Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Catching Up

It has been a month since I've posted on this blog. It isn't dead, just on haitus. I've been busy for the month of November with NaNoWriMo, a novel-writing process that takes you from your first word to a 50,000 novel in one month. It is the reason this particular blog exists, as I started it last year as I was working on Without A Net. This novel is still in process and I'll be getting back to work on it shortly.

I have received word that the theme for 2008's Circus Flora is Sherwood Forest and the Robin Hood tale. As fun as the Marrakesh show was, it didn't feature my favorite performer quite the way I would have liked, so I'm going to hope that the Sherwood Forest theme uses Nino to better advantage.

Also, the second Zoppe Family Newsletter is up and ready for reading at They have added quite a few videos to youtube lately; a simple search should bring them up. One that I really appreciated seeing was someone's amateur filming of a massive storm that came through and tried to take down their show near Chicago this summer. It is pretty scary film but shows just how resilient the troupe is, and how quickly they could put things to right. Since I am using a storm as a major plot point in Without a Net, it is great to see how the real thing is handled.

Klown and I did not get to go to Colorado together and I had to go alone. The illness of a close family member made it impossible for us to make the trip as planned. This messed up a lot of things for us, and I did not get to see the Ringling "no ring" show. Klown did, and said it really wasn't that great, but he did get to spend several days hanging around with the Ringling clowns at their clown alley. A friend of Klown's, Larry, has been trying to get back on with Ringling and lucked into a contract to join the show in Michigan and then at winter quarters, where they will begin rehearsing for shows that will begin in January. I got to meet Larry, he stayed over at our house right around the time I got back from Colorado, and I'm glad he's getting another chance with Ringling. Of course, it made Klown long for wanting to go with the show as well. This is a yearly thing for Klown, every time Ringling is in town, and I just sit back and let him have at the fantasy, at least for the few days that the circus is in town.

That's all the updates I have at the moment; I hope to get back to regular posting in this blog within the next few weeks.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Big Bertha

Klown and I are taking a week-long trip to Colorado. We'd be taking an extra day or two, except we have to get back in town in time to see Ringling's tour of St. Louis. This year, we get the Blue Show, which is the experiment in "no ring." Two years ago when this show debuted there was a lot of discussion in the circus community about whether or not this was a good idea.

I have not seen it so I don't know. I'm sure I'll be sharing my comments here!

When I first started researching circus, one of the books I read was Water for Elephants. I highly recommend this book as a pretty accurate description of circus in the 1920's. The love story is sort of unnecessary, and a lot of the parts wrap up nice and neatly at the end when they really shouldn't have. But overall, the vision of circus portrayed is darned close to what it was like to travel on the big trains of the old days. In that book, they referred to Ringling as the "Big Bertha." I've seen that description made in other places, as well.

It shows just how big Ringling was in those early days. It is still big, much bigger than most other traveling shows. It is truly the only one of its kind any more. It must perform in huge arenas and has a support staff behind the scenes that can number in the hundreds. The only thing that might come close to it in size of support staff might be Cirque du Soleil, but the Cirque show can't compare in size of performance and performers. There really is nothing to compare to Big Bertha.

And in those old days, Big Bertha was something aspire to. Performers that ended up on Ringling gained a measure of unearned respect that couldn't be matched. Even today, to get on with Ringling is a great way to add to your resume.

I enjoy the Ringling shows. It's another side of circus.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Christianis

The Klown just spent four days clowning with Circus Maximus in Jackson, Mississippi. Several members of the Christiani family were performing, and he spent each evening with them. I would have loved to have been a fly on his clown hat for all of that!

The Christiani family has been performing for at least 8 generations. I first heard of them when I read Mud Show by Fred Prowledge; in that work of non-fiction one branch of Christianis was travelling with Hoxie Brothers Circus in the early 70's. Some of the children from that story grew up and have recently performed with Zoppe.

Klown got a lot of circus lore from sitting around and listening. That would have been the fun part for me. The Christianis are also apparently in a book that is a mix of truth and bull, that I want to read. I may have to wait until after November, however, as I need to concentrate on this year's National Novel Writing Month. Even though I haven't yet finished last year's novel, I still like the process of writing that Nano offers, and will attempt another romance novel, tentatively titled A Cabin in the Woods.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Lost Interview

For two years now I've been attempting to get interviews with staff of a certain circus. Every time I talk to someone with their organization, I'm told "I'll pass on your request" but then never hear anything back. And when I do actually get ahold of a real person, they are extremely aloof, almost to the point of refusing to even look at me.

It's very weird.

All I wanted was an interview with some key players as research for my book. And of course I explained this to them when introducing myself, assuring them that I was NOT writing some horror circus story, nasty expose, or other negative piece. I go even further to assure them that I'm not a PETA freak and have no desire to see their circus put in a bad light.

But it doesn't seem to matter, I still get the evil eye and lack of response. It's a shame, as I would really like to have their experiences as part of the background of my novel.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Looks like I might get a writing day!

I might just get to get in some good writing time Sunday. I am going to have brunch with some good friends, hubby is working most of the day, after brunch I'm dropping Stinky off at Ampguard for the afternoon...this means a pretty quiet house all afternoon. The girls are pretty self-sufficient, and the little one will nap most of the afternoon. I'm already making plans for a crockpot dinner so I don't have to cook a big meal either.

The only "down" side to all this is that it's going to be 92 degrees, and my car has no a/c. I keep hoping for fall, but it's not here yet. They are promising a cool-down in the next few days. In the meantime, the more time I can spend in my air conditioned house, the better!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Another Busy November!!

NaNoWriMo is quickly approaching. As of this writing we have 28 days left until the start of this event. I do still look forward to it even though this will be my fifth year and you'd think I'd be getting bored with it. But it is never boring to write!

I have not finished the novel from last year, and it is still a year or more from being complete. I could continue that work in November (and probably will), but I am going to start a new project for Nano this year, as well. I'm going to go back to regular romance writing, as it is an easier thing to accomplish under the Nano guidelines. This year's novel is titled tentatively "A Cabin In the Woods." I'm sure this will change, but for now, it works. I hope to have it fully edited by March, 2008, and available for sale on Lulu.

So what happens with this blog? Well, this blog stays active and is going to continue to be used to update on the progress of Without A Net, as well as giving you circus news when I have it. How often it gets updated will depend on how often I have news to share. The book is a slow process as I find more details that need to be added, and am always open to new research, as well. Someday, somehow, it will get done. I'm aiming for sometime in 2008, but that may be ridiculously optimistic.

But since this blog is remaining open for Without A Net, I needed to start a new writing blog to handle Nano stuff. If you're counting, I'm now up to five blogs. Yes, I said five. One is about to be let go as I let the domain expire (I am not posting in it anyway), and one is little-used (it's simply a link blog for me to keep interesting tech links in). So I guess I will have four blogs, with three of them being used for regular posts.

The new blog can be found here. You might want to go ahead and bookmark it, although I'll be putting a link to it in the sidebar to your right.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

More Circus

I promise to get back to writing about writing...really!!

This was a week of circus for us. Tuesday we headed out to a far suburb to see Culpepper-Merriweather Circus perform. CM is the same circus Klown toured with three years ago. They are a typical traveling mudshow, complete with plenty of questionably maintained vehicles, tents, and performers. Like most mudshows these days, CM is showing its wear a bit around the edges. Finances are tight for these types of traveling troupes, and without the corporate and non-profit assistance that larger circuses like Flora and Big Apple receive, they are making do with what they have.

That doesn't mean the show was bad. It was actually quite good, and I was pretty impressed. The entire performance revolved around two circus families doing multiple acts, which is certainly not uncommon in this day and age. I did take pictures, but then ran out of batteries half-way through the first act, so my pictures are VERY limited. But I'll share what I have.

The show opened with a cat act. I'm not a huge fan of cat acts, but they are beautiful creatures to watch. The smallness of the tent meant that we were sitting about 20 feet away from them, which is about as close as I've ever been to a big cat. The tigers were Casey McCoy's. One cat was giving him a hard time, but they all went through their paces eventually.

