Way, way back in my past, I used to write a regular column for Allegory Magazine. It was called The Writer’s Toolbox. It consisted of short, helpful articles on ways to improve your writing. Eventually, it branched out into promotional or publishing topics as well.
The column ended as other responsibilities took over, but the articles were eventually collected into my writers’ guide The Literary Handyman, a fun nod to the Writer’s Toolbox, even though the articles drew from multiple sources. From the Handyman is a brand-new column in the same vein as The Writer’s Toolbox, providing literary, publishing, and promotional insight.
by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
I can’t really say when I became a writer. I can tell you it started with reading. Voraciously. I remember the feeling of never wanting my favorite books to end. I remember telling myself bedtime stories in my head, continuing the story with myself inserted into the plot.
I will never understand how I was ever able to fall asleep. Talk about counterproductive…waking my brain up when I should be sleeping. Anyway, I survived my wild and crazy childhood 😉 and somewhere along the way I began to tell my own tales.
Then I grew up and went to college, and by the time I got the hang of adulting and finished my degree, it was several months after I graduated and finally managed to get a job that I realized I had stopped writing.
I tried getting a friend to give me writing prompts. Big mistake.
That is when I discovered, having just joined AOL, that there was a site there just for writers. The Amazing Instant Novelist. What? Never heard of it? I am not surprised…this was a LONG time ago and the site, as far as I know, is long gone. It was there when I needed it, though. I dare say that if it wasn’t for The Amazing Instant Novelist I would not be an author today. Eventually, I volunteered for the site and began my first novel there. What drew me in to begin with, though, was their weekly themed contests. For one, you had to write a story in 250 words or less; the other you were given all of 1500 words.
I lived for those contests.
Each week, I would wait to find out what those themes would be and then I would come up with the most unexpected way of meeting that theme. You see, a lot of people entered, and the prize was to have your internet service free for that month. (Yes, that is how far back this goes…AOL wasn’t free and I was on dial-up!) I was determined to stand out from the sometimes hundreds of entries, knowing that the majority of writers would take the same approach to that week’s theme.
I know…a long build up to get to the point. But there is a point. Those contests not only gave me confidence that I could write things people wanted to read, but they also set my mindset when it comes to writing. There are no new stories, just new approaches. I have striven to defy expectations in my writing ever since.
My novels, The Halfling’s Court and The Redcaps’ Queen, are prominent examples of that. A decade or so I ago edited the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies. Those books blazed the trail when it came to taking the fairy back to it dark and dangerous roots. See, the Great Mouse had soft-pedaled the fae so thoroughly that most people had forgotten they had ever been anything else but bright and cheery and pleasantly magical. Far cry from the fae of lore. Mischievous at best, murderous at worst, malevolently indifferent or dangerously mercurial. To aid us in our campaign to de-disnify the fae, authors were given one guideline, they had to take a faerie (generic, of their own creation, or one from lore) and pair it with something people automatically thought of as bad-ass. Having had the awestruck pleasure of witnessing a biker stampede only months before we formulated the series, I claimed bikers for my very own. I have been having fun defying expectations ever since.
Three of the four anthologies finaled for awards, two of them won the prize. The series was cited in the New York Times as an excellent example of the (then-new) trend in faerie fiction. Over the many times the books had been reviewed, my own stories about the biker fae were often highlighted in the reviews. This gave me the idea of a spin-off series. Novellas based on the most popular stories from the anthologies billed as Bad-Ass Faerie Tales. Sadly, only three books were ever written, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Three Chords of Chaos, by James Chambers. I have not given up hope on their being more. Actually, I have already begun to write the third installation of my faerie tale, it will be called The High King’s Fool, but don’t ask me when that will be done…Too many tales to tell…I may have to go back to writing in my sleep.
Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.
Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop. She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.
In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.
Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and two extremely spoiled cats.