Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 2 months ago

WB-S2E24 Tell it Again! Darling Girl w/ Liz Michalski

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK Ron Block and Patti Callahan explore the retelling of the Peter Pan story with Liz Michalski, author of Darling Girl

So I have always had crazy viviat dreams, like even as a kid I had insane, you know, wake my mother up in the middle of the night check for people under the bedreams. And I had this crazy dream out of the blue where there was this girl in Wendy blue in a stone turret somewhere in England with no doors but there were windows and she was hooked up to all this medical equipment and these boys in Peter Pan Green were flying in and out of the windows and they were saying things like well, who will save us now, like who will sacrifice for us when she dies? Who can we get to replace her? And I walk up and I was like, Oh, where did that come from? Welcome to the friends and Fiction Writers Block podcast For New York Times Best Selling Authors, one rock star Librarian and endless stories. Join Mary K Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Christy Woodson Harvey and Patty Callahan Henry, along with Ron Block as novelists. We are for longtime friends with seventy books between us, and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating author interviews and inside or talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world. You are in the right place. Welcome to the newest episode of the friends and Fiction Writers Block podcast. Today we are approaching storytelling from a different perspective, which is one of the things we love about doing this podcast. It's quite a feet to successfully take a wellknown tale and offer a fresh new look, and our guests today has certainly done that. Today or we are talking with Liz Mikelski about Darling girl, a modern reimagining of Peter Pan. I am Ron Block and I am Patty Callahan. Henry. Liz writes fairy tales for grown ups, because grown up Smith fairy tales, and we're going to dig into that. But she is a former reporter and an editor and as a college student she did something I am immensely and Basl. She spent a semester with a member of English parliament, and experience that made her fall in love with London, which you can tell in this book. She is a contributor to writer on box and author in progress, and her first novel, even fall, came out in two thousand and eleven and it's also a lovely oad to fairy tales. She lives in Massachusetts with her family, a hive of bees, two chickens and the world's best dog. What I'm going to argue with, but not here's so welcome, Liz. Thank you so much for having me and very excited to be here. What kind of best dog is your dog? So he is a boxer. We think reached back cross and when we got him at five months he had had five homes. He had walked on the dining room table of his previous homes. He had backed people into corners for Jelly doughnuts and would not stop until they gave them to him. So we have done a lot of training and he is he's twelve, he still thinks he's five. He's eighty pounds of bustle and he adores my kids. So so I will fight you for the title. Okay, okay, yeah, there you go. and He lets me dress him up all the time. I have a pictures of him as tinker bell and as Captain Hooks, so he's a lot of fun. I've seen pictures on your instagram. It's great. Oh, I'm going to go back and look at those. It's going to be good. Okay, let's go. So beyond being a clever and dark reimagining of Peter Pan, told from the perspective of the Darling woman, as well as the fascinating story of sibling and parental love. Liz, can you quickly tell our listeners what it's about? And then the more fascinating part, what is it really about? So when I wrote my first couple...

...of drafts, after I had something that I was comfortable with, I asked a friend of mine to read it for me and she said she would and she took it and brought it back a couple of weeks later. And when she had taken it she had said, you know, what's it about? And I said it's a story about Peter Pan, and she brought it back to me and she looked at me and she said this is not about Peter Pan, and I said yes, it is, and she said take it home, figure out what it's about and get back to me, and I said what you're supposed to say to everybody who reads your work, thank you so much, and then I went home and said really nasty things about her under my breath and regretted asking her and threw it under my desk and didn't look at it for two weeks and then I went back and I pulled it out and I read it as like, Oh damn, and Damn was not the word I used. She's right, she's absolutely right. This is not about Peter Pan. It's about my oldest getting ready to go off for college and it's about the grief that you feel when your children are growing up and you've done your job and you've done the right thing and you have to let them go and just how hard that is to let them go in the world where you you know you've spent eighteen or nineteen years trying to protect them and you can't protect them from everything and they're they're they're flying away and you're left behind waving at the window. So that's what it's really about. That's so cool. I have so and I just always that's why we love that question, because there is the plot of what a books about, the live wire kind of drumming under and I love that and so often I feel that for me, at least as a writer, I think I'm writing about one thing. Like I have. You know, I have an index card that I usually put together and I stick it over my desk when I start a new story and by the end of the story. It's a completely different sentence or two sentences on that index card and so much of what you're doing, or what I'm doing is working out stuff from my subconscious that I'm not even aware of. A hundred percent yes, and that's the best writing, I think, when we allow that card to change, when we allow what we wrote on that index card is our premise or our cornerstone, when we give it enough wiggle room to let it become what it wants to become instead of putting it in concrete right. So I love that. I also think it's really brave to do that, to allow that you're in your mind to do that to you. And that's because she's if it's written down, sometimes you do. It's want to read what's there instead of thinking about it and going into other direction. Awesome. So let's what made you want to dive into the Peter Pants story in the first place. Can you pinpoint the moment you said? I think it's really hard sometimes to pinpoint it, and sometimes there is a moment where you say I want to explore this. I've heard you say you're afraid of flying, so why Peter Pan? So I have always had crazy, vivid dreams, like even as a kid I had insane, you know, wake my mother up in the middle of the night, check for people under the bed dreams. And I had this crazy dream out of the blue where there was this girl in windy blue in a stone turret somewhere in England with no doors but there were windows and she was hooked up to all this medical acquitment and these boys in Peter Pan Green were flying in and out of the windows and they were saying things like well, who will save us now, like who will sacrifice for us when she dies? Who can we get to replace her? And I woke up and I was like, Oh, where did that come from, because I hadn't read Peter Pan and years, and so I immediately read the original Peter Pan, which I love. It's such a beautiful book, and then I just started really exploring everything about Jam Barrie that I could find, and I think that that kind of coupled...

