Saturday, September 30, 2006

Ooops, missed a day

I was up late Thursday night after being up early to go see Kelly Miller Circus put up their tent. We received complimentary tickets to Quidam (Cirque du Soleil) from one of our agents, so we went. I got to bed at about 1 am and didn't sleep well after that, either.

Quidam was not a show I'd recommend to anyone at this point. I'm always leery of Cirque shows; they are a bit too grotesque for me sometimes. This one was beyond grotesque and I really didn't have a very good time. There were a few performances that were lovely, actually, all of the performances were lovely. However, the presentation of the acts left a lot to be desired. There were an incredible amount of distractions going on on the stage and behind the stage and around the performers, and the distractions did not add to the performance. There were times when you weren't sure what you were supposed to be looking at. Additionally, the act themselves were presented in a macabre way; costumes either were almost pornographic in nature, or smacked of blood, death and violence. It was disturbing to watch.

Additionally, there was plenty in the show that didn't seem to belong. Many of the clown bits, which were very very funny and really quite traditional, didn't fit with the theme of the show or with the imagry we were seeing in the other acts. And towards the end, a performer was in an act with a giant rope swing and you got the distinct impression that she'd been brought in to fill in for an act that was missing. Her costume was completely different from everyone else in the show and looked very much like traditional circus, and she wore her hair loose, no wig, no hat, no head covering. Her music was rock-based and also didn't fit in with the other music in the show, which had been haunting. And as she performed, she styled and presented like a regular circus performance, and afterwards bowed to the three portions of the audience, something the other performers had not done. That whole act didn't "fit" at all, which I found odd.

Of course the crowd loved it, and gave the performers a standing ovation. I thought the performers were wonderful, it was just the presentation of the show that bothered me. I am glad we only had two tickets and didn't bring the kids; it was definitely not a show for children to see.

Anyway, it's now Saturday, and I have to perform this afternoon, and have a party tonight, so not much writing prep will go on. Sunday's plans include viewing a tape of Cirque Ingenue I got from my library, and we'll drive out to see the Kelly Miller Circus in the afternoon, of course for more research!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Tent Went UP!

Well, today was the big day. We got up early, before the sun was even up, stopped at the QuikTrip for gas and caffeine, and were on our way into the sunrise. An hour later, we'd landed on the lot that Kelly Miller Circus was setting up on, next to a lumber yard and within view of the highway. RV's were lined up almost touching, and if it weren't for the men moving around the tent, you would've thought everyone was asleep.

On the ground were small bundles of canvas. I wasn't even sure we were watching the right tent going up, it just didn't seem like enough canvas to me. But sure enough, when the men started pulling out the bundles and straightening them up, they were plenty big enough.

As the men raised the tent, a small pickup with a strange device travelled around the circumference of the growing canvas, pounding in stakes. For those stakes that the truck couldn't do because of location, canvas men with sledges put the stakes in the ground.

The stakes looked like nails. They are, however, about 3 feet long, and as big around as my wrist. They weigh about 25 lbs. apiece. The picture below makes them look like 5 penny nails or something. They aren't.

Once the stakes were in the ground and the canvas rolled out, one man went around the entire tent and laid out the tie-lines, then tied each one to a stake. In general, two tie-lines were put on each stake, but at times there were three attached.

Underneath the canvas, before it was rolled out, many many poles were laid around, like the spokes of a wheel. These poles were about 8 foot tall and had a sharp metal point on the top end. These are the sidewall poles. Inside this perimiter were bigger poles, about 20 feet long, too big around for me to circle with two hands, and also with a point on the top. These are the quarter poles. And inside this perimeter, there wer four huge shiny poles with chains at the top, at least 30 feet long, and probably weighing somewhere around 300 lbs. These are the center poles. It was these poles that Viola waited for. Viola is a 10,000-plus Asian elephant who helps Kelly Miller put up their tent every day. Some tents only have two center poles, some one, but most tents have at least four.

Once the canvas is out, tied town, and the side poles' points are inserted in their holes, the tent crew goes to work with amazing speed. Starting on one side of the round tent, side poles are raised to a standing position, and Viola goes in to raise the first of the quarter poles. Once the first three or four of these is raised, Viola gets to rest a bit while the canvas men work continuing to put up sidewall poles, tie up the sidewall canvas, and push the quarter poles into place. Pretty soon, the entire tent is off the ground, and we are allowed to go inside and watch the rest of the work being performed. Viola is employed again to pull up quarter poles, and I find this work rather fascinating. She is fitted with a sort of harness that has chains on it that trail behind her. The chains are fasted to the bottoms of the quarter poles and she pulls them upright while men push on the poles and direct them into place. When most of the quarter poles are done, then the center poles are done. The entire raising took maybe 90 minutes. It might have been a bit less. I just know it went really fast.

