Arizona State University – Privileged Imagination

One of my readers was very, very upset with me. I was on a tour of British schools promoting The Looking Glass Wars and, though it had been a great success overall, at that moment I was in the crosshairs of a very cross young man who believed I made a grave mistake. Why had I neglected to tell the story of Hatter Madigan’s 13 years searching for Princess Alyss? It was a damn good question, one I didn’t have a ready answer to. But on the plane back to the States, I thought, “Maybe I could do a comic book about those 13 years.” That’s how the Hatter M graphic novel series came into being. 

School visits are one of the more rewarding aspects of promoting and talking about my stories. You’re going right to the source. You have to go out to the audience to understand what your world is and how it’s affecting them. Having the feedback from kids in terms of what they like, what they feel is working, and what sparks their imagination is really important. 

I met Kira Assad (the writer of the article below) when I spoke at an event hosted by Professor James Blasingame at Arizona State University during the promotional tour for Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. Kira told me an amazing story about how The Looking Glass Wars inspired her to study English in college and to write fiction herself. It’s so gratifying and humbling to know that my work has been a looking-glass through which young people fall in love with reading and storytelling. As evidenced by the stern English lad who inspired six graphic novels, sometimes your readers can provide the biggest sparks of imagination. 

Read the original text of Kira Assad’s article – “Privileged Imagination: What I Learned from Frank Beddor

ALL THINGS ALICE: INTERVIEW WITH TERESA LIN, PART 2

As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have Teresa Lin join me as my guest for Part 2 of our deep dive into our creative process! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.


Frank Beddor
Welcome to the show everybody. Happy Valentine’s Day. Given that it’s the day of celebration for love and relationships, I thought I would invite my beautiful bride to join me today so we can have a chat about all things Alice and some of the relationships that are significant both in The Looking Glass Wars and in the musical that we’re developing. Welcome to the show again, Teresa.

Teresa Lin
Hi, it’s good to be back. Speaking about Valentine’s and love, love is such a complicated thing. It certainly is in The Looking Glass Wars and the musical. I think we all want to lean into that because love can be complicated. 

FB
Complication makes for good melodrama. Let’s talk about Alice Liddell and the Alyss that I created in The Looking Glass Wars and the relationships from real life and fiction. One of the things I wanted to talk about is in The Looking Glass Wars Alyss Heart meets Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s fourth son and he fancies her because she’s famous from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, famous for being Lewis Carroll’s muse. At the same time, she meets Reginald Hargreaves, who is a real-life figure. He was actually the real-life Alice Liddell’s husband. He was a cricket star and, in the novel, he fancies Alyss so there is a natural conflict for her love between these two men. But in the novel, I wrote Prince Leopold as a bit arrogant and not all that desirable, too much of an aristocrat. 

When you and I started talking about the TV show and the musical, you referenced The Notebook as an example, because in The Notebook, the two men, Noah and Lon, who are vying for the lead character, Allie, are both very, very desirable and likable. So there’s a real decision and there’s a real conflict. In The Looking Glass Wars, once Alyss is deciding if she should marry for status, it’s not very romantic.

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as Noah and Allie, embracing in the rain, in the 2004 romance film "The Notebook".

TL
We were really trying to capture what would make a great love story. 

FB
Why would she fall in love with Leopold? What were his desirable qualities? 

TL
Also, what would be the real conflict for them? What would be the opposition to their relationship? 

FB
In The Looking Glass Wars, the opposition came from Queen Victoria because Leopold was marrying a commoner and someone who had been a street urchin. Also, and this is something you conceived of, Alyss is much more proactive in the TV show and the musical in terms of helping other orphans. 

TL
For the show, what we really wanted to hone in on was Alyss being a champion of people who are down on their luck or had no voice and had no power, because she felt something like that in her own story, deep in her DNA from being kicked out of Wonderland. She feels this injustice and her destiny is to be the person who fights for these people. I think to have her embody these qualities at a time when women didn’t have much of a voice, they couldn’t own property, they were property themselves in the Victorian age, and for her to pursue love, on her own terms, was something that was really out of time for that story. For her to come in and be the one who chooses the man rather than the man choosing her feels really in line with our modern values.

FB
The other interesting thing was the solution that you had regarding the love triangle. Alyss returns to Wonderland and it turns out the love of her life is Dodge Anders. While she’s in our world, she has strong dreams and visualizations of a destined love. 

Illustration of Dodge Anders, in a military uniform and holding a sword, by artist Vance Kovacs from Frank Beddor's "The Looking Glass Wars".
Queen Alyss Heart sitting on a red throne in a pink dress with a long, ruffled train by artist Andrea Wickland from Frank Beddor's "The Looking Glass Wars".

TL
When she was young, she had these experiences with Dodge of being able to run off and have their own adventures and to have someone who was really a close friend and confidant, and someone she felt would risk his life for her. So I think that was in her body and memory, even as a dream that she was not supposed to be having. 

FB
So in the novel, she returns to Wonderland and she’s reunited with Dodge, who’s angry and bitter. He’s struggling with what happened during Redd’s coup. 

TL
He didn’t even know whether Alyss was alive or dead. 

FB
He did hold on to the belief that she was alive somewhere but it takes a minute for them to rekindle their friendship and find their romantic interest as adults and it’s something that I think people wish I had written more about. But what I wanted you to mention is the solution that you had for the love triangle in the musical. 

TL
We came up against the story conflict of Alyss having two different love interests, one in our world, Prince Leopold, and one in Wonderland, Dodge. What kind of choice would she be making? We circled this idea of the doppelgangers and that there was a version of ourselves in Wonderland that exists in our world and maybe other worlds. But when Alyss returns to Wonderland, the reveal is that Dodge and Leopold are the same person and they would be played by the same actor. They would be doppelgangers of each other. 

FB
I love that idea. It also gives Prince Leopold a moment in our world to tell Alyss, “It’s okay. It’s your destiny.” In essence, he sets her free, even though there’s a version of him that we’re going to meet in Wonderland, unbeknownst to his character. 

Photograph of Alice Liddell, wearing a white dress and surrounded by foliage, taken by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1872.
Photograph of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria, sitting in a chair and wearing a kilt and livery collars, taken by W&D Downey photographers in 1872.

TL
I find that deeply romantic. One of the things that we researched when we were working on these projects was a possible real-life romantic relationship between Alice Liddell and Prince Leopold. It’s easy to construe that Queen Victoria would have been against their courtship. But when Leopold married and had his first child, he named her Alice. 

FB
And when Alice Liddell married Reginald Hargreaves, their first son was named Leopold.

TL
That just gave me goosebumps.

FB
It’s Valentine’s Day, that should give you goosebumps.

I think that it is really interesting and hopefully, when we get either the musical or the TV show made, it will be an effective moment. So those of you listening are getting a little preview of one of the shows.

Also, Leopold was a bit sickly. He had haemophilia, which is a bleeding disorder where your blood doesn’t clot properly. He inherited it from Queen Victoria. His daughter, Princess Alice, was a carrier of the disease and his grandson Rupert, died from it. 

TL
It lends a sense of fragility and vulnerability to his character, which I thought was really sweet and in line with Alyss being the warrior princess. She was, in essence, his protector. It was also the reason that he couldn’t go back to Wonderland and fight with Alyss.

FB
Because he was worried he might get cut if he went through the Looking-glass. 

That’s the central love story, for which I think we will continue to find moments. But there’s also the familial love story between Queen Genevieve and Princess Rose, who became Queen Redd and there’s also the story between Hatter and his brother Dalton.

The relationships between the two sisters and the two brothers carry a lot of emotional power, because of the love and the betrayal. So you have both sides of this coin.

Illustration of a younger Queen Redd, wearing a red bodysuit and a tattered red cape, from Frank Beddor's "The Looking Glass Wars".
Illustration of Queen Genevieve, wearing a white formal dress, from Frank Beddor's "The Looking Glass Wars".

TL
The familial relationships are always hard to tease out because you have the loyalty to family, then you have, for them, the loyalty to the nation and to their queens. Then they also have their own private feelings about who they choose to love and how that complicates things if that doesn’t fall in the right domain. 

FB
In terms of the development of, one hopes, a very long-running show…

TL
There are a lot of story and relational threads that could feed into the complicated conflict set up in our stories. 

FB
For folks that have not read the graphic novels, I introduce Hatter’s brother, Dalton, and there is an entire backstory of Dalton having a relationship with Queen Redd, or Rose when they were younger. 

There’s just a lot to work with. There are multiple timelines and multiple characters to play with and we don’t have to follow the structure of the novels. We can take prequel stories and sequel stories and we can feather those threads into season one with the hopes that we do a good job and it’s long-running. 

TL
Bringing it all back to love, I think the best love stories are the ones where you see the characters fighting for their love. They have to go through this long, arduous emotional journey of really fighting and proving themselves and testing the love. I think we have all of those pieces in our story threads for all the characters. They have a lot of opposition. There’s a lot of conflict before they ever get to a place where they are reunited or there’s peace in the land or their hearts. 

FB
I think we can really stretch out the tension between Alyss and Dodge when Alyss returns and she’s trying to find her footing as the destined queen, the warrior, and Dodge’s eventual wife. For anybody who has read Crossfire, the graphic novel, we see that the two of them are married and it’s be careful what you wish for. Ruling is difficult and ruling as a couple is also difficult. But their love is strong. 

TL
How would you describe the relationship between Hatter and Alyss? Although it’s not a romantic love, he’s her sworn protector, her guardian, and very much a father figure. What does that feel like for you, when you think of those two characters?

Illustration of Princess Alyss Heart and Hatter Madigan being separated as they travel through the Pool of Tears by artist Ben Templesmith from the graphic novel "Hatter M: Far From Wonder".

FB
The father figure aspect is really important because she grew up with him for those first seven years. They had a very playful relationship, she would tease him quite a bit. Hatter, as a Milliner, is meant to marry within the Milliner race and, of course, he falls in love with somebody outside of that race. So, being in this forbidden relationship, he can’t envision having a son or a daughter of his own. 

TL
By the time he’s catapulted into our world, and he’s lost Alyss, his whole journey and his whole focal point over 13 years has been finding Alyss. I thought that was really, really strong in your graphic novels. Even though he’s come across all of these romantic relationships throughout time and in different places on Earth, his primary focus is to find Alyss. Yet when he does find Alyss, he’s rejected by her. I find that so interesting. I think about the internal turmoil that he has to face. He’s found his charge, his lost child, but she rejects him. That’s very rich.

FB
I often think of Hatter as Liam Neeson in Taken except his skill set is not as well honed, and it takes a very long time. But I don’t think Liam Neeson would be very happy if his daughter was like, “I’m fine. I’ve got this, Dad.”

On one of the other podcasts, I talked about not having a moment in the novel where Hatter confronts Alyss and she commands him to leave, which would have been a really great scene to write. I just thought that he would forcibly take her and forgot she’s really his superior. 

TL
I don’t know, I think after 13 years lost in our world, and then finally finding her, he’s not losing her again, no matter what she commands. 

FB
Thank you for that. 

TL
There is no way he’s leaving her side. 

FB
That’s what I thought. But then it is a complicated and interesting scene that creates a lot of tension and a lot of turmoil. 

TL
And also, the complications of them finding each other again, as people. She’s grown up now. She’s no longer a seven-year-old child. There’s a relationship that they both have to earn and there’s trust they both have to come back to because when Alyss got catapulted into our world, she was looking for him for a long time and then slowly had to let go of her hope. 

Illustration of Queen Alyss Heart wearing ornate plate armor and holding a broadsword, by artist Vance Kovacs from Frank Beddor's "The Looking Glass Wars".
Illustration of Hatter Madigan wielding a wrist blade and standing in front of the suit family symbol, by artist Ben Templesmith from the "Hatter M" graphic novel series.

FB
And he’s only holding onto the seven-year-old Alyss. That’s the image that he has but she’s a completely different person, finding herself in our world for 13 years. 

TL
Back to love and Valentine’s and relationships, this underscores for me how we’re always evolving and we’re always changing in relationships. You can’t pinpoint a place in time and say, “You’re not the same person I met 20 years ago. How come you’ve changed?”

FB
Well, how have you changed since we met 10 years ago? 

TL
That’s hard to describe. “Where have I stayed the same?” would be the better question.

I definitely feel more expanded and more aware and hopefully more conscious. Definitely in my sense of relational self. I feel like the more that you learn about yourself and about how life is the less you take things personally. You realize that everyone’s on their journey, everyone’s on their path, and you can’t fix it for anyone else. That is true of Hatter and Alyss. She has to do the work and he has to do the work. 

FB
Well, I am happy to be on this journey with you and to get the opportunity to wish you a happy Valentine’s. 

TL
Thank you, my love.

FB
I love you very much.

TL
Your favorite word, Ditto.

FB
Thanks, everybody. Happy Valentine’s to everybody out there listening. 

We will be back with, what I’m gonna call “All Things Creative,” where Teresa and I are going to talk about some of the other projects we’re working on and the creative process that we go through and give everybody a sneak peek at some other shows and books and things we’re working on. Take care.

TL
Take care.


For the latest updates & news about All Things Alice,  please read our blog and subscribe to our podcast!

ALL THINGS ALICE: INTERVIEW WITH ARNOLD HIRSHON

As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have Arnold Hirshon join me as my guest on this episode! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.


Frank Beddor 
Thanks a lot for being on the show. I’m chatting with Arnold Hirshon, who’s the president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. I’m really interested in the Lewis Carroll Society. I wrote The Looking Glass Wars books and part of my metafiction was some confrontations with Lewis Carroll Society members. When I was first publishing my book in the UK, I was invited on the BBC to talk about Alice and why I decided to write it. There was a little controversy because I’m an American rewriting it and it was even worse that I was a movie producer. So when I got on the show, there were all these Lewis Carroll Society members protesting and they had placards with “Off with Frank Beddor’s Head!” I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m going to be interviewing the president of the Lewis Carroll Society, I got to give that story up to start.”

Arnold Hirshon
Was that the UK society or was that the North American?

FB
I didn’t know there were multiple societies. Maybe you could start by filling our listeners in on the various societies and how the North American Society was formed and your involvement and what the mandate is.

AH
The Lewis Carroll Society of North America, the one I’m President of, started 50 years ago. The basic purpose is to advance the study and interest in any of the works by Lewis Carroll, the mathematical works, logical works, games, puzzles, and of course, the Alice books, The Hunting of the Snark, Phantasmagoria, anything. And it could be any aspect. It can be the literature itself, it can be illustration, music, movies, plays, the whole gamut. All of that is part of our remit. The Lewis Carroll Society in the UK, which is known as the Lewis Carroll Society, continues to do its work, There are also societies in Brazil, the Netherlands, and Japan, and we’re all loosely affiliated in our interest. But ours, the North America society, is probably the one with the greatest reach and the most international membership. About 10-15%, 20% of our members are actually outside of North America.

FB
What do the members do in terms of interacting with all of this work? Because it’s obviously so deep-seated in pop culture, I imagine you could spend your life studying and trying to keep up with it and not even scratch the surface. What are the members mostly interested in?

AH
It’s a combination of things. We have a journal that comes out two times a year, the Knight Letter, which is pretty extensive. It is everything from scholarly articles to fun facts and the latest occurrences found in popular culture, whether it’s a political cartoon or a quote. It includes information about newly published editions, illustrated editions typically, anywhere in the world. That’s one element of our educational programming. 

We also run two conferences per year, one virtual, and one in person. The last one was in Cleveland this past September and we’re looking to hold another one in the fall of 2024 as a celebration of our 50th anniversary. Those topics can be a very wide range. This last time, there were people discussing Alice in popular music and rock music. We had people discussing Alice in dance, Alice in literature, Alice in Japan. So those conferences tend to be a fairly wide gamut. Then we run typically about eight to 10 virtual programs throughout the year which could be an illustrator discussing a work in progress, or a recently published book. It can be Alice in the movies. Those, again, run that whole range and it is not just Alice-related. We also have collectors talking about their collections and latest acquisitions.

FB
That seems like it would be a big section of the membership because there is so much to collect. There are so many interesting books. I have a book, Songs from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

Cover of "Songs from 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking-Glass'" with image of large Alice surrounded by the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, and the White Rabbit.
Pages from "Songs from 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking-Glass'". One has an image of a teacup with legs decorated in red and black card suits. The other page features sheet music.

AH
Yes, absolutely. I know it well.

FB
I was fascinated with the lyrics. It was published in 1921. The art is amazing.

AH
I have a copy of it sitting over there on my shelves. I actually have both that version, which is the original, as well as a couple of reprinted versions. There’s a delightful illustration of Beautiful Soup in that book, the Soup Bowl has this long pair of legs.

FB
Yes, I love that image. Love it. 

AH
Charles Folkard is a brilliant illustrator. I also have the original sheet music of two of the three Alice in Wonderland songs that Irving Berlin composed in the early 20th century. There’s a whole wide range of things. I was an English major in college so my interest started from the literature side, from the text. But more and more it gravitated towards the illustrations. The Alice books in particular are, by far, the most illustrated books of fiction in the world.