...with what was going on in the world. The me to movement was really strong at the time and getting a lot of publicity, just kind of all stroll together in my head and came out the other end is darling girl. The idea that I dream started it. It's so amazing. I have crazy, crazy dreams, maybe writers do, and I often write them down and try and because I feel like their messages from our subconscious or unconscious, that they're a bit of a bridge between the waking world and the sleeping world. But I've never had one turn, as far as I can tell. I've never had one really turn into the plot of a book. So that is really passing. Yeah, you know what, I think, like a lot of writers that I know, I try and feed my brain a really rich and very diet and then just get out of the way and even if it doesn't come out as a plot, it comes out as a visual and I think that that tends to be how I write. I have a visual and I can't, you know, I can't paint, I can't do photography or anything like that well, but my books are always the beginning of those, always very visual to me. that. I've also heard you say that, when you become back to the gist of this, when you realize that the book was really about, that when you become a parent, you go from being the main character to the sidekick, and so true, you're no longer the focus of the world. How did that work its way into this novel? Because it's it's obvious how devoted the main character is. When I read Peter Pan, I really read it with an eye. You know, after after I devoured the story again and I went back and kind of looked at it in terms of the characters more critically. I read it with an eye to what the darling women were doing, because there's at the end of the Book Verry writes that Wendy's Wendy grows too old. So Jane goes to never land and then James's daughter, who in the book is Margaret, goes to Neverland and so on and so on. And I thought there's this whole generation of women who are standing at the window, having had their adventures, whatever those adventures may have been, watching their daughters fly off and have them next. And how do they feel about that? Do they feel? Are they sad? Are they envious? Are they fearful? What is going on with those women? So that's kind of where where I came from. Is Mind blowing and I love that perspective. I I I never really thought about it, though, but you said you did a lot of research on Jam Barry. So one of the favorite things in research is actually finding the little thing that flips the story on its head. You tell us what you found out about Peter Pan and not always being a main character, and there's also his history and his sibling that died. Can you tell us about all of that? So that's what really did it for me. So I really didn't know much about Jam Barry. I had seen the movies about him and, you know, I knew kind of just the rough, very rough outline. And what I found was that, you know, he was born in Victorian England, which was not a great time to be a child. The mortality rate when he was born, I think, was something like one in four, you know, so one in four kids didn't grow up to see their fifth birthday. His mother was Margaret. When Margaret was eight years old her mother passed away. So Margaret, at eight, assumed all the responsibilities for the house. She did the cooking and the cleaning, the caretaking, and she continued to do that until she married. She had ten children. Barry was, I think number eight or nine and by the time he was born she had already lost too. So you would think that that he would have been one of her favorite children. He was the baby, but the favorite child was his older brother David. And David, when he was fourteen, was ice skating and he was, you know, the one that everybody had high...