Afterwards, we walked on the grounds a bit. I got to talk for a minute or two to the cook; her trailer and the cook tent were already up and picnic-style tables set up underneath them. The cook told us that the cook tent is also used as the school room, and I did get to very briefly meet the teacher. I hope that I will get to interview her, as my female main character will also be a teacher on a circus. When I peeked in the tent, there were about nine children, all ranging in age from 6 to 16.

Alongside the back of the cook's trailer was an array of bicycles. I thought it was a cool picture.

And finally, one more picture; my son took this one before the tent went up, with the morning clouds in the background. This was the way the tent looked before they started raising the poles.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Surprising Sources

When I get stumped on my research, I go talk to one of our reference librarians at work. As far as I can figure out, there is nothing she can't find if given the right questions from me. It amazes me.

I decided yesterday that I needed to know more about Joe McKennon. He wrote four or five books in the 70's and up until 1980. Hubby had bought me Circus Lingo by Joe, and I also found some other books by him, including The Pictorial History of American Carnival. I dug around online looking for information on Mr. McKennon, and really found very little. At one point I found a reference stating that he once was curator of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota.

I found no more than that. My wonderful reference librarian was able to find his obituary through Lexis-Nexis, a resource I'd forgotten about. That article stated he'd been a volunteer curator and had won an award at Ringling Museum, and that he'd died in 2000. A perusal of the Ringling Museum site turned up no further details.

So, I sent a request through the museum website's "contact us" link. I received a return email within a few minutes, asking for my snailmail address so they could send me biographical information on Mr. McKennon. Yippee!!

I was also talking in email with Kevin Curdt, a former circus performer who now works in the Superior Court of California. He said he met Joe, and when he has time, he will be sharing his comments about my last blog entry about Joe (below).

Tomorrow's the big day. I still haven't figured out this darned camera, but I'm going to keep trying. It does not refresh as quick as I need it to, it won't multi-fire like it says it will, and I'm panicking. This was a LOT of money to spend on a camera for me to have the same problems as the camera I already have. Grrr.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Not sure what to do with myself

I did a little work on my outline last night, and read over some character synopses, but didn't do anything else useful. I am actually thinking I want to read more, but then, I'm kind of read out at the moment, too.

Got my new camera in the mail yesterday and spent an hour last night fiddling with it trying to figure out the settings. I'm on a crash course to learn that thing by Thursday morning, when I want to use it to take pictures of Kelly Miller's tent going up. There are so many dials and buttons and some of the terminology I understand but much of it I'm having trouble figuring out. And last night playing with it in the house, it was still taking forever to actually FIRE, I guess it was auto-focusing, but what a pain. I need that sucker to take the picture when I push the button, regardless.

So, I'll keep playing with it. Hopefully I'll get home early enough tonight that I can take it outside and play with it where I won't need flash. I think the flash is causing part of the delay, and it won't multi-fire with the flash on. I definitely need that continuous shuttering, that's the only way I'm going to get great pics at the tent raising.

Still debating whether or not we want to attend the show; I think we probably should, but it won't be until 4:30 which means either we come home in between tent raising and show (and it's about an hour drive one way), or find something to do to kill off most of our day. I expect the tent-raising to take about an hour to ninety minutes, that still leaves 6 hours until show time that we would have to kill. It would be nice if I could get some interviews scheduled during that time, but the PR person at Kelly Miller has been pretty closed-mouthed. I know they have to be, but still, it's frustrating to feel like I'm having the door slammed in my face all the time. Maybe I'll get lucky and find a candy butcher to talk to, or a bull hand, or maybe even the PR person! You never know, luck could be smiling on me on Thursday.

Only 35 days until we can write. Only about five more days until we can start using the forums at NaNoWriMo again. At least we can get some inspiration that way. And my email list for NanoWriters, that's been pretty quiet too. I need to perk them up with a post or two, I think...I don't want anyone going to sleep now that we are getting close!

Monday, September 25, 2006


I just finished I Love You Honey, But the Season's Over and find myself a little blue. It ended a bit abruptly, as if the author ran out of steam, but then, I think I understood too how it did all just seem to end, just like that, suddenly and as if there had been no warning. To a 17 year old girl traveling with circus and not having any background in performing whatsoever, it had to have been very overwhelming.

