Genevieve Valentine is one of my favorite people and, happily, also one of my favorite writers. If you look at her bibliography, it's astounding how many fabulous short stories she's published since 2008 (really? JUST since 2008? wow!) in anthologies and magazines, basically all over the place. And this in addition to tons of fabulous and hilarious nonfiction writing on her blog and elsewhere about movies, television, and red carpet fashion. (Plus, she will nerd about So You Think You Can Dance with me.) Her first novel Mechanique was published in May to rave notices, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly. It's a cirque de force; a thrilling, death-defying tale of the post-apocalyptic, steampunk- and magic-infused Circus Tresaulti, and also, one of my favorite novels of the year, hands down. It's an assured, gorgeous, gripping debut novel and also a great, huge, tremendous amount of fun to read. You want a ticket.
GB: I'll start, as usual, by asking you about your writing process. Mechanique is your first novel, and it's very complex structurally; like a juggler, you keep a lot of balls in the air. How did you approach it? Was there a lot of outlining and planning?
GV: At the time I started the book I had a total lack of outline, which is a habit that often backfires for me when I start a large project with a single Post-It reading "THINGS AND STUFF," but in this case seems to have worked out. When I sat down to start it, I had a couple of images I wanted to lead with, and then I wanted to explore the acts themselves, so I wrote it down as it presented itself; very early on the story began to emerge between the lines, and I went with what seemed natural to the story at the time until I had all the pieces falling into place.
GB: Do you have any favorite circus stories/novels by others? What was the seed of this novel?
GV: I actually hadn't read much circus fiction when I began my book (I'm criminally under-read in many areas)–my fondness for the circus had always been either of a movie or a nonfiction bent. However, since I finished Mechanique I've started playing catch-up, and can say that Nights at the Circus and Geek Love are classics for a reason.
I guess the seed of this novel was the cumulative effect of being a film nerd since ever; the circus really lends itself to film, in any form, from the Penguin's circus cadre in Batman Returns to the trapeze bits in Buster Keaton's Allez Oop. I also had a developing interest in vintage photography and graphic design and the stories behind the posters and portraits. Add this to the fact that I've always been a sucker for stories about performers (no surprise), and you have the beginnings of a story about a circus that's ragged around the edges, and the performers who are trying to keep it together.
GB: Your cast of characters in Mechanique is incredibly memorable and well-developed. Do you have a favorite or favorites? Was there someone you particularly enjoyed writing? (My own favorite is probably Little George, or maybe Boss, or Elena–okay, so maybe I love them all.)
GV: Thank you! Also, this is such a hard question to answer, because while I feel they're all flawed in some deep way (why else would they be in the Circus?), I can understand some of the flaws more than others, and when you're the writer in charge you end up with favorites no matter how the story goes. I did find myself with a soft spot for anyone who felt out of place in the Circus even after making all the necessary sacrifices, a list that shifts as the book goes on and we learn more about them.
GB: What are you working on now? What's next?
GV: I have a secondary-world noir in the hopper, and earlier this year I finished a novel that's a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses set in 1927 New York, which was a blast. There is a long and scary list of books I'd like to write, most of which move forward or not depending on if anything awesome is on Netflix. I also have several short stories I'm working on; you may not have seen the last of the Circus Tresaulti…*
GB: And, last, what have you been watching that you think other people should give a shot? Or, given your habits, what extra-awful movies and TV have you been watching that should people avoid like the plague?
GV: I'm really crossing my fingers for SyFy's Alphas, which stars longtime favorite David Strathairn, in whose career I am a little over-invested. Hopefully it will be good, and I can enjoy seeing him every week! But from thence came also Aztec Rex, so we'll have to see.
Moviewise, Priest lacked the gonzo joy of Jonah Hex, a movie so hilariously terrible it has yet to be knocked off its perch of Bad Movie Everyone Should See, No Joke. And in terms of upcoming things I'm actually planning to brave Outdoors to go see, I have some cautious hopes for Captain America, even more cautious hopes for Tarsem Singh's Immortals, and a delightful lack of any hopes at all for The Three Musketeers.
*Note: Genevieve has several fabulous Tresaulti short stories out in the wild, too; you can find links to them here.
Visit today's other SBBT stops (will update with links as I get 'em):
Stacy Whitman at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Alyssa B. Sheinmel at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer at Mother Reader
Or collect the whole set at the master schedule.