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The Children of Camelot Book Giveaway!

Now that you’ve read my review of The Children of Camelot by Amy Bartelloni, get ready for the first official Bookmarkedone giveaway!

The details are as follows:

  • Enter to win a FREE signed hard copy of The Children of Camelot by Amy Bartelloni or a 3-book ebook bundle of the series
  • Fill out the form below
  • You’ll receive a confirmation email from me, @bookmarkedone, after you enter
  • Wait (patiently). Reread the review of the first book, while you’re waiting!
  • Keep up with Bookmarkedone posts in the next few weeks for more about The Children of Camelot and the giveaway
  • Don’t forget to check out Amy Bartelloni’s official Twitter, awesome website, and Facebook (doesn’t help you win, but still worth the click!)
  • That’s it!
  • Giveaway entries will close November 15, 2021. Your information is used only for giveaway purposes.

Book Review: The Children of Camelot

So here’s to the first BookmarkedOne review in…practically forever!

Back in the summer, I was approached by Amy Bartelloni with a very polite request to review her book, The Children of Camelot. Little did she know this was the first solicited review on BookmarkedOne, and she pitched it perfectly:

  1. Free book.
  2. Has dragons.
  3. Arthurian retelling.
  4. I read your blog and I think you’ll like it.

At this point, what else did I really need to know?

Book: The Children of Camelot by Amy Bartelloni

Series: The Children of Camelot, no. 1

Genre: YA fantasy/Arthurian retelling

Content for the Sensitive Reader: Occasional mild language, plenty of magic to go around, fortunetelling, mild action, mild romance. Very appropriate for most middle grade-YA audiences.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 7/10

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Official Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for the review. To say that free books do not positively influence my opinions would be a lie. To say that all opinions are my own is obvious, and to say that free books make me any less the little book snob I am would be ridiculous.

This isn’t the Camelot you know. It’s more like Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers meets The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede and they decide to have a King Arthur-themed D&D campaign and tea party.

In other words, Amy is taking the Camelot legends and making them her own. This isn’t a historically-grounded “What if?” This is her own creation.

And, for the record, King Arthur is a background character. The dragons are center stage.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with the bad news first, because Amy is tough and I know she can handle it.

  • It’s an independently published book. I know, I know, this shouldn’t be a con, but indie books hurt because even if they’re good, they almost never get the attention they deserve, and even at their best, the editors still leave a lot to be desired…like misspelling the protagonist’s name…twice. Ouch.
  • It’s YA. My pet peeve and no one else’s, and for the record, I knew that going in. But I’d so often rather have a spunky MG fiction or the serious adult stuff.
  • There’s not a lot of tension. Again, this might just be me, but the writing style is so relaxed that even when the characters were in danger (which was often enough!) I was never very worried. On the other hand, that makes it the perfect sort of book for a bedtime story–relaxing, just exciting enough, and with beautiful descriptions to make you beg for more even when your eyelids get heavy. I’m still stuck on Amy’s description of the dragon scales…
  • It’s not the Roman-Celtic Arthurian setting we might demand of an adult fiction retelling. Nor is it the weird post-1066 Norman Frenchified court that Hollywood once pretended was accurate. It’s a world in which characters go to school and have teachers who wear glasses and who drink coffee in the mornings. That last one was especially hard to swallow.
  • It’s a little like a D&D story. Dwarves, Elves, fairies, dragons, all rolled up and tied with a bow, and characters chanting “We’re going on a quest,” nearly from the beginning of the medieval-brick road, and then proceeding to walk/escape/run/stumble/boat/fly/explore for several pages. I couldn’t help feeling that a lot of the plot was dropped into the protagonist’s lap–x happens, so the characters react with y–but hey, we can’t all be military strategists. Victor Hugo made that very clear…
  • The pace could be faster. But then again, I’m coming off of recently critiquing short stories where we barely stop for breath, so my perspective is a little skewed.

So now that we’ve got my curmudgeonly little madwoman-in-the-garret complaints out of the way, how did Amy Bartelloni win me over into a 7/10 book rating?

Gradually.

Was it the fluff romance and dragon riding?

Okay, fine. It was the fluff romance and dragon riding.

But can we just stop to talk about this for a minute? Because out of all the crazy, chaotic, turbo-charged sweat and passionfruit-scented world of YA books right now, we have a female protagonist and a romance without a love triangle.

…guys. Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted this? Do you have any idea how rare it is to see a character in healthy, satisfying relationships from the beginning to the end of the story? What a relief–?

There are some lovely descriptions, too. Not just of the magical lights and the wind on the cliff (although for the record, that’s probably my favorite moment), but the whole world.

Do I really want a city built vertically into a rock face with caves below and cliffs above and a natural shield wall about?

Yes. It’s like the Dwarvish version of the Lothlorien tree houses. I love it. I want to go exploring. Who’s coming with me?

