A New Year, a New Friend


Avast and ahoy!

If you have visited the children’s section of Bookmarks (aka the Kraken Cove) in recent months, you may have noticed that there is a new animal keeping me and Daisy company. Though not a mythological creature, this animal is a rare sight so far north. I am sure that not a few of you have wondered why a penguin should have deigned to visit Winston-Salem, much less install itself in a bookstore.

Daisy and I were likewise befuddled when Mr. Pablo the Penguin (for that is how he introduced himself) appeared without warning on the bleachers of the Kraken Cove. As good and conscientious booksellers, we asked him if he was looking for anything in particular and whether he had read any Jules Verne or heard of the exciting upcoming epic fantasy The Queens of Dragoria. But he waved our inquiries away with a flightless wing. “I am here only to observe,” he said.

We let him alone for a while, at least until closing time. Then we conferred briefly and decided that I ought to inform  him gently that it was time to leave. I cleared my throat. (Well, technically krakens do not have throats. But human language has no other easy expression for a sharp yet polite exhalation accompanied by a constriction of the pharyngeal muscles.)

“Mr. Penguin – Pablo – I am afraid our store will be closing shortly for the evening, and I must request that you purchase whatever has caught your eye and depart forthwith.”

“I intend to stay here for the night,” the antipodean avian replied.

Much taken aback by the bird’s direct manner, I conferred once again with Daisy and again returned to reiterate my previous statement. “I’m afraid that is quite impossible, dear sir. Though I can appreciate the sentiment, for I too dreamed of living in a bookstore for much of my life and can scarcely believe my luck now that the dream has become reality; but the privilege of slumbering amid the shelves is reserved only for the store’s mascots and the several poltergeists that haunt the building and make midnight meals of the books, periodically causing certain titles to disappear from the shelves and sending the staff on aimless treasure hunts that can go unsolved for days at a time.”

“You misunderstand,” the penguin said. From beneath one wing he produced an official-looking card. Underneath his picture, the identification read: “Pedro the Penguin – Official Bookstore Inspection Agent.” And underneath that: “License issued by the Ministry for Culture and Propaganda, 550 Glacier Drive, Antarctica. Eis tēn doxan diaplissometha.”

With the bird’s kind permission I took this card over to Daisy. The first thing she said was, “I thought his name was Pablo, not Pedro.”

“Indeed,” said I. “It is most strange. See, too, the creature’s profession. Do mainland bookstores frequently receive visits for inspection?” Daisy told me that she had not heard of any other independent bookstore receiving such a visitation. “And what of this Ministry?” I continued. “I am sure I have never heard of it.”

Daisy surveyed the organization’s motto. “We waddle towards glory,” she translated, frowning. “Something about this seems fishy. And I don’t just mean the odor of our new arrival’s breath.”

We allowed our visitor to stay the night. Daisy slept with her eyes open, which I discovered is another special talent of her species, so that Pedro or Pablo or whatever his name was would not try any funny business. But he merely stood there soundlessly, observing the bookstore all through the midnight hours.

As the penguin’s visit stretched out to a week and then a month, we became more comfortable with his presence. We no longer feared he would do some damage to the store when our backs were turned. Indeed, the only indication we had that Pedro/Pablo was doing anything other than sitting watching customers browse books was the great volume of correspondence that he seemed to send and to receive each week. Letters poured into the store, even though the bird had no official mailbox here. Eventually Daisy and I resolved to intercept one of these messages to find out what he was saying, and to whom.

(I should assure you, dear readers, that although reading other people’s mail is frowned upon in human society, it is a standard and time-honored literary plot device.)

TO: Prosperina the Penguin (Licensed Imperial Agent)

CONCERNING: Re:Report on Bookmarks Bookstore and Nonprofit

We were gratified to hear of your success in gaining the trust of the mythological mascots at your assigned station. The Ministry is interested to know how our provincial subjects are reacting to the benevolent governance of their new penguin rulers. Your immediate response appreciated.

Please continue to represent His Supreme Rulership’s interests with force and judgment. 

SIGNED: Panoptico the Penguin (Minister for Life by Appointment of His Eminence)

I confronted this Pedro/Pablo/Prosperina at once. “Is it true,” I demanded, “that you are some agent of a plot to subject us to the rule of a penguin empire?”

“No,” he/she said. And for a moment I was relieved. But the penguin continued, “Because you are already subjects to the Universal Rule of His Supreme Rulership the Emperor Penguin. You have been for many months now, ever since His legitimacy was established by the Rite of Inauguration held on an ice floe in the far southern Pacific, during which He performed the feat of diving to the bottom of the sea and returning unscathed.”

“That’s ridiculous!” I burst out. “Supreme executive power can only be attained by the approval of the Tentacular Congress, a group of kraken diviners who convene every eight years at high tide to read the sand omens and the entrails of dead jellyfish – not by some farcical aquatic ritual!”

“It is a crime of high treason to question the authority of the Emperor,” the penguin clacked back. ” I could report you to my superiors at the Ministry.”

“The Ministry of Propaganda?” Daisy asked, a scaly eyebrow raised.

“Among other things,” the bird admitted.

“Who are you really?” I demanded. “For we have known you to go by three names. It seems you are trying to hide your true identity and your true mission here.”

“Among the privileges of the agents of the Emperor is that of changing our identity in order to avoid the surveillance that other subjects of the Empire are liable to.”

“Including us? Including Bookmarks?” Daisy asked. “Are they surveilling this store?”

The penguin nodded.

“Are you spying on us? Is that your mission?”

The penguin was silent.

“So you are submitting reports on us to this…ministry,” she went on. “What have you been telling them?”

The penguin sighed. “The content of governmental memos is supposed to be classified. But rest assured, I have been very positive regarding your submission to penguin rule, your peaceable nature, and your admirable mission of disseminating officially sanctioned literature to the masses.”

