Guest Post: Kristin Cashore on the Flying Trapeze

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Kristin Cashore is one of the bright new stars of YA fantasy. I met her at a Books of Wonder event last year and we had a lovely time gossiping talking of serious matters and have been pen pals1 ever since.

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Kristin Cashore is the author of the fantasy novels Graceling and Fire and is working on her third book, Bitterblue. She’s lived in an awful lot of places but has recently moved back to Massachusetts, where she writes in a green armchair with an enormous cup of tea at her elbow.
Kristin says:

(A friendly warning to any readers who are afraid of heights: this post and its pictures might be uncomfortable!)

A few trapeze lessons ago, I was up on the platform, getting ready to swing. Now, for a beginning flyer like me, what this means is that I was leaning perilously over the edge of the platform, reaching for the trapeze bar, while an instructor behind me held onto my belt to keep me from falling down into the net. The instructor, Kaz, was giving me my instructions — stomach out, shoulders back, lean forward — and I wanted to do what he said — I even thought I was doing what he said — but actually I wasn’t, not really, not entirely, because, well, as it happens, on occasion, my body has an adverse reaction to the concept of leaning out over a void.

Then Kaz, holding my belt, said a single word: “Trust.” Words are powerful, aren’t they? That word made me understand everything all at once: what I was doing, what I wasn’t doing, what I was afraid of. I understood that Kaz wasn’t going to let go of my belt and drop me; that Steve, holding my lines on the floor below, wasn’t going to drop me either; and that Jon, swinging in the catch trap on the other side of the void, was going to do everything in his power to catch me when the time came. I trusted these guys. So I leaned myself out the way I was supposed to, and when I heard my call . . . I jumped, swung, and FLEW.

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust. Nothing in the world works without it, but even when it’s working, it doesn’t always make sense, does it? Trust is one of those words that means what it means, but also means the opposite of what it means, if you get what I mean. 🙂 In other words, trust is about choosing to believe in something, even while knowing it might not exist. It’s about throwing yourself into something wholeheartedly, deciding to be certain about something, despite your uncertainty. Have you heard the saying, “Leap, and the net will appear?”

(They really shouldn’t let writers on the flying trapeze. There are too many impossible-to-resist metaphors.)

In my current work in progress, my protagonist, Bitterblue, a very young queen, doesn’t know whom to trust. She’s so turned around that she doesn’t even trust her own instincts about trust. Trust is stupid, she thinks at one point. What’s the true reason I’ve decided to trust [this person]? Certainly his work recommends him, his choice of friends; but isn’t it just as much his voice? I like to hear him say words. I trust the deep way he says, “Yes, Lady Queen.”

Why do I trust the instructors at my trapeze school? There’s something about their focus, their no-nonsense instructions, their calm demeanors, and the way they are completely accepting of people who are frightened or people who struggle. I keep expecting the instructors at trapeze school to tell me I don’t belong there. To make fun of me when I wipe out. To tell me I’m not learning fast enough. Instead, they explain that it doesn’t matter how slowly I learn. They tell me that my lessons will always be tailored to me, to my own personal abilities and limits. They are all superior athletes; they could flip circles around me on the trapeze. I have never considered myself an athlete, not once in my entire life, and I have a lot of strength and flexibility work to do if I truly want to advance on the trapeze. But they’re okay with that. They get that I, and most of my classmates, are baby trapezers. They treat us with respect despite how little we can do. And lo and behold, I reciprocate — by trusting them, quite literally, with my life.

Why do you trust the people you trust?

Writing is also about trust, of course. For example, I trust my early readers with my manuscripts; I choose them as early readers because I trust them to be honest, but respectful. I trust my editor because we’ve been through enough rounds of manuscripts and editorial letters and revisions and re-revisions for me to understand that she trusts me. And I also trust her because I trust myself; I trust myself to figure out when I agree with her and when I disagree, and I trust myself not to cave under pressure if I feel strongly about something. And I trust her opinions, even when I disagree, to be well-worth pondering and playing around with. I trust her to have good reasons for her criticisms.