And we get to see the character grow. Arynn isn’t the same person at the end of the story that she was at the beginning. Even though she’s ordinary and likeable and struggles all the way through, we can see her throw her shoulders back a little more at the end instead of asking which way to go. It’s the sort of change that makes you wonder where she’s going to go as the series progresses…

And of course, this is still an Arthurian tale. Familiar faces (or at least names) abound. Merlin pops in for a chat, Tristan and Isolde are completely different characters (dare I say better? At least less tragic), my hero Gawain makes an appearance, and there are plenty of characters we’ve never met, unique and wonderful all on their own.

It’s not the King Arthur story you know. But then again, you know that one. It’ll be just where you left it when you’re ready to come back to the original Camelot again.

So why not read something completely different? Something with the same names, some of the same nobility whispering at its heart, but with a new challenge to make.

And now that you know about the book, join us for our first BookmarkedOne giveaway! Enter here for a chance to win your very own copy of The Children of Camelot, signed by Amy Bartelloni, or a 3-ebook bundle of the series!

Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Amy Bartelloni about all things Arthurian and her writing.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for other Arthurian retellings, check out my review of Camelot: A Collection of Original Arthurian Stories.

Happy reading!

In light of your concern…

Hi. I’m okay, thanks for checking. I know there were probably some of you who wondered if my corner of the universe had imploded since I didn’t make a September 22 Hobbit Day post.

I am sorry about that.

I also don’t have a great excuse. I think I blinked at the beginning of September and missed the rest of it. I have been running to the four winds, having my first live orchestra concerts in over a year, not getting enough sleep, plotting book reviews, teaching loved ones useful phrases in foreign languages, finally committing to building my own fairy language, going to the Epic Library Book Sale, learning that I am too introverted and wordy to understand the concept behind Twitter (but please visit me there anyway), and thinking about mangoes.

Hi. I think I’m okay. As much as usual. Maybe I did have a good excuse for not posting in there somewhere.

And you may have realized by now that in real life (i.e., the place where I’m not an incognito book reviewer and people actually refer to me by name…a name, any name, because apparently it’s really difficult to remember mine) that I’m not the most vocal person in the world.

If I don’t have something that should be said, I shut up.

The same rule applies to the blog. I don’t post all the time because I don’t want to waste your hoarded reading moments with something that isn’t worth it.

I think the moral of the story is that if you want more frequent blog posts, hunt me down and leave a baby dragon on my doorstep or just show up in a van full of fictional characters and say let’s go world-hopping.

I’m really not responsible for the fact that life is sometimes boring. I try to make it as chaotic as possible.

But in the light that the desire not to bore you may have the side effect of making you think I’m dead–

Enjoy this little random update. BookmarkedOne will soon return to regular programming.

So, you’re curious about what I was saying earlier?

  • The first orchestra concert was lovely, thank you. It was also weird because I had to remember what it feels like to be onstage with other people listening. Ordinary things like breathing become complicated. It’s good to be back at it.
  • You shouldn’t ask about the “not getting enough sleep” part. It’s 12:48 a.m. This is the norm. I don’t know why I brought it up.
  • I have my first solicited book review coming up! Amy Bartelloni politely requested a review (which you know I pounced on), and it’s going to be in the next few things I post. Spoiler alert: the review is going to be a fun one. And the author has agreed to let BookmarkedOne host a book giveaway, so if you aren’t excited by that–what are you even doing on this blog?
  • It was too hot to be walking as far as I was walking one day, so I taught a loved one how to say “It’s too hot. We want ice cream” in German, because…that’s what I do when I’m bored? But in retrospect, I realize I didn’t just teach the phrase “We would like ice cream, please.” It’s more of the (slams fist on table) “WE WANT ICE CREAM” version, which is appropriate in suspicious taverns, occasionally at my place and nowhere else generally if you actually want the request to yield positive results (ice cream’s at stake, you do). This week’s word is “müde,” because it means tired, and I am, and the power of this widened vocabulary has already been abused and I’m both entertained and horrified at the varied pronunciations of the umlaut.
  • You did read that right. I am building a language. Very slowly. There’s no grammar to speak of yet, and I’m still using the English alphabet (with additions and substitutions). My little tree will grow.
  • There’s a book haul post coming in the near future too. Right now the latest additions to the hoard are sitting mildly beside the giant blue pillow chair, patiently waiting for me to enthrone them on their sacred shelves. I do not exaggerate.
  • Shameless plug for my Twitter account @bookmarkedone again, because I’m lonely over there and don’t know how to get the word out that I will write reviews for free books, because free books! Who’s the real winner here?
  • Draw your own conclusions about the mangoes. If it leads to a good story, leave me a comment. I’ll read it.

That’s probably enough for now.

I wish you all variously good night, good morning, and good reading.

Thanks for sticking with me. There are more books and dragons to come.

Writing Update: August 31, 2021

There’s something wonderful and terrifying about starting a new story.

Extra terrifying if you’re working in a genre where the nerds will kill you if you desecrate their sacred rites but will not give you the time of day if you don’t make something new.