I'm torn a bit about whether or not I should read anything else at this point, especially anything that will make me sad! I have not looked at my outline in weeks, nor have I done any further character development. I should probably invest some time in that area of things, at least for a while. We are just over a month away from being able to write. There are still a couple interviews I have to take care of, but I'm trying not to think too far ahead. Thursday is the tent-raising for Kelly Miller Circus in Troy, IL, I just received confirmation from their show PR person. So I'm going to invest energy in that today. Have also just received the fancier, digital SLR camera I purchased on eBay. I hope that this will allow me to take the kind of pictures I need to take on Thursday. My point and shoot just doesn't respond fast enough and I lose a lot of shots, especially those with movement.

On another note, I received a series of emails from Jeremiah's mother. She had read some of my blog entries on Momilies and wanted to be sure that I knew Jeremiah was okay, and that he blew the show for a good reason. We have been having some interesting conversations since then.

Since Jeremiah is a model for one of the characters in my book and I've mentioned this in my other blog that zillions of people read, now I'm a bit worried about writing about him. I am of course going to take a massive amount of poetic license with his character, making him a virtual orphan, and giving the character a whole lot more problems than Jeremiah has in real life. I have a feeling this may upset his mother. I did make a stab at explaining to her that any characters in the book that were modeled after real persons would be quite exagerated and not really themselves. How do you explain that yes, this character was modeled after your son, but only a tiny little kernel of your son really remains, and that I'm not disparaging him or his mother by doing what I do with the character in the book?

As a writer, I really need to be true to the character. In reality, I may have met someone that inspires me, and who gets morphed into a character that we can either love or hate as a reader. I need to be true to that, or my book loses its appeal, and loses its vision of what it should be.

But as a person, I never intend to hurt anyone. And I don't want to hurt this woman, or God forbid, Jeremiah either.

I can already see what I'm going to be dreaming about tonight. Damn this worrying writer's brain, that just can't stop messing with the Rubik's cube that is my story, trying to piece it together in a nice neat little package.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

To Mud Show or Not to Mudshow...

That is the question...

In Joe McKennon's Circus Lingo book, he makes a point to over-explain the phrase "Mud Show." It is more of an editorial comment than an actual definition, but I thought it was interesting in the context of my research. He says (and I'm leaving his typos in):

"MUD SHOW: A show that traveled by horse drawn wagons between the towns on it's route. There is no record that any established carnival used this mode of travel. Some independent showmen probably traveled that way before carnivals were organized in the 1890s. (A recent book has wrongly used the term in connection with carnivals). All circuses were 'mud shows' at least part time until 1872. A few were still 'Mud Shows' until the early Twenties when they began moving on trucks. NO TRUCK SHOW HAS EVER BEEN A MUD SHOW. The term applies to the show's mode of transportation and the muddy roads they moved over, not the muddy lots ALL shows have to work on. This in spite of a book by that title on a well known truck show. I know the title is alluring to an unversed 'First of May', but why not get it right and keep it that way? Much more alluring is a vision of long lines of horse drawn wagons pulled by tired teams of horses slogging along through deep mud on a back country road sometime before daylight on a midsummer morning. THAT WAS REAL TROUPING, BOYS."

He sounds militant in how he defines the description of the term. I am not sure what carnival book he is referring to, but I know that the phrase "this in spite of a book by that title on a well known truck show" refers to Mud Show by Fred Prowledge. Most circus people that I've talked to, and my husband, who has toured with multiple circuses, all define mud show the way Fred Prowledge does. It is any tented show that performs in spite of the weather and the condition of the lot. Mud lots are a given when you are working a tent show, although they don't occur every day, of course. Some days, you are slogging through the mud to do your job and make your performances; other times you are on dry, sandy, hard-packed lots. That is just the nature of the business.

In my research, I have encountered three types of shows that currently tour:

1. Mud Shows; Carson Barnes, Kelly Miller, Culpepper Merriweather, and Clyde-Beatty Cole Brothers. These shows move almost every day (occasionally there is a two or three day stand), work under a tent, and perform in all types of weather. These are also the shows that may be living performance-to-performance. They rely entirely on their own power (generator trucks) to present shows. These shows have a distinct caste system in place that separates workmen from performers and bosses.

2. Arena Shows; Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey, Royal Hanneford, George Cardin, Shrine Circuses. These shows travel mostly by train but sometimes by truck, and play only inside arenas or permanent structures. They tend to have week-long engagements in large cities. Performers and circus staff live on the trains or trucks they came on. These shows have a distinct caste system in place that separates workmen from performers and bosses.

