The Fellowship and the Festival: What Inspired The Book of Living Secrets, a guest post by Madeleine Roux
In the late summer of 2002, three girls from Minnesota worked a season at the local Renaissance festival. I almost typed “young women” there, but we were girls. At the time, our lives revolved obsessively around The Lord of the Rings movies (seen eleven times in the theatre. And no, that’s not an exaggeration. And yes, I needed a life), Ever After, and The Lord of the Rings (not a typo). We were maybe the only John William Waterhouse fan club compromised entirely of seventeen-year-olds. Our lives were ACT prep, Speech Team meets, and sleep overs, and, like every teenager who ever picked up a book and fell in love with it, we yearned for magic.
And, for a time, the three of us were inseparable.
This might come as a shock, but magic was in short supply in suburban Minnesota. You can see The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring eleven times more but eventually that once-glorious high is not going to sustain you. Three high school girls weren’t going to hop on a pricey flight to New Zealand, so we had to make do. Making do meant searching for magic and meaning closer to home, and that place was the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, known colloquially by festies as MRF. The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is, don’t get me wrong, a place of undeniable joy, but it is also Ye Olde Banquet of hookworm, binge drinking, and sex pests. That’s not speculation, by the way, as the festival has in recent years been embroiled in scandal, with scores of women coming forward to give a peak behind the crushed velvet and bread bowls (an easy Goog, if you’re so inclined, or interested in deepening your depression today). Perhaps unexpectedly skewing too close to historical accuracy, it was and remains a hotbed of misogyny, questionable hygiene, and predation.
But we loved that place. In our hearts, we ruled it. It was ours. And it was in so many ways rotten.
We were, quite frankly, dorks. I say that with abiding love. Dorks are my people. We were innocent and earnest, catnip for creative, well-meaning folk, but also for monsters. It was this dichotomy, this seemingly magical period of my life that only grew teeth and horns after years of reflection, that gave birth to The Book of Living Secrets.
Honestly? Even talking about this slice of personal history gives me hives. It feels untouchable, sacred, a three-way secret akin to a death pact. “Nobody must know,” whispers my past self, “that you were this way.” But reader, I was this way. I was extremely this way–a vibrating tangle of hopes, dreams, and insecurities, desperate to believe in magic, an unwitting victim of an era that viciously and publicly fat shamed Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, and others for the mere sin of existing and having their picture taken. I craved validation and acceptance, and I looked for it in the wrong places. The festival provided many, many older (older) men who homed in on my insecurities like Nazgûl to the Ring. I look back now and think: Oh my God, were we relatively lucky. It could have been so much worse.
As the poet Bon Jovi wrote, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The main characters in The Book of Living Secrets, Connie and Adelle, are growing up in a different time, sure. Different if you squint, I suppose. Young girls are still held to standards that ultimately make them vulnerable, “standards” made worse by social media proliferation and the high gloss of nip tucking filters; Connie has the added pressure of struggling to come to terms with her sexuality in a world still hostile to choice and self-acceptance. She’s battling the same demons I did and do when it comes to identity—loving a body that is muscular and strong, loving a self that is queer. To cope, the girls immerse themselves in a glamorous soup of anaesthetizing fandom, much the way I did with my best friends all those years ago. Working with my girls at the festival earned me lifelong friends, it’s true, it also earned me unfading scars. The unvarnished truth of our teen years, of the secrets, darkness, beauty, and possibility, all deserve to be seen. The Book of Living Secrets tussles with that darkness, embraces that beauty, all while being as weird and wild as the experience of growing up itself.
That friendship trio did not survive, but an artifact of it did. We kept a journal filled with quotations, artwork, little bits of ribbon and tat, ticket stubs, photographs, an evidence binder of just how innocent, buoyant, and special we were. Are. My heart bursts when I look through it, and even today I recognize so much of my adult self in these girls on the cusp, the forgivable grandiosity of it all, the Madeleine Now that writes for Madeleine Then. Madeleine Now couldn’t exist without that period, rosy though it may seem, warty though it may be.
There’s a perfect page in that journal. Perfect in that it misquotes something, but the true quote more rightly fits that chaotic time and how I view it. In the journal, the quote goes: “I like the Spring but it is too proud. So I like best of all Autumn…it is tinged a little with sorrow.”
It’s by Lin Yutang, and the actual wording goes like this: “I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colours richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death.”
That journal is an artifact, but so is The Book of Living Secrets. It’s my ode to that friendship and those halcyon years. Suitably dreamy, suitably dark.
Meet the author
MADELEINE ROUX is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Asylum series, which has sold over a million copies worldwide. She is also the author of the House of Furies series, and several titles for adults, including Salvaged and Reclaimed. She has made contributions to Star Wars, World of Warcraft, and Dungeons & Dragons. Madeleine lives in Seattle, Washington with her partner and beloved pups.
Twitter and Instagram authoroux
About The Book of Living Secrets
Perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood, this genre-bending page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Madeleine Roux follows two girls who transport themselves into the world of their favorite book only to encounter the sinister alternate reality that awaits them.
No matter how different best friends Adelle and Connie are, one thing they’ve always had in common is their love of a little-known gothic romance novel called Moira. So when the girls are tempted by a mysterious man to enter the world of the book, they hardly suspect it will work. But suddenly they are in the world of Moira, living among characters they’ve obsessed about for years.
Except…all is not how they remembered it. The world has been turned upside down: The lavish balls and star-crossed love affairs are now interlaced with unspeakable horrors. The girls realize that something dark is lurking behind their foray into fiction—and they will have to rewrite their own arcs if they hope to escape this nightmare with their lives.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/08/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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