A few Frequently Asked Questions that may give you some insights about The Wanderers.
Where did you get the idea for The Wanderers?
I kicked around the idea of a story about a wandering adventurer for years before writing anything. I once read a short story in a book of fables about a wandering adventurer with an enchanted dog. I’ve forgotten the details, but I know I was disappointed by the ending, so I started making up a different one. I didn’t write anything down, it was just in my head, and I don’t remember it anymore…but the idea of telling stories about a wandering adventurer stuck.
A few years ago I was working on a different draft that was getting stalled, and I felt like I needed to try something else for a while. I got to thinking about ideas on a long drive, and decided to give a try to the wandering adventurer one—and it went much better than the other draft, so here we are! Although I still have that first one too, and hope to get it finished eventually…
How did you decide to include Tom? How about Julie?
The funny thing is, I feel like they were always in the story. I’m sure I knew there would be a talking cat and a girl in the book by the time I got home from that long drive mentioned above, but I’m not sure if I thought of them that night or if they had slipped into the idea years earlier while the concept was still floating in my head.
Tom arrived on the scene pretty fully formed and complete unto himself. I’ve always had cats as pets, and orange tabbies have turned up in earlier stories I’ve written. It was probably Tom’s idea to join The Wanderers!
I knew I wanted a heroine to balance Jasper, but I found out more about Julie as I wrote—although it was still pretty early in the writing. I actually wrote Chapter Three first, which is where she’s introduced, then went back to write the chronologically-earlier chapters later on. I had a terrible time deciding on Julie’s name. I finally wound up naming her after Julie Manet, the subject of Julie Dreaming by Berthe Morisot, which is one of my favorite paintings. My Julie gets her red hair from that painting.
What fairy tale authors did you look to for inspiration?
I wanted to draw from stories and concepts readers would be familiar with. So I went to the great classic authors of fairy tales, with the Brothers Grimm as the most obvious. Hans Christian Andersen provided some inspiration, although his stories, overall, felt a little different than what I was looking for. In general (not 100%), Andersen’s better known stories are more like fables or animal tales (like “The Ugly Duckling”) while Grimm deals with the fairies and princesses. The other major classic author was Charles Perrault, with very well-known versions of “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.”
And then there’s Walt Disney. Like a lot of people, I grew up with the Disney movies (and I believe that Disneyland really is the happiest place on Earth!) I have issues with some Disney movies (but I have issues with some of Grimm and Perrault too…) and I watch a lot of the old ones and groan at the snap romances and helpless heroines—but, for good or ill, Disney’s interpretations of the fairy tales are what a lot of people are most familiar with, or at least heavily influenced by. That makes them a very relatable source to use for inspiration in a retelling—especially one like mine that pokes some fun at the sillier sides of fairy tales.
And Marj’s constant shedding of sparkles was partly inspired by the fairies in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. You ever notice those women have sparkles flying out of their wands, not just when they’re casting a spell, but all the time? It would make such a mess…
What are your favorite fairy tales?
I especially enjoy “Beauty and the Beast” (and not only because of Beauty’s love of books!) “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is a favorite I discovered more recently. On that one I have to give credit to Juliet Marillier for her wonderful Wildwood Dancing, which first got me onto the story.
Do you have any other favorite fairy tale retellings?
There are certain authors I consider the masters of fairy tale-retelling. Besides Juliet Marillier, I’d have to say Robin McKinley (Beauty, Rose-Daughter), Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted, Fairest) and Patricia C. Wrede (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles) are the ones who come immediately to mind. I highly recommend them all! McKinley wrote two beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” retellings that draw heavily from the original tale and yet are completely unique, with compelling characters and engaging magic. Levine has a wonderful way of bringing practicality to fairy tales and doing marvelous twists on the traditions. The Wanderers is closest in structure to Wrede’s books, weaving fairy tale tropes (and all their inherent absurdities) into an original plotline.
Do you have a favorite scene in The Wanderers?
It’s very hard to choose…but one of my favorites is in Chapter Five, when Jasper has been turned into a fish by a Sea Queen. I really enjoyed writing the part with Julie and Tom trying to figure out which one in the large school of fish is Jasper, in danger of losing their own freedom if they choose wrong.
I’ve been fascinated by the idea of having to choose the right enchanted person in a rescue ever since I was very young and read Ozma of Oz; several characters have to choose among the Nome King’s knick-knacks, and are turned into knick-knacks themselves if they pick wrong. In my fish sequence, I also enjoyed including humor with the crowd of talking fish, all claiming to be the right one to choose!
What about a favorite character?
That’s impossible to choose! Jasper is near to my heart as the one who really started it all; it began with a wandering adventurer, and I was several drafts in before it dawned on me I needed to make the Wanderer of the title into a plural. I’d love to be friends with Julie and talk about books. And I enjoy Tom’s snarkyness as much as anyone!
While I wouldn’t want to hang out with Randolph or Marj, they were both a lot of fun to write too.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I think I always knew I loved stories. I talked my mom into buying me a journal when I was in kindergarten, or thereabouts. I still have it, and there’s a short story in there that I think is the earliest I wrote. I don’t remember finding anything strange at the time about writing a story, though, so there may have been previous ones! It was about several animals running a race, and the dog ran very fast and won. I’m sure Tom would not approve of this story at all!