Interview: JJ Howard, Author of THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS

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Kate Ormand: The circus is a wonderful setting to explore – and can be done in so many ways! What attracted you to writing a circus book?
JJ Howard: I was looking for a real-world setting that allowed for a feeling of magic and wonder. I’ve been interested in tarot reading for a long time, and I felt the circus was a great fit for a tarot reader. Because you can use these cards to help you figure out your path they’re kind of perfect for a teen—that’s the time in your life when you’re really figuring out who you want to be.

KO: The circus cast in THE WANDERERS is made up of orphans with secret shapeshifting abilities, and they perform as animals. Can you tell us about the acts featured in THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS?
JJH: The cast of Circus Europa from TTIJTC would be envious of those powers! It’s a traditional circus, with elephants and tigers, high wire and trapeze acts, as well as carnival games and rides. In doing my research I found that a lot of circus folks are following in their family’s footsteps so the trapeze performers are family, and they too are part of a long tradition.

KO: Music is a big part of your book. Did you listen to music a lot while writing?
JJH: Music is a big part of my writing process, always. My first step with a new project is always the playlist, though the list evolves as the novel takes shape. I have a nice set of writing headphones—I never wear them any other time! They help me tune out the world.

KO: Shake it Out by Florence + the Machine makes me think of THE WANDERERS and my main character, Flo. What song(s) remind you of THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS? What fits Lexi’s character?
JJH: I love Florence + the Machine—and a lot of songs from their new album are on my WIP playlist!
The song quotes that begin each chapter were all on the TTIJTC playlist. But the song that I think best fits Lexi’s journey is “You are a Tourist” by Death Cab for Cutie. There are a few lines that just really speak to her experience, like “…when you find yourself the villain in the story you have written…” Lexi really messes up at the outset of the story, and leaving home is her way to find out who she wants to be.

KO: We both have circus tents and elephants on our cover! How does the cover for THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS capture the mood of story?
JJH: That cover! I’ll never get over how beautiful it is. And I think the perspective really fits the story—we see Lexi standing just outside the circus, ready to step in and change her life.

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KO: The circus members in THE WANDERERS are there because they have no family and nowhere else to go. There’s no choice but to stay and they earn their place by shifting and performing. This is similar in THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS, as Lexi tracks down the circus in search of her mother with nowhere else to turn. How does she fit into her new life? What’s her role in the circus?
JJH: Lexi not only has no magic powers, she at first doesn’t seem to have anything to offer other than cleaning up after the elephants, or selling tickets! But the man who runs the circus challenges her to come up with an act, and she realizes she could be the new fortune teller since she knows how to read tarot cards. I loved “setting up” Lexi’s attraction, called “The Fortune Trailer”—and creating that playlist was my favorite part of the whole process.

KO: And to wrap up, can we end with a quote from THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS?
JJH: My favorite quote is Lexi’s description of “Adventure Barbie”—I think it captures Lexi’s sense of humor and rather cynical view on the world of dating 😉

“You know who she is—that girl with the perfectly tousled hair, long legs, and no fat anywhere because she doesn’t eat. She wears super-high heels, which she can walk in perfectly, but she also comes equipped with hiking boots. A guy who finds himself an A.B. is pleased to find out that she is equally at home zip-lining and fine dining…A.B. does not exist in nature; she is her own creation. And no regular girl can match her. A regular girl’s face betrays her panic when she is asked to go rock climbing or cliff diving. A regular girl looks like a drowned rat after an afternoon of white-water rafting. But not Adventure Barbie.”

KO: Thank you so much!