Will there be more Circus Mirandus stories?
A sequel to Circus Mirandus called The Bootlace Magician will be coming on October 1, 2019! It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and I hope you’ll love it, too!
After that, we’ll see. The Bootlace Magician stands on its own. It doesn’t have to have a follow-up. 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 (two books).
I’ve also got a science fiction story in the works. 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 happened to Victoria/the Bird Woman?
You’ll have to read The Bootlace Magician to find out!
Who is your favorite character?
My favorite characters to write aren’t necessarily my favorite characters to read about. I love Jenny Mendoza. I think she’s a wonderful person and a true friend to Micah when he needs one most.
But as a writer, I love it when I get to include Chintzy the parrot in a scene. She’s funny. And I know Victoria Starling is horrible, but she’s a lot of fun to write about because she surprises me all the time.
What's your favorite part of the book?
I have at least three favorites! The scene where Jenny pulls Micah into the craft supply closet, the scene where Micah takes flight with the gorilla balloon, and the traffic jam scene on the interstate at the very end.
The craft supply closet scene is where we really get to know Jenny Mendoza. Getting the friendship between Jenny and Micah right was one of the most important parts of the story for me. I wanted to show that two people could be friends and treat each other with kindness even if they disagreed about some pretty serious stuff.
Jenny doesn’t believe in magic, but she’s empathetic. She wants to help Micah in any way she can, even if it means getting in trouble herself. In a lot of ways, she’s a counterpoint to Aunt Gertrudis. Micah’s great aunt refuses to believe in magic, too, but unlike Jenny, she’s not willing to let anyone else have their own opinions.
I talk about the gorilla balloon scene below, but as for the traffic jam scene…
Now that I’m grown up, traffic jams are worrying. But when I was younger, I always liked to see what was going on inside the other cars. You never really notice who your fellow travelers are when they’re zipping past you lightning fast. I also liked to imagine that something really wonderful and interesting must be happening just out of sight at the end of the jam. This time, for Micah, something was. 🙂
Did you draw the covers?
Alas! I cannot draw.
The art for the original hardcover, as well as all the interior illustrations in the US edition, was 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 drawn 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 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.
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 it may be something that never actually sees the page.
How many revisions did you go through?
There were more than a dozen full revisions of Circus Mirandus. There are at least that many for most of my books. 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.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspiration from all over the place! A lot of it’s daydreaming, but you can also get inspiration from being observant of the world around you, from reading lots and lots of books, even from your pets! Below you can see the inspiration for various parts of Circus Mirandus.
CAREFUL: Spoilers ahead!
Grandpa Ephraim's Backstory
(Readers often ask if characters are based on real people. Just to be clear, all of the characters in Circus Mirandus are entirely fictional. Their personalities, problems, storylines, etc…were all made up.)
Grandpa Ephraim was one of the first characters I came up with when I started writing Circus Mirandus. I had the name Ephraim in mind already, and I had a sense of who he might be. (I keep lists of names I like.) And I read an interview with Ray Bradbury in The Paris Review, in which he talked 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 love circuses as a setting for fantasy (they’re perfect because they’re one of those places that naturally feels separate from the ordinary world), and I thought the idea of two people bonding over a shared magic trick was utterly lovely. That image stuck with me and made me start asking myself some what if questions.
What if there was a whole circus full of people dedicated to spreading real magic throughout the world? What if a boy showed a powerful magician how to perform some new kind of magic, instead of the other way around? And most importantly, what if that magician was so impressed he offered to give the boy a miracle?
Those questions inspired a scene that’s still in the book, in which a younger Ephraim shows the Man Who Bends Light his knot-tying talent, is given a miracle, and decides he’s going to save it until some day when he really needs it. (I feel shy admitting it, but I hope if Mr. Bradbury read that scene he would like it.)
Of course, a lot more “what if?” questions came next. They helped me figure out who this Ephraim character really was and what the story would be.
What if Ephraim grew up, and he had some pretty big regrets? What if he fell in love with the book’s villain, and it ruined all his plans? What if he grew old, and he never had the chance to fulfill his magical potential? What if he was sick? (My dad had serious trouble with his lungs when I was young, and it was a very scary time.)
What if he had never used his special miracle for anything?
That sounded much too hopeless to be a children’s book! And I didn’t think Ephraim was feeling much like the main character. But what if he had a grandson named Micah?
When I hit that last question, I knew I’d found the book’s heart, and I started writing. The story would be about Micah and his best friend Jenny trying to reclaim that promised miracle. The more I wrote about Micah the more I loved him, and I hoped readers would, too.
Chintzy is my favorite character! How did you come up with her?
I have to put the circus’s messenger parrot here, because she is by far the most popular character with kid readers. (And also one of my favorites to write about!) Chintzy was inspired by my own roommate, an African Grey parrot named Spook the Bird.
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.
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, her dislike of children, and her refusal to believe.
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.
And I’m not alone–circuses and carnivals are pretty common in literature. Here’s a Goodreads list with over a hundred examples in YA and MG writing alone. 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 like. Readers have mentioned Roald Dahl’s work, Peter Pan, Big Fish, The Night Circus, and Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
I’m blushing because those are AMAZING stories! I didn’t read Erin Morgenstern’s gorgeous 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 any of 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.
(If you’ve read Grandpa Ephraim’s backstory above, you might be wondering, but I haven’t yet read Bradbury’s famous circus book, Something Wicked this Way Comes. I’m holding off on circus reading in general until I’m done writing stories about Micah and Circus Mirandus.)
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?
Sometimes, the answers to those questions shock me. But I put them on the page anyway.
What about the Lightbender?
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 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.
Were you imagining a specific circus while you wrote?
I was mostly just daydreaming about all the things I would like to have at a magic circus! But 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-ish 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 we visited the fortune teller. I had never met a fortune teller, or any kind of magician, before 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 I had (that feeling of being on the verge of something big and important and unknown and that certainty that what you say and do in the moment matters a great deal) when I was writing scenes between the two of them and the Lightbender.
(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.)
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 work 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.
How do you come up with the characters' names?
I keep a list of names I like. It’s half on actual paper, half in my head, and every name 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 Gertrudis and 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. 🙂
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.