We had a broader theme in mind when we started out. The book was called A Cabinet of Curiosities, and I invited contributors to write about “conjurers and ventriloquists, necromancers and illusionists, spirit mediums and Siamese twins, oddities of science and purveyors of educated fleas.” I was researching the old curiosity cabinets for another project at the time, so that was the trigger, but I’ve always loved the great showmen like P.T. Barnum and Harry Houdini, and the art and advertising that went along with their exploits. I’ll pore over the sort of playbills and posters Ricky Jay collects all day. Also, the photography of Diane Arbus had a big impact on me (“Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience,” she’s said. “Freaks were born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”).
It was no surprise when the submissions started rolling in and most were literally set in circus and carnival sideshows — writers and artists have always loved these settings — so the sales department urged us to narrow the publishing focus, and we changed the title to suit the majority.
2. Do the authors involved in the book come up with their own ideas or do you work with them on a certain topic?
I’ll provide a paragraph or so, a thematic umbrella, and throw in suggestions as above to get people thinking, but then I give them free reign. I do sometimes beg a one-sentence snapshot so we don’t end up with six variations on the same sub-theme, but I try not to crowd anyone.
3. How did the authors and graphic novelists included become a part of this project? If you could have added one more person to the book, who would you want and why?
Many I work with as an editor at Candlewick already: Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize; Eternal), David Almond (My Dad’s a Birdman; The Savage), Matt Phelan (The Storm in the Barn), Cecil Castellucci (Beige) … another writer I know led me to Danica Novgorodoff who led me Shawn Cheng … Vivian Vande Velde and Annette Curtis Klause I worked with in Gothic! and The Restless Dead.... Margo Lanagan and Aimee Bender are writers I’ve just long admired.
As for adding “one more,” I’d never be able to decide (which may be why I keep editing anthologies). Some of the writers/artists I invited but who couldn’t participate for whatever reason were Kelly Link, China Mieville, Dave McKean, Ben Templesmith, Karen Russell, Shaun Tan, and Philip Pullman. You always start with your dream list and fan out; if you’re lucky, as I’ve been, you arrive at exactly the right mix in the end. It’s not about ticking your way down a list; it’s about widening your net and allowing for surprises. There are writers who’ve been in the previous anthologies that I know and trust to turn in amazing stories, but I wanted to mix it up and combine new voices too.
4. If you had to come up with three songs that would fit the stories in Sideshow, what would you pick and why?
· “Trapeze,” by Patty Griffin with Emmylou Harris — not because it’s about the circus (though it is) as because it’s about a person who’s set apart and who embraces, body and soul, the talent or difference that isolates her.
· Tom Waits’ “Innocent When You Dream,” because it’s like riding a carousel in a more-than-usually-surreal dream. A lot of Waits songs could work, including “Table Top Joe” and “Carnival,” but this one just hits it for me mood-wise.
· “The Giant of Illinois,” by The Handsome Family. Matt Phelan, who created “Jargo!,” the closing story in the anthology, turned me on to The Handsome Family, and this song about Robert Wadlow or the “Alton Giant,” the tallest known person in medical history, is so melancholy and mysterious. Andrew Bird also did a beautiful cover of it.
5. As an author yourself, are you working on anything else at the moment? If so, anything you can reveal to us at the moment?
I’m revising an adult historical novel called (for now) Captivity that’s due out with Unbridled Books in Spring ’10 — and experimenting with a speculative YA about a doppelganger and plague in Florence. Not sure any part of it will stick yet, but I’m having fun with the dark-twin thing.
6. On your blog, you begin a lot of posts with a quote (even one from Buffy's very own Spike). Since I'm a huge fan of quotes, I was wondering what are some of your favorites were?
Spike is eminently quotable, isn’t he? Many of my favorites are on that blog (http://hauntedplaylist.blogspot.com/), which is mainly music playlists I post for friends and family or anyone with woe-besotted musical tastes like mine, and then I tack on a quote that suits the mix or the mood I was in. I like quotes that are either dead-on transcendent or else snarky.
7. What type of people should give Sideshow a chance? Why should they pick it up?
Readers who like speculative fiction, graphic novels, humor, horror… anyone who’s ever felt different, outside the main, or who’s ready to peek in at and empathize with people who are. If you’re at all curious (in either sense of the word), there’s something here for you.
8. If you could wish on a real shooting star, what would you wish for and why?
Another wish …? I think I like wanting better than getting. It’s the creative part of the equation.
9. What about you would classify as a "freak"?
I “forget” my cell on purpose a lot, which is weird because cells and Blackberrys are like life support for so many people. But being accessible all the time is a hard idea for me, even though I have kids and really ought to be. I also don’t love popular ritual and celebration: birthdays (my own — I’m happy for others to enjoy them), Valentine’s Day, reunions, parades. Rituals bring structure and meaning to human society but ending up making me feel restless and a little trapped (in the parlance of magic, rituals are bindings, and I must be rangy by nature) and then guilty for feeling that way. People think you’re a loon when you don’t want roses and chocolate on the same day everyone else is getting roses and chocolate, and I don’t blame them (no chocolate? what am I… a few clowns short of a circus?)…crikey. I better stop. This threatens to be only the tip of the iceberg.
I put this question to a couple of our contributors, too. Matt Phelan claims a freakish ability to recite the alphabet backward “at a most unnatural speed,” while Cynthia Leitich Smith, who says she lives in a haunted house and spends much of her time with make-believe monsters, sites a fear of lettuce. “It's not the lettuce per se,” she says. “It's what may be lurking in or on the lettuce. I had an unfortunate experience in my late teens, involving a very large green worm, which had somehow clung to lettuce from the field all the way to the salad stage.”