Will there be more Circus Mirandus stories?
A sequel to Circus Mirandus called The Bootlace Magician is coming on October 1, 2019! It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and I hope you’ll love it, too!
After that…The Bootlace Magician stands on its own, but I do have ideas for one more big adventure for Micah, Jenny, and all the other characters. My outline for it makes me think it would be a duology.
In the meantime, Tumble & Blue is out now. Check back here or follow me on social media for updates!
The rest of this FAQ page is full of SPOILERS for Circus Mirandus! Careful what you click on!
What's your favorite part of the book?
I have a few different favorites! My top three are probably when we first meet Jenny and she pulls Micah into the craft supply closet, when Micah takes flight with the gorilla balloon, and the traffic jam scene at the very end of the book.
Who is your favorite character?
I love them all. I really do. Micah. Geoffrey the ticket-taker. The Lightbender. Jenny.
But from a writerly perspective, my favorites are Chintzy and Victoria. Chintzy is funny, and it’s such a change of pace to write her dialogue. And I know Victoria Starling is horrible, but she’s a lot of fun to write about because I never know what she’s going to do. I’m always shocked by just how wicked she can be.
What does the title mean?
Mirandus is a word that means wondrous or marvelous. I hoped people would think the circus was both of those things.
It’s also the first name of the manager, Mr. Head. As for why Mr. Head is called Mr. Head…it’s because he’s the head of the circus, but it’s also because my mother walked into the room one day while I was writing and said, “I think you should have a character called Mr. Head. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
And I wrote it down.
(By the way, my mom is extremely cool. She reads the drafts of my books many, many times before they’re finished, and she gives great advice. I grew up reading my parents’ collection of sci-fi and fantasy novels, and that’s probably why I’m a writer today.)
Did you draw the covers?
Alas! I cannot draw.
The art for the original hardcover and the interior illustrations for the US edition were created by the talented Diana Sudkya. (My favorite illustrations are the picture of Rosebud’s wagon and the one of Aunt Gertrudis imagining her life in Arizona.)
The art for the first paperback edition, with the Lightbender standing on top of Big Jean the elephant’s back, was created by Manuel Sumberac.
The art for the new edition that you see on the front page of my website is by Andrew Bannecker. I love the rainbow colors, and I love that Circus Mirandus will match The Bootlace Magician‘s dragon cover when they’re on shelves together!
Covers also have designers/art directors. The designer for my covers has been Samira Iravani.
What happened to Victoria/the Bird Woman?
You’ll have to read The Bootlace Magician to find out!
How many drafts did you write?
I spent two and a half years writing Circus Mirandus, and I went through about a dozen major start-to-finish revisions. There have been at least that many drafts for all of my books so far. I don’t get everything right the first time…or even the eleventh time. I have to keep writing and re-writing, and often, I change the story around completely.
So if you’re a young writer who is worried that the words you’re putting on the page aren’t coming out quite the way you wanted, just know that it happens to all of us! You can always go back and revise until your story makes you happy.
What kind of illness does Grandpa Ephraim have?
I’ve received this question a lot from curious-minded younger readers who would like to know specifically what disease Grandpa Ephraim has that makes it hard for him to breathe. I didn’t have a very specific diagnosis in mind for Grandpa Eprhaim.
When I was just a bit older than Micah, my dad had serious trouble with his lungs. So when I realized that Micah’s grandfather was sick, and that Micah was very afraid for him, my brain automatically went to how scared I had been for my own father.
What happened to Micah's parents?
They died in a boating accident. In my mind, there was more to it than that…a bigger story involving foul play and magic. But I’m afraid I haven’t managed to fit that information into a book yet, so we’ll see if it winds up on the page one day in the future.
Where do visitors to Circus Mirandus sleep at night?
Oops! I never do mention this do I? And it’s such a smart question!
Some kids have multi-day tickets to the circus, so where do they sleep at night? I always just imagined them going back home when they were tired. (The circus is open at all hours, so they wouldn’t have to go back home if they didn’t want to.)
There’s a magician called Porter who creates magical Doors. These Doors are set up in the circus’s meadow and covered by the Lightbender’s illusions, and children can use them to travel back and forth to the circus for as long as their tickets last. I mention Porter in passing in Circus Mirandus, but I didn’t really go into detail about how Doors work. You’ll see a lot more of them in The Bootlace Magician!
Incidentally, the first book I ever tried to write…back when I was in sixth grade…featured magicians who traveled through magical Doors. I think it’s pretty neat how stories you think nobody will ever read can come back in unexpected ways.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspiration from all over the place! A lot of it’s daydreaming and brainstorming, but you can also get inspiration from being observant of the world around you, from reading lots and lots of books, and even from your pets. Below, you can see the inspiration for various parts of Circus Mirandus.
By the way, readers often ask if any of the characters (particularly the villains! yikes!) are based on real people. Just to be clear, all of the characters and events in my stories are entirely fictional. The characters’ personalities, problems, storylines, etc…are all made up.
