Erin Morgenstern puts a star-crossed lovers twist on magicians
Publishers hope "The Night Circus" will be the next "Harry Potter"
Morgenstern is met with great enthusiasm at her "signing-palooza"
Take the magic of the “Harry Potter” novels, add in a story of forbidden love like “Twilight” and you have what publishers hope is the makings of another blockbuster in “The Night Circus.”
The new novel tells the story of two young magicians, Celia and Marco, forced to compete in an elaborate duel, but who instead fall in love.
Set in the 19th century, the story plays out within the black and white striped tents of “Le Cirque des Reves” an enchanted circus of dreams, which travels the world and is open only at night. It’s made up of acrobats and animal trainers, a tattooed contortionist and amazing displays, including a garden of ice and a maze made of clouds.
Like the story, the writing is magical and mysterious, the characters cryptic and compelling. Overall it’s an enchanting page turner, a modern fairy tale readers are sure to fall in love with.
But is it the next “Harry Potter”? Publishers and booksellers are betting on it.
Doubleday won a bidding war for the book. The publisher gave author Erin Morgenstern, a first-time novelist, a high six-figure advance and ordered a first printing of 175,000 copies. Rights have sold to 30 foreign publishers. Summit Entertainment, the Hollywood company behind the hugely successful “Twilight” series, snapped up the film rights.
David Heyman, the producer of the “Harry Potter” movies, is in negotiations to lead the big screen adaptation. Booksellers are swooning. Desperately in need of a hot seller, stores across the country and around the world are planning publication day parties for the book’s release on Tuesday.
The elfin-looking Morgenstern is helping build buzz for her book, attracting huge crowds at Comic-Con in San Diego and New York’s Book Expo. She recently signed 2,200 first editions to be sent to stores across the country in what she called “Signing-palooza.” She’s heading out on a six-week, 14-city tour to promote the book.
CNN recently spoke with Morgenstern; the following is an edited transcript:
CNN: Tell me about the inspiration behind “The Night Circus.”
Morgenstern: It kind of came about by accident, I was actually working on a different book. I started doing national novel writing month about eight years ago and I started writing this Edward Gorey inspired plot. I didn’t know where I was going with it, so I decided to send all the characters to the circus. I started with these little vignettes and it didn’t have a plot for the longest time, but that’s kind of where it started. It’s been a long strange trip. The idea came together in 2006. I worked on it in fits and starts and didn’t take it real seriously at first. I wasn’t thinking at that point about trying to get published, I was writing just to write. Then in 2008 I started to think I might have something. I tried to make the story a little more book shaped, not so sprawling and nonlinear and more resembling a novel. Then I started querying agents in 2009 and got a lot of favorable responses but pretty much everyone said it had no plot. So I ended up doing a lot of revising and that’s actually the version of the book that ended up getting me signed. Then I did even more revisions. This book has been revised many, many, many times. It’s changed so much that I didn’t I feel like I was working on one book for that long because I wasn’t working on it continuously and because it changed so much.
CNN: Are you a fan of the circus?
Morgenstern: I’m not really a circus fan, not a traditional circus person. My background is in theater. I have a degree in theater from Smith College and I like immersive performance, halfway between theater and performance art. I thought a circus environment would be an interesting venue to explore, where you didn’t just have one tent with three rings and a show going on but where you could explore different things in different tents.
CNN: On your website you say, “All my works are fairy tales in one way or another.” How so?
Morgenstern: I like that “once upon a time” quality, where the telling of a tale has an elevated sense of story. There’s a whimsical quality to it. Sometimes in fairy tales more things seem possible, even though often they’re real world based. I love that very traditional fairy tale where it’s not all “happily ever after.” I like all that old school, bloody, “Brothers Grimm” sort of stuff. So you have all those shades of gray in there.
CNN: This is your first novel, it’s generating a huge buzz, and I know you were a big hit at the Book Expo and at Comic-Con.
Morgenstern: I did go to Comic-Con and it was amazing. There’s quite a contrast between the Book Expo and Comic Con. I didn’t expect the Expo to be as overwhelming as it was. I had a great time but the lines for my signing were around the entire convention center. I just never expected that sort of response. Then Comic Con was just craziness. It was a lot of people and color, and loud, it was such a sensory overload. It’s been a lot of fun, but it was good that I had just a crazy few days and then I got to have some time off and recover.
CNN: How are you enjoying the reaction to your book so far?
Morgenstern: It’s been fun, but it does seem very big, especially for my first book. There are days where it’s just a little overwhelming, but the response has been great, especially within the book industry. I’ve been getting letters from booksellers saying how much they love my story; it means so much to me. After all the bells and whistles and Comic Con, and all the big stuff, really the fact that individual people are reading it and loving the book is just the best thing. One of the nicest things I’ve heard, though, I’ve had a couple people say to me this is not a book for everyone, which I really like, because I don’t particularly think there are books for everyone. I think this is the sort of story that resonates particularly strong with certain people and maybe not as much with others. I think that’s a hallmark of a really good story that it has readers that it speaks to more than others.
CNN: There are plans under way to turn your book into a movie. How is that going?
Morgenstern: I’m a little bit involved. I’ve heard bits and pieces; they’re still in the early stages of production, trying to assemble the best team to put the film together. Everyone is so enthusiastic and really loves the book, so it seems like it’s in really good hands. So I hope they can take the book and make it stand alone as a film. I don’t want to have that much input anyway; it’s not really something I do. I’m interested but I definitely just want them to run with it.
CNN: Do you have any actors in mind for key roles?
Morgenstern: The only character I ever pictured as a particular actor, Hector was always Geoffrey Rush in my head. There’s something about his physicality and Geoffrey Rush’s mannerisms that I pictured. He’s good in everything.
CNN: What’s next?
Morgenstern: I’m going to be very busy with the book’s release but when I have time I am working on a new book. It’s very different but I’m looking forward to exploring someplace new. I need to live in the world of story for awhile before I figure out the shape of the book. It’s sort of a film noir with influences from “Alice in Wonderland,” so it has a sort of fantastic feel, like the magic of “The Night Circus” but with a little more ’30s, ‘40s, ‘50s art deco feel to the story.
CNN: Will you ever return to “The Night Circus?”
Morgenstern: I don’t think it will become a series, a direct sequel or anything like that, but there’s a lot more material floating around the edges. There are lots of little tangential stories that could become part of a prequel, or collected short stories. I think that would probably be the extent of it but it would be fun to play with. There’s a lot more material on all the side characters that didn’t make it into the finished book.
To find out more about “The Night Circus” and Erin Morgenstern’s art and writing check out her website.