3. Modern Circus; Big Apple, Cirque du Soleil, Circus Flora, Zoppe Family Circus. These shows tend to book for several weeks at a time in urban locations or near urban locations. They tent on asphalt lots, and often use city utilities for electric, water, and sewage disposal. These shows have completely blurred the lines in their caste system and all parties work together to put on the show. Stock staff can also be performers, and the same guy that assembles the ring curb may also be doing an aerial act in the show. These circuses tend to have a "we are all family" coop atomosphere unlike mud or arena shows.

This third type of circus is the type I'm writing about. Of course, I'm modifying it some to my own purposes, but this IS fiction and I can do that. My circus will book for two-week stints near urban areas, and while there will be a perceived caste system, in general everyone becomes "generally useful" and the lines are quite blurred. This will allow my female main character to develop the types of relationships with the various members of circus that I need her to.

Tonight or tomorrow I should finish I Love You Honey, But the Season's Over. I don't know if I'll start anything else, or if I'll move back to my interviews and start investing some time in my outlines again. November is going to come quickly, and I want to be ready. I'm still excited, the whole idea of this book still thrills me, and I'm still dreaming about Circus when I close my eyes at night. That bodes well for the outcome of this project!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Leather Hat Boxes

When I was visiting in Baraboo at Circus World earlier this month, of course I had to make sure I hung out in the gift shop. There are some cool things in those gift shops, and the one thing I fell in love with was a leather hat box. It is made in an old style, with buckles and burnished slide-locks and studs, and with a handle on top for carrying. It was about 10" across and 10" tall. I wanted one, but at the $60 price I had to pass. It would have made a really great face painting kit, very unique for some of my gigs.

Hubby must have remembered, because he brought me one home when he came back this week!! I'm so excited!! I can hardly touch it, I'm afraid I'll ruin it. LOL

As a bonus, snuck inside the box was a neat little paperback book, Circus Lingo by Joe McKennon. Published in 1980 by Carnival Publishers of Sarasota, Florida, it is an interesting collection of circus lingo/words and their explanations. Some of these I've heard of, others are completely new to me. There are two interesting things about this book. One is the collection of pictures he included, some captioned, some of them not. The second is that it appears that no one proofread the copy before going to press. There is an interesting mix of mispelled words that mostly look like typos. I found that odd as well as amusing. It's almost like it's self-published. Perhaps it is. I need to see if this guy wrote anything else. He brags in most of this book about how many years he spent travelling with different shows. It would be interesting to see if he has other books out there.

But it's a cool little book anyway, even with its oddities, and I'm going to try to work some of the terms from the book into my novel. I'm finding more and more details to add about my characters, how the story is going to progress, etc.

I'm still at a loss as to how this book will fit in. I don't know if it will be litfic, or chicklit. It started out as a romance, but there's no way this will be a romance now. And at the rate I'm putting together information, it may just end up being quite epic in scope. And I'm not sure I want that, either.

Friday, September 22, 2006

I love you honey,...

...But the Season's Over.

This is my latest read, I'm about halfway through it. It's a true story in the first person about a girl who ends up on a Ringling show in 1942. Honestly, she's a bit of a whiner, and not really someone I want to know a lot about. But her story of being on the circus is at least mildly amusing and she talks about things I know about now that I've done most of my research.

Tonight I watched the DVD of the tent raising again, with hubby. He wasn't as impressed as I was, but he's seen tents go up hundreds of times so it's no biggie to him. I've never seen it before, so it's a big deal to me!

I should finish I Love You Honey, But the Season's Over this weekend. It is supposed to be rainy tomorrow, a good excuse to read. Sunday we will go to the Pirate Festival, which might just inspire me to pull out another story I've sort of been working on, surrounding a Ren Faire. I hope I don't get too distracted.

Last year right before Nano I was inspired to write a different story than I'd first come up with. And in all honesty, I think that was a disastrous move. I finished, and won, and it's a decent story that if I work hard enough will come out to be something. But I struggled with it, feeling ineffective and lost almost the entire time. not this time. I'm well-researched, prepared, and ready.

Only another month and a few days...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Water for Elephants

I just finished Water for Elephants, the latest circus novel out there. Right now it's on the bestseller list, or at least it was recently. It was a fun read, I finished it in about four days or so. I suppose if this had been the first circus book I'd read, I might have found it disturbing. But I enjoyed it. It's weird that I know so much jargon and understand how circus works so it was easy to get into Water for Elephants.

Many of the people on circus in these books are "broken" somehow. Even some of the performers. When I say "broken" I mean that they have a flaw or are stunted in some way, and circus is the only place they can stay. I'm not talking about the freaks, although that's certainly true in that case too. No, what I mean is these are broken people, in some way or another, making them unable to be in regular society as well as they can be in circus. They are drug or booze addicts, manic-depressives or schizophrenics, emotionally wounded through abuse, that sort of thing. The people in Water for Elephants are broken, even the main characters that you are rooting for.

