Remember how I told you how gutted I was over the rejection, since I clearly care a lot about this story?
I read through everything again before starting this blog series. The novel, the scattered notes. I read the short story.
And you know what? I think it’s not bad. It’s simple. It reads like a fairytale, a little like an Eleanor Farjeon story, or maybe King’s Shadow.
But I realize why it got rejected.
There’s not nearly enough magic.
In case you aren’t aware–spec fic publishers have to have magic like most writers have to have a heavy dose of caffeine available at all hours of the day. They can get very cranky if we fail to deliver.
And that’s exactly what I did. There’s magic hinted at in the story, but it’s not some explosive moment bursting onto the page, present from the first letter to the last. And that, very likely, is what got me tossed in the bin.
I’m not so upset about it. There’s plenty of room in the world for low fantasy stories. But now that I know–I’m pretty sure I want to go back and make sure the novel really qualifies as a high fantasy.
Spoonwood for perseverance, right?
Who knows. Maybe I’ll get far enough to post another update sometime in the future. I’ve been toying with the idea of setting a goal for the July Camp NaNoWriMo–but what it would be and if I could keep myself from shredding and restitching the manuscript back together again until then are both questions for which I offer no conclusive answer.
Yes, it’s the age-old debate–do you listen to music while you write, or do you write in utter and complete silence, entering the sanctum of the inner mental library and spinning your stories like Rumpelstiltskin’s golden thread?
Even if you refuse any possibility of distraction while you’re writing, it’s easy to think of music that “fits” the story in some way. We actually did this as an exercise in a stage-writing course I took once–when you’re handing off a script to an actor, make a little gift packet of photos and songs and interesting tidbits of information to help them understand their character’s world and personality. It was the first time I’d done something like that, but it felt surprisingly natural, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Sort of like picking comp titles for your book blurb, but on a richer scale.
Hence the novel soundtrack.
It’s actually a built-in feature of NaNo’s project details. You’ve got your title, you’ve got your synopsis and excerpt, your cover, your inspiration board, and a nice little spot to link a YouTube novel playlist.
I’m a musician. Of course there’s a novel playlist.
And while it’s something I didn’t perhaps think a lot about before NaNo–now it is decidedly A Thing.
There are songs for different projects. The entire multi-movie Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack is now irrevocably tied to my drafted-by-hand, seafaring novella trilogy (which has nothing to do with NaNo, but still). The song that I looped for most of NaNoWriMo 2018? It comes on, everything else gets pushed aside, my eyes glaze over, a montage of the novel’s high points flash through my mind, the creative juices rush through my veins, neurons start firing, and I must write right now write now must write must write–
Um. Where were we?
(cue bookmarkedone cracking knuckles because the stars of writing and music have aligned and My Time Has Come)
In case you want to listen along, here’s a link to the novel soundtrack on YouTube (Yay! You clicked it! Welcome to the party of NaNo22 celebrations!). Quick note here–I’ve made official playlists for the last three years, and finally had the guts to make them public instead of unlisted. They are, at best, eclectic. If you mosey to my channel and listen, don’t ask about how I stumbled into them, original AMVs, shows, etc. Those are stories for other days. I like them. Just jam.
Okay! Soundtrack for NaNo 2022!
1. Alec Benjamin – Shadow Of Mine [Official Music Video]
I don’t actually remember if this was the first song I absolutely had to have on the playlist…or if it was just something I was listening to at the time. I’ve only known about Alec Benjamin for a few months, but I’ve already collected a few favorite tunes of his.
“Shadow of Mine” is on the soundtrack because it relates to the leading lady. This is more “off the page” material, but R has–let’s say a lot of backstory to her. Some of it painful. This novel is a little adventure for her. More like a vacation. She’s trying to get away from her own main plot by creating D’s.
But you know what they say about writers tormenting their characters…
…yeah. R doesn’t get much of a break. Cue the mayhem of the novel.
Everywhere I go, my shadow, it follows behind Doesn’t matter where I travel, my shadow, it finds me Something that I’ve come to realize after all this time I can’t escape my shadow, I can’t escape my shadow
It won’t ever let me go It goes everywhere I go It won’t ever let me go This shadow, this shadow of mine (shadow of mine)
Benjamin, Alec. “Shadow of Mine.” Elektra Records, 2022. Lyrics provided by Musixmatch.
It was actually really hard to pick a favorite lyric from this because the whole song is terrific. It screams R. But I think these are the first ones that caught my attention and really clicked, connecting to her character. The idea of trying to go somewhere, anywhere, hitting the open road, but being unable to travel away from yourself (or your backstory, or y’know, a massive magical curse or something like that)–
Had to go in the playlist.
Besides. I like listening to it.
2. Imagine Dragons – Sirens
So this was absolutely one that I was just listening to (a lot) during October…and it accidentally sort of attached itself to the novel.
I mean, to be fair, it fits. The novel focuses a lot on music as a theme, and at one point, I was considering the idea of sirens (and various other magically musical peoples/creatures–might wind up in the final draft? might not?). So I kept it.
Sometimes, I get a little bit scared at night I get a little preoccupied The sirens in my mind The sirens in my mind I just wanna be good again I wanna make it to the end The sirens in my mind The sirens in my mind
Imagine Dragons, “Sirens.” KIDinaKORNER/Interscope Records, 2022. Lyrics provided by Musixmatch.
When you’re in a world where music is magic and it’s quite possible to listen to someone else’s thoughts–yeah, “Sirens” was a perfect choice.
And there’s a lot of struggle in the novel, for all that R and D are just out to have a lighthearted, summery-picnic-y life. The song suits them both, in that way you can half imagine either one of the characters singing it.
I do have an explanation for the song’s modern references in a Renaissance-esque fantasy world. There are too many potential spoilers for me to give it.
3. MGMT – Little Dark Age
Simple explanation: title and bass line.
It’s a very good bass line.
I came across “Little Dark Age” browsing through YouTube–gah. Ages ago. Months? A year? Longer?
And I didn’t save it to a playlist, so in the chaos that is life, I forgot it existed.
Until it popped up again during November, about the time that I was getting really, really sick of hearing “Sirens” (one month? Okay. Two months listening to one song? Please no).
And it has that vibe, that perfect combination of modern sounds and (with a stretch) the topic of the Dark Ages. The vibe that says, “Put me in your Renaissance faire must learn for fiddletrolling list already or internally kick yourself every time you realize you’ve missed an opportunity to play it.”
There are a lot of songs like that in my renfaire list.
Oh-oh, forgiving who you are, for what you stand to gain Just know that if you hide, it doesn’t go away When you get out of bed, don’t end up stranded Horrified with each stone on the stage, my little dark age
Oh-oh, I grieve in stereo, the stereo sounds strange I know that if you hide, it doesn’t go away If you get out of bed and find me standing all alone Open-eyed, burn the page, my little dark age
I grieve in stereo, the stereo sounds strange You know that if it hides, it doesn’t go away If I get out of bed, you’ll see me standing all alone Horrified on the stage, my little dark age
MGMT, “Little Dark Age.” Columbia Records, 2018. Lyrics provided by Musixmatch.
