‘Ten Thousand Doors’ author Alix E. Harrow talks Disney princesses and being a messy reader – Orange County Register

When I was a child, if you’d told me that one day I’d walk into a comic book store and be handed a bunch of free issues for something called Free Comic Book Day, well, do you know what I would have said?

“Golly, that sounds swell!” Or something hokey like that because I was a polite little dork who loved comic books. But unlike promised jetpacks and other as-yet-unseen modern marvels, this fantasy of the future actually came true.

This treasured nerd holiday celebrates its 20th year in 2022, and Peter Larsen wrote about what to expect as the in-person events return. If you’ve never gone, I recommend giving it a try. I’ve visited stores most years in the last decade and it’s typically fun if you’re patient and even better if you remember to buy something to support the shop, too.

Free Comic Book Day also reminded me of a favorite anecdote from a recent story of ours that I edited.

When my colleague Kelli Skye Fadroski interviewed fantasy writer Seanan McGuire last year, McGuire told her that Joe Field, the owner of the Bay Area comic shop Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff and creator of Free Comic Book Store Day, used to look out for her and other kids who needed a safe place to go and access to comics even if they didn’t have a lot of money:

“He had a quarter box, so there were affordable comics for us kids,” McGuire recalled. “They weren’t necessarily in the best shape, but they were the comics we could afford to buy if we could find a couple of quarters in the couch. When he saw me coming, he would actually move a couple ‘X-Men’ issues back into the quarter box because he knew I would immediately find them and be the happiest ever. He probably lost two or three hundred dollars on comics that way.”

No, those aren’t tears; I just spilled something on my eyes.

Still, if you really want to feel the feels about Field, Kelli talked to him about McGuire and he said McGuire had told him that if she ever grew up to become a comic book writer, the first place she’d do a signing would be his shop.

And reader, spoiler alert, she did it, and here’s what Field said about it:

“I love those kinds of dreams, and I love them more when they actually happen,” Field said. “Seanan has done the work throughout her entire career to make her dreams happen and that’s a beautiful thing. It can be an inspiration to many, many people who might feel like it, for whatever reason, their upbringing wasn’t great or whatever their circumstances are. Her story of her is an example that if you do the work, you can get there.

Field, who wanted a shop his own daughters would feel comfortable in, talked about his store’s ethos, and it’s lovely.

“Initially, the tagline for this comic shop was that it was the one comic shop for the whole family,” said Field. “Comic shops tended to be boys clubs, but I have three daughters that were 4, 6 and 8 years old when the store opened, and I wanted them to be able to grow up in a place that treated everybody with respect. I know there were some comic shops that did not treat Seanan respectfully, but we did, and that was just us living up to what our vision for this place would be. It’s a place everyone can come and feel accepted and find something they could fall in love with for a lifetime.”

I love that story – you should read the whole thing – as well as the possibility that some kid may go to Free Comic Book Day on Saturday and become inspired to do something amazing – or to be amazing to others. Or maybe just go, have fun and spend the afternoon lying on the floor reading. Or just feel accepted.

And hey, even if you aren’t a comics reader, you can always go to a store on Saturday and grab some titles to share with kids, parents or families you might know. I can tell you from experience: That’s pretty fun, too.

A LitFest Pasadena panel with writers Naomi Hirahara, Reyna Grande, Attica Locke and Rachel M. Harper at the Altadena Public Library. (Photo by Erik Pedersen)

Speaking of fun, I checked out a couple of LitFest Pasadena events and talked to some authors we’ve covered here including Natashia Deón, Steph Cha, Antoine Wilson and Joe Ide on Saturday. Then on Wednesday night I went to the Altadena Public Library to see a terrific panel (seen above) featuring Reyna Grande, Rachel Harper, Naomi Hirahara and Attica Locke. It was a good evening, and there are more events to come.

So, I’ll leave off here and hand the newsletter to author Alix E. Harrow, who wrote the absolutely wonderful “The Ten Thousand Doors of January,” which is a novel any book lover will enjoy, and who is doing the Book Pages Q&A this week. You’re in for a treat.

Until we meet again, if you’ve got a question, a comment, or recommendation, email me at epedersen@scng.com and I may share it in future newsletters.

Thanks, as always, for reading.


Alix E. Harrow talks Disney princesses and being a messy reader

Alix E. Harrow is the author of
Alix E. Harrow is the author of “A Mirror Mended” and “A Spindle Splintered,” as well as the bestselling “Ten Thousand Doors of January.” (Photo and cover courtesy of the author / Tor Books)

Alix E. Harrow is the author “The Ten Thousand Doors of January,” “The Once and Future Witches,” and two recent novellas, “A Spindle Splintered” and “A Mirror Mended.” A former academic who now lives in Virginia with her family de ella, Harrow is a Hugo Award winner and her Twitter feed is also well worth your time. She was kind enough to answer questions about her books by Ella and provide some recommendations for more.​​

Q. Your debut “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” was a book about books. Can you talk a little about writing that story?

In retrospect, writing that book was a simple equation: If you take a kid raised on classic nineteenth century children’s fantasy and add two years of graduate school interrogating those same texts as fantasies of empire, you’ll get something like “Ten Thousand Doors of January.” It was my attempt to celebrate all the things I’d loved about my childhood books—whimsy, escape, clever orphan girls solving mysteries—while exposing (and hopefully subverting) their horrors.

Q. Your new novellas, “A Spindle Splintered” and “A Mirror Mended,” take on the story of Sleeping Beauty. Are you a big reader of fairy tales?

The thing about growing up in the ’90s and 2000s is that you couldn’t not be a big consumer of fairy tales. The Disney princess still held court, unchallenged, and the relatively new machinery of YA publishing filled my shelves with retellings. How many versions of “Beauty and the Beast” had I seen before I was 12? How many times had I seen a princess prick her finger at her, bite into a poison apple, lose her glass slipper? It’s really that feeling—the recursive, repetitive, infinitely-iterative nature of fairy tales—that I was trying to capture in these novellas.

Q. What are you reading now?

I’m actually re-reading Robin McKinley’s “The Blue Sword” right now, which happens at least once a year, but I just finished an extremely smart and sexy romance-novel version of Mary Wollstonecraft’s life (Scarlett Peckham’s “The Rakess”) and I’m starting RF Kuang’s “Babel,” a gorgeous, incisive fantastical history.

Q. What’s something you took away from a recent reading – a fact, a snatch of dialogue or something else?

I was reading Amal El-Mohtar’s beautiful newsletter, and she included an excerpt from Agnes de Mille’s 1991 biography of Martha Graham. Agnes allegedly once asked Martha if she was ever going to be satisfied with her own artistic work de ella, and Martha’s reply has burned itself into my brain: “No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching.”

Q. Is there a genre or type of book you read the most – and what would you like to read more of?

I’m a very messy reader, in terms of genre. I think of fantasy as my home turf—the place I feel most certain, most fluent in the subgenres and influences, expectations and subversions—but I also love big popular book club picks and queer indie romance novels and sci-fi novellas. I like crime thrillers and Sally Rooney and middle grade graphic novels. My favorite genre is…books?

Q. What’s a memorable book experience – good or bad – you’re willing to share?

I graduated in 2009—an ideal time to have a brand-new history degree—and spent the next year living in vans and tents and occasionally washing up back at my parents’, like an unsuccessful message in a bottle. Somewhere in there I happened to read “All the Pretty Horses,” and wrote down the line: “they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing.” Apparently that little phrase, ten thousand worlds for the choosing, took root somewhere deep in my brain, and emerged ten years later as a novel.


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