of a world of immovable fact.” His eyes light up with swiftly building energy. “Do you know, that might actually be just what he needs!”

“It’s madness,” Heartsinger whispers, terror in his eyes.

“I love madness!” I cheer, my own eyes a mirror of my older self’s. “Come on, Singer, think of it! We’ll have our own place, just you and me! And we’ll have to get jobs, so we can have money, so we can pay for things, ‘cause this”—I conjure a mug of tea in my hand—“doesn’t happen out there! It will be an adventure!”

And he’ll see. Once the poor dear’s lost everything but me, he’ll see I’m enough, just as he’s always been enough for me. That’s what Singers and Rowans are to each other: a kindred pair. It’s why the judges conjured me, back when Heartsinger and I were both small. In his grief over his mother, my Singer has forgotten. But maybe a new life in a new world will remind him.

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To be continued upon the launch of “The Toll of Another Bell”, coming in with a bang-up Release Party on Saturday, January 31st!

Your thoughts on the story so far, readers mine? ^^

Out with the Old, In with What’s Next

So long, old year! Helloooooo, 2015! And how better to ring in the New Year than with Ever On Word’s official reveal of the cover of my next publication? Those of you who bump elbows with me on Facebook and Twitter may have seen this already, but it’s still just as purty the second (or, if you’ve been staring at it like I have, the umpteenth) time around!

The Toll of Another Bell

The Toll of Another Bell (now on Goodreads! Add away!), a Xchyler Publishing fantasy anthology including my own short story, “Reality As We Know It”!

A voice from the back calls out, “What’s your story about, Danielle?”

Well might you ask, anonymous person who is not Will Scarlet at all.

In a realm of infinite possibility, impossibility, and immortality, a broken boy begs to die.

Devoted childhood companion to the shattered Singer, Row will do anything to resurrect his friend’s will to live, including join him in exile in real-world London, where if the grueling battle against unemployment doesn’t kill you, the dodgy neighbor in the upstairs flat just might.

But as Singer’s grief festers and eviction looms, even irrepressible Row begins to doubt whether single-minded determination is enough to make ends – and two hurting hearts – meet.

This story and more are coming for ya on January 31st, along with the book’s Release Party! More on that as the date nears.

Now, then – in other headlines…

What’s New for Ever On Word?

For the last good while, I’ve been largely sticking to a three-day blogging schedule, with posts of various sorts on Mondays and Thursdays (book reviews, blog tour stops, snippets of fiction, miscellaneous chatter…), and Will Scarlet shenanigans on Saturdays. That’s been going all very well for me, but with all the other writing / rewriting / editing / publishing I continue to heap upon my plate, I’m ready to ease up on myself just a tad.

So from here on into the indefinite future, I’m cutting back to two regular posts a week – Scarlet’s stuff on Fridays (starting a week from tomorrow), and whatever else I wanna on any other weekday selected at my discretion. It’s a new year, baby. I’m gonna try this “flexibility” thing the kids keep talking about; see how it affects my quality of life.

Other resolutions of sorts for the year to come include:

My nocturnal experiment

– Get the remaining Wilderhark Tales (Books 6, short story collection 6.5, and 7) out into the world

– Figure out the steps required to run away to Germany to become a butler*

(*If you think I’m joking, think again.)

– Rewrite an old novel of mine into publishable shape

– Remember the encouragement that bolstered my poor little authorial heart upon reading this and this – each of them pieces worthy of “HYSRT! (Hey, You Should Read This!)” posts in their own right, but if I don’t stick them in here now, I may never get around to sharing them, so let’s seize the moment

– Continue seeking the balance between pushing myself and abstaining from self-cruelty

– Don’t lose the internal good I gained over the long, hard slog of 2014

*turns mic out toward the audience* What’s next for all of you? ^^