FOR WRITERS: A Carnival of One’s Own by E. Catherine Tobler

A Carnival of One's Own
by E. Catherine Tobler

When I was little, I didn’t like the circus.

It was all too much—too many lights, too many people, and the elephants didn’t look like they were having a great time. True, I didn’t have a lot of elephant references as a kid, but— Well, Dumbo was sure a trauma, wasn’t it?

Then, I read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury introduced me to the magic and wonder of traveling carnivals. That sense of wonder never left me, and so when the first of my circus stories arrived (“Vanishing Act”), I knew where its roots were. Around the same time that story came out, HBO was wrapping up Carnivale, a show I didn’t see until long after it had ended, but it too felt right when it came to the beautiful brokenness one might find while wandering a sideshow.

The more circus short stories I wrote, the more I realized I wanted to tackle a longer story in that universe, and given that in those days I always participated in Nanowrimo, I decided my Nano novel would be set with my circus people. I decided that I should tell, at long last, Jackson’s story.

Jackson figures into almost all of my circus short stories, even if he’s only a shadowy presence. He can be kind, but is often not terribly nice. Why was he so strange? How was he broken? How did he come to care for all of these other broken people and creatures? Did he really care for them or was it all a front?

The more I wrote, the more I realized I was trying to do too much. There was an entire secondary plot that was very much Not About Jackson, and didn’t add to his story at all. When I decided to cut that nonsense, I discovered that what I really had was perhaps a novella—but then Jackson, once given the entire floor, didn’t stop talking, and talked himself right into a short novel after all.

The Kraken Sea explores his background as one of the children on the orphan trains that often crossed the US carrying orphaned and homeless children, uniting them with families that wanted to adopt them, or in often more cruel cases, put them to work. The woman who takes Jackson in changes the course of his life, for better and for worse.

I knew Jackson’s past was rooted with the railroad—this journey from east to west was how he came to want his own train, given the freedom and opportunity the train represented to him. A train opened a door for him, and showed him the world was larger than one gray room. A train took him from the confines of the East Coast to the splendor of San Francisco. A train became his best friend—housing something that will affect the traveling circus for years to come.

Early next year, Apex Book Company will be publishing my first collection, a collection of circus stories! The Grand Tour is your passport across the world and back again, through hearts and time and space. I hope you will join us for the journey. The Kraken Sea is a great way to prepare yourself for the wonders that wait—but can you ever truly be prepared for such glories? There’s only one way to find out!

Order The Grand Tour from Apex Book Company