FB
There are so many remarkable facts. It’s the second-most quoted literary work in the world behind the Bible. There are more translations than Harry Potter. I think it’s 175 or 190 countries. I didn’t know there were that many countries.

AH
Sometimes it can be two or three dialects from the same country. It could be Catalan, in Spain, as well as in Spanish. There are also multiple dialects in Chinese.

FB
Is there somebody that collects everything that’s coming out so you have an archive? You brought up political cartoons and during the Trump administration, there was a massive use of Alice in Wonderland to describe the functionality of the government. “Down the rabbit hole” “Off with your head” and “Through the looking-glass”. Tweedledum and Tweedledee were used. Often to great comedic effect. So does somebody collect those things for your society? Or are they just talked about at these conferences?  

AH
It’s all individual collectors. There are some institutions, certainly, that collect but I don’t think that any institution by any means has comprehensive collections, meaning exhaustive, what we would call completist. I am not a completist collector. There were hundreds published by the original publisher Macmillan. So you have the first 1,000, the first 2,000, then you have the first 10,000. Some people collect all of those, every single one. I do not. If I have one good copy of Tenniel, it’s enough, because I use my collection for research and personal interest. I’m not necessarily trying to collect a perfect copy of a first edition of something. I want representative illustrations from that Illustrator. I want something that I can also afford because some of these things can go literally into the millions of dollars, and many of them will go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

There are certainly some very major collections in not just the British Library, but also in North America at the University of Texas, New York University, the University of Toronto, Harvard, and the Morgan Library in New York. There are probably about 20 I could rattle off that have significant collections. But very often, they stopped collecting at a certain point, they’re not necessarily collecting late 20th century, early 21st century. Because I’m interested in illustration and so many of these illustrators have come out and continue to come out now, trying to keep up with all of the new ones that are coming out is just impossible.

Page from Lewis Carroll's original manuscript of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" featuring an illustration of the Queen of Hearts and Alice.
Page from Lewis Carroll's original manuscript of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" featuring an illustration of the March Hare and Alice.

FB
It would be amazing to have an institution that collects everything that they can find in pop culture. My daughter loves Taylor Swift and I recently wrote a blog about her song, “Wonderland” which I did not realize before there was such a thing. Suddenly, I was a very cool dad for 24 hours. There’s so much out there and it’s really interesting. Visually, it’s really interesting, whether it’s the album or, as you said, the illustrations or photographs of gardens. There are cartoons I find terrific and it would be great to have the movie posters.

AH
Absolutely, and not just movie posters but there are also pop culture posters from theatrical productions and concerts. So there are people who collect and there are a lot of people who, like me, have a more specialized collection. Some people collect just posters, some collect just sculptures, or even just soft sculptures. So you get this wide variety of people who have very varying interests and we’re all joined together by sharing some element of interest in the works of Lewis Carroll. 

FB
The original manuscript with Lewis Carroll’s drawings must be very expensive. 

AH
There’s only one copy of it. There have been facsimile editions but the original is in the British Library. Unfortunately, the British Library recently had a cyber attack so you cannot currently access it online but they normally have that available online as well. On the very last page, there was a photograph of Alice Liddell and an oval-sized picture of her and underneath that, he had originally drawn a picture of her. For decades, people had no idea the drawing existed but they finally realized it so now you can see both the original drawing and the picture of six-year-old Alice.

FB
So the listeners realize the book was originally titled Alice’s Adventures Underground and that’s the book we’re speaking of. Is it a book that you can just touch there? I imagine not.

AH
Somebody would have to have a lot of scholarly credentials.

FB
I’m very interested in doing a documentary about Alice, not so much about how deep Alice runs in pop culture, but why Alice is a muse for so many artists like Taylor Swift and the Wachowskis who did The Matrix and using that to bring people into this deeper Lewis Carroll world. Show them things like the Guinness beer ads, which used Alice for years and years and years. 

Why does Alice last? What is it about Alice that inspires us to keep reinventing her to reflect our contemporary world?

Guinness Beer advertisement featuring characters from "Alice in Wonderland" including Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare.
Guinness Beer advertisement featuring characters from "Alice in Wonderland" including King and Queen and the Executioner.

AH
Just on the Guinness point, those ads were being used to promote the health benefits of beer. They were sending these things to doctors. When it started in the 1930s and through the 1960s, they were using Alice because everybody would know what the cultural reference was. 

But Alice herself is essentially a cipher. Alice is not the main character, all the other characters are the main. All these things are getting absorbed through Alice and she’s learning as she’s going along. She makes for the perfect foil for any number of characters who come into her life and then leave her life in the next episode, which is essentially usually the next chapter. But there are so many ways of interpreting so much of the text. There are so many ways of visually representing Alice. For example, the Disney character is, to some people, more common than the Tenniel version of it. They have no idea that Disney’s was not the first movie, that there had been 50 years of Alice movie-making before Disney showed up on the scene. And he would have done it himself earlier, but he dropped the project and picked it up later. So there are all of those threads that keep coming through. 

There’s so much ambiguity in the story. The scenes are not plotted out in any strict order. You could move the chapters in a different order, not so much in Through the Looking-glass but certainly in Wonderland, you could change the order if you were reading it to a child who never had read the books before. Except for the very beginning and the very end, the child would have no idea what order you’re reading them in, because there’s no logical sequence to it. There’s no description of the backgrounds. There’s no description of most of the things on the table in the Mad Tea Party, they’re not mentioned at all. So that gives, whether it’s a filmmaker or whether it’s an illustrator, license to make it up as they go along. 

FB
To your point, until Tim Burton came along all the other adaptations have had the flaw of being episodic and trying to give agency to Alice. One of the reasons I wrote my novels was to give her that agency. She meets Lewis Carroll who doesn’t believe her story but ultimately, she is destined, and ultimately, it’s her agency. Then she moves through enough of a plot that it feels more contemporary. There was more agency in The Wizard of Oz for Dorothy than for Alice because Dorothy had a very specific goal and there were obstacles along the way, and those obstacles became friends and then they helped her in the end. What you’re saying is that as a cipher, Alice affords creators so many choices with the other characters. That’s probably a really strong reason why she’s such an amazing muse for so many creators. 

AH
That’s the difference also between Wonderland and Looking-glass. I’ve often described Wonderland as a vertical tale. Alice falls down a rabbit hole and then proceeds through things without any rhyme or reason. Her conversation with the Cheshire Cat, “Where should I go?” “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Whereas Looking-glass is a very horizontal tale. Alice has an objective, she wants to get from one end of the chessboard to the other end of the chessboard so she can be crowned queen. Along the way, she’s going to meet people who she hopes will help her along the way and most of them in Looking-glass do help her whereas in Wonderland, many of them don’t care. Hatter and the March Hare, they’re living their own life so they’re not going to do very much to help. Some of the Looking-glass ones don’t either. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are not the most helpful characters in the world.

FB
I think that is very helpful in terms of breaking down the two books. It seems that there are two camps. There’s the whimsical fantasy dream aspect of the texts that people take away and then there is the surreal nightmare in the illogical and self-inflicted insanity that happens in the book. Do you fall into either of those camps? Or, as a scholar, is there another camp that you look at the works from? 

Still image of Alice wearing a blue dress and white smock from Disney's 1951 "Alice in Wonderland".
Twisted Mad Tea Party featuring the Mad Hatter and March Hare by artist Rickey Romero (Mr. Revenge).

AH
It’s an interesting question. I think the difference that you’re speaking to is, in part, is this an adult book for adults?” Or is this a book for children? The first part of what you said to me is more the children’s book, which can be appreciated by children at a certain level. But even in Victorian times, there were going to be any number of references in the text that no child was going to really pick up on. To me, the books are, in essence, adult tales. To really appreciate the text, you do need to be an adult not just to understand the cultural references of Carroll’s time, but to understand the life experiences. When I was a university administrator I would say to people, “Just read Alice in Wonderland and you’ll know everything you need to know about management.” Every chapter will teach you, and sometimes every paragraph will teach you something that you need to know about how to manage in a situation – how to get yourself extricated, how to deal with conflict management. I probably lean more towards your second category than I do towards the first for that reason. 

Many, many years ago I read that one needs to read Cervantes’ Don Quixote as a teen, as a young adult, and in old age, because you will understand and read things into it and see things differently at different ages in your life. I think the Alice books are very much like that. You come to appreciate different things and even those of us who have read the texts many times, and can recite whole passages, will still reread it or reread a chapter or reread one of the poems and see something that we never saw before. There’s so much to distill in every one of those chapters and in each one of the poems. That’s why it’s such a brilliant work. It’s also one of the things that I think separates it from The Wizard of Oz.

FB
I agree with that. I read it to my daughter when she was eight or nine and she thought it was very funny and weird. But during Lewis Carroll’s time, there weren’t all the categories of publishing that we have now. He wasn’t writing for middle grade or YA. So who was he writing for? It’s very satirical of the Victorian era and he referenced the government a lot. He makes fun of the emphasis on memorization in education, but he was telling the story to these young kids. What do you think he was thinking in terms of how his audience was gonna react?

AH
Originally, he had an audience of Alice and her sisters, and himself. He was writing this to amuse them but also himself. So he was not really thinking about publishing it when he first told the tales. Alice Liddell was amused by the stories and she asked him to write them down so he wrote them down and illustrated them. Originally, I think he thought, “That’s it, I’m done.” But then other people read it and said, “You really should publish this.” 

Of course, one of the key elements of the Alice books is they were the first books that did not speak down to children. They were not moralistic tales. This was “Adventures” in Wonderland. I think that was intentional. I think that’s what he was after for his audience, to speak to children as if they are young adults, not to speak to children as if they are little children. Whether Alice herself reread the books later in life and saw things we probably don’t know. But I think that certainly other people, and generations of people, have. I have a granddaughter who’s five years old and I brought her a copy. She can look through the pictures. It’s the classic, “What’s the use of a book without pictures?” I was giving her the five-minute version for a five-year-old. But after I left, her parents told me she went back to the book and she was spending a long time looking at the pictures. Every audience will appreciate it looking for different things. 

Illustration of "Alice in Wonderland" by artist John Vernon Lord featuring a lion, unicorn, and the March Hare.
Illustration of "Alice in Wonderland" by artist John Vernon Lord featuring the King and Queen of Hearts, the Jack of Hearts, and the White Rabbits.

FB
I started with a pop-up book. I think it was the first pop-up book my daughter had ever seen. Any way to engage kids visually and then synopsize the story and use your voice because those things stick with them. Then they’ll come back to it, as you suggested, later in life. 

I know that you’re the son of a photographer and your kids, one’s an editor and one’s an illustrator. 

AH
I am the son of a photographer. My son Daniel is a film editor and photographer who actually published an Alice street photography book, Alice in Manhattan: A Photographic Trip Down New York City’s Rabbit Holes, which uses his own photography with quotes from Alice.

My other son, Michael is an illustrator and a professor of Illustration at the University of Utah. 

FB
That’s where I went to school. That’s wonderful for both of your sons. 

So you would be well equipped to share with listeners Lewis Carroll and his early photography, which would be considered cutting edge by today’s standards compared to where the art of photography was when he first started. I don’t know if many people realize that he took photos of Alice Liddell and some of her sisters and he also had a lot of interesting techniques with his photography.

AH
In the days when he was doing photography, the subjects had to sit very still for a longer period of time just for the exposure to be able to take. So he used to costume more girls, girls and boys, and adults, as well. It was very heavily portraiture, but he would enact scenes. There’s a picture of Alice in a beggar costume. He would have these typically painted backdrops that he would use. He had pictures of people who were prominent at the time. Ellen Terry was an actress, for example, that he photographed. He experimented quite a bit and then when he lost interest, he just dropped it entirely. Probably around the 1880s, he just stopped doing photography entirely.

Photograph of Alice Liddell wearing a beggar costume taken by Lewis Carroll in 1858.
Photograph of Alice Liddell wearing a dress and sitting sideways in a chair taken by Lewis Carroll in 1858.

FB
Will Brooker, the author of Alice’s Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture, which is a terrific book, has that Alice as a beggar photograph you mentioned on the cover. It’s a remarkable photograph given when it was taken. It’s so vibrant and she comes to life.

AH
His composition was excellent. He knew exactly how to pose whoever he was taking the photograph of. Sometimes it would be two or three children, for example, in the same picture and he would very elegantly pose mis-en-scenes for his audience and that audience was typically the family. He was not setting up a shop. He wasn’t a portrait photographer by trade. Nor was he trying to sell these as works of art. If you try and buy them now, they’re expensive works, but, at the time, he was doing this basically for his own enjoyment.

FB
So far in our conversation, we have only referenced him by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, and not his actual name, Charles Dodgson. In your experience in terms of randomly speaking with folks about Lewis Carroll, do people know Charles Dodgson? 

AH
Probably not. Unless I’m speaking with a mathematician or logician, probably not. Most people who know Carroll’s work reasonably well have some knowledge of him. If you said the name, they would probably recognize it, but not necessarily make the immediate association.

FB
Interestingly, his real name has not become more prominent with all of the outlets out there. It’s always been Lewis Carroll. Because, in my conversations, nobody seems to know who Charles Dodgson is unless they’re a big fan of his.

AH
Right. That was intentional on his part as he wanted to keep his professional life as an Oxford don teaching mathematics and logic, separate from his creative, fictional characters. Especially once Alice came out, people started to know that this Oxford don was Lewis Carroll. But he continued to publish the books under a pseudonym. He had two parts of his life and he wanted to keep them separate.

FB
If you had to choose one illustrated book of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and that’s all you could have in that big library of yours, which one would you pick? Mine is Ralph Steadman’s take on Alice. I absolutely love Ralph Steadman. It’s the lines, the contemporary 60s vibe. It’s not a surreal nightmare, it’s a surreal world. I just absolutely love his Alice book. How about you? 

AH
I was afraid you were gonna ask this question. 

FB
I thought, “Oh he’s a scholar. Let’s break it up a little bit.”

Illustration of "Alice in Wonderland" by artist Willy Pogany featuring Alice in flapper dress and the Queen of Hearts.

AH
It’s not an easy choice. I do love Steadman’s illustrations. I love Barry Moser’s. I love John Vernon Lord’s illustrations. Jean-Jacques Sempe, who most people know from his New Yorker covers, published an edition in French in 1961 that is just delightful. They’re all brilliant. If I had to pick one, Willy Pogany was an illustrator in the early to mid-20th century. In 1929 he did a flapper Alice and it is absolutely delightful. It’s just brilliant work. One of the reasons I like it so much is when I started collecting and I was leaving one of my places of employment to take another job, the Pogany edition was given to me as a going away gift, and I always treasured it. 

There were multiple editions published at the same time. There was a deluxe edition and there was a trade edition. One of the things that’s different about the trade edition, the deluxe edition does not have this, ironically, is there are colored end papers. The rest of the book is all black and white line drawings but the endpapers are this montage, this collage of different scenes, all in color. There’s just so much to look at. There are so many things that he was the first to do. That’s really one of the things I look at in my scholarly interest. Who was the first illustrator who did something different?

We’ve mentioned Alice falling down the rabbit hole a few times. Carroll, in his manuscript, has no picture of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. John Tenniel has no illustration of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. It’s not until one of the early American pirated editions that somebody actually illustrates that scene. But everybody is sure they’ve seen it before and in fact, you haven’t because before that showed up in 1898. Those are the sorts of things that I look for. Sometimes it’s in the detail. It’s one of the things I like about John Vernon Lord’s illustrations; there’s just so much to look at in his work. There’s a 21st century Russian illustrator, Ksenia Lavrova, who is absolutely brilliant. It’s hard to come by her editions in the United States, you have to order them from abroad. I actually picked it up in Russia on a trip a while ago, but the color illustrations and the level of detail, you could sit for an hour looking at one illustration and not see at all. That’s how brilliant it is.

Illustration of "Alice in Wonderland" by artist Ksenia Lavrova featuring an old man in a chair flanked by medieval-style soldiers.
Illustration of "Alice in Wonderland" by artist Ksenia Lavrova featuring stacks of teacups, a teapot, and a bespectacled man wearing a large hat.

FB
That’s terrific. Well, definitely going to check that out and the edition with Alice as a flapper.

You mentioned Barry Moser as well. I think he won an award for his Alice book in the 1980s. It seems that every generation reinterprets Alice. In the 1960s there were psychedelic aspects because of the Beatles and the Jefferson Airplane song, “White Rabbit”. In the 1990s there’s the whole tech side of it with The Matrix. What do you attribute that to? This re-purposing of Alice to reflect day-to-day life?

AH
It’s the movement of the illustrator and using themselves, as well as introducing something generational. For example, how does fashion change? If I’m looking at a Tenniel illustration in the 21st century, these fashions don’t mean anything to anybody, right? Pogany’s work in the 20s, the bobbed hair and the flapper dress, and those sorts of things would be very different for that generation. Some of it is speaking to cultural reference in fashion, in the backgrounds, in what’s on the table. One of the things I collect are teapots, no relation to the Mad Tea Party, and I’ve threatened to do a study of just the shapes of teapots in different illustrations. 

