Sideshow chosen as a Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards finalist

At the end of the day yesterday, I got some wonderful news: Sideshow has been chosen as a Foreword Reviews’ prestigious Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards finalist in the LGBT category!

I am beyond honored by this and so grateful that this little book that I poured so much of my heart into is resonating with others.

To celebrate, Interlude Press is offering all award-nominated books in their catalog for 25% off. So if you haven’t picked up your copy yet, head on over.

 

INDIES finalists are moved on to final judging by an expert panel of librarians and booksellers curated specifically for each genre and who will determine the books who will be named Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award winners. Winners in each genre—along with Editor’s Choice winners, and Foreword’s INDIE Publisher of the Year—will be announced during the 2017 American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago on June 24, 2017.

Check out a full list of finalists

Why I Write

ink jar and quills (image by Charles Stanford)
(image by Charles Stanford)

I have been dealing with what I’ll call anxiety induced malaise of late.

As such, my creative work has stalled.

There is a school of thought out there that says anxiety, depression, and the like drive the creative person to make better art. I’m not going to say this is 100% wrong. When a person is sensitive and able to feel things deeply, that can be a gift. I have experienced that. However, it can also be paralyzing. Lately, I have been paralyzed.

I have especially struggled with my writing. I had a number of projects in the works, but suddenly that shifted. One novel I was working on (a sort of companion to Sideshow) seemed frivolous and unnecessary. Another novel seemed precious and overwrought. You get the picture. Each time I sat down to work, it all seemed to be without purpose. I wanted to do something important, but nothing seemed important enough, so I did nothing.

I’ve been here before. It’s far from the first time. I have always been a person deeply affected by the world around me and my effect on it (or lack thereof). I often struggle with being productive when I think that what I’m doing isn’t useful or helping anyone, and at times, it paralyzes me. Who am I? What do I have to give? When I run through my talents, I usually find myself coming up sort (blame the anxiety and some lingering threads of that teenage angst), but there is one thing that still remains: stories.

I write historical fiction not simply because I love history.  I do love history, but more importantly, I love the stories of history. So often in a history class we are taught to memorize names and dates, but we see these people as far away and nothing like us when in reality, we have so much in common with them and knowing their stories helps us to see that. Knowing their stories helps us to understand our own world as well.

When I wrote Sideshow, I initially struggled with trying to explain why I set the book in the in the time period that I did. The 1950s are a polarizing time to write about. They are so easy to romanticize, what with the poodle skirts and roller skating car hops and the birth of the American teenager, but under the surface of all that, there is a lot going on, most of which would bubble over quite fiercely in a short amount of time. I wanted to address these issues in a story of what is often portrayed as an “idyllic” time. I wanted to write a story that talked about some of the parts of that time that still ring true in our world today.

Additionally, I included the flashbacks because just as I do not exist solely in 2017, but also in 1992, 2001, 1988, 2010, etc as the years I lived through helped shape who I am today, the same is true for the people of the past.

Take for example the flashback to the incident with Abby’s mother. This is a history that Italian-Americans did not often talk about or acknowledge to their descendants. I myself had to learn about something similar happening to one of my own ancestors from archival documents and not from anyone in my family. This story as well as the others included in Sideshow were important to me because just as these events shaped Abby’s perception of her own identity, there were events happening in the world around me that I knew where shaping the identities of myself and everyone else for years to come.

So…the telling of stories…

It may not be much, but this is what I have give the world. So…I suppose I must find a way to continue.

Are some of my projects frivolous or precious? Yeah, probably.

Do I feel weird mentioning them on social media when so many more important things are happening? Definitely.

Do I think my words are even close to enough to change anything? No. Not really.

But deep down I know it is one of the few things I have that can help anyone (as self-centered as that may seem), so I have to keep trying.

My pencils outlast their erasers. [Deleted Scenes!]

