Personal FAQs

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Is Elle Lothlorien a pen-name?

Nope. “Elle Lothlorien” is my real-life, legal name! It is not my birth name, however. Here’s the deal: When I was 18-years-old, I changed my last name legally from my birth surname to “Lothlorien.” Why? For the same reason teenagers do anything: because they can. I think I found out that it only cost $50 to file the paperwork with the court (the process was a lot less complicated in those days and didn’t involve an FBI background check or anything). But first I had to decide on a name. I pored over dozens of books, looking through some of my favorite novels for something that seemed like a good fit. I finally decided on “Lothlorien”–a forest in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings–because it sounded pretty. I filed my paperwork with the court, paid my $50, and a few weeks later…presto! A brand new name!

My first name, Elle, is also not my birth name. Here’s the backstory there: After high school, I joined a volunteer fire department. As you can imagine, it was mostly men. The guys in my battalion (Batt 4, yo) tended to call each other by their last names. Since my last name was so long and complicated, some of the guys started calling me “L” (the first letter in my last name). Then people at work started to call me “L” too, and pretty soon I was introducing myself as Elle! When people asked, “How do you spell that?” I had to think of something besides saying, “Uh…it’s spelled ‘L.'” Using the magazine as a model, I began spelling what was at the time a nickname E-L-L-E. The reason I eventually changed my first name legally from my birth name to Elle was because it got complicated financially trying to explain to people why they had to write checks or draft legal documents using a first name they’d never heard of before (unless they were someone in my family or knew me before 1991 or 1992).

No, I do not think I’m an elf. No, I do not attend Comic-Con and wear pointy rubber ears. I do not speak High Elvish (or Low, if that even exists). No elves, period. Sorry.

What drew you to modernizing traditional fairy tales?
Reinventing fairy tales actually happened by accident. In 2008, I saw a 60 Minutes-type show about people who are technically next in line to a throne somewhere in the world—Ethiopia, Russia, Greece, Albania. The only problem, of course, is that those countries no longer have monarchies. That same year, I read an article about a group in France called “Monarchists” who were lobbying to reinstate the monarchy there (with obvious positive implications for guillotine manufacturers everywhere).
The Frog Prince (a Romantic Comedy) by Elle LothlorienIn any case, those two stories planted the seed that led to the premise for The Frog Prince, in which a Denver sexuality researcher, Leigh Fromm, meets the man who would have been the king of Austria—if the monarchy there hadn’t been abolished in 1918. The title of the novel comes from the Brother’s Grimm fairy tale of the same name about a girl who kisses a frog and turns him into a real prince. Leigh Fromm is a woman who is a little on the quirky side, and isn’t quite sure what to do with the would-have-been King of Austria when he pursues her.Sleeping 300-450-shadowWhen I came up with the idea for my second book about a young woman with a sleep disorder called Klein-Levin Syndrome, aka “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” I didn’t have to agonize over what to call it. (Seriously, what else could it be called besides “Sleeping Beauty”?) That indirectly led to a fairy tale “franchise” of sorts.

Your lead characters all seem to possess a certain level of awkwardness. Is this because you’re also an awkward person?
Oh, hell yes! I’m actually a “functional introvert.” And by “introvert,” I don’t mean “shy,” because I am not shy. I like people, I like talking to people and meeting new people, and I’m definitely not afraid to go out into the world and experience new things. But in the words of Leigh Fromm in The Frog Prince, I have the conversational abilities of a potted plant. I’m terrible at small talk, and I rarely walk away from a one-on-one conversation without feeling like a Grade-A asshat. Fans of my books often say, “But you write such great dialogue! It’s so fun! It’s so natural! How could you possibly be an awkward conversationalist?” The answer is that when I’m writing, I have time to think of the wittiest or funniest way to say it. When I’m talking to someone, words just randomly tumble out of my face; odds are good that it won’t be anything remotely witty or funny. Trust me on this one. Like Leigh, it’s only when I’m truly pissed off that I became the most eloquent orator you’ve ever heard. In my natural, calm state, I’m a bumbling, fumbling half-wit who appears to be hell-bent on plying people with awkward conversation and making them as uncomfortable as possible.

If you could only eat one candy for the rest of your life, what would it be? What about your last meal?
Candy: Probably bubble gum. Bazooka if I could find it, Dubble Bubble if I couldn’t. Last meal: Kung pao chicken, extra spicy, extra peanuts. Brown rice, please.

What got you into dancing? And what's your favorite style of dance that you've learned?
Way back in 2005 (when I was still married), I attended some function-or-other at the University of Colorado in Boulder with my then-husband. The entertainment came in the form of a dance group who proceeded to knock my socks off with an incredible swing dance/Lindy hop performance. (Although I confess that had no idea what style of dancing it was). I remember pointing at them and saying to my husband, “I don’t know what that is, but I want to learn it.”

