Last month, we gave you the chance to ask Erin Morgenstern questions about her magical novel, The Night Circus. Your response was incredible—we received hundreds of wonderful queries from rêveurs all over the country! It wasn’t easy, but we managed to select ten favorites. Today, Erin answers questions about her inspiration for the book, her writing process, the book’s unusual structure, and more.
Enjoy—and check back soon for more of Erin’s responses to your questions!
Q: Where did you find the inspiration for The Night Circus’ fantastic setting? How did you keep that inspiration alive as you wrote the novel?
A: The setting rather appropriately just appeared in my head. I was working on a different story and got bored with it and sent my characters to the circus in order to make something, anything interesting happen. I knew as soon as I thought of it that it was a circus with a lot of separate tents and a bonfire in a center courtyard and it was immediately so interesting that I abandoned that other story and focused on the circus instead. I knew what it felt like so it was easy to keep that tone and feeling alive, though it took quite a while to find the story within the space.
Q: Many classics have memorable opening lines that make the quote, novel, and author all instantaneously recognizable. How did you come up with such a memorable first line for The Night Circus?
A: I actually had a long, rambling paragraph at first and then when I first started self-editing I realized that it could be cut down to that one simple sentiment. It was one of those moments when I figured out that less was more, though of course I had to get through the more first.
Q: What inspired the unusual structure of The Night Circus, and how did you keep the parts straight?
A: I wanted to tell the story in short vignettes because I wanted the book to feel like the circus itself, lots of individual tents that combine to form a whole. Originally it was even more non-linear but that wasn’t working so I decided to keep the short vignette style but streamline it into two overlapping timelines divided into five parts.
I kept everything straight partially thanks to a fantastic computer program called Scrivener. It’s essentially a highly organized word processing program and with it I was able to break the whole thing into manageable bits.
Q: Which is harder to write: The beginning of a story or the ending?
A: I think they’re about equal, though I also don’t always write in order. With The Night Circus the prologue stayed the same but where the story picked up from there changed several times. Ending-wise it was a little easier, though that also went through a lot of changes. In general I’m a bit more self-critical about endings, which makes them more difficult by default. It’s probably something like being obsessed with the dessert course at a dinner party, giving the proper last impression.
Q: Some authors write in bookshops, while some have a designated place. What surrounds you when you write?
A: Kittens. I write at home, I’m not a coffee shop writer (I feel obliged to buy too much coffee and end up over-caffeinated) and my area of Boston is sadly lacking in bookstores (moving soon, hopefully to a more book-filled neighborhood) so I end up either in my office or on my couch with my laptop. Kittens aren’t allowed in the office because Tessa likes to chew electrical cords, so they sit outside the glass door and look forlorn, but when I write on the couch she’s usually snuggled nearby. As I type this, she is flopped under my arm, though she is also fond of sitting on my feet.
For more from Erin, visit her official website.