The Stranger-Than-True Book Club: How to Hero[ine]

Welcome to the continuation of last week’s meeting of the Stranger-Than-True Book Club – in which a representative few of author Danielle E. Shipley’s characters come together to discuss some book-related topic or another. A quick ‘hello, again!’ to our current membership: Princess Laraspur from The Wilderhark Tales; Uri and Lucianíel from the “Inspired” novels; Nicky from “So Super Dead”; and yours truly, Lady Marion Hood from The Outlaws of Avalon (the first book of which is, now through the end of July, available for free on Smashwords.com, courtesy of the semiannual Smashwords Summer/Winter sale).

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Marion (First Lady of Sherwood’s Merry Men): Recall you, in honor of Balladry Sol from Danielle’s newest e-publication, “Window’s and Sol: A Bard’s Beginning”, our discourse was centered on heroines / female characters / chicks in fic. To get us rolling again, here’s another quote from “Window’s and Sol”.

…There were any number of things boys could do that girls could not, just as there were things girls could do that boys could not (though fewer of those sprang to mind).

M: Discussion point! The freedoms vs. constraints of being (or writing) a girl character, in Deshipley canon and elsewhere. Who’s got thoughts?

Lucianíel (light elemental, muse, and fictional father figure): As you mention writing, an excerpt from the second “Inspired” novel comes to mind…

“I don’t know. She’s just … no fun to write.” Her nose wrinkled again. “Girls never are.”

“No? Why is that?”

Annabelle’s shoulders hunched in a shrug. “Girl characters are … I mean, they don’t…”

“Do they not?” Luc lifted an eyebrow. “And if they do not, where does the fault lie: With the characters, or with their authors? A girl is not an alien, Annabelle. Or at least, no more alien than you.”

“Meh,” she said, her default argument when she had no argument at all. “It’d be easier if all fictional girls were warrior angels with attitude problems.”

“The market may be headed that way,” Luc observed.

Uri (skater girl and Fire of God): Sounds like our Danielle-insert author struggled to identify with her feminine side.

Luc: The larger trouble, I think, was that her feminine side was too busy swooning over male characters to pay the females much attention. And one sees all too often what becomes of fictional women who are treated solely as buttresses in the architecture of a man’s story.

Nicky (genderless super ghost-whisperer): You’d think, though, that problem would only come up when the writers are men. Don’t girls know what goes into being a girl?

Luc: What goes into being a non-fictional girl, perhaps. But fiction is informed by fiction as much as it is by ‘real life’. Artists draw from what they’ve seen in preexisting art. They learn what a story is and how it’s told from other stories. So if the majority of the stories a girl consumes contain only half-sketched, skimmed-over women, that’s what her imagination has to fight against in order to produce better.

M: Same story for minority groups, or anyone who doesn’t match the ol’ protagonist default – straight, white, Western-society man. If creators aren’t exposed to any real variety, they’re less likely to think to incorporate it, and so the default remains.

Laraspur (Princess of Denebdeor/Queen of Welken): And high goodness knows even main female characters have their own default settings in place. Probably thin, probably light-haired, probably more appealing to the boys around her than she believes she is… Oh, I actually managed to tick that last box of the three!

U: I’m batting zero. Fortunately, I’ve got the ‘warrior angels with attitude problems’ shtick down. Watch out, market!

Lar: As far as freedoms, though, girl characters will often be allowed to express more than their male counterparts, who are more usually expected to be stoic overtop of unknowable hidden depths. We get to be whimsical and giggly and act irrationally – because, alas, men prefer to think themselves too logical for such liberties.

N: Way to trap yourselves in your own socially constructed box, dude-folks.

U: Say, Nicky – as neither a girl nor a dude-folk, do you feel like you’ve got any particular constraints or freedoms?

