Tag Archives: new ideas

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!

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