Life Update: A Huge New Chapter!

Well, friends, it’s been a while since I posted here, and I do apologize for that. If you’re following me on any other social media platforms you’ll know the gist of what’s been going on, and if not, I hope this will catch you up on the deets.

On November 4th, 2017, Drew and I packed up a UHaul van with all of our earthly belongings and hitched his old car Betty to a tow dolly on the back, and we left Chicago. Drew had lived there seven years, and I had been there eleven years, but it was high time for a brand new adventure. So off we went, and two days later we arrived in Orlando, Florida. We moved into our new place, began to buy new furniture (we had none with us) and started to settle in to a brand new city where neither of us had ever lived before.

Drew is working at his old job still – they’re letting him work remotely from a different office of the company. I have been working on some audiobooks for award-winning author Candace J. Thomas and also been preparing for upcoming opportunities here. We’re both auditioning and chasing dreams, and treading water till the next thing happens.

As far as creative pursuits go, Drew and I have spent the last seven or eight months taking a break from Disney Odyssey. We intend to get back to it soon, since we have so many still in the bank from the last round of viewings. But we’ve been very busy with Warda, our real creative brainchild.

Warda is a little bit Game of Thrones, a little bit Downton Abbey, with a dash of Agatha Christie thrown in. It’s luxurious and glamourous on the surface with heartfelt conflict and sociopolitical commentary underneath. It’s been a THRILLING experience to share it with the world for the first time – in May we started doing live streams of a roleplaying game set in the world of Warda (using the FATE system rules) on the One Shot Podcast Network’s channel on Twitch. We stopped doing those live streams in October right before we moved (for obvious reason) BUT the second big thing that came out of this venture is the podcast! You can check it all out here or here, or on your chosen podcasting platform. Even if you don’t know anything about tabletop RPGs, it’s a fantastic story, with great performances by all of our players and Drew as our primary GM (I drop in occasionally myself). Give it a try!

Despite the fact that we moved at the beginning of the month, I made sure to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. This year’s theme and challenge I gave myself were unique: I wrote down short titles or phrases relating to Warda, one prompt for each day of November, and a few extra just in case. I challenged myself to respond to a new, randomly selected prompt every day, writing at LEAST the minimum of 1667 words (the projected daily minimum to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo). I told myself that I could write as much as I wanted, but I needed to have the minimum on each day’s prompt. This was an awesome plan! I gave myself weird and delightful and interesting prompts and I had FUN writing on each of them as the days trucked along. However, sometime in the middle of the month I found myself picking up each day with the previous day’s prompt, wanting to write more and ‘finish’ the scene, only to have the current day’s prompt yet to write. And sometimes I didn’t get to the current day’s prompt. But I didn’t count this against myself, since I was having fun and not censoring myself. I have several prompt yet to do, despite the month ending tonight (and despite the fact that I’ve passed 50k words!) so I intend to keep writing a bit every day and building those muscles up again to where they once were. I have, as you may know, been having some issues with ‘writer’s block’ and ‘impostor syndrome’ and other such hurdles, and I’m determined to shake it all off – FOR GOOD – and press on in my writing experiences and career. I’m looking forward to meeting some Orlando area writers soon – there appear to be several community groups I can join up with to meet fellow writers, take workshops, and support/be supported. I’ve never had a writing group or community before, not really, so I’m not sure what it will be like, but I’m happy to try it all out and meet some new friends!

The other magical thing that happened recently is small, talkative, and extremely cuddly. Yes, that’s right – we got a cat! Well, the cat got us. Found us. Whatever. On October 1st (with only a month left before we were supposed to move) we found a cat in Chicago. We took her inside for the night, then took her and had her microchip scanned the next day. We spent the next fourteen days frantically reaching out to the owners through the microchip company, but despite multiple voicemails and emails, they never contacted us or the chip company again. After ten days in Illinois, that’s animal abandonment, so we unexpectedly (but very, very happily) welcomed Queen Felicia to the family.