I think when you start looking at that, that’s what starts to tell you why things change. They want to bring something new to it and they want to bring something interesting to it. They want to bring out some elements of the story that nobody had brought out before and they want to do it in a contemporary way. For example, there are an increasing number of graphic novels. We talked a little bit about the translations, but if you look at the illustrations that came out of other countries, the dress can be very different. The portrayal of how the characters look, if you look at a Japanese or Chinese or Russian illustration is very different from a French or German or English illustration, which is very different from an American or a Latin American illustration. So some of why it gets reinterpreted in illustration is to make it relevant to the local culture. 

One of the things I’ve looked at is, which illustrators got republished in a country other than their own, and which ones never did and why did that happen? I don’t have a great answer to that. I think in some cases, publishers were looking for what they could republish cheaper, and sometimes the not-very-best illustrations got republished. In Esperanto, it probably doesn’t matter what illustrations you use, but in other languages, it does.

FB
It also speaks to why stories last, because they form timeless bridges that connect generations, cultures, and experiences. Alice just happens to work. You mentioned Japan, which I think has the most editions of Alice in Wonderland of any country. 

Japanese illustration of "Alice in Wonderland" featuring Alice in a blue dress, the Caterpillar, and the White Rabbit.
Japanese illustration of "Alice in Wonderland" featuring Alice in a red dress and various Wonderland characters.

AH
It could be. The Japanese and the Russians each have a very deep interest in Alice, probably for very different reasons. But both have a very strong number of editions.

FB
Stories that are generational and that we hand down, we’re sharing a piece of cultural connection for us to somebody else who’s then taking it and reinterpreting it for their kid.

AH
Part of it goes to the absurdist surrealistic nature of the books, or at least they’ve been appropriated by surrealists and absurdists. Each generation thinks it’s the first generation that has dealt with the complexities that it’s had to deal with and the topsy-turvy nature of what’s going on in its world. That’s why Alice continues to be relevant because it was happening in the Victorian age, it’s happening today, and it’s happening every decade. If you look at some of the very early films, they’re very surreal. That’s why I think these things last because you can pull out these elements that are so peculiar but they’re timeless. 

FB 
That’s very true how timeless it is and you can interpret it in so many different ways.

I also spoke at one of your events probably eight, or nine years ago in New York and showed my artwork and the various books and graphic novels I was working on. I’ve hired a lot of different concept artists, mostly people who have worked in Hollywood and it’s been really interesting to work with them and see how they interpret the material. They’re looking for something familiar, but they want to make it wholly their own and they certainly want to make it part of The Looking Glass Wars world. But there’s always a nod. There’s always a little detail for fans of the original books. I’m always looking to do that, even if I’ve made up all sorts of stories about Lewis Carroll. 

I don’t know if people know that he had diaries and there are missing pages from his diaries. There’s all sorts of speculation about, maybe it had to do with those photographs that he took of young Alice and that the parents were unhappy and things like that. I dismissed that and I said the reason he ripped out those pages is because Alice Liddell was actually Alice Hart from my series and he didn’t want people to know that he co-opted her story. Granted, he thought she was traumatized from being on the street as an orphan. So there are little details that I’ve picked up over the years. I’m not a scholar, but I’m like, “Oh, I could use that. I could repurpose that. That’ll be good.” 

AH
It’s doubtful he ripped out those pages, by the way, it’s more likely that his heirs ripped those pages out of his diaries.

FB
I think Will Brooker wrote about that. He mentioned in his book about Lewis Carroll. Where did those pages go? And what were they about? There was a riff between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson over something. I don’t know if anyone’s figured out what it was about.

AH
The original riff was actually between Alice’s mother, Lorina, and Dodson. One of the films that had an interesting take on it was Dreamchild. Wholly fictional, but what a great film.

Still image from the 1985 film "Dreamchild" featuring Alice, the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter.

FB
That really went outside of the books and found a way to tell a story that was edgy and of its era.

AH
And the reenactments of the scenes with her in them with Jim Henson’s workshop were just brilliantly done. 

FB
There was a photograph of Alice when she was 18, 19, or 20 that Lewis Carroll took, and she looks very unhappy. What’s the story behind that photograph? 

AH
I don’t know a lot about it. In most Victorian photographs, people look unhappy for a reason. The exposure time was so long that you could not hold a smile for that long. So rather than do that, they just said, “Hold that.” Because if you started with a smile, little by little it was going to go down, it would almost be like the Cheshire Cat smile. You’re gonna see it disappear. That’s different between the mouth and the eyes. 

But the eyes, she did not have the happiest marriage in the world. So whether that might have been part of what’s being reflected in that photograph. And of course, for Victorian childhood going into adulthood, there was this kind of heartbreak. You’re not a child anymore, you have to behave in a very certain way. Of course, Carroll was making fun of that in the books but that was very true and that’s the way Alice was raised. That would probably also help explain that photograph. She left behind her childhood. 

FB
Lewis Carroll gave us a lot of interesting words and terms, obviously, “down the rabbit hole.” He didn’t invent rabbit holes, but he made it a portal. Wonderland. I don’t believe he invented that either but he certainly invented it as a magical place. “Curiouser and curiouser,” is another phrase. But there are a lot more obscure words that he invented that are in culture today. Why don’t you give us a couple of the not-so-well-known ones? 

AH
Jabberwocky certainly has quite a lot of those words. Frabjous day. Brillig. Slithy toves. There’s hardly anything in that opening verse that he didn’t make up. Of course, Humpty Dumpty has to explain what every one of those words mean. If you string along Humpty Dumpty’s whole explanation, it still doesn’t make any sense. I’ve tried to do it multiple times. Humpty Dumpty gives this whole long explanation and he explains each word, but it doesn’t make a sentence when you get to the end of his description. The vorpal sword is another one. 

FB
I’ve made that into a really great weapon.

AH
There are lots of those things that he either made up or popularized in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise have been without him.

Still image from the 1933 Paramount film "Alice in Wonderland" featuring Alice and the King and Queen.

FB
Who was Humpty Dumpty in that 1930s movie? W.C. Fields? 

AH
Yes, the 1933 Paramount film. Cary Grant played the Mock Turtle. Gary Cooper was the White Knight. 

FB
Okay, so if you were cast in that movie, who would they cast you as?

AH
It would be the White Knight. I love the concept of, “It’s my own invention.” In my work life, I would always come up with these off-the-wall solutions and I always felt like, “It’s my own invention.” Maybe that makes no sense to anybody else and it’s, “Why would we do that?” But I still thought it was a good idea. So I’ve always associated myself with the White Knight. Carroll associated himself with the White Knight. That’s essentially his self-portrait, not necessarily the illustration, but as a character.

FB
I didn’t realize that. I think that is a perfect place to end this very compelling and enjoyable and fun conversation. And your book Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The English Language of the Four Alice Books Published Worldwide, explores the legacy of the four Alice books. Is that available?

AH
We have two editions. There’s the Deluxe Edition, which is a two-volume set available to order if you contact jaredx2@gmail.com. We also have the Standard Edition for Volumes One and Two, which are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

FB
Perfect. I thank you for being on the show and sharing all your insight. Thank you very much for that. I really appreciate it. 

AH
Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. 


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Beyond the Borders: Navigating the Parallel Realms of “The Looking Glass Wars” and “Alice in Borderland”

In the realm of speculative fiction, two captivating narratives unfold, each drawing readers and viewers into the mesmerizing landscapes of wonder and danger. The Looking Glass Wars and Alice in Borderland share thematic threads that intertwine through their fantastical settings, complex characters, and the perpetual dance between peril and discovery. Let’s dive into the parallels and distinctions between these two imaginative worlds, uncovering the unique elements that make them stand out.

Concept art of Boarderland by artist Vance Kovacs from "The Looking Glass Wars" books and graphic novels by writer Frank Beddor.

The Looking Glass Wars and Alice in Borderland: A Visual Symphony

Both The Looking Glass Wars’ Boarderland and the world of Alice in Borderland offer a visual feast for the imagination. Boarderland, carved from rock and stone with an endless blend of land and sky forming the mysterious Void, sets the stage for a landscape that shifts and transforms. Similarly, Alice in Borderland presents a dystopian Tokyo, a cityscape that morphs with each challenge, creating an ever-evolving backdrop for the characters.

However, while Boarderland leans towards a fantastical and mythical aesthetic, Alice in Borderland anchors itself in a contemporary urban setting, fusing the fantastical elements with the familiar. This contrast adds a layer of relatability to the latter, enhancing the immersive experience of the characters’ journies.

Kento Yamazaki, Tao Tsuchiya, and other actors wearing glowing harnesses in a still from the Netflix science fiction series "Alice in Borderland."

Nomadic Tribes and Martial Tribulations

The martial tribes of The Looking Glass Wars’ Boarderland and the survival games in Alice in Borderland share a common theme of constant motion and unpredictability. In Boarderland, nomadic tribes emerge like multi-colored oases, disappearing overnight only to reappear miles away. Similarly, in Alice in Borderland, characters face threats that shift and evolve, mirroring the transient nature of Boarderland’s tribes.

Yet, the distinction lies in their movements. Boarderland’s nomadic tribes traverse the land as warriors, a society molded by the necessity of constant warfare. On the other hand, the games in Alice in Borderland demand strategic thinking but lack the pervasive martial ethos seen in Boarderland.

Concept art of King Arch surrounded by women in a throne room by artist Vance Kovacs from "The Looking Glass Wars" books and graphic novels by Frank Beddor.

King Arch vs. The Game Masters

The cruel and cunning King Arch is the chief commander of The Looking Glass Wars’ Boarderland, leading a mercenary state fueled by war. His ascendancy to the throne through constant battle paints a picture of a formidable ruler, a theme mirrored in the challenges faced by the characters in Alice in Borderland. The games in the latter are orchestrated by enigmatic Game Masters, each presenting a unique challenge that requires skill, strategy, and a willingness to confront mortality.

However, the motivations differ. King Arch’s Boarderland thrives on economic prosperity driven by warfare, while the games in Alice in Borderland seem more like a cosmic experiment, designed to push the boundaries of human capability. The contrast is clear – Boarderland’s king is a strategic military leader, whereas the Game Masters seem more like puppeteers orchestrating a complex experiment in an alternative Tokyo.

Riisa Naka, wearing a black and white dress and black gloves, smiles and raises her hands in a still from the Netflix science fiction series "Alice in Borderland."

Games, Challenges, and the Puzzle of the Ancient Caves

The theme of games and challenges is central to both narratives. In The Looking Glass Wars’ Boarderland, various territories are considered game ‘boards,’ each known for its challenges. The ultimate game, the Puzzle of the Ancient Caves, takes place in the mountainous caves overlooking The Void. This puzzle, involving stones that when placed incorrectly bring alternate images to life, has been King Arch’s unconquered challenge.

In Alice in Borderland, the characters face a myriad of challenges and games set by the Game Masters. These challenges range from life-and-death scenarios to complex puzzles, each designed to test the participants. While both elements revolve around the concept of games, the stakes and motivations differ. Boarderland’s games are deeply rooted in the nation’s culture and economy, while those in Alice in Borderland seem driven by a mysterious higher power.

Concept art of a Boarderlander covered in tattoos and holding a spear from "The Looking Glass Wars" books and novels by Frank Beddor.
Concept art of a Boarderlander wearing animal skins and holding a knife from "The Looking Glass Wars" books and novels by Frank Beddor.
Concept art of a Boarderlander wearing a loin cloth and holding a spear from "The Looking Glass Wars" books and novels by Frank Beddor.

Lost Rocks and Wonderland’s Reflection in The Looking Glass Wars’ Boarderland

The concept of the Lost Rocks in Boarderland introduces an element of prophecy and foresight. Nomadic soothsayers traverse the plains in search of these rocks, splitting them in half to reveal intricate crystal images that guide military strategies. This mystical aspect of Boarderland contrasts sharply with the contemporary and technological challenges faced in Alice in Borderland.

Additionally, the delicate balance between Boarderland and Wonderland, akin to yin and yang, mirrors the uneasy alliance between Sparta and Athens. The nuanced interplay between these two realms adds a layer of complexity, reminiscent of the delicate balance between men and women in the real world.

Characters from the Netflix science fiction series "Alice in Borderland" crouch and look around a corner while holding guns.

Conclusion: A Tale of Two Fantasies

In the journies through The Looking Glass Wars’ Boarderland and Alice in Borderland, the similarities and differences weave a tapestry of fantastical realms. Both narratives invite audiences into worlds where challenges, mysteries, and the unknown beckon. Boarderland’s martial tribes and King Arch stand in stark contrast to the urban challenges and Game Masters of “Alice in Borderland.” Yet, the common thread of games, tests, and the unpredictable nature of their landscapes creates an undeniable resonance.

These narratives, each unique in its own right, captivate imaginations and spark reflections on the nature of power, challenge, and the delicate balance between opposing forces. As we navigate the boundaries of these parallel realms, the stories unfold, inviting us to venture beyond the borders and explore the vast possibilities that lie within the realms of wonder and danger.

In contemplating the Puzzle of the Ancient Caves, The Looking Glass Wars’ Boarderland introduces a strategic and mystical element to its challenges. King Arch’s near-defeat in the face of this enigmatic puzzle adds a layer of suspense and complexity to the narrative. In contrast, Alice in Borderland leans towards a more immediate and visceral experience with the challenges presented by the Game Masters, testing characters’ resilience and adaptability in the face of unforeseen trials.

As we delve deeper into these realms, it becomes evident that both The Looking Glass Wars’ Boarderland and Alice in Borderland are not merely tales of adventure; they are reflections of the human condition, exploring the innate desire for conquest, the pursuit of knowledge, and the unpredictable nature of fate. Whether navigating the nomadic magical plains or facing the challenges of a dystopian Tokyo, these narratives beckon us to question our capacities for survival, resilience, and the pursuit of the extraordinary.

ALL THINGS ALICE: INTERVIEW WITH SARA ELLA

As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have Sara Ella join me as my guest on this episode! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.

Mixed graphic including logo for "All Things Alice" podcast, the covers of "The Wonderland Trials," "The Looking Glass Illusion," and "Coral", and an image of author Sara Ella.

Frank Beddor 
You’re the first author that I’ve spoken with that has also worked in Wonderland. Reading your book and seeing all these parallels to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as well as some of the things that I ripped off of was delightful. I’m very excited to chat with you today.

Sara Ella 
I’m so honored. I’ve been a fan of yours for years. Ages ago, my library introduced me to The Looking Glass Wars and I was so excited because I was so drawn to anything Alice so I’m just really excited to be here. Thank you for having me. 

FB
I’m talking with Sara Ella, the writer of the Curious Realities series. Why do you think Alice has lasted for so long? You’ve been a longtime fan so I’m curious if you’ve identified some of the specifics of what attracts us to Alice decade after decade.

SE
I think in general, children’s stories seem to last the test of time. My librarian once told me that children’s stories are the ones that last because they resonate with us as children, but they also resonate with us as adults. For Alice, her story is one that we all relate to. We all want to escape. We all want to avoid growing up and adulthood. But her story is so interesting because she doesn’t want adulthood, she wants nonsense, she wants to stay a little girl and be silly. Then when she’s put in the world that she’s imagined for herself, she doesn’t want to be there. She can’t really be satisfied. Especially with portal stories, where someone portals into another world, that’s something that we all want. We all want to escape. That’s why we read. That’s why we love film. That little bit of time of escape is something that we can all relate to and just the reminder of imagination and what a huge role that that plays as well.

FB
I’m glad you brought that up because I was very jealous of the Wonder gene idea. I thought it was very clever. I also thought it was similar thematically to what I was playing with with imagination. I often had people asking me, “Where did this idea come from?” I would say, “Well, it popped into my imagination.” Then I thought imagination can be a real power for people to think about what their life can be. Then when I was reading your book I came across the Wonder gene, which gives you magical abilities. Imagination, curiosity, and wonder are all very much childhood expressions that we lose or it starts to fade for some of us as adults. I often want to get back to that and being a writer, you have to live in that space of curiosity and wonder and imagination. I think what you did with the Wonder gene is very specific, but yet it’s in a grander thematic way. Can you talk about how you use wonder, curiosity, and imagination in your work?

Author Sara Ella holding a jar full of lights.

SE
I’m a huge Disney person. I love to go to the parks and what Walt Disney did in making Disneyland and Disney World so different from other theme parks. This idea of when you’re in a certain land, you can’t see the other land, and there are certain ways that Disneyland was built so you can’t see the outside world. I really love that idea of being fully immersed. So I thought how can I do this with Alice? I wanted to do something different with how she gets into Wonderland. How can I make this my own? How can I make this fit into this dystopian world I’ve created? And imagination plays a part in it. And I think there’s always that question of whether is Alice dreaming. Does she really experience this? We kind of see that in The Looking Glass Wars where Lewis Carroll has written this story and Alice is just so mad. “This is my history and you are pretending it’s some silly children’s story.” There’s always that question for the reader, is this real? 

