By now you know I am convinced fantasy is the best and most beautiful genre of fiction in the world. But I don’t often talk about why.
A while back (yes, concerts and work and university finals, I know. I’m awake now) I stumbled across Sarah Seele’s lovely post “They Found Loveliness Everywhere.” Do go read it because it’s a fascinating discussion on escapism and it should convince you to read Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories and rethink your life.
How I envied him, getting to write academic papers on fantasy.
I, however, am going to take an entirely different direction on the topic.
I’m going off on the deep end by examining actual characters who use escapism in literature and how it matters. And then promptly get far too dewy-eyed and philosophical and say things that might not mean anything at all.
So here I was, reading about escapism.
I was almost instantly reminded of a scene from The Princess Bride. In the Zoo of Death (Pit of Despair in the movie version), when Count Rugen is torturing Westley. There’s a line that echoes in my mind from the day I read it until now.
You have gone away in your mind!
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride.
In context, it’s about how Westley could withstand anything, absolutely anything, because he could think about Buttercup and leave the real world behind, completely oblivious to his own pain. Romantic, I know. Do not light your hands on fire at home.
What does it mean, going away in your mind? Escapism? Something more?
No. Nothing. Of course. Nothing.
Patrick Rothfuss does something similar in his genius, revolutionary, to-die-for novel The Name of the Wind. He calls it “Heart of Stone,” when a man “could go to his sister’s funeral and never shed a tear.” A mental process that makes external situations totally remote, even unimportant. Further, the magic system is based on splitting one’s mind into sections, each one focused on a different thought, and with it, controlling the physical world. Knowing that you can’t make something that is real be any different from what it is, and somehow, somehow with the power and strength of your will and mind, changing it anyway.
Impossible. Beautifully so.
Even Death in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief uses escapism to cope with the struggles of a stressful job. The opening descriptions of colors, little vacations he takes in his thoughts since he can’t get away in reality is more mesmerizing than it has any right to be.
A pirate, a wizard, and Death, all using escapism. All finding a place, even within their beautiful, enormous, enchanting fictional worlds, where they can rest, feel safe, breathe again.
Maybe nothing. Fictional characters are reflections of people in unexpected situations. Maybe it’s nothing remarkable at all.
But before we’re done, let me tell you one last story. One that isn’t published anywhere, and lies much closer to home.
This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m terrible at communicating in real life. Seriously. As in I don’t talk. At all. Strider the Ranger in the corner of the Prancing Pony Inn is more chatty than I am. It’s difficult to have people understand you when that’s the case, when conversation is often endlessly irritating. And so one day I found myself, at the end of my rope, saying (not quite shouting) to a loved one You have gone away inside your mind!
It was the only way I knew how to explain it.
The situation boiled down to this–as long as I could handle the trashy stuff in my life (and let’s face it, we all have a little) with one eye on something else, it didn’t bother me. As long as I didn’t have to discuss all the finer points of planning out solutions, as long as it didn’t fill the whole of my thoughts, I could handle it. And be chipper enough at the same time.
By being a very good liar. By telling myself stories in my head, all the time. By preoccupying myself with the fact that the Phantom of the Opera’s mask is perfect for a violinist because it only covers the right half of the face. By laughing at one of my character’s reactions to old movies. By always having a story, a novel, a movie, a play, at the tip of my tongue, the corner of my eye, playing itself out in the back of my mind. By not looking down.
By going away inside my mind.
It’s rubbish. Nonsense. Not real.
Except, maybe, for someone who’s a little insane. Or a writer. Someone like me.
This is more an observation than anything else. A question. Something book characters do. Readers. And me, apparently. But I’ll take this chance to express a dangerous sentiment.
Suppose escapism isn’t just a coping mechanism. Suppose instead that it’s a perspective. A different way of looking at life. One where dragons and hovercraft populate the sky and untold treasures and lost empires lie buried in the soil beneath your feet. One where anything can happen, and we act like characters in books.
I don’t mean, of course, the standard YA trope fests, stereotypical romance novels, or spy stories that think CIA means “I can shoot anything that moves and get away with it.” I mean the sort of characters who live in the moment because the reader doesn’t have the patience to sit through chitchat or coffee or putting off the adventure until tomorrow. Book characters get things done. They face their fears. They live, in ways that make them more vibrant and real than any of us.
So I wonder. What would happen if we treated the world as a story? One we have the power to write. To change. Just a little.
Raising my glass (or tea tankard, as the case may be) to the lovely readers who have found something they like in BookmarkedOne! A hearty thank-you to you all. This wouldn’t be nearly as much fun writing to silent void. And I know. I’ve experience in both.
I am aware I’m late to the party for my own blog, so to speak. Technically it’s past 100 followers now. In my defense, I was in the trenches of NaNoWriMo when I got the notification, and throwing another post into my schedule just then was beyond mad.
So a correction, then. Thank you to the 100 followers and the 13 more recent followers who are equally important in terms of cheering me up as I blog.
I have no idea what to do now.
Suggestion box? Books you’d like reviewed? Snarky comments? Content requests? Complaints about my exceptionally mousy quietness on the remaining Harry Potter books and the long-promised Name of the Wind review?
About that…it’s next on the list. Right after I check the box on this post.
In the meantime, a few random things because it seems wrong to post something so short.
Reading Dune at the moment. It is already so much better than Runelords and the first Shannara book put together I’m afraid to say anything else in case I jinx myself into a massive disappointment. I hope it’s good. I really hope it’s good. Thoughts?