“Officially sanctioned literature?”

“You may have noticed the official insignia of the Empire on the spines of many of your books. it signifies that a text has been inspected for subversive ideas and its contents supplemented with the correct subliminal messaging.”

The Imperial Insignia

“Our books are not censored or implanted with subliminal messages!” I protested. “We are committed to freedom of expression in all art forms and in fostering a diversity of viewpoints in the books we carry.”

The penguin snorted with laughter, then seemingly came back to her/his senses. “Ahem. Yes, the Ministry of Culture and Propaganda has determined that it is in the Empire’s best interests that its citizens should not perceive any limitation on their self-expression or ideological intent in the media they consume. We are therefore supportive of your cause and tolerant of your so-called ‘free speech,’ as long as it is not actively subversive towards the righteous principles of your new government.”

“And if it did become actively subversive, what would happen to us?” Daisy inquired.

“The Ministry has a zero-tolerance policy towards overt dissent.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that I would be forced to send a report to my superiors indicating that Bookmarks has forfeited its protected status as a cultural institution and must therefore be transferred from the oversight of the Ministry of Culture and Propaganda to that of the Ministry of Threatening Notices and Harsh Discipline.”

“And what do they do?”

“That is not my department. But I believe they work closely with the Ministry of Remote Activation, Incendiary Division.”

Daisy and I glanced at each other. Then I turned back to the penguin.

“Well, my good sir or madam – ”

“Call me Perdita, please. We have been instructed to communicate with our subjects in familiar terms in order to foster community and the illusion of equal participation in the work of government.”

“My good Perdita the Penguin,” I corrected, “I hope that our work at Bookmarks will continue to merit your approval.”

The penguin gave a beaky antarctic smile. “We have been very pleased with it so far. Keep up the good work, Mr. Kraken. You are a great asset to the penguin administration. In fact, Bookmarks has been so successful at connecting with the local community and promoting the consumption of official materials that the Ministry has extended my residence here indefinitely. I am very happy to stay, as you have shown such friendship to me and my work.”

“Yes,” Daisy said somewhat tensely. “I’m so glad we are all good friends here.”

All Praise Our Penguin Overlords.

Yours in Complicity,

Karl the Kraken

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The Dragon and Kenny and the Dragon

2feOy2AOQ+uW46rhLsNR0w.jpgBeloved bantlings and bookwyrms,

Daisy the Dragon here! As I’m sure you’ve heard, acclaimed author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi will be coming to Bookmarks on December 4 for a festive celebration of his new picture book, The Broken Ornament! The book is as festive as it is fantastical.

But even before I read this latest addition to Mr. DiTerlizzi’s oeuvre, I was a great fan of his writing and illustrations in The Spiderwick Chronicles and Kenny and the Dragon. Those books show a great authorial sensitivity towards mythological characters. Kenny and the Dragon is a personal favorite of mine. Seldom has a human author rendered a dragonian character so well. For though Mr. DiTerlizzi captures the certain scaly uniqueness of our species, he avoids the temptation to essentialize or caricature us as so many authors have. The gentle dragon of the title is a lover of literature, a devoted friend, and if he sometimes lets his excitement get the better of him…well, the scorch marks will come out of the carpet eventually, won’t they?

Kenny and the Dragon captures the dragonian spirit with such accuracy partly because its enormous eponymous fire-breather is based on a real beast. (I say “partly” because I don’t want to take credit away from Mr. DiTerlizzi’s keen imagination. Though I do not believe that basing characters on real creatures is anything to look down on–I myself based the character of the Earl of Manifold in The Queens of Dragoria on my Aunt Delilah.)

Yes, that’s right–Grahame the dragon is a very real reptile, and a rather distinguished one at that. He’s also distantly related to yours truly. You see, my great-granduncle-in-law Desmond married Goncourt, his third stepcousin once removed and twice restored. So I was able to pull family strings and get him on the phone for an interview.

You can find the transcript of my conversation below.

Here Follows the Transcript of Daisy’s Interview with Grahame the Dragon, Her Great-Granduncle-in-Law’s Fiance’s Third Stepcousin Twice Removed and Once Restored 

DD: How delightful to talk to you, Mr. Grahame the Dragon, my great-granduncle-in-law’s fiance’s third stepcousin!*

GD: Likewise, Daisy the Dragon, Guardian of Bookmarks Bookstore!

DD: I would love to hear about your experience collaborating with acclaimed author Tony DiTerlizzi, who will be visiting Bookmarks this December.

GD: What can I say? It was an absolute delight! I was suspicious at first, you know, because these author sorts are always wanting to make dragons into these dark brooding types who wait in our lairs for wandering knights and then do battle to the death…you know the sort of thing.

DD: All too well, I’m afraid.

GD: Quite so. But really, we’re peace-loving creatures who only live in caves because they’re warm and comfy. And our fire breathing isn’t meant to intimidate anyone! It evolved solely for the purpose of making perfect creme brulee!

DD: I have always preferred to crepes suzette myself.

GD:  Over creme brulee?

A slightly awkward silence here ensued.

GD: Well, culinary preferences aside, there is more that unites our dragon clans than separates them, and by that I mean the Three Excellences. I’m sure you learned those in school?

DD: What dragon hasn’t? Etiquette, Appetite, and Appearance!

GD: Precisely. Dragons excel in all three, though I know a few who incline more towards the latter two than the first…

DD: But returning to the subject of your collaboration–

GD: Oh, I beg your pardon! My mind does wander so sometimes. As I was saying, I had some apprehensions about a fantasy njovelist coming and rooting around in my cavern. But Mr. DiTerlizzi was not at all the rude or invasive sort. He is really one of the finest examples of his species.

DD: High praise!

GD: But well-deserved. You see, he did not merely ask me about my grooming habits, my literary and gastronomical inclinations, my living arrangement, my genealogy, and my opinions on metaphysical philosophy (in fact, he didn’t ask about those things at all, but I told him more than he wanted to know). No, the first thing he asked me was what I wanted human readers to know about dragons.