Also corpses. Thankfully not mine. This time.

In case you’re confused, I started writing a new short story last night. Around midnight, yes. Per usual. It should be gothic horror/hard science fiction, but it’s not yet, because it’s not much of anything yet aside from a blob of words on a page.

It’s always harder for me to write if it’s a story I need to finish. Not a story that’s going to be published right away perhaps, but a story that slams itself against the walls of my skull demanding to be let out. This one has been demanding for a few weeks at least.

There’s also the constant argument between the voices in my head that I am brilliant and that I am writing hackneyed, self-indulgent fanfiction.

Yeah. My inner editor has some cruelty to her.

But aside from all the feelings that I’m about to plunge off a cliff into a pile of pillows and will only be coaxed out by my violin/ice cream…

I’m writing a new story.

And there’s something magical about it. When I manage to breathe, to let it happen, it’s one of those stories that just wants to tell itself. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this, but often as a writer I don’t feel that I’m writing. It’s more like being a stenographer. The characters start telling me the story themselves. All I have to do is keep up.

I love writing. It’s so scary. And so beautiful.

Writing Update (August 14, 2021)

So in case you were wondering if I was hauled off by an errant dragon, got hopelessly lost somewhere between Les Miserables and the present day, or just quit blogging,

Hi. I’m not dead.

I’d say I needed a vacation, but I’ve been spending almost every spare minute editing a half-written novel, so that would be a lie. I don’t take vacations from writing.

Ever. I don’t know how.

But in between beta reading, snagging reader copies of new books, and figuring out the vast and alarming world of Twitter, I needed a break.

To make it up to you for the long lack of posts, I’m going to let you in on a little of what I’ve been up to.

This novel.

This novel I love.

This novel in which I am doing absolutely everything wrong.

So you probably deserve a little background. When I talk about the 1,000-page WIP, this is it. This is my monster. My Legendarium. This book and I have a gamble over whether it’s going to be finished and published before or after my demise.

To put it another way, I have a really hard time imagining life without this book.

I started writing it down when I was about eighteen. Trying to find a place to sort it all out, just a single thread to untangle and follow. It felt about as impossible as trying to lift an elephant. But how long I’ve known this story, these characters?

I have an even harder time trying to remember when they weren’t there, every step of my life, laughing in my head, whispering in my ear, standing just out of sight behind my shoulder, telling me this story, telling me they’ll always be there.

Except, of course, when I have writer’s block. Then they fly the coop faster than pigeons scared of a cat.

Oh, and it’s greedy, this book! I can’t write a short story anymore without it reaching out, pulling it in, as if it was always intended to be a part of this massive, crazy, beautiful world.

I could wax poetic about what this story, these characters mean to me. But I doubt I can accomplish anything by it. I can’t make you understand them. There’s no magic word I know that can encapsulate it.

They’re family. I’ll leave it at that.

Sounds great, right? Ha.

With a draft that’s over 1,000 pages long, it’s really, really easy to get disorganized. So I made up my mind to straighten things out, clean up my timeline, explain how two characters who have sworn eternal hatred in one chapter are hanging out in the next, why I’m getting away with all the time/genre-hopping I’m doing (steampunk dragons. Don’t argue with me).

So I started with the section that finally worked, back when I started writing it. I sat down and told myself I wasn’t skipping anything. I could go back and change it if I didn’t like it, but if there was something missing, I was filling it in. No empty chapters.

It took me about a month, with everything else going on, to edit through 50,000 words.

And that’s when I realized my first mistake.

I am a high fantasy writer.

I am a diehard high fantasy writer.

I have 50,000 words of a novel with no magical element.

How does this happen?

Arguably, the novel’s going to be spewing magic later on, but how long can I persuade my reader to wait? Am I engaging, fascinating, weird enough that I can get readers to last 50,000 words without giving up before they get to the good stuff?

Can I cut anything out?

I already have. If anything, I probably still have missing scenes.

So what did I do?

I fixed one mistake with another mistake.

I broke the 4th wall.

Not like in a Deadpool way! The novel is fiction, but it’s in first person and reads sort of like a really interesting memoir, so I just…added a note at the 50,000 word point from the narrator giving a little explanation for why…things are a mess.

(Cue BookmarkedOne burying her head in her arms and screaming into a pillow)

Crisis at least temporarily averted, I kept writing.

I broke my rule. I skipped scenes. I jumped ahead. I kept teasing threads back together.

I am now 81,000 words in.

This seemed like a good time to google what the average fantasy novel length is. Just to see where I should consider an “ending.” Think about splitting the 1,000 page draft into a few separate installments.

Did I mention that I was 81,000 words in and showing no signs of stopping? Did I further mention that I hate the cliffhanger ending to a book that is clearly written as the middle installment of a series, that’s just meant to tease you into buying the next book?

Okay. 150,000 words. I can do that. Right? Make exactly 1/3 of the book empty of magic, then get into the good stuff? That seems fair, doesn’t it?