...hopes for. He was smart, he was, you know, kind, he was really the family's Golden Child. And he was ice skating around his birthday and he tripped and he fell and he hit his head and it's never been really written about what he tripped over. There's one kind of skirreless biography that suggests that what he tripped over was J M Barry, which would make a lot of steps going forward, because his mother, Margaret, at the loss of her son, took to her bed when, you know, when David fell, he died and never really came back. And Jam Barry was six and he was so desperate, and the family was so desperate to get a connection with Margaret that he dressed up in his dead brother's clothes, went and stood in her bed, put his hands in his pockets the way David used to stand and whistled the way David used to whistle and his mother sat up in bed and said is that you and he said no, mom, it's just me. Oh God, and I thought, wow, you know this. This man was so impacted by this that it, from for my readings, consume the rest of his life. I mean he there's a theory that he had stressed warphism. He never grew above I think five, three and a half. He never consummated his marriage ridge. He just was always stuck in that guy's of the boy who didn't grow up. My God. Okay. So how did all of that, in your opinion, affect Peter Pan? But, more importantly, how did that whole story than transfer into what you were written? I went back and I really looked at Peter Pan and what he was looking for and I think that Peter Pan, as Barry wrote him, has a huge hole in his heart and he's always, always looking to fill it and he always, always wants someone to choose him over everybody else, and no one ever does. Oh my God, you've mentioned before to that Peter Pan was a minor character before he was making yeah, so Barry, actually, barry had a fascinating life, you know, really sad and tragic life. So Barry wound up getting married to an actress named Mary who was beautiful and had kind of taken care of him during illness and he gave her, I think, as a birthdayre anniversary present, this enormous dog and was he was walking the dog in the park one day and he met this tribe of boys and there were I think three at the time, and those were the boys that he based Peter Pan on and he wound up really kind of infiltrating their life. He kind of took it over and while he was hanging out with them he was entertaining them with stories and one of those stories became a book called the Little White Swan and looked at from today's point of view, the Little White Swan is incredibly creepy. It's so creepy. Have you read it? It's so creepy. It's like, and I know I a lot of times I was trying to need to talk about it. It is like, if you wrote that story today, you'd be locked up. It would come out totally yeah, and I don't even quote from it when I when I talk about Jam Barry, because it's so creepy that people would think I was making it up. But it's about this man who was obsessed with this young boy and wants this young boy to love him more than he loves his mother and all these things he does to get the boy away from his mother. He tells the boy, the narrator of the story, tells the boy, I'm a father too, and then says to the reader, wink, wink, no, I'm not, and then tells the boy, but my son died and his name was David. It's just incredibly but at the center of the book is a story that the narrator tells the...

...little boy and it's about this baby in Kensington Gardens who plays with the fairies and never has to grow up and never has to listen to parents. And that was the germ of Peter Pant and it became so successful that he wound up making it into a play and then into its own standalone and then into kind of what we know now as Peter Pan. I think was originally called Peter Pan and Wendy, but the working title of that book originally was the boy who hated Mother's Oh I did not. So many layers, so many layers, you know, and he wound up what he wound up. The woman that he made the connection with, Sylvia, was this beautiful, beautiful woman. So Jay and Barry met the mother of the children that he had discovered in the park at a dinner party and she was allegedly stuffing desserts into her purse and he, you know, gave her the side eye and she's like no, no, they're not for me, they're for my children. And so they started talking and realize that her children were the boys he had met in the park and Sylvia was this beautiful, beautiful woman from a literary family. Her husband, Arthur was just gorgeous and tall and handsome, and barry kind of became Sylvia's side kick. He would go over there for dinner, he would take the family on vacation and Arthur, I think, kind of felt that he was a bit of an interloper. But then Arthur got really, really sick and died of cancer. So Sylvia was laughed with five boys by that time and two years later later Sylvia developed cancer and passed away. So the boys, I think the oldest was fifteen, George was fifteen and they went down to I think five. The boys were orphaned. Jm Barry stepped in and was transcribing Sylvia's will, essentially that she was sending to her family, and somehow where she had written I would like the children to stay with Jenny. It became I would like the children to stay with Jimmy, which was her pet name for Jam Barry. So Jay and Barry wound up taking custody and becoming the guardian of all five children. And they really had really tragic lives. The oldest, George, grew up enlisted in the army for World War One died in the trenches at twenty one. John, the next old is suffered from crippling depression for most of his life. Peter committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. Michael died at twenty one under suspicious circumstances. They think it might also have been suicide. He was swimming. He was a very good swimmer. It was a calm day and he drowned. And Nico, the youngest, is the only one who grew up and really had, you know, a relatively normal, happy life. Wow, and then, and then. How it's just then which is going to take us to fairy tales that I want to talk about next. But it takes all this dark undergirding and and Disney fies it into a cute snapping fingers. If you believe in fairies right like it. So I want to talk about fairy tales and how important they are, and I know you are agree. My next book, the Secret Book for Lee, is very much about fairy tales and about their impact on children and about how they can be used. At tolkien wrote an entire essay on why fairy tales are important and one of my favorite lines in that essay is that they are often the consolation of a happy so why do you think fairy tales matter so much, even the darker rooms? I think they speak to our subconscious in a way that almost nothing else does. They're almost like primal memories and they contain really basic, scary messages about the world and they are a way to teach our...