N: Oh, zero constraints. Second Earth society has thus far given its physiologically genderless demographic no rules and no roles. Sounds like unlimited freedom, but it’s more like… if you’re not one or the other, you’re sort of seen as nothing, and nobody knows what to do with you. Probably plenty of phys-gees embrace that chance to just be whatever they feel like, but for me, who on top of everything didn’t have a superpower until my late teens, there were a lot of self-worth issues to work through.

M: Is that the official shorthand, ‘phys-gees’?

N: Never came up in the novel, so… maybe?

M: Well, time may tell. Now, for one last “Windows and Sol” quote.

“Marrying another minstrel never occurred to you?”

Solwen gave a more ordinary shrug. “I guess I assumed none of them would like me. Silly me, for not expecting one who didn’t particularly like me to propose marriage anyway.”

M: ‘Likeable’ girls in Deshipley canon! Who might qualify by conventional standards, and standards aside, which of her girl characters do each of us personally like best?

U: Is there even a conventional standard in place?

Luc: People speak as though there must be, but the topic is so inherently subjective, I don’t see how one can create a universally liked character, no matter their gender.

M: Throw in the fact that people tend to be more critical of female characters as a matter of course, and perfection becomes that much harder to attain.

Lar: Most readers seemed to like me, from all I could gather. ^_^

U: How’d you swing that?

Lar: Kindness coupled with relatable insecurities, I suppose.

U: Well. Color me unlikable, then.

N: Pretty sure Luc already did that. Canonically.

“Hooray, the cat’s chewing something,” said Uri, devoid of enthusiasm. “Now that all has once again been made right with the world, what say we get back to the minor matter of choosing who gets first crack at Annabelle?”

Luc said bluntly, “It will not be you.”

Uri didn’t bat an eye. “Because?”

“Because the best chance for all of you depends on Annabelle having a positive first authoring experience. That includes a friendly relationship with her protagonist. And you are not personable.”

The barest twitch of an eyelash, which she prayed went unnoticed. “Meaning nobody likes me.”

“Meaning,” said Luc, “you are not overly easy to like.”

Luc: Ahem. Shall we look to the second part of the question?

N: Right! Our favorite Deshipley girls! Hard to remember each and every one of them off the top of my head, but one fave that comes to mind for me is Tidbit, from “Two Spoons, the Devil’s Son”.

M: Surprising choice! Why her?

N: Because even at a super young age, she knows exactly what she wants, and she uses her wits and persistence and any resource at her four-year-old disposal to make her dream happen.

U: Her dream of running away with a demon?

N: …That’s not the point. Anyway, who’s your favorite?

U: Probably your ghost, Brenna Walsh. Speaking as the Angel of Vengeance, hers is a motivation I can actually get behind. And yeah, her temperament wouldn’t win her any Likable Girl awards, but it works for me.

Lar: Seems relatability really does count for much. My favorite… oh, that’s hard. My heart’s shouting two things at once. There’s my mother, to start – Crown Princess/Queen Rosalba of Denebdeor – on the grounds that I admire and respect the multidimensional way she navigates both royalty and adventure. But I also very much love the quiet spunk of Molly Worth from “Deathsong of the Deep”. How is one to choose?

Luc: Nothing at all wrong with naming two favorites, child. As for myself, I might select Morganne le Fey. We’ll see more of her in #CamelotWIP, of course, but the glimpses caught of her throughout the Outlaws of Avalon series is enough to intrigue. In her altogether feminine way, she perfectly matches your earlier summary of the male character ideal: Stoic overtop of unknowable hidden depths and, from all one can tell, entirely ruled by Faerie logic.