I think it’s the “grieve in stereo” and “horrified on the stage” that got me, but there are so many little lines in the song that fit as if they were made for the novel–ruins, scars, pages, trying to hide from something you can’t escape, running from the law whether you’re guilty or not–but really, I was just thinking about D having stage fright.
They’re performers, remember? And D is–a lot less experienced with having all the eyes staring at him than everyone else around him. It’s all new to him.
And I, the author, get to torture him for it. Just a little.
Honestly, it feels more like him moving past that fear to the really scary things, the plot of the novel…dodging major spoilers, let’s keep moving!
4. Cosmo Sheldrake – Come Along
I have a love/hate relationship with Cosmo Sheldrake music.
It’s great! It’s super distinctive! It’s whimsy! It’s kind of folk? It quotes A. A. Milne and Lewis Carroll! It gets super stuck in my head!
It gets super stuck in my head!
(cue muffled bookmarkedone screaming into a pillow because “away from the humdrum” is not going anywhere).
And his music seems to pop up–a lot. But it grew on me, especially when I caught the Carroll references. Besides. The percussion. It’s funky.
There’s no such thing as time to kill Nor time to throw away So once for the bright sky Twice for the pig sty Thrice for another day
Come, come, come, come, come along now Run away from the hum-drum We’ll go to a place that is safe from Greed, anger and boredom
We’ll dance and sing ’til sundown And feast with abandon We’ll sleep when the morning comes And we’ll rise by the sound of the birdsongs
Once we’re fed we shall disappear rapidly Many moons to the west of here and happily Our journey never ends
Cosmo Sheldrake, “Come Along.” 2017.
Running away again to some happy place. It’s a theme. But there’s also a line about eating with friends, stopping your ears to siren songs, the counting charm, feasting, –just go listen to it. You’ll get the idea.
And if this one gets stuck in your head, you’re not going to like what’s next–
5. Cosmo Sheldrake – The Fly
Not even I am sure how Sheldrake got two in the list (that’s eighteen percent, sir! What right have you?).
It’s the lyrics. Okay, the funky opening and the lyrics.
For I dance and drink and sing Till some blind hand shall brush my wing If thought is life and strength and breath And the want of thought is death
Then I am a happy fly If I live or if I die Then I am a happy fly If I live or if I die Then I am a happy fly If I live or if I die Then I am a happy fly If I live or if I die
Cosmo Sheldrake, “The Fly,” 2013.
The hand claps. It’s so simple, but some of the phrasing reminds me of reading Shakespeare. It feels like something the gang would sing around the fire at night, just the players, no audience, as R pulled everyone to their feet until they were dancing with her in that world of red sparks and starlight.
It has the kind of existential dark humor I think R and D might use under pressure, too.
Life is scary. Let’s dance until we forget about death.
6. The Longest Johns – Ashes
I don’t actually listen to a lot of The Longest Johns? But “Ashes” is an exception.
I first heard it in an AMV a few months ago, fell in love, looped it a lot, sang/hummed along plenty. It’s simple, but there’s something strong and hauntingly beautiful about it.
I actually wasn’t planning to put it in the NaNo 2022 playlist until I was playing DJ on a car trip–and under the shade of some oak trees, sun slanting on the grey road under our wheels–I realized it really needed to be there.
Watch that old fire as it flickers and dies That once blessed the household and lit up our lives It shone for the friends and the clinking of glasses I’ll tend to the flame, you can worship the ashes
Capture the wild things and bring them in line And own what was never your right to confine The lives and the loves and the songs are what matters I’ll tend to the flame, you can worship the ashes
The Longest Johns, “Ashes.” Sentric Music Publishing Ltd, 2020. Lyrics provided by Musixmatch.
The temptation to include every lyric from this song…
I can almost hear the sting of R’s voice in that second stanza, “Capture the wild things.” Go ahead. Try to tame a wild creature. Try to tell the wandering players they ought to grow roots and stay planted in one place. Try to trap the heat of a flame.
7. Aviators – Traveler’s Song
If “Ashes” was on the list, I couldn’t leave out “Traveler’s Song.” It’s maybe not quite so much a favorite as “Ashes” is, but it captures again some of that wildness that I wanted my wandering players to have. The road is their home. The warm sun a blessing. Everything troubling either lost behind them or under their feet.
Sing for the lost, for eternal affairs Sing to raise our spirits in great despair Through the ashes of oblivion
Quick and unseen like the dragon’s offspring For we owe no debts and bow to no king Every war has its costs and we’ve paid Won by the bond of the party we’ve made
Broken swords and dragon’s bones Scattered on the way back home Beating to the sound of clashing steel When they’re on our heels Now chant the tales and legends told Strengthened by the hymns of old Weathered as this winding road is long So we sing our traveler’s song
It’s a little more D&D than bardcore, but you get the idea.
…it’s the hand claps again, isn’t it?
I’ll defend it. This type of musical style I’m writing is closely related to folk in that there are no barriers–if you exist, you should have music in your head, your blood, pounding its pulse in your heart. Sure, there will be people who do it better, but is it even so much something to do as something to be? You have hands, clap them. You have a voice, shout if you can’t sing. You have a body, feet to dance. Why would you ever even think of sitting still?
Look, there are people we all want to shut up. But there are so many times I can think of that a crowd or someone in it just–isn’t there. Isn’t feeling it. That’s a no for me. I don’t care if you’re not sure of yourself, if you’re just too shy or formal or polite–not here. Get a turkey leg with grease running down your arm. Run over the fields. Laugh. Sit on the grass. Don’t be afraid to sing off-key or say the wrong thing. Just have some good fun.
It’s so marvelously freeing. That’s all R and I want for you, really. It’s all we’ve got to offer with this silly little escapist book. That you’ll play your music a little too loud, sing with the windows down, that you’ll worry less about who’s watching.
You’ve only got one life, after all. You might as well be a happy fly.
8. Heldom – Myrkr
What’s this? What’s this? We finally get an instrumental track?
The vibes, darling. The vibes. There’s a crow in the background, but even without that, “Myrkr” would be great. It’s got the drumbeat, it’s got the early viol, and it’s got the comforting, almost trancelike repetition of folk music that, in my humble opinion, is the best for writing to. It changes just enough to stay interesting, but not so much to distract you from what you’re plotting.
9. Faouzia – Puppet
I have never listened to this artist before. She popped up on Spotify, and I went–
oh. Oh, this will do nicely.