<href=”http://ellelothlorien.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Dolls-2.jpg”>Dolls 2We did a little bit of research and found a place in Denver, the Mercury Café, where they gave all sorts of dance lessons—tango, swing, blues, Lindy hop, etc. We signed up for a private Lindy hop lesson (helpful hint: do not wear heels to your first lesson; you will be crippled by the end of the hour), and I fell in love with it. I also learned swing, jitterbug, and even some blues drag, but my favorite style is definitely Lindy hop. I eventually gave up social dancing for good after my narcolepsy symptoms worsened.

Do your kids ever get embarrassed or upset with you using real life happenings as hilarious points in your books?
Here’s the thing about kids: they don’t care if their mom is a famous movie actress, a bestselling author, or a cashier at Walmart. After they turn 13, you become the most uncool human being on the planet to them. To my knowledge, neither of my kids has read any of my books (although some of my daughter’s high school friends were big fans of my stuff, a fact that The Girl found utterly contemptible). I’ve read a few excerpts from Jaqueline and the Beanstalk to my son that are based on his real-life antics. His reaction was a combination of amusement and horror, mostly because I think kids like to pretend that your only role is that of Their Mom. You are not an actual human being with a life, hobbies, or talents outside of providing them with food and shelter. Any proof to the contrary must be immediately forgotten and buried deep in their psyche, to be retrieved only when they seek counseling as adults for all the mental harm you inflicted on them as children.

Which character do you most identify with?

1-Alice Faye DahlI definitely identify most with Marlene Deitrich “Dee” Dahl in Alice in Wonderland—hands down, no contest. She was so incredibly easy to write because she essentially is me. Along with Dee’s and Alice’s brother, Gabe, Dee provides the healthy skepticism and snarky attitude that’s needed to cut through the chaos and bullshit in Wonderland. 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?”

Which character would you be most likely to hook up with?
Leading MenWe have a veritable smorgasbord of man-candy here, so it’s hard for a girl to decide. Let’s review my choices as well as the face that comes to mind when I imagine each character:

Roman Lorraine von Habsburg from The Frog Prince and Gilding the Lily-pad. Almost-royal-turned-king. Sexy, great dancer, smooth, kind, compassionate, but perhaps a bit too over-protective for my taste. Looks like Colin Egglesworth.

Brendan Charmant from Sleeping Beauty. Hot neurosurgeon, reserved, intelligent, but a little too dull for me. Resembles Jamie Bamber.

Davin Wibbens from Sleeping Beauty. Heart-throb computer technician some days, sexy surfer all other days. Caring, forthright, funny, assertive. I’d totally hook up with him. I have no idea who this guy is; I paid Shutterstock for his image, so I guess I sort of own him already.

Lapin “Rabbit” Montgomery from Alice in Wonderland. Gorgeous, whip-smart, a little devious, very funny. Resembles Alex Pettyfer. Yes, please.

There are a couple of authors I get excited about when I hear that they have a new book coming out. Are there any authors you like so much that you just can't wait to read their newest release?

My dad and me, circa 1971. I once posted this picture on my Facebook page, and a reader left this comment: "I hate to break this to you, Elle, but you not the cutest thing in this picture."
My dad and me, circa 1971. I once posted this picture on my Facebook page, and a reader left this comment: “I hate to break this to you, Elle, but you not the cutest thing in this picture.”

I should begin my answer by admitting that I am a bestselling romantic comedy author who doesn’t read romance. And before you jump to conclusions, it’s not because I’m some sort of literary snob who thinks one genre is superior to any other. I’m not (and I don’t). Nor is it because I think there aren’t any romance authors out there whose works I would enjoy—of course there are! The simple fact is that I grew up reading fantasy, horror and thrillers—genres my father devoured and passed on to me, beginning as an impressionable middle-schooler. As an adult, my choices became more nuanced and I can now say with confidence to anyone who cares to know that I prefer historical fantasy, speculative fiction, science thrillers, non-fiction, and the occasional literary novel. That said, I’ve never been anyone’s Number One Fan for Life. My taste in authors and books is like my taste in music: constantly changing as new authors arrive on the scene. At this moment in time, I’d probably shank someone if that’s what it took to get George R. R. Martin to finish the Game of Thrones series. I’m sure I’d notice if Lev Grossman (The Magicians, The Magician King, The Magician’s Land) released a new book. And I’d be willing to personally light an actual fire under the ass of Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear) if it meant that he’d stop taking literary detours into the land of character development (The Slow Regard of Silent Things) and finish The Kingkiller Chronicles. (Damn you, Rothfuss!)

What were the last 10 books that you read?
The last ten books I read were:

  1. Books1Books2Life After Life / Kate Atkinson (literary fantasy)
  2. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves / Dan Ariely (non-fiction, social psychology)
  3. The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery / Robert Dunn (non-fiction, medical history)
  4. Becoming Queen Victoria: the Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte, and the Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch / Kate Williams (British history)
  5. Lock In by John Scalzi (science fiction)
  6. Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era / James Barrat (non-fiction, technology and science)
  7. Mambo in Chinatown / Jean Kwok (general fiction)
  8. The Secret Life of Violent Grant / Beatriz Williams (historical fiction)
  9. Tomlinson Hill : the Remarkable Story of Two Families Who Share the Tomlinson Name–One White, One Black / Chris Tomlinson (non-fiction, history)
  10. The Dinner: a Novel / Herman Koch, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (literary fiction)


For some reason, my book lists tends to surprise fans of my novels. “But–but you’re so funny!” they’ll say. That may be true, but I’m not funny because I steal funny bits from other funny writers’ books. (And by the by, I’m willing to bet that every one of those funny, sharp, observant writers that you’ve read regularly consume books that aren’t remotely funny.) My romantic comedies are described as “smart”; my heroines are often said to be “worried about more than buying a pair of shoes.” It would be very difficult to write smart comedy and smart women if I only read fiction, for example, or only read fantasy or romance or horror or…well, you get the point. (I hope.)