 

She hated the truck ride down to Florida but once we got here she was fine. She has filled our days with love, strange chirps, purrs, and nuzzles, and we love her more than we ever thought possible. She found us, and we’re so, so glad she did.

We are both missing our friends back in Chicago, but we’re eager for this new chapter to really settle into a rhythm. So many opportunities await, so many possibilities. We’re happy we made it here safely and we’re happy to get a chance at things we’ve always dreamed of.

Here’s to big leaps, and big dreams ahead!

~Aly

 

NaNoWriMo – A Chance to Grow Stronger

Every November, writers and would-be novelists all over the globe commit themselves to writing 50,000 words in just 30 days. While that sounds like an unrealistic goal at first, a little bit of math reveals that it comes down to a goal of 1,667 words per day – which is much more manageable for some. “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” people say to themselves, and in October they sign up for a free account on nanowrimo.org, joining the clamoring masses on the Forums there to plan their strategy and hype themselves up for what is surely a challenge.

The goal is 50k, so the idea is usually to write as much as possible every day in November, without self-censoring, self-editing, self-doubting, or self-restricting. Write, they say. Just write. Write everything you can. When the challenge is done, when the draft is complete, you can go back and edit later. There is even a spring or summertime venture of the same structure, which they call Camp NaNoWriMo, and where they let participants choose their own goals, instead of the ‘strict’ suggestion of 50k.

There are some who poo-poo this endeavor, insisting that it is no way to become a ‘real’ writer, no genuine training for novel-writing, no real benefit to be had from this system. There are some who criticize the strategy of writing for the word count rather than the content – and who are quick to point out that in the end, on December 1st, even if you made it to 50k words you do not have a complete novel in your hands – all you have is the first draft. There is so much more work to be done after that… something the NaNo advertising tends to gloss over. However, a first draft is more than some people ever achieve, so as far as I am concerned, and it isn’t so much about Magically Climbing Everest While On Your First Time Hiking as it is about Getting Out of Your Own Way and Getting Hype About A Fun Project.

It’s subjective, I guess.

I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo. I first heard of it during my freshman year of college, and I can’t remember how it came across my radar but I remember thinking it was a suicide mission. A no-win scenario. What kind of sadists are these, I thought. And then I got curious. Was it possible? Could it be fun? I knew the play I was in was going to open in November, which meant going through tech week and performances AND classes and trying to write a totally new novel from scratch. That sounded like insanity.

So I signed up.

I started writing something – as free-flowing and seat-of-the-pants as I could get, and explored what it was like to write with no idea what was going to happen or who my characters were. It wasn’t super productive, but it was kind of fun. I got discouraged quickly, though, as my classwork piled higher and my rehearsals got longer. I left the story by the wayside and ‘quit’ my very first NaNoWriMo after a week or two.

The next time I found myself in the trenches of NaNoWriMo was the fall of 2010, after I had graduated college, and I thought: Now! Now it is time to write again. I sketched out an idea from a dream I’d had and buckled myself in for the ride. It was a crazy amount of fun, and at the end I had a silly, time-traveling story about angels and fallen angels and artists through the ages. It might go somewhere someday, it might not, but it was so much fun to write that I didn’t care. NaNo was going to become a staple for me.

I wrote again in NaNo 2011, although this time it was not fiction that I poured my words into but non-fiction. I wrote down every memory, every story, every moment I could remember about my friend Meghan, who had passed away that July. I needed a way to remember everything I possibly could about her, and writing it all down seemed the best way to do it. I wrote 60,000 words in 17 days.

In 2012, I sat down during rehearsals and performances of a holiday panto I was doing with Piccolo Theatre in Evanston (not to mention my full-time job) to write my next NaNovel. It was a fantasy, set in exotic locations, with a handful of characters of varying genders, backgrounds, and sexual preferences, and it was a lot of fun to write. It was exciting, and a little sly, and set my imagination a-runnin’. I called it On The Isle of Sound and Wonder, and after some heavy rewrites and edits, it was published by Xchyler Publishing in November 2014.

