“Prompted” or “Line Crossing”

I once read a friend’s blog post  in which she shared a prompt from A Year of Writing Dangerously” by Barbara Abercrombie: “What is your own metaphor for fear of writing that first line?”

Duly “moved to act; spurred; incited”/”inspired”, I wrote this (which took me forever to share here with you, but hey, it’s every bit as relevant now in the throes of NaNoWriMo as it was many moons ago).

<<<>>>

It’s not that first line that’s so hard. It’s the second.

~

A first line can go anywhere;

It’s the step that brings you to the crossroads, all paths spread out before you.

The second step is the commitment.

It’s the choosing; the saying, “This is the road I’ll follow, to whatever end.”

“The End” is the easiest line to write, and the hardest line to get to;

So many lines lie between the opening and close.

~

It’s the second line that requires determination; the third line, even more than that…

The starting is easy. Anyone can start a thing (though not all will),

But seeing it through? Continuing on? Walking step by step, writing line by line, no stopping, no excuses ‘til journey’s completion?

Far easier to amass a collection of beginnings, no endings in sight.

So much simpler to pen a quote than a novel.

A blank page intimidates less than the opening phrase followed by, “Now what?”

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and… and… shoot, give me a minute.” – Robert Frost, sort of
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and… and… shoot, give me a minute.” – Robert Frost, sort of

Now come the missteps. Now come the stumbles. Now the erased graphite and scratched-out scribbles of the pen.

Now we see the marks of our mistakes, and now we fear.

Now we know how little we know.

Now we wonder how much we have to give, and how much of this we can take.

It takes a lot to mar a pristine page beyond the words of which of you’re sure,

To creep and crawl, and trip and fall, and double back until you find your way.

~

To cross the starting line is easy.

Now for the finish line.

<<<>>>

Feeling prompted, anyone? I invite you to share your response!

“Inspired” or “The Story Behind the Cover”

You’ve read the blog posts.

You’ve seen the novellas.

Now at long last, it’s time to show you what a full-length Danielle E. Shipley novel looks like.

I give you… INSPIRED!

Inspired_Cover_Draft_Final_web

Back of the Book:

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.

* * * * *

How in the world to condense all that awesome story into a single thousand words’-worth of picture on the front of the book? It was by no means easy, I can tell you that!

I knew from the start what I wanted. The tricky part was working within the parameters of reality (which is not my strong suit, hence my career in imagination). Out of a finite supply of stock images, J. Taylor Publishing and I had to search out the ones that best represented the novel’s heaviest hitters, Annabelle and Luc. She was not so terribly difficult to deal with. He, on the other hand… well, I don’t have to tell the artists in the audience what it’s like trying to get any cooperation out of a muse.

After much stress, toil, stress, compromise, and, just for giggles, a little more stress (whose bright idea was it to make me the spokesperson for the demands of persnickety characters?!), we arrived at a cover that was author-, publisher-, and muse-approved.

Idowanna wait ‘til March 17th, 2014 to get this book in your hands! There are so many amazing fictional people for you to meet! So much adventure and drama and whimsy to share!

Gah! Somebody distract me. Talk to me: What do you guys think of the cover and blurb? Anybody out there inspired to give this novel a read, once it releases? ^^

P.S. – You can totally add “Inspired” to your Goodreads shelf, if you wanna. (:

“BBF Post, Day 3” or “On Reading and Writing with Aisazia!”

July BBF button copy

It’s Day Three of the Blogger Book Fair! And since I’m not scheduled to host any authors today, I thought I’d spend today’s post directing your attention to Aisazia (or Aisa, for short), a blogger who was kind enough to not only read and review my fairytale novella, but to offer me a chance to write a guest post for her blog, OriginiquEquanimity.

So, to read about how much Aisa likes “The Swan Prince (Book One of The Wilderhark Tales)” – which, I’m pleased to report, is rather a lot ^.^ – click here!

And to read my gastronomic metaphor for reading and writing – which is kind of ironic, given how often I forget to eat while deep inside of Storyland – click here!

