What does it mean to be human? When do we cease to be ourselves? And how much of ourselves are we willing to give up to be happy?
Interesting questions – ones that author Kathryn Ann Kingsley identifies as the central themes in her macabre work, The Contortionist. At one point in the book, the evil and sensual Simon, AKA the Puppeteer, asks the troubled and physically aching Cora Glass, “What would you trade…to never have to wake up in agony ever again?” Cora’s answer: “Everything.”
“I have always loved the circus. I have always adored a carnival,” says Kingsley. “I suppose it was only a matter of time before I combined my two loves – circus and horror – into a series.”
In this recent Q&A, the author explained her obsession with the two, and a whole lot more about her intriguing work.
Q: Describe your fascination with the circus, which is so central to the The Contortionist.
Kingsley’s great-grandfather, James “Soda” Sullivan, with his Vaudeville troupe
A: My love of the circus actually comes from my family. Half of my family has been in the circus since the days of Vaudeville. Much of my family has spent their lives traveling the world and performing.
I grew up listening to stories about my cousin who was a stuntwoman and circus performer as well, and I always wished to have been a part of that life. Unfortunately, I grew up on the “wrong” side of the family for that. But I found ways to honor the family legacy in other ways. I guess you could say the circus has always been in my blood.
Q: Cora is a complex character in many ways. She is cautious yet reckless at the same time, pulled by someone sinister who claims to hold the key to her happiness. What or who was the inspiration for Cora?
A: Cora was a great character to write. She isn’t modeled after anyone I know in specific, but her struggles with chronic illness and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome does hit close to home. I have chronic pain and fatigue, and my best friend in the world has EDS. I didn’t have to go far to make sure my descriptions of the illness were accurate.
I have had dozens of readers reach out to me to tell me how meaningful it was to see someone differently abled represented in a novel. It’s been an honor and incredibly touching to have a chance to show a little bit of what many people go through silently in their lives.
Q: Where did you come up with the idea for The Puppeteer and the other so-called “family members”?
A: Oh, Simon the Puppeteer. He was an evolving character that started as a doodle in my sketchbook, actually. I draw (or try to, at any rate,) and a lot of my concepts for books start off as imagery and bloom into characters after that.
As for the other characters, each of them is actually based on a particular tarot card. Once I had their archetype, it was easy to build a character on top of that. There are a lot of fascinating stories in Harrow Faire, and I didn’t get to spend as much time with all the characters as I could have. Who knows, maybe there will be a sequel series.
Q: What has drawn you to writing horror stories?
A: I grew up watching horror movies ever since I was little! From the age of about twelve on, I worked my way through the video rental store aisle from A to Z. I think I saw Hellraiser when I was nine or so.
It not only inspired my love of horror, but it also sparked my love of special effects. I was never afraid of the things I saw on the screen—I only wanted to know how the effects were done. I have always had an affinity for “spooky” things, even when I was very little. Let’s just say…it wasn’t a phase.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Contortionist?
A: There are a lot of messages to be found in Harrow Faire. The main question it asks is “what does it mean to be human?” When do we cease to be ourselves? And how much of ourselves are we willing to give up to be happy?
The story might also ask you to examine who is the hero and who is the villain. Who is right and who is wrong? What are you willing to do to save the ones you love, and at what cost?
Q: Tell us about the Harrow Faire series. How many books currently exist, and what is still on the way?
A: Currently, Harrow Faire is a five-book arc that follows Cora and Simon the Puppeteer through their main story. But a sequel series is already in the works for next year!
The Contortionist by Kathryn Ann Kingsley is available for purchase here.
Kathryn Ann Kingsley has always been a storyteller. With ten years in script-writing for performances on both the stage and for tourism, she has always been writing in one form or another. When she isn’t penning down fiction, she works as Creative Director for a company that designs and builds large-scale interactive adventure games. There, she is the lead concept designer, handling everything from game and set design, to audio and lighting, to illustration and script writing. Also on her list of skills are artistic direction, scenic painting and props, special effects, and electronics. A graduate of Boston University with a BFA in Theatre Design, she has a passion for unique, creative, and unconventional experiences. In her spare time, she builds animatronics and takes trapeze classes.
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