Chico the clown interspersed his comedy in between acts, mostly while they were setting up the ring for the next act. I met him before the show, he seems like a nice guy, but he didn't wow the audience much. He was on the midway before the show hawking his "It's The Strangest Thing You've Ever Seen." I didn't go in, but Klown took Tater into the little tent to see the Strangest Thing. She came out with a totally disgusted look on her face. Klown said it was like the Fiji mermaid. I have never seen an actual midway, but I imagine they were a lot of fun and weirdness in their day. The CM midway had a slide-bounce, pony rides, the Strangest Thing, and a ball bounce.

The second act of the show was Simone on the single trap. She is a beautiful girl and also played the role of ringmistress the second half of the show. Her father was her prop man. Simone and her family were also the unicycle act later in the show, and her sister April performed a pretty incredible rola bola act. Their baby sister Pauline performed an act with trained birds, an act Simone used to do.

After the trap, there was a Hula act. The performer was so tiny she was smaller than my teenage daughter. She had a lot of energy and could really work the hoops. Turns out she was part of the other performing family with CM, the Perez Family. She appeared later during the high wire routine, and at the end in the Russian Swing act.

Probably my favorite act was the Russian Swing. This is always done with such high energy and leaves you feeling quite "up" by the time you leave the show.

CM was moving down the road about 9 miles for the next night's performance, so they were going to make their jump that night. I watched the "little things" going on in the background as the work crew was breaking things down, even while the performance was still going on. After intermission, the entrance gates were taken down, and during the high wire act the large "no smoking" banners were removed from the sidewall. As soon as the show was over and people were walking out, the ring curb was removed, and the sidewall was dropped starting at the far end of the tent. By the time the audience had cleared the tent, there was crew folding up the seats onto the seat wagons and a small bobcat was going around lifting stakes that had been used to hold rigging. The rigging had already been removed. Klown was hanging around talking to his friends as I watched them put away the schwag and close up the concession trailer. It all went pretty quickly after that, Tater and I walked to the van and watched as the side-poles came down, then the quarter poles, and finally the two center poles. The whole thing took maybe twenty minutes. It was just about full dark by then, I don't know how they were doing it with no light.

I have gotten to see a tent go up, and that takes quite a bit longer than going down!

As promised, here are a few pictures:

This is "The Frog," the little vehicle that usually goes ahead of the circus by a day.

The ticket end of the trailer that also housed the concession stand.

The concession side of the trailer. It was run by two guys who doled out an awful lot of diet coke and cotton candy, as far as I could tell!

Tater standing at the entrance to the little tent housing "The Strange Thing."

The only bit of performance I managed to get before the camera batteries conked out.

Being a geek, I noticed this almost right away. This was in the concession trailer, on a little window between the concession part and the ticket part. This high-end wireless router was probably providing wireless access to the performers and workers on the circus. I also wondered if it was providing voice over broadband, but I didn't see any evidence of that. I also did not see the satellite dish that was probably providing the originating signal for the wireless router.

Monday, September 03, 2007

More from Zoppe Family Circus

Sorry, had to change the layout of the blog a bit as it was cutting off my pictures. Hope it didn't RSS you to death as I was working on it.

I have a couple more pictures to share. After the show I did manage to catch the sound girl, and she is very open to doing an interview. Zoppe has one more show scheduled, then I believe they are done for the year. I will try to hook up with her after that. She is very young, and joined the circus kind of accidentally. She handles the sound (all of the music is recorded) and lights, as well as wearing a costume and performing in small roles during the show. She was in the ring during the juggling portion of the show, and was also in front of the circus tent, under the marquis, dancing with Giovanni and trying to keep the waiting audience entertained. She was about "thisbig" and cute as she could be. I hope to learn a lot from her, as she knows (or knew) nothing about circus before going with Zoppe.

I also spent some time talking to Giovanni and Jay afterwards, told them how wonderful we thought the show was. Jay asked me how my book and research was coming along. I say what I walways say, "it's coming along." I wish it were going faster. We took a few pictures, as well, including this one of Jay, Tosca, and Nino in the curtain of the back door.

And this one of the three of them. Jay was already out of costume but hid behind Tosca and Nino so it wouldn't show. I looked at his costume, it was wool, and I can't blame him for getting out of it quick! That, and they had to set up for the next show, and that costume looked brand new. Tosca's costume was quite beautiful, as well.

A Day at the Fair

Yesterday, Klown and I went to the St. Louis County Fair and Air Show. We didn't go for the fair, or the air show. We went to see the Zoppe Family Circus.

I have never seen their show, only bits and pieces of it in other shows, so it was great to see it whole. The show was supposed to be 45 minutes but we got 65 or more minutes of Zoppe, which was great. It was a small show, just a handful of performers, but all very talented and many doing multiple things. Before the show, Giovanni (Nino) Zoppe, several musicians, and two jugglers (Rich and Jacob) entertained the waiting crowd. There was a lot of interaction with the potential audience, getting everyone excited about the show.

I spent a few minutes talking with Rich, an older man juggling with devil sticks, as he manned the booth full of items for sale (t-shirts, Nino dolls, Nino coloring book, Sawdust, Life in the Ring DVDS, and a few odds and ends). I told him about my book project, and he suggested I talk to Zoppe's sound girl, Di, as she was brand new to circus.

The show opened with Mama and Papa, Sandra and Alberto Zoppe. Alberto is in his mid-80's and becoming frail, but he stood tall and proud in his dress suit with ruffles at the neck. Sandra is still beautiful, dressed in black velvet with plenty of rhinestones. She was a force to be reckoned with standing next to Alberto. After announcing the start of the show, they exited the tent, and the performers entered, juggling and dancing, and Nino carting in a huge trunk full of props. One by one, the performs finished their opening routines and left the tent, leaving Nino alone. He did his usual "lost my hat" gag using a little boy who was sitting in front of us. The kid was 8 or 9 and played along beautifully. His mom was taking pictures for all she was worth!

There was a German dog act with samoyeds, poodles, and one very fat little chihuahua. Tosca Zoppe, Nino's sister, performed with a tiny little horse who did small jumps and stood atop a drum in the center of the ring. Jugglers comprised of Jacob and one of the stage-hands/tent men that I recognized from Flora, along with Di, the new sound girl. Jacob was the main attraction, and was juggling what looked like spokes from a brass headboard, along with the requisite clubs and balls, up to five each.

Tosca returned to the ring to perform on her beautiful blond horse. I had seen her perform previously this year with Flora, in an act that looked stilted and uncomfortable. I knew she was better than what I saw at Flora, and I was not wrong. Atop her huge Principessa, she did several acrobatic acts with very steady feet.

Nino joined her then, with a second horse, and they performed acrobatics together atop them. Again, I had seen the more stilted and uncomfortable act at Flora, and this was so much better than what I'd seen there. I'm still trying to figure out what the difference was, why they had seemed so nervous at Flora but not on their own show. I think it may have possibly been the placement of the rigging at Flora. Much of the rigging was quite low, only 20 feet or so, and there was no way to do that act with the rigging hanging so low over their heads. With Tosca atop Nino's shoulders, and Nino atop the backs of the draft horses, they were more than 20 feet up. Tosca was completely relaxed on her brother's shoulders, and both of them looked completely comfortable.

In amongst all of the acts was Nino and his clown schtick. He appeared in the ring, in the stands, and behind the performers. On skit involved him in the stands near us, arguing with the Ringmaster about who was the boss.

It was a third of the way into the show before I realized that the Ringmaster, dressed as an old-fashioned whiteface Pagliacci clown, was Jay, Tosca Zoppe's extremely hard-working husband. Check some of my older blog entries to see what I had to say about him before. At one rehearsal for Flora, I asked him if there was anything he couldn't do. "No," he said confidently. I had no idea he ever put on makeup or performed, so that was kind of cool to see.

The final act of the show was Nino on the big swing. I've seen this act before, but it is still amazing to watch. He is so strong, and when you see him work you just don't realize it. At one point he is hanging from the giant swing by one hand as if it is no big thing. I am always amazed. He brought the crowd to cheers several times. Klown commented that Nino really knows how to bring his emotion to the audience. He gets everyone involved, and gets the emotion he wants from the crowd, whether it is a chorus of boos for the performer who snubs him, or a rousing chant of "do it" when he defies the Ringmaster to get to the big swing.

