This month we celebrate the release of Splintered by debut author A. G. Howard. Learn more about the author below! A. G. Howard wrote Splintered while working at a school library. She always wondered what would’ve happened had the subtle creepiness of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland taken center stage, and she hopes her darker and funkier tribute to Carroll will inspire readers to seek out the stories that won her heart as a child. She lives in Amarillo, Texas.
Splintered is a stunning debut that captures the fantastical madness of a mystical under-land as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner, the fictional great-great-great-granddaughter of the real Alice Liddell, the woman who inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, finds that the real Wonderland is full of strange beings and dark agendas. She must right the wrongs of Alice to break a maddening family curse.
1) Amulet Books: When did you decide you wanted to write young adult books?
A.G. Howard: I started writing YA while working at a middle school library. After reading lots of young adult novels, I fell in love because they were fueled by emotion and drama, the perfect venue for coming-of-age elements and social issues. What attracted me most to YA, though, was that crossing genres was not only acceptable, but encouraged. There aren’t any formulaic limitations like a lot of adult genres have. So, the author’s only boundary is their own imagination. It makes for a very big playing field when the sky’s the limit.
2) Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a favorite spot to write? Is there one thing you can’t write without?
My favorite place to write is in my office at home. Here’s a picture of my bulletin/dry erase board (the desk faces it so I can look at my character headshots or any notes I’ve made while I’m writing).
The one thing I must have is a computer or laptop. I’m not one of those authors who pens their manuscript on paper first. There’s something about the movement of my fingers along the keyboard that sets me into a rhythm and starts the words flowing.
I really don’t have any quirks for getting myself into the writing mood. I’m more inclined to nurture my muse while living my everyday routine, to irrigate it until it has no choice but to write or burst.
Here’s what I have in my writer’s watering can:
Mug shots: I post pictures of my main characters on a bulletin board in my office so I can see them each time I’m in the room. Sometimes that’s enough to either inspire an entire conversation between them, or a scene that I have to sit down and write immediately.
Books and movies: Every Friday night my husband and I watch a DVD together. I prefer movies about my current WIP’s subject (I’m a bit of a fanatic about it). For example, while working on an adult geisha vampire fantasy, we saw tons of vampire flicks (with the occasional side of Phantom of the Opera and Memoirs of a Geisha). Bless my spouse and his tolerant heart. This also goes for books. I saturate myself in the subject I’m writing. This not only keeps my head in the theme, but helps me to avoid things that have already been done in similar books and movies.
Music: When I first start on a project, I’ll compose a playlist of songs to evoke the moods of my characters / scenes, and to heighten the atmosphere of the setting wherein I’ve placed my story. The songs vary from instrumental to vocal pieces. I’m not picky. It all depends upon the book. Sometimes I’ll even listen to this music while doing something other than writing. Just like the pictures on my bulletin board, it sometimes inspires a scene or an exchange when I’m not even at the computer. (To listen to my Splintered playlist, click here.)
3) Did you do anything to celebrate when you found out your book was set for publication?
Does dancing on the furniture count? I sent my lovely agent some Godiva, then went out to eat with my family so I could share the awesome news. I also scheduled a trip to Las Vegas with some of my online writing buddies who are spread all over the United States. It was the perfect excuse to finally meet so we could celebrate in person.
4) Splintered takes us on a darker journey of Wonderland, what inspired you to create this world? What research did you do?
The idea first came to me when I went to see the Tim Burton & Disney Alice adaptation. The cinematography was so vivid and evocative that it stayed with me, and I started playing out my own Wonderland scenarios in my mind. One evening, I went to my writer’s critique group and pitched the idea of a modern day Wonderland—though darker and more twisted—with a teen protagonist who was related to Alice Liddell, Carroll’s real-life inspiration. My group’s enthusiasm was palpable, and I knew I was onto something.
The main thing I did for research was reread Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. It had been years since I’d revisited them, and I needed the characters and settings fresh in my mind. I also made notes in a spiral notebook as I went along, highlighting what scenes/settings/characters were my favorites and how I might incorporate them. It was important to me that my book be a tribute to Carroll’s amazing works, without copying him in any way.
5) Alyssa, like many teens, wants to be “normal.” What is your advice to teens navigating the high school waters?
The most important thing you’ll ever need, both in the teen world and the adult world, is a strong core of self-respect. Self-respect comes from knowing, accepting, and loving who you are.
We’re all individuals. So how can someone else’s idea of normal be the same as yours? We have different gifts that make us unique. Find what yours are and embrace them—nurture and grow them. Because if you’re true to yourself, even if you’re teased about it sometimes, you will find your own version of “normal.” And in turn, you’ll find your happiness.
6) Alyssa and Jeb both turn to art as an emotional outlet, do you have any hobbies that serve as an outlet for you?
