Circus in Winter is 10 Years Old

Circus in Winter is 10 Years Old

The Circus in Winter

It’s July 5th, P.T. Barnum’s birthday, the 10-year anniversary of the publication of my first book, The Circus in Winter.

I. Circus back then

In 2004, I was teaching at The College of New Jersey. I was 35 years old.

That was the summer my sister got married. The first time I saw the book on a bookstore shelf was on June 17. We were on our way to her wedding rehearsal, which was near a Borders. I asked my dad to stop so I could go inside and see if the book was on the shelf yet. It was! I took a picture.

I wondered why my pub date was July 5th if the book was available in a bookstore on June 17?

My agent called me on July 5 to say congratulations and asked “What are you doing right now?” and the answer was that I was shucking corn.

Me and my sister, June 2004
Me and my sister, June 2004

That was a fantastic summer, full of happiness and starred book reviews and wedding receptions and a book tour.

I didn’t realize at the time how special that summer was, that sometimes a book pops and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s been hard to write my third book with this knowledge in the back of my mind. Here’s something I said to Bryan Furness when he asked me how a writer gets past moments like that.

In late July 2004, during my town’s annual circus festival, I did a signing in my hometown historical museum and many, many people came. Ex-boyfriends. Former teachers. Former circus people. Former babysitters. Childhood friends. It was completely overwhelming in a good way. I sat next to the skull of the elephant that killed my great-great uncle, the artifact that started my writing journey.

July, 2004
July, 2004

The next morning, I got to ride in a convertible in my hometown’s annual circus parade and wave at people. My brother and sister walked alongside the car and threw candy at the crowds lining the streets. The sign on the side of the car said: Guest “Author” Cathy Day.

Ah, the unnecessary quotation marks of the Midwest!

In my life thus far, these are the four greatest moments (in chronological order):

  1. Returning to my hometown as a published author and riding in the parade
  2. The morning a few months later when I was solving the New York Times Magazine acrostic and realized that the answer was a quotation from Circus.
  3. The day I got married.
  4. The day in 2010 when I returned to Peru with a group of students from Ball State who had adapted Circus into a musical. They performed in a circus tent on the same ground where the real circus had performed a hundred years earlier. I wrote about that day here.

II. Circus today

I’m incredibly fortunate that people are still reading The Circus in Winter. It was selected as the 2014 Common Reader at Hanover College. The other day, I got an email from a young woman who had just finished it.

I am attending Hanover College in the fall and I was required to read The Circus In Winter. I just finished reading it. While I was reading I didn’t know how I felt about the book. I kind of liked it and I kind of didn’t until the very end when Jenny talks about hometowns and how no matter what you can always go back. Just those very last paragraphs really got to me and it helped me appreciate the book so much more. Besides that I love the little bits of the book that actually happened. I understand some details were changed and so were names but it’s amazing for me to think something exciting has happened in Indiana.

Back in 2004, I sent a postcard to every county library in the state of Indiana asking them to add Circus to their collection. Someone asked me why I’d done that. Why focus on getting the word out about the book in Indiana rather than New York or Los Angeles? The answer is contained in that email.

III. Circus tomorrow

I’m visiting Hanover College on Aug 25 and 26th.

In September, I’ll be in Connecticut for two events with Ben Clark, who wrote the music for Circus. We’ve actually never done an event together where we trace the evolution of a story into song. I’ll let you know more about those events as details are finalized, but one of them will be at the Mark Twain House and Museum. Very excited about that!

And then from October 23-November 16, Goodspeed Musicals is mounting a full production of Circus. I’ll be there, although I’m not yet sure which date.

Will you do me a favor today? Will you like the Facebook page for The Circus in Winter? If things go well with the musical, I hope that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will reprint Circus, and those likes might help me make my case.

I’m writing this on the porch of my house in Muncie, Indiana. If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be back home in Indiana or that I’d be blogging  or that there’d be something called “Facebook” or that there would no longer be a thing called “Borders” or that my book would be a musical, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Thank you very much. Today I’m filled with so much gratitude for the blessings this book has brought me.

The Greatest Show on Earth

The Greatest Show on Earth

General Writing


University Theatre of Ball State University


September 29-30, October 1, 5-8 at 7:30 p.m., and October 2 at 2:30 p.m. 


Adaptation by the students of the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, Directed by Beth Turcotte, Musical direction by Ben Clark and Alex Kocoshis, Choreography by Erin Spahr 

How to Order Tickets:

The box office is open from 12 to 5 PM Monday through Friday (765)285-8749 or $16 Gen. Adm., $12 Senior, $11 Student. Group rates are available.

How did this happen? 

This explains it pretty well. Basically, the musical happened because 1.) Prof. Beth Turcotte at BSU proposed the project, jumped through the hoops, herded the cats, and drew the very best out of 2.) an incredibly talented group of young people with mad, mad skills, and 3.) it happened because of one devout fan of the book: Prof. Tony Edmonds. He’s been teaching The Circus in Winter in his courses at Ball State since it was first published, and thus, when Beth’s group got together to talk about a book to adapt, many had read it. It’s extraordinary that a room full of people anywhere (other than in my hometown or perhaps in my parents’ living room) would have my book in common. 

How faithful is the musical to the book?  

Quite faithful, but wisely (since my book is a collage and a good musical is a straight line), they only used the first five stories in the book. You’ll meet Wallace Porter, Irene Porter, Jennie Dixianna, and Elephant Jack, Caesar the Elephant (yes! there’s an elephant!) among others, as well as a few new characters not in the book.

What’s the musical about?

Basically, it’s an origin story; why does Wallace Porter buy a circus? “The Circus in Winter is the story of passion beneath the big top. Join Wallace Porter, a stable owner from Indiana, as he falls in love and searches for his life’s work, a journey that culminates in the purchase of his own circus. Filled with fantastic characters, heart-wrenching moments of love and loss, and extraordinary new music. The Circus in Winter is a feast for the eyes, ears and heart.”

Where do I go?

The University Theatre and Box Office is located on the Ball State campus behind Emens Auditorium, across the plaza south of Bracken Library.

Will you be there, Cathy?

Maybe. I can’t attend every performance, but I will definitely be there opening night, Sept. 29, Sunday, Oct. 2, and on Thursday, Oct. 6.

Will there be a post-performance Talk Back so the audience can learn more about the adaptation and production?

Yes, it’s on Thursday, Oct. 6 after the show. I’ll be there, although my involvement in the production was quite minimal. The students and faculty who did the adaptation will be there (although some have graduated), along with members of the current cast and crew.  

How does this feel?  

I started writing The Circus in Winter exactly twenty years ago when I was a college student in Indiana, and it makes me happy that this adaptation was also done by college students in Indiana. Mostly, I’m just really grateful. These characters have been in my head for twenty years, and I can’t wait to meet them. I’m pretty sure I’ll cry a lot. It’s a very overwhelming experience to have your inner truths sung back to you.

How can I learn more?

If you can’t come to the show, follow the musical on Twitter @circusinwinter. They live tweet rehearsals. 

May all your days be circus days!