Except…there are so many “big fat fantasy books” out there. Surely 50,000 as the low end is way off, right?

Google, I knew you were a liar.

Long story short,

I have no idea what I’m doing. But I’m doing it.

Because as critical as I can be, as long as this has taken, I can see I’m making progress. I mean, I almost have a novel already, and this is only the smallest drop in the waterfall that is my Legendarium.

I’m scared. But I think it’s a good kind of scared for once. And when I’m writing, when something falls into place, when it clicks, when past me whispers to me, “ooh, that was good. I’m so glad we finally figured out what to do with that,” I actually feel happy.

Like I said. These characters are family. My family. And if they ask me to stay up until one o’clock in the morning for a month running to spend time with them, well, if your besties wanted a sleepover with a running siege of Monopoly and cheesy movies after you haven’t seen them for long ages uncounted, you’d say yes. It’s not complicated. You’d say yes.

We’ll return to regular blog programming…eventually. More updates for the Legendarium & Co. coming soon.

The Revenge of Magic (Book Review)

So I’ve finally dug my grubby little claws into James Riley’s latest series, The Revenge of Magic! Hold on to your dragons and grab your moral support cats because we are in for exactly one romp of fabulous magic, monsters, and mayhem, where the biggest threat of all is nerds with teenage angst and antibacterial soap.

There’s no way you’re prepared for this.

Book: The Revenge of Magic by James Riley

Series: The Revenge of Magic, No. 1

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy (magic school/urban fantasy)

Content for the sensitive reader: Some thematic/suspenseful moments via disgusting monsters, possession/mind control, morally gray character choices, utterly useless adults. Appropriate for a wide audience.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 8/10

So this feels like half of forever since I read a James Riley book. I was finishing the weird, bafflingly wonderful Story Thieves series the summer before I started college.

I’m still trying to decide if that’s too long ago or not long enough.

Either way, there are some important rules attached to reading James Riley books. A friendly list of reminders then, for those of you who are new to this dimension of the library:

  • The acknowledgements and author bio are part of the story. Do not skip them.
  • All the books connect, so keep your eyes skinned for that subtle (or very obvious) character cameo from another series.
  • No. You’re wrong. This is better.

Pretty sure that’s the right order. Wouldn’t hurt to add that James Riley gets referred to around my book hoard variously as “the lunatic,” “the idiot,” or “the mad genius.” Not to be confused with Patrick Rothfuss, who holds the title of “the bearded madman.” Very different.

Anyway.

After Story Thieves, I knew I had to get my hands on this. And technically this book review wasn’t supposed to happen for a while yet, because I still have the Les Miserables and The Thief reviews squishing my brain and a lot of mercenary fiddler/academic papers/work stuff going on this week.

And what happens?

I ditch all of that and stay up after three in the morning reading The Revenge of Magic. Because nothing says “de-stress” like reading another book. And apparently I hate being told what to do.

But on to the review itself,

It’s a magic school book.

It’s a middle-grade magic school book with the dead mom trope thrown in and a “chosen one” on top.

But.

It’s a James Riley magic school book.

(And now I’m really tempted to break my no-gifs-in-the-book-reviews rule to go find that Agent Carter clip of Dottie Underwood saying “six walls” instead of “four walls” because “We’re in a cube, Peg. Keep up.” Complicated reference or not, it is the perfect expression of James Riley happily creating havoc and discovering new dimensions.)

And that means full of tropes or not, this isn’t going to be what you expect. Try a military compound magic school on for size. Oh yeah, and that magic system from Kiel Gnomenfoot, that nonexisting book series from Story Thieves that I and probably a lot of other people would read every word of if Riley chose to write it? That’s back. On a new level, but not so different we couldn’t recognize it. And a clairvoyant that I, the grumpy hater of all fictional Prophesies actually adore?

Yeah, Cyrus is actually my favorite character so far. He’s my type of weirdo.

Even if after the whole time-travel thing in Story Thieves I know he’s included just to remind us all that James Riley is Lord and Fiend of Paradoxes, everyone. Because so what if you change the future in about a trillion different ways after you see it? Isn’t that what clairvoyance is for, spoilers and convenience?

Sometimes you have to wonder if these things just happen to this author or if he stands awake at night in front of his wall-sized whiteboard, crossing lines of time travel until he can let out an especially delighted villain laugh.

We know he has a villain laugh. That’s not a question.

And can we just talk about how James Riley frolics over the issue of “why does magic work this way because it disagrees with physics and natural laws” by answering “Oh, that’s the perceptions of your dumb human brain. You like oxygen and gravity and all that boring stuff. Weird, right?”

He’s also one of the few writers I’d let get away with dream sequences.

Begrudgingly.

And he doesn’t do too shabby a job with the “If I was under mind control but I managed to overcome the mind control is it still my fault that I did some horrible stuff while I was under mind control and hadn’t yet figured out how to overcome said mind control?” paradox, either.

