Alice FAQ

 

When you wrote the scenes on the cruise ship where the Tea Party takes place, did you have a real place in mind?
If you mean “real” as in “exists in the physical world,” then no. I’ve actually never been on a cruise ship before–I get motion sick very easily–so there was no personal experience to bring to bear here. But I wrote The Frog Prince despite never having been inside a habitable treehouse or Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.; I wrote Sleeping Beauty despite never having surfed before (because sharks), never been on a movie set, and never even set foot in Los Angeles. What I do do is lots and lots of research; then I use that research to create mock-ups or storyboards that bring my vision to life. You can read about one specific instance of this in a blog I wrote on this the topic: Straight Down the Rabbit Hole: When Life Is Stranger (and Hotter) Than Fiction.” Here’s an image that I don’t think I’ve ever shared before.

Alice Tea Party DeckFrom Chapter Twenty-One: I asked for people, and I got people all right—hundreds of them—most of them seated around glossy black lacquered tables in stylish, matching chairs covered in white curlicues. The deck’s been carefully painted with black and white squares that extend to the edge, where pewter, silver, and black chess pieces the height of a picket fence line the perimeter, all of them connected by links of thick silver chain. The backdrop of this rather bizarre dinner party is the magnificence of the Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, the multiple white chevrons of its roof appearing to erupt from the harbor like a graceful leviathan from another time. 

 

Alice Tea Party Deck-separate graphics
All those dots? Those mark the borders of the individual pieces in the image. There were dozens!

Maybe you can’t tell this from looking at this image, but the deck of the yacht in the Tea Party doesn’t exist in the real world. The individual components obviously exist–Sydney Harbor, the Opera House, the tables and chairs, the chess pieces–but I’m the one who took the pieces and arranged them together into an image that was as close to what I saw in my mind as I could make it with my limited graphic design skills. Why do I create these storyboards? For one thing, it’s fun. For another, it makes it a lot easier to immerse my imagination in the setting if I really believe that I’m seeing it. It also helps cut down on the continuity errors. For instance, if I can’t remember that I mentioned black chairs in Chapter Twenty-One, I might later describe them as blue. With a storyboard, I can just pull up the picture if I’m not sure what color the chairs are supposed to be.

I've always been curious why you chose those particular film icons–Alice Faye, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe–for the names of the Dahl siblings.
Honestly, I had to go back to my earliest manuscript drafts of Alice in Wonderland to answer this. I name my manuscript files using a YYYY-MM-DD format, so I know exactly when changes were made. In the initial drafts, “Alice Faye” was just “Alice.” She had only one sister, and that sister’s name was “Kelly.” About three days after that, Kelly became “Harlowe” (with an E), but there was no mention of any other siblings. Just a few days later, Clark “Gabe” Gable, Jean Harlow, Marlene “Dee” Deitrich, and Marilyn “Munny” Monroe appear in this relatively fleshed-out paragraph (although Marilyn Monroe has not yet been bestowed with the nickname “Munny”):

“Welcome to the Dahl House. In age order, there’s my brother, Clark “Gabe” Gable, and my three sisters: Marlene “Dee” Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, and me, Alice Faye. For reasons no one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction, we’ve all always gone by our middle names, which left it difficult to figure out when our mom was angry with us when we were little.”

The nickname “Munny” comes along about fifteen days later, which is also when Alice, Dee, and Munny are presented as triplets, or “the Baby Dolls.” Although I can’t say for sure how I came up with the idea to name the Dahls after film icons, I suspect the explanation is something like this: An acquaintance of mine had named her daughter “Harlowe” (with an E); I really liked the name, and when I changed Kelly” to “Harlowe,” it almost certainly got me to thinking about Jean Harlow. Maybe I looked her up and found that she’d co-starred with Clark Gable multiple times, so I decided to give the two girls a brother. At that point, I would’ve certainly noticed the film star theme. I do remember looking up iconic film stars, specifically searching for one with the first name “Alice” so that I could make the family work.

Do you remember the exchange in the movie Shakespeare In Love between the producer and the financial backer as the production teeters on the brink of disaster?

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

That’s pretty much how writing a novel works, too. Just when I start to panic, convinced that none of the disparate parts I’ve created will fit together into any kind of cohesive tale, it all turns out well. I don’t know. It’s a mystery. 