When the show is over, and Nino brings out the big trunk so all the props can be put away, there is a distinct sigh of sadness that settles over the audience. It is over. And it was a wonderful ride.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One whole month?

Wow, I haven't posted in more than a month. Yikes. I post on my other blog, and have been doing some writing, too, but wow, totally ignored this one, I guess!!

I am at last finally getting some time to write. Not every day, but at least a couple times a week. It is hard to write so slowly, I have to spend a lot of time remembering where I was in the story, but I'm getting things rolled up and finally moving on with the elements of the story that are missing. I still have things to get in the story in earlier segments, but they'll get there. I know I'll feel better once I get the story completely written, even if some of the more minor elements are not in place.

I have another chance to be inspired; Zoppe Family Circus is going to be performing at a fair over Labor Day Weekend so I should get to finally see that show. Also, right after Labor Day, Culpepper-Merriweather, the show my husband toured with three years ago, is going to be close enough for us to go see a show. I think he's hoping it will be a train-wreck, but I'm going for the research. Either way, that's two circus fixes in a week! Whoo!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My slip is showing

My lack of confidence sometimes rears it's ugly head and gives me great misgivings about my work. This time it was an off-the-cuff remark someone made on the NaNoWriters email group. We had been discussing Water for Elephants and someone said that it was an interesting story but that the writing was "average." All I know is that as I read, I was hooked...I almost couldn't put the book down until I finished it. If that was "average" writing, then I'm in trouble.

So I worry about my little novel. Is my writing also going to be considered "average?" Gads. I am not average. At least, I don't want to be!! I want my story to grab my reader and pull them in and get them to not want to put the book down. I had thought up until now that my first 50 pages or so are "done" as far as I'm concerned. But now I'm not so sure. There's not much action in those first pages. At least no much action that can get people excited.


If I could just finish the story, they I could go back and fix/hack/change. I keep getting distracted!!

Zoppe Family Circus

I got the most recent announcement from the Zoppe Family Circus website, and it turns out they will be performing at the St. Louis County Fair and Air Show over Labor Day Weekend. I have never seen the Zoppe's alone, always mixed in with other circuses (like Flora) so it will be neat to see it as it is meant to be...

Zoppe prides themselves on being "circus the way it was meant to be," small, intimate, entertaining, and memorable.

Not to mention the fact that I'll get to see Nino again this year. What a treat!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Scenes that Don't Want to Be Written

I've been working on and off for months on one little scene in my book, where the FMC and MMC go out on a date. Simple, right? Not so much, no.

I think last night I finally had a breakthrough. I had put the dinner date in the wrong place. I moved it, and a few other things, to a week later in the timeline, which seems to have helped some. I do need to make a few more adjustments, as well. I've got a bad case of "cart before the horse" on some major parts of the novel.

It feels good to be sitting down and writing every day again. I really need to do that. When I let it sit, and come back to it, I have to remember where I was and what I was trying to accomplish, and that can be such a time-eater. So seeing it every day there isn't such a lapse, and perhaps I can get more of this story banged out in the next few weeks or months.

I'm also debating on participating in NaNo this year. I like to do it, it keeps me focused and after four years, it is a bit of a habit. But I don't know if I want to give up working on Without A Net for an entire month while I work on another project. We'll have to see.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Time flies...

...when you're unnecessarily busy.

I've decided to give up a major part of my contract work so that I can have more time to devote to writing. I have not touched my novel in at least three weeks, and at this point the darned thing is NEVER going to get written if I don't get moving on it.

I will miss the money from the contract work, but I should have plenty more hours each week to devote to writing. Now I just have to stick with my plans and actually GET the writing done. Today I have a nice 3 or 4 hour time to spend writing away from home. I'm taking advantage of it, believe me. My poor neglected novel.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Nano Countdown

A few people on my NanoWriter's group have started talking about NANO 2007. Up until it was mentioned, I'd been taking a very apathetic view of participation this year. I'm still eyeballs-deep in trying to get the story I started for NANO 2006 finished, and there is still much work to be done. This book will likely not be done for at least another year, if not longer than that.

So should I participate in Nano this year? I don't see how I can't; it is a process that works well for me and I do have a story or two bobbing around in my head that would lend themselves easily to a Nano project. It is an easy way to push out another romance novel, and get it published on Lulu for my loyal fans, who number all of...uh...five. But still, I do know that if the stories in my head don't get written down, they drive me insane with all their bumping around up there. I have so many ideas, so many characters demanding to be introduced to the world.

So, I'll probably participate this year, then set it aside and get back to Without A Net and get it completed. It would be really great if I had Without A Net done by this fall, but I think there are still too many missing pieces. This story needs to be accurate, above all things, and this alone will take time. I'm still struggling with making my story believable and likable, as well as being realistic. It will be no Water for Elephants, but it still needs to be good. This will be the first book I'll have attempted to sell to a mainstream publisher; no simple romance will do.

The Storm Scene

So, I decided to jump back into working on my novel by skipping ahead to the rather sketchy storm scene I'd written at about page 109. The storm and ensuing cleanup is a "turning point" for my FMC, and is the main crisis in the story line. It is after this that the FMC and MMC come together, and it is when the FMC realizes she is never going to leave circus, that she is thoroughly hooked.

The scene centers around a horrendous thunderstorm and tornado that strike the circus as it is setting up for several weeks of shows. There is the death of a main character (not a human character) and the temporary loss of at least one act due to injury. During this scene, which plays out over several hours, the FMC has her mettle completely tested, and comes out bruised and scarred, but knowing her true self and her true place.

I had sketched out the scene with some detail, but not the hours leading up to it, and this is the part I have been working on the last few days. After not having written on the story for quite some weeks, I'm feeling a bit "behind" and "lost" in trying to catch up to where I was. I do tend to write in "scenes," putting them where they belong and then filling in the connecting threads after the scenes are done. This works well for me but does sometimes require a bit of a heavier hand in editing to make sure I've not lost my flow somehow.

I think once the storm scene is settled, I can write more threads. I did talk the other day to Jeremiah, a model for one of my book's characters. He is doing well, it seems but is the same polite young man I made friends with in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He kept calling me "ma'am." Makes me feel old! It reminded me that I needed to develop that character more; there is much the FMC can do with this young man.

I have also realized that I am going to have three men vying for the FMC's attention. Originally I was only going to have one, but the characters tend to develop themselves and I have at least two other men who will be potential beau's for my FMC. I still know who I want her to end up with, but the ride getting there should be plenty fun.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Less Circus, More Writing

Okay, I know my blog has been pretty heavy circus and very light on writing. Now that Flora is leaving town, I promise to spend more time blogging about (and actually doing) writing than talking about circus. Sometimes my passion for it all starts overrunning my mouth. LOL

I do have much to write about now that I've spent the time with Flora. More of my characters will become three-dimensional. Many of them are still rather flat. I really do need to get back to business here and see if I can at least get this story completely written this year, and spend next year with serious editing.

Not to mention that I will definitely be participating in Nano in November this year, with a completely different story. I will likely stick to romance for that one, I can write those in my sleep.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Some Flora pictures

Anthony and Willy Pages. Hard to believe but Anthony is Willy's son. They look like brothers.

Tater with Tino and Olinka Wallenda. When Tater was less than two months old, Olinka saw me with her, and kissed her little fuzzy head. That's better than being blessed by the Pope, in a circus family. Tino and Nino are half-brothers.

Me with Nino, after he'd signed this year's dolly. He is extremely gracious and I am glad to have gotten a chance to spend time with him.

More Circus Flora

As promised, I have more Circus Flora comments. I wish I'd gotten to these earlier this week, but between travel on Monday and Tuesday to Arizona for the final round of interviews for the potential new job, then coming back to my regular stuff plus everything I missed, I didn't have time to catch up. I'd originally intended to take care of the blogs while I was in Arizona, but my internet connection was almost non-existent while I was there, so nothing got done in the little bit of spare time I had.