Yeah, that one is a Rubik’s Cube for writers. Don’t stare at it too long if you can feel your brain start to stretch too far.

Oh, and can we please applaud this book for the fact that it has diverse characters without calling attention to them and shouting “Hey! I’m a Diverse Book! Did you notice? Did you see what I did? Did you notice the percentage of different types of characters?” Because it’s so refreshing to have a writer say “Hey! This is my African American character. This is my British character. This is my girl character. This is–etc. They’re cool people. Look at all the awesome things they do. Cool? Cool. Let’s get on with the story.” I’ve been so sick of seeing books lately treat characters of different backgrounds like trading cards–gotta have them all to win whatever award and recognition the world is offering–and that’s all they are. Static faces smiling stiffly in the background.

We hate that. We hate that a lot. It’s as bad as putting a moral in bold print after a short story.

I’m going to move on before I ruin the glory of Riley’s accomplishment by drawing too much attention to it.

But what I loved most about the book?

Riley stops to take the time to talk about what a hero really is. Not so much in the preachy “Have I got a lesson for you kids” type of way. No. His protagonist struggles with heavy stuff–revenge, grief, loss, self-doubt–it’s a lot for a middle-grade book to carry on its shoulders. But The Revenge of Magic does it well. Sometimes life stinks. Sometimes you want to tear it apart. But there is a real difference between lashing out and being a hero. Between destruction and justice, even if the two both look like victory. Between being strong and being a protector.

And for that alone, our brilliant idiot writer gets my applause. I don’t know how many migraines went into crafting it, but I can say the resolution was satisfying.

Yes, even to a curmudgeonly little book hoarder like me.

So.

Was it as good as Story Thieves?

No. The characters in Story Thieves leaped out at me from the very beginning. There were more laughs. And let’s not forget the multiple dimensions, book-hopping, time-traveling, supervillain-stomping adventures.

But I’m going to read the next one. It’s already waiting to distract me from responsibilities on a shady corner of the shelf.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go look at that “Banish Fear” spell again and contemplate whether or not it would work on stage fright.

That would be magic for sure.

Until next time, happy reading!

Blogiversary!

Drumroll, please, for BookmarkedOne’s second blogiversary!

I’m still here!

Woo!

So first order of business is to say thank you to my 181 followers for putting up with my book snobbery and reading my late-night rants about dragons and tea (or sometimes dragons drinking tea).

Thank you. Your comments usually wind up making my day. It’s quite a refreshing change from writing into the void.

Second is to note that this is post #145 on BookmarkedOne. It would be a higher number than that, but life has been cruelly busy for me this summer and I have been neglecting my blog. And I needed to recuperate after Les Miserables.

Third up is that BookmarkedOne is now on Twitter (click here) to say hi or deliver that 280-character-or-less death threat you’ve been itching to loose upon the world. Either way, come visit your antisocial book hoarder and see what havoc we brilliantly sleep-deprived minds can come up with on a new platform.

And last but not least, following last year’s tradition, I’m going to post a list of random stuff to make this post look like it has a reasonable length.

  • If I’ve done my job, you’ll be hard-pressed to actually find my real name anywhere on the site.
  • I have officially typed so much on my laptop that different keys are beginning to stick and create weird typos. So far the stickiest contenders are “n” and “0.” Observers would probably be confused to see me punch those keys with extra gusto. One of the many reasons I’m not one of those cute writers who sits with their drink and types in a café. Definitely more the things that go bump in the garret writing type.
  • Current WIP draft length is 1,712 pages.
  • I made a mock SF/F journal this week and problematically friends and fellows told me how much they wanted it to be real. I do not have time or resources to launch a real literary journal, thank you. Stop tempting me because we all know I could.
  • I love NaNoWriMo.
  • Indie books make me sad because usually (sorry) they don’t get traditional publishers because they aren’t ready to be published and sometimes I find one that could be really good but now it will probably never get the press it deserves and the whole situation makes me want to curl up under a giant blanket with a mug of cocoa even in 96-degree weather because good stories deserve to be read by everybody and shabby ones shouldn’t waste our time.
  • Search history on said sticky-keyed laptop for the letter “a” suggests “afternoon tea time,” “argent of avalon,” “average december temperature new york,” and “agents of shield.” Maybe I should start writing prompts where the readership has to build a story out of what I’m up to this week…
  • I still can’t find it in me to appreciate literary fiction. I tried.
  • I refer to the nights I’m sitting up reading as the Insomnia Book Club, even though the only member is myself. Any takers?
  • Desperately want dragons and time machines. Or dragon time machines. Or time machine dragons. Or all three.
  • I would rather sit and listen to you tell me about your fictional characters and why you love them for hours on end than a lot of other hobbies that are inexplicably more popular. I have no patience for people who interrupt said discussions with “not real.”

That’s probably enough from me for today. I’m off to practice some Bach on my violin before it’s too late and I get angry letters from the neighbors. As always, thank you for reading.

Renaissance Fair (Part II!)