Finally figured out the magic art of pinning my hair up with just a stick. Not only does this have the effect of making me feel like a wizard every time I do it, I will literally never need to be separated from my pencil again. Apologies to all those with short hair and cute pixie cuts I’ve just made very jealous.
Had a character tell me (just as I was finishing NaNo) “Yes, I’m willing to die for xyz character because x has had a very hard life and I want x to have a happy ending.” And then I was on the edge of tears for at least three days. I’ve had characters die, either by tragic accident or going with jaw set to doom. But I have never, in the history of ever, had a character this good-hearted. All of the others fight death kicking and screaming. As they should. If anything happens to this Twizzler-eating little hero, I’m not sure I’ll ever emotionally recover. Send help.
Had three socially-distanced violin recitals/events/things in the last few days. Which is substantially low for this time of the year. Still trying to decide if it felt right to be in the swing of things or weird. At least I didn’t get “please do not have dead fish face” as a comment this year. One good thing about wearing a mask. No one can tell how hard I might be concentrating.
There’s a Pat Rothfuss on NaNo. It’s either actually him or a forgery by someone who really knows what they’re doing. Hard to tell. I salute the fabulous either way.
I owe someone a pie. That really makes me sound like a Hobbit, doesn’t it?
As always, wherever you are and whatever the book, happy reading.
It’s terribly inconvenient. I realize I only say that because of how happy I am that my characters are talking to me again. But they always seem to choose the most inopportune times–before deadlines, when I don’t have paper, at 2:23 a.m. Sometimes they strike the lucky golden number of all three.
I’ve been up past midnight more than I should admit the last two weeks because my fingers won’t stop flicking over the keys.
So what am I working on?
Urban high fantasy. It’s about 9,000-odd words at the moment. Currently I’m dodging the backstory/this-is-how-my-super-complicated-magic-system-works dump and reminding myself that just because I’ve spent months hanging out with these characters in various other short stories, I still have to explain to the reader who they are.
Also plot. I have only half a plot.
Am I the only one who really struggles with villains? I can’t seem to make them scary enough. Maybe it’s just because I’ve read so many they all feel predictable. I don’t know. If anybody knows good ways to build a villain that’s just plain despicable, please, please share the tips. I already can make sympathetic villains. I make too many of those…
Getting ready to read Dune. For the first time. A loved one loaned me a trade paperback copy bought at a thrift store. You know, the one with so much orange on the cover and pages that can no longer technically be called white and the musty smell that says read me, read me, climb inside, I have so many things to show you.
It’s now blatantly obvious I am a fan of battered old books.
And just so we’re on the same page…I did finish reading the Harry Potter series this summer. I am planning on finishing my Harry Potter Project by doing book blogs on each of them.
You’ve probably noticed I haven’t made a peep about it since July. I often find that the more involved I become with a book, the more difficult it is for me to filter all the things about it into a simple blog post. I keep thinking I’ll forget something beautiful I should have mentioned, that I come off to harsh on the flaws. And don’t even think about the headache of rating it in stars.
That being said, I’m going to do it. I can’t let this become like The Name of the Wind review that is still half-finished because the series tore my heart out and ate it. I finished Potter, and the reviews will come.
Just probably not until after my characters stop poking me awake at night. Stay tuned.
There are some books I can’t read. Not because I don’t want to. Simply because I can’t.
I realize this doesn’t make any sense. I have a world of words and my fingertips. Any book I want, I can hunt out, even if it takes me years. I’ll find it, from the Prose Eddas to The Revenge of Magic or the latest Cornelia Funke book yet to be translated to English.
But out of those thousands of millions of wonderful words, there are some books I just can’t read.
Game of Thrones.Buttercup’s Baby (Yup, the sequel to Princess Bride you didn’t realize existed). Thieves’ World. King of Scars, Amanda-Miranda (started all these and gave up). The Wise Man’s Fear (for the moment. Somebody hand me any form of chocolate to drown my tears in please).
Same idea with TV series–Game of Thrones again, Carnival Row, The Witcher. Super awesome worldbuilding and gorgeous sets, huge fandoms ready to embrace reenactments and nerd cons.
I want to hear their stories. I want to plunge headfirst into their worlds. I want to see them shake the reality I know into confetti and then magic it back into stone.
I’ve thought a lot about this. And I keep coming back to what someone who knows me well said:
As close as I can remember it (she’s forgotten this occasion herself by now), “I don’t think you actually read books. It’s like you live them as the character and feel what they feel.”
It was one of those horrible moments when she didn’t realize just how right about me she was.
I read once that when you watch someone do something, your brain is making the same synaptic connections as if you were doing the action yourself–essentially, your brain knows how. And the only thing barring you from doing it is teaching your muscles to make the motions.
I think the same thing happens with books.
For whatever reason (a Quixote-style book overdose, hazards of being a writer, just inborn personality), there’s no division for me when I’m reading between reality and what’s on the page. As long as I’m in the story, that’s what’s real. Westley, Buttercup, Kvothe, Auri, Elodin, fairies, goblins, monsters, warriors, humans–doesn’t make a smidgen of difference. That’s what’s real. And I’m there with them, climbing Mount Doom to chuck a ring of power into lava, feeling the sting of a broken lute string across my hand.
It’s not just being there, watching them. It’s slipping inside their skin and looking out through their eyes.