Writing is my outlet, both as a hobby and a lifestyle. But, before I realized how much I loved words and stories, I had a couple of other pastimes:
Baking and decorating cakes and cookies for profit. What started off as fancy birthday cakes for my kids’ parties ended up becoming a side business: Anita’s Creative Confections. My customers were mostly PTA moms and referrals by teachers, but it made a nice little allowance now and again. Here’s a picture of a cake I made for a class of 2nd graders going onto 3rd grade:
Not sure what I was thinking by putting the storm clouds there. Maybe it symbolized what the 3rd grade teachers were feeling. Heh. I did improve with practice. I even entered a “bird house” cake in the tri-state fair and won “first place” and “best of show” ribbons. The prize? A twenty dollar bill and a king-sized bottle of vanilla. Oh, and a certificate and write up in the newspaper, both of which I still have somewhere in the attic, along with the ribbons. But the vanilla and the twenty … well, they’ve seemingly disappeared along with my desire to ever bake for profit again.
Sewing. I used to make dresses and outfits for my daughter. This Victorian dress won a second place ribbon in the tri-state fair:
And yeah, that sweet little angel is my daughter. She’s old enough now that she’s not the least bit interested in letting me play fashion designer. I still have the dress and the sewing machine. One is gathering dust in the attic, and the other taking up space in my office that could/should be used for the colossal new bookshelf I need to store my massive YA collection.
Personally, I don’t miss the hobbies I left behind. I still dabble in them from time to time if the mood strikes, but it’s a rare thing. As a hobby, writing transcends all others for me. It’s instant gratification on a level no other pastime supplies. And as a lifestyle, it fulfills every part of my psyche: the intellectual side, the emotional, the creative, the curious, and the human as a whole.
7) Are you a skateboarder?
No, but I’m an avid rollerblader. I love it, not only for the physical benefits, but for the mental ones, too. Yep, exercise builds up both the body and mind. I have proof! When a story that I’m writing gets difficult and writer’s block is looming, all I have to do is skate for about thirty minutes and the blood starts pumping … magically my mind is cleared. Nine times out of ten, the problem is solved and I pick up my story threads right where I left off.
8) What moment in the story was your favorite to write? Least favorite?
Aside from the kissing scenes? Those are always my favorites. Seriously though, there was one scene that was both my favorite and my least favorite: The Feast of Beasts.
Why is it my favorite? Because it’s one of the most “Carrollian” scenes in the book. It’s based loosely on Chapter 9: Queen Alice, one of the wackiest and most visual chapters in Through the Looking Glass. Here’s the piece of artwork from the original that first ignited my imaginings:
I never forgot that scene after reading it as a kid, so of course I wanted to give credence to it in my book. I kept my tribute nonsensical like Carroll’s, but at the same time wove in some sadistic and gruesome undertones to darken it.
Why is it my least favorite? Because of where I was when I wrote it. My son had recently been diagnosed with epilepsy and his pediatric neurologist started him on medication; the dosage was too high for his system, and ended up causing him to have severe panic attacks. We spent several nights those first few weeks at the ER, trying to figure out what was going on. It was during one of these trips that I wrote my Feast of Beasts scene. This time, I had grabbed my laptop on the way out the door. I’d already dallied away enough nights (my most fruitful time for writing) sitting in the ER waiting room and watching pointless TV shows. I was determined to finally get the scene done. In the three hours we were there, I managed to tap it all out, even while worrying and wondering if my son was ever going to have a normal life again. My insides wound in nervous knots, my fingers trembled with tension, a mixture of emotions bled into every sentence, yet still I finished. In fact, I actually think my inner turmoil made the scene better because I didn’t hold back. I put everything I was feeling into my writing, and it came across as chaotic and absurd and terrifying, which was exactly how life felt to me in that moment, and exactly how it feels to Alyssa when she’s living that scene in Splintered.
9) Which of Morpheus’s hats do you wish you owned?
The Insurrection hat, without a doubt. A lot of his hats have a steampunk quality, which I love, but this particular one has gangsta appeal: a silver fedora trimmed in red moths. The colors represent swords and bloodshed … creepy, I know. But red moths? How cool is that?
(For some examples of Morpheus’s other hats, hop over to my pinterest board: Morpheus, Wicked and Wild…)
10) Jeb vs Morpheus. Who would you pick? Why?
This question isn’t fair! LOL. I love both guys. They each bring out and complement different qualities in Alyssa—not just her light and dark sides, but how she makes decisions, either cautiously or spontaneously; or how she views the world, either as a canvas or as a playground. She has a tough choice to make, because it’s more than just choosing a guy. It’s choosing which way she wants to live her life. If I were Al, I’d pick Jeb in the here and now because he’s steady, noble, and shares her interests and goals; but I’d pick Morpheus in the far-away future, because he’s immortal and will still be young and up for some fun even in seventy years or so.
Visit www.abramsbooks.com/splintered to learn more about the book and the author.
Splintered by A.G. Howard (Amulet Books, 2013) is available now wherever books are sold.
Laura Mihalick is Assistant Manager for Children’s Marketing & Publicity at ABRAMS.