–Well, I had to sit and think about that one for a good long minute, but then I told him something like what I’ve just told you, and he took lots of notes, and when it came to writing, he stayed in touch and asked my advice on this and that and whether I thought his representation of dragon characters was respectful and accurate and so on. He even offered to include me in the book’s acknowledgments as a consultant, but I told him that I didn’t think I could take such celebrity. I was sure the book would be an astounding success, you see.

DD: As it was!

GD: Quite so.

DD: I’m delighted to hear that the collaboration was such a positive experience for you both. And I’m even more excited than ever to be hosting Mr. DiTerlizzi in a couple of weeks! But I should also mention that you are a very talented writer in your own right.

GD: You flatter me!

DD: So my question is, what are the chances that we could get Grahame the Dragon himself to come to Bookmarks someday?

GD: Oh, you know…I never quite know what to say when I’m in front of a crowd. Author talks are never really my forte. I much prefer to stay behind the scenes and devote my time to writing. Besides, my work tends to be rather esoteric. I doubt it would appeal to a wide audience, especially of humans.

DD (audibly disappointed): Oh…

GD: But if I am ever finished with my current project, which is a historical analysis of rabbit-dragon relations in quasi-feudal societies, I will certainly give you a call. Perhaps you can sell some of my signed first editions. I hope to make tie-in pins for anyone who buys a copy!

DD: That would be wonderful!

GD: Well, I had better get back to making dessert. I’m going to dinner at a friend’s house, and he and his parents love my cooking.

DD: Creme brulee, I assume?

GD: What else?

*The translation is unwieldy, but in Standard Dragonian this entire phrase is rendered with a single snort.


Bookmarks is a scary place at night.

Daisy’s Note: One cold and stormy night, inspired by Bookmarks’ selection of spooky reads for Halloween, Karl and I decided to pass the time making up scary stories. Karl fretted over his for some time and kept throwing out ideas, but eventually inspiration hit him and he wrote this story in a manic frenzy. When he gave it to me to edit, I was amazed that so twisted a tale could have come from Karl’s brain. Still, I was impressed by his creation and urged him to publish it on the blog.

Before you continue, gentle readers, let me warn you that it is the product of a fevered mind and contains much that you may find deeply disturbing. Read on at your own risk!

Avast and ahoy!

I write with trembling tentacles, dear reader.

One night not long ago, I was reading a book on arctic exploration when I heard an insistent knocking at Bookmarks’ front door. “Hence!” I cried. “O wanderer of the night, what thinkest thou disturbing the literary vigil of a poor kraken? Knowest thou not that the store be closed and shuttered by nine every night?”

“Good sir,” a voice called back, “truly your forgiveness I implore! For I am no simple customer, but a man in desperation. Every other business in the city is silent as a mausoleum this time of night. Bookmarks is the only place where a watchful kraken keeps a sole lamp flickering even at this witching-hour!”

After a moment’s hesitation, I unlocked the door for the poor wanderer and let him inside. “I have always believed,” I said, “that a bookstore should be a place of refuge for the weary and comfort for the needy. Come, warm yourself at the hearth of knowledge and drink from the latte mug of literature.”

As the figure stepped into the lamplight, what a horrible and pitiable visage greeted me! In well over a year’s experience of human beings, I had never seen such wide yet sunken eyes, so pallid a complexion, or such hunched shoulders and withered arms. I led him to my reading nook in the children’s section and propped him up on the pillows. I gave him tea and microwaved a bowl of my special kelp soup, which seemed to revive him considerably.

Once he seemed in a fit state to talk, I asked him how he had come to be wandering the streets at this time of night. “Surely you know it is dangerous to walk the streets at midnight, even in such a peaceful city as this. What devilish force compels you?” I demanded. “What monstrous being pursues you?”

He lifted his red eyes so that they fixed my gaze and said in a shattered voice, “Truly, kind kraken, no monster or demon drives me, save the most powerful evil of all.”

“And what is that, pray tell?” I said, breathless.

“Books!” he cried.

It was enough to send shivers down the spine of even an inveterate invertebrate.

Once I recovered my composure, I stiffened and took offense. “Surely you are mistaken, dear sir. Books are no evil. Why, I believe them to be the greatest good humanity is capable of creating, and the highest expression of the krakonic spirit. If you tell me that books are things to be feared and hated, then I must compel you to leave this store at once. At Bookmarks we are devoted to the promotion of literacy and the love of reading, and enemies of the literary arts have no place here.”

He laughed. It was a sinister sound. “I am nothing if not a lover of literature. Yet I have loved not wisely, but too well!

“But I can see that you do not understand,” he continued, noting the puzzlement in my face. “Let me tell you my story, right from the beginning. My childhood was a happy one, but therein was its curse. For my parents encouraged me and my sister to become readers at a young age, and when I went to college, my interest was always in literature. That is how I became an English Major and so sealed my own fate–or, you might say, my doom!”

I gave another involuntary shudder.

“My professors should have foreseen the danger when I turned away from the modern canon and started to delve into outdated volumes of forgotten lore. The epic poems of ancient times entranced me. I became obsessed with reviving dead languages, experimenting with Greek and Latin before moving on to Akkadian, Proto-Dragonian, and Old Krakonic. The surest sign of a young mind gone astray was this: when I read Milton, I sympathized not with Adam or even with Satan, but with the poet himself!

“And so, bewitched by ancient epics and corrupted by those delusional attempts of modern fantasists to reawaken their spirits, I began to assemble a monstrous creation of my own. Yes, I became a novelist! Without considering the consequences, I thought only of the method by which I might bring characters to life on the page. I patched together bits of grammar and roots from various tongues to make a constructed language. I breathed life into my world by writing page after page of backstory. I drew detailed maps and timelines. I wandered the mountains with my head full of plot devices and interesting turns of phrase.