M: An apt description, that. And since Laraspur’s set a precedent of two top picks, I too shall double up and say the McCaughley sisters. Almost feels like another level of cheating, since they’re from the same books as me, so I’ve spent time with them both on-page and off-screen. But what I like so much about Loren and Janey is how entirely normal they are – something of a rarity, in Danielle’s work! They’re not part-super-creature or royalty or anything at all fantastical; just a pair of contemporary young ladies who tease each other, support each other, go out together to enjoy music and movies and mediocre restaurants, and let their geek flags fly all Ren Faire season long. They’re sometimes at their best, sometimes not, simultaneously special and typical, and always, fully, expressly human. In short, they’re just girls. And the outrageous and magical Outlaws of Avalon plot makes space for them, the way any kind of story can, if the author is willing to consider ordinary girls as worthy of adventures as anyone.

Windows and Sol, cover finishedN: Think we’ll see Danielle play around with more characters of that type, in future?

M: With our author, one never knows what art she’ll do ‘til she’s done it! In the meantime, this session of the Stranger-Than-True Book Club has come to an end. Thank you, my fellow club members, for the dynamic dialogue. And thank you, readers of the blog, for following along. Who are some of your favorite fictional girls, and what is it you most appreciate about them? Tell us all about it in the comments! And if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the doings of Danielle’s latest heroine in “Windows and Sol: A Bard’s Beginning”. Until next time, everyone. Farewell!

The Stranger-Than-True Book Club: Radical Girls and Pre-Revision Boys

Hello, everyone! Lady Marion Hood, here, with another meeting of the Stranger-Than-True Book Club – in which a representative few of author Danielle E. Shipley’s characters come together to discuss some book-related topic or another. Before we get started, a quick reintroduction to our current membership: Princess Laraspur from The Wilderhark Tales; Uri and Lucianíel from the “Inspired” novels; Nicky from “So Super Dead”; and yours truly, from The Outlaws of Avalon.

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Marion: ‘Tis a special day on which we gather, friends! The launch day of Danielle’s newest publication, “Windows and Sol: A Bard’s Beginning”.

Windows and Sol, cover finished

Once upon a time, ‘wandering songster’ was no kind of career for a woman.

Now one minstrel-in-the-making is going to change Wilderhark’s tune.

From the author who introduced Wilderhark Tales’ Gant-o’-the-Lute and Outlaws of Avalon’s Allyn-a-Dale, a new voice rises into a brave ballad of its own: That of a girl with an ear for music and a heart determined to follow wherever it leads, no matter what forces of man – or of nature – stand against her.

“The Soul Shepherdess” – Young Solwen’s fateful encounter with a man o’ music and his sullen apprentice opens her eyes to the road she’s destined to take, along with the hardship that will be her traveling companion.

“In the Window” – Although Harper Rove-a-Day couldn’t feel less qualified to serve as minstrel master to his extraordinary trainee, he just may have what it takes to learn a lesson or two from her.

“The Names She Played” – To hear hidden music is not merely Solwen’s gift, but her only chance in a deadly game with one of the world’s oldest songs.

Tales of singing. Tales of striving. Most of all, tales of true love.

Laraspur (Princess of Denebdeor/Queen of Welken): Congratulations, Danielle!

Lucianíel (light elemental, muse, and fictional father figure): Seconded! A story’s flight from the nest is ever a proud occasion.

Uri (skater girl and Fire of God): So today we’re, what, sharing our individual thoughts on the new book? Like we did for “Deathsong of the Deep”?

Marion (First Lady of Sherwood’s Merry Men): Nay, dark angel. Rather, in honor of Solwen’s favored place in our author’s estimation, we will be discussing various aspects of a broader literary topic: Heroines / female characters / chicks in fic.

Nicky (genderless super ghost-whisperer): Nice and on-brand for you, given guest posts of yours that have shown up on the Luna Station Quarterly blog, a time or two.

M: One does try. So, here’s how the conversation will work: I share a quote from “Windows and Sol”, and we discuss a correlated question it raises. To open… well, how about these lines pulled from the book’s opening?

