You can’t please everyone—this is a saying you hear all your life, and even more often when it comes to book reviews. On a day where I was running on less than 4 hours of sleep, had come down with some form of sickness (eew!) and had an awful day at the day-job, opening a link in an email to a bad review of my newest release hit harder than it should have. Shields were down, energy was low, and emotions were already in turmoil. I’m not going to argue the review; it was one person’s opinion, and an attribution to their reading experience with my book. It’s not the paragon of how every reader will view it, and I am not going to rant that they are wrong when it just didn’t connect for them. However, when faced with one comment in that the characters and world were not fully realized as they were in Lewis Carroll’s works, it made me think about adaptation and pure fanfiction vs re-imagining, and this blog post is be coming to terms with my emotions (albeit publicly) for catharsis so I can move on.
Before The Unraveling, there was “The Vanishing.” I wrote this short story for an anthology with my former publisher. It couldn’t surpass 10,000 words and it had to have a romantic element to it. Most importantly, it had to be about Wonderland. It was a story I almost didn’t write at all.
Why? Because I have loved the Alice books since I was a child. I played Alice in a play at a summer camp before starting the 6th grade. I could recite “Jabberwocky” from memory since high school (still can). I also collect Wonderland stuff, mostly Cheshire Cats but I don’t leave out other characters. Most I have displayed in my dining room (not all of it) and it is starting to look like I worship at the cult of Cheshire. I have even dressed up as the Cheshire Cat for Halloween twice (or three times if you count wearing the ears to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World on my 30th birthday.)
I’m a Wonderland geek. I love it. L.O.V.E. it. So why did I not want to write about it?
The answer is simple: I didn’t want to write Wonderland fanfiction for profit even though Carroll’s works are now public domain and anyone and everyone is playing in that sandbox. I definitely didn’t want to sex-up characters from a children’s novel to do it. Still, I decided at the last minute to write a short story because I realized I was being too much of a Wonderland purist, or a snob, and there were enough bestselling authors doing their own twists on it that it couldn’t be too terrible, right?
If I used key elements, locations, characters and motifs from the books the way I do with mythological characters for the Cursed Satyroi series, it would feel less fanfictiony and more like an re-imagining because that is what it is. I wanted to stay true to the heart of the story and the characters, but make it more adult and more of an original tale that hasn’t been told, but in my voice and with my imagination filling in the rest. Kind of like how movies say they are based on a book, but they don’t follow the blueprints? Yes. I did that. But I never set out to say “this is going to be the exact same story” because it’s not.
I used a heroine not from the books and my hero was the boy who killed the Jabberwock in a poem within Through the Looking Glass. He was part of the books, but one Carroll never explored past “Jabberwocky.” This helped with making it feel more like my own creation within his world, and I was comfortable there. Of course, with my love of the character, I could not leave out the Cheshire Cat, who became Devrel (Chesh’s grandson and the last of his race of boojums—a creature with vanishing abilities found in the Lewis Carroll poem, “The Hunting of the Snark.”) Threw in a cameo from the Mad Hatter and Red Queen, and I had a short story rooted in this world.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as Through the Looking Glass, is a children’s book. It is written from a child’s experience in a world so unlike her own, with a child’s wonderment and lack of understanding of how things work (even in her own world. It is magnified by the strangeness of Wonderland). It was important to me, in making this an adult story even though it is sweet romance and not erotic, to disengage with the childlike wonder and see this world as an adult. Since it wasn’t “all a dream,” this place had to be rooted in the real world and not the subconscious. Therefore, laws and limitations would be necessary. As you grow older, even those of us with vivid imaginations become jaded with the world around us. We take things for granted and stop looking for the good in everything, the beauty. We stop seeking the magical and seek the practical. This I took in account making a world that is parallel to but accessible in certain ways through ours. There were absurdities, but it was from magical elements, alien/fantastical creatures not from *our* world, and differing laws. A world of nonsense. What is nonsense, by definition, but a lack of what makes sense? Anything different from the norm, is just that: nonsense. More to the point, I toned down the crazy. If everyone in Wonderland was batshit nuts, forming a romantic bond with one of them would be harder to believe. This became Wonderland as NOT seen by Alice—who, in my world, described her visits to Lewis Carroll who then wrote the stories based on a child’s version of events. This is a world seen by Adult women, not little girls.
The problem “The Vanishing” had was that it was so short that the romance didn’t work quite right, and I needed to leave the ending ambiguous so it wasn’t a set-in-stone HEA where everyone falls in love too quick—my characters were just falling for each other and didn’t have the time to get there in 10k words. Of course, by coming up with the 2 day time limit to “follow your heart” and giving it the ambiguous ending, a lot of readers were not pleased with me, but most wanted a sequel anyway.
The sequel was already being written when my publisher closed its doors and my rights were reverted. This left me with a big dilemma: do I continue writing Cadence and Gareth’s resolution within Melody and Hatter’s book, or do I expand “The Vanishing?” A lot of thought went into this before I decided to leave the short as it was. The story I had in mind for Melody required Cadence’s involvement as shown in the novel, and to move it ahead of Melody’s story gave no motivation for a lot of Melody’s actions, as well as how Cadence’s departure added to Hatter’s beliefs that no findlings remain in Wonderland, especially for love. This is why The Unraveling has two heroes and two heroines and two HEAs, even though it is predominately Hatter and Melody’s book.
Without a word limit this time, and 2 story lines that unravel and then get tied together at the end, I could do more, show more, and explore more of the world. I toned down Hatter’s crazy from his scenes in “The Vanishing” to make him more relatable and sympathetic. I had one story taking place predominately in the White Queen’s kingdom, and the other in the Red Queen’s. I brought in more memorable faces such as the White Rabbit and the March Hare (because you can’t have rabbit holes and the Mad Tea Party without them) and much like Alice on her trip through Wonderland, the characters meet knew faces on their visit when they transition from one location to the next.
In the end, I am extremely happy with this book. I feel like it is my love letter to an author’s works I admire greatly (in fact one of the reasons I chose Lewis in my pseudonym is because of my love of Lewis Carroll’s works) that made me happy as a kid and continues to do so. It’s not a carbon copy of his works, but something unique based within a world he created with characters and motifs he brought to life. This wasn’t just sticking characters in a world-as-is, but creating new characters, re-imagining the old, and twisting the rest so the experience seems familiar without being a rerun of the same routine.