“During those years of obsession, I often locked myself in my chambers for hours on end and never tore my eyes from the glowing screen. My fingers could not leave the keyboard. I neglected food and sleep and quickly became ill, and yet I worked on. Chapter by chapter, my work took form, until at last I had produced an entire draft.

“It was on a dreary night of October that I read through the accomplishment of my toils. I had plotted it and paced it well and crafted every sentence to be beautiful–beautiful! Great God! It was a monstrous, half-formed thing, with barely enough plot to cover the work of world-building beneath. Yes, the prose was vivid and flowing, the grammar impeccable. But these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with the convoluted structure and labored emotional beats!

“Two years I had worked on my modern epic. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. I rushed from my chamber and into the dark street, and that is how I have come to seek refuge here from the fantasies that still plague my mind.

“The worst part is that I might yet have tamed this horror, had I not fled but stayed and committed myself to editing the draft. I could have made it less monstrous, less unwieldy, more acceptable to civilized society. But I did not. And even as I walked the streets this night, new ideas entered my brain which I could not easily remove. For this story–this hideous creature I have made–now has a life of its own, and to my horror, I am powerless to refuse it now that it demands a Sequel!”

By this point my tentacles were as cold and stiff as ice. How could the love of reading drive a man to such a wretched state? My faith in literature was shaken to its core.

The poor wretch stood suddenly and pointed a shaking finger at me. “Be warned, O thou foolish kraken! For I see in you the same obsession that has destroyed me!” He swayed on his feet, and I was afraid he would fall against the concrete floor. But he braced himself against a bookshelf and began to stumble towards the exit.

“May I ask what the title of your opus is?” I called to him. I was genuinely curious, but I also wished him to stay inside a little longer so that he would not catch a cold in the chill air. “Bookmarks loves to support local authors, and if I could set you up with an editor or an agent you might find your book not half so monstrous as you say.”

“Peace!” he cried. “Do not tempt me! What, would you unleash such a tale on the world? Would you have other young writers follow in my footsteps? Nay, let it die with me, I say!  I must forsake this place of bookish seduction.” He made for the door. “I cannot stay here where the spirits of so many other novelists torment me! No, the temptation is too great! For God’s sake, do not let me near any collections of myth or high fantasy!”

With this he fled into the night and was soon lost in darkness and distance.

I tried to return to my reading, but I was too haunted by the young man’s words. Let them be a warning to readers everywhere: a devotion to literature may seem harmless, but it can lure the unwitting into icy and uncharted waters.

Yours chillingly,

Karl the Kraken

Festival Wrap-Up and Weather Report from Karl


Avast and ahoy!

No doubt you are perplexed, dear readers, by Yours Truly’s drowned silence during this most exciting time of year for Bookmarks. You may have guessed that my busy schedule has kept me from writing as much as I would like. But my business has not been of the usual sort.

You see, I had heard discomforting reports from Cecilia my messenger pigeon, who supplies most of my information regarding atmospheric conditions. She had sensed a disturbance in the east that threatened to pour rain on festival Saturday. I quickly contacted my relatives at Kraken Cove to ask whether there was some oceanic turmoil going on, and what I heard was truly frightening.

“Dear Karl,” wrote my aunt Katherine, “I am sorry to be the bringer of bad tidings, but dreadful happenings have occurred in recent weeks in Kraken Cove. You will remember, of course, the terrible Lord Krakenatus, whose reign of terror was ended only by the valiant efforts of your dragon friend. That was years ago, but the memory of the wicked creature’s defeat lives on like a painful wound in the memory of his son, young Kronos the Kraken, whose life you foolishly spared after his father’s downfall.

“Oh, my naive, merciful nephew! You should have known then that Kronos would rise to take his father’s place as Dark Lord and general Mischief-Maker of Kraken Cove. For truly, the young prince of the oceanic abyss has built himself a palace in the deepest vents of the ocean. Even now he sits fuming at the success of his father’s conqueror, envying your celebrity and your impeccable literary taste.

“His rage he channels into waves, his screams into thunder. He wields a dark magic unknown to us civilized krakens, with which he stirs up storms and hurls them across the ocean. And you should know that he has saved the most fearsome storm for the weekend when he knew he could do you the most damage. He intends to batter Bookmarks with rain and thunder, to flood the store and blow the signing tent off its poles; to strike the information booth with lightning, to make every food-truck meal soggy before it reaches the consumer’s hands.

“Woe, woe to Bookmarks if his plan should succeed! He would doom the festival and make the store so soggy that jellyfish would take up residence among its shelves. He would unleash such a hammering of rain that you could hear no author’s voice above the din. Oh, my dear, dear Karl, there is nothing you can do now but flee his dreadful wrath!

“Love and kisses–Your Aunt Katherine”

But I did not flee, dear reader. Instead I packed my bag full of festival books and set off to Kraken Cove myself, determined to save Bookmarks, whatever the cost. I found the young Kronos son of Krakenatus, Lord of All Oceanic Evil, sitting in his dark throne room on the ocean floor. He turned a hateful eye towards me as I entered. I bowed before him, and he laughed an evil laugh.

“You think you can convince me to show mercy for your little book festival, foolish kraken? Remember the disgrace you did me when you foiled my father’s plan for world domination! I do not forgive so easily.”

“Now see here, O Lord Kronos son of Krakenatus, Dark Lord of the Deep,” I said, trying to reason with him. (I was a little intimidated, I will admit, by the anglerfish bodyguards who glared at me and bared their teeth from either side of the throne.) “Flooding the festival would be a foolish thing to do. If you ever intend to spread your dark dominion onto dry land, you had better not take people’s books away from them. Your greatest weakness is that you underestimate the profound love of a reader for a book. Robbing people of the chance to meet over forty-five fantastic authors, including multiple New York Times bestsellers and award winners from across the country, would turn humanity against you. It could be your downfall.”