Are you Alice, either physically or personality-wise? And, if you're not, who did you mentally turn into Alice Faye Dahl for Alice in Wonderland?
Alice Faye Dahl-ishI did not base Alice’s physical traits on myself. I rarely do this; otherwise, all my characters would look exactly the same. For Alice, I trawled the internet, waiting for a face to jump out at me. Despite the novel being about Alice, even told from the point of view of Alice, I knew more about Rabbit Montgomery’s looks and personality than I did about hers. One afternoon, I toyed with a plot point involving a woman who’s been bitten by a shark, but who’s convinced that the water around her is turning red because of her hair dye, not because she’s bleeding. I searched specifically for women with red, red hair, and this was one of the first images that popped up.

I suppose there are a few personality traits here and there that Alice Faye and I share. But I actually found myself pouring a lot of my own personality quirks into Alice’s sister, Marlene Dietrich “Dee” Dahl. Alice Faye is more of a “watch and wait” kind of person; she knows that something is a little “off” about the things Rabbit says and does, but it takes her a long time before she confronts him. And while Alice often thinks amusing things, and she appreciates the jokes and antics of her friends and family, she’s not really leaving a trail of zingers in her wake. Dee, on the other hand, is of a much more proactive disposition; she’s more vocal than Alice, certainly more skeptical, and definitely not afraid to voice her opinion about anything. In the novel, she’s been acquainted with Rabbit for less than a day before her frustration boils over, but even when she’s angry she’s very, very funny:

Dee jumps from her chair, going from jovial to furious in an instant. “Wait, and you had to ask him if Faye’s in danger? If?” She paces the living room, shooting a deadly glare at Rabbit when she passes him. “Okay, first of all, I’m just going to admit that I didn’t know Japan had a Mafia, but I also didn’t know they got a Disney World—”

“Tokyo Disneyland,” says Gabe.

“Whatever! If someone gets an invitation from the Mafia, I’d say there’s potential for a bit of danger, wouldn’t you?” She stops and turns around. “I mean, am I the only one here who saw Goodfellas?”

Is there a chance of any of the characters in Alice in Wonderland (main or supporting) appearing in any other novels?
Through the Looking GlassAll of the main characters–Alice, Dee, Munny, Harlow, Gabe, Rabbit, Mouse–will make an appearance in Through the Looking Glass (when I get around to tackling that book). In the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, the sequel will focus on chess rather than poker, so  most of the characters associated with the tournament won’t make it into the sequel. But I can definitely see Queenie Tanaka being enough of a neurotic freak to turn up in Looking Glass–because she can! 
Have you or someone close to you had a gambling addiction? Is Alice in Wonderland inspired by someone's addictive practice?
alice cardsNope. The book was actually inspired by three things: my impromptu, two-week trip to Australia (“Straight Down the Rabbit Hole: Elle’s Top 10-ish Australia Travel Tips”), a home poker tournament I once played in which I placed second , and the playing card motif that runs through Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:


“Who cares for you?” said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off.

How much did you already know about poker before getting started with Alice in Wonderland and how much did you have to learn?

Many readers have asked about the scene in the book where Alice explains to Rabbit about how she came to be a finalist at the International Poker Tour just four months after learning how to play. Oddly enough, that plot point was based partly on my own experience. Many years before I wrote Alice, a girlfriend invited me to a home poker tournament. I knew absolutely nothing about Texas Hold’Em, so my friend’s husband dragged a framed poster of all the winning hands out of the basement and propped it against the wall next to my chair. Not surprisingly, I busted out (i.e. lost all my chips) after only playing two hands. I guess you could say that I’m a little bit of a competitive person; for the next couple of months, I threw myself into an accelerated crash-course of Texas Hold’Em. When my friend invited me back to play in another tournament at her house, I accepted—much more knowledgeable, of course! I  ended up walking away with second place and close to $400 in prize money. Fun fact: I haven’t played a single hand of poker (or any other card game) since.

What made you choose Australia as the background for Alice?

