February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Debut: A.G. Howard, Splintered

Alyssa Victoria Gardner is a 16-year-old skateboarder, artist, devoted child, and the great-great-great granddaughter of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. Her mother, Alison, has spent the last decade in Soul’s Asylum, where she eats only food served in teacups and spends her time talking to flowers and insects. Alyssa also hears insects talking, but has not told anyone—since she doesn’t want to follow the same path as her mother. After a visit to Soul’s Asylum that’s particularly disturbing, Alyssa starts to put disparate clues together and realizes that the only way to save her mother and her own sanity is to find the rabbit hole and put Wonderland back together again. In Splintered, which SLJTeen calls “satisfyingly sensual, delightfully dark, and absolutely riveting,” YA debut author A.G. Howard puts a modern-day twist on Carroll’s classic.

DO: Let’s just start with the cover, designed by Maria Middleton with art by Nathalia Suellen aka Lady Symphonia, which is fantastic, with many hints of the delights and horrors that are just inside. Do you think they captured your “Alice”?

AG: I love it. They captured her beautifully. I’m very visual and sometimes make my own mock book covers for fun. I always assumed Splintered would be a dark gothic cover with Alyssa as the centerpiece and some sort of symbolic details woven in, like maybe the broken toys, eye patches, and the bloody roses. Here’s the mockup I made before even having a publisher:

Granted, I was WAY off in the color scheme. But once I saw what they had Splintered coverdone, I was thrilled. Choosing vivid colors lent a whimsical feel which is so important, so the reader goes in knowing to expect some strange silliness along with the creepiness. The model is beautiful, but also looks very innocent, like my main character. I also loved the fact that Alyssa’s face is partially covered by her hair (speaking of her hair, the model’s is exactly how I pictured it!). One thing both our covers had in common was the vision: Alyssa front and center, and plenty of subtle details woven in. The bugs and flowers who talk to her, the snaky vines, the key around her neck, and her wild and haggard expression (because believe me, she goes through some crazy stuff—she earns those battle scars).

You wrote much of Splintered while working at a school library. Did it help to immerse yourself in the lives of teens? Even without talking insects, there seems to be plenty of drama afoot in their lives.

A.G. HowardHaha! Great point. There is a lot of drama—not to mention angst in Splintered. And yeah, I saw plenty of that working at a middle school, but I also saw a lot of preteens/teens coming into their own and finding their way. It was inspiring, and reminded me of my teen years and the growth and self-actualization I went through. I did a post recently for Dear Teen Me that hits on the highlights (or lowlights) of my school career. Alyssa probably wouldn’t be the fighter she is if I hadn’t lived what I lived or if I hadn’t met those amazing kids while working in the library. So I’d say, yeah, being there made a big impression and played a major role in the crafting of Alyssa’s story and characterization.

Alyssa’s relationship with her father is very endearing—at times, it’s hard to tell who is the parent and who is the child—while her friend (and crush) Jeb has mostly violent memories of his father. How did that affect their own evolving relationship?

Sometimes Alyssa takes her relationship with her father for granted, and even resents his protectiveness. Jeb’s always right there to set her straight. In my first draft of Splintered, Jeb had chapters with his own point of view. So when I was in his head, he sometimes contemplated how lucky Alyssa was to have a dad who cared. There might’ve even been a little envy there that contributed to him taking Alyssa’s Dad’s side on certain issues because he wanted his approval, something he never got from his own father. This drives a bit of a wedge between Alyssa and him, which is present even in the final version of Splintered.

I think my favorite scene in the book is when Alyssa figures out what her mother meant when she told her, “The daisies are hiding treasure. Buried treasure.” Did some particularly bad crochet moment in your own life inspire that?

LOL! This has to be my favorite question ever. Actually, I’ve never crocheted. But I do sew, and I also admit to having had a recurrent nightmare while growing up about a green chair that was chasing me. Whether or not it plays a role in that scene is up for debate, but I’ve always been a fan of finding unique treasure in unexpected hiding places.

Morpheus, Alyssa’s netherling and childhood muse, is funny, wicked, and dangerous. Jeb, her longtime friend and protector, is sweet, trusting, and reliable.  I love that you have Pinterest boards set up for both Morpheus and Jeb. How have fans responded to your vision of these two hotties?

The fans have been amazing. Splintered has a fan page on GoodReads now (moderated by four talented and devoted book bloggers:  Hannah at book haven, Nikki at Fiction Freak, Nobonita Chowdhury at Daydreaming Bookworm, and Soumi of Pages From My Thoughts). The hottest topics up for discussion and debate revolve around which guy is best for Alyssa.  There’s even a battlefield section. Nerf guns and water balloons are the weapons of choice (swords are banned, for obvious reasons).

What would you serve at a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for a teen book club that has read Splintered? Roasted duck might be out of the question!

Right? And no sushi, either. I actually have a Pinterest board dedicated to this question. Anything Wonderland-esque or glow-in-the-dark tops the list.  The fluorescent cupcakes and punch are my personal faves!

I read with great interest on your website that a Splintered sequel, titled Unhinged, is due out in January 2014. Any teasers you can throw our way?

Hmmm. We’re being really sneaky and sly about the premise at the moment, but I’m offering a glimpse over at a celebratory giveaway on my blog (it’s international and running until the end of March, so if you haven’t entered, hop over and check it out!). Here are some hints I can share: a bridge in London, a key and a heart pendant, and The Corpse Bride’s wardrobe. Also, Morpheus, Alyssa, and Jeb all have their moments in the spotlight, along with a few favorite Wonderlandians, and even some new ones.

Thank you so much for having me over. This interview was a blast!

Watch for a review of Splintered in May 2013 School Library Journal and check out an overview and other suggested portal fiction reads from SLJTeen.

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Dodie Ownes About Dodie Ownes

Dodie Ownes left the glamorous world of retrospective conversion and disco to jump on the library vendor train. Since then, she has been learning at the feet of the masters about all things library. Dodie lives in Golden, Colorado, where even the sign which arches the main street says "Howdy."

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  1. All the praise to this amazing book and it’s increcibly talented author.

    Great interview!

  2. Wonderful interview! I FLEW through this book, and I absolutely cannot WAIT for the sequel! :)

    • A.G. Howard says:

      Thank you Lisa! I’m looking forward to getting a blurb out there for everyone very soon. :)