Most of the times, you read a book, really enjoy it and write up a glowing review, which is swallowed up by the Internet void. Some other times someone with similar reading tastes notices it and you become the best of friends online until the end of time. And then there are those few rare ones that get you an interview from the author!
If you’ve been around recently, I posted my review for Owl Eyes, for which I received an ARC from Net Galley. The wonderful author, Molly Lazer, kindly agreed to an interview on my blog, so here we are! I could’ve jumped with joy when I received that email, let me tell you. Here’s a little bit about our guest today –
Molly Lazer is a former associate editor at Marvel Comics, where she worked on books such as Fantastic Four, Captain America, New Avengers, and cult favorite comic book Spider-Girl. After returning to graduate school to receive a degree in education, she began a career as a high school reading, writing, and drama teacher. She also serves as a professional critiquer for Comics Experience, helping aspiring comic book writers finesse scripts for publication.
In 2016, Molly received a MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College. Her short stories have been featured in numerous literary magazines including Gone Lawn, LIT, and Silver Blade. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and twin sons. Owl Eyes is her first novel.
N: Hello, Molly! It’s a pleasure to have you here on Unputdownable Books. Congrats on the publication of your debut novel! What you’ve accomplished so far is amazing! I’m curious to know, how did you decide to become a young adult author and move away from the comic scene?
M: Hello, Nandini, and thank you! I had actually finished the first draft of Owl Eyes before I even started working at Marvel, all the way back in 2004, during my senior year of college. I rewrote it quite a few times before starting my M.F.A. program in 2011, and twice during the program, including for my thesis project. Owl Eyes has been a part of me as I’ve gone from college student to comics editor to high school teacher.
But to answer your question more directly, I loved working at Marvel, but I wanted to go to grad school. After leaving Marvel, I moved from NYC back to Philadelphia, where I’d gone for my undergraduate degree, and haven’t left since. I thought that my only involvement in comics after leaving Marvel would be as a fan and reader, but I was able to keep a foot in the industry thanks to Andy Schmidt, with whom I worked at Marvel, who asked me to be a professional critiquer for his company, Comics Experience. I read comics scripts by aspiring writers and give them notes on everything from the plot to worldbuilding to ways to better tell their story using the comics medium. It’s been really exciting to see some of the scripts I’ve critiqued turn into published comics!
N: Wow, that’s quite a journey! Going back to your novel, how did the idea of Owl Eyes come to you?
M: I’ve always loved fairy tales, and when I was in college, I started reading everything I could about them—different versions, criticism, history, etc. I even took a course called “Feminist Fairy Tales” during my senior year in which we read many different versions of each fairy tale we studied an analyzed them through a feminist lens.
I wanted to answer a few specific questions by writing Owl Eyes. First, if he were not dead, drunk, or otherwise incapacitated, why would Cinderella’s father allow her to be a servant in his own household? (In the Brothers Grimm’s version, “Aschenputtel,” Cinderella’s father is not only alive but actively works against her.) And, second, why would Cinderella want the Prince? Once I came up with the answers to those questions, the plot started to come together.
In my junior year of college, I took a course in performance art. Our final project was a 10-minute solo performance piece that we had to write ourselves. Even though I hadn’t written a word of Owl Eyes yet, I had started thinking about it, so I decided to write and perform the piece as Nora. While in the Theatre Arts Department’s props room, I saw a small bottle of stage blood, which I thought would be interesting to use in my piece, and I took it. The whole system of magic in the book came out of that bottle. I still have it sitting on my desk. I even added a special thanks in the acknowledgements section at the back of the book to my professors for letting me nab it from them.
N: That’s a great story! I’ve observed that in most Cinderella retellings, the protagonist has a similar name like Cinder or Elle. How did you hit upon the right name for your protagonist?
