OMS welcomes author Amy Stilgenbauer to the blog to answer a few questions for us and to celebrate her latest release, Sideshow – Available from Interlude Press, August 25, 2016 – to share an excerpt and offer a giveaway.
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OMS: Hi Amy, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.
AS: Thanks for having me! I’m a writer and giant history geek from Michigan who grew up in a small festival-obsessed town. That might be why I’m so fascinated by them. Sideshow is my second novel. It tells the story of Abby Amaro, a first generation Sicilian-American young woman in the late 1950s who is struggling with her place in this world, and ends up finding it, and love at a traveling carnival.
OMS: Tell us something about your character’s friends.
AS: The great, and also awful, thing about traveling around the country with your coworkers is that you become a family, the kind that has your back and at the same time can get incredibly annoying. The people Abby travels with in the carnival are exactly that. Ruth takes her under her wing and helps her navigate being the new girl. Vinnie does his best to bring her out of her shell. Even Della, antagonistic and bitter as she is, has Abby’s back when it counts.
AS: Food actually plays a far more prominent role in Sideshow than I had initially realized. It’s probably because so much of my own memories have specific meals at the center of them. Abby, as we learn, has a fondness for foods that might be a little off palate for most, such as chicken livers and anchovy pizza for dinner and marzipan for dessert. My personal favorite food fact about her is that though she never explicitly said so, her favorite snack food is kettle corn for a very sappy reason.
OMS: What activity does your character absolutely hate?
AS: While it may seem strange for an aspiring opera singer and carnival talker to say, Abby has an almost debilitating case of stage fright. When she gets in front of people, though she wants to push through and be a good performer, it’s not always that simple. She works on this struggle throughout the novel. She and Suprema are very much alike in this way. Suprema is fine on stage; it’s opening up in real life that she struggles with.
OMS: What other author’s book do you think your character would be good in?
AS: I could see Abby slipping rather seamlessly into the world of Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event. Not just because it is set in the 1950s and Abby would have heard about the events that take place, but also because the general theme of community struggles and the first blush of independence are things that Abby also deals with. Also, I would really like to see Boleslaw, one of the carnival’s lot managers, in charge of things in Like Water for Elephants. He’s got the sort of calm demeanor that circus sorely needed.
OMS: What’s your favorite decade and why?
AS: That’s a tough one, being the archivist and life long history nerd that I am. I find that every decade has some really high points, but then there are also so many things to not love, including the one we’re currently living, so it’s really hard to pick. I choose to set Sideshow in the 1950s, because I find that particular decade fascinating to study. The aesthetic is iconic, and I am enthralled by the anxieties, struggles, and changes that were bubbling under the surface of society. Those are exactly the kind of themes that I love to explore.
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Abby couldn’t remember falling asleep. She only remembered the dark night and how, outside the window of Della’s trailer, the rolling slopes of Eastern Ohio slowly flattened into the farmland of the western side of the state and faded into darkness. She didn’t say much during the trip, but her mind was spinning, unable to process what she had done.
Once, when she had been a little girl, barely older than Annette was now, her mother had taken her and Natale to visit their aunt in Chicago for a week. It had been a nice visit. They had embarked on the train with a great deal of ceremony, and Za Teresa had spoiled the pair rotten, loading them up with peach-shaped marzipan and pizzelle until they were both sick. She hadn’t left Cleveland for any extended period of time since. Oh, sure, she’d talked and dreamt about it. Nonna often wistfully mentioned taking a trip back to her girlhood home one more time now that the war was over and taking Abby along to look after her, and then, if her opera career took off as she had once hoped, she would be visiting all the great cities. In her scrapbook, clippings of Palais Garnier, La Scala, and The Met were decorated with carefully drawn hearts and hopeful stars and the scrawled word: someday. Still, she had never imagined
Sideshow by Amy Stilgenbauer
Release Date: August 25, 2016
Pages: 224 • Cover Artist: C.B. Messer
Published By: Interlude Press
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Abby Amaro wants to sing at La Scala Opera House, but she’s a good girl, and in 1957 good girls get married. Still, when she receives her first marriage proposal, she freezes, knowing the way her suitor makes her feel bodes trouble. When he won’t take no for an answer, she flees, joining up with a traveling carnival.
Thanks to a burlesque trapeze artist and the world’s saddest clown, Abby bides her time and fits in until she can rejoin the world she knows. She doesn’t expect a sideshow strongwoman named Suprema, who captures her imagination. As the carnival makes its way across the Midwest, Abby learns much more than she had ever imagined—about herself, about her identity, and, most importantly, about love.
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