I know you don’t eat very much when you’re writing, but what's your favorite go-to “writing food?
Here’s a complicated, perhaps strange, answer to a relatively straightforward question. If you’ve read or watched Game of Thrones, you’re probably familiar with the paraplegic boy, Bran Stark, and his direwolf. Bran is able to leave his broken body and mentally enter the mind of his direwolf. At one point in the novel, Bran and his friends have run out of food and are slowly starving. Bran begins to spend more and more time in his wolf’s mind, running, hunting, and most importantly, eating. Bran’s friend, Jojen, reminds him that eating as a direwolf, while it may feel satisfying, doesn’t nourish his human body, and that he will be just as hungry when he comes back to his body as he was when he left it.
<href=”http://ellelothlorien.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/gollum.png”>gollumWriting fiction is sort of like that. When I’m doing it right, my brain is fully immersed in what amounts to an alternate reality. When I’m writing in first-person, I am the main character, for all intents and purposes. And unless my main character is complaining about being hungry, I’m probably not going to feel hungry either. I don’t skip eating because I’m super-excited to be writing the book, or even because I forget to eat. I don’t eat because I’ve left my mind and entered the mind of the character. And that character is probably really busy meeting her new beau’s mother, or dancing at a ball in Stockholm, Sweden, or scouring a bombing range to find a missing friend.

Trust me, when I return to my own mind and body, I’m well aware that I look and feel like Gollum after five hundred years with the preciousss. This is one of the reasons why I usually keep bags of candy on my desk while I write—even empty calories are better than none. My go-to “writing candies” are Tootsie Rolls and Starbursts. NOM.

Your miniature dachshund, Bacon Bourgeois, Legendary Wiener, seems a really good fit for you. What was your very first pet?
When I was a toddler, my parents bought a miniature red dachshund. Miniature dachshunds, especially the short-haired variety, get cold very easily, and they’ll try to conserve body heat by making an “O” with their body, nose-to-tail-style. Seeing that, my sister named her “Doughnut.”
Doogle BugDoughnut is the pet who inspired my life-long love of dachshunds. Doughnut also started an informal custom of naming my wiener-dogs after food. My parents later bought a mini-wiener for my younger sister, who named her “Nutmeg.” One of my first big decisions when I graduated was to get a dachshund of my own. My first, named “Bologna,” was a lovely red miniature with green eyes and a liver-colored nose. Unfortunately, she died in a tragic accident when she was still a puppy. I later bought a brother and sister pair and named them “Oscar” and “Meyer.” Before I acquired Bacon Bourgeois, Legendary Wiener, I adopted a wonderful doggie—a mutt my daughter named “Skittles”—who was with me for over ten years. Bacon came along in 2009. His actual AKC name is “Bacon Bourgeois of Legend.” We added the “Bourgeois” to provide some gravitas and counterbalance to “Bacon.” The “of Legend” bit was because we lived on Legend Court at the time.

I read on Facebook that you have the sleep disorder narcolepsy. How old were you when you were diagnosed?
In 2003, I was a thirty-something mother, busy caring for my two young children, and much too busy to get a flu shot for myself (although I always made sure my kiddos were vaccinated). One day while I was at work, I suddenly felt very ill. I left work, and by the time I got home, I was crying from the pain in my muscles and joints. Naturally, the influenza virus had stumbled upon my un-vaccinated body, and for over a month, I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my entire life. As the months passed, the fatigue I felt while recovering seemed to stubbornly hang on. Eventually, I couldn’t make it through an entire day without taking a nap. In no time at all, I became obsessed with sleep: how much of it I was getting; how many hours I had left until I could do it again; whether or not there was enough time to squeeze in a nap.

This is what I feel like all day, every day. Thank God for methamphetamines!

I was married at the time to an abusive man. Instead of sympathizing with my situation, he told me I was “lazy”–and I believed him. He began essentially booby-trapping the bed–setting a pillow just so, for example, so that he could tell later if it had been moved during the day. As a result, I didn’t seek medical help for my fatigue until after I divorced him in 2007. My primary care doctor listened to my symptoms and said, “It sounds to me like you might have narcolepsy.” That was the first time anyone had ever used that word.