Oh, tried to dim my flame, I shined brighter And you tried to dull my blade, well, keep trying And you tried to pull me under Said I was too much, you’re just not enough
I was born to dance, dance Could never tie strings to my hands, hands You could only love a pu-pu-puppet I could never be a pu-pu-puppet I was born to dance, dance Could never tie strings to my hands, hands You could only love a pu-pu-puppet I could never be a pu-pu-puppet
Hello to the one that I am now I guess it didn’t go how you planned out Little did you know, I’m my own Gepetto And now you get to watch me go, go, go
It’s another sassy R song. I could easily see her bopping to this on a modern road trip. She does not like being pushed around.
And there is some puppet imagery, if not regular puppet shows (thanks, Robin Hobb, for reminding me they are essential and must go in as a background feature in Draft II), so this was perfect.
And did we mention that dancing is just the norm in this culture? Because it is. You eat, you drink, you tell stories, and you dance. That’s how your day goes. Sometimes you play chess or the lute. If you’re clever.
10. Hywall – Storm Sailing
More vibes! More instrumental! At a much higher energy level!
Guys, I have no idea what they’re chanting in the background. I hear the “People, are you ready.” The rest is lost on me.
It’s not really as significant as some of the others to the story, but sometimes you just need something with a little more pep.
Especially when you write as late as I do and have the awkward musician habit of “must type at tempo of what we’re listening to.”
11. Reggio – Cathedral
The last addition popped up because it’s under the same production label as Hywall. I listened to it a couple of times before I chucked it onto the pile. Good vibes. Medieval-style choral singing, solo strings, and EDM–one could do worse.
I’m half imagining now R and D taking hands to dance to this one. Not to learn anything new or to perform–just for the fun of it, the feel of it. To do something badly because you love it, and then to flop on the grass laughing afterward.
Or maybe not. Hey, it’s not like I’m in charge here.
And that’s it!
That’s the 2022 soundtrack! Thank you for reading–listening–both?
(cue bookmarkedone shaking head a little)
Thank you for indulging me in my bookish little musician wandering–and for letting me break the short post rule (3,000ish words!!!) just this once on the NaNoWriMo adventures.
I’d love to hear what you thought of the playlist, if you found any new favorites or have suggestions of your own.
So it’s sometimes a little dangerous for me to have access to Pinterest because I can get a little obsessed with trying to match what I’m imagining to a real, physical image. There are lots of things that are not just right, but are close enough…and some things I cannot find at all.
Hence the hopeless search for tagged laces. Nobody on the internet even seems to know what they are.
Some things really do fall out of fashion.
Maybe there’s another name for them I don’t know, but essentially a tagged lace is a bit of leather or ribbon used as fastening or decoration, with a piece of cheap metal (copper or tin), attached to the dangling end. Just two of these, and they’ll swing and hit together, making a jingling sound when you walk.
R, my leading girl, has several on her skirt. Unfortunately, I can’t find an image anything like it without more hours of hunting.
Anyway, enough lecturing on old fashion. On to the pictures.
C’s lute and the festival pennons are pretty obvious, I think. Musicians at a festival are the core aesthetic of the book. And where would we be without an ominous raven-shadowed path?
I’m not going back to rehash the whole “musicians as the cultural other” in a historical context now–if you read it, you read it, if you didn’t, well, Jester’s Privilege says in a handful of words very well what I tried to articulate in 1,500.
Next is dormiveglia.
If you’ve hung out here very long, then you may have heard me muttering about my fairy language, untranslatable words, the assorted languages in the Tolkien legendarium, and why “gemütlich” is one of the best German words there is.
I will never miss an opportunity to include a shiny new word in a story I’m working on.
And “dormiveglia,” the place between sleeping and waking, is the perfect word to include when the two main characters met in a dream.
Don’t–don’t ask how that works, okay? It’s complicated.
The campfire and market stalls are late additions to the board. I was trying to find something that captured the spirit of the traveling players, the cities they toured, the fire that was burning nearly every night, its warm circle the place they felt safest and most at home.
Those two pictures probably don’t carry that much weight, but it’s a start.
Ah, yes. Letters and coins.
Coins thrown into the instrument cases, upturned caps, jingling in belt pouches–it’s essential for the aesthetic.
The letters belong to R, one of the few literate characters among the little merry band, but what they say and what she’s doing with them I am not able to say without giving away big spoilers.
The necklace with the coin and the leather bracelet are both D’s. They don’t look quite like the charms he actually wears, but they’re enough to jog my memory. Everyone has something a little bright or jingly among the players, even if it’s simple and cheap.
The dragon bracelet, of course, is neither.
What it really represents, again, I can’t say without giving away the half written plot of my novel, but it’s very like the one I imagine one of the characters wearing. There’s a history and significance to something that fancy among the traveling players. Expensive charms are usually lavish gifts from a lord’s court–but this one is even more special than that.
And, you know, I can’t write this book without at least a few little references to dragons.
Last of all, I give you the raven.
There’s an old tradition in the British Isles about being “raven-shadowed,” similar to today’s nonsense about “if a black cat crosses your path.” Of course R, being herself, is happy to befriend any bird, seeing them as very like herself, always in the air, building nests only for a season before flying away again, singing to the blue sky–but it does add a certain ominous element to the story. Superstitions linger, even when we are wise enough to know better.
That’s only a little fraction of the board, and I’m still chucking pictures into it anytime I come across one that reminds me of the player troupe. If you want to see for yourself, you can check out the full collection here.
I’d love to hear what you thought of the novel’s inspiration and of the project so far!
So when I talk about the style or look Renaissance festival culture (one of the original inspirations for the novel), it’s sometimes a little tricky to pin down. Everyone has so much freedom of individuality, that while there’s a basis of historical material, well–
I like to imagine the faires are little Renaissance towns visited by time travelers, and thus any signs of not-perfect historical accuracy are due to their influence. We’re here to have fun.
That’s sort of how I think of this novel. Sure, there are historical, cultural threads (a lot of different ones, actually) reminiscent of a medieval world–
–but there’s also magic.
And whatever you think, this place really isn’t like anywhere else you’ve been. At least not if I’ve done my job right.
Sure, there are familiar elements. I wrote it with the idea of coming home to the medieval fantasy world I’d been reading and dreaming of for most of my life. So of course there are castles and forests and dirt roads leading nowhere and everywhere.
But that’s not all there is to it.
I’ve been reading this genre for a long, long, time, right? And you know, you know from my book reviews that I am An Absolute Snob who does not appreciate a world Baked Halfway.
If you put bacon and eggs on a plate with a cup of coffee in a medieval fantasy, I will revolt. And have. Politely.
It’s in the details. The little things.
Maybe you’d like to hear about a few?
What’s for dinner?
I don’t know why, but food is one of the first things I notice when I’m deciding if a fantasy book has good worldbuilding or not.