It was sort of like getting your birthday twice in a year. I hadn’t expected to make it to any fair this year, and here I was, out of the blue, going to two, one after the other.

The week in between? I’ll admit it, there wasn’t the same giddy adrenaline shock of the first one. Of course, even I found that first fair a little ridiculous in terms of nerves. I’d completely forgotten I used to do this, but when I was a kid getting ready for performances, I’d hum or even just think “I Whistle A Happy Tune” from The King and I. Hoping some of Anna’s magic would rub off and I wouldn’t have so many butterflies. And there I was, years later, hands too jittery to tie back my hair, and it popped in my head.

I thought it was weird, since I hadn’t seen it in years…and then there was that moment of oh. That’s why I do that thing…

Honestly still not sure if it helps. Can’t hurt, right?

Anyway, waiting for the second fair was totally different. I knew I was going, so there wasn’t the should-I-dare-I-can-I-might-I tension. I had work to smash my way through so I could get the weekend off. I was tired. Some weeks are just like that.

But we had a family movie night before I headed out. Knight’s Tale. It’s pretty much what I would point to as a “That is renfaire,” movie, with maybe a few extra dashes of Monty Python in the background.

And before I get too far ahead of myself…

Please take a moment to appreciate this absolutely gorgeous Futhark rune box that I got at the first fair. I am of the opinion that you should always pick up a little trinket or two each year so when you’re wandering through your book lair on a rainy afternoon you can remember every adventure just by seeing them. I have so many little glass marbles and rings, leather-bound books…my hobby is slowly taking over my décor.

No complaints there.

Anyway.

The next morning, putting on the garb, getting on the road, sun above, squishing the violin case in the passenger seat with me–and everything was perfect. On to meet the steel fighters and play all the music I wanted!

Okay, a slight mishap. On our road trips, we all have our role to play regardless of how many people are in the car. I am, invariably, the navigator. If you get the reference to Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, even better. I keep the map.

About half an hour down the road…

…yeah, we had no map.

Still, we’d been there before, so we made it without mishap. It’s more easy than you think to hide a modest castle in the woods. Although to be fair, we did get lost on the way back. My fault. I said we should go left, and left led us straight to a washed-out dead end that could probably have passed for a river tributary.

Yeah, sorry about that. Apparently we were supposed to go right.

Anyway, I wasn’t lying about there being a castle. There is. We adore it. It’s at the summit of a hill in the center of acres and acres of oak forest, set so you can’t see it until you’re on the drive going up the hill, and then, through a gap in the trees, there it is. Waiting for you. In all its white splendor.

Of course, with all the people there for the fair, we couldn’t just drive up like we had when it was just the gang. Another irreplaceable part of Renfaire: parking on the grass in slightly crooked lines of cars and trying not to bite your tongue in half over the bumps.

Then it was just a hayride up the hill and into the fair itself.

Fun fact, though. Of the three or four people on the haywagon with us, all of them were talking about my steel fighting gang. About seeing them before, when the fight was going to be, even who they liked to watch.

I had my badge on my belt. We all have them, the same colors and figures marking us out in the crowd. Gets you past the ticket booth in a hurry. But I sometimes have a gift of going unseen. And I hadn’t been there for a year, after all.

I didn’t say anything. Just bit my lip and grinned behind my mask. Listened to every word. Of course I told the steel fighters about their fans after I was up the hill, like the good little spy I always have been.

Another fun thing about the fairs you might not know–each one has its own nobility. Kansas City, last I was there, has King Henry VIII and Catherine (which one, I’m honestly not sure. Howard? Aragon? Parr?). Most fairs choose Queen Elizabeth, but this one had Spanish nobility. I didn’t catch the full title. I hope it doesn’t mean a war between the fairs to mirror history since the one we were at before is ruled by a lovely Queen E. Unless there’s a naval battle. I could have some fun playing sea shanties…

Anyway, I discovered this about the reigning majesty because the mercenary steel fighters were summoned to a ceremony inside the castle.

We didn’t really know that’s what was going on, but we bumbled through the side door like the obediently distracted herd of goats we are.

The hall of that castle. Ooh. The other musician and I were all but vibrating with the need to play music and feel the acoustics. I’d done it once before…but I was quite ready to do it again.

Perhaps I should have felt a little more guilty about how disorganized we were. The king formally thanked our lieutenant for our services (free entertainment of bashing each other’s faces in plus music), and we all stood and clasped fist over heart (or violin) as one (more or less) out of respect.

Yeah. Distracted herd of goats. It wasn’t like we’d rehearsed.

I lingered a little afterward, hoping the hall would clear out so I could play without getting scolded for it. The violin’s a loud instrument and…I’m a bookworm. I don’t really like yelling over everyone else’s conversations, and that’s about the volume level.

And then, what would you know, but the lieutenant called my name.

The castle’s proprietor had asked him to ask me if I would play.

Asked. If I would.

Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha!

Yes. I’d be happy to do that.

