Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Black History Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of February, where Black authors are invited to celebrate being Black and Black books! Find the introduction post for Black History Month here.
A series that I’ve been following very closely since its start is A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney, a dark retelling of Alice in Wonderland that packs a heck lot more action. more monsters straight out of nightmares, and a Black teen who becomes a Dreamwalker, a being and fighter who protects our world from Wonderland. A Blade So Black is so much fun and just the perfect action-packed adventure if you want something exciting, fun, but also incredibly relatable and down-to-earth. And then, I discovered – what would become – one of my favourite short stories ever: Your Life Matters, also by L.L. McKinney, about a Black superheroine and her white sidekick, set in a Black Lives Matter protest.
More recently, paired with Robyn Smith’s stellar illustration, Elle most recently wrote Nubia: Real One, a take on Nubia as a teenager who grapples with school, parents, super-strength, and finding her place in the world who is intent on fitting her into a specific box. (But more on Nubia in our interview!)
Essentially, this is my long-winded way of saying: I am totally fangirling that Elle herself is visiting us at the Pond today. I have been a fan and avid reader of Elle’s work for as long as I have been a book blogger at The Quiet Pond and I am thrilled to show you all the wonderful and thoughtful answers in my interview with her. Elle visits us as a silver and brown wolf wielding a sword – and if you look closely, the sword is the same sword that Alice has in the cover for A Dream So Dark!
We are beyond excited to invite Synithia to the Pond for Black History Month, and she visits us as a regal pink cat, sipping a glass of wine!
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
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 Interview: L.L. McKinney
CW: Hi Elle! It’s so wonderful to have you visiting us at the Pond today – it’s an honour and delight to have you! For our friends out there who don’t know you, can you tell us about yourself?
Elle: Sure! I’m a huge Blerd. It’s one of the bigger things about me. Anime, comics, movies, TV, video games, all of it. If I’m not writing something or editing something I’m either watching Sailor Moon or playing Hades or probably napping, if I’m being honest. I’ve been doing this writing thing for a few years now, and I hope to keep at it the rest of my life.
CW: I love the Nightmare-Verse series, and what sticks out to me when I read your books is just how much you make it you – which is an inevitable part of the writing process, but I really enjoy how your voice and parts of you emerge. How did you approach making A Blade So Black a retelling with a darker twist and made it your own?
Elle: I honestly wrote the main character that I wanted to be. Or I wanted to be me. If that makes sense. I took parts of myself that I always wanted to see in a hero and boom! There she is. As far as doing the retelling, it sort of came from a collection of things. Talks of Buffy, mentions of a live action Alice in Wonderland, wanting to see a Black girl being the one slaying the monsters and saving the day. It really was something I loved reading but never really felt included in. So I did something a bout it.
CW: Something that stuck out to me was Alice’s relationship with her mother. With so many YA protagonists with dead or absent parents, I just loved that Alice’s mother was present and involved in her life and how she grapples with being a Dreamwalker. (I just love the scene where her mum asks her to defrost the dinner but she has to run off to do Dreamwalker business!) What was your thought process when you were writing Alice’s mother and her relationship with Alice? Who were your influences?
Elle: There’s the thing with missing parents in YA, but there’s a sort of insidiousness that goes into creating Black families with absentee parents or deadbeat dads or broken homes and I really wanted to push back against that. Alice’s parents were both very much involved with her life. She’s very much loved and protected at home. Her father was a huge influence on her, right up until his passing. Losing him impacts the story to such a degree. I wanted a real snapshot, not these stereotypes people who tell stories about us usually like to throw in.
CW: I also enjoyed how an important part of the first book is how Alice balances being a best friend, being a daughter, being a teenager, and also this awesome warrior. All of these responsibilities matter so much, and I really liked how you showed that they are all important. Is there a personal experience or any other real life sources that you draw inspiration from for Alice’s story?
Elle: I wish I could say I had to balance being an awesome warrior, but unfortunately not! I did however have a lot on my plate as a kid. Academic achievements were a big thing in my household so homework and studying were a priority. I was part of an orchestra, on softball teams, had friends, protective parents, church events, curfews, and when something went wrong something else was always impacted. There were times where everything always felt like the world was ending, and it just got to be so much at times. People like to write off teenagers and their concerns as unimportant. I didn’t really like that, so that went into making all parts of Alice.
CW: I’d also like to ask you about your short story, Your Life Matters, for Color Outside the Lines, an anthology that meant a lot to me personally! Your story is about a Black superheroine who is in a relationship with a white girl, set in the context of Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality. What inspired the idea for Your Life Matters?
Elle: I actually went back and forth on this one a bit. There’s this things where interratial couples are depicted as white and Black 99% of the time, and I wanted to break away from that. At the same time, I wanted to delve into something a lot of stories with that particular makeup don’t deal with and that’s handling the family and extended family, right? “Ruining” Thanksgiving as folk like to call it. I wanted to dip into that just a bit.
CW: And, congratulations on your latest release, Nubia: Real One! Can you tell us what readers can expect from the graphic novel, and what is something that you are most proud of?
Elle: They can expect it to be fun and funny as much as it is serious. These kids in this story have a great time, and don’t let what’s going on in the world keep them from being great. I’m most proud of the team that came together to put this together, to give this Black girl, this hero, her shine.
CW: I know you’re a huge anime fan, so I have to ask – what are your top three anime? Your favourite fight scene? A scene that always makes you emotional?
Elle: Ooooooh that’s…mm.. Ok. Sailor Moon. D. Gray Man. Gundam Wing. Favorite fight secnes are all over the place in all of them, they have some great ones. I can’t pick! Though one scene that has always made me emotional was in the original Sailor Moon when Serena finds out Darien (yes, those are the English names, this was a time before subs!) was her beloved as he was dying. I cried like a baby when I was little, and seeing it now still brings a bit of that back.
CW: Last question – a question I like to ask all my guests! What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Elle: Breakfast foods cooked up a certain way. Eggs scrambled hard over hash browns, bacon and fried turkey with grits with cheese and grits with sugar and butter, orange juice and coffee, fried up in a cast iron skillet that’s been seasoned over time. MM! So good.
About the Author
Named one of The Root’s 100 most influential African Americans of 2020, Leatrice “Elle” McKinney, writing as L.L. McKinney, is an advocate for equality and inclusion in publishing, and the creator of the hashtags #PublishingPaidMe and #WhatWoCWritersHear.
Elle’s also a gamer, Blerd, and adamant Hei Hei stan living in Kansas City, spending her free time plagued by her cat–Sir Chester Fluffmire Boopsnoot Purrington Wigglebottom Flooferson III, esquire, Baron o’Butterscotch or #SirChester for short.
Her works include the Nightmare-Verse books, Nubia: Real One through DC, Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood, and more.