Thanks for the time and double web space, Aisa! And any/everyone, leave a comment below for entry into my Blogger Book Fair Raffle! One lucky-duck winner will receive a free paperback copy ofThe Swan Prince (Book One of The Wilderhark Tales)”, a set of “Swan Prince” bookmarks, AND the bookmark set for the upcoming Book Two of The Wilderhark Tales, “The Stone Kingdom”! Only two days left to enter! Winner announced: Friday, July 26th!

AND, ALSO, ADDITIONALLY, PLUS: Sheri of the Shut Up & Read blog is hosting the Blogger Book Fair Reader’s Choice Awards, in which “The Swan Prince” is entered in the Fantasy/Young Adult category! To win in my category, I NEED YOUR VOTES! When last I checked, I had a pretty decent lead, but my competitors could turn it around if we give them the chance, so… let’s not! Winning would mean an invaluable promotional opportunity for my book, so please, I ask you – all and individually – on my knees, with whipped cream and cherries or whatever tasty thing makes you happy: Go here and cast your vote for “The Swan Prince. (You’ll find it under “Fantasy-Young Adult (3)”!)

Let me know you did so, and I’ll throw in another 5 raffle entries for you. And if your votes end up carrying me to victory… I’m doubling my BBF raffle prize! Two names drawn, two paperbacks, two sets of “Swan Prince” and “Stone Kingdom” bookmarks! (And yes, the rules totally allow shameless campaigning for support, so I will not be above begging for the entirety of BBF week, nor will I cry foul if any of you wish to campaign on my behalf. On the contrary, I may go teary-eyed with appreciation.)

That’s all for today, kids. Come back here tomorrow for more Blogger Book Fair fun!

“Courtesy” or “Can You Write with All the Colors of the Wind?”

I took a break from the joys of book formatting* to maximize on the inspiration that smacked me in the face in the middle of that chore.

(* Not being fully sarcastic, here. I do rather enjoy arranging my words so they look as pretty as I can make ‘em. …Though I admit it’s a bit tiresome having to go through the same novella a dozen times in a week…)

There’s no shortage of opinions among writers, readers, and other pertinent people in the biz about what professional writing ought to look like. You’ll hear a lot of rules, regulations, and guidelines about stuff like italics, bold print, underlines, ALL CAPS, exclamation points!!!… the list goes on.

In my personal opinion, I think a writer ought to be able to use whatever typographic tools they wish to get their story across – and that goes for poor, maligned adverbs, too. An over-reliance on any of the features mentioned above can grow wearying on the eye and serve as a crutch for a feeble narrative, but used with thoughtfulness and intent, I call them all valid. To say you’re not allowed to ever use them is like telling a painter she can’t ever use a certain shade of yellow. And I’m not even particularly fond of yellow, but I believe it has its place.

Like I said, that’s my opinion. But I am well aware that others will feel differently. A page swimming in exclamation points may be as much of a turnoff for Reader X as conspicuously overused words or a lack of half-decent punctuation are to me.

(While we’re on the subject, it’s: “Whatever he said,” he said.

Not: “Whatever he said.” He said.

If you’ve made a habit of the latter, break it. Please. I can’t stand it.)

In the process of line-editing, I may come across a phrase that I’m perfectly okay with, but which I think might be likely to offend a reader’s sensibilities. In such cases, I’ll try to think of ways that I can modify it to be more widely acceptable.

Yeah, I know my rights. “The Swan Prince” is my book, to be self-published my way, and the number-one person I want to please with it is me.

That said, publishing a book isn’t just about throwing my authorial weight around with an “It’s my art! Take it or leave it!” attitude. It’s for the readers, too.

The School House Rock song never mentioned such rampant hate in the writer community.
The School House Rock song never mentioned such rampant hate in the writer community.

And in order to increase the chances that readers will like my story, I choose to extend them the “polite gesture or remark” of making the book as non-annoying for them as I feel I can. And if that means toning down the italics, all caps, and exclamations points a bit, I can live with that. Yes, that goes for adverbs, too.