So I played “The Wellerman.” It’s super simple, and as everybody went perfectly quiet in the hall and my adrenaline spiked, I knew I’d probably chosen wisely not to pick something more complicated.

I never know what to do when they all applaud. What do I do? I just played–did what I do–every day–like breathing–I should be so much better–

So I curtsied. It’s fun to do in a good skirt and that way I don’t quite have to look anybody in the eyes. I still can’t express how awkward I feel when it happens. In a good way. I think.

A little while after that, half a dozen of the sword-fighters were standing in a little knot, singing to fill the whole hall. Me personally, I have a high girl’s voice. I can sing Christine Daae’s arias from The Phantom of the Opera without really trying. This was about the perfect opposite of that.

You know I had to ask.

Would they sing “Misty Mountains” from The Hobbit, please?

They would.

It was a gorgeous moment. I didn’t see exactly how it happened, but the king, who had been on the dais behind us, suddenly materialized beside me as if hearing the song had made him fling himself down the stairs in a straight line to join in.

Okay, so maybe we broke character a little bit. We made a new friend. And I got my wish. Unbeknownst to them, I am fully prepared to persuade the gang to sing again. Often.

I could go on. There are always a thousand little things at the fair that would take a lifetime to describe and a second to experience. The miniature sheep. Top hats with goggles. A little girl paying to put her dad in the stocks, the latter of which grinned and threw her over his shoulder and carried her, screaming aloud, on our entire march. The patron outside the ring of the final fight who somehow got a butterfly to land on his arm and stood there, very still, as if it were some kind of delicate, magical falcon on his wrist.

There are some things that just can’t be described.

And the longer I stay, the less afraid I feel. The more comfortable I am to just walk and play. Because there, it doesn’t matter if I mess up. I can make as many mistakes as I want, play the Sherlock theme because nobody’s going to stop me, experiment, turn one theme into another, make the heralds laugh at what I pick as they threaten those in the stocks with torture, I can talk, I can not say a word, I can just be.

Free.

You know I’m counting the days until the next time we meet.

Nefarious Adventures Return (Renaissance Fair!)

So here it is! Belated but as promised. Far be it from me to end my Bi-Annual Epic Book Haul on such an enigmatic note and never explain myself.

Hold on to your dragons’ tails and buckle your Viking helmets, we’re officially in Renaissance faire season!

(cue BookmarkedOne distant screams of delight)

I have mentioned I joined a gang play fiddle for a band of steel fighters at Renaissance festivals and whatnot. That we have heaps of fun, they bash each other into bloody pulp for patrons’ entertainment, we put Deadpool in the stocks, and I play whatever strikes my fancy. With Ye Olde Plague, I have not seen any of them in over a year.

Until two weekends ago.

Mandatory PSA:

Please be healthy. Please be safe. Please wash your paws. Please social distance because introverts and fire jugglers actually prefer you at a 6ft distance at the best of times. Please do all the things you know you should do. Imagine a sad kitten face and think about how much I have missed watching my friends mock kill each other. Now we may all go to Renaissance festivals in good health and peace.

(clears throat). Anyway.

It’s a Friday night. I get a message from my contact in the group that basically says

Hi. We be smashing each other’s heads in steel armor next two weekends. Any smidgen of a chance you can leave the Hobbit-hole?

okay, the lieutenant doesn’t actually talk like this. Cut me some slack for creative license. I’m having fun here.

One existential crisis later…

YES. 😀 😀 😀

I don’t ever use all caps. There. Now we’re even.

Once the details were straightened out–

I had two days to practice all the music I’d barely touched during my solo recital/why did I get picked as principal second for this concert/aah no time solid year. How does “Pirates of the Caribbean” go again? AAAH the full size violin really is a hair’s breadth bigger than the nice 7/8 I was using, they weren’t lying! Can I memorize “Hedwig’s Theme” in two days? Maybe! “The Godfather Theme?” No! Am I going to remember any of this once I get there and just play “The Wellerman,” “Morrison’s Jig,” and “Katyusha” a dozen times?

…yeah, pretty much. Someone dared me into “Rains of Castamere” for the stocks prisoner…I’m getting ahead of myself.

First weekend I’m out the door before anyone can think of (another) reason I shouldn’t go, shouting “Nefarious Round 2!”

And after a solid year, we’re on a one hour twenty minute drive into the Middle of Nowheres, and I can’t stop grinning.

No, seriously. I was grinning the whole ride there.

And there’s two things you should know. The first is about Renaissance festivals. In my humble and varied experience, you cannot go to one without either getting lost or being 109% certain you are lost when you aren’t, bumping along down a red clay road with chunks of gravel large enough to distress small vehicles and was that the turn, nope, that’s not the turn, and you’re biting your lip hoping nobody’s going to come from the opposite direction because you really don’t want to be in that ravine they call a ditch on either side and it’s not wide enough for two–and then there it is.

Palisades. Towers. Fluttering flags. Little turrets. The whooping and trilling shrieking of the dancers, the distant beating of drums, the smell of cheap cigarettes and woodsmoke and sweat and home.