M: Nora gets called by a bunch of different names in the book—“Ella-Della,” “Owl Eyes,” “Eleanor” (her given name), and “Nora” (her chosen name). Which characters call her by which name indicates their relationship with her. I wanted something close to “Cindrella” for her given name, since back in the earliest drafts, Siobhan and Annabelle called her “Cinder-Ella” instead of “Owl Eyes.” Nora chose her own nickname, all the way back in when I played her in the performance piece in college. It was the only thing that felt right for her. For the derogatory nickname that Siobhan and Annabelle would call her, “Cinder-Ella” never felt right. The nickname “Owl Eyes” came to me in the middle of the night one night. That tends to be when I get most of my ideas and work out knotty plot points in my writing.
N: It is one of the most unique names I’ve read and makes for a great title! What I immensely enjoyed in the book was the worldbuilding. Which of the provinces in the world of Owl Eyes would you like to live in?
M: What a cool question! I’d probably live in the Vale, since that’s where a lot of the magic in Colandaria is. I like writing stories set in that province since the scenery there is visually interesting to me. Plus, I really enjoy the family that lives at the Vale proper—Sir Milton and Lady Bess, plus the rest of their family going back a few generations. I’m working on a novel that takes place in the Ken—next to the ocean—right now. It’s really different from the other provinces, and I’m enjoying learning more about it as I write.
N: That’s wonderful news! I’d definitely read anything set in this world. I noticed that there is a lot of mention of food in this book. What kind of food do you personally enjoy?
M: My favorite kinds of food are probably Japanese and Thai. I eat mostly vegetarian, with some dairy, eggs, and seafood thrown in. My husband is vegan, so we do a lot of vegetable- and grain-based meals. I’ve also gotten pretty good at vegan baking. I love to cook and bake, but with two-year-old twins running around my house, I don’t have as much time for it as I used to.
N: How cool! I’m a vegetarian myself, so I’m glad we share that. Getting back to the book, I thought that the magic system was so interesting! I really enjoyed the characters of Sir Milton and Lady Bess. Is there any possibility of seeing them in the next book you’re working on?
M: Thank you! I’m glad you liked the magic in Owl Eyes. I had a lot of fun writing about it. There is definitely more to come from Colandaria. I’ve published one novelette and one short story that are both set in the Vale and show other types of or uses for magic. The novelette is a mashup of two Bluebeard stories—the traditional one and The Robber Bridegroom — and the short story, called The Juniper Tree: A Love Story, is a revision of the Brothers Grimm’s story The Juniper Tree. There are links to both of these on my website.
As I mentioned before, I’m working on the second novel set in Colandaria, which is extremely loosely based on The Little Mermaid and shows more of the mist magic in the Vale as well as some other kinds of magic. It takes place about six months before the beginning of Owl Eyes. Lady Bess, who shows up as a minor character in Owl Eyes, is going to be one of three main characters in this second book, and a few other characters from Owl Eyes will make appearances as well. But I’m not thinking of it as a sequel or even really a prequel. Both Owl Eyes and this new book will be able to stand on their own.
N: I wish all the success for your upcoming book! Before you leave, could you give some comic book recommendations similar to Owl Eyes for fans of this book?
M: Oh, wow. This is a good question! I would have to recommend Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham’s excellent Fables series to people who want to read about fairy tale characters interacting together in the modern world. I would also recommend Mike Carey, Peter Gross, and Dean Ormston’s Lucifer series as an excellent example of long-form comics storytelling that has some really spectacular worldbuilding. I’ve read it from beginning to end more than once. And while it doesn’t have anything to do with Owl Eyes, I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a word for Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s recently-ended Silver Surfer series, if anyone is looking for a series that is heartwarming, romantic, and thrilling to read.
N: Thanks for agreeing to do this! It was a true pleasure to have you on the blog. I’m really excited about the new book in the series and hope to see many more in the future!
That’s a wrap on the chat. If you want to check out my thoughts on Owl Eyes, click here. Here are related links for you to check out if you’re interested –
That was my first ever author chat! Did you guys enjoy it? I have another in the works and I feel so very lucky to get both these opportunities. If you have a blog, which author would you love to interview? Or has that dream already turned into reality (please feel free to share links)? Let me know in the comments section below.