After the performance last week, while I was talking with Giovanni Zoppe, I said I was going to try to get out to another performance before it closed. He said, "good, hopefully it will be better next time." I told him I thought the show had been wonderful. He made a very disgusted look and waved his hand as if to say "the whole thing was awful."

I can sort of see his point. Having had a week to "think on it," there were definite flaws in the show. My first disappointment was how little Nino got to interact with the audience. Most of his roles were completely ancillary, he was there in appearance only but had no role in what was going on. The few times he was actually there and could have done something, he was given literally only a few seconds to do it. What could have been a rather promising trampoline act lasted about 20 seconds. He performed with his sister Tosca in a bareback presentation, but that was limited, as well. And in fact that did not appear where it was slated for in the first act, but in the second. I found that odd, and the shortened nature of it was strange. Both Nino and Tosca are well-trained bareback performers (it is what Nino first learned as a child and his father is probably the best bareback rider in the world).

There were some amazing acts, no doubt about that. Andrew Adams and Erika Gilfether, who performed an amazing aerial ballet on straps and crimson silk, took my breath away. I have never seen a circus act so deeply moving. The St. Louis Arches, long-time Flora performers, were top-notch this year, relying less and less on the "cute kid factor" and instead relying on their impressive acrobatic skills. Sacha Nevidonski's combined equestrian and aerial act was breathtaking. And the Flying Pages never disappoint; Willy Pages' 8 year old daughter was in this year's act, and she shows great promise. And there's nothing bad to say about the Flying Wallendas, either. The new elephant, Dondi (trainer Phil Schacht), performed quite well in the tiny ring. Joshua Schacht, son of Phil, leapt around on top of Dondi as if she were a platform stage; his steadiness was a wonder to behold. So there was plenty of good.

But there was plenty of lame, too. Pino was billed as a "physical comedienne," but I didn't see much comedic in her performance. Hard to believe she was with Pickle Family Circus for 10 years, and Cirque's "Mystere." Her act lasted maybe four minutes, and consisted of her bending over so her dog could hop on her back and she could walk with the dog perched on her shoulders while she fed it treats. I was not impressed, and if there was "physical comedy" in that act, I sure didn't see it. My husband's tried-and-true clown stage show has more physical comedy in the first minute than I saw in the entirety of Pino's presentation. And as far as Katja Schumann, if you've seen her act once, you've seen it enough. Her liberty horse act (horses without harness or bridle led by voice command only) are pretty, but lethargic, as if swimming rather than running. I've never been impressed with liberty acts. And if I add in how I feel about Nino's "under-use" in this show, well, then this show was half good and half lame.

But it's still Flora, and I still enjoyed it. I am going to try to squeeze in one more attendance tomorrow; the last show is at 5:00. Have to see if hubby is interested in going after my gig in the early afternoon.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Intimate and astonishing.

"Intimate and astonishing. The way a circus should be."

These are the first words on the cover of the program for Circus Flora Marrakesh.

And I would have to agree. This is my sixth Circus Flora; of the six, this one by far outshines the others I have seen. The music was lush, the costuming absolutely stunning. The story line was easy to follow, unlike some of the other Circus Flora plotlines from the past. Tucked in between the opening scene and the conclusatory Flying Pages, were some of the most incredible acts I've ever seen. While much of Circus Flora is the same from year to year (the Flying Wallendas, the Flying Pages, the St. Louis Arches, Cossack Riders, and Katya's Liberty Horse Act), these acts morph from year to year, and in one case, reached new heights in maturity and depth of performance.

There were two performers new to this year's show. One was Alesya Goulevich, who did amazing things with hula hoops, and Andrew Adams and Erika Gilfether who did an aerial act that will be burned into my mind for many years to come. Using rich music and simple costumes, these two shared space on a pair of woven cotton straps, in a dance that outshone anything I could have seen at the ballet. The audience was enthralled and enamored, and many of us had to resist the urge to present these two with a standing ovation at the conclusion of their act. They were simply spectacular.

A third new performing duo, "Pino and Bonzer," pretty much bored me and it's good they came in a lull between the aerial act and the Flying Wallendas. This rather short woman was, I think, supposed to be a clown, although she didn't act or dress the part, and she had one shaggy dog whose only three tricks included stealing Pino's hat, closing the lid to Pino's accordian case, and jumping on Pino's back and riding around the ring with her. I'm not a fan of dog acts to begin with, but when they are this lame they shouldn't be in the ring.

I was disappointed in Nino's much smaller role this year. He appeared in the ring approximately 15 minutes before the show started and provided his usual schtick involving audience members and the loss of his hat. He also performed a bareback act with his sister Tosca in the second half, and had a very short trampoline act in the first half. In general, however, he was hardly in the ring, and when he was, he was almost completely ancillary to the story and the circus acts. It made me sad; he has always been a huge part of what made Flora so much fun for me. Every time he entered the ring, the children screamed "Nino!" over and over again, showing how much he is loved in this community. I hope they will rethink his role next year and give him a bigger part of the meat of the show.

One act that truly deserves mention is the St. Louis Arches. This troupe of children have been training for literally years in acrobatics, and each year they get better and better. This year's group, about 16 strong, did the usual tricks, but with much more maturity and confidence than ever before. There were few bobbles of landings and joint tosses, and plenty of activity without the "aw" factor I'd seen so many years before by them adding the tiniest tumbler to their routine (even though he is not much of a tumbler). So their act was really good.

Sasha and the Cossack riders did not appear in that usual form this year. This year it was simply Sasha, with his horse Mammut. Their performance was breathtaking, as I knew it would be. I'd seen them rehearsing a couple of weeks ago when I was hanging out on the grounds. Mammut is wild and free, and Sasha created an act that combined an aerialist act with two long white scarves strung from the top of the tent, with the speed and wildness of Mammut.

Afterwards, we waited until the tent had mostly cleared before we left, catching up with many of the performers outside. The first was one of the Arches, who I complimented personally on his performance. These kids are used to seeing me at their home base in the City Museum, so I am semi-familiar with them. Second were Anthony and Willie Pages, spectacular in turquoise costumes. I teased Willie about his hair; during rehearsals he didn't want me to take his picture because his hair "was a mess." I couldn't tell the difference. He looked good either way. This year along with his wife, son Anthony and daughter Mercedes (who is about 8 years old) their act was better than ever. Then we talked to Tino and Olinka Wallenda, then Jessica Henthoff, and waited in line to see Nino (Giovanni Zoppe).

I know I sound like I'm gushing or someone paid me to say this. But truly, this was the best performance I've seen to date. I truly enjoyed it, and knowing what I know about the behind-the-scenes work of Circus, I now have a greater respect and understanding of the process that is circus. I will have more to say over the ensuing days, and of course I'll have pictures, too!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A really good review of Circus Flora

Not having seen the show yet, I can't comment, but here's a review in the local paper.

Circus Flora offers entertaining show

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Where I've Been

Well, it's been a weird two weeks. Amongst my time spent at Circus Flora watching rehearsals and trying to pin down performers for interviews, plus dealing with tech issues at home (DSL gone down, print server bit the dust, home network gone wonky), I also interviewed for job in Flagstaff, Arizona. I had not felt exceedingly confident about the phone interview, and pretty much wrote off getting the job at all.

Then they called me back. They are flying me out to a second interview in about a week. I am the only candidate they are talking to after the first round. I cannot tell you the kinds of nervous this makes me. This would mean a 1400 mile move from my comfort zone in Missouri to something completely new and different. Not bad different, just different. It means uprooting my whole family, it means lots and lots of changes. The advantages are that Flagstaff is a spectacular place to live, I'd be going from working at a two-year college to working at a four-year college, that I'd get to do what I love most (adaptive technology) full-time (right now I am doing that with two other jobs tacked on). It means a "fresh start" and a new adventure. It means a great virtually free education for my kids, it means a big pay raise (almost $10K more), it means lower health care insurance costs. Lots and lots of advantages and I can think of very few disadvantages.

My stomach has been in knots all week and I can't sleep without dreaming about all sorts of weird scenarios. Not much writing or even thinking about writing has been done.

