Monday, June 21, 2010

The Weird Room II/The Circus in Winter - The Musical

Before we get to the second excerpt from my interview with Cathy Day, I wanted to pass along some information about the musical adaptation of Cathy's book, The Circus in Winter, that has been put together by students at Ball State University. The students will be giving two concerts of music from the show on Saturday, July 17 and Sunday, July 18 as a part of Circus Week in Peru, Indiana (Cathy's hometown)! Both shows are fundraisers with the show on the 17th benefiting Ole Olsen Memorial Theater and the show on the 18th benefiting the International Circus Hall of Fame. Check it out, as it will be a fun time and help raise money for wonderful causes.

In The Circus in Winter, Peru, Indiana becomes Lima, Indiana allowing Cathy to use some of Peru's history while also leaving her room to invent. In this excerpt from "The Weird Room: An Interview with Cathy Day" (vol. 7, no. 1), I ask Cathy about fictionalizing histories.

9L: The Midwest is central to The Circus in Winter and the book features a combination of real and fictional places, were there any challenges in representing the Midwest in both a historic and a fictional way?

CATHY DAY: Do writers from New York or Los Angeles or Boston create fictional cities to disguise their hometown? I can’t think of any examples. I think writers from small Midwestern towns are more likely to create fictional places, fictional families, fictional histories because we need to psychologically. Re-naming provides anonymity. It allows us to say what we need to say without worrying so much about what our grandma or the mayor or our high school guidance counselor will say about it—although that worry never goes away completely, not for me anyway. When I celebrate Indiana, and there’s much to celebrate, I write nonfiction. When I’m criticizing Indiana, and there’s much to criticize, I write fiction. If it weren’t for good, old fashioned Midwestern modesty, we probably wouldn’t have Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Sinclair Lewis’ Gopher Prairie, Charles Baxter’s Five Oaks, William Gass’ B--, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.

We’d still have Michael Martone’s Fort Wayne, however, because Martone is that rare breed of Midwesterner who doesn’t care what people think. He sort of amazes me, actually.

9L: Does the Midwest lend itself to fictionalized histories more so than other regions of the country?

CD: The Midwest is very much like the South in that we are very good at lying to ourselves about the past and who we think we are. We have our own mythology, a story we tell ourselves that’s part Hoosiers/Field of Dreams/Rudy/Breaking Away, part Grapes of Wrath, part Prairie Home Companion. I am probably guilty of buying into that myth more than a thinking person should. I go through periods where I completely over-romanticize the Midwest, and then I go through periods where I think it’s all bunk. I’m like Quentin Compson at the end of Absalom! Absalom! "I don't hate Indiana. I don't! I don't hate it!” Where I’m from, people bowdlerize stories. They tell them as flat as the land, leveling off the peaks and filling in the valleys, nothing too dark, too depressing, too taboo, because "there's some things, Cathy, that you just don't talk about." Of course, that’s exactly what we should be writing and talking about. We should create fictional histories to counter the sanctioned histories, which are in many ways just as fictional.

Be sure to check out the rest of "The Weird Room: An Interview with Cathy Day" in the current issue of Ninth Letter (vol. 7, no.1).

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