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postheadericon The Story Behind the Book: ‘Short Circus’ by Stephen V. Masse

Story Behind Book
The Story Behind the Book is Literarily Speaking’s newest feature.  Here we find out either the inspiration behind authors’ books or how they got published.  Today’s guest is Stephen V. Masse, author of the young adult fiction book, Short Circus (Good Harbor Press).

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Short CircusI’d like to think that the inspirations behind Short Circus percolate constantly from its pages, sort of self-explanatory from the narration. But an author always has something extra up his sleeve, a back story that might shed some light on the thousands of hours cultivating, gardening and harvesting the subject of his book. For me, it was the Big Brother experience.

The fatherless boy doesn’t get a lot of literary attention, though in real life he gets a disproportionate amount of social and legal attention, much of it negative. In my days as a camp counselor and Big Brother, I got to know many fatherless boys. Their need for a father figure was never hidden, something I think adds a scary element to our society of broken families: that need for a father figure may or may not be fulfilled by persons of good character or integrity, and that need, when unfulfilled, may continue throughout a child’s adult life.

Jem Lockwood is the main character, drawn from a real boy whose divorced father was mostly out of the picture through his childhood. When I first met this boy, he was with a small pack of boys who were standing in a circle on the street, striking matches from matchbooks at each other. Many of those boys are also in Short Circus. There are scenes in the book that are more biography than fiction, but on the whole Jesse Standish kept coming up as somebody taller, stronger and more daring than myself, so I gave him a full head of hair and let him play the role, and I think if I met him on the street I might recognize him.

A fortuitous but not originally intended dimension was added to the story once Jesse Standish began to take on his own character. What began to develop was a parallel story of growing and maturing that Jesse shares with Jem Lockwood, such that the two main characters each provide the other with the love, strength and care that makes life enjoyable and fulfilling.

So what made me want to spend all those days, months and years writing this book? Probably the same compulsions that inspired Mark Twain to write Tom Sawyer – a strong nostalgia for the adventures of childhood coupled with the gift of vivid memories. That, and turning memories into something meaningful, useful and entertaining.

Being published is quite another story.

Through years of writing and attempting to be published, I amassed reams of rejection letters, postcards and notices from perhaps every publishing company in the United States and many in Canada, England and Australia. My first book, Shadow Stealer, was published by Dillon Press in 1988, and after about a year the book was out of print, and Dillon Press was bought by MacMillan.

I had been trying to publish another book, A Jolly Good Fellow, forever. It had also gone the rounds to every publisher in the United States, and perhaps half the agents (some twice over many years and many rewrites). Ten more years of rejections, and with the growth of the Internet and independent publishing, I decided to go a different route: Publish Thyself! So I sent the manuscript for three editorial reviews, and published with my own startup publishing company, Good Harbor Press, just in time for the 2007 Christmas season. Within months, A Jolly Good Fellow was awarded the Silver Medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, as well as honorable mention in the 2008 New England Book Festival for best books of the holiday season.

With some good marketing and good luck, Short Circus will continue to find eager readers, and my venture at independent publishing will prove worthwhile.

Stephen V. MasseStephen V. Masse was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He wrote his first novelat age 13, handwritten into a school composition book. Educated at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he studied creative writing, and was author of a weekly newspaper column, “Out of Control.” His first novel for children, Shadow Stealer, was published by Dillon Press in 1988. Short Circus is his second novel for children.

In addition to children’s books, Masse has written A Jolly Good Fellow, winner of the Silver Medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, as well as honorable mention in the 2008 New England Book Festival for best books of the holiday season.


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