Circus Flora opened tonight and I had thought I would go, but I worked too late, then met a friend at Barnes and Noble to encourage her as she's writing for Script Frenzy, then got home and had to nap in the chair for a bit before I could cook dinner. So maybe I'll go one night next week, that looks like my best chance. I do have tickets for the 2 p.m. show on the 16th, with my husband and the little one. The big ones don't want to go. Too bad for them.

There was a cute article in the paper today about the show, which made me giggle. I'm sure you'd enjoy it to. Be sure to check out the sidebar on the right-hand side for the funny little bios they wrote about some of the performers (both animal and human).

Connecticut Elephant Legislation killed

As the legislative session in Connecticut neared its close, the legislation intended to outlaw the use of the Bullhook was never brought to a vote. The sponsor of the bill admitted that she didn't have the needed votes to even consider asking for the floor to hear her issues. She has promised to renew the bill next year.

We'll see. But for now, many in the circus community are thrilled that the legislation did not pass; no circus with animals would have been able to perform in Connecticut if this measure had passed. If the bill is revived, then another round of letter-writing and public education about the use of the bullhook will ensue, I'm sure.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Interview with Nino Part II

I had the chance to sit down and talk with Nino for about a half-hour on Wednesday before he had to dash off to Home Depot for more parts for the leaking trailer, and then there was a group rehearsal of the opening act of the circus. He is so understated and so quiet, yet underneath runs an intensity that you can literally feel. He is also always in motion; a leg shaking, running his hands through his hair, twiddling with something on the table, etc. Always in motion. He said several things that stuck with me, one is "circus is family" and "I'm passionate about circus."

While I was waiting to talk to him, I stood and looked around, observing the small details I might have missed if I'd been sitting in the interview. Nino's trailer is erected in a small corner of the Circus Flora lot, a bit of an enclave if you will, like a small Italian piazza in the shape of a U. One arm of the U is Nino's trailer, the lower part of the U is a large shiny horse trailer with an awning and portable stalls set up alongside it for the three horses Nino's sister Tosca rides in the show. The other side of the U is Tosca and her husband Jay's trailer, a large 5th-wheel. The top of the U is a portable picket fence, painted a brilliant white, which then forms the courtyard of their piazza. As I stood inside the picket fence, I could see through Tosca's trailer, and in one window was an elaborate candle holder, with 8 candles on spindles of wrought iron, each platform decorated with tiny windchimes. The trailer was "home" and she had it made up to be the home she needed it to be.

I mentioned the "homey" atmosphere of their area and Nino informed me that he lives in his trailer 12 months out of the year, so it is his only "home." The Klown often teases me, saying I'd never make it on a show full time, that I could never live in a trailer. I suspect he is right...staying in that tiny trailer in Wisconsin for a mere week with Klown and three kids nearly drove me insane. I felt like I had nowhere to sit, or get away from the noise, or from people. I can't imagine living like that full-time, no matter how big the trailer.

I will write later about other things I observed during the rehearsal. It was an interesting hour.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Nino Interview, Part I

I dragged my hubby, The Klown, with me to the Circus Flora grounds for my Nino interview. When we got there Nino immediately introduced himself to me although we'd never formally met. But he knew my name so that was cool. Things were crazy, though, one of the trailers he'd brought up was having a major leaking problem that needed to be fixed, and his sister needed to rehearse and he is part of their act. So we did get to talk, for like five minutes, then we watched them rehearse for a bit. It was after 8, we needed to get home, so I scheduled to come back on Wednesday while he was between rehearsals. We'll see what I get. It will be neat to see the rehearsals, though, as I've never gotten to experience anything like that before.

Nino apologized over and over about not really being able to spend much time with me, but I reassured him...the truth is I NEED to see everything. Even if it's just down time or waiting time or initial rehearsals or seeing how they all live. It's all stuff I can use.

And let me tell you, he shook my hand about three or four times, and it's like getting squeezed in a vice! I'm going to remember not to wear rings on my right hand. OW!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Well, so much for THAT.

Stupid me. I left the flash drive with my novel on it on my desk at work when I left Friday. And the office is closed the entire weekend. No chance in hell to go get it so I can work on my novel.

I would use the backup copy but it's about a week old and 5,000 words less and I don't want to have two versions going at once. I even saw it there and told myself not to forget it. Honestly, I couldn't wait to get out of there, so of course I left it behind.

It's not that I don't have other things to do. I do. I just didn't want to do them. Now I have no excuse. At least I have my interview with Nino to look forward to on Monday night.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My new logo

This should be my new logo.

This ball of net was rolled up near a trailer that presumably housed the flying trapeze equipment and rigging. Since it was outside, and the trap was being set up under the tent...then the trap act was Without A Net.

Okay, I thought it was funny.

Circus Flora

I spent two hours at lunchtime today at the Circus Flora grounds. The roof of the tent was up and day laborers were putting in the floorboards of the bleachers. The Fabick tractor people were setting up the giant external air conditioners. There were miles and miles of electrical cables stacked up on a pallet, and miles and miles of coiled vent hoses flattened out like old Chinese lanterns, waiting for placement.

I got the chance to talk with the General Manager, Holly Harris. She was in and out and back and forth and around and not around for the two hours I was there. I probably got ten minutes with her all-told. But what I got from her was good, and I'm going to go back and get more from her at some point. I spent a lot of time just watching and looking around and especially looking for small details. I found spray-painted marks on the ground marking where trailers were to be put up, and who those trailers belong to.

I think this paint was from last year, because I watched Nino pull in his Airstream, and he parked it nowhere near these markings. But still, it was cool, and I walked around looking at all the trailer marks.

Inside the tent, while the day laborers worked on the bleachers, Willy Page of the Flying Pages was setting up the rigging for the flying trapeze act. Willy is the catcher, probably the most important role in trapeze work. I introduced myself to him and asked a few questions. Yes, I said something dumb, too, but it wouldn't be me if I hadn't said something dumb. There was a giant outdoor thermometer at the top of the tent, and it read somewhere around 90 degrees.

Outside it as gusty windy, about 83 degrees, with a hazy sun. I asked Willy if it was hot working up there but he said the air conditioned tent was easy to work in. He also said he liked working in the warmth, that all performers did, it kept their muscles loose and warm. I mentioned sweaty palms and he said "plenty of chalk."

I know I'd sweat to death at the top of the tent, with the lighting and all the heat rising, and the sun having beat down all day long on the dark-colored tent.

I hope to go back tomorrow and watch some more. The bleachers will probably be done tomorrow, and more rigging will go into place. Most of the performers will be arriving in the next two days so that rehearsals can start. Watching the rehearsals would be incredible, if I can get to do it. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Circus Flora Tent going up!

Circus Flora opens in about three weeks. Today I checked with one of my contacts and found out the tent was going up TODAY. Dang it. Not a day I could just take off and go down there to watch it go up. Fooey. I did call the general manager, whose name and number I got from my contact, and she said to come on down tomorrow or the next day, that things would be progressing slowly. The tent is up but the ring needs to be built and the floor boards put in and the bleachers erected. She also agreed to an interview. whoo!

Of course, work is pretty bothersome right now, we've had problems with our emergency cell phone that is our on-call phone. The bright minds at our main office decided to change our cell phone service from one company to another, without taking time to check if the new provider had service on our campus. They don't. The only place the damned phone works is in MY office, so therefore I've been on call for 9 days straight while the main office gets our service switched back to the old provider. I've been promised the phone will arrive via overnight and I will get it tomorrow. I am hoping it comes in the morning so I can bug out for the afternoon and spend some time on the grounds with my camera watching the goings on. Might even be able to catch a rehearsal, that would be really cool.

And my long-awaited interview with Nino the Clown is happening on Monday night at 6 p.m. My stomach is already in knots. What do I wear? What questions do I ask? Ohmygosh what if I make a fool of myself? LOL

It'll all be fine, I know it. I've spoken in front of thousands of people at once, surely I can interview one little ole clown at a time. Right?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Long Weekends

We're coming up on a nice long weekend here in the U.S. Any time I look at a weekend I hope against hope that I'll be able to get some writing done. It's spring, and I'm in one of my insomniac cycles, and all I can think about at night when I might have time to write is that I want to go to bed. I can sleep in the dark, but I can't sleep in the light, which means that at 4:00 a.m. when the birds start getting restless outside and the first pale light of dawn shows over the hill outside my bedroom window, I'm awake.

