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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Interviewing Anita Bartholomew about her new release, The Midget's House

Today, I'm especially pleased to interview author Anita Bartholomew about her new release, The Midget's House. It's a wonderful genre blend of historical, romance, and paranormal. CONTEST: giveaway of 2 print and 2 ebook copies--see below.

The Midget’s House was inspired by your own home in Sarasota, the winter outpost of the Ringling Bros circus for decades, from the 1920s until 1960, when it moved to Venice, FL. I live only 30 miles north and this storyline fascinates me.
The house was built for midgets of that circus. What modifications in the house make it uniquely designed for those folks? Do all the modifications still exist? How does your family adjust to those interesting building details? When you purchased the house, did you know any of the legends involving its circus inhabitants?

I should start by saying that the legend that the house was built for Ringling midgets might be only that—a legend. It's a storybook style house, of the right era, and quite charming. But it's been updated in so many ways over the years that any hint of its origins, or of details that might have proven it was built for midgets, have been lost. Also, it was probably built elsewhere in Sarasota and moved to its present location. Since Sarasota destroys building records after 15 years, the records that would tell the true history of who built it and why are long since gone. 

I’m sure you did extensive research as background for the story. I imagine some of the folks who helped you as sources were very colorful characters themselves. What was your most interesting or unusual research find or source?

Bob Horne, a circus historian, and past president of Showfolks, an organization of circus people, was incredibly helpful. He introduced me to several members of the famous Wallenda family, and numerous other circus performers, from teens who are just starting out in their families' acts, to retirees in their 80s and 90s. If it weren't for Bob's asking them to help me out, I can't imagine circus stars stopping in the midst of their set-up to show me the ins-and-outs of their acts and their gear.

And—you guessed it—Bob is quite a character in his own right. He runs a circus-themed restaurant, Bob's Train, that's quite literally, off-the-beaten track (on an old stretch of railroad track off School Avenue near Fruitville Road in Sarasota), where he cooks up a delicious brunch and weaves even more delicious tales of life on the road. Ask him a question about the circus and he'll talk for hours, while hauling out memorabilia from the early twentieth century traveling shows. 

The Midget’s House is certainly genre-blending, as your blurb suggests, with measures of historical fiction, romance, and paranormal fantasy fiction. Does one ring out more than another in the mix?

It's difficult to classify your own work, but I'd probably call it a historical novel and love story, with a paranormal twist.

As a fantasy writer, I love filling in the gaps of mysterious real life happenings/myths/legends. My historical writer friends thrive on uncovering the details and completing the puzzle as accurately as possible. Which was more fun for you, imagining gaps or unearthing the facts?

I began my research because I wanted to find out the truth about my home. I'd known the legend about its being built for circus midgets before I bought it. Later, I heard a legend about a treasure hidden inside its walls. The romance of those legends made me want to solve the mystery. And, of course, there was clearly some sort of presence in the house. Who or what was it?

The more I searched, the more dead ends I reached—concerning the house, anyway.

But I learned some surprising facts along the way about midgets and circus life that I hadn't consciously been searching for. And then, one day, Lucinda, the central character, simply appeared to me, as sort of the embodiment of all the previous research. I immediately understood what sort of person she would have been, why she joined the circus, what that life offered in the way of freedom, and also, why she longed for a more ordinary existence.

Because I sensed a presence upstairs that I couldn't see, I began to imagine what existence might be like for the ghost, herself. If living people experience only the faintest sensations of a spirit's presence, might the ghost feel the same about encounters with the living people in her home?

I know that's a longwinded answer but I guess I can sum it up by saying, researching and imagining the story were each rewarding for different reasons. And, of course, one wouldn't have happened without the other.

This blending of genres often deters traditional publishers and leads to some of the most creative mixed works being published by authors independently. Was this part of your reason for choosing to self-publish this book?

In a way, yes, as I'll explain in a moment, but it had more to do with changes in the publishing industry. I'd had a terrific agent, Adam Chromy, who almost sold The Midget's House to two different publishers: Amy Einhorn, who has her own imprint at Putnam, and Bantam. Each liked it but asked for revisions. The Bantam editor was particularly enthusiastic, but wanted me to write a very different version, one that left out the present-day story and all the paranormal elements. I wasn't sold on her idea, but I did want to sell the book, so I revised as she requested. And the book lost most of its magic. Neither Bantam nor Einhorn (who went on to publish the wildly successful, The Help), liked this revision. Worse, I didn't even like it any more.

So, I put the novel aside for a couple of years, and moved on to other things. I co-authored Dr. Yvonne Thornton's award-winning memoir, Something To Prove, and edited numerous books by other authors, while The Midget's House languished on my hard drive.

Last year, I pulled out the original manuscript. Reading it with fresh eyes, I immediately saw what it needed, revised it, and lined up a new agent.

But then, I thought about where publishing is now and where it's going. The big advantage of being published by a traditional publisher is your book on bookstore shelves, everywhere. But online book sales, whether of physical or ebooks, have overshadowed bookstore sales, and changed the industry. 

If an author wants a chance at benefiting from that change, I believe it's important to get in at the beginning.

I decided to publish it myself.  