Everything they feel, I feel. I’m there.
So if something wonderful happens, Runaway King style snark, I’m elated. On top of the world. I’ve felt the glory of a faerie feast and heard the rhythm of pounding drums. I’ve gone and seen so many beautiful things. If I close my eyes right now, I can still imagine the Hall of Fire in Elrond’s house, when we readers of the Fellowship see Arwen look at Aragorn for the first time. It’s all there.
But with every story, there are terrible things too.
Most of the time, I don’t mind them. The horrible plague-infested world of Avi’s Crispin? Not a problem. Fighting orcs with Samwise Gamgee? My afternoon is clear. Even living three years in Tarbean with Kvothe, slowly feeling as if you’re going insane? I’m there until the end. The very end.
But there are some points that even my loyalty breaks. Sometimes there are things I just can’t take.
I can’t keep watching through the eyes of a character during rape. I can’t sit there and watch as they walk down a road that’s going to lead to a horrible fate. I can’t listen to other characters curse them with a thousand deaths. I’m there. I can’t just observe.
Nobody who stood in those shoes would.
I know as well as any writer that hard, sad stories can’t be ignored. I struggle with the balance of it every time I write.
But I wonder if other writers would be as eager to shock and dramatize things no one should experience if they knew there was someone out there like me. Would they look me in the eye and wish me to feel everything their characters did?
Reading isn’t living. It isn’t close to the same. But once I’ve seen things, abuse, curses, betrayal, something shatters inside me every time. Maybe it’s because every time I read a good book, I fall a little bit in love.
And I’ve also been blessed (or cursed) with a needle-sharp memory. When it comes to stories, especially book-trauma, I never forget.
I can’t forget. It’s there forever.
And if I fall head over heels for the book?
I can eventually forget some things about characters I didn’t fall in love with. It’s different when they’re more than real. When they’re better than anything I could have dreamed.
That’s why I won’t read the big names like Game of Thrones. Not because I think it’s worthless and I won’t like it. It’s because I know I probably will–and after rumors I’ve heard, that’s even scarier.
There are short stories I read over a year ago I still can’t think about without hurting. Stories I didn’t even really like. Once I stumbled out of reading something, suddenly hugged a loved one, and started sobbing on a shoulder. No explanation. Other times, it’s like trying to end an abusive relationship–still love him, but you know it’s never ever going to work out, so it’s probably better you don’t try. Pass around the cold pizza and hand out the fluffy socks. Let’s watch a super violent movie with nonexistent character arcs and forget the world exists. Tomorrow will be another day and we can believe in love then. Not now.
I have no idea if anyone else reads like this, the way I do. But from little hints and guesses, things people answer, things I say that stick out in conversation like an eggplant in a field of strawberries…
I begin to think it’s just me.
Maybe that’s for the best.
Elinor in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart once said that books “love anyone who opens them.” It’s not true. Books bite.
So I’ve gotten to be a bit like Inkheart’s Dustfinger. I’ve gotten very careful to guard my silly writer’s heart.
I’ve learned a time or two what it feels like when it breaks.
If I think about it, my life is just a history of the books I’ve read. The Summer of the Lord of the Rings. The summer after that when I read Inkheart, The Thief Lord,The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Fog Diver all at once, drinking in every last gasp of words before heading off to school. The fall of my freshman college year will always be The Magic Thief, and then The Tombs of Atuan, sitting by myself reading at lunch under a tree. Watching the leaves fall (yes, so I sometimes wandered into class unwittingly with them in my hair), and the flowers bloom and petals fall on the open pages. And I can no longer think about that spring without the words of The Name of the Wind following me, waiting around every corner.
Books. My life is a story of books.
Lots of people say they love books. Sometimes–don’t be angry–I think they just really like them.
I cried over a movie trailer once because a favorite mythic hero was absolutely nothing like himself and everyone thought it was fine. A movie trailer.
I made a good friend through mutual book/movie ranting nobody else wanted to listen to. It’s rare if we talk long without books coming into conversation even today.
I’ll willingly fight anyone over them. Even if almost all other subjects leave me so disinterested I don’t even speak.
Sometimes I can’t respect someone who has only new books on their list of favorites–nothing more than five or six years old. How is that possible? Difficult as it is to pick a favorite, how can you neglect the hundreds upon thousands of glorious titles published in time ago? How do you know you’ll love it for a lifetime when it’s only been around you a few years? Haven’t you plunged into the musty pages? Gone exploring in the archaic words? Wouldn’t it be better to pick twenty titles, ten from new and ten from old? Fifty, even? More?
I quote book characters when the mood suits me–“Mo says that books…” or “Jacob Reckless was the one in the tavern, I remember now,” or “Bea would say that’s purple,” without warning people I’m talking about fictional things–because what’s the point?
I make a shopping list when I go to the library, and promptly forget to consult it twenty paces within the stacks, staring up at the shelves, eyes flicking across the titles, mouth open, drinking in the sight
Genre: Magical Realism/Children’s Fantasy/Circus Books (is that a genre? Someone please tell me).
Content for the Sensitive Reader: Virtually none…that I can remember. Presence of fortune-tellers, some slight creepiness with the magical powers/hypnosis of villain/heroes…very tame.