Are you a writer? Do you feel discouraged sometimes, and wonder if you have any right to be writing? Are you depressed by the pile of crap you wrote yesterday? Well, for the record, I’m depressed by the pile of crap I wrote yesterday, too :), and just so you know, I get it. I know just how hard it is to keep faith in yourself when you’re writing. Will you trust me when I tell you that I believe in you? That the pile of crap is fixable, and writing is learnable, and being the creator of something is a risk — a leap — worth taking?

I don’t have anything profound to say about trust here… just that I think about it a lot, in my own life, in my characters’ lives, in my writing, in my relationships, in the car when I’m surrounded by crazy drivers — and on the trapeze. And I’m curious to hear any thoughts y’all have about it!

I’ll close with an illustration of the trapeze triangle of trust.

As you gaze upon the picture above, no doubt you’re admiring my socks and the chalk all over my ass, but what I’d really like you to notice is the disembodied arm in the right background. That arm belongs to the instructor on the platform, who, during this particular swing, was Jon. Jon helped me during my takeoff, reminding me of my form, giving me tips for the trick I was about to do, and holding my belt, pre-takeoff, so I didn’t fall off.

Perhaps, like me, you’re impressed with the photographer who took the photo above. Notice my hands? Somehow, the photographer managed to capture the exact moment in this trick where I let go of the trapeze in preparation for straightening myself out to be caught by the catcher. However, what I really want you notice is the carabiner attached to the belt around my waist. That carabiner, and another on the other side hidden behind my whooshing pony-tail, is connected to my rope lines, which pass through loops in the ceiling and back down to the floor, straight into the strong and capable hands of the instructor standing there, who happened to be Theresa when this picture was taken. If I miss my catch, or do anything wrong at any moment, Theresa will pull on the lines to break my fall into the net so that I land safely.

Finally, while you are no doubt fascinated by the view up my nose in the photo above, what I’d really like you to focus on are the hands reaching from the left, snatching me out of thin air. Those hands belong to Mike, who is swinging back and forth from his knees, upside down, in the catch trapeze. If I hadn’t trusted Mike to be there? I wouldn’t have flung myself off the trapeze with enough aggression. But I did trust him, and there he was.

BTW, I know these tricks can be pretty hard to parse from still photographs. If you care to see what this trick, called the “set straddle whip,” looks like in action, go to this page, scroll down, and watch the short video. That’s not me, and that’s not my trapeze school, but it’s pretty much what I was doing.

One last BTW — For anyone interested in flying, there are schools all over the world — you might be surprised to find one near you! I can vouch that TSNY has schools in New York, Boston, Washington DC, and Los Angeles.

  1. I love the phrase “pen pal.” It’s so corny. Espcially as I have not used a pen to write a letter since I was a kid. “Pal” also has a deliciously archaic sound to me. Seriously who calls their friends their “pals”? []


  1. Brynne on #

    This is not exactly related to trapezes, but I’m curious: is the title Bitterblue a reference to the Cat Stevens song of the same name, by any chance? I ask only because I’m a Cat Stevens dork. 😛

  2. Rebecca on #

    I go to TSNY in New York whenever I can afford it, which is sadly not often, but OMFG YOU ARE MY NEW HERO BECAUSE YOU ARE A WRITER WHO ALSO TRAPEZES. I am working on a straddle whip right now. And a split. I suck at splits. I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW HAPPY IT MAKES ME THAT YOU ARE A TRAPEZER. YAYYYYYY!!!! *dance of glee* Best blog post in the history of ever.

  3. Kasey on #

    Excellent job. 3 things i loved about this.
    1) It was written by one of my new favorite authors ever.
    2) It talked about writing and said that the pile of crap I wrote yesterday (or for me, a few hours ago) is fixable. Good to know because I was beginning to doubt that.
    3)TRAPEZE!!! Earlier this year I had my first experience at a circus (I won 2 tickets to Cirque du Soleil). Having always loved the circus beyond reasonable belief, I was delighted when I won these tickets. After going to see the show I realized that the trapeze was my calling. I must take lessons someday. If only Worcester county was slightly closer to Boston (at least the part I live in). I do think I’ll buy a unicycle this summer…and learn to juggle. I need to start somewhere.