“Ha!” he cried. “You stupid squid! You put far too much faith in books. I do not believe that anyone has ever loved a book as deeply as you say. I have certainly never felt much affection for a book. I’ve never been much of a reader, you know. In school I was always the slowest reader in the class, and teachers often got mad at me for being distracted and plotting world domination while I was supposed to be doing homework. I do not believe that reading could ever be pleasurable, and I tell you your book festival is built on delusion!”

“Aha,” said I. “I think I have just the thing to change your mind.” And with that I pulled from my bag a copy of Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man and handed it to him.

Lord Kronos son of Krakenatus opened the book and snorted derisively. “Ridiculous!” he exclaimed as he read the first page. “What is this worthless garbage?” But still he turned the page, and soon his laughs of derision turned into ones of hilarity. “Well, this is actually quite good!” he cried as he closed it. “Give me more.”

And so I did, feeding him volume after volume until he had worked through Dav Pilkey’s entire oeuvre. I smiled despite my nerves, knowing that I was slowly turning him into a reader. For no one, however reluctant to read, can resist the lure of Dog Man and Captain Underpants.

“Allow me, Lord Kronos son of Krakenatus, to bestow upon you this majestic garment,” I said, pulling out a red cape from my bag. “I think it is a fitting adornment to your royal person.”

He read the inscription on the cape, and his eyes widened. “Is this true? Does reading truly give one superpowers?” I nodded. “You know I am always hungry for power. Give me more books! All the books you have!”

He devoured them. (Some metaphorically, some literally, for it is said that his stomach is lined with teeth and can digest any mineral or vegetable matter he puts in it.) I guided him through our children’s and young adult titles and then supplied a mix of adult fiction and nonfiction. He did not rest, he did not sleep, until at last he had finished Zinzi Clemmons with tears in his wide, hungry eyes.

It took a full week for him to read the books I had brought. He had completely forgotten to send his terrible storm, and I had heard from Daisy that the festival had been a great success. Now, on Monday, he looked up from his book and asked me if I had any more. This time I told him I did not. He trembled, shivered, and seemed to come to his senses. The spell of the books had broken, and his rage returned.

“You have deceived me!” he cried. “It was all a trick to make me spare the festival! I tell you, you have made a grave mistake.” And with that he ordered his court magicians to raise up another storm and turn it against Winston-Salem before I could try to fool him again.

His haste may have worked in our favor, as the storm seems to have turned off course and weakened as it comes ashore, but I fear that the rage of Kronos son of Krakenatus may do much damage and inconvenience to innocent people.

Stay safe, dear readers. Protect yourselves from the storm. I have returned to Bookmarks and will help to ensure that the store is protected from the worst of the hurricane. We will be open limited hours this weekend, but do stop by to pick up reading material and scented candles, in case the power goes out.

Yours preparedly,

Karl the Kraken

Karl Reviews: Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary


Avast and ahoy!

It is less than a month to the festival, and things are getting busy at Bookmarks. Every day we get in new shipments of books to move, unpack, check, peruse, sniff, fondle affectionately, flap, repack, and organize alphabetically by author’s last name (not, as I was quickly informed, by their number of appendages descending, which is standard practice in kraken stores). How can any animal keep pace with all this work while still finding time to read and review the works of so many brilliant authors? It is a recipe for stress and twisted tentacles.

Fortunately, one of this year’s festival authors has been working on solutions to the perpetual stress of modern life for years. Brooke McAlary‘s Destination Simple: Everyday Rituals for a Slower Life is a concise guide to simplifying, slowing down, and living a more harmonious and fulfilling life.

Destination Simple advocates for adding several ritual tasks to one’s daily habits. When I first read that rituals could help simplify a person’s life, I must say I was surprised. In the Kraken Cove, rituals can be very complicated and stressful affairs that take hours to complete. At one monthly festival, for instance, kraken priests juggle clams with four of their tentacles while the other four are hard at work chopping and seasoning a kelp salad offering, all the while reciting over five hundred lines of the Old Krakonic Epic of the Waves. When officiating a wedding, a kraken is expected to do a ceremonial tap dance while tying the tentacles of the couple into an accordion knot.

In Destination Simple, however, ritual means something very different. Rather than virtuosic feats of multitasking, Ms. McAlary suggests that we should perform the ritual of “single-tasking,” focusing on one activity and experiencing it fully. This concept was entirely new to me. Usually I try to octotask, with a book in one tentacle, a pen in another, a snack in a third, the fourth and fifth typing enthusiastic comments on various social media platforms, and the remaining three absent-mindedly straightening books on the nearby shelf.

I knew I needed to find one task in my day that I could do with perfectly focused attention. Seeing that the book suggests making tea as one such task, I headed over to Footnote and asked if I might fill in as a barista for the day. The staff reluctantly agreed, and I was soon behind the counter taking orders. I contemplated the water heating, just as the book suggested, until it was pointed out to me that the water was kept at a constant temperature, and that I had just spent ten minutes staring at the dispenser. Undeterred, I poured some water into the cup, concentrating on the comforting sound it made. I added the tea leaves and watched them stain the water, then added milk and sugar, listening to the clink of my spoon on the sides of the cup as I stirred.

My state of calm broke only slightly when, as I handed the cup of tea over the counter, noticing how the steam rose delicately, the customer politely reminded me that she had ordered an iced coffee.