At least, that’s how the good ones are. If you don’t have to trek a little, it’s not as much fun.

Yeah, I know I’m probably alone in this opinion.

The second thing you should know is about me. I live in the city now. Not a big city. But I’m no more than twenty minutes away from anything, and all the houses are tidy and neat and square and people that live there apparently measure their lawns to the centimeter instead of the yard and the only things you can see are the trees that line the street and the buildings that cast their shadows.

I hate this. Not with any particular violence. Just on record. The sort of hate you calmly express to the detested while asking if they take sugar in their cup of afternoon tea.

I grew up with an orchard of spindly apple trees and open blue skies and oak trees that seemed to keep the secrets of a thousand years inside a laugh.

Scurrying around town makes me feel like a beetle.

It isn’t like that on the road. On the road, you’re free. You can breathe. Your eyes can roam over hill after hill, find the hawks–the hawks that you can never see flying above you in those cramped little streets! And the green, oh, all the green.

It felt like a cat stretching out, getting on the road again. And I couldn’t stop grinning.

Of course, I still had to find the gang once I got there.

(Cue some forlorn wandering with violin case slung over my shoulder, asking for directions, and then following said directions to the only tent I hadn’t inspected).

What did I expect when I got there? It was hot. Almost everybody was resting between fights under the shade of the tent. Except one, facing vaguely in my direction.

I walked up, maybe a little hesitant, grinning behind my mask. Stopped.

He looked. Then he saw me. His eyes bugged out. And I kid you not, he screamed like a little girl.

Apparently the lieutenant hadn’t told the rest of the crew I was coming.

Well.

I burst out laughing.

The rest of the day is a little bit of a blur. I saw the queen (she was personally putting one of her guards in the stocks and confiscating his spear), was introduced to new members (Hi! I am so-and-so. He is so-and-such. Did you see our mascot carved out of a solid block of wood? We have a rubber chicken! Hear it roar!) got a few people to dance, watched fire-eaters from afar, played a tune I’d promised one of the fighters I’d learn and saw him clap his hands inside the gigantic metal gloves he was so excited.

And yes, watched them try to bash each other into a bloody pulp. Entertainment.

Oh, I have missed this. The part I hate is leaving to go home.

Now it was just a matter of waiting a week for the next one.

Only I should mention–the first faire was out in the woods (as all good Renaissance festivals should be). The second one…

yeah, it’s in the courtyard of a real castle.

Stay tuned!

Writing Update: June 25, 2021

So I accidentally started reading my first NaNoWriMo novel yesterday.

A couple of clarifications here:

  • I’m not one of those people who has done NaNo since I was twelve,
  • When I say “accidentally,” I don’t mean I fell in a hole and remarkably discovered my manuscript typed and tied together with a ribbon.

With that understood–

My manuscript is only about three years old. I did not intend to spend much longer than I should have getting engrossed in this weird steampunky thing that I have barely looked at since November 30, 2018.

I know we say as writers, “I wrote it. I can’t possibly forget it,” or some kind of endearing sentimental nonsense like that and it really feels true. I still think about my 2018 project a lot and even after three years can tell you the main plot points, who I like, who I don’t, what needs fleshing out, how it (probably) fits into the growing legendarium.

I forgot a lot of stuff.

  • I forgot that I balked at a lot of the worldbuilding and just used “Saxon” and “Englishman” and Romani slang as insults because I am a lazy coward. It’s going to be an alternate universe now and I will reinvent what I need to.
  • I forgot that I wrote this snarky mechanic girl entirely. How did I forget that? I love her. She needs a bigger role. Can I give her a bigger role? Please?
  • I forgot that I apparently really like the name Florrie because I’ve now unwittingly used it twice, once for said snarky mechanic girl.
  • I forgot that I left a pile of notes about what might happen/research/drafts I couldn’t bear to delete at the end of the document and scared myself into thinking I hadn’t actually written that heart-wrenching ending that I really thought I wrote–but okay, there it is, I can breathe now.
  • I sort of forgot how many characters this thing has! Did I think I was building the Fellowship of the Ring? Twice?

There’s something about reading your old drafts that’s a little bit hypnotic. You come up feeling like you’ve just watched a sporting event or a chess competition, slightly dizzy, and wondering who won–the writer or the critic.

I love my hideous old draft. Someday it will be a book. A real book.

In the meantime, I made a beautiful synopsis mock-up that makes me sound like a brilliant creature and the book the greatest thing since Joel Ross’ The Lost Compass.

Writers, after all, can be pretty good liars. Especially if someday, somewhere, it just might be true.

Still reading Les Miserables, by the way. Eventually I’ll finish and review this gorgeous thing. Spoilers: I love it.

Oh, and BookmarkedOne is on Twitter now, by the way. Come visit me @bookmarkedone. I promise to talk about books…and probably not much else. Which is what happens when you get introverts to be social. Right?

Until then, happy reading.

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