First off thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.
You’re very welcome. I appreciate the opportunity.
A perfect way to cull the herd. If they haven’t run screaming from the room after reading my first answer, they may just be my kind of people.
1. Crushed or cubed?
I’m assuming we’re talking about ice here, right? In that case, my response is “neither.” You remember in elementary school when you learned about Phineas Gage, the 19th century railroad worker who accidentally blew an iron rod through his head, obliterating most of the left frontal lobe of his brain—but who lived to tell the tale? Well, when any ice-cooled liquid touches my front teeth, I empathize with Phineas Gage in a way that I’m certain nature and history never intended.
Now, if you’re referring to ex-husbands, I prefer them crushed flat, the way they do at junkyards with cars that have outlived their usefulness and no one wants anymore.
Whichever one is wearing the biggest hoop skirt, honey.
3. Do you kill bugs or set them free?
It depends on the bug and where they are in relation to my person. For the most part, I have a “live and let live” policy when it comes to insects…unless you’re a spider; then you’re as good as dead.
That’s because when I was in my early 20s, I ran calls with a fire & rescue department for six years. On one fateful night, we were dispatched to a call at 3am. I was still only half-awake when I pulled on my boot. A second later, it felt like a bee had stung the top of my foot. I tore the boot off just in time to see a spider leisurely strolling out of it. It was too dim in the bunkroom to see what kind of spider it was, but my foot swelled up like a balloon, and it felt like it was being spit-roasted over open coals for the next two days.
The moral of this story is this: Before donning any type of footwear you can’t see the bottom of, one should be sure to turn it upside down, shake it around, and smack it against a brick wall a few times. At that point, it’s safe to pretend to give said shoes to a friend, suggesting that they try them on immediately “for size.” After your friend has successfully arachno-tested them, seize them and put them back on your feet where they belong. If, however, a spider weathers the shoe storm and actually manages to bite your friend, comfort her by telling her that the odds are excellent that she will walk away from the situation with superhero powers. Or at least the ability to glow in the dark (which would be kewl at dance clubs under white lights and stuff).
4. If you could go to the past or the future, where would you go and why?
Definitely the future, but it would depend on whether or not I could control both the time and the physical destination I was traveling to. Knowing my luck, I’d end up like Guy Pearce’s character in the movie “The Time Machine,” where he’s knocked unconscious inside the time machine and flops over the steering wheel, leaving the thing careening wildly out of control—all the way to the year 800,000—arriving just in time to see what remains of humanity trying to eat each other. (Good luck finding spare parts for your flux capacitor now, big guy.)
As for the past, I refuse to consider traveling to any date before the invention of antibiotics (circa 1932).
Also, no to the 1970s. Because disco.
5. If you could have one superpower what would it be?
In general, I’m leery of superpowers of any kind. That’s because no matter how careful you are to keep your x-ray vision or superhuman strength a secret, someone—probably the one person you love and trust most in the world—will inevitably out you. And once you’ve been yanked out of that phone booth, Clark Kent, there ain’t no going back in it.
Also, superpowers go hand-in-hand with disastrous fashion choices that seem to inspire unfortunate fads such as Underoos.
Our Serious Questions
1. When did you realize you wanted to reinvent the classic fairy tale?
Reinventing fairy tales actually happened by accident. In 2009, 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).
In 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.
When 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”?) It wasn’t until I was halfway through writing Sleeping Beauty that I realized that I had stumbled on a potential franchise of sorts; namely, the reinvention of classic fairy tales.
2. We all love Leigh Fromm [in The Frog Prince and Gilding the Lily-pad]. How did you come up with her character?
It wasn’t that difficult; Leigh Fromm is the most autobiographical character I’ve ever written. Today, we might say that Leigh has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism that can include, among many other things, a higher-than-average IQ, significant difficulties with social interactions (such as blurting out inappropriate things or random facts, or struggling with “small talk”), problems interpreting nonverbal communication (such as facial expressions or body language), and a tendency towards hyper-logical thought processes. It wasn’t until my son was diagnosed with the disorder at age four that I realized that it runs in my family. (Thanks, Dad).