(Don’t be sad, adverbs. I like you more than yellow.)

So yeah, those were the thoughts that hit me in the midst of proofreading. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

Also, if you’d like to get the jump on reviewing “The Swan Prince” before its May 31st release and/or post an author interview with me on your blog, mention that in the comments, too – or message me via my new website contact page. (:

“Backup” or “How Paranoia Saved My Life”

Once upon a time, an author lived in fear that her home would blow up the moment she drove down the street.

Well, maybe not that very moment. And maybe it wouldn’t so much explode as just, y’know, burn to the ground. In any case, it wasn’t so much the thought of losing her home and possessions that bothered her. Their destruction would be a grand nuisance, of course, but material things could be replaced (or stored safe in a fireproof box by her bed). What could not be replaced, however, were the many years’ worth of stories filed away on her laptop computer. If she lost her creative work, it would be gone forever.

Burning Computer

Terrified at the prospect, she made a careful habit of keeping a frequently updated “copy of a program or file that is stored separately from the original” on her USB flash drive, and was in fact in the very the process of trying to upload the latest edits of her upcoming novel when – without any warning other than its increasingly uncooperative moods, of late – the author’s laptop froze up, shut down, and has refused to reawaken ever since.

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

I shudder to imagine where I would be now if I didn’t have those backup files. I’ve wept hard enough for documents lost in the past that had nothing more than sentimental value. That’s got nothing on nowadays where, by some cruel twist of fate, I, a favorite target of the malevolent virtual force known by a select few of its enemies as the Technology Fiend, have my heart, soul, and potential livelihood bound up in cyber-whatsits. (Yes. Cyber-whatsits. That is how much I know about technology.)

Y’know what? Let’s not even depress ourselves by entertaining the dark fantasy of what might have been and, instead, celebrate our blessings.

The Wilderhark Tales” documents? Safe.

That day’s edits on Inspired”? Essentially dead; the computer-savvy people for hire weren’t able to recover a thing from the hard drive, and saw no way of its ever happening, unless I’m willing to pay through the nose for it (which, until I become a billionaire, I’m not). In any event, I had my weeks of progress up ‘til then saved, and was able to more or less recreate what I’d lost, thanks to my handwritten notes. (It pays to have hard copies of important stuff, too.)

The lion’s share of my novel drafts crafted over the last several years? Mostly safe, I think. I don’t yet have the heart to check my flash drive file by file and see which documents aren’t perfectly up to date. Whatever I’ve got, it’s leagues better than nothing.

I’ve no doubt that there’s plenty of not-as-vital stuff missing. Perhaps I should have, but I didn’t keep a copy of absolutely everything, and copies of some things didn’t get updated to the USB nearly often enough to be considered current. You ever hear the phrase “Only the paranoid survive”? Well, right now we’re dealing with a case of “Only the things I was especially paranoid about survived”.

So, the moral of the story?

If the file matters to you, KEEP A BACKUP! Do the USB thing, or put it on a disc, or e-mail copies to yourself – whatever works for you, I don’t care, I’m just begging you, as your internet pal who gives a darn about your soul: Do not let yourself live my dark fantasy.

This concludes my public service announcement / cautionary tale / show of gratitude to the Lord above for guarding me from a shattered heart (as opposed to a heart just kind of grieving a little bit for she’s not even sure how much).

If anyone needs to lament about a time the Technology Fiend did them ill, consider the comments section a shoulder to cry on.

“Overbooked” or “Learning to Live the Dream”

It may mean “to [have taken] reservations beyond the capacity for accommodation”, but when I hear the word “book”, my mind goes in a reading/writing direction.

For instance, it might make a good term for a writer who’s suddenly got so many awesome things happening on the publication side of things, she sometimes worries she doesn’t have the time to write anything new.

Anyone been there? ‘Cause I’m there right now.

I’m also talking about it over in the web space of writer/blogger Michelle Proulx, who put out a call for guest posts over the weekend which I was only too happy to answer.

