I have something of a fascination with carnivals. It might stem from the fact that when I was growing up, my school threw the biggest Halloween carnival. Almost the entire campus was transformed, with a cakewalk and tables with carnival food set up in the cafeteria, the small one-room building where we had music class transformed into a haunted house, and the outdoor basketball court overtaken by booths with midway games. It was so big that school was always canceled the following day so the grounds could be cleaned up afterwards.
It was one night, once a year, but it was so awesome that, for me, it overshadowed trick-or-treating.
Carnivals are transient; they aren’t meant to last. They sweep into our lives for a blink and then they’re gone again, their imprint burned across the back of your eyelids like a too-bright flare of light. From the moment you enter their boundaries, you’re bombarded with color and sound, chaos and energy. They’re real and tangible but disappear in a blink, making them, in a way, as fragile as a soap bubble. And there’s something about that dichotomy that’s so compelling. Nailing down everything that makes a carnival a real thing you can walk through without dissecting them so finely that they’re no longer special.
But in a novel, a carnival is more than its parts. The carnival can be a place of transformation. A way to explore places the protagonist has never seen in the world. And sometimes, the progression of the carnival across a changing landscape can mirror the changes within the protagonist herself.
I wanted to use that impermanence and the idea of change in By a Charm and a Curse. So I set the novel in Le Grand’s Carnival, which is bright and shining on the outside with something rotten at the core. Many decades before the story is set, both a charm and a curse are placed upon the carnival. Trapped within the confines of the carnival is the curse victim, a boy or girl whose skin has petrified, unable to feel anything except an unnatural cold. And surrounding the curse victim are all the other carnival performers and workers, who have been charmed, protected from accidents and the ravages of time. But over time, things have gone awry, and the carnival is not as it is supposed to be.
Emma and Ben, my two main characters, both undergo incredible change throughout the course of the novel, Emma, the curse victim, quite literally. As they travel along with this ephemeral carnival, they themselves transform, and for me, taking a thing that I love, carnivals, and using it as a vehicle to tell Emma and Ben’s story of transformation was really exciting.
I hope that anyone who reads By a Charm and a Curse gets a taste of that same excitement.