  4. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    Kristin Cashore, here on Justine’s blog! I am dazzled: I have not been able to stop yapping about Fire since I read it.

    … Not dazzled enough to try the trapeze, though. I stick firm by my policy of craven cowardice at all times.

  5. kristin cashore on #

    Hi everyone! Brynne: no, total coincidence. I’ve got a few Cat Stevens albums, but somehow managed NOT to know that he’d written a song called “Bitterblue” until it was much too late. Bitterblue was a character in Graceling, so there’s no changing it now!

    Rebecca, guaranteed, you’re better at splits than I am. Good luck with your straddle whip. Don’t forget to look for the catcher! 😀

    Kasey, the pile of crap: definitely fixable. You have to keep believing it!

    Sarah, I blush! Also, it might be less that you’re cowardly and more that I’m insane.

  6. Alexa on #

    I loved this post and it was great to read, especially this morning. You almost have me wanting to ring up TSNY, but I think I’ll take a risk with the writing first.


  7. A. Grey on #

    Kristin, you are the cat’s potatoes, just so you know. 🙂 That is a post I really needed to read because at the moment I’ve got a growing stack of rejections and a dwindling reserve of hope and belief. My reserve is just a bit bigger now, thanks to you.

    I am determined to take trapeze lessons! It’s a very good metaphor for writing. No matter how great a writer you are, you can only land so many of your tricks without someone there to catch you because, well, you HAVE to have more than just yourself to complete some of the tricks. Just like writing. 🙂

  8. Autumn on #

    Thank you so much, Kristin. I’ve been blocked for over six months, which is a horrible state for a writer who gets paid for it to be in. I’ve shifted to full-time editing, my other main gig, but I miss writing fiercely and every day I can’t do something is another day of depression that compounds the problem. Your post made me cry (in a good way!) and made me think that maybe I’ve got something left inside me somewhere.

  9. Fiona on #

    Thanks for for reassuring my faith in my own writing, and saying it’s okay to take a risk. Sometimes I get worried that scenes are too risky, or that writing will be too hard . . . Now I might just have the courage to keep writing and editing my first novel. You and Justine are both my pals 🙂 THANK YOU.

    PS. Trapezing sounds awesome! I wish I could try it, even though I did abseilling and was epically frightened, but I took a risk – ! – and managed to get down safely.

  10. kristin cashore on #

    I cannot overstate how important it is not to let those discouraging voices stop you from writing, if writing is what you really want to do. One thing that helps me is to remember that the voices are normal. I’ll have weeks during which every day, I’m fighting with the voices that tell me I’m wasting my time. But that’s normal; it’s just part of writing. And learning to KEEP WRITING, even when you feel like it’s a waste of time, is part of writing. It’s the biggest (and ultimately the most satisfying) victory: keeping going even though everyone (in your own head ^_^) is telling you you’re not good enough!

    If it’s any comfort to anyone to hear that all of my books were/are written with me, at times, hanging onto only the tiniest little seed of faith — well, they were.

    Artemis! *waves wildly* I’ve missed your comments since I turned off comments! DON’T GIVE UP!!!

  11. Thea on #

    Wow. You know what, Kristin? I’ve been having trouble with trust and being brave with my writing this whole week. Like you said, I’ve been depressed about the pile of crap I’ve written and don’t quite know what to do with. It’s quite amazing and ironic that this post came out exactly half way through my first truly awful week of writing. That’s so much.

