Apex's most recent release, The Grand Tour by E. Catherine Tobler, rolled into the station a week ago today, containing nine stories from her Jackson's Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade universe. To celebrate the release of her collection, Tobler was nice enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions about the characters, the rules of writing in her universe, and knowing when a story is headed to the circus.

Run away with the circus! Buy your copy of The Grand Tour today!

Apex: When you started writing "Vanishing Act" back in 2004 did you have any idea that the story you were working on would become the spark that created an entire universe - Jackson's Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade? How many Jackson's Unreal Circus stories have you written, and do you ever think there will come a time when you feel like you've told them all and won't write any more?

Tobler: I had no idea. I was writing to play with voice and see what I could do with it. When I actually sold it, that’s when I had the idea that it could be a universe I returned to. I’ve written eighteen stories in this universe, not all of them have been published (or have even sold). I suspect there will come a time when I feel like I’ve told them all—but I will probably be wrong, because I never get anything right when it comes to publishing.

Apex: Jackson's Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade is populated with a wide cast of characters - from Rabi who can make things disappear, to the Beauty and the Beast with their horrifying appetite, to Beth working her magic through the marmalade. There's a man who turns into a dog and a woman who is part bird. Are there any rules that you've established over the years over what can or cannot happen at the circus? Are there any characters who readers will never see because what they are breaks the rules of the universe. And are there characters that we haven't seen yet, but that you know travel with the circus and you're just waiting for their story to reveal itself to introduce them? 

Tobler: Every universe has its rules, but it’s fun to see how they can break. I think a character who challenges the rules is exactly what the circus is after. This shouldn’t be possible, but it is, so how do we explore that idea, how does it change what we know? The train shouldn’t be possible—it travels in time and harbors the spirit of a nun who is an incarnation of Fate, so—if those are the rules, the rules feel pretty elastic. This world exists to play in. And of course there are characters readers haven’t met yet. They absolutely exist within hints you’ll find in stories, but also in [spoilers].

Apex: When a new story idea comes to you, do you immediately know it’s a circus story? Some of the stories in The Grand Tour could have gone in very different ways - veered away from the circus and become something completely different. "Blow the Moon Out" immediately comes to my mind. I love that the girls end up at the circus, but I also could see how their story could have gone in another direction.

Tobler: Sometimes you don’t know. Sometimes I start with “okay, this is a circus story,” and the story goes off and is absolutely not a circus story. “Blow the Moon Out” was always headed for the circus, though—I think the other path that one takes is that they encounter the killer from a disturbing cold case (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boy_in_the_Box_(Philadelphia)) that is mentioned in passing in the story. But that wasn’t the story I meant to tell. It was always about friends who are girls who are undertaking a journey normally only left to boys. It was about girls trusting one another and growing up and growing apart. And that’s definitely a circus story.