{Author Interview} Interviewing L.L. McKinney, Author of A DREAM SO DARK

Love fairy tales and mythology?
Fans of mermaids, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures?
Enjoy when a beloved classic tale is retold?
A Twist in the Tail Thursdays features all this and more!


 An Interview With
L.L. McKinney


Leatrice "Elle" McKinney, writing as L.L. McKinney, is a poet and active member of the kidlit community. She’s an advocate for equality and inclusion in publishing, and the creator of the hashtag #WhatWoCWritersHear. She’s spent time in the slush by serving as a reader for agents and participating as a judge in various online writing contests. .

Elle's also a gamer, Blerd, and adamant Hei Hei stan, living in Kansas, surrounded by more nieces and nephews than she knows what to do with. Aside from rockin' the Favorite Aunt thing, she spends her free time plagued by her cat--Sir Chester Fluffmire Boopsnoot Purrington Wigglebottom Flooferson III, esquire, Baron o'Butterscotch or #SirChester for short--or defending the realm from the enemies of Azeroth. FOR THE HORDE! .

A BLADE SO BLACK was her debut novel. Its sequel, A DREAM SO DARK, is available now.

Congratulations on this week's release of A DREAM SO DARK! Last year, I marked up so many pages when reading A BLADE SO BLACK because there were so many cool twists in a world I thought I knew and it combined so well with the modern world to create an action-packed page-turner. How did you come up with the concept for The Nightmare-Verse that combined aspects of Wonderland with a Buffy-esque feel to create a new fantasy series that kicks some serious butt? 

Honestly, if I imagined something I thought was cool, I threw it in! It’s like gumbo, which is made from what you got in the kitchen, right? Of course, I had to go in afterwards and make sure it all meshed well. Some of them were based on the real world—for instance, Furbies were partial inspiration for Frubbles—and some were a product of lots of late nights playing fantasy video games, rereading fantasy stories, and watching wild movies. 

What have been some of your favorite aspects to include from the works of Lewis Carroll, and what have been your favorite original inclusions? 

I’m gonna answer this two-fold…simultaneously? I’ve loved including Carroll’s characters, like the Mad Hatter, the Doormouse, the Queens, but I’ve loved giving them my own twist. Making them my own. Everything about who and what they are now is original, but the blueprints are his, I suppose.

The inclusion of Wonderland aspects such as Muchness really ground the world and add to its believability, and was one of my favorite parts of the first two books. It's an important element in the original tale as well, and to me, one of Johnny Depp's more memorable scenes in the recent Tim Burton movie. I love how you took the element of Muchness and turned it into the core needed to be a Dreamwalker. How did you choose which elements to take from the story and how you wanted to build and ingrain them into a new medium? Were there things you always wanted to include, or were they things that were added later to flesh a scene out? 

Anything that pertained to the personal, I wanted to include it. The idea of “who are you” or “how are you built” have always intrigued me. The scene with Alice and the caterpillar and his interrogation of who she is, who she was, and who she will be have always been a favorite of mine. Along with that, adding my own touch, always wanted to explore the idea of self-esteem as a literal super power. That’s how I view Muchness.

One of my favorite characters is Maddi. I love how she always speaks in nonsensical rhyme and is adept at creating powerful potions and Verses. I love that rather than having her be a witch or magician, she is a Poet. What went into creating her character and her trade?

Poetry is huge in the Black community. From spoken word to hip-hop, lyricists are powerful artists. The idea of Poets is having that power rooted in literal words because, I’m paraphrasing Dumbledore, words are as potent as any magic. But in any good book, power comes with a price. Instead of it being her energy or taking a physical toll, I had her power affect her ability to speak. At least to humans. Wonderlandians understand her fine.

I love that A BLADE SO BLACK gives a nod to cosplay, while A DREAM SO DARK gives me vibes at times that make me feel like I've been dropped into an anime myself. Seeing the book open with Alice in a fuku immediately caught my intrigue and glued me to my seat -- I liked this girl already! What are some of your favorite anime/manga series and inspirations? Are you as big a fan as Alice is?

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Oh man, I love Sailor Moon as much as Alice. A close second, for me, is D. Gray-Man. Gotta shout out Gundam Wing. Cowboy Beebop of course. So many, but these are my faves.

If you ever found yourself in Wonderland, what places would you want to visit and what characters would you most like to meet?

I’d love to meet Romi. She’s one of my favorites. I’d love to meet Hatta and crew, but I figured that was a given. I’d also like to visit the castles. In my head I see them as….as Neo Crystal Tokyo! Or the Silver Millennium. 

What advice do you have for prospective writers trying to take aspects from a classic tale and mold it into something new and uniquely their own?

Don’t let the original keep you from doing what you want. Feel free to go left when the original went right. Your story is your story, not matter what. 

You recently announced a new book deal for a middle-grade novel that stars a gamer who finds out that she is the reincarnation of King Arthur. Can you tell us a little bit about that project?

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I don’t know how much I can say, but I’ve talked about this story publicly before, so I’ll just repeat that! Artemis, a Black Girl Gamer, finds out she’s the reincarnated King Arthur. Now she has to find her gamer Knights in order to defeat Morgana—who is the superintendent of her school district—before she enslaves all the kids. It’s a difficult take, but Art has help in the form of her science teacher, who’s actually Merlin. 

Can you give any spoiler-free hints yet about A CROWN SO CURSED for fans who have already devoured A DREAM SO DARK and are now dreading the long wait until 2020?

We take a dive into the past, find out what happened to the Wonderland crew that landed them in their respective positions, and discover just how far Alice is willing to go to save one world—even if it means abandoning the other.  

Thank you to Macmillan Fierce Reads for putting together today's interview with L.L. McKinney. A DREAM SO DARK came out Tuesday and is available in stores everywhere. A BLADE SO BLACK is now available in paperback!


O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: L.L. McKinney
Release Date: Sept. 25, 2018
Publisher: Macmillan / Square Fish



The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she's trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn't always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice's handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she'll need to use everything she's learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.

Author: L.L. McKinney
Release Date: Sept. 24, 2019
Publisher: Macmillan / Square Fish



Still reeling from her recent battle (and grounded until she graduates), Alice must abandon her friends to complete her mission: find The Heart and prevent the Red Lady's rise. But the deeper she ventures into Wonderland, the more topsy-turvy everything becomes. It’s not until she’s at her wits end that she realizes—Wonderland is trying to save her.

There’s a new player on the board; a poet capable of using Nightmares to not only influence the living but raise the dead. This Poet is looking to claim the Black Queen’s power—and Alice's budding abilities—as their own.

Dreams have never been so dark in Wonderland, and if there is any hope of defeating this mystery poet’s magic, Alice must confront the worst in herself, in the people she loves, and in the very nature of fear itself.