I'm so excited!!!! You might recall how much I loved "the Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno" by Ellen Bryson. Well, Ellen was SO kind as to answer a few questions I had for her, and I am thrilled to be sharing them with you today! I hope you'll read, as she gave some great answers! Let's give her a big, warm welcome!
BBB:Hi Ellen! Thank you SO MUCH for taking time to answer a few questions for Brizmus Blogs Books. I was incredibly impressed by the Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, and I am so excited to be hosting an interview with you.
First question: I know that the inspiration for the Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno came from a dream/vision you had after reading Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. Were there other things that also inspired it? For example, I read that you used to be a modern dancer. How much of this experience went into Fortuno?
Ellen Bryson:While being a dancer taught me a lot about being a performer, what really inspired me was being 13 years old. You can’t walk down a junior high school hallway in a borrowed skirt and a new haircut without knowing you’re a freak. That feeling of omission. Separation. It was terrible. And I was a quiet and strange girl, which didn’t help. So I found others like me and had my little group of likeminded kids and we bonded against the world. Not so dramatically as Barnum’s Curiosities, perhaps, but the feeling has to be the same.
BBB:It seems to me that you must have done a lot of research about P.T. Barnum (and circus “freaks” in general) in order to make this book come to life. What was the most interesting thing you learned about him? What was the most exciting thing you discovered, in general?
E B:The most obvious surprises about Barnum were that he did not say, “A sucker is born every minute” and that he wasn’t involved in the circus until he was in his 60s. But what was amazing was how formative a force Barnum was and how modern his sensibilities. The idea of popular culture did not exist in the mid 19th century, only small, personal entertainments: the theater, the saloon, card games and books at home. Barnum created a central location, stuffed it full of marvels and silliness, and lured in folks of all types and sensibilities and classes. To get them there, he made things up. He tapped into the delight people get from being tricked. For example, he had a sign in his museum saying THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS, and as most folks did not know that egress meant exit, they follow the sign in search of the egress, only to find themselves out in the street, forced to pay another quarter for readmission. He moved people and created the very first buzz. I shudder to think what he would do in today’s world.
BBB: I know I for one was SHOCKED to hear that Barnum didn't get into the circus until he was in his 60's. He sounds like a really amazing, inspiring human being.
Anyhow, next question. As a character, Fortuno really came alive for me. He just felt so real! How much of his personality and his beliefs were based on the known personality of Barnum’s actual human skeleton, Isaac Sprague?
E B:I have no idea about Isaac Sprague’s personality or his circumstances. The only thing I know was what he looked like. Interestingly, I found next to nothing on the lives of people like my characters. As far as I know, nothing was written about how they managed, how they aged, how they lived. Fortuno sprung fully from the imagination, and once sprung, exerted his personality on the text.
4) I read somewhere that the book didn’t start off as being Fortuno’s story. Is this true? And what I am really curious about: Fortuno’s belief that his body was his gift. Did you start off knowing that he would believe this or is it something that developed as you got to know your character?
The book started out as Iell’s story, but once Fortuno came alive, the writing was on the wall. His was the voice, and who better to see and appreciate a creature like Iell than Fortuno. From the very beginning, it was his adoration of the unique self that made him the perfect narrator. He was so sure of his place in the world and his entire sense of pride came from being different. From his eyes, Iell could only be seen as perfection.
BBB:While I thought the book was amazing from Fortuno's point of view, Iell was a prominent, well-developed character, and I think the story from her point of view would have been amazing as well. Perhaps that's a story of another time. That said, are you working on anything else right now? (I know I’m already excited about your next book!)
E B:I am working on a concept that keeps changing. Suffice it to say it’s a modified ghost story.
BBB:A modified ghost story - exciting! Now, for something totally unrelated to writing: You lived in Buenos Aires. What was life in Argentina like?
E B: Buenos Aires was crazy. Living there was a little like living in New York but it’s not a first world country so the sidewalks were treacherous (and they still don’t have the concept of cleaning up after their dogs) and the traffic had a life of it’s own. Its’ also very European with it’s cafes on every block and a 10:00pm dinner hour (family in tow), but in essence it’s Latino. The best part was how creative the people were, and what book lovers! Everyone was a reader.
BBB:EVERYONE a reader?!? That sounds amazing! Okay, now give me some quick one-word answers!
Favorite place to write: Bed.
Literary Idol: Too many.
Favorite music to listen to while writing: Silence.
Favorite food to eat while writing: Ha!
Favorite place to which you have traveled: Iceland or Oman.
BBB: Again, thank you SO much for answering my questions! I know I said 7 was the last, but is there anything you’d like to add? Anything you wanted to be asked but weren’t?
E B: I think you covered it!
I think my favorite answer was the "Ha!" about the food she eats while writing. I also love that she loved Iceland, as I've been dying to go there!
Once again, thanks so much, Ellen for answering some questions for me! It's been so much fun having you here today, and I know I'll be first in line to buy your next book when it comes out!