If you’ve ever thought about running away and joining the circus “That Time I Joined The Circus” by J.J Howard is the perfect book for you. J. J answers some of our questions and allows us to dive into her writing world. She talk about how her students inspired her tone and how much research she had to do when writing her debut. Keep reading to find out more about J.J and her new novel.
Tell us something about yourself you haven’t told anyone yet.
I love, love, love Shakespeare: his comedies are my favorite. I’ve directed students in A Midsummer Night’s Dream four times—and I’ve also done Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing—which is my favorite…and since my favorite modern writer/director is Joss Whedon, I am beyond excited that his adaptation is coming out soon!
How did the idea of THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS come about?
At first, it was homework! I was in graduate school, and I took a class on novel writing. I decided to write a YA, because the assignment, 50K words, was a good length for YA, and I thought maybe as a teacher I’d have some luck capturing the teen voice 😉 Even though I’d decided to do a contemporary, I wanted some element that was a little fantastic or unusual—and as soon as I thought of the circus, I knew I’d found my setting!
What did you find most challenging writing a circus setting? What type of research did you have to do to understand their lifestyle?
I really viewed Circus Europa as a small, family operation. That part was extrapolated from the two small private schools I’ve worked for—I tried to capture that feeling. I did a lot of research into the different circus acts. I was most surprised to find out how many families were fourth, fifth, sixth generation circus. It becomes a point of pride how far back your family goes in the business.
How has teaching and interacting with young students influenced your writing?
Several years ago, a friend of my roommate’s came to visit, and he looked at me and my friend (we’re both teachers) and said, “You guys talk like teenagers.” I hadn’t realized that it was sort of true—but after all we spend most of our time with our students! So now I like to say that’s proven useful in writing from the point of view of teens 😉
What rituals do you perform before you start writing?
I make a playlist—though I keep adding to it as I work on the project. I also usually make coffee! If it’s been a few days I need to read the last part I wrote. It’s always best to keep writing every day, but as a full time teacher sometimes that’s just not possible.
I think Lexi has the option to be really bitter at the outset of the story, but she doesn’t. The circus throws her a lot of curveballs right from the start, but she just performs every job they throw at her, does the best she can, and doesn’t really complain. That’s a great way to approach any situation: just do the best you can! Lexi is a lot like me—a little sarcastic, obsessed with obscure music and reading Regency novels…
I’d say the cover captures my description of Lexi perfectly!
Has THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS always been the title of your novel? If not what were other title suggestions?
The novel was called Reversed from the very beginning: Lexi’s job at the circus is reading tarot cards, and when a card comes up reversed, the meaning is changed—usually for the worse. Lexi’s whole life gets reversed, but she figures it out in the end—which is what a tarot reading is meant to help you do. We wanted the circus setting to be clear in the title, though, and so TTIJTC was born!
What was your favorite/least favorite line to write in THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS?
My favorite line in the book is:
“Eli, who can’t even open soup cans properly—this is who Louie has helping Jamie do preventative maintenance on the rides. Good luck not dying, townie children.”
I don’t know if I have a least favorite, but I will say that action scenes are the hardest for me to write. My WIP has a fight scene, and my first—and second—drafts were complete rubbish!
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I don’t have anything that’s set yet…right now I’m working on this past November’s NaNoWriMo novel, which is really different for me. It’s been fun to write something almost completely outside the box.
Finally, what would you like to say to your readers before diving into THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS?
I’d say just dive in and go along for the ride with Lexi! But if anyone wants some more insight into her BFF Eli, I did write the first chapter from his point of view—you can check it out here.
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J.J. Howard is wearing headphones right now, most likely. She grew up in York, Pennsylvania, obsessed with music, movies, television, and pop culture. You can call her if you ever need to phone a friend for trivia on any of the above topics, but don’t ask about sports, because she is hopeless at those (along with math). J.J. graduated from Dickinson College with a BA in English and Tiffin University with an MH in Humanities. She has been some of her students’ favorite English teacher for a quite a few years (she even has a mug somewhere to prove it). That Time I Joined the Circus is her first young adult novel. J.J. would love to hear from her readers and is always ready to trade playlists