BookmarkedOne Rating: 8/10
So I’ve been reading Zahler books for…well, let’s just say a long time. I started with A True Princess, back when I was about the target age group and adored it (beautiful cover, beautiful book, wonderful story, magic and weeping cherry trees, what’s not to like?). I’ve been hunting down most of her books off and on since then (still need to read Baker’s Magic…). For the most part, I can always count on her to tell an engaging story, sweeping me away by breathing new life into the classic fairytales I love and weaving in bits of little-known mythology that I pounce on like a 9 week old cat. The only thing I’ve ever had to complain of with her is a slight difference in our vocabularies…she prefers the definition of “witch” as “one who has magical capabilities, inborn, natural, or inherited,” while I prefer to use other words. Where I come from, “witch” always means black magic, so call yourself an “enchantress” “wizardess,” or invent a new term so readers don’t get confused. Still, Zahler’s witches don’t actually do black magic…so I can’t complain too much.
The Marvelwood Magicians is not one of her delicious fairytale retellings. Like her usual fare, it comes with a gorgeous cover and good writing, but the medieval setting and girls in long dresses have been swapped for a circus complete with a troupe of performers, two tigers, a cozy wagon, trapeze artists, and the mind-reading Mattie.
Me: (pauses reading) Circus book? Like with elephants and tigers and seeing the world?
Me: (settles back more politely after rude interruption) Do tell on.
Confession: I harbor a secret love for the idea of the circus.
I have never been. This irks me to no end. But I see so much that’s familiar in the circus to my beloved Renaissance faires–the life on the road, the taste of adventure and dust on the breeze, the performing, the strangeness of it all to everyday life. Learning the circus was a dying art just as I was discovering it crushed me…and it’s one of the reasons I knew I had to get The Marvelwood Magicians as soon as I could.
The story poses a delightful question: what if the people who pretend to be magicians and mind-readers, fortune-tellers and illusionists, actually could do what they said?
Enter the Marvelwoods, center stage. But before you get too excited, be forewarned–having magic abilities when the rest of the world doesn’t isn’t always what you expect it to be. And sometimes, it’s worth pretending you aren’t so special after all.
Second confession: I love real-world fantasy stories that admit things can go terribly wrong.
Watching characters with amazing gifts struggle to fit in, or even understand the real world can be so refreshing. And I did mention it’s in a circus, right?
But before you think the book is perfect…
In the midst of enjoying the adventure, I couldn’t help noticing…isn’t this the same plot as A True Princess that I read so long ago?
Girl must deal with problems of identity.
Girl must stand alone to protect her friends.
Girl must have dramatic confrontation with villain.
Girl must save everyone, not just her particular friends.
I realize that sounds fairly generic, and I guess it is…but I couldn’t help thinking about the echoes of A True Princess as I read the final scenes of Mattie’s adventures…and hoping for something new to emerge.
That small flaw aside…
To be perfectly honest, there’s a lot I fell in love with about The Marvelwood Magicians. The whole idea of being different because of who you are and finding a place to belong, and of being more comfortable on the road than in a little house with a green front yard–those things speak to my soul.
I remember going on road trips as a kid and everything being different. You know you’re in the same place for all of a few hours. You might never see the same people again, and even if it’s just a small town, it’s all entirely new.
You see things in a different light.
And if your home is the road, like it is for the Ruh players in The Name of the Wind or the Marvelwoods in the circus?
I’ve wondered sometimes what it would be like. You’d be at home everywhere, because everything was familiar, and everything new.
I never tire of hearing stories like that. Sometimes I think that wandering blood might be my own.
So for all of us who worry about losing the circus, for all of us who have never been, and for everyone who never gave up on the possibility of magic, there’s The Marvelwood Magicians.
Go read it and believe in unbelievable wonders again. Not somewhere far away. Believe in them in your own backyard, and down the dusty road to a place you’ve never noticed, in people you’ve never met.
By now, some of you may have realized I get unusual jobs. Be a strolling player at a Renaissance festival? Play electric violin for a private studio concert? Sure, why not? But the job I took in mid-November (smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo) was probably the most unusual for a while.
Wanted: One violinist. Must be able to memorize music. Also should feel comfortable walking/dancing while playing. Wardrobe should include boots and fiddler’s cap. Must not be afraid of heights.
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how it played out. But that’s what was eventually asked.
And in case you haven’t guessed, the role to be filled was the fiddler in a private school production of Fiddler on the Roof.
(deliberate pause as the little violinist in me squeals in disbelief.)
You have to understand, there are a lot of things associated with violin. Mozart, classical style, modern pop stuff, oy the number of times I’ve heard about Lindsey Stirling…But sooner or later, you’re going to realize two things recur again and again.
Almost every violinist is eventually asked to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
Almost every violinist would much rather play Issac Stern’s solos in Fiddler on the Roof. His sound–aaaagghh! Some of us work our entire lives to sound that glorious. And few enough succeed.
I can remember listening to that overture when I was little, relishing every last silver, shining note. After hearing about this job, I finally remember Little Me saying wouldn’t it be amazing to play that part?
I never actually thought I’d get to do it. And yet here it was, a coworker directing the play and asking around for a fiddler.
So I sidled up to him after getting off work…okay, more like materialized behind him, and cleared my quiet bookish throat.
Here’s the thing: he was asking a group of high school students for volunteers. And I didn’t really want to swoop in and take the role from a bright-eyed student if they had their heart set on it as much as I would have.
So I said I knew he was probably going to be swamped with violinists jumping at the chance to do this (because seriously! Life goals, people!), but if he still hadn’t heard from anyone, would he please keep me in mind?
