Review and Author Interview With J.J. Howard on THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS

Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose. A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake - and facing a terrible tragedy - Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. 

Rumor has it that Lexi's mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn't there . . . but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus's fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi's ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it's Lexi's own future that's thrown into question.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.

A few weeks ago I was at the bookstore, and I bought THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS because, admittedly, I was so captivated by the cover. I brought it home and put it on the to-read pile. It was one of the first books I decided to dive into. And I'm so glad I did, guys. This book is so well-written. Lexi is a main character you can relate to, cheer for, mourn and celebrate with. The circus setting is enchanting and captivating. And everything that happens within the story resonated with me. By the time I turned the last page, I may have cried once or twice.

So of course I had to have the author of this fabulous book stop by the blog. Without further ado, J.J. Howard. Thank you so much for your time and awesomeness, J.J.!

Tell us a little about your writing process!

Headphones and the project playlist help me tune out the world, although lately I’ve been experimenting with Pandora, because I need some new music! I go for a walk when I’m stuck and need a plot idea—it usually works.

What was the hardest part of writing THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS?

The circus setting itself was the biggest challenge, because I’ve never actually joined the circus myself! The book also goes back and forth in time from the present to the recent past. I didn’t have any trouble the first time or so through, but once you get in to really revising, it becomes harder to make sure everything fits together.

And (of course) how did you come up with the idea for this story?

I think I may have a pretty contemporary voice—but I am also very attracted to magic and fantasy elements in stories. The circus seemed like one of the most magical places you can go and still be in the real world.

How many stories did you write before you finished this one?

I finished a non-YA book—it’s very long and took about four years to write. It was amazing practice, but I also still plan to revisit it at some point! It’s a historical mystery—so that one called for a lot of research.

What was your journey to publication like?

Long! In all seriousness, it was pretty long. I started writing my first book in 1996. I put writing and querying aside for a number of years at one point, but when you turn and look backwards it still seems like a pretty long road. I didn’t take the traditional road, either (which is pretty typical of me!) I sold CIRCUS and then got an agent. I like to say I have this habit of doing things backwards.

What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process?

Just the pure writing the story—the first time through. It’s so much fun to see where the characters take you. My favorite part of that is “mushroom” characters—it’s an analogy Diana Gabaldon (one of my favorite writers) uses. They are the characters who pop up out of nowhere and take over the plot! 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I don’t know if I’m at the advice for other writers stage of the game ;) –but if there are any young writers out there wondering if they can do it, I say—if you have the urge, you probably can! People who love stories are going to read stories. Read a lot of excellent books by other people and then write. A lot. Write whatever you want without worrying about who will read it. Just like playing a musical instrument, you learn by practicing.  

What is your favorite quote, and why is it your favorite?

Oh, wow—I’m a quote maniac! That’s really hard. One of my all-time favorites is Hamlet’s line “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” It’s just so incredibly true that it’s almost upsetting!

Do you have any new writing projects in the works? Can you tell us about them?

I don’t have anything official—but I have written two more books, and they’re both contemporary YA. So fingers—and toes—are firmly crossed!

J.J. Howard is wearing headphones right now, most likely. She grew up in York, Pennsylvania, obsessed with music, movies, television, and pop culture. You can call her if you ever need to phone a friend for trivia on any of the above topics, but don't ask about sports, because she is hopeless at those (along with math). J.J. graduated from Dickinson College with a BA in English and Tiffin University with an MH in Humanities. She has been some of her students' favorite English teacher for a quite a few years (she even has a mug somewhere to prove it). That Time I Joined the Circus is her first young adult novel. J.J. would love to hear from her readers and is always ready to trade playlists:


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