As a child, social dynamics were an utter mystery to me, and I tended to have very few friends. When the hormones hit at around age 12 or 13, turning me into a boy crazy teenager, I became hyper-aware that, regardless of my largely acceptable physical appearance, I was a walking, talking, breathing, man-repellent. (Seriously, my idea of “small talk” at a kegger was something along the lines of, “So, what are your thoughts on the war in Bosnia?”)
So I embarked on a decade-long People Study, which basically involved me closely observing others as they talked and interacted. Eventually, I developed dozens of what are called “social scripts,” which enabled me to engage in conversations by basically choreographing them in advance. Ironically, all those years spent listening to people talk to one another has resulted in my ability to write pretty decent dialogue (even if I’ll never be the world’s most brilliant conversationalist).
I like to think that Leigh Fromm was attracted to the field of sexuality research for the same reason that insane people often choose a career in psychiatry: the hope of self-diagnosis and treatment. In short, Leigh’s trying to figure out why she attracts men, but can’t seem to attach them.
3. What should we expect for Leigh in The Frog King?
While much of The Frog Prince (and the companion novel, Gilding the Lily-pad) takes place in the U.S., The Frog King is set exclusively in Austria. Leigh, now reunited with her lover, Roman Lorraine von Habsburg, is desperately trying to find her footing in a country that has, thus far, been less than welcoming. Everyone’s favorite characters—The Countess, Kat, Christine, Menen, Jason, Princess Isabella of Denmark—are back for the sequel, with one or two new quirky cast members whose antics will leave you laughing until your sides ache.
In the original draft of The Frog Prince, there was a scene where Roman and Leigh joined her parents for Thanksgiving dinner. Although it was funny, it didn’t really serve any real purpose plot-wise, so I edited it out of the final version of the book. Although there are brief “walk on” references to Leigh’s parents in The Frog Prince and Gilding the Lily-pad, they remain something of a mystery. In The Frog King, readers will truly “meet” Leigh’s parents for the first time.
4. Is there anything else you can tell us about The Frog King?
When I wrote The Frog Prince, I knew that a lot of the story would be set in Vienna, Austria. And while I was born in Germany and lived in Italy as a teenager for several years, I’ve never spent more than a day in Vienna (and then only overnight on the way to skiing in the Alps with my parents). As a financially struggling, single mother back in 2009, an exploratory trip to Austria was about as feasible as a trip to the moon, so I did what all writers do in such cases: I researched as much as I could, kept the characters indoors as much as possible (in this case, inside Schönbrunn Palace), and simply made up the rest.
Almost as soon as The Frog Prince became a bestseller in 2010, readers began clamoring for a sequel. One of the reasons I resisted was because I knew that there was no way I could pull off writing an entire novel set in a foreign country without going there and seeing it for myself. So in December, I spent ten whirlwind days in Vienna, “doing research” for The Frog King. (Hey, it’s a tough job, but some poor sucker has to do it.) While there, I had the very great privilege of being taken on a six-hour, behind-the scenes, private tour of Schönbrunn Palace, the royal residence in The Frog Prince and Gilding the Lily-pad. Walking through rooms that you’ve only written about but have never seen for yourself is a surreal experience, to say the least. Every time I turned a corner, I felt like I was going to run into one of the characters in the books!
5. Did you ever imagine there would be a Frog Nation?
Short answer: Never-ever.
Longer answer: Sure, every author hopes that their books will be appreciated, but I never suspected that The Frog Prince would resonate with fans the way that it did. The “Frog Nation” (a term coined by a fan on Facebook and quickly adopted by the rest) is essentially made up of the aggregate of my Number One Fans. I interact with the Frog Nation every day on Facebook, and while our conversations are mostly of the funny and entertaining variety, these are the people I turn to when I’m in need of anything—beta-readers (fans who read a novel as I’m writing it and provide feedback), a reality check, a laugh, or even a little bit of encouragement. They are fiercely loyal, and I am incredibly fortunate to have such a dedicated fan base. Sure, they’re all a little insane, but that’s why my Facebook page is nicknamed “the Tea Party.” There’s always a place to sit and the kettle’s always on, but bring your own tea if you know what I’m sayin’.