Guess what? Nobody else had asked about the role.
Bizarre? Indeed. The director figured they were daunted by the prospect of dancing with Tevye…but thinking about my Dragonfest experiences walking and playing, hopping over logs, curtsying…I just laughed. That really wasn’t going to be a problem.
This may also have been the one time I can recall my fate of looking younger than I am working in my favor. All the times of being slighted at music shops because I looked young, new parents at work giving me odd looks when they see me working with little violinists–apparently it was all worth it because I blended in with the cast of the play perfectly.
So, surprise! I was suddenly the Fiddler on the Roof.
(feel free to imagine little girl inward squealing for the next three days in my brain. You won’t be too far from the truth.)
I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect showing up for the first rehearsal.
What I found was the wedding scene taking place on an incredible set the students and teachers had built themselves.
I’ve been around theater (and most other performing arts) enough by now to learn the closer you get to performance, the crazier everything gets. I managed to get a brief “Hi,” from the director before he plunged back into what he was doing. So I sat back and watched. It was a good scene already.
One of the actors ran up to me after it was over. Introduced himself.
“Are you our fiddler?”
I grinned and shook his hand. “Yes sir, I am your fiddler.”
It wasn’t until after he’d run off again I realized I hadn’t even thought of using my name.
After the director had a moment to breathe, we ran one of the scenes with the fiddler and discussed details.
The actors were quick to explain scenes to me, mood, etc. I tried not to laugh and wondered if they realized I could sing along on half the numbers just because of how well I knew the story.
The director was actually super sweet about making sure I was comfortable with everything. Particularly the part about dressing as a male fiddler.
So very kind. But it was all I could do not to laugh in his face.
I’ve been around theater, even if I’ve never really been “an actress.” I know how small productions work. As Kvothe says in The Name of the Wind, “If you were clean-shaven and the dress fit, you played the part…” That’s just how it goes.
So I assured him I’d be fine, dragged some garb I already had out of my closet, stole Dad’s hat, and threw it together.
Voilà! One fiddler on the roof.
Which brought us to the other exciting part of the job.
I’m not actually afraid of heights. But holding my violin on a stepladder on a platform that wobbled–that made me nervous. Very nervous. I wasn’t afraid of falling. I was afraid of falling with the violin.
But the director swept in to my rescue again. Took the ladder off the platform, grabbed two actors to hold it and my violin as I climbed up and down, and let me play up there for a bit until I felt comfortable.
Or at least more comfortable.
And it was fine.
Another silent thanks to Perchik and the rabbi. I think I actually said “May you both be blessed with perfect pitch,” when I climbed down once during performance. They were so good about holding my violin carefully. I’m not sure if the director (also a musician) scared them into it or if they were just perfect. Either way.
We had one last thing to work out before the show. The student actors had so many friends and family members coming we were going to have full house/standing room only. After some consideration…
Two messages on my phone and an email later…the director was trying to make sure I could come to a second showing.
(cue me glancing at piles of work. Eh, who cares. I can swing it.)
And I did.
Night 1: Did not fall off ladder. Did not trip and fall on face going down steps I couldn’t see in the stage lights.
Made faces at actors hiding backstage waiting for the show to start, laughed myself silly at all of us peeking out from the house set’s curtains, discovered Tevye apparently doesn’t know sign language and I may have creeped him out…(sorry, Tevye!)
Did trip over a stray electric cord and nearly splatted on my face then, but that’s another story. And we also discovered it was total blackout behind the house when I would be climbing the ladder. We hadn’t rehearsed it that way, so there was a collective “Oh,” from the three of us back there. Fortunately, everything went well.
There also wasn’t much of a backstage, so the director planned to have me sit in the audience. He’d claimed a seat himself in the front so he could cue actors and lighting, so I’d sit next to him.
Not like I was in time-out or anything. Just so he could smack me if I missed a cue.
Except when I scurried offstage after the opening number…there was a lovely family sitting on the front row. Luckily I’d left my coat on the seat, or the director might not have saved me a place.
As soon as I’d settled in, the man I found myself sitting next to leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“I’m proud to be sitting next to Tradition.”
I laughed. Said “Thank you, sir.”
Yeah, he totally made my day.
Night 2: Did not fall off ladder. Did not trip over steps.
Actually had more fun in the dance scene with Tevye the second time around. It was set so I sneak up behind him before I start playing…I tend to enjoy sneaking too much.
Sat next to director’s family the second night, and they saved me a seat, so no worries there. The only really sad part was night 2 was the last show.
Pity. I’d forgotten how much I loved theater.
It was about as glorious as I’d hoped it would be. Everyone hears nasty things about the theater world sooner or later, “Oh, they all want to be stars,” “They’re not very nice,” etc. Not true with this group. It was one of those rare places you find people who just care about making a good play. Telling a good story. Building sets, perfecting the wedding dance with balancing bottles on actor’s heads (which I am apparently sworn to secrecy as to technique now), making every moment something to remember.
It was the best.
One last fun fact. Even though the director did make the effort to introduce me to the cast (the first day I headed out after rehearsal, he had everyone say goodbye to me and they all applauded…so sweet), for some reason I kept being a little enigmatic. People weren’t entirely sure what my name was…where exactly I’d come from…how they’d gotten a fiddler…just that the director had pulled me out of a hat, apparently, and they were happy and busy enough not to ask too many questions.