A few examples:
Bilbo’s seed cakes from The Hobbit and Faramir’s pale wine in The Lord of the Rings,
The Grecian-style diet of olives and dates from Turner’s The Thief,
Suspicious Inn Stew, apples, bread, and cheese.
And just so you know, turkey leg = Renaissance festival. Like–unanimously. If you have turkey legs and funnel cake, bookmarkedone is probably certain this is the urban equivalent of a fairy outpost and yes, everything is going to be just fine, thank you.
While the last option of stew, bread, and cheese is classic–it’s notorious for getting boring really quickly.
So one of the things I happily explored in Draft I was medieval/Renaissance food (yes I use pieces of both, please don’t kill me. It’s my world, so I make the rules).
Warning: If you read past this point, you may get hungry.
There are more than a few recipes I really need to try making myself now.
Spiced nut mix
Pralines I have had. If you haven’t, I am very sorry and hope that you have a chance to taste them sometime in the very near future.
Being the little wild creatures that they are, both R and D have a sweet tooth. But that’s a tricky thing to satisfy in a convincing medieval story when refined white sugar isn’t a thing and chocolate, my beloved chocolate, is desperately hard to come by.
Luckily you can make spiced nut mix with syrup or honey, or without. The version in the book uses a spice I’ve actually never heard of before doing the research.
Because it’s fallen out of popularity, not because I don’t know my seasonings.
I really, really need to make torrone.
It’s not chocolate, but it’s this light, fluffy confection made from egg whites and almonds. Hailing from Italy, torrone has lots of variations–you can sweeten with honey, add dates, or swap out the almonds for pistachios.
Guys, it looks so good.
Bread and cheese
Well…I couldn’t quite help myself.
But before you cluck your tongue at me, it’s not cold, dry bread eaten out of a rucksack in some dreary ditch along the roadside, pine tree dripping water down your collar. No, we can do better than that.
It’s fresh bread, shared among friends, cheese warmed and melty over an open fire.
I may have recently done toasted cheese sandwiches (with mixed results) over a campfire. I had to make sure my characters tried something similar.
Edible findings in the forest
Did you know you can eat dandelion greens? No, really. They’re supposed to be quite good for you.
Don’t–don’t go fish the ones out of your yard that have been sprayed with like a zillion pesticides by suburban lawn maintenance madmen, okay (yes this is about mowing their lawns every day can we not coordinate so there isn’t a constant vrrrr noise in the garrett all summer long)?
Anyway, next time you’re wandering in a primeval forest, if you’re a fragile Level 1 Chosen One and don’t feel quite up to taking down a stag or wild boar, now you know you can survive off of edible greens, nuts, blackberries (personal experience again on this one: beware the Thorns and Things that Live in Them), and even a few mushrooms–as long as you know how to identify the non-poisonous ones.
But there’s a lot more to worldbuilding than food.
Other things I utterly delighted myself with while filling the novel pages?
Currency. This can be a headache, or it can be fun. After all, it doesn’t always have to be a king or queen on the coin. It doesn’t even have to be a coin.
Laws of Hospitality–more on this in the next post, but This is A Thing in the book.
Language/writing systems–oh dear, oh dear can I get carried away on this.
Types of greetings. I’m a performer, so the little bow is deeply ingrained in my behavior, but this can also apply to handshakes or verbal greetings. And yes, they differ by culture! Another place I have too much fun.
Government. Monarchies are traditional, but is the king/queen ratio the same as this world? Is the king the absolute authority? Because–spoiler alert–historically, that isn’t always the case.
Fashion. Not only do I get to design the motley for my performers (is there ever enough sunflower yellow?), I get to imagine how style changes in the different nations/cultures. Because just as my little bards don’t belong to one family or bloodline, they don’t belong to one country or culture, either.
Music. If you haven’t figured this out yet, when in doubt, just assume I get carried away worldbuilding.
I know. As wonderful a place as it is to live and write in for an afternoon, one must not have too much world without a substantial support of plot. It works as a rich foundation, details peeking out here and there, giving a sense of depth. But I can’t include everything.
There are things I may never know about my family history.
It’s something I used to wonder about a lot.
You read fantasy, and in both the old stuff (Sigurd, son of Sigmund; Arthur, heir to an entire kingdom by the luck of his birthright) and the new stuff (you can’t be the last-of-your-kind-half-elven-dragonslayer without there being an Elfkind for you to come from), there’s a significance on family, history, legacy.
It makes you wonder, as a kid, reading that. Where do I come from? Where’s my part in all of this?
Maybe you have that, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have a country, a culture, a history, a nation you can point to and say, Yes, that. That’s where I come from. That’s where I can go and find a warm welcome. That’s who I belong with.
It’s nice to know where you come from. But in deciding who you are, my darling, it simply does not matter.
You choose the person you want to be, the person you are. Every day. No one else has that choice. You do.
Lines of dragonslayers have to start somewhere, right? Sometimes if you want to do something, you just have to be the first one. Sometimes the story starts now, not a thousand years ago in a castle that has already crumbled to dust.
There’s no reason we can’t be heroes.
And so before I introduce you to the motley crew, I should make one thing clear–
However much this might remind you of Traveler families, for these characters, traveling together, being one family, having a place in the crew, it has never, ever been dependent on blood.
It doesn’t matter where you came from. What matters is where you’re going.
On the road, we’re all family.
Now that’s done…
If you’ve been following along since the first post, you know a bit of what the novel is about and where it’s going, so it’s high time I introduce you to the heroes of this novel.
Heroes might be the wrong word. You know what I mean.
Names are still redacted, but I think you can get a good sense of who everyone is even so. After all, you’ve hung around me this long without needing a real name.
Starting with our POV character, please give your warmest welcome to our player boy:
Doesn’t talk much. When he does, he’s full of questions. Everything is new and wonderful and slightly terrifying in this way of life, and he isn’t giving it up for anything. Dark hair, brown eyes, small–oh, and he’s about twelve years old. That’s not as much of a barrier to fun and trouble in the troupe’s world as it is in the modern era.
He’s not as skilled as the others in the troupe. D’s just starting out, so he doesn’t know how to play the lute or spin a good yarn or even how to juggle without dropping all the colored balls on his own foot.
Perhaps for this reason, everyone else in the troupe has more or less adopted him, taken him under their individual wings, determined to make him feel a little less out of place, to prove that he can learn and grow and be something truly dazzling.
Even if everyone in the troupe is his friend, R is our lad’s favorite.
And by the way, I am realizing that the whole “met in a dream,” two of a pair things might have implied in the early posts of this series that these characters were going to have a romantic relationship–emphatically no. There is a romantic thread in the novel; this isn’t it. D is about twelve, R is an adult. It’s a purely platonic relationship. More of a tutor/student, sibling, wholesome hero worship situation.