That’s what I wanted to explore. What does it mean for something to be real? Does it mean that it has to physically be there? Is it something that we see in our mind? Is it something we imagine? Is it something we believe in? All of those things culminated in the idea of the Wonder gene and this idea of virtual visual reality that Wonders have created for themselves. I love stories like Ready Player One or Warcross by Marie Lu and the idea of virtual reality. Even in Harry Potter, we see Dumbledore tell Harry just because it’s inside your head, why does that mean it should be any less real? I think that’s what’s so fun about Alice. As much as we, as authors, try to convince our readers the story is real, there’s always that question about if Alice really experienced this. Or was she imagining it the whole time? But also, if she was, why should that make it any less real?

FB
You did a great job of creating those two realities within one overall reality that we all relate to. I also thought it was clever to have the Queen of England be the unimaginative, normal person, and then the Queen of Hearts be the real powerhouse in the underground or parallel. 

Let’s start with the two worlds and the logic that you came up with so we could all suspend our disbelief. How much did you think about that? The world creation you’ve done is time-consuming and it has to be right otherwise it’s problematic for the reader.

SE
I’m a discovery writer. The most frustrating part of the writing process for me is figuring out the logic behind my magic system and trying to make it all fit and work. I always see the characters very clearly in my mind and can kind of follow their storyline. But making sure the magic system makes sense is something I struggle with. With creating Wonderland on top of England or London, I played off the idea of what can Wonders see that those without the Wonder gene can’t see. I was inspired a lot by different stories. Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven, for example, where he has two children who go to this magical preserve and they can’t see any of these magical creatures until they drink this special fairy milk. So it’s playing around the idea about what is unseen to us until we have some kind of special ability or special understanding or special knowledge. We see it in Harry Potter where the muggles don’t see a lot of the things going on in the wizarding world and until Harry’s eyes are opened to it, he doesn’t see it either. I guess it would be like the Chosen One trope. There are certain tropes that are repeated but I think we’re so drawn to repeat those tropes because we all want to be the Chosen One, we all want to be Alice. We want to be the ones who can see into the special world of Wonderland. Then I ended up adding what I call a pinch of science fiction because, in a sense, all science fiction is somewhat grounded in fantasy, just at different levels. We see that with Star Wars. So I thought, how can I make up my own science about how the superheroes come to be? Why are superheroes able to do what they do? In my mind, Alice is a kind of superhero. Those with the Wonder gene are able to see something that others cannot see. So I played off that and it just takes a lot of rewriting and good editors to make sure it all comes together.

The Wonderland Trials" and "The Looking Glass Illusion" books by Sara Ella on a white and blue blanket surrounded by playing cards and chess pieces.

FB
When you’re working on a movie, you’re always looking for some sort of IP that’s recognizable. Some of the most successful movies are stories familiar to people but told in unfamiliar ways. That is certainly what you’ve accomplished with the Curious Realities series. You did a reimagining of The Little Mermaid as well. Why do you think familiar stories told in unfamiliar ways constantly attract people?

SE
I think we’re drawn to things that are familiar, we’re drawn to things that are nostalgic to us. It’s why I never tire of hearing Cinderella. I never, ever tire of hearing about the girl who overcame cruelty and stayed kind through it all. That’s something that resonates very deeply with me. It’s something I’m really drawn to. We’re all inspired by something. Whether we’re retelling a familiar tale or we’re reimagining it or we’re coming up with something totally new, we’re still going to draw from different inspirations. I think there’s that nostalgia aspect. Then it resonates with people who are drawn to anything and everything Alice in Wonderland, but then we’re also introducing readers who maybe would never bother to pick up the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I love that aspect, too, of inviting a new reader in and they might now be introduced to other versions of Wonderland or to the original, and be drawn to that. So I think on both sides, you have those who are looking for something new and they really want to like these classic stories, or these fairy tales, but they’ve just never resonated with them. Then finding that version of the story that finally connects with them is a really fun challenge. 

FB
Because you’re writing for a contemporary audience, you’re talking about contemporary themes, and you want to bring people in. You’ve done that with The Wonderland Trials, the first book in the Curious Realities series. But yet in terms of one of the games in the book, the first game Solitary, you have one of Lewis Carroll’s quotes. “Who in the world am I?” That magically is going to relate to my 15-year-old daughter and what she’s going through, what your kids are going to go through as they get older and so you want to cocoon that idea around a story that lets them explore and have adventure. So with the public domain and familiar stories told in an unfamiliar way you’re really trying to connect with a contemporary audience. And if they discover Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because of it, you’re gonna make a lot of librarians happy.

SE
I 100% agree with that. I also have a 15-year-old daughter, and as teenagers, they’re trying to figure out who they are. That’s why I love writing about teens and for teens. But at the same time, so much of my audience is adults. So I think that teenage period of figuring out who you are and what you want and what you want to do just continues to resonate with us, no matter how old we get. 

FB
I always ask my guests to choose a character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to describe their personality and their aspirations. Who would you dress up as for Halloween or as cosplay? I have a feeling I know who you would choose. 

SE
I feel like my answer is very cliche and boring. But as I was friends with Alice, when I worked for the Disney parks, I would choose Alice. I love how she’s walking around in this world that she created for herself. Yet she’s going around, trying to tell people they’re not taking her seriously enough, everybody needs to be more serious. Stop with the nonsense. That just really resonates. It’s kind of the dynamic of my husband and I’s relationship, which is very similar to Alice and Chess in The Wonderland Trials. He’s always trying to lighten the mood. She’s always trying to get him to be more serious. It’s a fun kind of dynamic. So it might be a boring, typical answer, but I would definitely be Alice.

Author Sara Ella at Disneyland holding up a copy of her book, "The Wonderland Trials" next to an actress portraying Alice from Disney's 1951 film "Alice in Wonderland".

FB
Interestingly enough, most of the time people pick some other character so I always find it interesting when someone picks Alice. What I also find curious is that in your book, Alice is really edgy. She’s street-smart. She’s a card shark. She’s got great retorts. I identify with Alice or when people ask me about my books and which character I enjoyed writing most I always say Alice. Her journey is so interesting and writing a book is like going on an adventure in Wonderland. It’s nonsensical at times. It was certainly nonsensical for me to even take on writing my first book. But of course, there has to be a little Mad Hatter, just to be in this business. But I love your character of Alice and her nickname is Ace, which is really appropriate. By the way, all of the references to cards in the design of the book, everything about the book from a production standpoint is spectacular. It’s so well done. Kudos to your team.

SE
Thank you. I have a really great team. I was really grateful to work with a cover designer who took my sad little concept that I created and turned it into the cover because the cover is probably my favorite cover that I’ve ever had. 

FB
The covers for both the first book and the second one, The Looking Glass Illusion, are great.

You said earlier that your process is discovering the story as you write. Can you talk a little bit about that? Have you ever written yourself into a corner and gone, “Man, I gotta start all over again.”

SE
Yes, but after six books, I’m working on my seventh now, I have learned to stop fighting that process. When I first started I thought I was doing it wrong and I needed to outline. The one book I outlined was Coral, which is my reimagining of The Little Mermaid, and I had to rewrite that book three times. This is why I tell all writers just because something works for somebody else doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. We’re all creative in different ways and our brains work in different ways. So if you feel like you’re inside a box with outlining, try not outlining. I really love Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, which is based on Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! As somebody who’s a very visual movie person, the beats that she puts together work for me. I follow those beats as a guideline, “I’m at this percentage of the book, where do I need to go next?” I use it as my map, my GPS. Jessica Brody has a really great course on her Writing Mastery Academy about fast drafting and how her process works for that. I realized this is what I’ve been doing. But she explains it and organizes it in a way that even though there’s a kind of madness to it, there’s still a method. It’s a lot of note-taking, just keeping track of and moving the story forward, getting that first draft down. I have comments in the margins, “Change this character to a female, make sure that you change this character’s personality.” It’s like I’m editing as I’m writing it, and I’m seeing the problems come out. But then I just write forward from that point, however, I’m going to end up changing the beginning.

FB
We’re very similar in that way. Your writing is very visual. Certainly, that happened for me, because that’s the medium I was working in when I started writing The Looking Glass Wars. Also, I had to rewrite it three or four times as well. Then once my editor came on it was like, “Oh, my God, I have a lot of problems to fix.” But once you get the first book under your belt, you find your own rhythm. What you just described makes perfect sense and everybody does things differently. Also, your talent for prose is clear. It’s really beautiful writing. No wonder you have so many books under your belt. 

SE
Thank you so much.

FB
Let’s talk about promoting your book. You live in Arizona, right?

SE
Yes, I’m about 20 minutes north of Phoenix.

FB
Did you ever go to the Comic-Con there?

SE
Not yet, but I’m hoping to be able to go this year. It’s called Phoenix Fan Fusion now, but I am hoping to be able to go. I have connected with a local bookstore and I have several author friends who go.

FB
I went to Comic-Con in San Diego and I had only published in the UK. When I was in the UK, I went to a school and one of the kids was upset because I didn’t write the whole story of Hatter Madigan’s 13 years and he wanted me to go home and finish the book. And on the plane ride home, I thought maybe I could do a comic book about those 13 years. So I did a comic and then I went to San Diego Comic-Con and it turns out that people were interested in the comic because of the artist. But when they read the comic and realized there was a novel attached to it, they started buying the British edition of the novel on Amazon. And what I’ve realized is I sold more novels at Comic-Con than I did comic books. The people who go are huge readers, they’re early adaptors, and they want to get the word out. It’s a great place to press the flesh and sell books, whether you get a dealer’s table which is for folks like us or you go in with a publisher and you’re at their table.

SE
I definitely want to and now you’ve motivated me to try even harder to be able to get there.

FB
Have you done anything with Changing Hands Bookstore?

Author Sara Ella signing books at a table.

SE
Yes, they have been so fantastic to work with. They have collaborated with me to do pre-orders, so readers who pre-order my books are able to get signed and personalized copies along with a little envelope of pre-order goodies. They have just been fantastic. They’ve done my launch parties for the past three books and I will continue to go back there because they have a huge YA audience.

FB
They’ve cultivated the best audience. I’ve done a number of events with Changing Hands and they’re also great at setting up school events. Have you done many school visits?

SE
I’ve only done a couple of school visits. But I’d like to eventually do more so I’ve been really grateful to be connected with several authors in the area and keep my ear to the ground for different invites and opportunities that come up. 

FB
The thing about Arizona is the schools are very large. You can go into some of those schools, and Changing Hands set this up for me, where there’d be 30 6th graders, 30 7th graders, 30 8th graders and you do three presentations. Then Changing Hands or any other bookstore will sell the books on-site and you get pre-orders or post-orders. That was one of the great ways to build out that YA audience. You have such a unique and interesting story because of your time at Disney and your interest in fairy tales that I think you could really connect with those kids.

SE
I always say it’s easier to speak in front of adults than children because you really have to win children over. But I do love public speaking. I taught a creative writing class last year to teenagers at our homeschool group. The year started with them saying nothing and acting like they didn’t want to be there but as the year progressed, I couldn’t get them to stop talking. I feel like you have to earn that from kids. That’s what I really love about speaking in front of teens and children, if you have them engaged and laughing and asking questions, you’ve earned it. So I definitely would love more opportunities to speak at schools. I had the opportunity to speak at the Arizona State University writing summer camp a couple of years in a row and that was a smaller group but also a lot of fun. 

FB
Do you do much with advanced reader copies when finalizing your books?

SE
With my debut novel, Unblemished, I did work with several beta readers who were giving me feedback before I even submitted it to publishers. Now that I’m writing on contract and writing on deadline, I usually form a kind of street team. They’re the ones who get the advance copies and they get to submit reviews early so we can build that hype. Though, I always ask them please, before the release, only have spoiler-free reviews.

As far as feedback goes at this point in my career, it mostly comes from Nadine Brandes, my best friend, and a fellow author, and then just working with my editors. I’ll ask my 15-year-old daughter things because I sometimes date myself with certain references. I’m also an editor and I was editing a story for a client the other day and there was a reference to Smokey the Bear. So I asked my teenage daughter, “Do you know who Smokey the Bear is?” She said she did. So that’s how I gauge if I’m dating myself. But as far as feedback goes with beta readers, most of those advanced copies are really just going to those early readers who are getting the word out. But at that point, nothing in the novel can be changed.

Cover of "Unblemished" by author Sara Ella.
Cover of "Unraveling" by author Sara Ella.
Cover of "Unbreakable" by author Sara Ella.

FB
In terms of reviews as it relates to Alice in Wonderland and the British sensibility versus an American taking it on, I got a lot of blowback. “What’s this Yank doing?” I noticed a lot of the reviews were not always that kind. It felt sort of personal because I was an American. I was curious if you had any feedback about taking on this classic.

SE
You’re always going to have both sides of the coin with a retelling. Whenever I’m asked by a new writer, “What are your tips for writing a retelling?” I always say, “You can’t please everyone.” You’re gonna have your readers who expect it to be exactly like the original and they’re very protective of that story so if you get something wrong, or if you change something in a way they don’t like, they’re going to come after you. Particularly, when you’re researching another culture or another place you’re not from, you want to get it right. But there are inevitably things that you’re going to get wrong. On the one hand, I’ve had people say, “Wow, I lived in England for three years and this is so authentic and accurate. I loved it.” Then I’ve had other people who have reviewed it and said that everything was very forced and you can tell I know nothing about England or British culture.

FB
I think I have that exact same review.

SE
I think you have to expect that your story is not going to be for everyone. You’re going to research to the best of your ability but we’re also writing fiction. Sometimes our work is based on a part of our reality. But in the end, you’re going to take certain liberties and your book is not going to be for every reader. I don’t read reviews unless they’re sent to me. Sometimes I stumble across one or two I wish I hadn’t stumbled across. But for the most part, I find that either way, if I’m reading reviews that are building the book up, I’m gonna get a big head about it. If I’m reading reviews that are tearing the book down, I’m going to doubt the book. There’s nothing I can do about it because I can’t change it. So I just try to stay down the middle of the road. If someone tags me in a review, I’ll read it and I’ll thank them for it but for the most part, I always tell writers, that if reviews are affecting you one way or another to the point where it’s affecting your writing, and it’s changing the way you think about your own story, then it’s probably best to try and stay away from reviews altogether.

FB
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the sequel? My last two books, Seeing Red and ArchEnemy, were really a continuation. It really upset people. They were pissed off because it didn’t have that definitive ending like The Looking Glass Wars and it was a long time before ArchEnemy came out. If I had to do it over again, I would have had a more satisfying ending to the second book. But of course, I was inexperienced so I didn’t really realize that. So tell me about the ending of The Wonderland Trials and how you constructed The Looking-Glass Illusion. What’s the transition?

SE
The Looking-Glass Illusion is a continuation. So for those who have not read The Wonderland Trials, now would be the time to fast-forward through this part of the podcast. But The Wonderland Trials ends with Alison and her team, Team Heart, leaving the third trial behind and entering the fourth trial, which is the Queen’s Trial, the Heart Trial, and they don’t quite know what to expect. The entire premise of The Looking-Glass Illusion is where you have The Wonderland Trials which has three different trials, the entire second book is set in the Heart Trial. For those familiar with Lewis Carroll’s second story of Alice, Through the Looking-Glass, the Heart Trial is all on a chessboard and it’s all about Alice trying to get to the eighth square. I went into this not knowing how to play chess. So how am I supposed to write a book that’s based on the game of chess? That’s where my friend Janelle came in. She sat down with me and taught me the basics of how to play. So the entire story of The Looking-Glass Illusion is trying to defeat the Heart Trial, but they’re also trying to find what’s real and what has happened to the real Wonderland. As Alice and her team learned in The Wonderland Trials, what they’re seeing is not necessarily what the real Wonderland is meant to be and is an illusion that they believe the Queen of Hearts has created. So if they defeat the Heart Trial, they believe they can find the real Wonderland. So that’s the second book and I had a lot of fun figuring out how chess played into it. I had a lot of fun with some of the nonsense words. Okay, this is a nonsense word, Lewis Carroll, but how does it fit into my world? I had a lot of fun with that and the Jabberwocky and really the whole theme is believing in the impossible, but also facing your fears. 

FB
I really like that, believing in the impossible. Do you have a favorite iteration of Alice? I’m assuming the Disney movie is one of your favorites because you worked there. But is there a song or another movie that you love?

SE
I listened to “Welcome to Wonderland” by Anson Seabra a lot when I was writing The Wonderland Trials. It’s kind of a melancholy song but obviously, if you’re writing Alice, you’re thinking of Alice, but it’s really just a song for people. I really love the lyrics. One of my favorite reimaginings of Alice on screen has got to be what the TV show Once Upon a Time did with Mad Hatter’s character, who’s named Jefferson Hatter in the show. He’s a portal jumper and the evil Queen Regina wants to use him for this and he spirals into madness. Because there’s always the question, how did the Mad Hatter become mad? There’s obviously the history behind how hats were made but in the show, he’s so desperate to get back to his daughter that he continues trying to make a portal-jumping hat and he spirals. So I love what Once Upon a Time did with that and I love what they did overall meshing and melding the different fairy tales. That was a lot of fun. It remains one of my favorite on-screen retellings of Alice, particularly Hatter’s story.