At the time, a formal diagnosis (which requires an overnight stay in a sleep lab) was more of an academic question, because I experienced great success with the medication she prescribed to help me stay alert and awake during the day. As time went on, however, more and more of my neurons regulating my sleep-wake cycle were destroyed; by 2009, I began experiencing something called “contracted sleep.” Essentially, I was no longer able to reach the restorative phase of sleep, so my brain essentially skipped over that phase. By 2011, I was unable to sleep for longer than four or five hours at a time, and I always woke up feeling like I’d been on a two-week bender.

Enter the formal sleep-study. It took my sleep doctor about 3 seconds of looking at my EEG readings (which are taken while you sleep in a sleep lab, electrodes stuck to your head) to see that I definitely had full-blown narcolepsy. I was prescribed an array of drugs–all of which had horrible side effects–that either kept me artificially awake during the day, or simulated deep, delta-phase sleep at night. But the worst part of having narcolepsy were the cognitive problems that developed over the years as my brain tried to cope with severe sleep deprivation. Basically, I experienced all the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease: memory loss, inability to focus, inability to accurately perceive the passage of time, difficulty thinking of words (especially nouns), mental fogginess, difficulty reading a map or following driving directions. Sometimes my brain would go off-line for a few seconds or minutes–a symptom called “automatic behavior” or “micro-sleep”–and I’d suddenly look around and have no idea how I got to where I was standing. It was a pretty frightening time.

Narcolepsy
This guy has cataplexy. Or else he just had a massive heart attack and died. It’s hard to know for sure without examining him.

Today, I am much better about regulating my life now in order to maximize a healthy sleep schedule and minimize the kinds of stress that might trigger attacks of horrendous lethargy that are “sleep attacks.” I am grateful that I do not have cataplexy, however, which is one possible symptom of narcolepsy that involves suddenly losing muscle control in parts or all of the body. I do not have hypnogogic hallucinations or sleep paralysis–both possible symptoms of narcolepsy. The former causes you to continue dreaming even after you wake up; the latter causes the body to be unable to undo the full-body paralysis that comes with deep sleep, often leaving someone who is fully awake unable to move for several minutes after they wake up. I just battle powerful, uncontrollable sleepiness, starting about three hours after I wake up, and lasting all through the day.

Scientists suspect a link between influenza and narcolepsy. For reasons that are poorly understood, having influenza (or, in some rare cases, getting a flu vaccine) can often trigger the body to attack specific neurons in the brain that control sleep. Unfortunately, the human brain has only 10,000 of these particular cells, and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. I believe that narcolepsy will eventually be cured using stem cell therapy, although I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Patience. If you wait too long, your life will simply pass you by without you having ever tried anything, risked anything, achieved anything.

What are ten random facts about yourself that you'd be willing to share?
1. Despite the photographs you may see on this website or on the internet, underneath all that fabric and hair dye I am almost 100% gray. C’est la vie.
2. When no one is looking, I drink milk straight out of the container.
Elle Baby Photos43. My middle school and high school friends all secretly had a crush on my dad, who was in the Navy and wore a uniform. Every. Single. Day. I kept smelling salts handy for sleepovers. When I posted this baby picture on my Author Facebook one time as part of a promotion for an interview I’d given, it went viral. VIRAL. The comment that I remember most: “Sorry, Elle, but you’re not the cutest thing in this picture.” At almost 70-years-old my dad got a real kick out of it.
4. My idea of cleaning my bathroom is taking a wet paper towel and wiping all my hair off the floor so it doesn’t crunch under my shoes when I walk on it.
5. I was formally diagnosed with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, in 2010, but I’d lived with the symptoms of the disease starting as early as 2003.
6. I have a miniature dachshund named Bacon, but I try to improve his self-esteem by referring to him aloud as “Prince Wiener,” and “Bacon Bourgeois of Legend.”
7. My first car was a 1978 candy apple red MG convertible. It was a death trap, and I’m lucky I didn’t die in it, but it sure was fun as hell to drive!
8. I am an introvert, but I am not shy! People don’t scare me, but they do suck the energy right out of me. Being in large groups for long periods of time is very draining. I’d almost always rather be at home reading a book. (Or, let’s face it, sleeping.)
9. I know that people who come off as snobby, bitchy, or standoffish are almost always incredibly socially awkward or painfully shy—or both. When I meet someone like that, I grind them down with gentle kindness until they have no choice but to become my friend. All that hard work and persistence pays off, because people who never talk are worth listening to once you can crack their shell. They will become some of the best friends you have ever had.
10. At summer camp as a child, I lied and told everyone that I was an identical twin. I still cringe every time I think about it.