R is D’s hero. He doesn’t want to be her. He simply thinks she’s the coolest person ever to walk the roads of that world, and is accordingly a little protective when meeting anyone who may not instantly agree.
Platonic relationships. Fiction needs more of them, and they infest my writing.
I realize this relationship dynamic may prove difficult to grasp for readers who are used to the “if a male and female character exist in the same book they must fall in love” Hollywood formula, on top of the fact that characters in this book readily notice and call one another beautiful.
Well, that’s sort of how chivalry works in this storyworld. Especially among the players.
There’s a tradition of hiring a bard to help you woo the love of your life. Don’t know how to compose sonnets? No problem. Snag your local troublemaker/bard for an afternoon sitting on the haystack, gush about the object of your affections, and voilà. Ready-made poetry.
Compliments abound! Not hollow flattery, because any one of them would be able to see through that in a second, but real truths about who that other person is, inside or out.
Doesn’t necessarily start a romantic relationship. It’s just how they show regular, everyday affection.
If two bards in this storyworld were going to formally court one another, I don’t think it would be like anything we’ve ever seen.
The theatrics. Oh, darling, the theatrics.
You’ve already met Jest–or at least, you’ve heard how he wandered into my mind, sat down under my linden tree, stretched out in the shade, and refused to either stop talking or leave.
He’s a bit of a flirt. Likes to dance with all the pretty girls before skipping on to the next town. Drives R a little mad, but most of the time she just smiles and shakes her head instead of scolding him. Pulls him out by the ear if he gets into any real trouble, with all the found family sibling energy you can imagine.
They’re friends because of music. Otherwise an unlikely pair.
C is the quiet one. If Jest is dark-haired and lively, C is fair-haired and silent, much preferring to be left alone with his lute than to go dancing (yes, there’s variety of personality among performing types, too).
Despite that, Jest and C are very good friends.
M and G
I threw in a married couple to fill out the numbers of the little troupe. Just because as Small Bookmarkedone, I hated how the ending of every Disney-esque fairytale was a wedding.
Like death. Like you can’t have any adventures after that, it’s only “happily ever after,” no more nonsense or trouble or stabbing things with pretty, bright swords.
Well, M and G are here to remind you that romance isn’t dead and you can very well have adventures as a married couple, thank you very much, and even bring a little one along, have kids on adventure with you, if you have a mind to.
Where D fell into the life of the traveling players rather suddenly, H has lived on the road for as long as he can remember, and has no desire whatsoever to find out what a life without music infesting every hour of it could possibly be like. Put down roots? No, thank you!
It’s kind of expected if you spend all your time walking and performing, you have to be able-bodied and trim and perfectly healthy–in these types of stories, you find the long-bearded ones sitting in cottage doorways and in philosopher’s towers, not on the wild road.
Not to mention the pressure on performers of this world to constantly appear young and beautiful.
Hence the inclusion of Mr. O. I do not know how old he is. He spends most of his time sitting on his own three-legged stool, the only chair that seems comfortable enough to satisfy him, eating, listening, and silently laughing at the antics of everyone else, player and non-player alike. He is quite bald. He tells very good stories.
You’ve got a pretty good idea by now what my little traveling players are like. They’re wild, happy folk who do not like being told what to do and certainly do not sit still.
Enter Lady C. A court musician, formal, very well-dressed, and the opposite of everything they are.
Nor can she sing.
There are a few others, but…
In the words of Fenoglio from Inkheart, “They all blur together, even for me.”
There are a lot of characters in this book. In the troupe alone, I think I had, what, maybe twelve people? Plus the others they encountered?
I’m not too worried about vagueness on the first draft because I know I’ll round them out–I can’t help myself. And even Tolkien’s famous 13 dwarves in The Hobbit began without too much detail, as he admitted himself.
Of course I love them all, but I also have my favorites.
I’d love to hear what your favorites are of the merry troupe, or just what you think of the characters.
They are bards, remember, and can be very fond of flattery.
A word of warning, on this one. There’s a lot of passion behind the bigger themes of my novel project, and writing this post–it got a bit rantish.
What I’m saying is that you might want to move that cup of tea a little further away from your elbow so if there are any dramatic gasps, it doesn’t spill.
Spilled tea is a tragedy.
Today we’re discussing all things bardic, Renaissance festival culture, the cultural “other,” historical performance traditions–and somehow Oliver Twist and Sing 2 get referenced in the same blog post, please do not ask me questions, no, I will not answer.
If you just stumbled in the door and have no idea what’s going on,
Hi. Hello. Welcome to the blog. We’re doing a series on my latest novel project.
or you can just stumble along and do your best to keep up with what’s going on. Whichever strikes your fancy.
On to the post.
The themes and secret goals
On the surface?
There’s a lot of “coming of age” ideas in the novel. A lot about being yourself, time for D to struggle, to learn who he is and who he wants to be. There’s plenty about the beauty of the open road, the freedom that kind of life provides. Questions of where freedom ends and loneliness begins, if the two are even related, as we so often seem to assume they are.
And yes, I started this project as a book about bardic characters living a bardic life, making real music, and stuffing the spirit and community of renfaire culture in at every sneaky opportunity I could give myself.
People–really don’t have a clue what Renaissance festival-goers are like. Responses can vary from indulgent (oh, they dress up in costumes and pretend they can go back to the way things were, when no one can go back in time), to romantic (I–really don’t like this, but there’s a book floating around about a girl who crushes on a guy only when he’s in his faire persona. I could probably write a whole post on why this is really distressing. Just don’t), to thinking we’re weirdoes (bordering on the word freaks?) and why would anyone want to do that?
I’ve written many posts on my Renaissance festival adventures, and probably will continue to do so because I just can’t shut up about them. But the craving for stories that talk about us, about what we do, in a way that feels real–it hasn’t been satisfied.
Writers typically don’t know what to do with us. Maybe they think it’s too specific of an audience, or maybe we’re just too fabulous for anyone to believe in fiction. Whatever it is, here we are.
Nobody yet has been able to capture the community of that place. The way we look out for each other. The way we’re not so afraid to do things. The way we laugh and sing and cheer and wear silly hats, and just for one day, try to make something magical. Try to make something magical feel real.
But as all stories do, this one had other plans.
It’s still there, of course, my little band of traveling performers. Their “ride or die” friendship even when they haven’t known each other nearly long enough to warrant such devotion.
But the story started leaning another way, like a ship carried by the tide suddenly having its sails snap in the breeze.
The performing artist as the cultural other.
This is one of those moments where you turn around and yell at the backseat, “Whose idea was it that we write about this?” and then have no one but yourself to blame, because it’s me, I decided to write about this.
However that might have come to be.
Let me put this bluntly: there are particular expectations in performer culture. There are things that no one talks about and things that everyone knows.
I guess that probably is true for every social class/group/etc. But for performers, there’s a distinct sense of “the other.”