“I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” —Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right. —Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

I strongly believe in the rewrite. I think I may have driven more than one editor insane by how strongly I believe in it. Sometimes, to me at least, the first half of the writing process is about scribbling things down as you find and sort the story, then the second half is making sure that the words are exactly right to convey that story. For some stories the first half is a much longer journey than the second one. That was the case for Sideshow.

If I gave you the following one sentence summary: “Detroit 1955: A young pregnant waitress on the run joins a traveling carnival to hide from both her father and her boyfriend’s killer.” Would you even think for a moment that this was from the snowflake outline (the method I use for diagramming my initial novel ideas) of Sideshow?

Sideshow went through many, many , many changes before it made it’s way to the publisher and even more before it actually went to print. This didn’t shock me at all. It happens all the time with my work and I’m sure a lot of writers will agree.

And all of this is a long, roundabout way of saying that today we have deleted scenes! I’ve selected a few of my favorite scenes that were cut from Sideshow during the process of writing and rewriting. Enjoy! (and maybe if you ask really nicely I’ll share the “alternate ending” or rather the ending I never finished because it went off the rails.)

Italian Cookies

1st we have the original end to Abby and Suprema’s first date in which they run into Abby’s Aunt Teresa. Ultimately, I didn’t feel that it was necessary to actually introduce this character (yet) and that she was more impactful off the page.

Abby stood up from the table and offered her arm to Suprema. They started for the door, but were stopped in their tracks as a well dressed woman in a circle skirt bustled in, arms full of packages. Something familiar in her face caught Abby’s eye and she continued to watch as the woman made her way to the counter and set her packages down. “I’ve got another 4 dozen of the seed cookies here,” she said in a light airy way that seemed calibrated to hide an accent. Even that sounded familiar to Abby.

“Right, Signora Holland,” said the woman behind the counter. “And I’ve got your money here for them, just a minute.”

“Therese, please,” she asked, trying to sound friendlier while still effecting the right vowels. “I’m Therese here, Maria.”

Maria frowned, but she nodded and hurried away from the counter.

“Do you know her?” Suprema asked, her voice gently, but prodding. Only then did Abby realize that not only she was holding onto her arm much too tightly, but she was also blocking the aisle.

“I-I think so,” she whispered. “I think she might be my aunt.”

When Maria had handed Abby’s Aunt Teresa the money, she turned to go. Abby wanted to duck behind a booth, but there was no time. Teresa turned directly toward Abby and Suprema and put her hand to her heart with a small gasp. “Ninfa?” Her accent was back in its rightful place.

“Abby,” Abby corrected, still holding tightly to Suprema’s arm. She needed something, anything, to ground her.

“What are you- When did you- How did-?” She trailed off, glancing around the restaurant. The rest of the patrons were all looking pointedly at their lunches, pretending not to hear. She looked Abby over, examining every inch of her. “You look so much like your mother. I thought I was seeing a ghost.”

“I’ve been told that,” Abby said, trying to keep a frown from flitting onto her face.

“It’s been a long time.” Teresa fidgeted as she looked around the restaurant, not daring to look at Abby for too long.

“It has.” Abby looked right at her taking her in. She barely remember her from her youth. It had been ages since she had last laid eyes on her and even those memories were quite hazy.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the- Well, you know. The timing was bad for traveling. Things are different for me now. I’d just remarried. He’s English, and he wasn’t ready, well, to meet my family.” She pointedly met Abby’s eye as if suddenly trying to send her a secret signal.

Abby looked away so that she couldn’t see it, as if that could keep her from understanding it. She didn’t want to admit that she knew exactly what her aunt was trying to say, but she did. “Oh,” was all she could say in response.

“If you need anything though, anything at all.” Teresa began to reach out and take her niece by the hand, but was unable to complete the action. Abruptly she retracted and sped out the door without another word.

Abby remained frozen to the spot until Suprema lightly touched the back of her hand and startled her from the trance. “So that was your aunt?” she asked in a tentative voice.

“I don’t really know,” Abby said. Her eyes were stinging and she knew that she had to fight the tears back as hard as she could. “I guess not.”