FB
Can you tease us with a retelling that you’re thinking about? Mine is Treasure Island. There’s got to be a way to do Treasure Island.

SE
I would read that book. Treasure Planet is one of my all-time favorite underrated Disney movies. I am contracted for a four-book series with my publisher and each book is going to be a retelling paired with a literary classic. I cannot divulge specifically the one I’m working on now which releases in 2025 or my marketing director might have off with your head. But I will say that for anybody who’s followed me, you can find me on Instagram at @saraellawrites. I’ve been dropping lots of clues to the fairytale that I’ve wanted to work on for many, many years to come. It’s a fairy tale that has resonated with me and the book that I’ve chosen to mash it up with is one of my favorite stories from literature. But it’s also one of my favorite films and the film is very different from the book. But I feel that this particular fairy tale in this particular story from classic literature fits very well together. So if you want to go clue hunting, if you’ve read The Wonderland Trials you know I love clues and games, you can scour my Instagram to see the clues that I’ve dropped for what I’m working on next.

FB
Okay, listeners, I need you to do that and message me what you think it is. I definitely want to follow up and have you on the show again and hear all about it because that is an excellent, tease for your upcoming book. It’s really been a pleasure to have you on the show and talk about all things Alice and in particular, your really successful, beautifully written books. 

SE
Thank you so much for having me, Frank. When I received your email to be on the show, I thought, “Is this real or am I being scammed?” So thank you for having me on. I’ve been a follower of yours for years. Love your books. It was really an honor to get to chat with you today.

FB
Thank you very much. Have a great day. 


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5 Pieces of Science Inspired by Alice in Wonderland

We all know Alice in Wonderland is everywhere. Since Lewis Carroll’s tale about a young girl wandering through Wonderland was published over 150 years ago, Alice has been ever-present in pop culture. There have been numerous adaptations in film, television, literature, video games, and board games. Alice’s story has directly and indirectly inspired musicians and storytellers, most recently with Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things. Words and phrases such as a “Cheshire Cat grin” and “down the rabbit hole” are constant parts of everyday speech. But Alice isn’t just ubiquitous in culture, you can also find her in every facet of science. From the cosmos to psychology, Alice has influenced how we understand and define our world.

Here are five places where you can find Wonderland in science:

The Alice Ring

Wonderland is a wild, mind-bending world entirely different from our own. However, a recent creation by Finnish and American scientists shows that our world might have more in common with Wonderland than we previously thought. The Alice Ring is a decayed monopole “that flips the magnetic charge of any other monopole passing through its center, creating an anti-monopole.”

Yes, as someone who never took physics, that was confusing for me too. A monopole is essentially a magnet with just one magnetic pole. The Alice Ring looks like a regular monopole but when you look inside, things get curiouser and curiouser. “Everything seems to be mirrored, as if the ring were a gateway into a world of antimatter instead of matter,” said co-creator Mikko Mottonen of Aalto University in Finland. A realm where everything appears to be the opposite of the norm? It makes sense why they named it after Alice. The prospect that science can quite literally create mirrored realities is both exciting and frightening, similar to Wonderland.

Medicinal Magic Mushrooms

Mushrooms are synonymous with Alice in Wonderland, especially the psychedelic ones. In the novel, Alice eats a mushroom that changes her size, evoking the hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin mushrooms. While there is no evidence psychedelics or any other type of drug, influenced Lewis Carroll, the story’s connection to mind-altering substances is undeniable, especially since the 1960s when the counterculture embraced the connections to drugs found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Mushrooms, however, are becoming more and more mainstream. Specifically, their medicinal qualities are being fully explored for the first time. In a recent presentation to the Memphis Rotary Club, Dr. Ronald L. Cowan of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center outlined the exciting possibilities that magic mushrooms have for treating depression. Magic mushrooms showed effects in a few days to two weeks and helped to resolve depression in about two-thirds of patients, both at better rates than traditional antidepressants. Though it is a small sample size, the results are encouraging.

How does Alice play into this? The music, film, literature, and values of the 1960s counterculture that embraced and espoused the psychedelic qualities of Alice in Wonderland have become part of the mainstream, bringing with it more progressive attitudes toward drugs. It is not improbable that Alice’s role in that counterculture, along with its continuing prevalence in our culture, played a role in society being comfortable with exploring the possibly life-changing benefits of psychedelic mushrooms.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, example of Alice in science is the mysterious Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. The rare syndrome involves distorted perception and instances of it began cropping up in medical texts around 1900. In a 1952 paper, neurologist Caro Lippman recounted several examples from patients including “a sensation of the neck extending out on one side for a foot or more,” a woman’s “left ear ‘ballooning out 6 inches or more,’” and another patient reporting that if felt like her head grew to “tremendous proportions” and floated up to the ceiling. The litany of other testimonies is very similar to Alice’s experiences in Lewis Carroll’s novel. A common thread amongst Lippman’s patients was that most also suffered from migraine headaches. This gave rise to speculation that Carroll, who also suffered from migraines, may have been directly influenced by his affliction, though no such complaints have been found in his diaries.

The cause of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is not well understood. Brain inflammation due to the Epstein-Barr virus seems to be the most common cause of symptoms in children while symptomatic adults most often present with migraines. Tumors and schizophrenia are also potential causes. While the syndrome is just as mysterious as the inner workings of Wonderland, scientists are better able to explore the disorder due to neuroimaging technology which can help track the relationship between symptoms and brain activity.

Cheshire Cat Galaxies

The mischievous grin of the Cheshire Cat is an iconic image that has cropped up in a variety of media. The cat’s teasing, enigmatic smile can also be seen in the cosmos. The Cheshire Cat galaxies are a group of distant galaxies that resemble the grin of Lewis Carroll’s feline. The galaxies are an example of gravitational lensing, where the galaxies’ light “has been stretched and bent by the large amounts of mass,” which is usually dark matter. In this case, the mass surrounds the “eyes” and “nose”. The circular “face” is formed by the gravitational lensing of four galaxies far behind the “eye” galaxies.

But these galaxies are not just stagnating in space. Much like Wonderland, they are constantly changing. The two “eye” galaxies, for example, are on a collision course, hurtling towards each other at over 300,000 miles per hour. Astronomers believe that the Cheshire Cat galaxies will eventually become more like a Cyclops group once the two “eye” galaxies collide and merge. But don’t worry, that won’t happen for another billion years.

Borogovia Dinosaur

Lewis Carroll created many fantastical creatures for Wonderland and one of his creations lent its name to a wondrous creature of Earth – a dinosaur. The Borogovia was a small theropod (hollow bones and three toes and claws on each limb) that lived 66-84 million years ago and was first discovered in the 1970s in southern Mongolia. The Borogovia, which belongs to the group of dinosaurs that evolved into birds, reminded paleontologist Halszka Osmolska of another avian creature – Lewis Carroll’s borogoves. Borogoves are mentioned in the poem “Jabberwocky” and Humpty Dumpty describes a borogove as “a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round—something like a live mop.” The spindly legs of the dinosaur certainly evoke the characteristics of its Wonderland namesake and it’s fitting that fiction became fact and this feathered Wonderlander lives on in an ancestor of birds that once roamed Earth.


Meet The Author

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

All Things Alice: Interview with Adrienne Kress, Part 2

As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have Adrienne Kress join me as my guest on this episode! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.

"All Things Alice" podcast logo featuring Adrienne Kress with images of book covers for "Bendy: Fade to Black", "The Explorers", "Alex and the Ironic Gentleman", and "Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X."

Frank Beddor
As a kid, the whole idea of identity and trying on these different identities while growing up is really universal. But what’s remarkable, since I’ve been working in the Alice universe, is how deeply seated it is in culture and how Alice has become such a muse for creatives. We never had this conversation. Can you tell us a little bit about Alex and the Ironic Gentleman? I didn’t know that it was inspired by Alice. How did you use elements of Alice in your book?

Adrienne Kress
The very basic plot is a girl, Alex, has to rescue her grade six teacher from pirates. She was raised by her uncle but he was killed and the only adult in her life who’s a parental figure is this teacher. At the same time, she’s found a treasure map, which is what these pirates were looking for. So it’s also a treasure hunt kind of thing. Act One establishes everybody and begins the adventure and has pirates kidnap the teacher. Act Three, we go to sea. We’ve got the H.M.S. Valiant, we’ve got our good guys and then we’ve got the Ironic Gentlemen, who are the pirates. We have a proper Treasure Island-style, Peter Pan-style adventure. 

But Act Two is very much Alice in Wonderland. Alex has to get to Port Cullis, which is a port town where she’s trying to get a boat. So the journey from her town to Port Cullis, that’s the Alice bit and it’s very much Alice in Wonderland. She’s thrown into a very absurdist world. Even though it’s her world, her world is absurd. Everything is very episodic. It starts with a very strange train sequence that’s my Beckett, existential absurdism. My very first play was that Waiting for Godot style, the circle that never ends. I find it horrifying and deeply amusing at the same time. So it starts with that and then Alex ends up being plopped in a forest. Then in this forest, she comes across different people who are absurd caricatures or, in one case, an extremely ginormous octopus who’s an older English-style lush actor like Peter O’Toole.

Alex has to help solve its problems to move on to the next step, which is yet another person who needs another thing. She’s basically trying to get to Point B but she keeps getting waylaid. I remember my editor being like, “Okay, if we’re going to do this, it’s not very forward moving so let’s make sure that we have no extraneous words.” We did cut one scene where she meets a French horn player, which I was sad about because I used to play French horn which is why that was in there. But she has these scenes and for some readers that’s their favorite bit. I think the Alice fans at heart get it. Then some people are like, “Oh my god, I just wanted to get to Port Cullis.” They wanted that more straight journey.

Book cover of middle grade fantasy adventure novel "Alex and the Ironic Gentleman" by Adrienne Kress.
Alice in the 1951 Disney film "Alice in Wonderland".

FB
They wanted Treasure Island

AK
Exactly. We get there. I just wanted to do a little bit before that.

FB
So if you like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Treasure Island, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this is a book for you.

AK
I did call it an homage to children’s lit. It’s the first book I ever finished writing. The first children’s book I ever wrote. So everything was very much an homage. Everything was something else. I put friends in it. Previous employers were in it. I tried to represent everyone nicely.

It was just everything I love in a book not thinking it would be published, not even thinking about publishing. Then, of course, there’s the challenge of realizing you have to write a second more challenging thing. I think writing a first book is hard but you’re so focused on this crazy huge accomplishment, “I have this goal and it took me 10 years, but I’m going to do it and put everything I’ve got into this thing.” Then you get published and you start to have a career and somebody asks you for a second book and you’re like, “But I can’t do what I did. I can’t do that all over again.”

FB
I thought it was exactly the opposite. There was something about the first one in terms of not having any pressure because you don’t think it’s gonna get published and you can take 5-10 years, however long it takes. However, once it’s there, and you figured out the rules and the logic, then yes, there’s a pressure. But so much of it’s already a roadmap, and much easier, and the second book certainly took me a lot less time. I did feel pressure from the editors a little bit more, but I was happy that I had already established that, if they liked this world, I’d been working on it. I have all this stuff in a filing cabinet. I’ll just pull more stuff. 

AK
There is a difference. I don’t know why I did this to myself. I’ve now written some series but generally, I always enjoyed standalones. I decided for the second book, I was going to write a completely different story. It was set in the same world but with completely different characters and, a completely different story, and then halfway through, we would bring Alex back into it and stuff. So I think writing a direct sequel has its unique challenges, especially if people really liked the first one. It’s like, “Oh, no, how do I make this as well-liked, if not more well-liked too? How do I write the second book, but not rest on my laurels? There are a lot of challenges with that. But I think for me because I decided I’m going to write a second book that’s completely not the first, I felt again like I was starting a bit from scratch.

Book cover of middle-grade adventure novel "The Explorers: The Quest for the Kid" by Adrienne Kress.
Book cover of middle-grade adventure novel "The Explorers: The Reckless Rescue" by Adrienne Kress.
Book cover of middle-grade adventure novel "The Explorers: The Door in the Alley" by Adrienne Kress.

FB
That’s for sure

You have a whole new series out. You have three books in the Bendy series.

AK
The Bendy books are a series, but they’re also standalones. So we’ve done it again. But The Explorers, which is just mine is a proper three-book series. 

FB
Can you walk us through that? Did you know you were going to have a trilogy when you started it? 

AK
Yes. It was a three-book deal from the beginning. Just from the beginning, it was a very classic, hoping that each book is their own adventure but it had that very classic overarching arc. They had to collect things and they had to rescue somebody by the end.

FB
Were they saying they wanted the book to come out every year or every 18 months? Did you have that added pressure? 

AK
It was every year or 18 months, I can’t remember which, but it was definitely that. So that window where you had to write the whole of the next book and then go through the whole process again and write it in time with their deadlines

FB
I found that very stressful, by the way, hitting a deadline for the book. Because they said you’re going to lose your audience. The audience is going to find some other series.

AK
There’s one book in the Bendy book series, which is in the YA section because it’s a memoir. In the very first game, there’s a book called The Illusion of Living, which is the memoir of Joey Drew, who’s the Walt Disney of this animation studio. So they wanted me to write the memoir, which was a really cool experience writing a memoir about an adult male for a young adult section. But with these three books, the other two are technically Y.A., there’s less of the pressure that you’re talking about, which just blows my mind. “You’re going to lose your audience.” Who says that? But that kind of pressure, when the developers of Bendy decided they wanted the next book, I guess they would talk to Scholastic about it, then Scholastic would come to me and say, “You have to get this to us in two months.” That level of fast. It isn’t the same way as writing a series where they’re like, “We need the next book ASAP for the series.” It was more like, “When we’re ready for the next one, we gotta go, go, go.” 

The front cover of "Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life" by Adrienne Kress.
The front cover of "Bendy: The Illusion of Living" by Adrienne Kress.

FB
Just to make it clear for the listeners, Bendy is based on a video game. So they needed these books for the day and date of releasing a new game?

AK
I don’t fully know what the decision-making process is there. I’m just happy to be a part of it. So the second game was released this time last year. I think it’s possible that when they finished working on the game, they were like, “Okay, now we would like another book.” They were so focused on the game, as they should be. But I believe it was a year from being told they’d like another book. So that’s even before I’ve written an outline to send to them. It was a year, from that point to the release of the most recent one. This time last year, I would have been knee-deep in writing it.

The most recent one, Fade to Black, came out at the beginning of October and I don’t think I had started writing it last year at the beginning of October.

FB
Let me just get all these titles right. So Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life was book one, which came out in 2019. Did you have to audition for this? Send in an outline and based on the outline, they chose you or did you have a pre-existing relationship? 

AK
I think they reached out to maybe four other authors and there was very little that they required. They wanted it to be Y.A., set in the studio, the games take place decades after the studio is over, so essentially, they wanted it set in the 1940s. That’s about it. Then I came back saying I’d like to do an apprentice who’s 17, and works in the art department because obviously, the whole point of his game is art. So let’s put them in the art department. They liked that and they were thinking the exact same thing. At that point, all of us who they had asked wrote pages. I think they wanted about five pages but I asked if I could submit 15. So I did the opening which is almost entirely the same opening of Dreams Come to Life. I guess they liked it, which was very nice.

The front cover of "Bendy: The Lost Ones" by Adrienne Kress.
The front cover of "Bendy: Fade to Black" by Adrienne Kress.

FB
And the second is Bendy: The Illusion of Living. The third one is Bendy and the Ink Machine: The Lost Ones and the most recent book is Bendy: Fade to Black.

Also, it was published through Scholastic, which is great because they have such a far reach and they were your original publishers as well. 

AK
They were the ones who published Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. They were the very first.

FB
You’re keeping it in the family. That must have been nice. Do they have an editor that they assigned to these books?

AK
So it’s fascinating and goes back to what I was saying about reluctant readers. They have an imprint called AFK, which means Away From Keyboard. For those who don’t know your acronyms, which I did not, that’s a very cool online acronym. They did the Five Nights at Freddy’s books, which are massive.

I don’t know when they actually started the imprint or whether it was on the back of how successful the Five Nights at Freddy’s stuff was but they do all these video game tie-ins. My editors have all been incredible. What I really liked about it beyond it being fun is that they have this imprint that’s all focused on video game tie-ins and you’re getting all these readers like me, reluctant readers, who might not be into a book going “Well, that is my favorite video game.” I get it all the time from kids and teenagers, “I hate books,” or “I don’t like reading. I’ve never really read a book. But I read this one because I love Bendy and it was really good.” I hope that the Bendy books spark that realization of “There are books for me. I just have to find them. They might not be what even the school is showing me but somewhere there are books for me.” So as the reluctant reader I really, really love that. 