You aren’t like us. You’re different. You’re the one on stage. You stand while we sit in the seats and are comfortable. Here we are now, entertain us.
If you think I’m wrong, go dig up any Hollywood movie you please with a writer or a musician. Writers are quirky, right? They stand on their heads and wear only left socks! They inexplicably get writer’s block! Handle with care!
For musicians, I think it’s almost worse.
Not long ago, I watched the movie Copying Beethoven. All other aspects of the film aside, I was honestly appalled at how the writers tried to make Beethoven simultaneously endearing and emotionally abusive.
Nor is that an anomaly. When Sing 2 came out, what was supposed to be a happy, lighthearted little family picture, I found myself getting tense when faced with a choreographer who was determined to cut one of the main characters down to size.
It’s a trope. If you want to learn music/dance/performing arts, you must endure performers.
I wish I could say it’s a groundless caricature.
It shouldn’t exist. It shouldn’t be the norm. We shouldn’t accept it. Even when the abusive artistic teacher is villainized, that doesn’t erase how automatically everyone accepts their right to rule as tyrant over their own little domain, how sometimes, you simply have to endure it.
Nor does this “otherness,” this acceptance of things that would never be allowed elsewhere, exist only in fiction.
Think about it. A performer is expected, demanded, to look and act a certain way, to dress, to speak, to smile, all according to some set of unwritten rules.
It’s not something I could ignore in writing the story.
It wouldn’t be like the modern era. But it wouldn’t be perfect, all sunshine and roses, either.
Since that gave me a pretty clear of idea of what I didn’t want “performers as the other” to be, now all that was left was figuring out what I did.
Luckily, I had two historical reference points.
Don’t expect me to give you citations. This is a blog post, not an academic essay. You can find what I’m about to tell you with a few carefully worded Googles.
One of these comes from Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist. I love that book. Love it.
There’s a scene when Nancy is in the jail looking for someone that has stuck in my mind since the time I first read it. Dickens describes two people in jail, one who was arrested for begging (having no livelihood), and another for playing the flute for money on the street (exercising his livelihood). The one without the flute doesn’t answer when Nancy calls because he’s too distraught over the loss of his music–his everything.
If nothing else, Dickens knows how to stab us in the heart and twist to get his point across.
But the emotional impact of the scene isn’t what I’m after here. There were–and in many, many places, still are–laws against playing music, casually busking, in public places.
No, seriously. I have to be careful where I play and get permission if I’m going somewhere new because I don’t want to get kicked out or even arrested.
It’s part of that tradition, musician = beggar, beggar = trash.
Don’t believe me? Check the etymology. Nearly every word for an itinerant musician can or has been used as an insult. Even casual slang for Renaissance festival players can get nasty. Although there is another layer of unfair racial/cultural prejudice, you could compare with the struggles of the Roma people–another itinerant group, unfortunately perhaps most famous for the misuse and insult derived from their name.
When people don’t see a reflection of themselves, their humanity, but instead see “the other,” things can get very, very ugly.
There’s never much middle ground for musicians. It’s either the starving artist or the glitz and glamour, the king’s bard or sleeping in a haystack.
I’ve spent far too long griping about the dark side. Let me tell you a good story.
It is, if this won’t confuse you too deeply, about telling stories. In the old days in Europe, there was a tradition of hospitality. If a stranger came to your door and asked shelter for the night, you gave it to him. This wasn’t an inn, tavern, or hotel situation of any kind–this was a guest, your guest. No talk of paying.
There was talk of stories.
It wasn’t long ago now that I stumbled across it again–that tradition of everyone gathering to hear the tales the stranger brought. Yes, others who lived in that place would tell stories, but that was really how a visitor paid for the night’s stay–in stories. And as long as you had them, you could be welcome anywhere you went.
It’s a rather beautiful notion, isn’t it?
And so the NaNoWriMo project arises. Like musicians everywhere, my characters teeter on the edge of things, in society and outside it, but always more comfortable among themselves than with anyone else. Their reputation is slippery–in a world where anyone is welcome if they have a good story to pass along, trained storytellers are no exception. But it’s also impossible to completely shake that perception of the beggar, the “other.” Dust on their clothes, wildflowers in their hair–well, sometimes they perform for kings, sometimes they sleep under the stars.
So you’ve had two prologues and the story of my novel-writing, an Act in Three Posts.
Perhaps now you’d like to know what the story is actually like?
Welcome to the world of the novel!
Taken from the NaNoWriMo back cover mock-up, I present The Blurb:
Meet the wandering players–two friends in a troupe of tumblers, jugglers, musicians, and mischief-makers. On the open road, in her motley skirts and jingling bracelets, R is at home, and D is only too happy to learn to follow in her steps.
But happy days are not certain any more than a sun that always shines, not even when you are a child of the road and have music like birdsong on your lips. And for this troupe, deep trouble is always within reach.
R is magic. The crystal sword-wielding, crow-befriending, wing-sprouting kind of magic. And although he sees no sign of it, R says D is magic, too. It’s their secret, safe in a world of warm sunshine and sweet melodies.
Not a bad back cover blurb, eh? Names can be…pretty distinctive in fantasy, so I’ve redacted them. Sorry if that’s distracting.
That, in a nutshell, is the setup. We have a class of very good bards, scattered kingdoms most loosely based on the British Isles before 1066, and magic. What more could we want, right?
This is probably the point that makes my regular readers (clears throat) uh, have discussions with me.
It’s when I switch gears from a fluff piece to hard fantasy, the sun is covered with clouds, it starts pouring cold rain, you’re raven-shadowed, knife time, all your friends are gone, ooh, and you might not even be able to trust your own body/senses/morals!
Every time. I can’t be trusted with nice things.
Back to the cover blurb:
When R is accused of being a wolf’s head, the most infamous of outlaws, it’s up to D to keep her secret safe while she is on the run, feeling all too alone and doubting if he really has any magic.
Voilà! The turn! Your bestie might die, so get your character arc together!
I especially like this bit because it drives the two characters apart–you have to keep going and just keep hoping that the person you care about is going to be okay, is still out there somewhere, is alive.
Not knowing is horrific. Naturally we use that. Writers being cruel people and all that.
Cue the comp titles:
Adam of the Road meets A Wizard of Earthsea in this novel about music and magic–and times when the two seem almost the same.
Yes, I am aware neither of these titles meet the “was it published at least in the last five years” preference for good comp titles. I don’t really care. It was the middle of NaNo and I had to think of something, and it was my back cover blurb, not a cover letter to a publisher.
Besides. I like them.
I’m still in the midst of reading Adam of the Road. Had to stop when I read about a Norman I recognized from the 1066 battle. Kind of knocked the wind out of me for a bit. I’ll be back.
On to the end of the blurb:
Part adventure, part love story, and part quest, “Red” invites you to take a breath before you act, because one world still has some magic, and sometimes wishing really does some good after all.