For my full five-minute reflection on life as I currently know it, hit up the link. And if it sounds like a phase you’ve been through, feel free to leave your pearls of wisdom in the comments, hers and/or mine. (:

Of course, too much of a good thing isn’t always so terrible. (Pic poem by Arnold Lobel: Books to the ceiling, books to the sky, My piles of books are a mile high. How I love them! How I need them! I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.)
Of course, too much of a good thing isn’t always so terrible.
(Pic poem by Arnold Lobel:
Books to the ceiling, books to the sky,
My piles of books are a mile high.
How I love them!
How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.)

 

“Overused” or “‘That’s My Name,’ said the word. ‘Don’t Wear it Out.’”

As part of the groundwork for their publication of the upcoming “One More Day” anthology and my debut novel “Inspired”, J. Taylor Publishing sent me a manuscript preparation guide – i.e., a checklist to help me line-edit my story to their tiptop satisfaction. One of my first tasks is to eliminate any overused words from the text.

Being a reader/writer who is swiftly annoyed by seeing the same words “used to excess” within a short space of time, I can appreciate the value of this editing step, though gosh knows it can be a challenge. I mean, just look at the list of words and phrases I’ve been instructed to look out for:

– again and again    – as it were    – at present

– at the same time    – basically    – completely   – could

– currently    – despite the fact that    – due to the fact that

– essentially    – etcetera    – extremely    – feel/feeling/felt

– furthermore    – had/have    – hear/heard    – in any way, shape, or form

– in order to    – in fact    – it is imperative that    – it is important that

– just    – knew/know    – look/looked    – maybe    – moreover

– over and over    – presently    – quite    – really    – see/saw

– simply    – smell/taste    – so on and so forth    – that    – then

– therefore    – totally    – very    – was/were    – watch/notice/observe

With my anthological tale, I was able to check off some of these words straight away, because they hadn’t made an appearance in this particular short story. However, had the story stretched into a novel, or been told with a different narrative voice, who knows? I may well have employed every item on the list many times over… rather like I did with “Inspired”. (It’s actually shocking how many scores of “have”s and “know”s you can cut out, and still be left with a hundred more!)

There’s a reason these words made the list in the first place: People use them. A lot. And while frequent use doesn’t make a word bad in and of itself, it can be a sign that your writing isn’t getting all the creativity it’s due.

But… b-but…” you may stammer, lip trembling, “every word in my story is there for a reason! I can’t just cut it!

I know that feeling. And in some cases, it may be true; that word, whatever it is, could well be the only one that will perfectly suffice in that instance. Far more often, though, any given word can be replaced. Phrases can be rearranged, the thesaurus can be mined for a lustier synonym, some sentences can be deleted altogether.

It’s the job of the self-editing writer to decide a word’s worth on a case by case basis. If the heavily repeated word is easily interchangeable, make the change. If it doesn’t add anything to the sentence except extra syllables (and you don’t have some sort of rhythmic, poetic reason for leaving it in), remove it. If, after much thought and experimentation, there is simply no way to touch that word without damaging the integrity of the story, leave it.

Yes, I said “leave it”. It’s okay to use a word when it’s needed. That’s what words are for. It’s just a matter of intention. Maybe you chose that word with care for artistic reasons; maybe it’s a part of the story’s symbolism. Maybe you’ve got a character with habitual word choices; that’s fine, that’s just part of who they are, and could actually be a handy way of telling one voice from another at a glance. Decide for yourself why the word is there. Keep your mind open for words that might better say what you mean, or that do little to affect their own sentences, but which improve the story as a whole.

Thus shall I tell myself as I return to tackle my little mountain of remaining line edits. Back into the fray!

Tell me, readers: What words do you think get major overuse in the writing you see? How about words that you don’t think get enough love?

* For the sake of illustration, I’ve colored all the listed words used in this blog post in purple, a metaphor for things that make me happy (like words, and blue!) and things that make me tense if I see too much of it (lookin’ at you, red).