Not dozy awake.

Wide awake. I try to go back to sleep, but suddenly my body is restless, aches and pains roll through my joints, and I just have to get up. But my brain is exhausted, and I can sit in front of my computer and try to write for two hours but it's mostly incoherent gibberish, or simply no words at all, I just sit and stare at my screen.

And I really do want to sit and write. But if I can't get an hour all at once, without distractions, when I'm awake and don't have other things hanging over my head, it is just hard to get anything truly worthy done. I guess I'm in a bit of a funk.

So, this is a long weekend. We have plans for Sunday, going to the RenFaire, which is always fun. But Saturday is just laundry day, and Monday I have no plans. My husband is working, so maybe I will get a few words tapped out.

Monday, May 14, 2007

More Female Characters

I've been stuck on a scene in my book lately, actually two scenes. The first is the Fiesta scene, where I have to get my female main character onto the dance floor dancing a group dance with the other women, and an earlier scene where she accompanies some of the circus people to a bar on payday.

I realized that as I was writing the Fiesta scene, I had no women friends attached to my FMC who could drag her onto the dance floor at the appropriate time. All of the connections she's made at this point, about a week into her Circus journey, have been men. The majority of women on circuses are in performance art; my FMC is not a performer and therefore wouldn't be interacting too directly with most of the performers, especially at this early stage of the story.

So I created a female character to fill this role, and my FMC meets her at the bar night. I am so happy with the dynamic I've set up between the FMC, the wardrobe guy, and the public relations guy, that inserting this fourth character still feels odd. Square peg in round hole. I'm sure I'll grow to like it later.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Writing Frenzy

I am getting a considerable amount of writing done these last few days. I could have done more, it's been really slow at work, but I have a hard time writing anything consistently at work. Too many distractions between the phone ringing and email coming in and the students chattering away. It probably didn't help that it is finals week, as well, which means the overall energy on campus is testy.

I had a day off today but I'm just now sitting down to write, and it's going on 3 p.m.! I've gotten distracted going shopping, then making capuccino, then eating some lunch, then doing a load of wash... I can find all kinds of reasons not to write.

But now I can't put it off any more. Time to get down to busness.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Good Writing Time

My weekend went way too fast with me not really finishing everything I wanted to finish. But on the plus side, I did get to put in some great hours writing. I got a couple good hours at a Breadco on Sunday while my kid was doing some LARP stuff. And last night I got a good couple hours in after supper when the house was relatively quiet.

I have just found out that I will be at work tonight until 10, and that means I will have time to write tonight, too. Of course, it means I get nothing done at home tonight, and that part bugs me. But, what can you do. Work is work, right?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Animal Trainer Interview

I had the pleasure of interviewing another animal trainer this morning. Linda Roberson is currently working at Kay Rosair's animal preserve near Sarasota, Florida. She came to animal training late in her life, at age 40. She worked with animals in various circuses and expositions over the last 15 or so years. Linda is an animal activist of the positive kind; she believes strongly that if the United States, the richest country in the world, doesn't work hard to breed and replenish the elephant population, that our grandchildren may not ever even see a real elephant.

I think there is some value in what she says. Currently, the U.S. allows no importing of elephants for any purpose, and the gene pool of elephants being bred in the U.S. is quite limited at this point. We can continue to breed the ones we have, but that gene pool is going to become tainted at some point with so few to share around.

In addition to talking about animals, Linda was also forthcoming with other information. She strongly recommended my interviewing Alberto Zoppe, who is living currently in Arkansas. I know Alberto was inducted into the International Ring of Fame just this last month in Sarasota, Florida.

Linda spends time working as a paralegal when she isn't working with animals. It was her profession before she started working with elephants. She offered to hook me up with a lawyer she has worked for that works with writers and might be able to get me a publisher when my book is done. That is a very promising lead!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Exotic Animals

Over the last few months, I've been made aware of several instances across the country where a city, town, county, or even a state has tried to ban exotic animals. In some cases they are banning the owning of exotic animals. In others, they are banning the performance of/by exotic animals. Almost all of these actions focus on elephants, although some are broad enough to cover other exotic animals like cats and primates.

Many times, local SPCA or PETA groups are behind this action. Currently there is state legislative action in Connecticut (the home to many a circus winter quarters) and California, as well as Kaufman County, Texas, and Prince George City in British Columbia, Canada. There are, I'm sure, many others, but these are the biggies on radar at the moment.

I am so saddened by these actions on the part of our governments. I have met elephants, and there is no smarter, kinder, or gentler creature on the planet than them. A well-cared-for elephant in captivity lives generally twice as long as his or her wild counterpart, in a safe environment where there are no predators and there is good veterinary care and excellent food. In circuses, elephants (and other exotic animals) are fed better than the human performers. They receive regular medical care, have comfortable living quarters, and their trainers are like mother hens to them. Anyone who's been truly close to circus has seen this. I know I have, and I cannot imagine any trainer abusing an animal that has the strength to strike him or her dead in a heartbeat. It makes no sense at all for a trainer to abuse an animal; that animal is their livelihood.

I have to wonder about these groups who want to ban the exotic animals. It is as if they don't see the other animals in the circus, who are performing and who are kept in captivity and cages. What about all those horses? The Percherons and Belgian Mares and Shetland Ponies? What about the llamas and camels? And let's not forget the trained performing dogs, cats, and birds, too. There are a lot of animals performing in circus, not just elephants. Why are we not concerned with them?

If you're going to try to keep animals off the circus, then you'd better spend time getting all of them banned. It isn't fair to the elephants if we don't make the doggies go too.

I just wish a bit of reason would enter into these people's heads when it comes to how animals are treated in circuses. In truth, the animals are usually treated better than the humans!!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Two Interviews down...

Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of speaking with Bob Carabia, a circus musician (he plays saxophone and other woodwinds). Now mostly in retirement, Bob spent the majority of his young years in concert halls and playing rodeo bands. He was always enamored of the circus, and in 1996 got a chance to form a band and play for "Maine Dates" of Shriner circuses. According to him, he had died and gone to heaven. He was the band director for the three-week Shrine Circus in Detroit, a premiere event.

His biggest reason for not working in Circus any longer was because more and more circuses are moving to taped/digital music. I know this is true and many of the smaller shows are using all electronic music. Only the bigger shows are still using a band, and even then, sometimes the band is acting in support of electronic music rather than the other way around.

I know that Cirque du Soleil (not a real circus in my opinion) uses a band and no electronic music. Ringling uses both, as do Big Apple and Circus Flora. Mud shows for the most part aren't using any band at all.

Of course, in my circus, we will have a band. Since I'm aiming for a Circus Flora/Circus Chimera type of circus, I will be able to have a band. I lament the loss of live music in Circus as acutely as Mr. Carabia.

New Site Design

I changed the site design a bit, tweaking it a little. I hope the new look isn't messing anyone up. I thought it was appropriate to put up a circus picture. It is one I took of the Kelly Miller Circus setting up in September 2006.

On a side note, Kelly Miller was reported to be folding after the 2006 season. The Rawls family, who had operated the circus since 1984, were no longer interested in keeping the show going and wanted to retire. John Ringling North II stepped in to buy it and it is now touring the middle of the country. Kelly Miller winters in Hugo Oklahoma. Hopefully they'll be back in our area this fall, and we can see them again.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

One Interview Down...

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry allen Dean (yes, he wants a small "a" in his middle name), self proclaimed "animal trainer extraordinaire." As someone else referred to him, "the animal trainer with three first names." Either way, I spent an enjoyable 2 hours listening to him talk about how he got into animal work, and what he enjoyed, and what he was doing now. Larry's great love is to work with big cats, although he's worked elephants, horses, and camels as well. I learned a lot. There may not be a lot of what he gave me that I can use, but the interview helped me to understand how a "contract" trainer can work with animals that don't belong to them.