Fred Prowledge made the same point in his book, Mud Show. His theory that those that stay with circus, except for some of the performers, are "broken" in some way. They aren't like other people; they couldn't survive in regular society. People run away to the circus, or away with the circus, as a way to run away from their problems, to get a fresh start, to start over somewhere else. But they bring their problems with them. They are still the same people who couldn't deal with their problems before coming to the circus.

I've met some of these circus people. The "broken" analogy applies. They are running away from something, something that they can't run from to begin with.

It was an interesting book. It is not really a circus book though. It's a book about murder, about the human condition, and a book about romance. I did find it a very interesting read, however, and would recommend it to others.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hubby comes home

After four months and five days in Wisconsin, hubby is coming home. He should be home in about a half-hour. It hasn't been an altogether bad summer; his absence is, I think, one of the primary reasons I'm writing this book. He was in "Circus Mecca" the entire summer. It's not hard for some of that excitement and drama to have rubbed off on me.

Hubby toured with Ringling, but also toured with a handful of mud shows throughout the years, so he will also be a good resource for me as I continue to write this book. His perspective is skewed towards the clown side of things, but there is still info I can glean from what he know. It isn't a clown book, I keep reminding him. He (and other clowns) don't seem to understand why I am not writing about clowns.

That's because it's already been done.

I'm currently about halfway through Water for Elephants, the circus book of the moment. It's actually on the Best Seller lists, and I had a bit of trouble getting ahold of it at the library. But the work librarians felt a bit sorry for me, and let me have it before them. Some of them know I'm working on a circus book, and being librarians, they adore books and mostly adore authors, even not-so-good ones like me.

The next book on my reading list is I Love You Honey, But The Season's Over, a true story of a girl who joined the circus more as a workman and ended up performing. It was published in 1961, the year of my birth, so it should be interesting to see how it is.

If I don't hurry up and get these books read, it will be November and I won't be done yet!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Don't know how to work this in...

Yesterday, Jeremiah, one of the elephant handlers my husband has been working with in Baraboo, Wisconsin, "blew the show." In circus terms, "jumping the show" or "blowing the show" means that you left it. People may have known you were going to leave, people may have known you left, or it may be a complete surprise. Most mud shows lose people every day; many of the more transient areas of circus, like the tent men, concessions workers, and grunt help, have trouble with this, while usually performers stick out the season. It is not unheard of for performers to blow though.

So Jeremiah decided to stay behind when the elephants and camels left Iowa to return to Wisconsin. I know lots of details but have heard conflicting stories, and am having trouble dealing with all of it and figuring out what the truth is. But that is mostly because I knew Jeremiah, and it breaks my heart that he has given up on his dreams (which is what I think has happened).

So, it occurred to me that I do need to have an important person in my story blow the show. Not Jeremiah's character, who will go a different direction at this point, but someone important will have to blow the show. The transient nature of circus workers is going to pretty much require this in my story.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ooooh, I'm so excited!!

Today, Maury Mead, an old circus fan from Wisconsin who has been photographing and taping my husband's work all summer, sent me a DVD of an old Beta tape he had of a tent raising for the Franzen Circus. It is grainy, and pretty wiggly, and kind of out of focus, but it is still the coolest thing I've collected to date in my research on circus! It was filmed in 1985, Franzen was using elephants to raise the tent. Coolest thing I've ever seen. They were putting up this tent with about 8 men, pretty amazing when you think about it.

My husband returns from Wisconsin this week; he's spent the entire summer performing at Circus World Museum. I'm glad to have him back, because he's worked circus and of course I have more questions than I can manage to write down.

And on Thursday, September 28, Kelly Miller Circus will be setting up in a town about an hour away. They, too, still put up their tent with elephant power. We are going to be heading out very early that day with our cameras loaded with fresh batteries and empty storage cards, and will watch their tent raising. I can't wait!! I hope the weather is good and the lot solid.

This DVD has just whet my appetite for more!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Circus Blogs and other stuff

I have found myself a great circus blog to read daily. Of course, the circus season is on its waning weeks now, and soon there will be nothing in the blog to read. But while it lasts, I'll read it daily.

The author of the blog, BE Trumble, is traveling with Carson and Barnes circus and does PR and some other things (I haven't quite figured out what). He has some incredible circus knowledge and likes to share that. Sometimes what he shares is about old circuses that appeared in the same towns that Carson and Barnes is visiting that day, sometimes he just writes an essay on what circus is, or was, or should be. Always interesting. From reading what he writes, he is about my age but has been with circus all of his adult life. So, he has great perspective. I've tried to nail him down for an interview but so far have been out of luck. Perhaps when Carson and Barnes' season ends in a few weeks, he'll be more amenable to an interview.