...Which some might view as a commentary on so-called “purple prose”, but I’m not going there, today.
…Which some might view as a commentary on so-called “purple prose”, but I’m not going there, today.

“Beautiful” or “What Does Your Character’s Face Say About You, Them, and the World’s Eyesight?”

Prompted, in part, by this blog post I read, today I reflect upon beautiful characters.

Sometimes I look at the collection of people I’ve created and pal around with, and I wonder: Do I write an inordinate number of characters “having qualities that delight the senses, especially the sense of sight”? Are their looks a blatant reflection of what I wish my mind’s eye to shamelessly gaze upon?

To some extent, yeah, probably. But there’s more to the story than that.

Take my tailor / life coach, Edgwyn. I happen to find him unfairly attractive, but I recognize that he may not be everybody’s type. That said, a lot of ladies in his world are attracted to him, too. Part of that is due to his being reasonably handsome – facial symmetry, glow of good health, good hair, that sort of thing.

But what really gets the gals’ attention (and mine) is his smile – twinkly-eyed, friendly, full of genuine warmth and love. It’s a smile that says, “I like you. You’re important to me. I wish you every good thing in the world.” People are drawn to that. That smile is an outward manifestation of his heart. Can I help it if his inner beauty makes his outside all the more beautiful to me? Particularly when he looks an exhausted mess after doing philanthropic things way past his bedtime. (:

The smile, as close as I can sketch it.
The smile, as close as I can sketch it.

Meanwhile, in a magical Renaissance Faire, you’ve got one of my most physically beautiful characters… no, Will, I’m not talking about you. I’m referring to Allyn-a-Dale. Oddly enough, I didn’t intend to make him extraordinarily good-looking, and didn’t even notice that I had until a couple months after I’d written his first book. How’d that happen?? Well, I blame his childhood.

Allyn wasn’t raised around mirrors. The only face he saw regularly was that of his father, a.k.a. the supreme and unattainable standard for everything. Father’s face was beautiful. Every other face was therefore lesser. Allyn barely knew what he looked like, and he didn’t care. And that attitude subliminally influenced his author’s early perception of him.

Don’t worry, I caught on eventually.
Don’t worry, I caught on eventually.

So, what can we learn from all this? One might think the moral of the story is that characters’ looks don’t matter, since what the character, their fellow characters, and we on the other side of the page will see may not have much to do with their actual faces. Sure, I can concede some partial truth, there.

On the other hand, that very disconnect between what’s really there and what we see can be used to the writer’s advantage. You think I knew the psychology behind the Allyn example all along? Nope! I had to figure it out once I realized, “Hey, wait a minute… he’s gorgeous! How did he and I miss this??” The puzzle of his invisibly beautiful face forced me to root around in his mind and uncover just how badly life had messed him up. And that made really good material for his second book.

And Edgwyn’s just a shining example of what we should all aspire to be, but he doesn’t like it when I talk him up, that way, so we’ll cut this paragraph short.

At the end of the day – or at the beginning of this blog post – when I’m looking around at all my characters, the conclusion I reach is that, yeah, I’ve written some beautiful people. I’ve also written some more mediocre-looking people that still get a good share of my shameless gazing. Why? Because I love them, of course. And what you love is always beautiful, in your eyes.

“To-Do” or “*Want* To Do”

Life being, y’know, life, there is always something that needs doing somewhere, and some of those things just have to be done by you. This has given rise to what many of us call the To-Do List – “a list of tasks that need to be completed, typically organized in order of priority” (thanks for filling in my dictionary’s gap, oxforddictionaries.com). These lists will vary from person to person, and from day to day. For the sake of illustration, my list of things I ought to get done on Random Example Day could include:

– Write blog posts

– Eat breakfast before 2pm

– Retrieve laundry from basement (and perhaps actually fold and put it away in a timely manner, for a change)

– Hit the treadmill for at least ten minutes (brisk walking acceptable, but jogging/running ideal; stretch before and after to avoid injury)

– Complete some edits on an old novella

These are things I may or may not particularly feel like doing, but will hopefully have discipline enough to make myself do anyway without a great deal of to-do in the “commotion or stir” sense.