6. Are you still thinking about writing a sequel to Alice in Wonderland?
Absolutely. For those not in the know, Alice in Wonderland was based in part on a two-week trip to Australia that I took in August of 2012, and was heavily inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. Writing “my Alice” was more like recounting a vacation to a friend than actual work.
Through the Looking Glass will pick up where Alice left off, namely with Alice Faye Dahl and Lapin “Rabbit” Montgomery setting off on their “very important date.” While the focus of Alice in Wonderland was professional poker, Through the Looking Glass will explore the world of professional chess. (Anyone who’s read Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There will understand the inspiration for the chess plot.)
7. I know you have been writing Rapunzel on and off for a little while now. Do you hope to be finished with it soon?
While I’ve never kept it a secret (and have often written about it), many of your readers may not be aware that I have a sleep disorder called narcolepsy. Essentially, my body has difficulty regulating my sleep/wake cycle to the point that no matter how long I’m asleep, I never wake up feeling rested the way a person without narcolepsy would. As a result, I don’t have as many productive hours in a day as other people do. So while my mind is always sprouting new ideas for future books, there are simply not enough productive hours in each day for me to write them as quickly as I would like.
Poor Rapunzel is just one of the casualties of my ongoing battle with narcolepsy, but that was actually only half of the problem for this particular book. The novel is set in England, and despite intensive research on my part, the writing was going slowly (and, quite frankly, turning into an enormous chore that I began to dread every day). After finishing about one-third of it, I realized that a trip to England would be the only thing that would reignite the passion I felt for the story, the only thing that would make it truly come alive on the page. With any luck, I’ll be making that trip this summer. I’m reluctant to even hint at a publication date, but I can promise you that I have not abandoned the novel.
8. Have you ever thought of writing a book where the main character has some of your “Dating Experiences”?
By “experiences,” I’m assuming that you’re referring to the trail of dating detritus I’ve left in my wake in the last four months—experiences that I’ve faithfully chronicle on Facebook. My most recent tragedy involved the guy who got totally hammered on our first (and only) date and then, over the next hour, proceeded to tell me about why he and his ex-wife couldn’t conceive. (Helpful hint: his sperm weren’t “swimmers.”)
I actually thought my dating stories would make for a pretty funny TV series. In fact, fellow-author, friend, and business partner Isobel Irons and I recently drafted a treatment for such a show. As much as I want to, I really can’t add much more than that because we’re currently shopping it around in the hopes that someone in Hollywood will take a chance on it. Fingers crossed!
9. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
It’s okay if you hate writing, as long as writing loves you.
To tell you the truth, I never wanted to be a writer. And since we’re being all “truthy,” I’ll admit that I actually hate writing. However, once I opened a laptop in the winter of 2000 and began my first book, I couldn’t seem to find a way to stop. As the eminently wise and talented Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” (For more information on the blood, sweat and tears that await the foolish, aspiring writer, see my blog on this topic: “If This Is Love, Then Why Am I Laboring?”)
That said, it’s hard to complain too much when your Day Job consists of waking up, shuffling to your computer in your PJs and bunny slippers, and making stuff up all day.
The more I date, the more I appreciate the company of my dog, Bacon Bourgeois, Legendary Wiener. Unlike most men, he is quiet, sober, portable, and always happy to see me.
Also, many of my books—which are regularly priced between $4.99 and $5.99—will be available for 99¢ at various times over the next few weeks on Amazon, so snap them up while you can!
Alice in Wonderland: February 15, 2014
Sleeping Beauty: February 22, 2014
Our list of review Elle Lothlorien Books