    Oh, and don’t give up on Bitterblue. I check your blog all the time just waiting to see if the next post will have those magical words “I finished writing Bitterblue!” And I’m sure that day will come soon. Although I’m wondering how soon? Answer please? Hehe. And also, don’t give up on the trapeze. Looks like your doing great. 🙂

    Your faithful reader (and soon to be [hopefully] fellow author), Thea <3

    Psalm 143:8

  12. dirtywhitecandy on #

    I love your trapeze stories!I had a go on one once in a one-day circus skills course. I couldn’t do anything beyond hang there like wet washing, and even that hurt! I decided I’d stick to riding horses – and here your point about trust rings a bell. You have to be bold in your heart or the horse will not go with you because it won’t trust you. I often find the mind-games I have to play on myself to ride my horse well are curiously useful in writing.
    Keep flying!

  13. Lyn on #

    I love this post! I’ve tweeted it because the trust metaphor is so vivid. You’ve also made me curious about flying on a trapeze. Looks incredibly cool.

  14. Rebecca on #

    Kristin: My problem is actually that I am TOO eager looking for the catcher. Or maybe too eager about letting go. Because I may have, um, let go too early once and smashed into him. Yeah. That was embarrassing. LOLZ. Also, I don’t BELIEVE YOU when you say I am better at the split than you are. I don’t think it’s possible to be as bad at the split as I am. 😀 Oddly enough, I seem to do better with blind catches.

  15. Leanne on #

    Kristin Cashore, I justed wanted to let you know that I follow your blog and think it is hilarious and interesting. I was fascinated by the trapeze photos. I had no idea people could just take lessons like that. So I planned my fifth anniversary trip to include a 6 hour drive to Austin just to take lessons (my husband was not thrilled). I am now completely hooked. I love the trapeze and thank you for sharing it with your readers! If you want to see the videos of my first catch and splits it is at

  16. kristin cashore on #

    Oh, that makes sense about horses!

    Rebecca, I’ve punched the catcher in the face twice, so I wouldn’t worry too much. And one time — !! — I forgot what “final” meant in the set straddle whip and thought it meant, “AHA! We’re done now, jump off!” and sprang into the air ON THE BACKSWING. I had a lovely red mark on my head after that, from polishing the net with my head… And MAN did I feel stupid….

  17. Pam on #

    I wanted to comment on Kristin’s post on her own blogger account the other day. I fly at TSNY Beantown too! This past Monday, I was sitting with Theresa, a ball of nerves knowing I’d have to try to catch my set straddle again. I’d already failed to catch the set heels on 3 tries and the set straddle twice. In fact, I HIT my catcher (Jon) in the neck with my hand the last time I tried to catch the darn straddle. I was mortified! So I mentioned all this to Theresa, who told me that one of her students had a great blog and she quoted the bit explaining Steve’s reaction to Kristin hitting him! (Something like “It’s okay because your hitting me in the face slowed down your momentum thus allowing me to catch you.”) I was relieved to hear that I was not alone!

    So Kristin, you are also not alone in this trapeze learning curve! I am happy to say, that on Monday as I flew without contacts or glasses for the first time (hazy!) I managed to catch both my whip and my split. Success! I yelled “YAY” as Jon swung me toward the apron.

    Also… an 11 year old girl was in my class. Formerly, a level 8 gymnast (out of 10!). She made the astute comment “Trapeze is all about trust. In gymnastics, it’s just you out there.”

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  18. Rebecca on #

    Kristin: OOOOH. That is a GOOD one. 😉 But did they replay it for you over and over and over on the TiVo?

  19. alaska on #

    awesome post. it is fascinating what makes us tick and trust – and inherently not trust. i think with animals it’s particularly obvious – i volunteer at our county SPCA, and working with rescue horses that even seriously underweight are way bigger than you – and realizing that you have to trust the horses, and the horse has to grow to trust you. some of them arrive so abused and distrustful that they are unable to be rehabilitated, and it’s very sad to see.

    and then there are people like my sister who trust too much and get suckered all the time.

    i would maybe try the trapezee (even though falling is my second biggest fear – i am all about exposure therapy!) except my arm muscles are super weak. i don’t think i could hold on even swinging on the bar!

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