I got some intense pre-writing work done yesterday, including re-writing some of my notes and adding scenes. I had two Tarot gigs scheduled for the same Bar Mitzvah, an early party of just family, then a regular evening party with all the family and friends. So I had a block of about four and a half hours in between the gigs where I could have gone home, but instead opted to park my butt at the local Panera Bread and catch up on some of my work. This meant I got lunch (chicken salad sammich), endless refills on flavored tea, a piece of chocolate death pie, and a mocha latte. It also meant I could put on my headphones, turn the iPod up high, and work undisturbed for four hours. The problem with tea is that I needed a lot more potty breaks throughout the afternoon.

But, I managed to organize about half of my notes, including all the character development and part of the scene development. One of the great things about Panera Bread is the free wifi...I could continue some of my research while there, because I had full access to the internet. Right now my research is focusing on storm watching. I know how I want to describe the tornado that is the central part of my book, but I needed more details and a clearer idea of cloud development, especially in how clouds look just before the funnel drops. Ironically, I live in the midwest and have been in at least two tornadoes in my lifetime, but I don't remember what it looked like. I remember what it felt like, the massive popping in my ears, the strange feel of the air, the way the wind almost strafes your skin as it goes past. But I don't remember what I saw when I looked up at the clouds. Did you know there are some amazing storm-chasing pictures out there? Incredible stuff, I don't know how some of these people survived their encounters with these storms.

So today I have one small gig, and around that we need to clean house and prepare for the return of my husband. He has been working in Wisconsin all summer, and will be home Tuesday or Wednesday this week. It will be chaos here when he returns, and it will be noisy, and I may find myself parking my butt at Panera Bread once in a while so I can get work done. It's either that or our new public library, which also has free wifi and a coffee shop.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Interviews, Part 2

One of the people I interviewed for my book was Doug Terranova, of Animal Encounters in Dallas, TX. Doug is a personal friend of my husband's; he is the guy who ran the animal rides and presented an elephant information show at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI this summer. Hubby was there as the park clown. Yeah. THAT kind of clown.

Doug is hard to figure out sometimes. Outside he is gruff, talks fast, and tries to give the shortest answer to any question. But he also seems to have a huge heart; not only does he love the animals he works with (elephants, big cats, horses), but he also takes excessively good care of the handlers that work with him. Our last day in Baraboo after Labor Day, he joined us for lunch, and before we left, took home three boxed lunches for the handlers, knowing they would have no other way of getting to eat that day. These little things were almost more telling than the answers he gave to the questions I asked.

He was by far the most difficult interview I had. It was difficult to extract information from him; his mannerisms lead you to think he's not interested in answering the questions. I got further when I threatened to ask a different trainer than him my questions. But the answers were not as in depth as I would have liked; I may indeed have to go out and find another trainer to ask questions of.

I did learn some interesting things; he started out working in a zoo when he was just a kid, and in 1983 at the ripe old age of about 21, he bought his first elephant, Kamba. She was three years old. She is still the baby in many ways, the one he uses in his shows, the one who does the most tricks.

Doug makes a pretty incredible livin doing what he does. It would seem like the overhead would kill him, but apparently it's a pretty good living. He travels the country with his animals, to fairs, circuses, museums, and even to Hollywood where his animals have been in the movies. Most recently Kamba and some of the other animals appeared in Barney's latest movie, which I've had the (dis)pleasure of seeing.

Looking back, I wish I'd been pushier with him, and gotten the kind of interview I needed. I probably have enough with what I have. But I wish I had more.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Interviews, Part 1

When I first got sucked in, er, got interested in Circus, I had the opportunity to talk to some real honest-to-goodness circus folks. I didn't take it completely seriously, but then I got my first interview (albeit through email) and I felt like a real honest-to-goodness writer. Funny.

Some of the people I've interviewed, whether it is in person or through email or a chat, have been a bit on the reluctant side. It's almost like they don't want to talk to me, and I can fully understand that. People who are circus are worried about writers like me; it is very easy to show the circus in a negative light, to show the seedy underbelly, to show what is wrong.

I have made a conscious effort in my preparation to be working on a positive story with a positive outcome. I have read some of the horror stories of circus, and have had some of my interviewees come up with some really harrowing and horrifying stories of circus. But to publish a book of that type, with that type of negative outlook, would remove some of the magic of circus, and I don't want to be the one to do that.