This has been sort of a sticking point for is hard for me to understand how a trainer can work with animals he didn't raise and doesn't own and didn't train him/herself. Where does his sense of responsibility for the care and feeding of the animals he works with come from? The bond may be there, but certainly not as strong a bond as would exist if the trainer had raised the animals or at least had a hand in their training from the beginning. But it happens all the time, so I guess it works.

I have found, too, that animals change owners quite often, and that about half the time, the owners aren't even animal trainers themselves, they are buying the act and hiring a contract trainer so they can make money on the act.

Larry rarely works on shows any more, although he was once quite a big name in Circus circles, including work on Ringling and Big Apple. He says that the the percentage contract trainers make these days is not enough to live on. He also sees fewer and fewer cat acts in circuses because there is such high overhead in maintaining them. Cats must eat every day, even when there are no shows. That's true for all animals. But in the case of big cats, there are a considerable number of ancillary services that must be paid for besides food and bedding. Cats require more security, more men to handle cages and wagons and feedings. While one man can take care of three elephants without a whole lot of trouble, one man cannot take care of the same number of cats without plenty of physical help.

Tomorrow I'm talking to a musician and a schoolteacher, with any luck.

Friday, April 27, 2007

More Great Interviews

So I have been on a bit of a tear of writing lately. It helps that The Klown is out of town for a few days and I have some pretty quiet evenings to get some things done. I decided to send out a call for help to a Circus Fan list and see what I could get by way of interviews. I have pretty much read all the books I can possibly read at this point, and I need real-life interviews to fill things out. I asked specifically for:

1. "Star" clowns - where there is only one clown or one major featured clown on a show (like a Belo, Nino, or David Lareble).
2. Anyone that has performed for Big Apple Circus.
3. Animal trainers/performers who do not own their animals, particularly elephants.
4. Performers that are not "stock" or born into the business.
5. Anyone who has worked on costumes/costuming for a smaller circus.
6. anyone who has been a school teacher on a show.
7. Anyone who has been on a show that experienced a natural disaster in the form of a tornado.

Boy, have I gotten responses! Some are pretty lame ("hey, buy my book, it has all your answers in it!") but some are really great. So far I've lined up solid interviews with two animal trainers, and a tentative booking with a ringmaster. I have also heard from a clown, a musician, and a schoolteacher! These are going to be major interviews for me, and should help me better round out some of the characters in my story.

I can't offer these people anything for their help. The best I can do is list them in my acknowledgments when I get done writing the book.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Inactive but Active

The work on Without A Net is slow and painful. But it is progressing. The story is not complete, which still leaves me with lots of holes to fill. Particularly I need to build in about two months of touring and shows with appropriate drama before coming to the conclusatory crisis of the tornado. And that's only one of the huge gaping plot holes in my story.

Hmmm, I think I just made up a new word. Hopefully you know what I meant.

I have a day at home today with two sick teenagers who don't have the energy to watch their baby sister. The Klown, aka Daddy, is out of town at a Clowns of American convention. So, a day off for me. I hope to get some writing done. I have the stereo loaded up with all my Gipsy Kings and Esteban CD's to get me in the mood. The little one is under the table next to me, sneaking pretzels and being exceedingly quiet, something I find greatly amusing.

Maybe it will be a productive day.

Minor Techie Update

I bought the domain and have created a forward from it to my blog. So, if you want to update your bookmarks, the new address is

The old address still works just fine.

That is all, back to writing!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fun Florida Circus Finds

Florida is a mecca of circus - active and retired performers, performing venues, teaching circuses, museums, and circus STUFF. Me, I'm into the books, because I can take them home with me, unlike the fabulous statues of Cirque du Soleil costumes I saw at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.

Between the bookstore at that museum, and the flea market, and the antique shops in Arcadia where we were staying, I brought home a small stack. Hubby bought me The Pictorial History of the American Circus by John and Alice Durant. Very cool book with some amazing photos in it and a good, true history of American Circus up to about 1957, when it was published. I also brought back First of May by Charlie Hill. The cover says "At Last! An Authentic circus novel." We'll see. It was on deep-discount at the museum in Sarasota, I got it for $3. It was published through a vanity press, so no telling how many typos there will be. LOL

I also picked up a picture book chronicling one year's Great Circus Parade in Milwalkee, Wisconsin. It is pretty neat to see some of the circus wagons I saw at Circus World in the parade photos. And last but not least, at one of the antique stores I got a copy of Circus Life in Pictures by Johnnie Schmidt. Johnnie traveled with circuses as a clown and archivist. He took some amazing pictures and interacted with some amazing people. I spent two nights down in Florida going through that book with a fine-tooth comb. A cursory search on the 'net hasn't turned up too much about him, and I don't know when he died, although he was born in 1900.

I just wonder what else I would have found if I'd dug through a few more antique stores.

Geez, you'd think I was dead...

I can't believe I've not posted here in forever. No one will read the words if I don't write them, right? LOL

It's been a busy month or so, but I really need to force myself back into working on my book. Work has been a little more nuts lately, and I've had to spend more hours doing that than usual. The boss sent a bunch of us home with brand new Dell computers and a copy of Vista that we could play with. I'm taking this pretty seriously and beating this copy of Vista to death with installs, uninstalls, trying to make it do things and keeping a blog about where it fails. At least it's putting my writing skills to work.

So last week I was looking on for some circus movies. I've really been wanting to see Circus World with John Wayne. I found a copy for 79 cents. I'm the consumate bargain hunter. LOL

I watched it last night. It was a terrible copy, and I wish I could have gotten it on DVD instead. The movie stared John Wayne and a cute little actress named Claudia Cardinale. It also had Rita Hayworth in it, but oddly enough she only had really a small role. The plot was John Wayne's character heartbroken after losing his woman (Rita) and raising the woman's daughter (Claudia). Apparently they'd been having immoral trysts and the cuckolded husband committed suicide in the ring. John took what was left of his circus to Europe after almost 20 years, chasing down his lost love. He finally finds her, and Claudia figures out by accident that Rita is her mother. All ends well, of course.

Now, to find time to write...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Now I have a reason to be nervous

Last night Gianino Zoppe called me. He had gotten my email, and he called me by my given name (which I hadn't given him) so I think he probably checked up on my references before he called. That's okay by me, one of the things I hoped for is that he wouldn't think I was a Nino Stalker.

Of course, the timing was such that he got my voice mail, and left me a message that he'd love to do an interview and giving me his phone number.

I was so excited, just hearing his lightly accented voice on my voice mail. I had really given my request for an interview a less than 50/50 shot of working. I proved myself wrong!

So now I sit here in front of a blank page trying to come up with a reasonable list of questions I want to ask him. I don't want to have too many, he's doing me a great favor by doing an interview in the first place. But I need to ask the questions that need to be answered in order to fill out my main male character, too. I don't want to ask too many personal questions, but I need to ask some, so that I understand how he lives, why he performs, what his life is like outside of the ring. That's the part of my characterization that is not coming together well.

That is my job this get my list of questions ready. Then I can be prepared for my interview, which I hope to conduct tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Why am I so nervous?

I finally decided after a week of continuing to play around with my story that my clown is just not going to become three-dimensional unless I get more research. I need to talk to a clown who is like my main character. I need to talk to Giovanni Zoppe.

I sent an email last night, that it took me over an hour to compose, and am hoping for the best. An in-person interview would be best, I think, and I wouldn't mind driving to northern IL where they have winter quarters. Believe it or not, I'd be less nervous face-to-face with him than I would be on the phone. In a face-to-face interview I could get all the nuances of facial expression and body language, and hope to capture some of the passion of the man who is Nino the Clown. Phone interviews are hard for me...they always have been.

We'll see if I get a response.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


While I still tangle with this issue of making Tino "real" in my book (he is flat as a board right now), I continue to meet people that inspire and intrigue me in the areas of characterization.

On Thursday, my husband and I bought a Toyota Previa minivan from a man named Sebastian (leaving his last name out here as it might be an invasion of privacy). He hadn't seemed all that interesting on the phone, but in person, I was struck by several things. It occurred to me that I needed a man like this in my book.