It’s so fun to read certain reviews, like on Goodreads, where they said the author didn’t have to go this hard. No, I did. I have to get themes. I have to get morals. I have to get complicated ethics questions. I love that I’m able to do that and sneak that stuff into these books. Then next year, they’re adapting the first book into a graphic novel, which I’m also super into. I’ve got a graphic novel of my own that’s coming out in 2025 because it takes forever. It’s 250 pages and this incredible artist, Jade Zhang, has to illustrate it. I don’t know how she’s doing it. To me, it seems fast. But they’re releasing Dreams Come to Life as a graphic novel next year. Again, I love that because I think graphic novels also open the world of reading even more.

FB
Are you adapting your own book, the prose, into the graphic novel or are they hiring somebody else to do that?

AK
They’ve hired a writer named Christopher Hastings, who’s done this a fair bit. When I was first told there was going to be a graphic novel I was like, “They probably already have somebody but I could do it.” And then I thought, “No, even though I know how to write a script, how on Earth do you make that book that’s almost 300 pages into a graphic novel?” Even if it’s got the same number of pages, it’s not going to be that same length.

FB
Let’s go to your graphic novel because that’s fascinating. I wrote my prose and then I had no idea what I was doing and then I did a graphic novel and I look back on it and go, “Wow, I made so many mistakes and set up this so terribly.” But it was really, really fun to do and now I understand how different it is. Can you speak to writing your first graphic novel? 

Pencil sketch page from the graphic novel "Hatter M: Far From Wonder" written by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier and illustrated by Ben Templesmith.
Finished page from the graphic novel "Hatter M: Far From Wonder" written by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier and illustrated by Ben Templesmith.

AK
The way that one writes a graphic novel is you have page numbers, specific pages that you have to dictate, and then what happens in specific panels on those pages. That is what is so challenging. I love it. I think very visually to begin with and I’ve read a lot of graphic novels. So I felt very comfortable playing around with how to use the space and what to do. I have a friend Stephanie Cook, who has a lot of kidlit graphic novels out now, and also is an editor, and she does tons with graphic novels in the comics community in general. So we met up, and I’m like, “Help me.” She told me generally, for middle grade, you don’t want more than five panels on a page. Very pragmatic things like that which were very, very helpful. But generally, I had a good vibe, I had a good sense of aesthetics. 

But what I didn’t know until I was going back over it myself, and then working with an editor on it, was how hard editing a graphic novel is. Because in a book, screenplay, or play, if you need an extra bit of dialogue or an extra section to fully understand what’s happening, “Sure, I’ll put it here.” But if you add a single thing to a graphic novel script, it’s Tetris. You add another panel, and then that fifth panel has fallen off the page. Can I fit it into the next page? Or can I make this page six panels? Or do I need that panel? Maybe I can get rid of that panel? Or do we move everything down? But of course, there are two-page spreads and you have to make sure that you have pages two and three side by side. It can’t be three and four because they’re on opposite sides of the page. It’s math. 

FB
Every page you add is hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the artists because they get paid by the page unless you make a deal with them where they’re part of the authorship. I found the editing process really, really challenging, as well. But the heavy lifting is the artists. Also, the artists can say, “Hey, I can’t fit all those panels,” or “There’s so much dialogue in this particular panel, we’re going to have to move it around a little bit.” I was really leaning on Ben Templesmith.

AK
I’ve given so many challenges to Jane. So the story is called Ghost Circus and it’s about these two kids and we meet these ghosts at the circus.

FB
Not in the H.A.T.B.O.X.?

AK
No ghosts in the H.A.T.B.O.X. 

FB
It’s in the circus, not the H.A.T.B.O.X. Okay. 

Concept art from the middle-grade graphic novel "Ghost Circus" written by Adrienne Kress and illustrated by Jade Zhang.

AK
There are flashbacks to how the ghosts became ghosts and they’re set in all different time periods. So Jade’s drawing 1930s New York and then the savanna with elephants, plus the main timeline we’re in with the ghost circus itself and all the characters there. It’s so impressive. I feel like I’ll know whether or not she had issues or whether she solved them. I think there’s one or two times she’ll do something with a couple of panels and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that makes more sense.” But maybe just because I was so aware of the middle gradeness of it all, that was very much at the forefront of my mind. So being aware of the number of panels I needed per page. Then before even Jade came on board, editing it and working on it with the editor, he’d be like, “This is too much though. We’re not going to fit that dialogue on our panel.” That’s where the math came in. But it was an incredible learning curve.

FB
But being a playwright, you really had a handle, because that is the closest form to writing for graphic novels.

AK
One hundred percent. Thank goodness I had that experience. Because I did look at other people’s scripts, I wanted to learn, something even just as simple as page one, panel one. I wanted to know how that works. It’s great to have that reason for us to look at what other people have done but it didn’t feel awkward because graphic novel writing comes from playwriting and the scripts look like a play. 

FB
My wife and I are working on a graphic novel and this is her first graphic novel but she had been a staff writer on the show Bones. So she sort of understands but we were having the simplest conversations, “So, on the one page, is it panel 1 through 5, and then on page two, it’s panel six, do you continue?” “No, it’s just one through five and then the next page is one through five.” 

AK
That question makes perfect sense. Like, “You’re not repeating the same pattern?” 

FB
But this time we hired an editor from the very beginning and said, “Okay, here’s the basis of the story.” Then he was saying you have to have a sensitivity reader read it because some of the names and some elements don’t quite line up based on the story. So we’ve done that. It’s really a science, as you say, it’s a math question. There is a lot more going on in the world in terms of when you create something to make sure it’s accessible to all.

AK
I do think it’s quite wonderful because I think we’ve been using sensitivity readers for a while, as authors. Reaching out to people we know or asking our friends, “Hey, do you know somebody who might be able to look over this section because I want to make sure this is as correct and sensitive as possible?” It’s all kind of already existed but I like that it’s been codified as a proper job. It’s something that I think is more front and center of awareness, which I think is important. We had one, specifically for Bendy: Fade to Black, which is set after World War II and the dad has PTSD from the war. It’s thematically important to the story. The whole story is actually about PTSD and mental health, and living with that sort of trauma. I did my level best, researching and trying to make things as sensitive and as authentic as possible, but Scholastic did give it to somebody to read over just to make sure that we were doing it right.

Image from the horror indie video game "Bendy and the Dark Revival" from Joey Drew Studios.

FB
I agree with you. The level of subtlety is really different and we must be mindful. For the graphic novel my wife and I are working on in particular, the characters all come from different places and we wanted to make sure that we were honoring everybody’s heritage and getting it right. Are you interested in World War II much after doing that research?

AK
It’s one of those things that I think is by virtue of being a cinephile there are so many movies about World War II. But then, for my generation, it impacted our grandparents. So it’s a very present thing. You’ve got a real direct connection versus perhaps other history that feels like it’s almost a story. You don’t have that visceral connection, which is why I think I might have struggled with other history classes and other history. It wasn’t until I started doing art history where you could actually go and see the actual works and connect to the reality of it that I realized I did like history. I just need to consume it differently. 

There are a lot of phenomenal YouTube shows that are about the domestic side of history. So a day in the life in Victorian England. What did you eat? Where do you sleep? With the first Bendy book, they wanted it just after World War II. I had been to New York and somebody recommended the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side. They found a boarded-up tenement that hadn’t been renovated, and hadn’t been touched, and from there they started reaching out to families generationally for stories and objects, they looked at census information. What it’s become is you go on these tours and it’s like just walking through history. You’re there. You’re seeing and touching everything and it was incredible. Shortly thereafter, I got the gig for the book and they wanted it set in the 1940s and I was like “Okay, I’ll make it New York.” I know their lives. I know where he lives. 

FB
That’s great. You were destined to write these. Are there going to be more books in this series? 

AK
It’s been such a pleasure and I really enjoy working on them. I know the developers are very focused on the next games as well. They’re very sweet about it, which I’m grateful for because I was very nervous with a pre-existing fan base. I felt the same way about Hatter Madigan.

FB
That was really fun, working on Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. together. I knew I was in good hands when you came up with the idea that he was an insider and not an outsider. Your rationale was that Harry Potter had done that to such great success and there are a lot of other stories that do the same thing, that Hatter being an insider would make the story in this book unique. Once you pitched that, I said, “Okay, that’s a very smart idea.”

Author Adrienne Kress sitting down and surrounded by piles of the middle-grade novel "Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X." by Frank Beddor and Adrienne Kress.

AK
Thank you. It was so much fun. The world is, God…creating that world the way that you have, with literally an encyclopedia, is so phenomenal and so intimidating as a writer. I admire so much just the depth of the world-building you had. As we were talking about with Alice in Wonderland, that’s what’s so great about all these adaptations of Alice is everybody’s unique perspective. 

FB
I was really trying to create a jumping-off place. Take some of the motifs and then use that creativity and share the sandbox and see what other people can bring to it. In every conversation I had with you and with other creatives, it doesn’t work unless you bring yourself to it. You bring something unique that you can do. That’s what I’m looking for. I don’t want to be precious. I want to actually break away from it a lot more because I’ve gotten so focused. I think about it in a loop and I can’t break out of it unless I have another voice.

AK
That’s so fair. You were asking me about the adaptation of Dreams Come to Life. There is no way, with the narrowness of focus that I have, that I could possibly bring a unique look to that book. But a new person adapting it would. That’s the crazy part, isn’t it? Getting to write and make stuff up as a job.

FB
How do you balance writing your own work, adapting something, producing, and auditioning? What’s the day-to-day balance that you try to accomplish?

AK
What’s balance? I wish it felt more like I had a plan and I really stuck to it. The truth is, it’s a little bit flying by the seat of your pants. I can’t speak to what they are but I’ve got two write-for-hires that just happened this month. So right now balancing those…and I feel very good about the plan because the jobs are so vastly different. There are a lot of reasons why I can do that. I wouldn’t always say yes to doing two projects right at the same time but these worked very nicely together, they complement each other. But this summer, I had no writing, anything. I didn’t have edits. Nothing was sorted that way. So I decided I really wanted to write. I have a middle-grade story that’s much more in the style of Judy Blume. So not fantastical in any way, more coming of age. I’ve been really wanting to write it for a few years so I’m like, “That’s what I’m doing this summer.” 

It takes place over a summer so it felt like the right temperature because I’m in Canada and we only get this so much. That’s with my agent and we’ll probably go on submission to publishers in the new year. But I’m glad I did that, over that gap in the summer, because then these projects came along and it would be sad because I don’t think I would have been able to balance them with my original work. The key is taking advantage of moments. If you can’t plan everything out ahead of time you can still have a sense of how long a project will take and maybe when that’s done I’ll do this thing that’s more in my control. The pet projects that might not have a home yet. You have to still honor and give space to that project. 

FB
You had a good summer. You finished a new book and you had a movie come out.

AK
Post on the movie was a long post. There was no way you could focus on anything else. I was also injured at the time so that didn’t help. I think you’re well aware that moviemaking can be entirely consuming. 

Adrienne Kress and Ryan Allen in the 2023 horror film "The Devil Comes at Night".

FB
When you’re on set, forget it. You only have so many hours in the day and then you’re gonna lose crew and locations.

AK
Exactly. If I was just acting, that would be different because you have a lot of downtime as an actor on a set. That’s a great time to maybe just get a few words in the computer. It’s much easier to multitask. But as a producer and as a writer on it, you do not have the same level of free time. 

FB
You said fly by the seat of your pants and one of the reasons for that is so much of the work is speculative. There’s the focus you need to finish your book that you’re not getting paid for or the movie that has enough financing just to get it made, but you’re not making any money unless the movie sells. Then depending on how many bills you have to pay it’s like “Okay, where am I putting my attention?” If I need to pay bills, I need that work-for-hire stuff, or for this movie, let’s gamble and see if we have a little payday at the end of it. It does feel like when you’re doing so many different mediums, you’ll fly by the seat of your pants because there is no structure to it. It’s really a self-generated structure. That’s not so easy. 

AK
A lot of people I talk to, even writers who are also doing a day job, I’m like, “Oh, if only I had all that free time.” I am very lucky. I get to write professionally as my job. That is an amazing, amazing gift. It’s incredible. But there are other challenges. There was a long period where I was writing, especially with Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, but I also had a day job. Even once it got published, I still had a job. That job schedule does actually help schedule out your writing too because you only have certain windows in which you can do it. If you have the whole day, it’s very hard to schedule things. 

FB
I had this equivalent when I had kids and it’s like, “Wait a second, I only have from 10 to midnight.”

AK
Exactly. It’s hard. I do really admire people. There are just unique challenges for all of it. In the end, you have to be your own boss. You have to give yourself your own deadlines. With my deadline for this coming-of-age middle grade that I finished, I was telling friends, “I’m a week behind. I know I finished it the next week, but I really wanted to get it done earlier. I’m really annoyed with myself.” And my friends will say, “But it’s your own deadline.” I treat my own deadlines like somebody else has imposed them. 

FB
I agree with that. I think the more discipline, the better off you are. So yeah. 

Before we go, if you were a character from Alice in Wonderland, who would you be and why?

AK
That’s a good question. As a drama major in my art school, every year you had a different focus and in grade 10 a lot of that was performance, putting together a little production. We were very fortunate in our year that we got to do Alice in Wonderland. I was cast as the White Queen, which is what I wanted and I loved playing her. I don’t think I had ever played a flighty character. I tend to get cast as intelligent, grounded human characters. I think the White Queen might have been the first sort of flighty, weird character I got to play. That meant a lot to me. I realized I like playing these characters. I just love the character and her wordplay. Her particular scene that she has with Alice, with all the wordplay, “tomorrow, yesterday, today.” 

Growing up, I’d obviously seen the Disney movie. But there’s a TV version from 1985 and Carol Channing is the White Queen, and she has a song. I grew up with that version. The Jabberwock was so scary that I couldn’t watch half of it because it gave me nightmares, but I still loved it. 

Carol Channing as the White Queen and Natalie Gregory as Alice in the 1985 CBS television film "Alice in Wonderland".

FB
That is a very, very good answer. It might be the best answer of anybody that I’ve interviewed because not all have played the character. So it’s generational from the 80s. 

AK
I’ve always loved her. Of course, I did get to dress as your Alyss and that was amazing. I need to wear that jacket again.

FB
If people wanted to start reading your work, where would you suggest they start? Would you say something like Alex and the Ironic Gentleman or The Explorers?

AK
I’m approaching 20 years since Alex came out, which blows my mind. It’s just a very weird feeling. There’s one boy who wrote this really great review. He sent me an email for Alex, probably one of the first kids who emailed me about a book. I reached out and we had this whole chat. He was 13 at the time, and now he’s an author. 

But I do think Alex is still out there. It hasn’t gone out of print, actually, which is very exciting. A few years ago, pre-COVID, I was in LA and went into The Last Bookstore, and the one thing they had Alex. I was thrilled that Alex was the one that was there. So if you can find Alex and the Ironic Gentleman that was quite seminal as it’s my first book. But if you can’t, yes, go with The Explorers because that’s out there. That’s Random House. 

FB
Thank you so much. This has been a real pleasure. You have such a diverse creative life. I think it’s really inspiring. 

AK
Thanks for having me. It’s so nice to see you again.


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Battle of the IPs: Alice in Wonderland vs. The Hunger Games

Alright, everybody, we are back with another head-to-head battle. This time I will be pitting our undefeated champion, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland against another popular book and film series, The Hunger Games. A recurring theme in The Hunger Games is going against unbeatable odds, which I find quite fitting in this instance. I mean, this is a blog about Alice in Wonderland after all. But, perhaps, the bow-slinging Katniss Everdeen and cake boy Peter will be able to steal the throne that has been consistently held by Alice. So, The Hunger Games, ready your bows, somehow camouflage yourself because you are good at icing cakes, and may the odds be ever in your favor, because you’re going to need it against the juggernaut that is Alice.

Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Tim Burton's 2010 film "Alice in Wonderland".
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2".

Worldwide Cultural Impact:

In this first round of our showdown, we’ll examine the global impact of these two massive franchises. Both have earned their places in the hearts of audiences worldwide, but in the end, one will come out on top.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – There is barely any comparison here, Alice is the winner. Don’t believe me? Go outside to a place where there are people, and just watch them. Take a mental tally of how many Alice-related shirts you see compared to Hunger Games shirts. Exactly. If that does not sway you, I don’t know a single song that is about the Hunger Games, whereas with Alice-related songs, there are too many to count.

Alice and singing flowers in Disney's 1951 film "Alice in Wonderland".

Critical Appeal:

In this category, let’s compare the critical acclaim of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunger Games. I’ve decided we will be focusing on the critical appeal of the books due to the unfair advantage that Alice would have if we were comparing the critical reception of the films. An Academy Award trumps a Teen Choice Award.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThe Hunger Games was close, but of course, Alice is going to win here. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has endured for over a hundred years. The critics loved it then and they love it now.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games".