The truth is, there is good in circus, too. From the powerful, amazing athleticism of the performers to the way all members of circus pull together to produce a show no matter what the circumstances. The weather can be awful, tents can fail, sponsors can be non-supportive, performers can be hurt, and animals can be ill or even perish. The ability for the circus to work together as a family is critical to its long-term success. This is true for the largest and smallest of circuses.

I have gone out of my way to assure all of my interviewees that I'm not writing a circus exposee. My story will be a work of fiction, but it will be a work of fiction I will weave with stories of real circus, real circus performers, and real circumstances that circuses have faced. The interviews are critical to my research, and critical to the success of my book. I need honest, informational interviews, and I can't get that unless the performers and circus people I'm interviewing believe that I am only here for the good of their cause.

I never took a journalism class in school. Now I wish I had. I think I could be a much better interviewer if I had some tips to follow. But in my own way I'm muddling through, and getting some great responses.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Life's a Circus

So, I guess I should tell you about my book. This will be my fourth year doing Nano; the first two years resulted in published books (see my links to the right), the third one sits dusty and unfinished on my hard drive. The story is good, I'm just not interested in doing anything with it at the moment. Maybe some year or other I'll get back to it.

This year's Nano will be my most-planned writing attempt ever. I became inspired in July when I spent five days in Wisconsin at Circus World Museum. Not only was I somewhat immersed in the history of circus, I got some first-hand experience living in a place where performances were central to all activities. I also got to meet and interact with real circus people, albiet not exactly in a circus environment, and learned quite a bit. When I came back, I started doing some minimal research in anticipation of using the circus as a backdrop for my next romance novel.

Little did I know that this was going to be no romance novel, and furthermore, my "minimal" research turned into stacks of interviews with circus folk, a pile of books on circus old and new, and a bunch of character notes. I have been grabbed and grabbed hard by the whole idea of circus; it went from mild interest to an obsession in matter of days.

My hubby, who is Circus, finds this all so very amusing. We've been married for seven years, and he has always been somewhat dazed by my lack of fascination for circus and performing. While I do perform myself (tarot, clowning, and wedding officiant), I don't take it to heart the way he does. And I was never much interested in reading about circus, or watching every single movie about circus, or otherwise becoming overly involved. So it amuses him that suddenly I can't get enough of it.

Last year I read Mary Wise's book, Girl Clown, and Daryl Ponicsan's book, The Ringmaster. Both were written about the same circus, but had very differing stories. Both were fiction but based on the same summer with the same circus and the same characters. Mary's book was entertaining; Daryl's book was frightening and disturbing. After that, I thought I'd never find an interest in circus; Daryl's book haunted me for quite some months.

This summer I've read Mud Show by Fred Prowledge, a fascinating look at daily circus. I'm currently reading The New American Circus. I have a couple other books to go through before November, but mostly, my book research is complete. I have collected several articles about modern circus; in one I learned that Bello Noch, the star clown of Ringling's Red Unit, makes $600,000 a year. Not bad for a clown.

My story will feature Tino, a clown/aerialist who stars in a tented show (similar to Big Apple, Pickle Family, or Circus Flora circuses) and Emma, the female main character who joins the circus as a school teacher. Her experiences learning about circus, traveling with the circus, and surviving a major meteorological crisis will tell the story not only of the circus, but how someone not born into circus can become circus. To some who will read my book, this last bit is sacrilege; you can't be circus unless you were born into it. But modern circus isn't like that; you can become circus through your own hard work, dedication, and a willingness to "do it all." As they say in the circus, you have to become "generally useful." Everyone does everything; the caste system that existed (and still exists) in the mud shows that traveled the country is becoming less firm with the passage of time. It is not all that unusual now to have someone raised middle-class with a bachelor's in business or some other mundane area end up working circus as a performer.

While my main female character will not become a performer, she will become "circus."

Tomorrow, I'l talk about the interesting interviews I've had, and the one admontion I've received from virtually every person I've interviewed in preparation for this book. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Might as well get this over with...

Today I woke up sick. Actually, I suspected I was sick yesterday. Today I know it for sure. Sinus infection. Probably caught it from one of my student workers who like to use my computer and phone when I'm not watching. So I'll go off to the doctor this afternoon, get some drugs, feel better in a couple days, and hope that this is ALL the sick I'll be this year before Nano. I don't have time to be sick. I certainly don't have time to be sick during Nano.

I had thought I'd get more work done on getting organized tonight, but I'm afraid anything I'd do would be substandard at best. I do need to call the library tonight and talk to the juvie librarian about doing Nano as a teen project. I don't know why I thought that was a good idea, but my son is thinking I'm going to do it so I can't disappoint.