Is there anything you've written in any of your books that you really want to rewrite?
Dear diary

Have you ever run across a notebook or computer file of essays/love letters/journal entries written by your younger self? If so, you probably cringed a bit over how little the writer’s “voice” reflected the person you are today. As with any craft, an author’s writing changes over time. Using Stephen King as an example is sort of a cheat since he was such a gifted storyteller from a very young age, but even the least discerning reader would be able to detect a difference in King’s voice in Carrie, published in 1974, and Under the Dome, published twenty-five years later in 2009. That’s because, like any other occupation, age, experience, and life change you. And that different “you” has a slightly different voice. Unlike any other occupation, though, a writer’s books are a literary dig, rich with fossils chronicling the evolution of the author’s voice.

frog prince dissectedAs an author, you don’t have to wait twenty-five years to read your “old stuff” and die inside a little. A year or two usually does it for me. I wrote the first draft of The Frog Prince in 2008 and self-published it in 2010. I wrote the companion novel, Gilding the Lily-pad, in 2013—five years after finishing that first draft of The Frog Prince . Although Gilding was written from the point-of-view of Roman Lorraine von Habsburg, the overall story was essentially the same as The Frog Prince. In order to avoid continuity errors, I had to not only re-read Frog, but dissect it like a biology student. Once I cut into it and revealed the guts, The Frog Prince read (to me) like a hot mess. There were three books, four years, and hundreds of thousands of words between the writing of The Frog Prince and Gilding the Lily-pad; my writing voice was simply different.

Gilding the Lily-pad Elle Lothlorien

For Gilding, this turned out to be a good thing. Having never “written a man” from the first person, I was afraid that Roman and Leigh would “sound” interchangeable. If I’d written Roman this way—a worldly, privileged man who straddles two worlds, but doesn’t quite fit into either—it would have been a disaster. But the four years between Frog and Gilding had irrevocably changed me; my writing style had matured. I was more focused and disciplined, and less—how can I say this? Giddy? Frivolous? I don’t mean to say that my style was “silly” before (or that Leigh Fromm is a silly person), just that my writing style had demonstrably changed.

And while many readers may be shocked to read this, I actually have changed my books after they’ve been published—too many times to count, in fact. Most of the changes involve correcting minor spelling or grammatical errors after-the-fact. A more extreme example involves the changes I made to The Frog Prince in 2013. When I sat down to write Gilding in 2013, I realized that some of the references in The Frog Prince were outdated. For instance, in The Frog Prince, Roman and Leigh have more than one conversation about Great Britain’s Prince William. Here’s one:

[Roman] “Well, that would become your life. Just look at Prince William. The poor guy can’t even kiss a girl without it being on the front page of every newspaper in the morning. Makes me wonder if he ever lost his virginity.”

“Wow, forget the frog prince,” I say, sarcasm dripping from my voice. “You’re a regular Prince Charming.”

When I wrote this exchange, William was still a bachelor. By the time I sat down to write Gilding in 2013, the Prince of Wales was a happily married man and brand-new father. Since I was going to retain all the dialogue between Roman and Leigh, I had two choices: 1) Keep the original dialogue and look like a dumbass who had somehow missed every news flash and grocery check-out celebrity magazine in the last four years; 2) Update the dialogue in Frog. I chose option 2. Remember that the following is written from Roman’s POV:

[Roman] “That would become your life. Just look at Prince William. The poor guy couldn’t even kiss a girl without it being on the front page of every newspaper in the morning. Makes me wonder how he ever lost his virginity. I mean, he’s married now but still…”

“Wow, forget the frog prince,” she says, laying the sarcasm on thick. “You’re a regular Prince Charming.”

While changing paper books is a little more complicated, revising an e-book—even after you’ve published it—takes about as much time to do as ordering a tube of lip gloss on Amazon.

Is there a particular book you've read that changed your life?
Oh, my God, there’s no way I could pick one book, because every book I’ve read has changed my life in some way. Why don’t I split my life into decades, and I’ll tell you about whatever book immediately springs to mind.


Decade 1: The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. Yes, I enjoyed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe just as much as the next kid, but it was Book Six in The Chronicles of Narnia (or Book One, if you’ve read the blasphemous collection that puts the stories in chronological order—expressly against the wishes of Lewis) that really knocked my socks off. The Chronicles in general gave me a love of high fantasy that would last the rest of my life, but The Magician’s Nephew was the first book I’d ever read that seemed at first to have no connection whatsoever to the stories that preceded it. As you continue turning the pages, though, you realize that the entire book is an extremely clever backstory to the series. While Lion, Witch, Wardrobe is ambiguous at best about the origins of Narnia, the magic wardrobe, or why the kindly professor in the story so readily believes the four children, The Magician’s Nephew hints and teases you all the way to the end until the pieces to the puzzle just sort of come together in a eureka! moment. It was the first piece of fiction I ever read that made me reflect on a book long after I’d closed it.

Decade 2: The Stand by Stephen King. (Warning: spoiler alert!) While not the first Stephen King novel I’d ever consumed, it was definitely the first post-apocalyptic story I’d ever read—quite a brilliant introduction to the genre, I think. I read The Stand in 1984 (oh, the irony) when the Cold War was still alive and well, saturating every aspect of pop-culture. Even at that tender age, I didn’t need a literary PhD to help me understand why I instinctively rooted for the “good guys” in the book, who were hunkered down in Boulder, Colorado to raise chickens and argue with each other about the Satanic aspects of electricity. (By the by, the wit King displayed in choosing Boulder as the Good Guy “U.S.” Encampment is just too rich to fully process without either living a couple of decades in Colorado yourself or watching a few episodes of Portlandia first.) Meanwhile Bad Guy Central in The Stand was located in Las Vegas, where “Comrade U.S.S.R.” managed to practice an impressive level of debauchery while diligently planning the annihilation of the remainder of humanity by acquiring nuclear weapons. I’ve had an obsession with apocalyptic/dystopian novels ever since, possibly because very few non-fiction writers seem to have any interest in writing guidebooks for surviving the eventual Zombie Apocalypse.