Influences on Language:

Now, let’s talk about language. Both franchises have left linguistic marks with unique phrases and terminology.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I’ve done this section in every single comparison and after this one, I will be removing it from the competition. It’s always a “gimmie” for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the true way to measure a book’s impact on language is to see how many words and phrases that were created in the book are used today without even thinking of the reference material. For example, if I were to say, “May the odds be ever in your favor,” people would go, “Haha yeah, Hunger Games.” But if I say, “I didn’t get any sleep last night. I went down a rabbit hole online and ended up learning how to blow glass,” people won’t be thinking, “Rabbit hole, like Alice.” They will be thinking, “Yeah man, you look super tired.” I also decided to ignore the fact that Carroll had invented the word “chortle” to make this comparison more unbiased.

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's 2010 film "Alice in Wonderland".

Controversy:

Let’s stir the pot here, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunger Games have faced controversies related to their content and themes. Do I agree with the points raised here? No, but I think it’s important to see which IP has “offended” the least amount of people.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice is the clear winner here. I mean the criticism that was raised is a Super Weeny Hut Jr. level of complaint. It’s too whimsical? What does that even mean? Whereas concerns about violence in The Hunger Games are to some extent more legitimate.

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird in "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes".

Books Published:

Numbers never lie, except when they are made up to prove a point, which I did not do here. In fact, I did math here, which is something I thought I would never have to do when I became a writer. But here we are…let’s take a look at book sales.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – While both books have had immense success, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the victor here. While they both have sold over 100 million copies, The Hunger Games needed three books to get there. If we divide 100 million by three, we get 33.3 million copies, whereas Alice’s 100 million divided by 1 still is 100 million. Hooray, math!

John Tenniel illustration of Alice and a giant anthropomorphic flamingo from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".

Box Office Success:

Next, we compare the box office success of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunger Games.

Verdict: The Hunger Games – While both have achieved success, The Hunger Games’ substantial box office earnings give it the edge in this category. I wanted to find exact box office information for Alice, but inflation and the sheer amount of Alice films that have come out makes it difficult to get proper numbers. So, I decided to compare the most successful of the adaptations. It is no question here.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire".

Theme Park Rides:

Who doesn’t like theme park rides? Okay, probably a few people, but I love them. As a kid when I read a book or watched a movie, I would always imagine parts I liked as rides and wanted to see how they could come to fruition. Fasten your seatbelts and keep your legs and arms inside the blog at all times.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice has rides around the world, The Hunger Games has none. The closest thing to a Hunger Games ride is Fortnite, which isn’t a ride. I’ve read The Hunger Games books and can’t even come up with an idea for a ride.

Entrance of "Alice in Wonderland" dark ride at Disneyland.

Conclusion:

Alright, I’ve tallied up the score and, oof, okay, Alice in Wonderland got six points and The Hunger Games got only one. I can hear the cannon firing in the distance signaling the defeat of yet another IP. You put up one hell of a fight Hunger Games but when you go against the champ, you have to be prepared to take a few licks. But it was a valiant effort on The Hunger Games’ part and for that, we raise our three fingers in its honor, and let out a whistle, doo dee dee doo… Look, I actually really like The Hunger Games books, so when you decide to write your hate mail for your favorite IP losing against Alice, just remember, you can do that, or you could get a hobby. Perhaps archery or baking.

In the spirit of trying to broker good faith between the fanbases, I will now present some AI image mashups of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunger Games.

First off, we have Katniss Everdeen as Alice. And yes, she’s brought her bow to Wonderland.

Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games" with bow and arrows dressed as Alice from "Alice in Wonderland".

Next, we have the Mad Hatter as a District 1 socialite, ready for the opening ceremonies.

The Mad Hatter from "Alice in Wonderland" as a District 1 socialite from "The Hunger Games".

I hope you all enjoyed this blog, let me know what you think. What IP do you want to see face-off against Alice for the next blog? Do you agree with what I said here? If you didn’t and can remain calm about it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you didn’t and can’t remain calm, Frank would love to hear your thoughts.


Meet the Author:

Jared Hoffman

Jared Hoffman graduated from the American Film Institute with a degree in screenwriting. A Los Angeles native, his brand of comedy is satire stemming from the many different personalities and egos he has encountered throughout his life. As a lover of all things comedy, Jared is always working out new material and trying to make those around him laugh. His therapist claims this is a coping mechanism, but what does she know?

All Things Alice: Interview With Adrienne Kress, Part 1

As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have Adrienne Kress join me as my guest on this episode! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.

"All Things Alice" podcast logo featuring Adrienne Kress with images of book covers for "Bendy: Fade to Black", "The Explorers", "Alex and the Ironic Gentleman", and "Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X."

Frank Beddor
I want to talk about your books and writing. But I didn’t realize that you started as a playwright. You started as an actress, as well, so I want to talk about that.

Adrienne Kress
I’m also a producer now. So we have that in common. My husband and I produced this very small indie horror movie over COVID.

FB
Congratulations on that. 

AK
Thanks. We wrote it. He directed. I starred in it. We were supposed to go on a honeymoon in 2020 and that didn’t happen so we used that money to make a little movie.

FB
What does that say about the launch of your marriage?

AK
That was how I knew I had met my soulmate. 

FB
I’m interested in the acting part of it because I started as an actor. I had been doing commercials for ski companies so I caught the bug. You started really young though, as a kid.

AK
I did theater school first so I wasn’t doing professional gigs until high school. I was studying at art school and doing plays. So it’s interesting because with theater acting, even if you’re 10-11 years old, there’s still all this technique just by virtue of being on stage.

There are definitely habits you learn and then when you get older, and you’re suddenly in theater school in England as an adult, they’re like, “You need to just relax. You overthinking it. It became less about technique and more about just being in the moment. 

FB
I found it hard not to try and do what I thought they wanted. The performance versus tapping into my own truth at the moment. Auditioning was very, very scary and daunting. But in terms of the couple of movies I did, I thought, “Oh, if you’re just really relaxed, and you start by being yourself and then think about what to bring to it, you find a voice at the moment.” Did you find the same thing? What was your approach?

AK
Absolutely. I came to film acting after theater acting. One of the things almost all theater actors will tell you is there’s a steep learning curve of doing less, do nothing at all. I found that very challenging, but at the same time, I agree, it’s very freeing, with film, to have multiple chances to do some things and multiple takes. You’re also having an intimate moment, just between you and the other person, but there happens to be a camera there. It’s very freeing. 

But I’m with you on auditions. I think I’ve gotten to a place now with auditions where I’m just like, “If they want me, they want me.” If they want what I can do and they want what I look like, they will want me. If they wanted someone else then they didn’t want me. I know I’m good enough that it’s not going to be, “Oh, no, this person is terrible. Why would we work with her?” It’s very much centered on what they’re looking for on there. I’m a lot more relaxed than I used to be. I used to be so wound up and tried to read their minds. What do they want? Now my attitude is I’m just gonna take advantage of this moment to act because it’s not like you get a ton of gigs. 

Author Adrienne Kress reclining on a table and reading a book.

FB
I was shocked at how little you have to do in film. It’s you. It’s just the thoughts that come into your mind, through your eyes, and in your expressions. If you try, you’re dead. You’re overacting. That was startling to me.

AK
It’s completely different and it’s very hard. It’s tough when people will fall down. Sometimes, actors aren’t to blame if there’s a bad performance in a movie or TV show but nine times out of 10 what that actor is doing is still very, very difficult. It’s all the stuff around it, whether it’s the lines or whether they were given time with the work before shooting because I don’t think people realize how hard it is to do nothing. It’s really, really hard.

FB
It’s really the thought process. You have to prepare and you have to get in that frame of mind so you’re thinking the thoughts that get communicated. Much like writing. You have this idea that you’re trying to communicate with a sentence or a paragraph or a Chapter, and you think, “I think I know what I’m feeling and it’s just gonna come off the page. Is there any chance this is gonna happen? Probably not.” At least that’s how I felt, there’s no way they’re gonna get this.

AK
It’s the best feeling when they do.

FB
Both in acting and in writing. When they come back and ask you, “Subtexturally, what was going on for you when you were creating or writing that scene?” And the same thing with acting. It’s so effortless, right?

AK
Probably in all areas of life, the more effortless the thing looks the more effortful we’re not to assume it is. The more impressed we shouldn’t be.

FB
That’s so true. When I was acting, one of my acting coaches said that if you really want to understand the playwright, you have to understand who they are as a person. Read their biographies or learn why they’re telling the stories and that will give you hints into the text. Then she had me write the scenes before the scene you’re acting as if you were the playwright. That’s what queued me into wanting to write books because I love playwrights and I think the work is remarkable, how so much of it comes through this dialogue. But that experience of writing out the scene before the scene I was acting was what motivated me to start writing. 

So I’m curious about you. First, you had English teachers as parents, that seems like a high bar to deal with. It’s in your DNA. Obviously, you started writing. Tell me about writing plays and ultimately how the process of writing a play might inform the actress you are. 

AK
I love that question. I was always writing things. My dad taught creative writing, so, when I was five, he’d have me do exercises he was doing with his high school students. I was always creating stories and playing make-believe. But when I came to playwriting properly, I had been a drama major for long enough that I’d seen enough scripts that writing plays came from understanding character as an actor. That has also translated into the book writing subsequently, but with writing plays, as you said, they’re generally very dialogue-heavy. That’s really what you have to go off of as an actor and as a director. I think that led to my very, very dialogue-heavy books. Writing dialogue is probably my favorite thing to do in general and specifically in books and then in one of the Bendy books, The Illusion of Living, I literally just put in a short play. So I guess the acting informed the playwriting, which in turn informed the book writing so it does come back to acting for me, being inside the head of the characters and going inside out. I think there are some authors, like your George R.R. Martins or Tolkiens, who might create mythos and world-building and then think about how to tell the story and which characters they need to tell the story. Whereas I generally come from the germ of the character.

Author Adrienne Kress signing a copy of "Bendy: Fade to Black" for a young fan.

FB
That makes sense to me as well. Do you say the dialogue? Do you read the dialogue out loud? Do you play the different parts when you’re writing a play or prose? Or do you read it to somebody and see how it works or do you just trust it?

AK
I can be just going for a walk or something and then start to create a little dialogue in my head. I do a weird sort of humming, which I only realized I did recently. I’m reading not even just dialogue but any words on the page, but I’m not saying the words out loud. So I’m constantly reading out loud, but it’s very small. With plays you often workshop and take them out to actor friends. With books, obviously, I have beta readers as you know. My parents, the English teachers.

FB
Really? I have two kids and my son is writing essays for college and I’m like, “Hey, do you want me to read your essay?” He goes, “Oh, no, I’m good dad.” Really? You don’t want me to take a look at it? I’m a writer.

AK
He can take advantage of it.

FB
He came around. But I have to be very careful in terms of walking him through any ideas or changes. If I’m too forceful he shuts down. My daughter doesn’t show me anything unless she’s under a deadline and she’s stuck. How were your parents? 

AK
They’re very good high school English teachers and I’m an only child so I was it. They would go, “Oh, this is an interesting idea. Hey, Adrienne, have you heard of it?” Not just when it comes to writing, there was always a lesson to something or an educational component growing up. Having them look over my schoolwork growing up, it’s just the next step.

FB
You felt they fostered your work and your homework and your creativity, and you didn’t really bump up against them because they were good teachers.

AK
They’re good at being harsh, which is the point. The good thing about my parents when it comes to this is they’re very honest. They’ve always been very good at being that teacherly, “Okay, so I’m not sure this bit works and I’ll tell you why.” But they were also so supportive of all my creative endeavors and very proud and impressed by me, which is nice. It also meant that I had confidence in what I was doing. Even though it always hurts, whether it’s editors or your parents, to hear this isn’t quite working or they didn’t like this bit. That will always be like a dagger. I also had the confidence that generally, my work was good so I kept moving forward. Also since my first book, Alex, I’ll say, “No, I disagree. I want to keep going with this.” I’ve also always had that relationship. It’s not, “We’re the parents, therefore we’re right and you’re wrong.” It’s always been a conversation.

Author Adrienne Kress at a book signing event with her parents.

FB
So you’re equals when it comes to the creative process.

AK
Maybe when I was a little younger, I probably couldn’t have fought but now yes and it’s great. So I have my parents and I also have my agent. She’s wonderful. Not all agents necessarily edit and they don’t necessarily want to, but she’s very good. We’ve been together for close to 15 years. She knows my work inside and out and I really respect her thoughts. Again, it’s the same vibe as with my parents.

FB
That’s what a good editor does. My editor made a point of saying, “This is your book. I love everything that you’re doing. Now, I’m going to send you a couple of suggestions.” So after softening me up, then the suggestions come and it’s page after page. 

AK
I think it’s called the sandwich method. Praise at the beginning, then you give your critique and then you end with praise. I’ve definitely had editors use that on me, as well.

FB
What was the first thing that you wrote that was really satisfying and gave you that start of confidence? Was there a moment when you said, “I think I want to do this and I can do this?”

AK
I have no clue when but my mom and my dad, specifically with his creative writing, started teaching me creative writing. But, from birth, it feels like I’ve had competence in my storytelling ability. Writing stories in English class in elementary school was always my thing and I always got really good grades. I had all the validation in the world. I did a book with a friend. She and I were both known for our creative writing and it was so popular that the principal got a copy of it. So I’ve always had that validation. Then throughout high school, I was doing creative writing classes. But in my last year of high school, I wrote a play for a playwriting class. It was probably one of the first one-act plays, a properly structured play that I wrote was chosen for a student-run one-act play festival. All the producers, directors, writers, actors, crew, everybody were students. One of my friends was chosen to be a director and he chose my play and I was cast in the first play of three. So I was there every night and I would sit at the back of the audience for the third play, which was mine, and listen to it being performed. 

It’s what we were talking about earlier when you write something and you hope to get an effect. When people laughed at the jokes right on cue as if they were being directed to, I thought, “Is this a better feeling than acting?” I still don’t have the answer, but it was really up there. So I became really interested in playwriting at that one, not so much novel writing. Then I went through drama school for university and in my last year of theater school at the University of Toronto I did another playwriting class and it was taught by this incredible Canadian playwright, Janet Sears, whom I’d studied already. It was this great intimate, seven-person class that you submitted writing samples for to get in. The way she structured it was amazing. The class all bonded and we got on great. The assignment was a one-act play and we had these tutorials halfway through the term, as we were in the middle of writing, and we were just chatting and I was saying, “I’m not sure this might be two acts. I don’t know.” And she said, “With you, Adrienne if you want to just make this one act for a two-act play, I’ll let you do this. Because I think you’re really good at this and I know how much you like acting but I hope you keep writing as well.”

I’m paraphrasing but I just remember the moment. Up until that tutorial session my attitude was, “Yeah, I love to write creatively and I guess I’m good at it. But don’t we all like to write creatively?” I guess it was the first time a true professional had called me out as having some sort of skill that was at a certain level that I wasn’t aware of myself. 

FB
Those are really clear moments because of the way that you were describing coming out of the womb almost with a notebook and your dad saying, “Let’s get to it,” it was just part of who you are. But we all need that validation or that really clear moment where you see the audience responding as if somebody said, “Hey, by the way, the writer is in the audience. So make sure you laugh at these five places.” Then of course you have a professional validate your work.

AK
It was everything. I turned my focus to playwriting after that. I went to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and did a yearlong classical acting-specific program. After that, I tried to write some plays to direct and produce but I kept having trouble. So I decided to write a kidlet novel because I really love reading kidlit novels and it was a way to refresh my brain and completely cleanse the palate. It took a year. I’d never actually written more of a novel than 18 pages. So I kept writing and writing and writing and that ended up being my first published novel, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. So what was supposed to be an interlude sent my career and everything about my life in a completely unexpected direction, which was being a writer of novels. 

It sounds so much like actors who accidentally become actors and get the lead in something because they looked right. I never want to give that impression as an author that I just sort of tripped into it. I think telling the history of coming out of the womb and learning how to write, it’s been in there the whole time. But it really was a sudden change of trajectory because everything in my head at that point was theater – write a play, direct a play, act in a play. Then Alex came along.

Book cover of middle grade fantasy adventure novel "Alex and the Ironic Gentleman" by Adrienne Kress.

FB
Were you writing plays about young adults at the time?

AK
No, my plays were entirely about adults. They were sort of absurdist with some shocking moments of violence in them. But I was really into absurd things and I actually did the absurdity thing in Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. It was a very classic children’s adventure, episodic adventure, very inspired by Alice in Wonderland. She has her main throughline of trying to go home but then she meets all these weird individuals and has these mini-adventures with them. I really structured the second act of Alex on Alice in Wonderland. Act One was more Roald Dahl-y and then Act Three was very Pirate-y, Peter Pan or Treasure Island. But I had gone from writing total adult stuff to even completely skipping young adult and going straight to middle grade. 

FB
You said you read a lot of kids’ stories growing up or as an adult to relax. Can you share some of those stories with us and what is it about those stories for you?

AK
I can talk about kidlit forever. I’m what’s called a reluctant reader, which is a term that wasn’t around when I was a kid, which is unfortunate because it’s tricky to be the daughter of two English teachers and not really want to read. My parents had to do everything to convince me to pick up books but when I did pick one up, I was a voracious reader. I’d read it in a day and then I’d have to read everything by that author because I trusted that I would like that author. But even as an adult, I’m sort of that same way. If I read an adult book, I’m still like, “I don’t know, man, I don’t think I’m gonna like it.” 

