We’ve been treating you to all things ‘Mean Girls’ meets YA fiction all month with our book club title ‘The Dolls’ by Kiki Sullivan. You’ve reviewed it, dissected it, imagined what your favourite popstars would be like in the book and now we talk to the mastermind author herself.
Grab a cuppa, sit down and let’s get cozy as we chat to Kiki Sullivan.
So, ‘The Dolls’ is your debut novel – but have you written anything before it?
Yes, I’ve written a handful of novels under another name – in the genre of women’s fiction — but ‘The Dolls’ is very different than anything I’ve ever done. Creating a whole magical world – and magical rules and consequences to go with it – was great fun!
How long did it take you to write ‘The Dolls’? ?
It probably took me 2-3 months to outline ‘The Dolls’ and another 6 months or so to write it. The outlining took a long time, because I needed to figure out exactly how zandara (the type of magic practiced in the fictional town of Carrefour) worked.
Where did you get the idea for ‘The Dolls’?
My friend Nick, who specialises in bringing books to the screen (both movies and television), suggested a YA series about teens who practiced a voodoo-like form of magic, and I took it from there. I toyed with using actual voodoo, but ultimately, I decided to create zandara – a fictional form of magic derived from voodoo – instead. Voodoo actually ties very deeply into religion, and I respect those who practice it; I didn’t think those religious overtones belonged in Eveny’s world. Besides, it was great fun to create a whole set of magical traditions, practices and rules. Nick was also a great help as I worked, providing many suggestions along the way.
Were you interested in New Orleans and that sort of setting before? We know it’s in ‘The Vampire Diaries’ spin off, ‘The Originals’ and Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series.
Oh yes, I’ve always been very intrigued by New Orleans and other Southern U.S. cities that have sort of a mysterious, magical feel to them. Savannah, Georgia is similar in many ways, although New Orleans would probably be considered wilder. I love the feel of old Europe (New Orleans draws much of its influence from France) mixed with Southern gentility, blended with a touch of haunting magic, topped off with a leaning toward decadence. New Orleans and the surrounding areas have always felt very mysterious and magical to me.
And how about magic? Are you usually into fantasy?
I do enjoy reading fantasy, but I’ve never written it before. I think that with ‘The Dolls,’ I was intrigued by the idea that zandara could be real. In other words, paranormal books about vampires, zombies, werewolves, fairies, etc., deal with a world that doesn’t actually exist, right? There’s no such thing as vampires. But voodoo is real. And although zandara isn’t really voodoo (it’s just derived from voodoo), I loved playing with a world that had roots in reality. I challenge you to spend a week in New Orleans – to take a cemetery tour, to visit a voodoo priestess, to explore the voodoo museum – and to try to walk away without believing that voodoo practitioners have a special kind of power that really exists. There’s something undeniably magic simmering under the surface in steamy, colourful New Orleans.
Eveny’s pretty knowledgeable about plants and all things green. Are you the same?
No, not at all, actually! I have a little herb garden, but I can’t usually manage to keep it alive for a whole year. And I’m clueless when it comes to identifying plants, trees, etc. I can probably only name a dozen or so trees and maybe two dozen flowers with confidence. After that, it’s just guesswork! So that was a huge area of research for me while writing this series. That said, I really enjoyed learning about gardening and botany.
You’ve also got songs for your book. How do you find writing songs too?
Oh, I loooooooved writing those songs! I’ve always wanted to be a musician, but of course as fate would have it, I have zero musical talent myself. Seriously, my singing would frighten you. But I love music, and I’ve discovered that I’m decent at writing lyrics, so it was wonderful to find a couple of talented artists – Uri Avi and a singer named Addie – to partner with. I wrote the lyrics and provided input into the songs, and they wrote the actual music. It was a wonderful partnership, and now I finally feel like I have some songwriting abilities. You can find the song I wrote with Addie – called THE DOLLS – on iTunes here.
Lots of people have been describing ‘The Dolls’ as Mean Girls with magic – how apt do you think that description is?
That’s exactly the feel I was aiming for, so I love that description!
Anything we should be particularly excited for in the next book?
Ooh, great question! The tagline for the book is, “More secrets. More power. More trouble,” and I think that sums it up just perfectly. In the sequel, we can look forward to seeing more of Eveny’s father, more of the murderous Main de Lumiere, and more magic. The secrets around Eveny are swirling; the mysteries are deepening; and in the midst of that, there’s a love triangle that confuses everything.
Any advice for young writers?
Yes! You’re never too young to begin writing. When I was a teenager, I knew I wanted to be a novelist someday, but I thought I had to wait until I had a bit more maturity. Now, I wish that someone had told me then to just start writing. What could be better than a young adult book written by a young adult? But you have to read – a ton! – in order to teach yourself to write. If you want to write a novel, read as much as you can in your intended genre. As you read, think hard about how the books flow, how the authors develop characters, how the dialogue is written, and how it all comes together. When you’re ready to write, begin by sitting down with your favourite book in your intended genre, and do an outline of that book.
What I mean by that is that you should write 2-3 paragraphs about each chapter, summarizing the chapter and noting which characters/conflicts are introduced or dealt with in that chapter. Study that outline for a couple of weeks, using it to help you figure out the rhythm of that novel. Then, write an outline for YOUR novel based on the outline you’ve just done for your favourite book. I don’t mean that you should copy that book – of course not – but your book’s rhythm should be similar, as should the number of scenes. It’s a great way to give yourself a successful pattern to follow. Once you have your outline written, write your chapters based on that. Aim for one chapter a week (about 2,500 to 3,000 words), and you’ll have a first draft written in six or seven months!
Thanks Kiki, we’re going to start our outline right now!