I guess I could have corrected that. But this was so much more fun.
Most of rehearsals, if people had to say something to me, I was just “the Fiddler.” And that was perfectly fine with me.
Actually, some kids from work came by to the play and saw me on the roof…the next time they saw me at work they all said “Hello, Fiddler!” making me feel like a real celebrity.
I’ve never really had a nickname stick before, but I think I could get used to this one.
The adventure of writing 50,000 words in 30 days is almost over for another year. As in 4,000 words/7 days close.
I don’t mean to say the “novel” I’ve been working on is finished. I’m not sure anyone looking at it would think that. But I’ve been doing what I set out to do.
Just writing. Whatever I feel like, writing.
It was supposed to be a wizard’s travelogue, filled to the brim with adventures and stories collected along the way.
Hasn’t really turned out that way. I haven’t written either of the two myths I meant to include when starting the project (silent apology to writing buddy who asked me to write one of them). And the travelogue sensation has been all but drowned out in places. Probably 10,000 words need to be cut out.
Then again, NaNo isn’t about being perfect. It’s about writing. Whatever you want. And apparently what I wanted was cyborgs, fire, and dragons instead of shadows, war, and magic flowers.
Cue helpless shrug, please.
This week has gone…differently. In some ways, I feel like I finally am starting to write this project. As if I had to wander through the better part of 40,000 words to realize I’ve been holding my map upside-down all along. And now all I want is to see where it will lead me.
So let me say one crazy thing–one month is not long enough for this madness of writing 1,667 words a day. I need more time. I need a second November to finish this adventure.
I need someone to smack me upside the head and remind me how nice it is to remember the names of people I see every week and get eight consecutive hours of sleep at night.
This week was especially exciting because in addition to nearing the end, I had a small word slump.
The cause? Book trauma.
This may be unfamiliar to some of you. Book trauma is essentially when I become too deeply involved in character’s lives I then get the sensation of a pencil being snapped in half when something goes horribly wrong. Not dying characters or unforeseen plot twists. I’m a seasoned enough reader by now not to be bothered by that. Much. It’s more that I’m so attached to the world, the characters, I can’t completely pull myself back to reality. If someone gets hurt, I can get over it. But if a character lets me down? Betrays everything they seemed to be and act like it’s nothing at all?
It’s as if your best friend suddenly told you out of the blue that you are fat and stupid and have a witch wart on the end of your nose and that they don’t care about you at all.
Dramatic, I know. It happens when you go hiking up Mount Doom on the weekends and spend your evenings in the Eolian tavern and a month writing 50,000 words instead of going to work parties and reading light magazines.
Or whatever it is normal people do.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I could just cry it out and be done with it. But the last few times this has happened, it’s like it’s been a delayed reaction. I was still sensitive talking about short stories I’d read eight, nine months afterward. It wasn’t until 24 hours after reading the section of the novel that traumatized me this time I felt that sick pull in my stomach that comes with realizing what I’d read.
Usually when a book makes me angry, the writing is splendid. I have ideas, I have plots, I have revenge and wrath and visit justice upon the horrid author’s ideas. Book trauma this time was different.
I couldn’t write. Everything I put on the page that night seemed like a horrible, shallow idea.
It wasn’t big enough to throw off my word count or set me behind. But it was pretty awful.
Word of warning–people say you can read to inspire your writing, and it’s perfectly true. But apparently so is the opposite.
Blog will probably return to “regular programming” in a week or two after NaNo ends…so a quiet thank you for listening to me grumble about my adventures. More book reviews soon.
Happy reading, and to the NaNo writers out there, happy writing. Everything will be back to normal soon.
So in between working on NaNoWriMo (I’m still alive after 18,000 words in 6 days! Ha!), here is the promised blog post about Grand Bookish Adventure no. 2: Dragonfest Renaissance faire. Even though it’s been a couple weeks since it happened.
As word of explanation, I am a strolling player at the festivals–wander around, wear cool clothes, and play music (this is actually my job description. Simplified, of course. Don’t be too jealous). If you want to come to Dragonfest sometime, feel free to poke around on the website. And if you like this little adventure, I’m having another performance mid-November, so keep your eye on the blog.
Otherwise, here’s the story!
If you missed my ranting about how awesome Dragonfest and Renaissance faires are in general…Life off the Page. It sometimes happens.
Anyway, some of you may remember I was hoping in terror it wouldn’t rain. Because the violin does not get wet.
And yes, I went anyway.
Probably not the most logical of my logicless decisions in the last week and a half (please note, most of this was written before NaNo–but the point stands).
And some little droplets of water got on the violin I take to faires.
(Sound of Strolling Player internally dead. Not dying. Dead.)
(Feel free to imagine here whatever wet squelching sound, dry banshee wailings or aghast poetry you like)
Of course I wiped them off as soon as I saw them and was as careful as I could be. And for those of you holding your breath, when I scrutinized it later, the worst damage appeared to be light smudges on the high-gloss varnish. Similar smudges have appeared before because my hands typically sweat rivers when I play. So. Probably no lasting damage.
Didn’t help other musicians were quietly judging me by politely commenting how surprised they were I had come.
Can’t blame them. I’d be judging me too.
Let’s none of us tell my concertmasters/former or current teachers/professors/friends/employers/anyone remotely related to my music career who knows anything about music anything about this, okay?
Cloaks are wonderful things, do you know that? You can hide an entire violin and bow underneath it when you feel the first raindrop on your nose and run for cover.