I do need to schedule at least two more interviews, one with Brian LePalme, the fire-eating ringmaster. I talked to him several weeks ago and got some basics, and have since come up with some questions I want to ask him in detail. He was very willing to talk to me as long as I wasn't going to write a negative circus story. The other interview will be with Jessica Henthoff, who I know personally. Jesse is the heart and soul behind everydaycircus and the circus arts foundation here in St. Louis. I work for her on occasion. She is busy with the Cirque show that is coming to St. Louis, it is part of their local fundraising efforts. I hope to catch her at a down moment and talk with her specifically about my book. She is mentioned in the book The New American Circus, one of my reference books at this point.

My next entry, if I'm not feeling too badly, I'll share a few more details about my book, i.e., "what the heck is this book about anyway?"

Sniffles and snots until next time...

Monday, September 11, 2006


This weekend I decided that my gathered research and materials had outgrown the back pocket of my laptop case. I'd been carting stuff back and forth that way for some weeks. Included in that unruly stack of papers were interviews, email printouts, article printouts, lists of characterizations, and lists of scenes I want to include when I finally do write.

It didn't seem to take long to have too much info to page through easily. So, a cool striped three-ring binder and divider sheets have transformed my unruly stack of papers into nice, neat categories. Thank goodness for a three-hole punch!! What I wish I could find is colored notebook paper; it would be so much easier if I could visually see the different sections of hand-written information at a glance. I haven't had any luck finding any, though.

This is the first time that I'll be using any kind of outline or pre-writing material to do Nano. I've always just kind of gone by the seat of my pants, and researched as I went. Since I'm writing contemporary, much of the research is easy to get to. But because I intend to shop this work of fiction when I'm finished (unlike my previous three, which I just self-published instead), I figured I should have better quality research this time, so that my story has the accuracy it needs.

Ergo, the pages and pages of interviews, printouts, and other research I've accumulated.

The biggest advantage for me in this outlining process is that by having my scenes at least minimally written down before I start, I won't forget to put them in. As things occur to me, I write them down. That's a heck of a lot easier than tucking them into the back of my head and hoping that I'll remember them later.

My Yahoo Group, NanoWriters, has had some extensive discussions about outlining of late, and several people have provided some good links to outlining articles on the web. Many of us are doing the same thing but calling it something different; some are creating extensive, detailed outlines while others of us (like me) are using a more informal system.

I always resisted outlining when I was in college and doing college papers. "Waste of time" I always said. Now I'm not so sure. In this case, I think outlining is what is going to separate this book from my others, and make it the one that gets to the big publishing house. *fingers crossed*

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The cool counter thingie

When I was setting this blog up, I wanted a cool little counter thingie to give me a countdown to when I could begin my Nano. I am just amazed at what I can find on the web these days. A simple Google for "java script + countdown" found me the little script that appears to the right. Today it is 51 days, some hours, some minutes, and some seconds. When November comes, I'll change it to say how many days, hours, minutes, and seconds I have to write until the end of November.

If you want to add the script to your blog, here is where you can find it:

Plug it into your document, then change the date it is counting down to in the third line of the script. That's it, you're done!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Another November, Another Adventure

November is approaching. I know, you're looking at the calendar and thinking it is still two months away.

It is exactly 52 days from today.

On November 1st, I embark on my fourth attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. It sounds difficult, but it really isn't, if you just let your brain go and let your muse take over. I wrote 95,000 words the first time I attempted this. I wrote 78,000 the second. Last year I wrote just over 80,000 words.

This year should be around 100,000 words.

What is this madness, you ask? It is National Novel Writing Month, or more commonly known as "Nano." Nano writers abandon their families, keep their coffeemakers running 24/7, and forget to eat, clean, sleep, or read email for thirty days. In that thirty days, a Nano Writer will bang out at least 50,000 useful words of prose, dialogue, scenes, and descriptions. Nano is a frenzy of creative output; the quality is not what matters here, but the quantity. Editing can be done later. The emphasis is on production...word counts. Every single word counts, even nonsense and curses and pages typed from your favorite novel.

What you end up with is your entire work on paper (or in the computer, as it were). It is a way to actually get those ideas out of your head and into a workable form that you can then use to actually publish. Some Nanoers have actually gone on to publish; I did.

I had considered whether or not I wanted to blog about my writing. I already maintain a nearly daily blog that surrounds my every day adventures as a mom, wife, geek, wedding minister, clown, and psychic. I could have just added blogging about my writing there. But I think this needs its own space, and therefore, Without A Net has been born.

Should you wonder what that means, it is the proposed title of my 2006 Nano. Fifty-two days and counting!