Barnes & Noble Exclusive Q&A
Q: Le Cirque des Rêves first appears in the late 1800's. What drew you to this time period in particular?
I've always been fond of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I love the style of top hats and corsets and bustles, the dancing gaslight shadows on cobblestone streets. Steam trains and spiritualism and stage magicians. And of course, it is a very circus-appropriate point in history, being Greatest Show on Earth Barnum-era and all.
Q: How much research did you do into circus history and the Victorian era while writing the book?
There was very little historical research involved. I wanted to have a Victorian flavor but I didn't want to tie the circus too tightly to the time period or make it a true historical novel. I tried to avoid being anachronistic but at its heart it is a fantastical world grounded in a real time period. Almost everything is pure imagination, using the historical context as a jumping-off point.
Though I was delighted to discover after the fact that Barnum and Bailey's circus did at one point have acrobats who performed in evening wear.
Q: The circus is gorgeously imagined, and much of the drama begins with the fact that it is entirely dressed in black and white. Why this palette?
I love black and white, in both photography and film. I think part of the appeal is how it breaks all the visual information down into light and shadow, leaving only brightest whites and darkest darks and all those nuanced shades of grey. The combination also suggests the styling of a chessboard, which worked well for the game aspect of the story. And black and white makes for properly formal evening attire, as well, fitting for a nocturnal circus. I always wanted the circus to have an elegance to it, and the restrained color scheme worked well for that.
Q: The Rêveurs and their red scarves provide the only splash of color in the circus with the exception of the twins, Poppet and Widget, who have red hair. These were clearly deliberate choices. Why? And what significance does the color red have for you?
I love the way red seems more vibrant when isolated as a color, against a background of black and white. I think of all colors, red is the most striking in that context. It's also a very passionate color, associated with love and romance and danger. If there was going to be one color, full of life and passion splashed across the black and white canvas of the circus, it simply had to be a rich, blood-red crimson.
It also worked well with other visual elements involved in the story, from playing cards emblazoned with hearts to the rose given to the Paramour.
Q: Which is your favorite tent at Le Cirque des Rêves and why?
My favorite is the Labyrinth, both because I think it is the tent I would most like to explore myself with its playing card-wallpapered walls and rooms full of feathers, and because of its meaning and symbolism within the story. So much of the novel is about collaboration and I think the Labyrinth epitomizes that.
Q: If you could create just one more tent what would it hold?
There are a few more tents that did not make it into the book, though if I could create an entirely new tent I think it would be something dark, since there are several light tents already. Perhaps with a bit of a puzzle to it to find the way through, locks and keys discovered by touch rather than sight. The tent-designing process usually takes quite some time, so that's the best I can do at the moment. May have to ponder that a bit more, though, just to see what comes of it.
Q: Which character was the most fun for you to write? Who was the most difficult? And who was the hardest to leave behind when you finished the manuscript?
I don't know if I can pick a most fun character, it's almost too much like choosing a favorite. The twins were wonderful to write because they play so well off of each other as a pair. Hector was also great fun; he has some of my very favorite lines.
Celia was the most difficult. She was also, I might add, the last character to be created. I went through several revisions before realizing that THE NIGHT CIRCUS was actually her story. At this point she's probably the character I feel closest to, but she did take the longest to figure out.
And I can't say I miss any one of my characters more than others because they are all still very much alive and well in my mind. But if I had to say whom I'd most want to go back and visit, just to sit with for a while to see how they were doing, it would have to be Chandresh. It is hard to not be spending so much time in la maison Lefèvre anymore.
Q: THE NIGHT CIRCUS could be described in any number of ways—as romance, fantasy, literary fiction. When you were writing did you envision it as belonging to one or any number of these genres or does it transcend genre in your mind?
I had no idea what genre it was during the actual writing. Actually, for a while there, I wasn't entirely convinced it was even a novel. But when I first had to put a genre label on it, I tended to go with fantasy or literary fantasy, mostly because I thought it had too much magic to be magical realism. I don't know if I could say confidently that it transcends genre, but it certainly is its own creature. A writer friend of mine likes to refer to it as a monochromantasy.
Q: Do you read a lot of genre fiction or is your taste more eclectic? Who are some of your favorite writers and how (if at all) might they have inspired you when you were writing THE NIGHT CIRCUS?
My reading taste is very eclectic, though I do love genre fiction and books with genre elements. Some of my favorite writers include Margaret Atwood, Donna Tartt, Angela Carter, Tom Robbins and Douglas Adams. I'm very fond of Shakespeare and I've recently developed a rather ardent literary crush on Dashiell Hammett.
I think almost every author I read influences the way I write in one way or another, but THE NIGHT CIRCUS definitely has flavors drawn from Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl, among others. Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, which is one of my very favorite books, had an influence on the vignette-style format.
Q: THE NIGHT CIRCUS is so visually arresting that your editor described it as akin to "reading in 3-D." Can you talk a little bit about how your work as an artist informs your writing and how your writing may (or may not) inform your artwork?
I usually simplify the matter by saying I write what I can't paint and paint what I can't write. I'm a very visual person so for me writing starts with translating images in my head into words. I consider colors and textures and shapes along with dialogue and pacing when I write. And I have to be able to picture everything in detail before I can get it down on paper.
Art-wise I like to think of all my paintings as stories, as I think all art is storytelling in one way or another. Sometimes references to my writing turn up in my art, particularly in the tarot deck I was painting while working on THE NIGHT CIRCUS. I'm actually still not certain which version of The Hanged Man came first, the painting version or the one in the acrobat tent.
Q: What's next for Celia and Marco? For Bailey, Poppet and Widget? And most importantly, for you?
Celia and Marco are rather private people so I don't think they'd tell and I wouldn't dare pry. I'm sure Bailey and Poppet and Widget are full of ideas and getting involved in adventures and possibly shenanigans.
As for me, I'm working on a new novel that is not yet novel-shaped, exploring a new world and trying to figure out its secrets.