Suprema frowned, a knowing expression on her face. It was a look that Abby could read with ease. She had seen it on the faces of so many of the other carnival workers: a defiant understanding of loneliness. “Come on then,” she whispered, sounding suddenly firm and resolute. “We don’t need her.”

lets spend the afternoon in a cold hot air balloon

2nd is another favorite of mine: the hot air balloon. This was one of the first scenes I wrote and I still love it. Originally, hot air balloons played a large roll in the plot, however, when I started researching I quickly learned that hot air ballooning was not really a recreational activity until well into the 1960s (Seriously, I didn’t believe it either, but it’s true!). Oops. So all of that had to go, but I still think this little scene had some lovely magic.

Abby’s eyes lit up as she watched the world below drift away. She had always imagined that something like this would terrify her, but instead she felt exhilarated. The carnival, the city, everything became small and suddenly manageable, as if by changing her perspective, she could now take on the world. Finally Della’s comment about being born on the ground made sense.

“Suprema, this is…This is incredible. How often do you come up here?”

“Not often. Only when I really need to think about something.”

Below, the roofs of houses, the highways, the river, looked like a child’s drawing. Abby squeezed her eyes shut, trying to fix the image in her mind.

“You aren’t scared are you?” Suprema asked, genuine concern in her voice.

Abby shook her head. “I’m trying to remember this moment.”

“Don’t. You’ll miss it.” She slipped her arm around Abby’s waist and Abby automatically leaned into her. The pair stayed that way, silently watching the scenes of the city play out beneath them, until, eventually, Suprema broken the silence. “I don’t want you to leave.”

Abby looked up, suddenly taken aback. “You’d be the only one.”

“That’s not true. We all care about you, Abby. You’re one of us.”

The scoff escaped before Abby could corral it. “Far from it. Della made that painfully clear.”

“Della,” Suprema scoffed as well. “What does Della know?”

Before Abby could intercede on Della’s behalf, Suprema had continued. “I know I’m not…my opinion doesn’t count for much, but…I want you to stay. I need you to stay.”

Abby watched her eyes. The usual sadness was there, but there was something more behind them, something hopeful and warm. Abby had seen it a few times before, but this time it was different, it shone. “Why?” she said, pulling out of Suprema’s embrace.

“You’re nice,” Suprema began. “Phebe adores you. Vinnie practically wants to adopt you.”

“They’ve all gotten along fine before now. They’ll get along fine after I go home.”

“There’s also…” Suprema hesitated and looked around as if she might see a stowaway on the balloon eavesdropping on their conversation. “Well, there’s also the fact that I love you.”

This, Abby had not been expecting. She stared hard at Suprema’s face, the warm look in her eyes growing to almost a beacon. “You-”

“Was it not obvious?”

Without stopping to breath, Abby threw her arms around Suprema. The basket of the balloon tossed just a little, but neither of them seemed to mind. “No,” Abby whispered. “No, it wasn’t obvious.”

Suprema brushed a strand of Abby’s hair from her face and gazed at her. “I’m not very good at-”

Abby shook her head. “You don’t need to explain.” Then she kissed her. The thrill of being miles above the earth could not even begin to compare to the thrill of that one kiss.

To read how it really goes, pick up a copy of Sideshow from Interlude Press.

Historical Strongwomen

Fellow author and lovely person, Michelle Osgood (author of Better To Kiss You With) requested a further look into my archival research about historical Strongwoman. I couldn’t decide which one of these awesome women to focus on, so…I ended up writing a combination post. Unfortunately, a lot of the early strongwomen suffer a similar fate as a lot of women athletes (a lack of documentation), but here we have some of the gleanings I used in my research. So many of them would make fascinating studies for books all their own. I’m certainly considering it. To say otherwise would be a lie.

 

Minerva

Josephine Blatt (née Schauer) (1863 – 1923)

JosephineBlatt-PoliceGazette.jpg“Having been informed that Victorina, the female heavy-weight lifter, is eager to compete in feats of strength with any woman in the world, I hereby challenge her to arrange a match to lift heavy-weights and catch cannonballs from 10 pounds to 50 pounds for $500 to $1000 a side and the female heavy-weight-lifting championship of the world.”