Decade 3: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. No, I am not trotting this title out to try to impress you. In fact, when I first attempted to read Austen in my twenties, I didn’t even get five chapters in before I felt like I had no idea what the fuck was happening, or why everyone seemed to think the story was so romantic and brilliant. I mean, it wasn’t as bewildering as reading The Canterbury Tales, which was penned in such antiquated Ye Olde English that you don’t realize until years after your English teacher forced you to read it that it included, among other titillating characters, a woman who muses on the price her “queynte” (er, “lady bits,” for the faint-of-heart) could fetch on the open market. In stark contrast, not a single person gets naked—or even kisses!—in the entirety of Pride and Prejudice. And Mr. Darcy seemed like such a grade-A douche-canoe that I couldn’t understand why anyone would waste their breath on the man, let alone fret about whether or not he thought you were “handsome enough” to dance with. It wasn’t until I read an annotated online version of the book that explained, in detail, the relevant 200-year-old historical and cultural references, that I understood that Austen was perhaps the original snarky, romantic comedy genius. In fact, I keep a dog-eared compilation of Austen’s novels on my nightstand (although I will soon have to replace it since the cover, and the first few pages of Sense and Sensibility have fallen off).

Decade 4: I’ll let you know when it’s over.

Which book that you have written (so far) is your personal favorite and why?
Alice in Wonderland (a Romantic Comedy) by Elle LothlorienChoosing a favorite among your own novels is like choosing a favorite child. While I’ll admit that whichever book I’ve most recently finished is the one I’m most enthusiastic about, that feeling eventually fades as the book ages and you start on a new one. I definitely have favorite scenes in each book. Here are two:
This is a scene from Alice in Wonderland where Alice Faye, Rabbit, and his sister, Mouse–all Americans–are on a road trip from Surfer’s Paradise to Sydney in Australia.

Once all three of us are inside and buckled up, doors closed, Rabbit looks at his sister in the rearview mirror.

 

“Was that really necessary, Mousey?”

 

I twist around in my seat. “What happened?”

 

Souris takes another swig. “Let’s put it this way: If one more person tells me how big this country is, I’m going to go kick a koala.”

 

I must look utterly confused, because Rabbit says, “Allow me to recreate that little gem of international relations.”

 

He turns in his seat to face Souris, an eager smile on his face. “Puis-je?”

 

“Whatever,” she mutters.

 

“How you going?” he greets her in a cheerful and not unconvincing Australian brogue.

She says something that sounds like, “Yeah, good.”

 

“Rented a car, yeah?”

 

She smiles. “We sure did.”

 

“Going for a drive?”

 

“Why, yes,” she says, not only playing along now, but rising to the occasion with an overly bright voice of her own.

 

“We’re driving to Sydney to go sightseeing for a few days!”

 

Rabbit affects a look of grave concern, like he wants to tell her something, but doesn’t know how to break it. He touches his lips with his fingertips, as if reluctant to let the words come out. “You—you know that it’s a really long way, right?”

 

I’m incredulous. “Someone said that to you?” I look from one of them to the other. “Who said that to you?”

 

“‘Someone?’” says Souris. “How about every other person who sees the rental car tags?” She sighs. “Look, I snapped, okay?”

 

“What did you say?” When she doesn’t answer, I turn to Rabbit. “What did she say?”

 

He puts the keys in the ignition and starts the car. “I believe it went like this—and stop me if I’m wrong, Mousey: ‘Listen, we may not be our own continent and everything, but we have a big country over in America too.’”

 

Silence settles on the car like pea soup fog. Finally I say, “Oh. Wow.”

The Frog Prince (a Romantic Comedy) by Elle LothlorienHere’s one of my favorite scenes from The Frog Prince in which Roman Lorraine von Habsburg and Leigh Fromm, who know almost nothing about each other, are on their first date. I love this scene because I love Leigh’s tendency for panic-driven oversharing. I also like the idea of a man who’s existence has been so carefully managed that he finds a beautiful woman with a very quirky personality intriguing rather than off-putting. This conversation takes place just after they’ve arrived at the restaurant.

 

I move to sit in the opposite chair, when I realize that Roman is still standing. I glance at the tabletop to see if something offensive has caused him to reconsider the table–free range bugs or tofu remains–but it appears spotless. Then I realize that he’s pulled a chair back a few feet and is waiting for me to sit in it.

 

To be fair to me, I’ve never had a chair pulled out for me so I’m not really sure what to do. Do I drop my ass onto the chair and then scoot it out of his hands and under the table? Sort of hover my butt over the seat and let him scoop me up like a front loader? Dump my trunk like dead-weight and force him to push the chair in like a bricklayer pushing a loaded wheelbarrow?