Was I crazy? Maybe. I'm jumping in, with fingers, eyes, toes, knees, and anything else crossable, crossed. Wish me luck. 
I immediately recognized the image on your cover, one of the dwarf statues playing among the aerial banyan tree roots on the Ringling Museum grounds. Was that an obvious choice, or did you deliberate over other images?
Fascinating that you recognized it. I can't tell you how many images we looked at and abandoned before deciding on it. 
Bob Horne, the circus historian, let me poke through his extensive photo collection, but nothing was quite right. I went to the circus museum, hoping to find something that we could use. Nothing moved me. 
Discouraged, I left the museum and wandered the walkways down to John and Mable Ringling's home by the bay—and there it was. The dwarf statue had become a captive over the years as the banyan grew over and around it. It reminded me of Lucinda's ghost, trapped between worlds.
I sent the image off to my cover designer along with several circus pictures, unsure if he'd have the same response to it that I did. But when he saw it, it was really the only possible choice.
The Midget’s House
By Anita Bartholomew


The Midget's House is a tale of two women (one alive, and the other long dead), each mourning lost love and struggling for control of the one place that feels like home.

Marisa Delano is thrilled when she unexpectedly inherits the fairy-tale like cottage on the bay—until she learns that Lucinda Lacey, a sideshow midget who died on the property in 1924, still inhabits it. As Marisa searches for answers about the unwelcome presence in her new home, all the clues lead to one conclusion: on the day Lucinda died, she murdered her lover, circus owner Cyrus Parker. 

Alternating between Lucinda's and Marisa's perspectives, The Midget's House takes readers from the carnivals, circuses, and freak shows of the early twentieth century, to the boom-and-bust of today's Florida. 
Haunting in every sense of the word, this genre-blending tale will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

March 2004
The Height of the Last Florida Real Estate Boom

   A faded gray Buick clunker idled in the winding drive. Palm trees whipped by the wind blowing off Sarasota Bay cast tentacle-like shadows across its chassis.
   The plump young night nurse slipped out of the house by the side door. She hadn't dared leave until she was certain her patient was asleep but, having heard the deep, even snores, she felt confident that the amply medicated old lady would be unconscious at least until daybreak.
   Enid Parker's bones had gone brittle and her muscles had atrophied, making it impossible for her to do much beyond lie in her bed if she did awaken. Her hair, long since leached of all color, had thinned to baby fine strands. As senile and infirm as she was though, Enid could still make a ruckus when she felt ignored. The nurse had earned several screeches of complaint over the past three evenings, which was how long she'd been employed as Enid Parker's caregiver. She was glad for the work and accustomed to difficult patients so she didn't consider turning down the assignment even after learning that an earlier nurse had walked off the job in the middle of the night, blithering incomprehensibly. Some other nurses simply couldn't hack it, she knew, but she didn't have much sympathy for them. Handling the job, where crotchety old folks were concerned, meant sucking it up when they heaved verbal abuse, not just parceling out the pills at the appropriate hours or cleaning up the messes from their saggy bottoms to their soiled linens.
   But now that the old woman slept, she saw no reason to lurk in the creaky old house through the night.
   She darted to the car, swung her wide hips onto the passenger seat, and quietly pulled the door closed behind her. The young man at the wheel put his sputtering vehicle in gear, drove it past the decorative iron gate and on toward the outside world. She'd be back in plenty of time with no one the wiser.
   Despite enough medication to sedate a Clydesdale horse, Enid Parker did not rest easily. Moments after her nurse's departure, her creped eyelids fluttered open.
   "Papa?" she murmured. "Are we going to the circus? Can I ride the elephant? You promised."
   Not getting an answer, she reached out tentatively with one arthritic hand, as if attempting to see through her fingertips. Wispy white eyebrows bunched together as clouded pupils strained to focus.
   Then anger sparked in those dull eyes.
   "Lucinda!" she shrieked. "You get out of here. Get out. GET OUT OF MY HOUSE. My house ..." Her heart accelerated, pumping blood through tired veins and arteries, tingling her desiccated skin to an almost healthy pink.
   Forgetting her infirmity, Enid forced herself upright, determined to eject the intruder.
   The effort exhausted what little life was left in her. 

About the Author:

Anita Bartholomew is a former long-time contributing editor to Reader’s Digest whose articles have also appeared in numerous other major periodicals. She is the co-author of Dr. Yvonne Thornton’s award-winning memoir, Something To Prove (Kaplan 2010), and has acted as an editorial consultant to a great many other authors, including some whose books have appeared on US and international bestseller lists.

About the House:

There are many legends about the house in the Indian Beach neighborhood of Sarasota, Florida:

That it was built for Ringling Circus midgets... that there is a treasure hidden inside its walls... that it is haunted.

Its true history may never be known, but Anita Bartholomew's imaginings about what that history might have been form the basis of this novel.


Twitter: @AnitaBart

CONTEST: The Midget's House Giveaway

2 Print Copies Open to US Shipping

2 ebook copies winner's choice of format open internationally

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Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. She is the author of the novel, TEARS ON A TRANQUIL LAKE, the first in a trilogy. Part two, TORTUGA TREASURE is contracted for release in January, 2012. Look for her first of an epic fantasy romance series, SEEKING A SCRIBE: ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS ONE, to be available March, 2012. For a FREE ebook download, read her historic fantasy, Le Cirque De Magie. Share