While Alice in Wonderland is very heavily based on my own two-week trip to Australia in 2012 with a girlfriend of mine, I didn’t go there for the purpose of doing research for a novel. I already had the idea for Alice before I ever went on the trip. Many of the scenes in the novel (such as struggling to acclimate to driving on the “wrong” side of the road) were a result of the road trip from Surfer’s Paradise to Sydney, I didn’t come up with the idea of Australia as “Wonderland” until after I returned home.”
 
I’ve lived many places in the world—Italy, Puerto Rico, among others—and I have to say that Australia is unlike anywhere else I’ve been. I didn’t notice it as much when I was in the touristy hotel in Surfer’s Paradise. The trip down the rabbit hole doesn’t start until you’re behind the steering wheel of a car—the right-hand side of the car, I should add. Five-hundred miles trying to undo thirty-five years of motor memory and driving experience is like trying to do calculus for three days straight. Then there was the flora. It looked like someone had taken the trees and given them a touch of Dr. Seuss. They were recognizably trees, and yet they were just different enough to make you go, “Huh?” And don’t even get me started on the animals. Lets just say that it’s no coincidence that the platypus evolved in Australia. I witnessed a sunrise in Coff’s Harbor that felt—I don’t know—ancient, like a dinosaur was going to wander by any second.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the story of a girl who travels to a magical land that is familiar to her and yet completely strange. It was a perfect fit! You can read more about the trip Down Under in my blog “Straight Down the Rabbit Hole: Elle’s Top 10-ish Australia Travel Tips.”

How long were you in Australia before you learned about the ass-eating toilet spiders? Do you know anyone who was bitten?
Wipe Your Arse, I Dare YouI was in Australia for about ten minutes before an Aussie terrified me with stories about the ass-eating toilet spider. It’s real name is “huntsman spider,” and what it apparently wants to hunt is your unsuspecting butt-cheek hanging over the side of a toilet seat. It’s enormous, for one thing, and according to Wikipedia, it “frequently wander[s] into homes and vehicles. They are able to travel extremely fast, often using a springing jump while running, and walk on walls and even on ceilings. They also tend to exhibit a “cling” reflex if picked up, making them difficult to shake off and much more likely to bite.”

 
You hear that? A “cling reflex.” No. Just…no. Christ, I think I’m going to faint just typing this answer. I’ve never been so afraid of taking a piss in my life as I was when I was in the Land Down Under. You get used to lifting the lid from a safe distance, as well as hovering your ass over the toilet seat. In the plus column, my quads were like steel cables by the time I came home.

I don’t know anyone who’s been bitten by the ass-eating toilet spider, but according to Wikipedia, the venom is rarely fatal for healthy adults. Does that mean that the ass-eating toilet spider slaughters children and the infirm with impunity? I don’t know, and probably don’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss, as it turns out.

Will Alice in Wonderland be available as an audiobook at some point?
Yes, actually! The narrator for The Frog Prince audiobook, Leah Frederick, has agreed to tackle Alice in Wonderland as well. Which is great, because after listening to hours and hours of recordings, making suggestions or corrections, and then listening to the revised takes for The Frog Prince, I’m not eager to experience that again with a new narrator. Truth be told, I’m not eager to experience it again at all, but working with an experience narrator who I’ve worked with before really minimizes the effort required on my part.
Is it true that the Rabbit Montgomery pictured in some of your promotional photos is a result of the character 'coming to life' after you wrote Alice in Wonderland?

True! You can read about how Lapin “Rabbit” Montgomery appears to have walked right off the pages of the book about a month after it was published in my blog “Straight Down the Rabbit Hole: When Life Is Stranger (and Hotter) Than Fiction.” The photo (used with permission) is an old college friend who I hadn’t seen in twenty years who I reconnected with in a very strange and serendipitous fashion after Alice in Wonderland came out. He graciously gave me permission to use his photo for promotional montages absolutely gratis.

If Alice in Wonderland were to be adapted for film, who would your dream cast be?

From left to right:
Alice Faye Dahl / Marilyn Monroe “Munny” Dahl / Marlene Dietrich “Dee” Dahl: Emma Stone
Lapin “Rabbit” Montgomery: Alex Pettyfer
Souris “Mouse” Montgomery: Jennifer Lawrence
Haimeko “Queenie-baby” Tanaka: Ryoko Shonohara
Clark Gable “Gabe” Dahl: Kellan Lutz

Alice Actors

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