In her modern-day retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, A.G. Howard puts a gothic spin on the beloved classic, and sends 16-year-old Alyssa back through the looking glass to correct the wrongs of her great-great-great grandmother Alice.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Anything that had to do with horses. I was obsessed with them. Then later I wanted to be a fashion designer, which might explain why there’s so much attention to what everyone is wearing in my books.
Splintered is a modern tromp through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. How was this retelling of Wonderland born?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Carroll’s masterpieces, but the real spark lit back in in April 2010, when I first saw the Tim Burton and Disney Alice adaptation. I’m a very visual person, and the Burton cinematography was so vivid, techno-colored, and evocative that I didn't want the movie to ever end. So I came up with my own settings in my mind, and played out Wonderland continuations and scenarios. The idea became too big to contain in my head and I had to get it out on paper.
Alyssa is a compelling protagonist. She’s very much an independent, kick-butt kind of girl, but she’s also struggled a lot. How important was it for to be a layered character?
In my opinion, the best characters are flawed and make mistakes. They don’t always think things through and often act impulsively like real people do. They’re relatable and human that way. This was especially important for Splintered, because readers had to have someone to relate to once they fell into the rabbit hole and were surrounded by all of the enigmatic and esoteric inhabitants within. Alyssa had to be more than a cardboard cutout to stand her own. She had to have a defined and complex personality so she wouldn’t pale to the majesty, madness, and mystery of Wonderland.
Do you think that a writer has to be fearless in their craft? (And were you ever scared while writing Splintered?)
Great questions. Yes, a writer has to be fearless in at least one respect: They’re putting their heart and soul out there for people to see and judge. That’s some scary business. What’s more, if they wish to have a successful career, a writer has to be able to continue writing even while readers/reviewers might be criticizing their work. In order to continue pumping out stories under that kind of scrutiny, a person has to have a certain amount of courage. As for while I was writing Splintered? Oh, yeah, I got scared. But it was more because of story content. In my YA fantasy, Splintered, spiders and creepy dolls each have their moments in the spotlight. Writing them was no easy feat, considering how deeply ingrained my fears of such things are, dating all the way back to my childhood when I was most impressionable.
What do you believe makes a great story? How do you incorporate this element into Splintered?
Well, in Splintered’s case, we would be talking about fairy tale retellings and spinoffs, and what makes them great. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules. But in my personal favorites, the author doesn’t make light of the original fairy tale. They make the most of the original author’s vision, craft their own story as a tribute and a companion to the original, by giving the characters/details a deeper meaning. When done right, it makes the reader want to revisit the original work. That, to me, is a successful story in its own right, when it whets the reader’s appetite to plunge into another book that might’ve been on their shelves for years, gathering dust.
Do you have set "writing rules"?
My #1 rule is to write! No tricks other than that. Every writer has to discover what energizes their muse and go with it. They have to find their own way if they’re going to have their own voice.
How important are the elements of love, and embracing who you are to Splintered?
I would say they’re two of the central themes of the book. Throughout her challenges in Wonderland, Alyssa also encounters self-discovery. She comes to realize that we’re all individuals, so how can everyone’s idea of normal be the same? She discovers her uniqueness and embraces it. By being true to herself, she finds her own version of “normal,” learns to love herself, and opens herself up to be loved.
There’s a Gaiman-esque quality to Splintered. Who has influenced your writing style, and how important is it – in your opinion – for writers to also be readers?
There are more than I can list, but here are my top six: Neil Gaiman, Alice Hoffman, Charlotte Bronte, Melissa Marr, Christina Rossetti, and of course Lewis Carroll. I think it’s beyond important for writers to read. It’s necessary. Reading other writers’ work helps you realize what genres you're drawn to, what kind of story telling appeals to you, and how story arcs unfold. Reading makes you a better writer, and in turn shapes what kind of stories you write.
How important are the ripples of one incident to the whole of a person’s life?
Incredibly important. For example, my grandfather’s death impacted my life greatly, even though it wasn’t unexpected or sudden. The night we lost him to brain cancer (he’d been suffering for a long time), I sat down and cried as I wrote a two page tribute to him and his life. The rest of the family was so touched by it, we used it in his eulogy. It was then that I realized how deeply ingrained writing was in me, demonstrating how one event can influence or change a person’s life, because the end of my grandfather’s journey was to be the beginning of mine.
Finally, if you had to live in a book, which story would your choose?
Yikes! There are so many I’d like to choose! But if I have to go with just one, Neil Gaiman’s Mirrormask. I adore books that take you through a portal to another world. The fantasy world and the creatures there are so vivid and strange, and there’s a gypsy carnival element to the real world, which I love. So I would enjoy living in either half of the story, which makes it ideal.
Splintered by A.G. Howard. Abrams/Amulet, $17.95 Jan. ISBN 978-1-4197-0428-4