Solwen of Teastone Glass was not a radical girl. …There being little she found more distasteful than disharmony, Solwen was quite content to accept without complaint whatever path was laid before her. She considered herself fortunate, too, that this decision was thus far made easy on her, for neither her family nor the world required aught of her yet that she considered to be much of a trial. As the young daughter of passably well-off glass-sellers, her tasks consisted mainly of doing what she could to keep herself and the shop looking presentable, and staying out of unnecessary trouble – expectations both reasonable and pleasantly met.

M: Radical girls in Deshipley canon – go! Which of her female characters go looking for trouble, or go willfully across the grain?

Lar: For a start, what of you, lady outlaw? One doesn’t join up with Robin Hood’s band without planning to make a little trouble.

M: Lol, poor Allyn did. But as for the rest of us, you’re right – we were rebels, and we reveled in the role.

N: In my book, Brenna might count. An angry ghost whose motivation is to murder her murderer is pretty much the opposite of a well-behaved good girl.

Lar: And there’s my little sister, Lily, who ran from the reasonable idea of marriage to a normal human prince when there were dangerous forces of natures out there for the courting.

U: Yeah, that one went a bit cautionary-tale-shaped, by the end.

Luc: And why shouldn’t girls use their agency to bring about cautionary tales?

M: Agency is indeed the crux of the matter, master muse. A girl given the chance to choose can make a mess of things, or set a wrong aright, or twist any point of the plot in between. For someone like Lily, too reckless to count the cost ahead of time, or for the Brennas with no f*cks to give, acting radically is easy. And me, well, at least I had the Merry Men for a support system. Our Solwen, though, would have much preferred a ‘well-behaved good girl’ lifestyle, if only her bardic calling didn’t necessitate the contrary. While there’s no one right way to rebel, Solwen’s is certainly a way that her author, as an artist, can respect.

U: ‘Cause Almighty knows most artists won’t have society at large in their corner.

Luc: Not until society is willing to recognize the making of art as a ‘real job’, no.

M: All right, new quote and question!

“Merely a shame that you weren’t born a boy, that’s all. You’d have made a fine minstrel, otherwise.”

M: How many Deshipley girl characters can we think of who actually started out as boys in her early drafts?

U: You’re looking at one.

Luc: Ah, yes – a pre-publication reader noted that all of Jean and Annabelle’s characters in “Inspired” were male, so why not consider making at least one of them female? Danielle thought the point well made, and a quick bit of revision later, our gender-swapped angel was reborn.

Lar: Did the revision result in any big changes to your character, Uri?

U: Not a one. Putting an ‘s’ in front of my pronoun didn’t otherwise feminize me in any way – partly because I would’ve refused anyway, but also partly because Danielle thought it would have been all kinds of shady to imply that someone like me isn’t enough of a girl. Hell, go far enough down that slippery slope, and Danielle might not qualify as a girl either.

N: She did the same thing with Gravity Max in my book! Not because any pre-pub readers said anything, but just ‘cause she was looking at the twins – Max and Zero, y’know – and thought, why should the brother get the super strength power and first rank in team leadership, and the second-in-command flyer be the sister? And rather than switch ‘em around, she just made them both girls.

Lar: Wasn’t Demario in Thackeray Kyle’s crew also originally male?

N: Yeah, it was a boys club. So she tried making Demario a woman to mix it up, only to further realize that Demario identified as an AMAB transwoman. Goes to show, you never know what you’re going to get when you pass on the male default.

M: So it does. And, as usual, our discussion is running long!

Luc: Another two-parter, then?

M: Naturally. ^_^ We’ll continue next time exploring questions raised by the text of “Windows and Sol” – which, again, has released just today, so never let it be said that Danielle gave the world nothing to read while they await our club meeting’s second half. ;D Until then, readers of the blog, thanks for joining us! Feel free to add to the conversation in the comments! And farewell!

In Which I Battle Like a Bard

Once upon a time, I—

Will Scarlet: “Wait. What do you mean, ‘I’?”

Y’know. I. As in, ‘me, myself, and’.

