Interview with A.G. Howard, author of ‘Splintered’.
Today we’ve got A.G. Howard on the blog, talking about her debut novel, Splintered, which will be released by Amulet Books on 1st January 2013.
“Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on.” (To see the full blurb go HERE)
A.G. Howard says she was inspired to write SPLINTERED while working at a school library. Having been lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced reader copy of the book, I wanted to find out more about that inspiration and how the idea developed into an intriguing and captivating return to Caroll’s Wonderland.
Did you read Alice in Wonderland when you were young or did you discover it later?
I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its companion novel, Through the Looking Glass, when I was around twelve or thirteen years old. My dad was always a Disney fanatic, and I grew up on VHS renditions of every Disney fairy tale adaptation: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and of course, Alice in Wonderland (along with many more). I can’t remember if I borrowed the Lewis Carroll books from my school library, or if I actually coerced my parents into buying them, but I read and savored each scene (although I secretly imagined the Cheshire Cat as a handsome young prince locked inside a spell … I’m a hopeless romantic; even to this day, in my mind, every story needs a prince). I read the books once again when I started writing Splintered, for a refresher.
After your initial inspiration to draw on the Alice story, how did your ideas for this book develop?
I’m a very organic writer, so I usually just sit down and start writing and things unfold which sometimes even surprise me. However, with Splintered, there were a few things I went in knowing:
I knew I wanted my main character, Alyssa, to be able to converse with bugs and flowers, because the talking flower scenes in Carroll’s two books, the Disney cartoon, and the Tim Burton/Disney rendition, were some of my favorites. Also, I always remembered the scene from Through the Looking Glass when Alice is riding a train through the countryside and has a conversation with a gnat. Those were such quirky and indelible images, that I just had to incorporate them somehow.
Next, I needed my heroine to be tied to the original tales in a very visceral way. Melanie Benjamin’s book, Alice I Have Been, (link) sparked the idea to make Alyssa a descendant of Alice Liddell, the real-life girl who actually inspired Carroll to write his story to begin with. The blood tie to the Liddells became the basis for all of the weird aspects of Alyssa’s life, including the talking bugs and flowers.
Also, I wanted a colorful/vivid world edged with creepiness for my Wonderland setting. To help me visualize, I started gathering pictures into my Splintered synopsis and character folder of anything “Alice-esque” for inspiration. When I Googled for images, I sought out “Gothic” Alice themes. I found that I was drawn to pictures tinged with an “aura of Alice”, but completely different from the original. This led me to go one step further and not only warp the settings, but warp the original characters in unexpected ways—enough that it would throw my heroine and hero for a loop when they first saw them. But there needed to be an explanation for “why” everything was so different, so I came up with one. You’ll have to read the book to find out what that is. ;)
Lastly, I knew I wasn’t going to rely on the Mad Hatter or Cheshire Cat as my heroine’s enigmatic guide in Wonderland (as other adaptations have). There’s another of my favorite characters who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time in the remakes that I’ve seen. So I chose him as the most pivotal player in Wonderland, and gave him a whole new identity and back story. :)
The Wonderland in Splintered is far darker, twisted, seductive and terrifying than in the original book. What drew you in this direction? Was it a conscious decision?
Yes, very much conscious. Lewis Carroll won my heart as a child by weaving underlying threads of violence and eeriness into his nonsensical scenes and characters. So it was a priority for Splintered to pay respectful homage to those elements while coaxing the funkiness/creepiness from subtle nuance to center stage for an older sect of readers. I’m hoping the darker edge of my spinoff will entice others to seek out the Carroll originals if they aren’t already fans.
Had you read any other fairy tale retellings that inspired SPLINTERED?
The only book—other than the original works—that inspired any element of Splintered was Alice I Have Been, which in all fairness isn’t so much a retelling as an alternate historical fiction. But I’ve heard some amazing things about The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor (link), and have them on my TBR list. Now I just need to find time to read them all!
As far as I’m aware you’re the first person to return readers to Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, despite some rather intriguing alterations. Did you have to get special permission to do this?
No. From what I’ve seen, once the author is no longer living, their work becomes public domain to some extent, which leaves most fairy tales and classical novels up for reinterpretation.
Maybe that’s why there’s been a surge of such literature lately. For, although I’m the first to revisit Wonderland’s characters and settings, mine isn’t the first book to use actual characters and springboard off of original scenes of classical novels. Here are two other recent examples:
· Phantom by Susan Kay (link)
· Dracula in Love by Karen Essex (link)
And these next two remakes actually take the originals, word for word, and just change a few sentences here or there to alter the stories (note the inclusion of the original authors’ names since the original text is used as the basis):
· Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen (link)
· Alice in Zombieland by Nickolas Cook and Lewis Carroll (link)
All that said, I did take great pains not to borrow anything from recent Alice/Wonderland reinterpretations (movie or TV versions, books, computer games), to avoid possible infringement.
What do you think makes Splintered more distinct than other YA novels that draw on more traditional and well known fairy tales?
With the creepy character counterparts and “funkified” settings inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Splintered is one part adaptation and one part tribute. Other remakes use parallel storylines in a contemporary or urban fantasy setting, and/or use symbolism (in Wonderland’s case, a white rabbit or a clock or playing cards, etc…) to tie the stories together. But in Splintered, Alyssa’s world is actually impacted by the Lewis Carroll tales, and she turns to her mother’s copy of the book to help solve riddles and fix her life. I’m hoping this “continuation/spinoff” aspect will set my version apart.
Do you have a favorite dark YA novel based on a fairy tale you could tell us about?
I recently read the modernized adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Beastly, by Alex Flinn (link) and enjoyed it (it was definitely better than the Beastly movie version). Still, I haven’t read enough dark fairy tale adaptations yet to determine if it will become a favorite. I have a long list that I still want to read, including:
· Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (link)
· Cinder by Marissa Meyer (link)
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I hope everyone has as much fun reading Splintered as I had writing it! And also, thank you, Claire, for having me over today.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be probing further into the popularity and influence of the dark fairy tale in YA and A.G. Howard will be back answering some general questions about the genre. Until then, let me know which YA fairytale spin-offs you think I should be reading! Have you got a favourite?