After this exercise, which I counted as partly successful, I turned to another of the book’s suggested rituals: selecting three tasks from my to-do list to focus on for the day. My to-do list had been expanding constantly, and when I checked it it read:

  • Read Destination Simple
    • Write blog post
  • Attend Bookmarks monthly mythological staff meeting
    • Make snacks to bring to meeting
    • Type up minutes from the meeting
  • Proofread recommendation letter for a friend
    • Leave recommendation letter in sun to dry out water stains
  • Email editor regarding changes to first volume of History of Kraken Literature
  • Make hotel reservations for cousin Kredence’s wedding
    • Learn to tie accordion knot
    • Learn to tap dance
  • Reply to fan mail
  • Go for afternoon swim
  • Call Mom in Kraken Cove
  • Festival preparations:
    • Help check in boxes of books
    • Volunteer to moderate panels
    • Print and hang flyers
    • Write passage to submit to Slush Pile Live!
    • Special order volunteer t-shirts in kraken and dragon sizes

But following the guidelines in Destination Simple, I was able to narrow the day’s tasks down to:

  • Read Destination Simple
  • Reply to fan mail
  • Call Mom

And with those complete, I can now relax, stretch my tentacles, and perhaps spend the afternoon sipping a well-made cup of tea that a customer at Footnote didn’t want.

I hope that you, too, dear readers, will make some space in your day to relax and savor the works of this year’s festival authors. They are all so wonderful, they deserve nothing less than your complete and focused attention.

Yours simply,

Karl the Kraken

Daisy Reviews: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

2939570Hello, my dear readers!

The danger of reading fantasy stories as a mythological creature is that passages meant to startle, astound, and transport the reader into unimagined realms can seem mundane. Often an author’s description of a supernatural being will so wildly miss the mark, or pale in comparison to the strangeness of the actual animal, that it pulls me completely out of the story.

Not so with Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link’s masterful collection of short stories for young adults. In these stories the magic doesn’t sit on the surface like decorative frosting, but rather creeps into the skin of everyday life like deadly frostbite. The monsters of these stories sometimes leap out towards the end in all their demonic glory, but we feel their presence in every page. In stories like “Monster,” “The Cinderella Game,” and “The Specialist’s Hat,” we’re never quite sure of the line between human and monster, babysitter and ghost, sister and werewolf. The aliens in “The Surfer” may be the story’s least disturbing element.

The boundaries between reality and fiction, too, are liable to shift as each story progresses. In “Pretty Monsters,” the titular story, the first plot line appears in the novel a character from the second is reading.  By the end of the story, the two lines have started doing little taunting figure-eights around each other in your brain until you’re not sure where reality ends and books begin. (Of course, that’s not such an unusual state of mind for an avid reader like yours truly.) In “The Faery Handbag” it’s a grandmother’s fantastical tales of her past that become reality, while in “The Specialist’s Hat” it’s the haunting verses of an obscure poet.

My favorite story in the collection is “Magic for Beginners,” which captures the wonderfully freaky ways that fandom can blend life and fiction. In it we learn of a TV show called The LibraryThe Library takes place inside the magical Free People’s World-Tree Library, a place infested with pirate-magicians, Forbidden Books, and an animated statue of George Washington. The actors in The Library continually switch roles, we are told, and the show’s airing schedule is extremely erratic. One of the main characters on the show is Fox, a “funny, dangerous, bad-tempered, flirtatious, greedy, untidy, accident-prone, graceful,” and mysterious woman (or sometimes a man) who speaks with a “soft, breathy-squeaky voice.” Nobody on the show has ever left the library until the cliffhanger of the most recent episode.

Inspired by “Magic for Beginners,” Karl and I have begun writing our own television show, The Bookstore, in which we will switch roles as an adventurous dragon and a sea monster with impeccable literary taste who both live in an enchanted nonprofit bookstore. If you have experience with filming, editing, or acting, and if you are willing to work in exchange for impeccable literary advice, please do submit an application or an audition tape. The first episode is set to film either next week or next year…or never. We hope to make The Bookstore‘s airing schedule charmingly erratic.

If you are an impatient sort and can’t wait for the first episode of The Bookstore to air, go read Pretty Monsters yourself. And if you’ve already read it, read it again. These are stories that beg for second readings. Maybe even thirds…

Yours monstrously,

Daisy the Dragon



Writing Advice from a Kraken


Avast and ahoy!

I am often asked how I am able to maintain such an impeccable prose style in my writing, even as I am required to handle diverse subjects and genres. I generally reply that the impeccability of one’s writing is directly proportional to the impeccability of one’s literary taste, and that a steady diet of great literature is the surest way to keep one’s tentacles strong and fit for the dance of prose composition. Yet there are some particulars of style and structure that I believe can be taught rather than intuited by exposure. These I have outlined below for the benefit of any aspiring authors who look to krakonic prose as an unattainable ideal; know, dear reader, that even two typing hands are capable of composing works to rival my very finest.

Here are eight tips for cultivating a literary style fit for a kraken:

  1. Do not use too many ornamental adjectives and adverbs, for they can clutter up a sentence horrendously. How often have I read a work of breathtaking and arresting greatness, lovingly tracing each line with eager eyes, in which I found myself  wondering, if only its author had written more concisely, had trimmed away the excessive and burdensome load of adjectives, how much finer would my experience have been?
  2. Extended metaphors or similes, when used correctly, can bear the reader from one page to the next like a gently gliding stream. When overused, however, they can become a turbulent ocean, in which the poor reader must swim blindly, scarcely recalling where their journey started and not knowing if they should ever see dry land again. You, the writer, must ensure that the reader’s voyage is a comfortable one, extending a gentle tentacle to guide them through the metaphorical tide.
  3. As you have likely heard before, it is best in most cases, though not necessarily in every case, to limit ones use of asides and interjections, that is to say, of extra clauses forced into the body of a main sentence, which can turn the gentle stream of prose, to which I have previously alluded, into a violently twisting cataract, in which each comma, each break in the line, becomes a stone that threatens to dig a hole in the reader’s craft, capsizing their attention, or, at best, causing mild frustration, when the reader, eager to come to the next idea or sentence, must steer through such treacherous waters, hoping that the various twists and turns of the author’s thought will not take her or him too far off course.
  4. When coming up with names for fictional characters, it is advisable to make every name start with the same letter, even the same syllable, if that can be managed. This will save the reader much confusion, as they will not have such a great diversity of names to keep straight while reading. (As a case in point, I would refer you to Daisy’s Queens of Dragoria.)
  5. A similar principle comes into play when one is writing dialogue. It is wearisome for the reader to have to switch too often between different modes of speech. Therefore, one ought to make one’s characters sound as similar as possible to one another and to minimize one’s use of mannerisms, colloquialisms, and idiosyncrasies of speech that might distinguish one speaker from the next. This will go a long way in helping the reader cope with a large and diverse cast of characters.
  6. When one is striving for humorous effect, one should always endeavor to stretch one’s jokes out as long as possible. Anticipation is at the heart of comedy, and the more one is able to keep one’s audience from laughing, the more they will anticipate the next joke.
  7. Similarly, one can only craft suspense by letting the reader know ahead of time what is going to happen. The logic is quite simple: (1) the author wishes to create a sense of expectation in the reader; (2) a reader cannot be expectant of something unexpected; (3) therefore, the reader must be informed in no uncertain terms of every major plot point at the outset of a story. I have often lamented the unfortunate trend, especially in mystery novels, of revealing crucial information only at the very end of a book. Why, for most of the story the reader is left guessing who the killer might be and what their motivation is, and so often the answer is far too complicated and clever for anyone to have a hope of guessing correctly. Far more enjoyable, I think, are those Shakespearean tragedies and works of epic poetry in which a helpful prologue gives the reader a quick abstract of the entire plot before it begins.*
  8. Now at this point you may be thinking, Great Barrier Reef! How can I ever keep track of all these stylistic rules, on top of the already-substantial effort it takes to generate original ideas? Well, I should reply, you must not make the writing process too hard on yourself. In order to avert fatigue, you must always schedule in breaks for snacks. All the better if you can swim on over to your neighboring cafe and sip a kelp kombucha while you work. In writing, as in most occupations, the reward is half the work.


Yours impeccably,

Karl the Kraken


*Daisy and I have agreed to disagree on this point. For some reason, she seems to enjoy going into a book blindly, not knowing anything of the plot’s outcome, and she has often become rather annoyed at me when I have given away the ending of the book she is currently reading.

One Year of Bookmarks: The Kraken Reflects

Avast and ahoy!

In the Kraken Cove where I grew up, we did not keep time with clocks and calendars. Linear time, which passes so effortlessly on dry land, could not survive the buffeting of the tides. Time in the deep sea is wavy, and it can reach out or contract depending on whether a snack or a good book has been placed in front of it. Time can swim laps through the water, making frequent U-turns and occasionally suspending its course to gasp for air. Krakens therefore do not measure time in months or years. Instead they do so in eight-counts if they are musically inclined, in teaspoons if they are culinarily minded, or in paragraphs if, like yours truly, they love literature.

It took me several paragraphs (roughly seven teaspoons) to adjust to mainland time when I first came ashore. But as so many more pages of time have passed since then, I feel I am now well acquainted with the ways in which humans experience linear time. I have discovered that humans still feel the shock of its passage, even though they live with it their entire lives: how it can slip by so quickly on its streamlined path, or conversely how it may stretch so that one feels as if a single paragraph has gone on for several chapters, especially if its author favors long sentences with multiple clauses and forms of punctuation.


A very human way of dealing with the surreality of time on land is to mark anniversaries. An anniversary entails certain rituals, such as shaking one’s head and saying “Has it been that long already?” or “Only a year? It feels like forever,” when the quantity of time elapsed is mentioned. But we should not mock these poor humans for their strange customs, for even a kraken such as I can find little else to do in the face of time’s relentless march than to place a disbelieving tentacle to my brow and join the land-dwellers in their amazement.

It has been one year since the Bookmarks bookstore and gathering space opened, though it often feels eight times as long. I have as much difficulty envisioning a world without Bookmarks as I have envisioning myself with only seven tentacles, or with less-than-impeccable literary taste.

Sometimes the opening day feels like it was yesterday, it stands out so vividly in my mind. But other times it feels like it was in some past century. I am sure that future historians and epic poets will speak of the week leading up to the opening as an age of heroic exploits, of great deeds and triumphs of the human spirit. In those days Bookmarks staff and volunteers worked together to transform a battered building into a temple of literacy. They assembled shelves, moved boards from storage to the store, unpacked books, inventoried books, shelved books, built furniture, wheeled shelves into place, swept, vacuumed, and hung signs. Yet the most difficult of jobs, that of Kraken-in-Residence and Store Mascot, remained unfilled. I am told by volunteers who lived through that time that it was a moment of great excitement, but also one of great apprehension.

IMG_4434Coming ashore as I did in the very nick of time, I could see that Bookmarks now teetered on the knife’s edge of fate; for books and shelves and an excellent location with a spacious yet cozy interior and a devoted staff and hard-working volunteers and overwhelming support from the local community are all very well and good, but what bookstore could survive long without a mythological mascot?

And so in this fateful moment I penned my first blog post, which I titled “Release the Kraken,” and which went on to great acclaim and won the prestigious Kadmus award for best work of short nonfiction published online by a mythological sea creature in North Carolina in 2017.

Of course, I do not mean to suggest that my humble blog was the sole reason for Bookmarks’s astounding success in its first year, but I like to think that my uniquely aquatic sensibilities have played no small role in making the institution what it is today. I must also acknowledge the many people who have devoted their time and energy to helping the bookstore flourish and give my sincerest thanks to the store’s wonderful patrons.

Here’s looking forward to many more years to come!


Karl the Kraken

Karl Reviews: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

9781616205676_3DAvast and ahoy!