In 2013 and 2014 I skipped NaNo on account of edits, rewrites, and a handful of failed new ideas along the way. In 2015, I skipped NaNo because I got married in November. Not to mention the crippling self doubt, ‘writer’s block’, and other fun things that were all up in my brain-stuff about writing The Next Thing…

HOWEVER. That being said, I am proud to announce that I got back on the horse again after this long hiatus. Despite a 5-day-a-week day job and weekends packed with two 14-hour days working and performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, I have just completed my first Camp NaNoWriMo in July 2016! I skated in at 51k words right at the tail end of everything, and I couldn’t have done it without Tegan, Sam, Randall, and Karaline – my new NaNo Power Squad.

Although the draft of my new story is nowhere near done, it is a heckuva good start and a brand new outlook on my life as a writer. I feel completely rejuvenated, and SUPER enraptured with the project I’ve begun. I will be talking more about it on my Patreon as it develops, and I can’t wait to keep working so I can bring this story to life to its fullest potential.

No, but really – I’m reeeeeeally excited about it.

this one’s got pirates in it.

How I Met My Publisher (And Other Writer Questions Answered)

Upon learning that I am a Published Author, fellow writerly types often ask How I Got Published. I’m happy to answer, and to save on even more time, I thought I’d trot this out as a link that can be referenced anytime the story is prompted.

“How did you get published?”

In 2012, I was up to my waist in short stories, ideas for short stories, and the never ending hunt for places to submit them. Twitter was my happy hunting ground, finding contest after contest, anthology after anthology, and calls for submissions left and right. I would bookmark things diligently, schedule things out for myself so I had deadlines and opportunities scrawled all across my calendar. Amid the small lake of rejection emails (or lack of communication altogether) I finally got a positive response – Xchyler Publishing’s steampunk-classic literature anthology wanted my short story!

“Lavenza, or The Modern Galatea” was published in Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology in April 2013. I was thrilled to finally have gotten something I wrote into a real live book that people could order and buy and read with their hands and faces. It was thrilling. A few weeks after the release of Mechanized Masterpieces, I got an email from the editors at Xchyler (whom we lovingly refer to as The X) – they had liked my work, and liked working with me. Did I have anything else ready to publish? A novel, perhaps?

Well, the truth is, I had three novel drafts that could potentially be worked on and prepared for publication, but of the three, there was one that stood out to me as being “more ready.” On the Isle of Sound and Wonder was a fantasy, kinda steampunk retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest that I had written only a few months before, as my National Novel Writing Month project in November. It was poised to be reworked into something cohesive and really fun. So I sent them a note back and pitched them a synopsis and an outline of OISW. They liked it – a lot – and the next thing I knew I had been sent a contract and off we went.

Of course, I had a good friend who worked professionally as an editor/contract person for a big house educational publisher look over my contract with me and make sure I wasn’t about to get taken for a ride. She assured me it looked like I was in good hands, and so I signed it and the game was on.

Hours and hours and weeks and months of work and editing and revising later, OISW came into the world, and I unlocked the achievement of Novelist. Like any debut novelist ought to be, I was/am aware that my book has flaws, but it will always be special because it is my first.

Now the secondary question that inevitably follows:

“What are you writing now?”

Or perhaps worse:

“When does the sequel come out?”

Or even:

“When can I buy the audiobook?”

Shudder.

The answers currently are as follows:

  1. Yes. Several things. Slowly… Verrrrrrrrryyyyyy ssssslllllloooowwwwwlllllyyyy.
  2. Never. OISW is a stand alone. I may revisit the world or feature some characters in short stories. But no sequel.
  3. Uh. I love doing audiobooks – and I love listening to them. I would love to have someone amazing do this audiobook. I would likewise love to do it myself. I don’t know which I’d love more. But also, I have zero time to dedicate towards recording and producing it, and I have zero money to spare towards hiring someone else to do so. So, as of right now, never. Or at least no time soon.