But growing up some of the first books that my parents really pushed on me were the Beverly Cleary Ramona books. They’re very entertaining and they’re a really easy and fun read. My dad also really loved the adventure books by Enid Blyton. Some elements don’t fully stand the test of time but I really glommed onto the adventure part of it. Then as I got a little older I got into Judy Blume. At the same time, my dad would also read to me every night, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, and all The Lord of the Rings, and he did all the voices.

My dad also introduced me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I was probably 12-13, which changed everything in my brain and really introduced the notion of absurdity and that kind of humor. That’s probably been one of my greater influences. But as I got older, young adult didn’t exist as an actual named category but some books featured older protagonists that weren’t adults. But you ended up jumping to adult and there were some adult books I enjoyed. I enjoyed Michael Crichton and Agatha Christie. I enjoyed books that had really forward-moving stories. But a lot of adult books I found were depressing and the arcs that the characters go on, by the end, you’re like, “Oh, that’s sad.” 

In my last year of high school, we had an English assignment where we could compare any two books, so I chose Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. I really dug into those and as I was writing it, I realized what I liked. The idea with these kids’ books is you’re still dealing with big issues and strong emotions. Anyone who thinks there aren’t big issues in kidlit hasn’t read any kidlit. They’re just being snobs. The emotions are the saturated colors. They’re not quite as messy. I like the saturated feelings and regardless of how dark it gets, and some of them get very dark, they always end on a hopeful note. As cynical as I can get with the world, I am, at the core, very optimistic. I believe in hope. So that’s why I love reading those books. I kept reading them after high school, like A Series of Unfortunate Events, which sounds like it shouldn’t have hope, but I was reading all of them. 

Book cover of children's novel "A Series of Unfortunate Events No. 1: The Bad Beginning" by Lemony Snicket.

FB
I was reading the first book, The Bad Beginning, at a fancy resort, and I was by the pool and this woman was sitting next to me and she goes, “What are you reading? Isn’t that for, like, elementary kids?” And I said, “No, it’s not actually. It’s amazing. You should check it out.” But she gave me so much judgment that I was self-conscious after that. I didn’t know people across the pool were going to be judging my book. But A Series of Unfortunate Events is a dark story and just brilliantly told. The whole thing that he uses with vocabulary and spelling and spelling out this is what that means, it’s so perfect for kids, but adults can also read it and go, “That’s so clever.”

AK
I think the best kids’ books and kids’ media are written and created on two levels. There’s the level of the audience it’s intended for, let’s say the eight to 12 audience. But also, especially with books versus a Pixar film, kids’ books are one of the last places where we still read out loud, where we still have an oral tradition. We don’t do it so much with adult books. I think the way audiobooks have taken off shows how much we love them. But that communal experience of somebody telling a story is rarer and rarer the older you get. When I write kidlit, I keep in mind that there’s going to be a teacher or a parent or somebody reading this to kids. I have some parent easter eggs in there, some jokes that probably the kids won’t get yet. But also when the kids come back to it when they’re 10-11 or even in their 20s, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t get that joke at the time.” I think there’s always that nuance and depth. 

But even if there weren’t any adult jokes, there’s just some great stuff in it. If you like the book, the book is meant for you. That’s how I feel about this idea of gatekeeping ages. I actually have a more controversial opinion, which is with adult books and kids. There can be some stuff in an adult book that is intense and maybe certain kids shouldn’t read it, but there are other kids who are ready for it. As long as you’re having a conversation with them, and as long as you’re having a parent or teachers talking with the kids and working through possibly more complicated issues, I actually think that’s okay. 

FB
What Pixar does so brilliantly is that it works for kids and adults. They have that four quadrant thing they talk about in marketing, which is why Harry Potter, became the book that was in the young adult section but all adults started reading it. Then it’s okay to read this stuff. But nevertheless, you brought up Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, both of which, on the surface, are kids’ books, but adults started reading them before any kids probably did, certainly with Alice in Wonderland

AK
That’s the other thing. We, in retrospect, recategorize things. For people categorizing The Outsiders as Y.A., I guess it is. I don’t know. But the young adult genre didn’t exist (when it was published). I understand the need to find places to shelve things and I think that’s important. At the same time, new adult is becoming a marketing category and there’s been a lot of conversation about how we’ve lost the category between middle grade and young adult. By putting labels on things, we can exclude things. I think that’s just something we know, in general. There’s a benefit to knowing and understanding what a category means and using that in a positive way but at the same time there are people I know who are trying to be published who have books where the characters are 13-14, or even up to 15, and we have the eight to 12 category. Even though 12 and up is the category for young adults, they want characters that are 16 plus. Because of the need to categorize, there is a wealth of books and writers that are being ignored because we don’t know where to put them on the shelf.

FB
When The Looking Glass Wars was turned down by everybody in the States, my problem was that the lead character started as seven, the next time we see her she’s 12, and then she’s 18. It was after Harry Potter and everybody said, “Well, I don’t know where this fits, and who did you write it for?” I didn’t know that there were categories. The categories were just coming into shape. 

I think the middle-grade genre or categorizing middle grade is smart because after doing a lot of school visits, those six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds are looking for somebody to aspire to who’s not a teenager. So if you have a 13-year-old character, that’s pretty spot on. And they do the lion’s share of the reading. They have more time.

AK
Yes. So you have teachers and librarians who are reading to them and introducing them to these books. We don’t have that as much in high school and we certainly don’t get opportunities as adults. I’m not a parent myself, but when people become parents, they get that opportunity again, and they get excited. “We get to go to the library and have somebody read to us.” We should have adult reading time because it’s something that’s in our DNA. We want to sit around the fire and tell stories.

John Tenniel illustration of Alice with cards around her from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."
Francis D. Bedford illustration of a sword fight between Captain Hook and Peter Pan from "Peter Pan".

FB
So share with us your theory on Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, because both of these stories have been around a long time. I’m curious when you wrote your paper if you have a theory on why these stories in particular have lasted so long.

AK
I had this theory that we were dealing with two main characters, and I’m making Wendy the main character in Peter Pan, who have two completely opposite goals. Wendy’s scared of growing up, but in the end realizes she has to grow up. Whereas I think Alice is feeling frustrated by the grownups and she wants to find a place to belong as a kid. So one character is trying to figure out how to grow up in a way that pleases her and the other one is like, “No, no, I don’t want to grow up so fast. I want to stall growing up.” Even though weirdly, Wendy does want to start growing up at the beginning. 

But that question of growing up is one of the big reasons they both appeal. Because we’ve all had our own relationship with growing up. Some people are desperate to get older. I just wanted to be a kid. Teenagers scared me. They scared me when I was a teenager. They still scare me. I respect the heck out of them but they scare me. I liked being a kid and this goes back to the books I like to read. I didn’t want to read angsty teen stuff. I didn’t want to really read romances. I just wanted to read plot-driven adventures. That’s all I wanted. I definitely had desperate friends. “When can I wear makeup? When can I have a boyfriend? When can I be independent?” I think that’s very relatable in both Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan

Then on top of that, they’re so specific. I’ve been talking to a lot of kids lately about writing and I feel like the more specific you make a character, the more universal it becomes. You have these incredible specific characters like Captain Hook and the Queen of Hearts. These very meticulously wrought characters have very specific aesthetic features and personality traits that just spark so much imagination. On top of that, for Alice, people have always played make-believe with their cards and their chess boards, tapping into a very basic form of make-believe. Which you also get with pirates and mermaids. You get a lot of classic make-believe stuff that was also particularly popular, I assume, at the time of the original Peter Pan play. It was stuff that kids of that time enjoyed playing so that made it also relatable.

I think there are so many universal themes in both of them and then the specificity of the characters and how enjoyable they are contributes to both stories’ staying power. It’s so fun. 


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Take Your Writing to Wonderland: 7 Tips From Bestselling Authors

Writing is often a daunting proposition. Whether it’s a novel, screenplay, blog article, or even just an email, staring at that blank page can be paralyzing. Self-doubt can be demoralizing. Sometimes, it’s surprising that people can finish anything at all. How do published authors work through the pitfalls of writers to finish (and rewrite) their books?

That’s where we’re here to help. Through Frank’s years of doing comic cons, and introducing the world to The Looking Glass Wars, he’s been on numerous panels where writing is a main topic of discussion. The following article was constructed from his appearance on a panel at the 2015 Salt Lake Comic-Con (Link to Video when published), where he was part of an all-star lineup featuring some of the biggest names in Y.A. and Middle-Grade sci-fi/fantasy. These writers dished out indispensable writing advice that will help you fill up your blank page and take your writing to the next level.

Click here to watch the full video.


Jennifer Nielson

Picture of "The False Prince" author Jennifer Nielson.

“I want you to go out and I want you to find your favorite book, the book that made you want to become a writer. Get a fresh copy of that book because you’re going to destroy it. Go through the book the way a writer would read it. You’re going to highlight every single scene that you love. Then get your pen and start breaking that scene apart. Ask yourself, why does this work? What did my very favorite author do right? As soon as you can break that book apart and understand why it’s your favorite and understand what that author did right, you are going to know exactly what you want to put into your own writing to make yourself better.”

Jennifer Nielson is the prolific scribe of 17 novels, so it’s safe to say she knows what she’s talking about. Her debut, The New York Times Bestselling YA fantasy novel The False Prince, is the first book of the Ascendance Series, which follows an orphan who is trained to impersonate a missing prince. She has also written six YA historical fiction books, including A Night Divided, about a family that is separated by the Berlin Wall.

Platte F Clark

Picture of "Bad Unicorn" author Platte F Clark.

“I wrote my book, I picked up an agent very quickly, and we sold it very quickly. I think it was all because I was convinced this was a book that would never sell. I wrote it thinking, I’m just gonna write what I think would be funny for me to read to my kids, and my kids would like it and I would think it’s entertaining. I didn’t think about the industry. I didn’t think about what was popular. I wasn’t trying to emulate anything. I was actually just going to write a book and then get that out of my head. Then I knew I could write a book and then I was going to write a book that could actually get published. I think in the end, that served me the best because I wasn’t true to anything other than my own voice and what I wanted to do, and it seemed to work out well.”

Platte F Clark is the author of the middle-grade comedic fantasy Bad Unicorn trilogy. Called “deviously enjoyable” by Publisher’s Weekly, the series follows Max Spencer and his band of misfit friends as they’re hunted by a homicidal unicorn.

Frank Beddor

“My first novel, I had no experience with middle grade. I didn’t know anything about it, I was just writing. The protagonist starts off at seven, and then she’s 11, and then she’s 19. That was a big problem in selling the book but the book got published and people still read it and love it. Sometimes going in, ignorance is bliss. In my case, that happens a lot. But my advice is a little trick that I have when I’m writing and I’m into it and I have a really good scene. I don’t ever finish it. I put it down at the end of the day. So that the next morning when I start writing again, I know exactly what I’m going to start writing because I’m already in it. I know what I’m finishing and it just seems to set the whole day.”

It’s probably pretty safe to assume that, if you’re reading this, you know who Frank Beddor is. But let’s recap just to be safe. Frank is a former world champion skier who also produced the hit comedy There’s Something About Mary. His New York Times Bestselling trilogy, The Looking Glass Wars, exposes the true story of Wonderland and chronicles Alyss Heart, heir to the throne of Wonderland, as she fights to regain her crown from her evil aunt, Queen Redd. Beddor has added to the Wonderverse over the years with the Hatter M graphic novel series and the middle-grade novel, Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X.

Michael Jensen

“I spent a lot of time stressing and worrying about getting my best ideas on paper. It wasn’t until I finally said, “You know what? I’m spending too much time on finding my best ideas. What effect can make my worst ideas work?” So, I started going to my worst ideas, the ones that just seemed the dumbest and stupid, and I went with them and I grew and I pushed it and I thought, “How creative can I be?” Those best ideas that I had were not as good as those worst ideas because of all the care and all the energy that I put into them. It sometimes takes stepping away from waiting for that perfect idea to show up in that moment of brilliance, and kind of just forcing yourself to be brilliant with some of the bad ideas that you already have.”

Michael Jensen is the author of Woven, a fantasy novel about a young ghost who teams with a spoiled princess to unravel the mystery of his murder and find an ancient needle with the magical power to mend that which has been torn. Publisher’s Weekly called Woven a “charming quest tale” while Kirkus Reviews deemed it a “sure bet for high-fantasy fans”.

Shannon Messenger

“I always say whatever ideas scare you the most, whichever idea feels like it’s gonna be the hardest to write, that’s usually the one. In fact, both of my series were ones where I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough to write that book.’

The note that I seem to give most often when I’m critiquing new middle-grade work is that the writer tends to forget that the kids need to be the hero of the story. I don’t just mean having a kid as the main character. I mean that you’re reading the book and things are going along, and then you get to the climax and the kid’s solution is they go to an adult, and the adult fixes things for them, and that’s the end of the story. But it’s middle grade, the kid is supposed to be the hero. How different would it have been if Dumbledore was the one who always stepped in and saved things, instead of letting Harry be the hero? I’ve even seen that in Y.A. drafts but it’s especially common when I’m reading middle-grade drafts. I see that a lot with newer writers. It’s like that adult sense steps in, and it’s not that they’ve dumbed down the writing or anything like that, but when they’re trying to figure out how to solve the plot, they rely on adults more than their kid characters. Really, really remember that you’re writing for kids. Let the kids be the hero of the story.”

Shannon Messenger is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which follows a twelve-year-old Telepath who is forced to leave her earthly home and move to the Lost Cities, where fantasy creatures of all races live. Messenger has also written the Sky Fall series, in which a seventeen-year-old wind spirit falls in love with his bodyguard and battles an evil rival.

James A. Owen

Picture of "Imaginarium Geographica" author James A. Owen.

“The best advice I could give to any writer, whether it’s middle grade, Y.A., whatever you’re writing, is to finish what you start. No one ever really writes a great book. You write a book that you then fix to make as good as you possibly can. I see so many people who are stuck in the middle of a draft, or redrafting or rewriting something and not actually finishing it. You need to finish so that you and your readers, or an editor or an agent have a sense of the entire story that you’re trying to tell. Then you have something that you can actually shape. Sometimes that shaping is small, sometimes it’s going to be huge.

I was six books into the Imaginarium Geographica series and one of my best editors at Simon & Schuster said, “There’s something that isn’t working for this, and here’s how I think we should fix it. What do you think?” And I said, “You are absolutely right.” The solution was, what was originally the prologue in that book became the epilogue and I removed a major character who was in every single chapter. I had to rewrite the entire book. It was excruciating, very excruciating. All along the way you’re giving up lines because now there are conversations that are gone and you can’t repurpose those, you can’t just replace it with another character, because he’s built into the story you’re telling. My editor was right. We could have pushed it out. I could have been a prima donna and said, “Well, this is the sixth book and you got what you’re getting and I’m going to Disneyland.” But she was right and the book was better because we made those changes. Because of those changes, the seventh book in the series, The First Dragon, was the one that was most technically flawless. I had seven lines in my editor’s letter for that book and a note that said, “Apparently, after seven books, you’ve got this down.” That’s all I got.”

James A. Owen is best known as the author of The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, which features fictionalized versions of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams who find themselves in possession of a book that holds maps to the worlds of our literary heritage. Owen is also the creator of the comic book series Starchild

James Dashner

Picture of "Maze Runner" author James Dashner.

“When I get an editorial letter, I read it and then I take 48 hours off because I’m so depressed. I just watch movies and sit around and mope. Then usually after that 48 hours, I start to realize it’s not as bad as I first felt. Every time you just start thinking, “This is going to be the one where you get, ‘Wow, this book’s actually perfect. I don’t have any changes for you.’

I am terrible at writing advice. It’s hard for me to articulate how I write books. But one thing that always stands out to me is, and it might be obvious but, it is all about the characters. Face up and make your characters the most important thing that you throw all your devotion into. Every book I’ve ever loved is because I fell in love with and made a connection with the characters. I felt anxious to just even hear them have regular conversations. I just felt like it was there. I grew to care for them and love them. If you just have these really shallow characters and they’re all exactly the same, when they have an action scene and they die, you’d be like, “I don’t care. I hope this guy dies. He’s boring as heck.” Just setting cannot overcome weak characters. Action and suspense cannot overcome weak characters. The most beautiful prose ever written by a human cannot overcome weak characters. So really, really focus on your characters as you write your books and make people care about them.”

With over 21 million books sold, James Dashner is the author of The Maze Runner novels, a Y.A. dystopian science fiction series set in a world devastated by a succession of solar flares and coronal mass ejections. The books spawned a popular film trilogy that grossed nearly $1 billion at the box office. Dashner’s other work includes Y.A. sci-fi series The 13th Reality and The Mortality Doctrine. The Godhead Complex, the seventh book in The Maze Runner series, was released in November 2023.


Meet The Author:

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.