I spent most of the day doing that and playing for people under the various tents I’d taken up residence in. No one seemed to mind. In a way, you can make more sales if everyone is forced into your booth to get out of the rain. And you suddenly have free entertainment.
Everyone was super sweet about tipping me too. I know a lot of performers station themselves in one place and put out a jar/hat/open case. Not that I blame them; faire life full time can be expensive. But it’s not my style. I like to wander, browse booths, visit the Queen, walk as I play…no copper beggar’s cup. I am a mummer, not a beggar. No offense.
But people tipped me anyway just because they liked me playing. There’s one man who sells swords (ah, beautiful swords.) that tips me every year. A pirate asked if I knew the tune Katyusha, and after hearing Maria Lazareva’s version…well, that was a very good suggestion, indeed. He tipped with coins. I appreciated the authenticity but found them very difficult to put into my belt pouches one handed.
He wasn’t the only one to request music. Two boys early in the day wanted to try my violin, and yes, I did let them.
One reason for this– a story my mother never tires of telling. When I was a wee little girl myself going to the faires, I met a lady who played violin with a little band. Even that young, my genetic must play violin had already kicked into gear. Short attention span or not, I think I would have stayed planted in front of her all day long. Despite all the other magic of the faire.
She asked if I wanted to hold it.
Her violin. If I wanted to hold her violin.
Yes. Yes, I did.
She showed me how to hold it and play a note. And I can’t say I’ve ever completely forgotten her, or the violin that was easily three or four sizes too big for me.
So when two young lads came up and asked if they could play, I said yes.
I began to reconsider after they’d done it two or three times each during the day. Despite the happy faire memories, there is a darker, jealous side to musicians.
I have never heard it said better than Kvothe in The Name of the Wind.
Asking a musician to play his instrument is roughly the equivalent of asking a man if you can kiss his wife.
As best I can remember it. Don’t have a copy yet and can’t find the quote anywhere. Bother.
While he uses stronger terms than I would…he isn’t wrong. If I hand you my instrument, you can either conclude it isn’t my Precious, that I trust you very much, that I am watching your every move, or I am partially-brain dead or have no other options before the world goes up in smoke.
I was watching their every move.
I imagine watching them play was rather like skydiving. No, I’ve never done it. But it has that sensation of standing on the edge of a cliff with nothing under you.
From a few words and the way they clutched and crunched the bow, I soon learned they were both 2Cellos fans. Unusual, but approvable. Also explained their horrible form.
Don’t think I’m being cruel. Everyone has horrible form when they first pick it up. If they don’t…I suspect wizardry or the mythic Inherent Talent which I have yet to come across in full glory.
Eventually, I agreed to learn Thunderstruck for them by next year. Since they didn’t know how to play it themselves. And why not? I like 2Cellos. Maybe more than I should.
Between performing, I stopped by Lady Jillian’s booth and bought my very own LillaRose hair clasp, which I’d been meaning to do since the first Dragonfest. It has a dragonfly with Celtic knotwork designs. I am very satisfied. Next time I’ll buy one of the gaudy ones with trailing beads to wear to symphony performances.
There were also gentlemen who made me a bit too amused at the prospect of using the clasps to pin back their beards.
Yup, that’s still funny. I think they were pleased to have entertained me.
Also stumbled across a booth selling rings while I was there…so I bought one of stone and one of wood. I was thinking of Kvothe again, of course, with his rings of bone and fire and blood. They’re both a bit big for me, but most rings are. I have small hands. I don’t know why I picked the black stone ring. They had orange and jade-green and a brownish color…somehow I just felt like the black one.
Speaking of Kvothe, I did run into J. Christopher Wilson again, writer of Wards of Iasos. We have had a few tentative book discussions since Dragonfest Year 1.
I read Iasos. He reads George R.R. Martin. I therefore had no compunction in recommending The Name of the Wind. Well, very little anyway. If Game of Thrones is half of what I’ve heard as far as content…he’ll be fine.
My recommendation was somewhat solidified by a woman who appeared behind me while we were talking. As soon as she heard Rothfuss, she firmly seconded my opinion.
Then apologized for interrupting. A true bookworm, I presume.
Actually, as soon as she said Mr. Wilson should read the Rothfuss, her head swiveled to me and she said:
“Are you Kvothe?”
I burst out laughing. She shook her head and mumbled no, guess not.
I couldn’t help thinking–should I be offended? Flattered? I know where she got the idea, wandering minstrel just happening to recommend that book to someone.
Should I have been offended at the comparison to a blade-tongued musician who lies freely and spends far too much time noticing the appearance of young women?
And is also very handsome with bright red hair and one of the best musicians ever penned?
Am I okay with that?
Apparently I am okay with that.
Maybe. Sort of. Not like I’d go around telling people that. More like “Oh. I guess I’m Kvothe to you now. Okay.” I guess there are worse names. Maybe. Ish.
I should have said “One family,” the way all Ruh do, but I was too surprised to think of it in time. Anyway.
Whoever you were Bookish Lady of Dragonfest–you made my day. A deep curtsy to you and your library.
Of course, that’s saying a lot. Most of the day was fantastic (minus the rain).
There was a booth full of wooden wands where the carver said to “Feel free to swish and flick.” I was tempted, but holding my violin at the moment. They were about the prettiest wands I’d seen around.