So no worries. Victoria Starling isn’t real. 😉
CAREFUL: Spoilers ahead!
Because I love fantasy. It’s been my favorite genre ever since I was five years old and my mother read The Hobbit aloud to me.
Writing a book takes a long time. When you’re going to spend years of your life working on a project, choosing something you love seems like the best way to go.
Growing up, my favorite type of fantasy featured magical people who each had a unique power. (Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels were some of the first “adult” books I ever read.) So it’s no coincidence that both Circus Mirandus and Tumble & Blue are based on systems of one magical talent per character. I suspected the book would involve that sort of magician before I was even entirely sure what the story was about.
Were you imagining a specific circus while you wrote?
I spent a lot of time daydreaming about all the things I would like to have at a magic circus. And I was also influenced by my memories of the local fair that my parents took me to see every year when I was little. We always went at night, and I kept finding myself automatically setting all the circus scenes at night, even when it didn’t make any sense.
I also loved the smell of the fair. In my memory, it smells like grass, diesel fuel motors, and funnel cake. I didn’t really think Circus Mirandus was a diesel fuel and funnel cake kind of place, so it became “grass and smoke and chocolate cake” in the book.
And my earliest carnival memory took place at a different, much tinier Fall Festival. My parents took me and my little sister. It was nighttime, and after the hay ride and pancakes we visited the fortune teller. I had never met a fortune teller, or any kind of magician, and I took the whole experience very seriously.
I still remember how momentous it felt, to have a mysteriously-dressed adult paying attention to everything I said and examining my palm.
I was a lot younger then than Ephraim and Micah are in this story, but I tried to capture that same sense of wonder when I was writing scenes between them and the Lightbender. That feeling of being on the verge of something important and unknown and that certainty that what you say and do in the moment matters a great deal…
As for my fortune, she said that I would be a teacher or a nurse when I grew up. And I was deeply pleased with both options.
Grandpa Ephraim's Backstory
Micah’s grandfather, Ephraim Tuttle, was one of the first characters I came up with. I pictured him as an old man with regrets, someone who had been full of magic (in the literal sense) as a child but who had never fulfilled his dreams because life had gotten in his way. I knew he desperately wanted to fix things, but he didn’t have much time left.
I read an interview with Ray Bradbury in The Paris Review, and he told a story about how meeting a circus performer as a boy made him want to become a writer. One part, in particular, sparked my imagination:
“And there was Mr. Electrico sitting on the platform out in front of the carnival and I didn’t know what to say. I was scared of making a fool of myself. I had a magic trick in my pocket, one of those little ball-and-vase tricks—a little container that had a ball in it that you make disappear and reappear—and I got that out and asked, Can you show me how to do this? It was the right thing to do. It made a contact. He knew he was talking to a young magician.”
I thought the idea of two people bonding over a shared magic trick was lovely. It reminded me of my first encounter with a carnival magician (see above), and it inspired the flashback where Ephraim shows the Lightbender his knot-tying magic.
My first idea was that the magicians at Circus Mirandus would grant wishes to kids, like benevolent genies. And of course they wouldn’t be used to children doing magic themselves. So I wondered…what would happen if Ephraim turned the tables by showing the most powerful magician at the circus how to do some new kind of magic instead?
I thought the Lightbender would be so impressed he would offer to give Ephraim a miracle.
The idea that Ephraim had a miracle saved up was the key to figuring out what the story would really be about.
I wanted, ultimately, to write a hopeful book. And the most hopeful character I could think of was Ephraim’s grandson Micah. I decided he would be the protagonist, and the story would be about his belief in the circus and his quest to reclaim that miracle before it was too late.
How did you come up with Chintzy's character?
The circus’s messenger parrot is by far the most popular character with kid readers, and she’s also one of my favorites to write about. Chintzy was inspired by my own housemate, an African Grey parrot named Spook the Bird.
(As I type this, Spook is sitting on her perch and yelling, “I want to get water!” Which is what she says when she wants me to take her to the kitchen. Unlike Chintzy, Spook can’t fly. Or, more accurately, she can fly, but she can’t land. Which is the worst of both worlds I’m afraid. So I’ll go fetch her as soon as I finish answering these questions.)
My family adopted Spook on Halloween. She’s gray, like a ghost, and that’s how she got her name. But her bright red tail became the inspiration for Chintzy’s red feathers.
Spook is bossy, talkative, funny, and prone to biting me. Chintzy is the same. I love them both.
Micah’s best friend Jenny was a big part of the story from the very first draft. It was important to me to write about friendship and to show that two people could be friends and treat each other with kindness and respect even though they disagreed about some pretty serious stuff. In a way, Jenny’s the opposite of Aunt Gertrudis. Neither one of them believes in magic. But Aunt Gertrudis mocks Micah and refuses to hear him out, while Jenny sticks with him.
If I could be friends with just one character from the story, I’d choose Jenny.
