1.Dude! Fantasy Circus. Awesome concept – how did you piece it together?
By accident! Originally, I started a book with an adult Micah Grey, but for various reasons I was
really struggling with that book. I decided to take a break and write some “short stories” about
Micah’s background, and thought that it’d be cool if he had been in the circus when he was
younger. It’d give him acting skills and dexterity, which would be useful for him later on. Plus, I’ve
always loved the circus, and it’s a great way to have a little microcosm of weird and wonderful
characters. So I started the “short story,” and I absolutely fell in love with the setting and younger
Micah, and so that became its own book.
It feels timely as well. I was lucky in that there aren’t many other fantasy circus novels out
there, and I’m coming out a bit after The Night Circus, which is hugely popular. My book is quite
different, but if people read that and want more fantastical circuses, then there is Pantomime.
2. Do you have much in common with Gene?
Initially when writing it, I would have said no. Gene is a daughter of a noble family with a harridan
of a mother, a distant father, and an older brother she adores. She’s very much a tomboy. I
definitely didn’t come from a noble background, I have a kind and loving mother, my older brother
is 22 years older than me and my younger brother is 4 years younger, and I’m not a tomboy.
But now, after the book is all done and dusted, I’m realizing there is a lot of myself in Gene that
came out rather in the writing. We react to things similarly, though she’s braver than me. I’ve felt
trapped and self-conscious just like she has, and as a teen I had that constant yearning to be
accepted for who I was. It does mean that when people first started reading Pantomime, I felt
oddly exposed, but I’m hoping other people see themselves in Gene as well.
2. This seems like a fun concept to do research for. How did you prepare to write for Pantomime?
I did a ton of research. I watched films and read books set in the circus, and I read a book about
the circus in Victorian society (called, incidentally, The Circus in Victorian Society by Brenda
Assael), as well as buying a giant Taschen book about the circus. And seriously, it’s huge, look at
this thing with me for scaling, and I’m 6 feet tall:
I watched endless clips on youtube of Cirque du Soleil and other circuses. I researched circus
Additionally, I looked at the Victorian society in general, industrialization, colonization, and gender
studies. But though I researched a lot, I took few notes, so that way things would come out
naturally through the writing, rather than me sneaking in various facts and such I’d memorized,
especially considering it’s a secondary world.
4. What do you most want people to take away from their reading experience with Pantomime?
I think every reader will take something subtly different from Pantomime, as they do with every
book. For me, the main themes of Pantomime are: identity—figuring out who you are and who
you want to become—and how keeping secrets can harm more than they help.
I hope that after reading my book, people think about the nature of being an outsider. At the end
of the day, people have far more in common than they have differences, but we consciously or
unconsciously focus on those differences, which raises barriers between us. Telling the truth can
be hard, but telling endless little lies can be harder.
On a lighter note, I also hope they are entertained by R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic and Ellada,
and that they grow to care for Micah, Gene, Drystan, Aenea, Arik, and all the other characters I
5. Did you have a favorite scene while writing?
There’s a chapter about 75% through the novel where two characters go to a Museum of
Mechanical Antiquities, which is a collection of Vestige, ancient artefacts left behind by an
advanced civilization called the Alder. The current inhabitants don’t know if it’s advanced
technology or magic, but they are dependent on practical Vestige, such as weapons and industry
tools. However, a lot of things left behind serve no “useful” purpose, but are wonderful curiosities
mainly collected by the rich, such as automatons and jewelry and cryptic household items. I wrote
this scene in one fevered rush, and it’s one of my favourite scenes. It’s haunting and creepy and
has a long-term ramification for the series.
6. Early reviews of Pantomime are coming in and the general consensus is very positive. How has
the road to publishing been for you leading up to release your date?
I have been really humbled by the lovely reviews that have come in. I thought I would be
someone who could stay away from reviews, but it turns out I’m far too curious. I also see
reviews, both positive and negative, as a way to learn and improve. I can figure out what I did
right, and see what can be my pitfalls. Some of the reviews have gotten what I was trying to do
with Pantomime so perfectly that I’ve burst into tears.
My road to publication was a lot shorter than many, which took me by surprise. And my road
relies a lot on luck and accidents. I wrote the first draft of Pantomime when I was twenty and
twenty-one, and it’s the first book I completed. I subbed it to Angry Robot for their open door
month on March 30, 2011 (as adult science fiction, don’t ask me why. Past me was clueless).
I’d always been an avid reader, but I knew SO little about publishing, and I wince looking back
and some of my stupid rookie errors, like sending a 650-word monstrosity of a query to Donald
Maass. Oh lordy. Learn from my ridiculousness: do a lot of research! And then do some more. I
rectified my ignorance pretty quickly via AbsoluteWrite forums and the plethora of articles floating
about the internet.
But I was very lucky, because the draft of Pantomime I sent had some lingering issues, but
Amanda Rutter, who was the reader, saw the promise in it and loved the core concept. She was
hired as their editor for their new YA imprint Strange Chemistry, and so she gave me a revise and
resubmit in late November (that picture of me with the circus book was taken the day I got the
R&R). So technically I was their first submission, I think.
I edited my little heart out for three months and started querying agents (with a proper query
letter) starting on Leap Year, and sent Amanda the new version about a week later. By March 21 ,
2012, I had an agent and a book deal, so almost a year after my initial submission.
So I was very lucky and I am so grateful it all worked out. Sometimes I still pinch myself.
7. If you could describe your book in 5 words what would it be?
Secrets, identity, magic, flying, falling.
8. We were so pleased to help reveal the cover of Pantomime! What were your thoughts when
you first saw the finished cover?
I was absolutely delighted. Tom Bagshaw is an amazing artist and I feel like I hit the cover
jackpot. I had some vague ideas of images I thought would be cool for the cover, but I had no
idea what Strange Chemistry would do. When they told me they were thinking of someone in
a mask, because I’m super literal I was like—but no one in the novel wears a mask! But it’s
symbolic and works so well with the themes of hidden identities and secrets. I was able to ask for
some pertinent details to be added, like the dragonfly on the mask.
9. If you joined the circus, which act would you be apart of? Please don’t say clowns. They terrify
me. Haha. (No, really. They do. D:)
An aerialist or a tumbler, definitely, though that’d mean getting off my butt more often. I’d love to
R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.
But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
About Laura Lam
Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.
She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.
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