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#CircusTarot and #AmericanHorrorStoryFreakShow

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I don’t remember being this excited for a TV Show to start, except for HBO’s short-lived series Carnivàle, than I am with FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show. In the trailers I see delightful pictures of the freaks, which are similar to the characters I created in the Circus Tarot trilogy. I’m not saying that FX stole anything (yet), but it does seem that a similar voice has the same twisted look on things as I do, right down to the creepy Clowns.

I’ve been intrigued by the world of freak shows and circuses since I was a kid and probably one of the reasons that Circus Tarot came into being. After seeing the 1952 movie The Greatest Show on Earth (with James Stewart as Buttons the Clown, who never cleaned his Clown makeup off because he was hiding his true identity for something horrible he’d done), my brother and I made a tent out of a blanket tucked under the mattress of the top bunk bed and tied to a chair. Our toys were the performers and/or audience.

I was five or six when a traveling Circus stopped in our dusty little town, Shoshoni, WY, further fueling my excitement and fear of these peculiar shows. They gave all the kids a minicandy bar with a raffle ticket inside and I was a lucky winner. My heart thumped in my chest when a Clown with rancid breath approached me in the stands, offering its hand to escort me to Center Ring (the only ring) where an overflowing treasure chest filled with small toys and charms waited. Digging playfully through the toys, peeking mischievously at me from time to time, the Clown found the perfect prize for me—a cheap pink plastic whistle. I was not impressed with what it gave me after seeing all the fantastic prizes I could have had. My brother agreed that I was gypped. This spectacle was followed by the parade of normal circus acts, only on a very small scale. We also attended a few Shriner’s Circuses during the summers, which were very similar to this rinky-dink show. The last Circus I attended was a Shriner Circus. As we were leaving, mom said the animals were treated cruelly and we never returned.

Then there were the Carnivals that set up at the Fremont County Fairgrounds in Riverton, WY after the County Fair ended. In my mind and honestly I don’t know where the idea came from, I anticipated seeing Bearded Lady, Tall Man and Fat Woman, midgets, Fortune Teller, jugglers, Fire Breather, Clowns (however much they freaked me out), Strong Man and other sublime sights of the freak show. Disappointment found me each year as there weren’t any of these spectacles—already being plagued with nightmares, it was probably a good thing. The carnies, who mom kept a watchful eye on since they could not be trusted, were enticing, nonetheless, with their musky scents mixed with patchouli, tattoos, and almost tattered clothing, as they called out for us to play their fairway games or gave us mystical looks as we got on rides. They had a magic about them that would not let me take my eyes from them as we passed them to find the rides, wondering if what mom said about them was true. And in hind sight, no matter what mom said, we were probably safer with the carnies than on the rides.

Now comes adult life and the closet I’ve been to a Circus or Carnival are amusement parks, drag shows (both as a performer and observer), and the underground Goth scene (just another form of drag). However, the thought of them still makes my heart pound and my palms sweat, thinking about the magic they possess. Circus Tarot is the embodiment of how Circuses and Carnivals feel to me. Each character touches senses and emotions, finding beauty in all creatures however ugly or deranged. Some characters are sensual or overtly sexual, while others are reflective and calm contrasted with aggressive angry characters. Each suit or House, as I call them, are Races—Clowns, Midgets, Poles, the Ladies and Gentlemen, and the main attractions of the Circus and Freak Show.

You can find Circus Tarot and Page of Buckets (the third is in the works) at your favorite bookstore in ebook and paperback formats. See the Books page for each.
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