He spoke with a muted German accent; definitely there but dulled somewhat by years in the states. He was tall, about 6' 4" if I had to guess, but not in an imposing way. He was slender but not emaciated, and had the bluest eyes I think I've ever seen short of my husband's. He shook hands firmly when we made the deal on the van, spoke firmly but softly. He gave off the appearance of calm effectiveness, yet beneath the surface, there seemed to be a roiling river of passion that could have erupted at any time. Yeah, I know that sounds trite, but it was almost like a feeling of "still waters run deep" with this guy.

Definitely a character I needed in my novel. I believe he will replace my existing ringmaster/owner character (Sam). I would have added him in and made him ringmaster and maybe performance director, but with a circus such as mine, the owner would have too little to do if I put in a secondary character. And I don't need a "right-hand man" for the owner, either, as I've developed that character already in the form of the circus "Patch," Marty.

Today I'm going to see what Sebastian can tell me about himself as I sit at my computer screen. Then I need to bite the bullet and do the same with Tino, who is getting flatter and flatter every day, instead of developing into something.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Writing Every Day

I really try to write every day. These days, most of that writing is not in my novel, however. I keep up with my blogs, and the forums that I'm a member of, and writing on email lists I'm a member of. Then I'm all worn out and have no energy left for working on my novel!

Doesn't seem quite fair sometimes.

But writing is writing, and I do believe it all counts.

I have almost finished Bird By Bird, the book by Anne Lamott. Excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone trying to write. She is very upfront about what you can expect from your writing, that you will likely not get rich, and how to avoid some of the pitfalls of your own internal editor and feelings of persecution so that you can really write well. I will probably finish it today, and hopefully use some of the techniques to get my novel back on track. One thing I have read with interest in the book is about how to develop characters. This is something I'm having a very hard time with right now; my main male character is about as flat as a piece of paper. I haven't yet figured out how to make him reveal himself to me, and some of Anne's techniques might do the trick.

Now, to carve out some writing time...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Twenty-Dollar Words

When I was in college and learnng all kinds of things on my way to getting my English degree with a Certificate to teach (which I never finished and instead ended up with something totally different - but that's another story), I loved using big new words on my family. When I'd use a particularly big word, my dad would say it was a twenty dollar word.

Well, I've brought it down a notch, and I don't use all the big words I can. But I still love words. I have a book called the Grand Pajundrum, which I adore because it gives you all kinds of little-known words with their meanings. And my latest purchase, from the Barnes and Noble $2 "last chance" clearance table no less, is a book called I Always Look Up the Word Egregious. The subtitle is "a vocabulary book for people who don't need one."

Yup, that's me. I don't really NEED a vocabulary book, but I like them. I like to find new words, even if I won't use them any time soon. It's fun to just randomly open a page and find a word that you've never heard before. Today's word is:


"Supporters of the tax credit brush aside the distinction, noting that only a modest amount of it would go to the truly affluent. but that is sophistry; the only reason few rich people would be helped by the tax credit is that there aren't very many rich people."

Sophistry has an unfavorable connotation and means arguing deceitfully, attempting to turn a poor case into a good one by means of clever but specious reasoning.

Hmm. I think I can use the technique, even if I can't use the word.

Friday, January 19, 2007

RIP Moxie

This is also cross-posted in my Momilies Blog.

Moxie while we were feeding all three elephants special treats.

We received word yesterday that one of Doug Terranova's elephants died this past Tuesday. The suspected cause was Encephalomyocarditis, a disease that strikes suddenly and causes death within hours. Moxie was 23 years old, quite young.

We know that Doug, and his assistant Adam, who worked with Moxie on a daily basis, are heartbroken. We are too. It is hard to know what to say; Moxie was a member of Doug's family. By association, he was a part of ours, too.

Moxie (right) and Congo playing kissyface.

The Baraboo News Republic had a comprehensive and heartbreaking article about the loss of Moxie. We're going to miss him.

Moxie (left) and the girls coming back from a bath in the Baraboo River (picture courtesy of Adam Johns, Animal Encounters, Texas)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Peace and Quiet, I need Peace and Quiet!!

Getting my Circus acts set up in the right order and understanding their characters has been more complex than I wish it was. But without it I'm having trouble moving my story forward. I have too many conflicting characters/occupations to go on without getting this part of the novel set in cement.

I worked most of Monday on the second half of the show. Despite having sat at my computer and worked pretty much five or six hours, I only managed to finish that second half. Part of it was that I needed to actually do some more research and understand the acts better, but part of it was that I could not get enough peace and quiet to actually work. Despite the fact that I had my headphones on, I was interrupted over and over again by the kids, by hubby, by the phone, by the TV being too loud, to really get a good amount of work done.

I am getting frustrated at how slowly this is moving. I really thought I'd have this finished by now. I am nowhere close to finished. I still don't know my characters well enough to get this story moving; some key characters are developing nicely, but the main clown character is still ethereal and ghost-like. No substance, just smoke and clouds. Something somewhere is not clicking for me.

Hopefully before this weekend, I'll have the first half of the show completely written so at least I have a complete show. Then maybe I need to sit and just brainstorm about my main male character. He needs substance. I need to know who he is, what he's about, what drives him, what will make him overwhelmingly attracted to my female main character, and what will make him irresistible to her. I think I'm having much more fun writing about the relationship between Emma (FMC) and Robbie (the gay wardrobe/makeup guy), and that is distracting me.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Big White Sheet

One thing I noticed when I was reading through what I'd already writte was how big the plot holes are. Sometimes we Nano-ers make reference to "plot holes you could drive a semi through." Well, mine are so big and chopped up that I feel like a semi truck MADE them in the first place.

I almost feel like I need to cover my novel with a big white sheet and declare it dead. LOL

But I won't. Because despite the plot holes, it's a really good story. Or it will be if I ever get it fixed up. Right now, no amount of duct tape and hot glue are gonna do the trick. It's a crappy first draft.

But without the crappy first draft, you can't do a great second draft, and an even greater third draft. You can't ever have a great novel unless you bother to write that crappy first draft. I'm forever thankful to Nano for allowing me to write, for giving me permission to write, that first big crappy draft.

So today I'm going to try to match my characters up to their occupations; I wrote that first crappy draft in such fits and starts that I made one guy a trapeze artist in the first chapter, but by the last chapter he was riding bareback horses. My performers are good, but they aren't THAT good. I also need to match the kids the school teacher is working with to their appropriate parents and the parents' occupations.

Hubby says, "just leave it blank and fill it in later." It doesn't work that way. Determining these occupations and places early in the beginning is critical to getting them where they need to be at the end of the book. So I have my work cut out for me.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bird by Bird

I've just recently started reading Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. It was recommended to me by another Nano-er, and I bought it last year, but had not gotten around to reading it. I've finished the introduction and first chapter, and it's a good read. Anne is blunt, but pleasant about it, and I find that kind of refreshing.

Her attitude is that just because you don't write well, or may write well but will never be published because of the tight market, doesn't mean you shouldn't write. I've been writing for years, with nary a hope for publication for the most part. But it hasn't stopped me from writing.

And I don't think it should stop anyone else either!

"Wanna write? Then write, right now!" as Erma Bombeck would say.

And that's exactly what I'm doing, for publication or pay or not, I'm still writing. If I don't, my head will asplode!

Monday, January 08, 2007

A New Year

Well, after dutifully letting my novel sit for a month, I drug it out of the mothballs and started looking at it. What is there isn't bad. There are some major inconsistencies and plot holes you could drive a B59 through, but all-in-all the story reflects what I was attempting.

Of course, there's the problem of not having finished the story...I need to get going on that, for sure. There is very much to complete, right in the middle, and a bunch at the end, before the ending that I did write before I stopped writing in November.

That made absolutely no sense. I started the story at the beginning but had an inspiration about something about 2/3 of the way through so I skipped ahead and wrote that. Then I had an inspiration about the end, so I skipped ahead and wrote that. Then I went back and kept writing from where I'd left off at the beginning of the story. That B52 I was talking about? Well, I think I have a whole Air Force full of them blowing through my story.

So, limbering up my fingers, I'm going to get back to work. I really want to write this story. Wherever it takes me, I want to write it. I'd love to have it done before the next Circus season starts. I may not make it, but I'm going to try.