Other queries of the burningly curious public include:

“Do you have an agent?”

Nope. I would LOVE one. As soon as I have another manuscript ready to shop, I will be querying for an agent. But I’m 100% open to suggestions and introductions between now and then.

“Can you get me published, too?”

Nope. That would be awesome if I could. But I don’t have a publishing company, nor do I hold any real sway in The X – except for whether or not confetti cannons will be used at our next convention booth.

“Will you read this thing I wrote and provide detailed feedback?”

Mmmmmm. Again with the not-enough-time thing. I will usually politely tell you I am unable to read it because of time constraints and scheduling. Sometimes I will make an exception because I Really Really Really Want To Read That Thing You Wrote. But I’m not an editor, and I’ve never been a terribly structured Critique Partner… I’m probably not your best bet.

“Why isn’t your book in stock at Barnes & Noble?”

If you ask a bookseller to order it for you, they can and will. It will probably make them happy that you are asking for help with something, if you are super nice, and it will make me happy because you’re shopping in a real book store. Better yet, go to your favorite indie bookstore and ask them to order it. Most bookstores will not have it in stock automatically because our press is so small that we don’t have mass produced stuff yet. But you can always ask, and they can always try to order it for you. Otherwise, you can go to my Published Works page, and click on the book to buy it from Amazon. I get extra bonus money when you order it through clicking on my site! Amazing!

“Your first short story is based on Frankenstein. Your novel is based on The Tempest. Will you be adapting other classic literature for modern readers?”

Currently I have no plans to adapt anything else… but the lure is always there. I am really hoping to do something “completely original” soon. There are just so many options!


 

I am fully aware that my path to publishing is not the same as everyone else’s paths. And vice versa. Everyone seems to do things differently, and that’s okay. I’m happy to answer any other questions you might have, to the best of my ability. The other thing to remember is that just because I got published doesn’t mean I’m ‘done’ or I’ve ‘made it.’ I have so much further to go, and so much work to do! Also I just read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and now I’m a hollow shell of a human being that thought she was a writer…He’s too brilliant. I’ll never live up to that. 

At any rate, that’s pretty much it. And there’s a long way yet to go. 🙂

Slice of Pie: Danielle E. Shipley’s Wild and Sweet Fairy Tale Journey

For my next trick, I’ll pull a Danielle out of a hat! Or a Danielle-flavored piece of pie. Or a pie. Pie from a hat?

~A Slice of Pie!~

A tasty sample of something fresh cooked up by an artist of my choosing.

11954335451981724984johnny_automatic_slice_of_pie.svg.hi

Who are you?

The jury’s still out on that. Our best guess involves aliens and cybernetics, elemental magic and England, an alternate reality or two, and a few dozen people clamoring for control of a single mind. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll go with the name I use when trying to pass for human. Call me Danielle E. Shipley, wordsmith.

LE AUTHOR

Danielle E. Shipley

What’s your thing right now? That thing. You know. That thing over there. What is that?

Ah, this. I was just admiring the newly revealed cover of my next publication. I’ve been cranking out this series of fairytale mash-up novellas since mid-2013, and it’s all scheduled to come to a close this October with “The Story’s End (Book Seven of The Wilderhark Tales)”.

story

What do you love about this thing?

Well, for one thing, we’re talking about my book baby. That means I’m going to love it on principle, for it is the work of my hands – of my head – of my heart. Beyond that, the book belongs, in large part, to a minstrel. And a minstrel tale means music wafting through every page. Such stories as these delight me.

What do you hate about this thing?

It’s sad, dang it. And I mean, part of me likes sad. “Sad is happy for deep people,” I’ve heard it said. But good pain is pain nonetheless, and I’m not quite so far gone ‘round the bend that pain is my favorite. It’s also aggravating that I’ve still got several weeks to go before I can share my beautiful agony with the public!

When/how/where can people read the thing?

