Archive | June, 2018

The Circus Queen

27 Jun
Image result for circus natalie merchant

Natalie Merchant – Ophelia

Over the months (or, uh, years *cough cough*) I wrote and re-wrote Spartacus Ryan Zander and the Secrets of the Incredible, I’d always play specific songs to remind me about the initial concept of the story and the feeling.

I’ll admit it: the human cannonball mother (and entire circus theme) came from my high school-favorite, Natalie Merchant. In her lyric-writing brilliance, she gave me the pieces to put together Athena, Spart’s circus performing mother. From Merchant’s song, Ophelia:

Ophelia was a circus queen // The female cannonball // Projected through five flaming hoops // To wild and shocked applause…

Ophelia was a tempest, cyclone // A god damned hurricane…

Athena has an epic storyline—she has an accident, abandons her family to follow her circus dreams, and ends up possibly maybe perhaps (no spoilers!) doing even more nefarious activities.

Sure, it’s fun to have a cool mom. But the truth of the second lyric above cuts deep: A cyclone mom? Yeah, that’s not a mom who can be trusted. She’s someone who runs hot and cold, who is both loving and unreachable, who leaves destruction behind.

To Spartacus, it’s like Athena really is all of the characters from the song, simultaneously: wild and demure. Loving and unloving. He can’t pin Athena down as good or bad (or loving) because she is ultimately a mystery. I spent a good amount of time imagining how her behavior would impact a vulnerable, sensitive child like Spartacus (spoiler: it’s not good). Her arc is the most surprising and becomes Spartacus’s most important lesson.

While Ophelia gave the words, though, it’s this awesome video, Kind and Generous, that gave me the circus-as-family-vibe for the sideshow:

(Btw, I do a fabulous Natalie Merchant impression–so I made this.)

(And if you want to read about the first human cannonball—a 14-year-old girl named Zazel-—click here.)

If you’re interested in seeing other inspiration for the sideshow, you don’t have to jump through any girly 1990s music hoops to get there.


Photo by Jimmy & Dena Katz, “World of Wonders”

I was at Powell’s Books when I stumbled across the World of Wonders, a photography book by Jimmy and Dena Katz. They photographed and wrote about a modern sideshow–what a dream assignment (read this NYT article about them). And, it was like they did this just for me because, honestly, my characters Remmy and Nero and Zeda were all there, just waiting to be discovered. Click the links above to see my make-believe friends.

I can’t wait for the book to come out so you can see all the connections. 🙂

And it’s coming SOON! Aug. 3.! In our around Portland Oregon? Come out and see me.

Oh, and P.S.

Pre-order your copy today!

Circus is no fun for animals

24 Jun

I’m a massive animal lover. I don’t eat them. I do animal rights activism. I am trying to befriend the crows in my neighborhood. Yet… I wrote a book with a circus in it. Why? Let me explain.

When I first wrote this book, I wasn’t an activist. I wasn’t thinking about animals in a deep manner. I actually included circus animals in every early draft of this story. A few years ago, I personally became aware of the cruelty. When I realized it, I was stumped. Should I still find a publisher for my finished novel? When I got to that bridge–finding a publisher–I asked for the chance to do some revisions, so I wrote most of them out. But I still had questions.

Can I create an authentic circus and also drive home that animals aren’t entertainment?

Can defend animal rights without making that message take over the book?

Can I be true to myself and also not turn off potential readers or their parents?

Balancing this tight rope wasn’t easy.

In the end, I decided that Bartholomew’s Circus of the Incredible would have animals (after all, Bartholomew is a bad dude). I included very few and tried not to sensationalize them at all (for example, my main character didn’t marvel at them).

Then I had the characters to voice their opinions on it. Spartacus discovers the Bart’s history of animal cruelty. Calyxtus, the socially-aware goth, speaks up against the lack of empathy and understanding in choosing animal entertainment. Zeda, a fire-breathing girl from the sideshow (and Spart’s love interest), pours her heart into—and coaxes Spart into—saving an endangered aye-aye from a life spent in a cage.

But even now—I am still torn. Hence this post. Will kids get the message? Or will they ask their parents to take them to a circus and end up at an event with elephants and bears and therefore increase the demand for animal acts? 😦

To reach more people, I’ve added a link to my website to raise awareness of the cruelty of animal entertainment. I also plan to create small “did you know?” table talkers or fliers at speaking events. I want to turn this around into an opportunity to educate.

I’m curious what others think. Do you have any ideas on how to add this speaking point to book readings or classroom visits without coming across as militant? (That’s always a fear.) Any other feedback?

Thanks for reading and I hope you spread the word as well. Skip the animal entertainment. It’s no fun for the animals.

What’s an aye-aye?

22 Jun

First, a lesson about exploring the far corners of the internet: Never judge a lemur by its patchy fur, giant ears, weird squirrel tail, and long bony finger. It may just become your new favorite animal.

OMG look at that face! RIGHT?? I want to cuddle her little snoot.

Together with my publisher, Fitzroy Books, we are donating 20% of all book pre-order revenue to a reputable nonprofit dedicated to aye-aye conservation. (EEEK! Get pre-ordering now!)

Why aye-ayes?
I discovered aye-ayes while going on a Wikipedia click expedition—you know, where you click one link inside an article, and before you know it, you have 12 tabs open and you know everything about narwhals and cabinets of wonder.

Despite its shocking looks, the nocturnal aye-aye is one of the gentlest of the lemurs—and it’s endangered. Sadly, 80% of its natural habitat in Madagascar has been destroyed, mostly due to logging and agriculture. (This also effects a myriad of animals on the unique island—105 endangered animals, to be exact.) People also kill it, thanks to a silly superstition that says if an aye-aye points at you, you’re cursed (obviously untrue—I promise).

I did a ton of aye-aye research in the writing of The Secrets of the Incredible. At this point, I may have seen more aye-aye videos and photos than I’ve seen cat videos. I even saw them in person and tried not to jump up and down at my happiness of seeing such a rare creature.

I love aye-ayes and I don’t care who knows it.

In order to boost understanding and protection of aye-ayes, I’m donating my portion of the book’s pre-order proceeds to a non-profit; my publisher is donating a portion as well. This group is dedicated to the research of and public education about endangered lemurs. (Apologies; I’m not at liberty to tell you who they are as they don’t want to make it look like they endorse my book, but I don’t hold it against them—they’ll still get the money. :D)

I’m also holding a raffle at my August 3rd book launch (!!!). Each $1 ticket will go towards this same non-profit with the goal of raising $50. The winner will get to “adopt” an aye-aye! Come to the book event—it could be you! More details about that coming soon.

Matilda the Aye-Aye plays a big role in The Secrets of the Incredible—she helps us understand empathy and the vulnerability of circus animals. I’m thrilled for the opportunity to give back.

Pre-order your copy today!


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