-Letter signed Josie Wohlford, National Police Gazette. 3/28/18911

Precious little is known about the specifics of her early life.  Much of what exists in secondary sources is not officially confirm-able (though Jan Todd’s excellent essays in Iron Game History gave me far more insight into her life than I had imagined possible. )

Though contradicted in her public biography (which is the case with many early performers), Minerva was likely born in New Jersey and joined the American vaudeville and circus circuit in the 1890s as strength acts were beginning to take hold as an audience draw. (Also like many performers of the era, there is evidence to suggest that she used her talents as a means of escaping an unsatisfying marriage.) For many years she was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records  as having lifted the greatest amount of weight for a woman: 3,564 lb with a hip and harness lift at the Bijou Theatre, Hoboken, N.J., on April 15, 1895. (1895 reports indicate that this weight was closer to 3000 lbs than 3564, but hey, that’s still a feat!)

 

Vulcana

Kate Williams (1875 – 1946)

Vulcana1900.jpg

A Welsh strongwoman known for her combination of femininity, strength, and the use of her talents to perform heroics. Perhaps the real first superhero, Vulcana is credited (among other tales) with stopping a runaway horse in Bristol in 1888, rescuing two children from drowning in the River Usk in 1901, and rescuing another performer’s horses during a fire at the Garrick Theatre in Edinburgh in 1921.  She and her long-time love interest, Atlas Roberts, formed the Atlas and Vulcana Society of Athletes in which their children often performed as well. Though the society was charged a few times with exaggerating their lifting abilities, Vulcana’s feats were truly spectacular even so. She was authenticated as bent pressing 124½ lbs with her right hand  and an overhead lift with a 56 lb weight in each hand.

 

Charmion

Laverie Vallee (née Cooper) (1875 – 1949)

Charmion 1897.jpgThough most of my research into Charmion ended up more inspiring Della and the other burlesque girls than Suprema, she was one of the many performers who considered themselves both strongwomen and acrobats. This is not surprising. Acrobatic and gymnastic talents require incredible strength that the viewing public does not always consider.

Charmion was born in Sacramento, California and made a name for herself with her controversial trapeze disrobing act.

 

Kati Sandwina

Katharina Heymann (née Brumbach) (1884 – 1952)

Katie Sandwina (the Lady Hercules).jpgBorn in Vienna and one of 16 children, Kate began performing in her family’s circus at the age of 2. After earning herself the title of “Europe’s Queen of Strength, Beauty, and Dexterity” she traveled to the United States and began an illustrious career with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, continuing to perform with them until she was in her 60s.

Her stagename, Sandwina (essentially a feminine version of the name Sandow), came from that of famous strongman Eugene Sandow who she defeated in a contest of strength. She was especially known for lifting her husband, acrobat Max Heymann, bending steel bars, and resisting the pull of several horses.

 

Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton

Abbye Eville (1917  – 2006)

Abbye Stockton lifts a barbell as other women look on

“In those days, lifting weights was thought to be unfeminine. The misinformed think if women strength-trained, they’d become masculine looking. We laughed knowing they were wrong.”

-Abbye Stockton as told to Sport’s Illustrated

The original “Queen of Muscle Beach”, Abbye was one of the first “true” professional female body-builders, and was a trailblazer when it came to normalizing the idea of athletic women. Abbye was not part of the circus circuit, but I included her in my research because her work would have had a significant influence on Suprema; she would have been someone that Suprema looked up to.

For 10 years (1944-1954), Abbye wrote a column in the magazine Strength and Health entitled “Barbelles” which discussed women’s fitness in ways that were far from the norm at the time, focusing on strength training rather than simple calisthenics and including profiles of other strongwomen like herself. After her husband Les returned from WWII, he and Abbye founded one of the first women only fitness clubs.