This–is not really a perfect representation of what happens in the novel. But it’s pretty. Blurbs are notoriously hard to write, and I wrote this one without too much head-banging against the keyboard. It has to change as the novel does, but fixing the novel is first on my priorities list.
In more detail?
So about those comp titles…
I only used two for the back cover mock-up, but I have more.
Adam of the Road and Earthsea were my first picks, but it’s maybe not a perfect combination to explain what I’m trying to do.
Maybe it’s more like The Name of the Wind, if we just happily ran off with a luckier troupe of the Edema Ruh instead of following the adventures of Kvothe, or if Cyrano had magic and was placed in a slightly different era.
It’s got the story-within-story style of the Thousand and One Nights and the style of sudden verse from The Hobbit.
And maybe it’s not like any of those things at all.
I guess it’s technically sword and sorcery? I hesitate over that because it sort of implies things like the Shannara series–and that’s the last thing I want.
Let’s go with “bardcore medieval fantasy.” There’s also a touch of “coming of age” in D’s character arc, but that’s not really enough to be worth mentioning. The novel is high fantasy and the short story version is low.
I am aware that I am not supposed to be this specific because I am describing genres and not blending perfumes. I am not responsible for the flaws of the genre classification system.
This was honestly a little writing vacation for me. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of magical realism and urban fantasy, cross-world stuff, feeding my monster WIP that eats all the other stories that I write and still says it wants more–so I wanted to come home to a nice, traditional medievalesque fantasy.
That does not mean that you’ve seen it before. I’ve been reading Robin Hobb. Just because it’s medieval doesn’t mean it has to be from a history textbook.
And even if it is, there’s a lot between the lines that writers often ignore in favor of saying it was a stone castle, a dirty stable, and we ate bread and cheese.
For example, I don’t think anyone currently alive has a satisfactory recipe for frumenty.
A tragedy, to be sure.
The Back Cover Quote
Obviously I don’t have accolades from New York Times Bestseller List, but we’ll make do.
Here’s a few snippets taken from the NaNo back cover:
She wore the motley, skirts torn apart and stitched together in a chaos of dragon’s blue, harvest gold, rose, earth-brown, and red. The world sang for her as she walked, in the jingling of charms at her ankles and wrists, glass bead necklaces, tagged laces from her belt. She walked like a queen. She moved like a dance.
D could remember…days when she went barefoot in the green grass hills, taught him to pick pockets and drink from the icy cold stream.
Back when she had found him, walking in his dreams.
And that’s probably more than enough for now.
Let me know what you think of the project in the comments. Sound like something you’d read? Sound like nothing sane you’ve ever heard of before?
There’s a difference between writing 50,000 words and writing a novel.
For me, writing 50,000 words in a month, that’s easy. Saying I’ve written a complete novel?
That’s where I hesitate.
Maybe it’s the musician influence. When you perform a piece, yes, the concert has a beginning an and end, but the music doesn’t. We’ve played our parts so, so many times in the practice rooms, and they’re going to be echoing in our heads for hours afterward. Why should that be the definitive version, just because people are there to listen? And to say it’s finished! I can play a piece for myself, and it will be an entirely different thing if I play it for someone else–especially depending on who you are (are we friends? do I know you? where did you come from? are you judgy? how did you get in the garrett? are those snacks?).
I’ve started thinking of telling stories the same way. Maybe I’ll only sing out a few bars of this story for a friend, because we only have a minute. If I have the crew’s attention (in a good way), then I can spin it as long as their interest lasts. It’s the same story, yes? But it takes a different shape. Different details, different style, different inflection. It’s still there, at heart.
It’s not that I don’t want to write “The End.” It’s just that I have trouble getting there.
Especially with a draft. It’s hard to get things to come out right the first time, to include everything I wanted to, and then, to call something so clearly just beginning, finished.
I wrote my 50,000. Usually I write more.
Alighting at 58,000 made it a middle year. Not the 52,000 of my first wild NaNo, not the 94K that frankly, I am terrified to go back and read because what even happened back there?
It wasn’t finished.
Sometimes I skip ahead to write the ending. If I can imagine it clearly, I’m enough of a plantser that it’s okay to do. I don’t have to do things in order. I can write briefer scenes in the middle, get the gist of it down, and leave it for Future Me to flesh out later.
Future Me has filed enough complaints with the system that I am trying to be a little more careful and complete with my work.
I wrote for another week before I completely collapsed.
Last count for NaNo22 Extended Edition was 63,951 words.
It’s still not done. I know how it ends. I just–didn’t make it there.
63,000 words of something. Not quite a novel. The ending exists in its complete form only in my head.
I know the reason. I didn’t finish because I wasn’t done.
I really wanted to see it to the end. But end-of-quarter was coming, and the only story I could think about was NaNo22, even though I needed a short story if I wanted to get out a submission by the 31st.
The conclusion to this you already know.
I started from scratch and rewrote it as a 7,000-word short story.
The main idea is the same. The characters are still there, minus a few who only filled up the background even in the novel. The plot is similar, if it has a few branches pruned off. It’s low fantasy, simple and sweet. A fairytale, just a little scary. It feels like home.
It’s gone out and come back again.
I took a deep breath after I got over the rejection and sat down to read everything again. Not just the novel, but the short story and all the notes I’d copied over to my computer–paragraphs of fragmented sentences fused together like confused stained glass, waiting for me to it all sort out.
To clarify–yes, I did fully intend to read a 175-page novel in one night, curled up in the garrett playing some music in the background. We’re all mad here, Alice, don’t judge.
I managed it in about 24 hours. The novel, the short story, and all my notes.
It’s amazing how much you forget, when you’re writing it. When you’re waist-deep in the drafting process, wading for all you’re worth through pages and pages, trying to keep the spark of inspiration alive, keep the style consistent, make it feel whole, well, it’s a different perspective than looking down on it all, now that it’s complete.
It’s galling how much we walk. Even as traveling musicians.
There’s so much I wanted to do that never made its way onto the page, so much more that I could do, now that the groundwork is there, now that I’ve built a world so beautiful, so familiar, so new.
There’s so much left to do.
I started writing it over again. From the beginning. Hazard of going through my old notes–I can’t leave them alone. I’ve no idea if it will be better than the last one, no idea if I’ve got the energy now to make it to the end again.
As the banner for the last three posts has proudly announced, framed with yellow spoonwood flowers, I sat down in the garrett and wrote 50,000 words.
But how it went?
How it’s going:
I am largely incapable of writing exactly 1,667 words a day. This is baffling to all parties involved. I can write, I can write a lot, and I can write almost every day.
But alas. That little mountain climbing badge has yet to be mine.
We take our badges very seriously in NaNoWriMo. Please don’t ask me about the velociraptors; I don’t know, and at this point, I don’t know how to ask.