 

Being the commoner that I am, I launch my body in the general direction of the offered chair, like a competition junky playing one-man musical chairs. Once I’m seated, he simply walks to his own chair, settles in, and snaps the cloth napkin across his lap. “So,” he says, picking up the menu, “are you a carnivore or an herbivore?”

 

I’m still pretty rattled from the whole chair chivalry thing, and before I can stop myself a basically true (but completely illogical) response blows out of my mouth. “Well, technically I’m a carnivore because I do like meat occasionally, but meat isn’t very good for you so I’ve been eating a lot of beans and fish lately. Of course fish is meat…that’s why it’s the Chicken of the Sea, but ethically I’m opposed to corporate farms and keeping animals stuffed in pens. But at the same time, our human ancestors were always meat eaters, at least since Homo erectus. And I know I couldn’t kill an animal myself if there were plants available to eat unless I had to kill an animal to feed my children if they were starving. Except I don’t have kids.”

 

I heard once that you can’t cry and drink cold water at the same time. At this point the hostess has stepped up to the table with glasses of ice water, one of which I immediately snatch off the tray in her hand. Guzzling the cold water temporarily staves off any full-blown sobbing, and gives me the strength to see how Roman has taken this particular piece of verbal diarrhea. He’s leaning far back in his chair, smiling broadly at me across the table.

 

“Wow,” he says, as the hostess steps away, “now I know your opinion on dietary ethics and human biological anthropology…what the hell are we going to talk about for the rest of the meal?”

 

Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer. Did you always know you wanted to be one, or was there a specific moment when you knew?
I had two creative writing professor in college who urged me to pursue writing as a career. (For those who can’t read the comments on the left, here’s what one professor scrawled on an essay way back in 1991:

“You should think seriously of writing as a big part of your life. I hesitate to say “career,” as I’ve been told the same thing but haven’t made much progress. When I want to, there’s no time; when there’s time, I don’t want to. Excuses! Writers write! You could be one.”

Despite this type of encouragement, and despite winning the annual university writing contest two years in a row, I dismissed “writing as a career” as a foolish pipe dream. Nine years later, I woke up in the middle of the night with a story idea that was so powerful that I got out of bed, sat on the floor of my bedroom, opened my laptop, and began my first book. It turned out that writing an entire book was much harder than writing a college paper! I finished about 25% of that first book, a literary novel, before abandoning it. My next attempt, a suspense novel, was 50% complete before the same thing happened. I did manage to complete my third novel, a thriller. The Frog Prince was the first published, second completed, and fourth attempted novel that I wrote (for anyone keeping score). I had incredibly good luck when The Frog Prince became an Amazon best-seller a few months after I self-published it in 2010.

If you were told you had to teach a class of reluctant readers and writers, ones with minimal skills, what three things would you use to inspire them to read and write?
This is a tough one, because it would depend on the age and abilities of the students in question. But I’m not sure there are readers or writers who are truly “reluctant.” Cross-culturally, human beings are natural lovers of stories as well as natural storytellers. It’s in our DNA. I think that most “reluctant” writers simply lack confidence in their abilities, and most “reluctant” readers probably haven’t stumbled on a book that inspires them or speaks to them. Although I encouraged both of my kids to read growing up, and they never lacked for books, my daughter was a reluctant reader until she discovered the Charlie Bone series in middle school. My son enjoyed the books assigned in school, but rarely did any outside reading until he stumbled on the YA novel Waterways in high school. I could barely pry him out that book long enough to eat a meal.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I think one of the biggest obstacles to encouraging the love of reading and writing in children is probably formal education. I think that nebulous concepts such as theme and symbolism are beaten to death, particularly in high school. Like both of my kids, I loved the books that were assigned in my high school English classes, but the constant dissection and analysis sucked all the joy out of the story. Same goes for writing. Yes, spelling and grammar are essential, but once that particular hurdle has been cleared, I think too much time is spent analyzing and picking apart what kids write. I understand that grading is a necessary component of our measurement-obsessed society, but writing is a deeply personal, creative process. Quite simply, it’s an art form like painting or composing. A kid whose painting or musical composition is constantly subjected to measurement and analysis is unlikely to be particularly inspired, either.

As an author, I spend approximately zero minutes thinking about things like theme and symbolism as I write. Plot, yes, but that’s a necessary, concrete concept; without it, you couldn’t possibly create a coherent story. But theme? Symbolism? Those are an unconscious byproduct of a writer’s efforts, something for book reviewers and college professors to yammer on about after-the-fact. Knowing everything there is to know about those types of amorphous concepts will not make you a better writer. A person’s writing is improved by more writing, not through the never-ending deconstruction of other writers’ works.

Frankly, I think that the number one most important thing you can do to inspire kids to write is to encourage them to read—a lot. Everything.. Comics. Cereal boxes. Graphic novels. Short stories. Epic poetry. Haikus. Penthouse Forum letters. Audiobooks. Anything. Help new writers find an author whose voice they can connect with, someone they can emulate in their own writing. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s also the set of training wheels that gives new writers the security to discover their own, distinct voice. Eventually, the training wheels will have fallen off, and the writer will be riding (and writing) solo without quite knowing how it happened.