Joan Rhodes

(1921 – 2010)


The strongwoman that Suprema would have been most aware of and probably most want to emulate would have been one who started gaining fame for her performance right when Suprema was beginning her act: Joan Rhodes. Famous for her vaudeville act in which she tore telephone books in half, bent steel bars, and lifted various audience members, she began touring with Bob Hope and appearing on television around 1955. She would later go on to appear in a number of films as a stunt performer and sometimes acting as herself.

These were just a few of the wonderful and amazing strongwomen throughout history and hopefully I will get the chance to feature more of them in the future.

 

Listening to the Sounds of the Midway [Playlist]

It’s been a month since Sideshow was officially launched and I cannot thank you all enough for the amazing response my little book has received so far. I poured a great deal of my heart into that novel and I’m so glad to see that it has resonated with so many of you as well. For this week’s blog post I’ve put together a little thank you gift.

Mixed tapes used to be one of my favorite ways of expressing myself back in the pre-ipod days. I used to spend hours and hours deciding exactly which songs fit the mood and message I was trying to convey, putting them in exactly the right order, designing the label with my giant set of different colored Sharpie markers, etc before bequeathing it to the intended recipient. Those days are pretty much gone now as most people I know wouldn’t have the means to play a mixed tape/CD, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still gather songs into a playlist and obsess over creating the exact right message with them. So, without further ado, I present to you the playlist I have been obsessing over for the past month: “The Sideshow Soundtrack!”

Della Adamson, the Early Years

Sometimes, when suffering writer’s block, I like to put my mind on a different project to clear out my brain and let ideas percolate. One of the best ways for me to do that and still feel like I’m accomplishing something when I’m on a deadline is to write little bits of flash fiction about other characters in my current WIP. I wrote a ton of these for Sideshow. Some of them may find their way into larger works in the future, but for the time being, I’ve decided to share a few of my favorites with you.

Shay Number 5

Della Adamson. Act One. A New Beginning

Della kept her eyes closed as the train left the station. She had no desire to have a last look at Montgomery, West Virginia as it faded away behind the train. Years ago, when she had been a little girl, Montgomery had been everything to her. It had been the “big city” and the people who came from there had been interesting and sophisticated. Now, she understood just how small it was. Sure, it was larger than where she grew up, a town that had been named for a kind of coal that hadn’t been profitable for over 100 years, but still, Montgomery wasn’t an escape. Not even Morgantown, the city printed on her ticket, was a true escape. She felt strained and confined by the entirety of West Virginia, the United States, the planet earth. She needed to get away, though she couldn’t say why, and where to was nothing more than a dream.

She had been in school when it happened the first time. Miss Hawthorne, the fresh out of Glenville State, and not all that much older than Della herself, algebra teacher, had been explaining the quadratic equation, and Della suddenly felt unable to breath. Her heart pounded so hard that she could hear it in her ears and her mouth grew dry.

“Is something wrong, Miss Adamson?” Miss Hawthorne had asked sternly, and Della became instantly aware that she had slumped from her desk.

Getting to her feet and brushing off her skirt, Della shook her head. “No, Miss Hawthorne. Just a dizzy spell.” A red flush of embarrassment gathered in her cheeks.

“Do you need to see the nurse?”

For a moment, Della scanned the room trying to decide what to do. All of her classmates eyes were on her. Usually, she appreciated the attention, but this time the whole thing made her feel profoundly uncomfortable. She tried to take a deep breath, but her lungs felt too small. “I suppose,” she whispered, trying to sound poised, despite how she felt inside.

Elegance in all situations, her mother often repeated. Della tried her best to replicate this. Usually it was her temper that got the best of her, but this time, she felt sick. She needed desperately to lie down, and could have done so right there in the classroom, but she refused to allow something as small as illness make her appear anything less than the refined lady her mother had always taught her to be. She excused herself from the room and did not allow the dizziness to overtake her again until she had finally made her way into the hall. Instead of going to the nurse, she walked out of the school and went directly home.

