Properly Respresenting What We Write

When I wrote Twenty-Five at the Lip I had no trouble describing the elements that went into the EMS setting and establishing what we might call “realism”. Most of my readers have commented that the story was very true to life and even a great read for people who don’t work in EMS. A follower of mine on Tumblr recently commented about it:

I read this book and LOVED it!! I definitely recommend it to anyone, including non-EMS people.

That comment totally made my day, and probably my week. My first bit of fan mail came from a girl whose father is a retired firefighter/paramedic. She recently left a review on Amazon for my book saying:

This was probably one of my favorite books that I have ordered from Amazon. The characters and situations were realistic, the writing well done, and the medical facts accurate. I can’t wait to read more of Mr. Windale’s work.

As it so happens, I recently published my second book, Tuesday’s Gone. Tuesday’s gone is the story of an orphaned sideshow performer who runs away from the circus she works for to find a life of her own choosing. The saying in writing is that you should write what you know, but I didn’t know much about the circus. What I did have some idea about was how things worked behind the scenes in a theatrical setting as well as some passing knowledge about the circumstances that circus performers and animals have lived under in the past and the present.

To make sure that what I was writing was not only accurate, but fair, I reached out to a circus group called Mad House Circus out of Melbourne, Australia. If you don’t reside in Australia you can catch some of their amazing work on their Youtube Channel here. They are also on Instagram and on Facebook. One of their performers, Flick, was good enough to read over the circus elements, particularly the parts concerning the tumbling and aerialist sections. I was so grateful for this that I gave her and Mad House Circus a credit in the acknowledgements along with A Star for Baby Peggy, and The 2nd Florida Volunteer Infantry re-enactors.

In my back and forth conversation with Flick one of the things she mentioned was the unfortunate stigma that a lot of circus’ have gotten in regards to the very thing that Tuesday’s Gone deals with: abuse of performers and animals. Much like any other profession like EMS, Fire, Police, or anything that deals with the public the negative actions of a few often get put on the other who do the right thing. This is why is is extremely important that when we write something, or are involved with it, that we do our best to represent that thing in the best way possible so that we don’t do harm to the thing that we love.

Like Flick commented, “There’s no point in glossing a truth.” Animals and performers, particularly side show acts were and have been neglected and abused by organizations that can’t see beyond the next dollar. They view the lives of their performers as property because they are paid or given room and board. The fact is that even I exploited this issue in order to tell a compelling story. I say exploit because mostly these are incidents that have never happened to me.

In the writing of Tuesday’s Gone I’ve tried to tell a story that maintains the dignity of circus performers, a group of people who have a proud history that often goes back generations. Men like my characters Francis Eugene Delmar and Mr. Handfield are not emblematic or representative of the culture that circus’ should be thought of under. Mr. Tyler, the circus’s sword swallower is something of the hero of the circus, and enjoys of the admiration of Tuesday and the rest of the performers.

When Tyler had first joined the Francis Eugene Delmar Traveling Circus there had been an exchange between Tyler and Mr. Handfield regarding the treatment of the animals in the circus. Whips and bull-hooks were cruel instruments of torture and Tyler had grabbed Mr. Handfield’s wrist as he was about to bring the whip down on Judah, the lion cowering the corner of his cage. The men wrestled for the whip until Tyler pried it from the old man’s fingers. There was a cold exchange between the men, Tuesday and the surrounding performers gathering at the sight of the newcomer challenging the boss’ right hand man.

“People like you give the rest of us a bad name,” Tyler warned him.

“What would you know about it?”

“I know plenty about it,” Tyler said dropping the whip on the ground at his feet.

“Pick that up,” Mr. Handfield growled. Tyler’s jaw set he leaned in and whispered,

“I know plenty about the sort of man you are too, and I’ll be watching you.”

This challenge to Mr. Handfield’s authority did not go unnoticed by the other performers, or the management. When Tyler moved about the rail yards and camps managers and handlers walked a bit softer and the performers a little lighter knowing that he was there. The animals responded to his calm demeanor and energy and the children, particularly Tuesday, had grown to love him for the respect and security he offered.

Even after leaving the circus Tuesday continues to tumble and flip, it suits her character to do so. It’s mentionable in this context because this is the point we see that Tuesday actually loves what she does, but she wants to do it on her own terms. That is the difference between organizations like Mad House Circus and those who exploit their performers: choice. What she didn’t have a choice in are the tattoos that covers her body.

Much like music and acting, you can actually major in Circus Arts in college. Have you ever heard of clown college? It’s a real thing, and a big deal. If you want to have something interesting on your Instagram, hashtag CircusInspiration and see what you get. The feats that circus performers are capable of are a tribute to the human form.

When you write something and have to delve into the ugliness of what humans are capable of, make sure you aren’t working against something you have a great appreciation for. I began writing Tuesday’s Gone knowing full well that I was treading on sacred ground for many people. I did my best to make sure that the dignity of the institution was preserved while acknowledging some wrongs that have been committed along the way.

Follow Mad House Circus on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

Official Tuesday's Gone Kindle CoverAbandoned as an infant and adopted into a circus troop, Tuesday longs for a normal life outside the clutches of her cruel and degrading employer. While trained as a tumbler and aerialist, Tuesday’s eight year old body is covered in tattoos that are her trademark act in the sideshow. After a near-death experience, Tuesday sets out with a loyal companion in search of a normal life.

Set in the Prohibition-era American South, Tuesday’s Gone is a reflection of a bygone era, often misunderstood and misrepresented in popular culture. The underlying themes represent the culture of the day, as well as capturing the essence of the American spirit in a post-reconstruction setting.

Click here to get Tuesday’s Gone on Amazon

IMG_2067Twenty-Five at the Lip is a year-long trip through the personal lives of three twenty-something paramedics struggling to navigate their relationships, sanity, and integrity. These young heroes come to find themselves struggling to maintain their sense of self and purpose in a quarter-life story written through the lens of EMS.

Click here to get Twenty-Five at the Lip on Amazon


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