The official launch date is October 13th, 2015, though chances are people will be able to get their orders in at least a few days early. It will be available in both paperback (via Amazon and CreateSpace) and e-book (Kindle and Nook). And there’s going to be a multi-day online extravaganza party for the book’s release and the series’ farewell, to which absolutely everyone with a Facebook account is invited.

What thing would you do if you had all the money and time in the world right now?

I’m going to Disney World! I’m going to Broadway! I’m sailing the seas on my own pirate ship! I’m building a castle in Sherwood Forest, complete with a private library full of all-ll-ll the books! And I had better save that stop for last, since I’m probably never stepping foot outside that door again. Unless a wizard drops by with an invitation to adventure. Then I might. (Which reminds me, I also need to visit Hobbiton, New Zealand…)

What’s your new favorite thing that someone else has done/made?

My current aural obsession is the soundtrack from Dreamworks’ “The Road to El Dorado”. I’ve been playing the songs into the ground for months, and I’ve yet to get sick of it. So, congrats, Sir Elton John!

ALSO! One Megan Ann Jacobs (we were once Town Criers together at the Bristol Renaissance Faire) has written, directed, and is soon to present an original play! To quote the info on the invite I received:
Alone in a New York apartment, the god of comedy is melancholy, and he wants everyone to know it.

Though bound to find a new person to inspire and complete an unfinished story, Sebastian, the last remaining Greek Muse, mourns the passing of his latest instrument and friend, amusing himself by successfully spooking, pranking, and sabotaging every opportunity for a potential replacement.

Until Nikki.

Driven by her own personal demons, Nikki stubbornly battles with Sebastian for mastery of the apartment. Though fully engulfed in their feud, things get all the more complicated when the two are plagued by an over-involved landlord, a well-intentioned fiancé, and a dramatic Sebastian-orchestrated duel between the two that results in good old-fashioned police intervention. “aMUSEd” captures and explores our tendency to honor the dead by refusing to live, and leads us, through the ancient art of comedy, to live with the past and move forward.

I had the privilege of reading an early draft of the play, which was a delight  – doubly delightful, in fact, because Megan tells me the first spark of inspiration for “aMUSEd” was my very own novel (serendipitously titled “Inspired”). The play’s scheduled to show at Brumder Mansion in Milwaukee, September 25th – October 17th. You can bet I plan to be there!

Possibly the most important question… If your thing was a pie, what kind of pie would it be?

It can only be blueberry. Plenty of tartness amidst the sweet. The deep, dark blue of the sky in the night. And bleeding its juices all over the place, much like the mess it made of my heart.

YE OLDE REN FAIRE PHOTOBOMB of Danielle by me

YE OLDE REN FAIRE PHOTOBOMB (of Danielle, by me)

Danielle is one of the most pleasantly off-beat people I’ve ever met – and we met at the ren faire, so that says a lot. Her tales are fun and lavish and her words are always chosen with mischief, love, and delight. She plays the lute because she’s a hardcore bard, and she rocks out new fairy tales like it’s her job. Which it is. Check her out at Ever On Word and her Facebook author page for more sweet stuff!

Okay. So I leapt. Now what?

My name is Aly Grauer, and two days ago, I quit my day job.

Gosh, that sounds crazy. Completely insane. In fact, I’m sitting here at my desk at home, on a very uncomfortable stool-chair (my apartment is too small for a decent desk chair) listening to the clock tick and my stomach rumble. I’m thinking about how I’m going to cover bills when my small savings cushion runs out. I’m wondering how I can get more people to buy my book. I’m worried about my parents. My dad is finally coming home from the hospital today and my mom has surgery scheduled on Monday. I’m thinking about my brother and his wife and their baby, and how amazing and strange and miraculous life is, even with all the twists and turns and sudden drops and stops. I’m wondering how many people will think it’s selfish of me to quit my job at a time like this. At any time. I’m wondering how many people will say, “I mean, I know you published a novel, but you’re not exactly Stephen King, so why did you quit your day job?” My heart is pounding as I think about having to go to rehearsal tonight, have previews for my show this weekend, and film another episode of Space Happens on Saturday. There’s just so much going on.