The attacks came with regularity after that. There appeared to be no pattern to them. Della would find herself overcome at town social events, at the meat counter of the deli, in aisle of the general store, at night before she went to bed, and in the morning as she readied coffee for her father and older brothers before they left for work. She began to feel constantly suffocated and never seemed able to take a full breath. She decided then and there that the only way to solve the problem was to leave.

After she felt that a sufficient amount of time had passed, she pulled a small battered brown leather suitcase from under the chair in front of her and snapped it open on her lap. Inside she had packed everything in the house that had belonged to her: a few changes of clothes, a string of pearls, a pair of red kitten heels, two battered Agatha Christie novels with creased and folded covers, and, hidden underneath it all, an old photographBarnum & Bailey postcard of her mother in a tarnished silver frame. She took the photograph out now and examined it. It had been taken many years before Della had been born, before her mother had even met her father. She wore a tight fitting leotard and a long flowing skirt with a slit up to her mid thigh. Mrs. Belinda Adamson didn’t dress like that anymore. She would have been scandalized for Della to even consider wearing such an outfit. Still, there she was, looking proud as could be, and standing on a small, obviously swaying wire. The faces were too similar. She may have aged, but there was no denying that the woman in the picture and Della’s mother were one and the same. As a young girl the picture had perplexed Della, until she had eventually, piecemeal, worked its backstory out of the now austere woman.

The picture had been taken during her days as a circus aerialist. She had been born into a family of them and had been trained, along with her brothers and sisters, to perform acrobatic feats of daring high above the crowd, much to their awe and delight. At the time, Della had found the tale almost as impossible to believe as the thought that her mother would have ever worn such an outfit. It boggled the mind to think of her mother, whose long limp grey skirts practically always touched the floor, who always told Della to never draw attention to herself, performing in a circus. Everyone who knew Belinda Adamson knew her to be a taciturn woman with a melancholy streak a mile wide. She was the sort of woman who faded swiftly and easy out of a stranger’s memory. She didn’t seem like the sort at all. However, as time went on and Della watched, she became clued into small hints that the story was true after all. For one thing, her mother had amazing reflexes. If one of her brothers dropped a glass, she could catch it from halfway across the room.

“Do you know how expensive these are?” She would admonish in a stern voice.

For another, she had a strength that her small frame did not even begin to imply. She could lift the beds to vacuum under them and maneuver heavy buckets of milk all the way up from the store because the milkman did not come far enough up the mountain to deliver them. It did begin to give Della pause.

Her sister, she had told Della one day, when feeling charitable to her questions, had managed to stay in the business even after the Depression had shuttered a good three-quarters of the shows in the country. She had said it with such disdain that Della could easily see she did not approve of this choice, but it struck Della as an odd thing to look down one’s nose about. It wasn’t like her mother had chosen a particularly lucrative profession either, marrying a miner and having his five-boy-one-girl brood. In fact, she thought this mystery aunt probably had a far better measure of things than her mother did.

She tucked the picture away, thinking now of that aunt, trying to remember her name. Christina? Or was it Elina? Sophie? She wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she taken up working with an Irishman named McClure, who ran a traveling carnival. Her mother had talked about her siblings so rarely and under so much duress that it was possible, Della thought, that she had even this wrong. She shook her head and tucked the photograph away, snapped the suitcase shut, and tucked it back under the seat in front of her. She would have time to worry about the next step when she reached Morgantown, where a carnival called McClure’s Amusements was camped out for a weekend.

She would miss her mother, but more than anything she needed to breath.

Side shows at the Vermont state fair, Rutland (LOC)

Can’t It Be Summer Forever?

Rides Galore

I can’t believe it’s already the last official day of the virtual book tour. I had such a good time and got to know some amazing bloggers. I can’t thank them enough for their support and hosting of tour stops. Really it’s been a blast.

It was almost 90 degrees today and as far as I’m concerned summer could last forever! But don’t you fret, I still have plenty of great content to keep us going long after the book tour ends, but in the meantime, check out these great tour stops.

Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews: In which we delve into how I develop my characters and some of my real-life inspirations.

Charley Descoteaux