What do I feel like doing? Well, that’s another list entirely – the Want To Do List, if you will. I would love to…

– Hit upon a thrilling new novel idea and run with it for tens of hundreds of words

– Play songs at my piano, with as much volume and abandon as I please

– Just drop everything and read a book, guilt-free

– Gab on the phone with my best friend for hours on end

– Tell you all about the totally awesome wonderful super-exciting news I hinted at in my last post (I still don’t get to do that, yet. Soon, soon, soon!)

And those are just my somewhat realistic wishes, never mind my fanciful desires to fly like Peter Pan or teleport to Disney World or suddenly discover that I’ve morphed into one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men.

Now, there can be some best-of-both-worlds overlap, here. There are hours enough in the day that I could feasibly get everything done that I need to AND play the piano, do some reading, and maybe even chat a while with my friend, if her own To-Do List allows her the time.

As it happens, novel-writing is a lot like this.

There are things that really ought to happen within your book if you want it to be any good. It would do well to have:

– A beginning, a middle, and an end

– Characters with their own personalities, motivations, and all that other good stuff that makes them come across as people rather than just words on a page or girls who beat up on bison

– Action of one kind or another (because a novel is a heck of a long time to watch paint dry. …unless there’s a lot more drama going on with that paint that I’m imagining, right now. Convince me)

– Something that makes the readers feel something (gladness, sadness, indignation, surprise, horror, relief, whatever – just get them emotionally invested, and you’re winning!)

These are some of the basic marks that we writers aim to hit, no matter the overall plot, the genre, the target audience. Then there’s the stuff that we just feel like throwing in there somewhere because, come on, wouldn’t it be cool? Random things like:

What about some chick in chainmail attempting a Spider-Man pose? Think we can work that in, at some point?
What about some chick in chainmail attempting a Spider-Man pose? Think we can work that in, at some point?

– Dragons whose singing brings the sun up in the morning

– Swashbuckling with swords forged in Death’s own blood

– Somebody named [insert the coolest name you ever thought of here]

– A sweet romance between the royal heroine and the guy who tests her food for poison

– That one inside joke that no one will get except for you and your friend, but that’s okay because you don’t need that context for it to make sense within the plot

It is fully possible to combine these two lists into one fantastic story. So long as we writers get done what we need to, we can build whatever we want around it – even the crazy stuff like Peter Pan flight, teleportation to Disney World, and waking up as Allyn-a-Dale.

Fiction is flexible like that. Life can be, too, in its own realty-bound way. Thank goodness for that, or I’d have to feel really terrible about how one thing or another on my To-Do Lists so often get put off until another day.

“HYSRT!” or “When Good Stories Go Bad…”

Grumpy Cat Characters

…It could be because you’ve got a stranglehold on your characters and aren’t letting them do their thing. (I don’t think that’s the problem I’ve got with the project giving me grief, lately, but who knows? I’ll give it some soul-o’-the-story-searching thought.)

In her blog post “Learn From My Fail: Character Edition”, the oft-mentioned-around-here Rachel Aaron shares her own experience with a power struggle between her and her characters that may hit close to home with other writers, out there. And if this particularly brand of writer’s blockage hasn’t affected you yet, then, Hey, You Should Read This to help ensure it never does! The writing process goes so much more smoothly when the author and her creations are working in harmony. (:

* * *

In semi-related news (since this post’s subtitle does mention good stories), as of a few days ago, I’ve started an account on Goodreads. No, I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing over there, any more than I did when I joined Facebook or started a blog, although I did spend a fun afternoon giving stars to books I’ve liked and/or loved over the years. If any of you readers have likewise jumped on the Goodreads train and want to add me as a friend, you’ll find me under my ingeniously deceptive alias, Danielle Shipley, perchance with a middle initial E.

demotivational-posters-its-so-overt-sherlock