What about Aunt Gertrudis?
A lot of people have asked me if I had a great aunt like Gertrudis. Fortunately not! My own great aunt was pretty much the sweetest lady in the world. She passed away recently, and I miss her terribly.
I wanted Micah to have an antagonist in his own house, someone who would fight back when he expressed faith in magic, and so Great Aunt Gertrudis came in with her passion for aquarobics and hot tea, her dislike of children, and her refusal to believe.
(Note: I myself have nothing against aquarobics or hot tea. In fact, I quite like both!)
Gertrudis has a sad backstory, and I think a lot of people expected her to be redeemed in the end. Actually, I know a lot of people expected that, since they’ve told me so in person.
But it didn’t feel right.
Some tough things happened to Aunt Gertrudis in her childhood, but she’s been an adult for a long, long time when the story starts. I gave the character her chance at a redemption arc, but she wouldn’t take it.
Sometimes, I guess, people just don’t.
Were you inspired by other books?
I’ve always liked the idea of magical carnivals, circuses, theaters, theme parks, zoos, toy stores, etc… They’re spaces where we go to experience wonder and escape from the real world for a while, so they’re natural settings for a fantasy.
Circuses and carnivals are pretty common in literature. And a lot of books also involve grandfatherly figures and the idea of magic being passed down from generation to generation, which is a central theme in Circus Mirandus. So, it’s not surprising that people ask if I was inspired by other books they love!
Readers have mentioned Roald Dahl’s work, Peter Pan, Big Fish, The Night Circus, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
I’m blushing because those are AMAZING stories! I didn’t read The Night Circus until I was almost finished with Circus Mirandus. But the other books, and the movie version of Big Fish (I’ll read it one day, I promise!), are favorites of mine.
I didn’t have them consciously in mind while I was working, but I do think your favorite stories seep into you and become a part of how you see the world. And how you see the world inevitably comes out in your writing. I think it’s only fair to call them inspirations.
By the way if you’re looking for more circus stories to read, you’re in luck. It’s something of a mini-genre, and you can read to your heart’s content. Here’s a list of over a hundred circus books, and that’s just counting YA and MG titles!
How do you come up with a villain like Victoria Starling?
First, let me apologize and reassure you that I love animals. I particularly love birds. I’m sorry so many of them die in this book at Victoria’s hands. I have already apologized to Spook and Chintzy.
I’ve always thought that if you dig deep enough into the heart of evil, what you inevitably find is pure, unvarnished selfishness and an utter lack of empathy. So that’s what I focus on when I’m writing Victoria.
I think, What’s the most selfish thing she could do at this moment? How would someone behave right here if they just didn’t care who they hurt?
What about the Lightbender?
I love the Lightbender. He’s what I imagined a master magician would be like when I was a kid, right down to the leather duster! I spent a lot of time thinking about what power the Man Who Bends Light should have. I wanted it to be something very impressive, so that Micah would believe he could help, but ultimately it had to be a talent that wouldn’t do anything to save Grandpa Ephraim’s life.
I chose illusion as the magic for metaphorical reasons.
There is a whole lot of back story about why the Lightbender calls himself that, when his power is actually related to mind manipulation, but it was cut during the revision process. I finally have the chance to share a little of that info with readers in The Bootlace Magician.
If I had to write a prequel about any character in the book, I would definitely want to tell the rest of the Lightbender’s story.
Why is knot-tying the Tuttle family magic?
I wanted to choose a magic that was unassuming, to match Micah’s personality.
I’d already brought the boots and their leather laces into the story so that the fish could swim into them. (I always pictured those boots as my dad’s farm boots! So that’s another little bit of inspiration.)
Knot-tying seemed like a natural fit, and the more I wrote about it, the more I realized it was perfect for the characters.
The Inspiration for the Gorilla Balloon
I love the story’s climactic chapter so much, and it’s all because of that gorilla balloon!
When I was young, there was a giant inflatable gorilla in front of a car dealership we drove past. I wanted it.
Of course, you can’t soar off with a giant gorilla balloon in real life, but you can grow up and become an author and let your characters do it for you.
I actually toyed with the idea of giving Micah the power to fly, like his grandmother, when he lets go of the balloon. A lot of young readers have mentioned having the same idea, and it would have been a lot of fun. But in the end I decided one magic talent per person would be enough for my world.
How do you come up with the characters' names?
I keep a list of names I like, and every name on the list has a kind of feeling to it. Just a little snip of the person who goes with it, even though they haven’t got their own story yet. Micah was on that list. So were Ephraim and Jenny.
I also have a list of cool titles, and back when I wrote short stories, I would usually come up with the title before anything else. But that doesn’t work quite so well for me with novels. I end up changing too many things along the way, and my titles don’t make sense anymore.
(By the way, a lot of people wonder if the names Obadiah, Ephraim, and Micah have a special religious significance in the story. I didn’t intend for them to! I’m a religious person myself, but the names are meant to be just names.)