What does my writing process look like during the race for the 50,000?
A caffeine-induced fever dream haze of late nights kept company only by the stars and a writing playlist.
Yeah, I don’t get the “I took care of myself,” badge either. Even the year I did something nice (don’t remember what it was) that wasn’t writing, I hovered my mouse over the badge and then didn’t click.
I knew I didn’t deserve it.
Got every other badge this year, though.
But this badge?
The Eureka Moment light bulb?
I owe this one entirely to the crows in my neighborhood.
Look, there are nine-to-five writers who get things done, people like L. Ron Hubbard and Jules Verne who pound out a ridiculous number of words and leave all of us staring.
But there are also writers who have to get away from the project.
I can’t sit at my laptop and type line after line after line if I don’t know where I’m going, because I’ll just have to delete all that uninspired wandering later. I’m actively making more work for myself.
I need a break.
bookmarkedone is required to point out this is not the same as procrastinating because you know that pirate character you really love has to die for the next battle scene to have any real emotional impact and you Do Not Want to Do It. Not having any brain juice and not wanting to use your brain juice are two very different problems.
The best break is a walk. I do not know why, but I was walking just days before drafting this post, violin case in one hand, dogwoods blooming pink, and I had enough ideas pop cheerfully unasked into my head that I was just hoping I could remember everything until I had a chance to write it down.
If you don’t believe me, go look up Neil Gaiman’s trampoline.
So there I was, well into November, out on a grocery run, and there were the big, beautiful, shiny crows that frequent the driveways and green grassy patches along the street.
And I had it. The crow. Of course. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I’d thought to include the bird originally (it already existed in the Greater Story-verse this novel is a part of…don’t ask), and then I’d done absolutely nothing with it. Now that I remembered, it fit two unconnected plot points snugly together.
A word of warning. If you space out in the middle of your “Eureka!” moment while other people are in your vicinity. They will notice and ask if you are okay and if they are not aware of the Race to 50,000–well, good luck explaining yourself.
I went home, wrote my crow, and gave myself my little badge. It was a new game now.
The rest–you can probably guess.
I’m–actually surprised by my little owl. I thought it would be a lot later than that. I’m still amused from the outrage another night owl had a year or two ago when they first installed this feature and it tried to claim that writer as a “mid-day flamingo.” NaNo only goes by when you update your wordcount, so–things happen.
No surprise here. I’m almost always in the garrett, with my books and my tea and my birds coming to the window to visit. Someday I’ll get the “noveled where I shouldn’t” badge, but not this year.
I always joke that my daily word count tracker looks like a very dangerous heart monitor–nothing falls regularly, just erratic ups and downs, no consistency to be found here.
Don’t ask about the 3,000+ word day. I’d half forgotten that happened and I don’t know what caused it.
NaNo charts really are the best. It just feels good to watch the little lines grow as you write, to know you’re making progress, that you did that, even if all the greater worries of writing a book are far more difficult to tackle.
That’s what the middle is like. Don’t look forward, don’t look backward. You’re here, in the now. Just keep going.
And before you know it, a story comes tumbling out.
By this point, you know about the project and the titanic delay. 50,000 words for the month of November, a completely new novel, come what may.
How it Started:
This was NaNoWriMo 5 for me. Per usual, I go in with only a vague idea of where I’m going, hand the reins over to the characters, and hope we wind up with something good 30 days later.
So mid-October 2022, bookmarkedone is staring into space, contemplating what she’s going to do for all those late nights and gloriously long writing sessions.
Picture the scene, if you will. Early autumn. The air just turning crisp. Linden trees. A hammock swing. Bookmarkedone, studiously ignoring her neighbors (the human ones, that is. The cat is a friend and the other creatures are entertaining), reading a book.
Heartless, by Marissa Meyer. Black cover. Glossy red lettered title framed by thorns, absent of any roses. Hardcover. Comfortably worn–a fall library sale acquisition.
This is important.
I have a bone to pick with fictional musicians. Typically, they aren’t like the ones I know–and I’ve known more than my fair share. So anytime a bard or piper or (oh, what trouble are they in then) a violinist pops up in fiction, I’m paying close attention.
Someday I may make a post about fictional bards. For now, have a short version:
Cyrano (from the latest musical version)
Can compose verse in the moment, while you’re staring at him,
Will physically fight you over theater
= good bardic representation.
99% of D&D bards
Not even good enough musicians for a halfway decent drinking song
Delicate as a twig
Generally regarded as useless by the rest of the party
= not good bardic representation (yes, this is an invitation for you to prove me wrong!)
Meyer has a character in Heartless that falls squarely into the “bardic” category. He’s a performer, a juggler, a riddle-weaver, a musician, a mischief-maker.
Not a bad fellow.
Heartless, if you don’t know, is an Alice in Wonderland retelling, sort of a prequel before the Red Queen, well, you know. Is the Red Queen. So there’s lots of things that you think you know, turned upside-down and tilted slightly to the left.
And fitted into the formula of a YA romance.
I have mixed feelings regarding Heartless. But that’s the business of a book review. Not this post.
What you need to pay attention to here is the crisp air, the gentle breeze, the rustle of leaves, the dappled sun. The combination of the familiar and the strange, and the idea of a bardic performer dressed in all black, going by the name of Jest.
I expect I’ll have to edit later to be 1000% certain I don’t infringe copyright, but I stole that. The name. The color. It reminded me of something, of someone, but it wasn’t quite right. It’s long enough ago that I almost forgot myself, but the start of this story happens there, under that tree, with me turning over in my mind the idea of a character named Jest.
With me putting my book away, going up to the garrett, and getting a notebook and pen.
With me sitting under that tree, writing. Not for anyone or anything, but because it felt right again. Like the sun was shining.
It isn’t Meyer’s Jest in my story, before you think that. Hers is broody and secretive and romantic. My character–well, they might share the same all-black costume and a general profession of mischief, but similarities in personality are few.
Nor is he the protagonist. Just a side character. A catalyst, to set me off down this road.
The real start to this story came–oh, nine years ago now? It was the first of many spiral notebooks I filled with bits and bobs, pieces of story that I didn’t have any plans for yet, but knew they would grow into something someday. One of the very first entries. A few paragraphs about a boy, and name, and a dream.
I rolled it around in my mind for years before finding a place for it. And now here it is, finding its way onto the page.
I wrote a lot before NaNo started. It was hard to make myself stop.
Other goals for the project?
As I said, I had bards on the brain. Nobody can seem to do them quite to my satisfaction (with a few very fine exceptions), so I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands.
I was going to write a story about musicians. A book for the bards. And–since it was the perfect opportunity–pack into it every bit of renfaire culture I could, because I’ve seen far more books about what we most certainly aren’t than what we are.
And it was time to attack a trope head-on that I have long skulked away from.