Dear readers, I am simply bubbling like a bog with excitement, brimming like a bursting volcano! How delighted I am to be reviewing Kelly Barnhill‘s magnificent novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Few would accuse me of diluting my praise, and it is true that I am often effusive in my reviews, yet you must not suppose that because I often verge on hyperbole my praise of this work is any the less sincere. When I tell you that I have enjoyed this book as much as any I have ever read, I mean every word. For as the Poet says:

Praise for books, like muffins,
lies not like hidden treasure in a lair
but rather is ingested and gives heat,
for readers’ love is fuel that readers share.

“But of course you would love this book!” a reader might interject. “I believe the whole story was written specifically to please you. It’s practically pandering to its critic!” And yes, I do recognize that several of the characters do seem uncannily familiar, especially Glerk the many-armed aquatic monster who enjoys literary allusions, who is best friends with an enthusiastically outgoing dragon. But I am sure that any influence Daisy and I had on the author was accidental, or at most subconscious. One would be hard pressed, after all, to find any fantasy author today who has not felt the influence of Daisy’s prodigious oeuvre.

Allusions to reality aside, the book is a fantastically original work of literature. It is a masterpiece of worldbuilding, portraying with an uncomfortable intimacy a society built on seductive falsehoods. There are plenty of villains in this world, yet even the most despicable of these characters feels grounded in reality. The boy Antain, an apprentice to the Elders of the Protectorate, is an especially complex character. His growth over the course of the book is brilliantly written, showing his struggle to come to terms with the corruption of his society as he comes of age within it. We completely understand his heroic act of rebellion towards the end of the book, even though we the readers know that it is wrongheaded and doomed to failure.

The complex story of Antain is but a side-plot to that of Luna, a girl abandoned as a baby in the woods as part of the Elders’ sacrifice to an evil witch. But Luna is saved from her doom by Xan, a very decidedly not-evil witch who takes Luna in and feeds her with moonlight, instilling in her great magical powers. By accident Luna gains far more power than any child can handle, and Xan must stifle her magic until she comes of age.

Any reader will surely delight in spending time with Luna’s curious adoptive family: Xan, Glerk the bog monster, and Fyrian the Perfectly Tiny yet Simply Enormous Dragon. Each of these characters is distinctly and beautifully written, and they are all instantly lovable.  Every page of this book is as radiant and as full of magic as its protagonist.

But if I have not yet convinced you to go and read this magnificent book at once, let me once again refer to the words of the Poet, who says:

A kraken’s word is eight times true,
for he swears by every hand.
A dragon’s oath burns clear as fire
across an ashen land.
So when a dragon and a kraken
both recommend a book,
as we advise, it would be wise

to come and take a look.

Yours enchantedly,

Karl the Kraken


Karl Reviews: Stacy McAnulty and Zora and Me

Avast and ahoy!


Many thanks to Daisy for covering the announcement of Summer Reading authors who are coming to the festival. I was unable to contribute to that post myself, as I was on vacation at the littoral zone (like the beach, but on the other side of the water and consequently much more interesting than a big field of sand). But now I have returned, damp and refreshed, and I will be giving my reviews of selected Summer Reading books over the next several months. I’ll begin with two delightful books by Stacy McAnulty, as well as the mysterious and touching Zora and Me, whose co-author T. R. Simon will be attending the festival.

McAn_9780553510232_jkt_all_r2.indd Stacy McAnulty‘s stories are wonderfully sympathetic to the plight of non-human animals in an anthropocentric world. Excellent Ed tells of a dog who feels insecure when faced with the excellent skills of his human siblings. Such is the peril of always measuring oneself by a human standard. Oh, how well I can relate! When I first came ashore I was afraid my tentacles would stand in the way of my seeking employment, as I could not find work-appropriate clothing for eight appendages. But now I have learned that I can get by on my natural good looks, and that humans can eventually come to appreciate my uniquely aquatic taste in literature.

Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert similarly occupies a wide niche of books explaining basic human customs to those unfamiliar with them. Grocery stores have long been sources of confusion and anxiety for me, as no such establishments exist in the Kraken Cove. Down there we obtain our food directly from the kelp groves without any need of carts or cash registers. But with Max as my guide, I now know the correct procedure for selecting a cart and buying cookies (which is to buy all of them). I am also practicing sneaking candy onto a conveyor belt, which seems to me a vital human skill. I was especially pleased to see that this book confirms my impression that one is supposed to converse at length with the lobsters at the grocery store, though I have been given funny looks for doing so in the past.


Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon tells a story of the great writer Zora Neale Hurston when she was a fourth-grade girl in Eatonville, Florida. T. R. Simon is an anthropologist by training, and she brings a skill of perfect observation of human behavior to this novel. The story centers on the ways in which humans come up with stories, even fantastical ones, to give the world a semblance of order. Zora’s imagination and insightfulness lead her  to suspect that one of her neighbors is a murderous half-alligator. The reality, it turns out, is even stranger and darker than her flights of fancy. In this brilliant coming-of-age story, Bond and Simon force Zora and her friends to leave the realm of childhood fantasies and face the world outside idyllic Eatonville, where racial prejudices rule instead of gator kings, and where choices are hard and justice is hard-won.

Zora and Me is a captivating book that weaves together historical fiction and biography with a well-plotted mystery. I am eagerly anticipating its sequel, Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, to be published this September. Daisy and I both hope to learn more about Ghost, the morally ambiguous gator who makes a violent appearance at the beginning of the book and then, as befits his name, disappears without a trace. Ghost’s fate and his motivation in biting off a boy’s arm remain an unresolved mystery. The authors’ sensitivity to their characters makes us believe that they would not portray large reptilians and aquatic monsters as simply bloodthirsty by nature. We are sure Ghost has a compelling backstory to be told in the next installment. Perhaps the gator, too, will go to New York and become a famous novelist? Daisy is prepared to write her own reptilian fanfiction if necessary.

Yours enthusiastically,

Karl the Kraken