Will: “But you opened this post with ‘once upon a time’. When you do that, you’re usually like, ‘an author did this or that, and stuff happened, and kingdoms rose and fell, yadda-yadda,’ before finally delivering the big reveal: ‘And that author – *solemn nods* – was me.’”

Allyn-a-Dale: “Wow, Will. Spoilers, much?”

Will Scarlet: “She does it EVERY TIME!”

Not this time! Because I am an unpredictable, plot-twisty wordsmaster, is why.

Now, again from the top: Once upon a time, I came across a Kickstarter / author call for an anthology titled “Sword and Sonnet”. The theme? Battle bards.

Sword and Sonnet

Allyn: “A promising premise indeed!”

Right? So I had me a little brainstorming session, and whipped up a short story featuring a noteworthy minstrel—

Will: “Ha! Noteworthy – like musical notes, right?”

Um, not intentionally. I just meant exceptional—

Allyn: “Like Father?”

No! Like Ballady Sol!

Will: “Cool! So, when does the antho come out?”

A while ago.

Will: “But… you didn’t hype the release at all…?”

Allyn: “Psst. Will. I don’t think her story was included in the book.”

To my disappointment, it was not. Not every excellent story will make every cut. I guess mine wasn’t what they were looking for.

Will: “Well, what the deuce were they looking for?!”

Search me. I haven’t yet read the “Sword and Sonnet” e-copy I received for backing the Kickstarter. Not because I’m bitter! – (*cough* at least, not entirely *cough*) – but because I am really bad about settling down to read non-paper books.

Allyn: “Alas for the world, deprived of your short fiction brilliance. However shall we carry on?”

Pretty sure you’re being at least 80% sarcastic, right now, but there is yet good news. Because you know how I roll, boys: When life hands me a ‘no’…

Will: “You make your own ‘yes’!”

When one publisher closes a door…

Allyn: “You open a window.”

10 segue points to House Gant. Behold the blurb and cover art for…

Windows and Sol: A Bard’s Beginning”!

Once upon a time, ‘wandering songster’ was no kind of career for a woman.

Now one minstrel-in-the-making is going to change Wilderhark’s tune.

From the author who introduced Wilderhark Tales’ Gant-o’-the-Lute and Outlaws of Avalon’s Allyn-a-Dale, a new voice rises into a brave ballad of its own: That of a girl with an ear for music and a heart determined to follow wherever it leads, no matter what forces of man – or of nature – stand against her.

“The Soul Shepherdess” – Young Solwen’s fateful encounter with a man o’ music and his sullen apprentice opens her eyes to the road she’s destined to take, along with the hardship that will be her traveling companion.

“In the Window” – Although Harper Rove-a-Day couldn’t feel less qualified to serve as minstrel master to his extraordinary trainee, he just may have what it takes to learn a lesson or two from /her/.

“The Names She Played” – To hear hidden music is not merely Solwen’s gift, but her only chance in a deadly game with one of the world’s oldest songs.

Tales of singing. Tales of striving. Most of all, tales of true love.

Windows and Sol, cover finished

Coming next week – and available for pre-order now!

Will: “Nice! So you’re re-releasing Balladry’s origin story from the Wilderhark Talettes and debuting the ‘battle bard’ short, all in one tidy package.”

Allyn: “E-book only, same as ‘Beyond Her Infinity’?”

Correct. ‘Tis more cost effective for me, that way. And since I’ve still got a picture book to fund…

Will: Hint, hint, blog readers! Any and all help would be most appreciated!”

…Wow, if I only had a dollar for every interruption in this blog post. Anyway, keeping costs down on my end means better bargains for the readers. Only 99 cents a copy, folks!

Allyn: “Best of luck wished to you and Balladry Sol on finding your rightful audience. They can be hard to reach, but they’re out there.”

And it is with that belief our author battles on.

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

(Will: “I KNEW IT!”)