How do you do your medical references? Consult? Personal experience? Research?
A lot of it is research. Some of it is personal experience from years of being an EMT. I was also pre-med in college, and I worked for six years in clinical research at a teaching hospital. I don’t think I’ve ever consulted with a doctor as part of writing a book. I’m not opposed to doing it, but these days there’s such a bottomless ocean of information available at the click of a mouse. It would have to be a pretty damn obscure medical reference before I’d have to resort to reaching out to an actual doctor or medical researcher. I ♥ the internet!
If you could give any advice to yourself right before you wrote your first book, what would it be?
Probably “Don’t freak out when you don’t finish it.” Writing a book is hard, and your first one is the most difficult of all. In fact, most writers never finish their first attempt. I didn’t finish my first (Rozafa’s Milk, a literary novel). Or my second (Left Here, Silent, suspense). My third attempt, a thriller called Virgin, was the first one I finished—and it took me three years!

When and where were you the happiest?
photo (71)I’m a military brat. This means that I had an unconventional upbringing in that my family and I moved approximately every two years. I am an American by birth, but I was born in Germany. I’ve lived in Italy (twice), Washington DC (twice), Charleston, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico. When I graduated from high school, my stepmother made a framed cross-stitch sampler of all the schools I attended since kindergarten. If you took that sampler out of its frame, you could wrap a small child with it.

Because of the way I grew up, I never really developed a sense of “home sweet home.” When you’re a military brat, you learn to be happy wherever you are. As an adult I moved to Denver, Colorado, where I have lived since 1995. Colorado is a gorgeous state! Since I moved here by choice, and I’ve been able to choose whether to stay or go, I think I can say with utter conviction that Colorado is the place that I’ve been the happiest.

What inspires you in your writing and keeps you motivated?
First of all, I’d like to quote Dorothy Parker, who once famously said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” That pretty much sums me up as a writer. For a more complete answer, see my blog “If This Is Love, Then Why Am I Laboring?”
I love reading your anecdotes about your son and daughter on Facebook. How do you decide what to share about your children on social media?
When The Frog Prince became a bestseller in 2010, my life changed very quickly. Suddenly, I had fans (although I couldn’t bring myself to say the word for a long time; I used the word “readers” instead), many of whom wanted to know all the details about my fairly boring life. In what was perhaps an ill-advised, reactionary move meant to protect my kids, I never mentioned them. Even my bio was sanitized, with no mention of any kids at all. By the time I became a little more relaxed about talking about them with total strangers, my daughter (aka “The Girl”) had already graduated from high school and was living in another state. That left my son (aka “The Boy”) to bear the full weight of my social media (over)sharing. I often post our exchanges on Facebook, so it’s not unusual to see something like this:

Me, to The Boy: When you get done unloading the dishwasher, please go take a shower.
The Boy: But Nick and I had plans to do something!
Me: Well, I’m sure Nick will enjoy doing whatever-it-is a lot more if you smelled better.
The Boy, rolling his eyes: Only if he can smell me through the computer microphone. He’s at his house; we were going to play an online computer game.
Me: Let me rephrase that: if you want to skip the shower and stink it up, be my guest. Only, you won’t be MY guest, because I will incapacitate you by beating you with the small branch of a tree, then I’ll drag your malodorous body outside, throw some lye on you, and let you air out overnight. Check with Nick…maybe you can be his guest instead.
The Boy, grumbling: Fine, I’ll take a shower.
——-
While there were some serious drawbacks to living with The Girl as a teen (mostly in the form of screechy, weepy epithets and melodramatic pronouncements such as “You just don’t understand me!”), at least funky smells rarely drifted from her boudoir or her person. I wish I understood why guys are so opposed to bathing, because it can’t be good for The Boy’s emotional health to hear me say “You stink” every other day. I’ve tried the gentle suggestion approach–”I went to wash the towels, and I noticed that yours haven’t been touched since I bought them in 2013″– but the only thing that seems to work is sarcastic tough love. I’m currently operating under the assumption that hearing it from your mother has got to be better than hearing it from your peers.

The Boy is fully aware that every conversation we have runs a good chance of ending up on Facebook. I was honest with him from the beginning, and almost always read the posts to him when I post them. Although I could tell that he wasn’t thrilled about my sharing, he didn’t ask me not to write about him. As time went on, and The Boy developed a cult following on my Facebook pages, he really started to enjoy the posts and peoples’ responses to them. Our lives are more than just a compilation of sarcastic exchanges with each other, so naturally there are aspects of his life that I keep private. I would never post anything that would endanger him, humiliate him, or jeopardize our relationship. If I’m uncertain about whether or not to share a bit about him, I ask him. If he says “no,” that’s the end of the discussion.

What is the best trip or vacation that you've ever taken?

ElleThe two weeks I spent in Australia in the summer of 2012, no question. (Fun fact: the settings and even some of the circumstances and dialogue in Alice in Wonderland are based on that trip.) I saw sunrises in Australia that were as close to religious experiences as I’m ever likely to get (being one of those “spiritual but not religious” folks, you see).