That’s when it hit me: There is just so much going on… and a lot of it is art.

People say, if you love the thing, do the thing. Do it with all your heart, do it because you love it, make your life about what you love to do. It’s hard for artists to do that in a way that doesn’t look completely selfish – because it is inherently selfish. We are artists because we want to create art, and we want people to know about it and appreciate it and love it. So to stop going to one’s day job in order to Make More Art is a huge decision. A huge risk, and a huge potential for reward.

Recently, someone whom I love very much took my hands, looked me in the eye, and said “Aly, you need to write full time. You need this. You need to learn, and grow, and write as much as you can, and make this happen for yourself. You’ve already written a novel, and people like it. It’s good. You’re off to a great start. You know deep down that you’re capable of more greatness… so do it. Drop what you’re stressing about and just do it. I’m here to catch you if you stumble, and I’m here to make sure you don’t sabotage yourself. I’m here. Just do it.”

It stunned me. I’ve always wanted to be a full-time writer. But it isn’t exactly something you can just become out of nowhere – there is a ton of work, study, experience, and change involved in that particular metamorphosis as literally anyone who writes full-time (or mostly full-time) can tell you. I had no idea that it could be something I could at least try; I thought I had to wait until I had three books out, a literary agent, a husband, preferably one with steady income, etc etc etc. I thought there were other hoops I had to jump through to get there.

Maybe that’s true. But I know that when I started telling people I wanted to try this on for size, no one said: “Why?” No one said: “But you don’t have enough experience.” No one said: “You aren’t good enough for that.” No one said: “But how will you live?”

Every single person I told said: “That’s fantastic! You have my support. Let me know how I can help.”

I recently read internet queen and permanent hot topic buzzword Amanda Palmer’s book, “The Art of Asking.” It’s part memoir, part meditation, part philosophy, and it’s very moving and incredibly fascinating. I knew a lot of the material already, having been an avid Twitter follower of Amanda’s for several years running, but the depth to which she allows the reader to peer into her memory and her soul and watch her life tangle, untangle, crystalize, and erupt is pretty astonishing. I felt myself living certain stories of hers with similarities to my own experiences as a performer and as a longing, yearning writer.

When I graduated from college, I told myself: “All right. You used to write stories all the time. You have a novel draft that needs revising. How’s about you learn to write short stories, and find an anthology to get published in?” So I spent a year or two reading anthologies, researching contests and publications, and studying social media for clues as to how exactly I could climb the beanstalk into the Realm of Real Authors. I had some considerable rejections on short stories (which deserved those rejections) and learned to do better, each and every time I wrote or revised something. I thrived on finding things to submit to, on following new authors on Twitter with similar genres and interests to me, on watching how the internet has bloomed into an incredible grocery store produce section of authors ripe for publication, agents ripe for querying, and ideas ripe for writing. (Seriously, Twitter. TWITTER, you guys.)

When I finally got a short story published, I said to myself: “Great! This is great! Now we can begin to learn about working with editors. And revision. And marketing. And we can revise a novel and start prepping that to query.” It didn’t occur to me that a month after that anthology was released, the publishers would come to me and say, “Hey, do you have any novels ready to publish?” I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was way too soon… but I said yes, and in November 2014 they released my first novel, “On The Isle of Sound and Wonder.”

Writing has been the one thing that consistently I have created for myself and of myself. I have been actively writing a long time, and the last three years have shown how quickly I can achieve the goals I set reasonably for myself. So now it’s time for some new goals. Big, serious, specific goals.

I want to write my next novel. I want to revise it. I want to polish it. I want to query it, and find representation with an awesome literary agent. I want to grow and learn and hone my skills and take all of this to the Next Level.

I’m leaping. And I have faith that there’s a net in case I fall.

-Aly