The jousts were, as usual, very good. The final joust of the day a little girl in full armor came to watch. Of course one of the knights chose her as his Lady. I love that they choose little girls so often–you know it makes their entire year. Especially this little girl getting her yellow rose.
We actually had an unhorsing. The knight stayed still so long I actually started to hold my breath, worrying he’d gotten hurt. Then he bounced up light as you please and threw his arms in the air for applause.
He got it. You have to know that hurt. He also took two more passes in the lists at least.
We have amazing knights.
New steel fighting group The Order of the Red Boar this year. They are…intense. Very intense. To the point I hope they don’t actually decapitate each other. Historical martial arts groups are graceful, one hand disengaged, foil flicking like the tail of a cat. The Red Boar, with their broadswords and fury, well, they’re more like tipsy Vikings who grabbed the sword instead of the hammer. Expect much shouting, falling, and slamming.
They also invited me as resident musician…it is a highly tempting offer. And slightly flattering.
And for the last event of the day…you are now reading the narration of a minstrel who has officially played in the Rat Puck.
Somehow I missed mentioning this game before in my description of the faires. Not sure how.
The Rat Puck is a game I’ve never actually heard of outside of the Hartville faire. One of my distinctive early faire memories involves a woman and baby (both in garb) standing on one side of the road, gentlemen rat pucking on the other.
And when they pucked it in her direction, she belted out if they would be so kind to keep their rat on their side of the road.
Never blamed her for that, but after playing it and almost being whacked and whacking others with flying rats…woo, she was right.
The rules are simple. Everyone gets a hollow bamboo pole with an end chiseled to look like the mouth of a recorder (delicate rules regarding pole width I don’t fully gather). You are also bequeathed with a color coded felt “plague rat.” And it is your duty to wedge stick under rat and fling it halfway across the faire shouting “Cheese!” and hoping to be the first to get it to its wooden circle.
It’s rather like a bizarre game of golf.
Not sure why we shout “Cheese.” Apparently affects the accuracy of rat puck. Kind of cheese does not matter. Adding other food words to cheese does.
Not going to question that.
How did I do? Badly.
But it was all in fun, and I didn’t really care. I’d wanted to play the game for years, but thought it was gentlemen only (and I wasn’t there/didn’t have the nerve to ask/was probably smaller than the poles at that time). Whenever one of the seasoned players made a bad puck, they howled “Shame, shame, you are a shame to the clan” at each other. It was…highly amusing.
Also pucked rats over the main road that bisects the faire. At that point we were pucking rats toward people, even thought the faire was almost over.
Nobody got hit (that time), but I did hear about it afterwards.
One of Queen E.’s ladies had offered to hold my violin while I played, and when I hurried back to the court area, the Queen herself was holding it very carefully, like you would delicately rest a bare sword across the palms of your hands.
So undying respect to the Queen and her court. They understand a musician’s fierce-toothed possessiveness and how to handle an instrument properly.
Writing and not writing and things filling the not-writing time…
So this is going to have to be a short post, only to say it’s going to be the lone post until…well, probably after next Wednesday-ish, if I know myself.
Why, you wonder, have I been absent from my self-imposed bloggish duties?
Well, I was supposed to have a fall break. I think I blinked and missed it. The weekend before that was a violin thing, this last week has been gobbled up by work and university mayhem (midterms, anyone?) and now I’m getting ready for Dragonfest this weekend (inward little girl squeal). Oh, and Monday is a symphony performance out of town.
So in other words, I’m running about like the White Rabbit, winding my watch and “tut-tutting” to myself, lamenting the fact that I don’t have time for croquet. But I am not yet, let it be known, late.
It’s okay, though. I know I’ll muddle through it all. I just might crash and sleep for a ridiculously long time afterward.
How do I know it’s going to be fine?
Well, Dragonfest, for one thing. If the prospect of a Renaissance festival on the horizon can’t make me feel better about insane schedules, I’m not sure there’s much that can. And for another…Wednesday starts the Epic Library Book Sale (yes, they really are called that. I didn’t name them)!
Anyway, I just wanted to write a heads-up so it doesn’t seem like I’ve just quit blogging. More book reviews are in the works, and I fully intend to post on how the faire plays out and probably on my happy day book haul. Just be patient if it’s a few days late. I tend not to publish things until I know they’re ready.
But to be perfectly fair, this is a writing update, so…
Writing Status: Sort of Unblocked?
I mean, the ideas are coming. Just sort of trickling right now, about in pace with the amount of time I’m sneaking to write. So I’m wriggling deep into piles of maps on New York and grappling with timelines and locks and electric lighting and alarm systems and the fact that cities never sleep and overthinking my magic system for the hundreth time whenever I have a breath. Which feels pretty good, except for the overthinking bit.
Reading Update: Still on The Wise Man’s Fear
Still in the midst of the slaphappy relationship, too. Sometimes I don’t want to imagine never having met Rothfuss’s characters. They make me laugh, they make me want to cry…Other times, I’ve had about enough. I’m still reading. Not sure I really want to admit that, but that’s the truth of the matter. We’ll see where it goes. And when life slows down for me a little, I’ve got a Name of the Wind review partially written and staring at me while I’m muddling through. Maybe after another week we can start cracking into that thing…
As usual, if you have book recommendations or books you haven’t read and think I should read first to tell you if they’re worth reading in my lowly esteemed opinion, feel free to let me know. I’m always up for a new adventure. Regardless of whether the White Rabbit thinks I have the time.