...children about the world. So true, so true. And and also they're away, if we're willing to look at it, away for us to see the darker parts of ourselves and not turn away from I think that's true too. And and the problem, I think, when they become, you know, prettified, is that you lose those messages, because so many fairy tales don't have a true happy ending for everyone right. And I think that by prettifying them and taking away the true message. It gives a new message that isn't helpful, like sit around and wait for your prints. Exactly. So when we take away the truth of this is a whole podcast. It's I'M gonna get off dying podcast. Yeah, this rabbit hole of fairy tales. I'm going to be on the mythology next. Okay. So Peter Pan First came out in book form. And what was it? One Thousand, nine hundred and eleven. It was before that? I think it was like nineteen or two, or nineteen well, no, so that. So the little white bearer came out, I think in nineteen o two or entail four. Okay, that was the first time it appeared. But I think the true Peter Pant as we know it was nineteen eleven. Yes, nineteen eleven, okay, and it is never stopped as as evidence by our conversation, that was never stopped being fascinating. It has entered our vernacular in the way we speak lingo, like deep even fairies or the boy who won't grow up or boy who hates mothers. So why has this story, kind of like Narnia, lasted in this way? Oh, I think there's so many reasons. I think one is that it's such at its core it's such a true story. I mean, everybody wants to be loved and it's written from, I think, such a wounded heart that it resonates with almost everyone and it's beautiful. It's beautifully written, but also the way he wrote it is more like a charcoal sketch that a full painting. There's so much space between the words for readers to imagine and build on. There are wonderful characters, but we don't know that much about them. I mean, what do we really know about Captain Hook? Where did he come from? What does he do? Why was his name before he was Captain Hook? That you can imagine these incredibly rich lives for all these characters and and these incredible adventures. And that's what people do. They take these stories and they build on them and they make them their own. And Barry left you the room to do that. HMM, that's not that because, like Narnie, I think saying, you know, there's enough space in there to wonder what happened to Susan, to Peter like. There's no wrap up. There's all kind of legal room, although he did seven boats compter payments, just that one. There's still a thousand. How grows? Oh, I love that. Never thought about it that way. Yeah, so many possibilities of where the story can go. So, Liz, we all love Neil Gaiman and I've heard him say that we write as gardener versus architect. Which of those would you be and tell us a little bit about your process. I'm a total gardener. I'm a gardener who goes out there and panics that how high the weeds have grown and then she watching everything. You know, I used to just write. I usually see the beginning and I see the end and then I try and find stepping stones across the lake to get there. The last couple of years I have become a little bit more structured with my first craft. So I will write my one or two sentences, which takes me a really long time. I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking and thinking and thinking about a book before I start writing it. And then I spend a ridiculous amount of time...

...thinking and thinking and thinking about the first chapter because I feel like if I have that and it's solid, I can go forward. But the last couple of years I have actually started. I wouldn't say outlining, but doing just a really rough sketch of maybe ten sentences of where things are supposed to go and trying to develop the story along those lines. And sometimes you know it, you you get halfway there and you realize that the next success sentences are just never going to happen for you and you need to give up and start again. But it definitely, I thinks, maybe a slightly faster writer, which is good, but I also find that a lot of the stuff that I that I really enjoy the most is the stuff that comes in the space between those sentences, which I never expect. So the ending state consistent through the whole process. Correct the the for Darlingo. The ending was always the same, but how I got there changed a lot. Then my daughter is actually a really good writer and when I had a trapped in the car, I would say, well, what do you think about that? Such would be like yeah, no, no, you know, give me some suggestions, to which was fun. Oh Man, can we borrow her? Absolutely she's she's looking for a job the summer. So that would be a perfect I didn't know. We're didn't we're just going to all borrow her and say we're going to give you our plots and you can tell us where where it's coming. I'm done. That's very good. At that about awesome. So any chance for another very hail inspired story? What's coming up next? For I'm working on one, but I feel very much like Elmer Fudd, you know. It's like I'm hunting rabbits and I'm trying to be really, really quiet, realerful. We quiet and SCUP and catch it, but I just I think that I think that fairy tales for me are just so fascinating because they can be interpreted so many different ways by so many different people, but at their core they still have this true heart, this true message. Yeah, like miss it's true. Well, I look forward to whatever it is after this. So where can people find you? Like where? Add on social medium? I am on Instagram as Lis my Calsky, author, and on twitter the same and on facebook as well, and I have a website, which is lives Mikel skicom that has all those links. Well, it's wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us today. This is Lynden. Like, I don't know, I'm ready to go down a rabbit hole and just do research and everything you talked about, because it's see, even rabbit hole comes from a kind of a fairy tale. True, it comes from us in Wonderland. Yeah, we had enters are vernacular and ways that that no other kind of stories do they do. And I know people can't see me, but I've like had my jaw down through this whole thing. It's just full of fascinating facts and and thoughts and list is just endlessly fascinating. Thank you so much. Thank you guys so much. I really enjoyed it and I'm happy to talk story with you anytime I'm in and thank you all for listening in. The friends and fiction writers block podcast is now officially one year old, and what a year it's been. We encourage you to go back and listen to episodes you may have missed or to re listen to a favorite. Your support of the podcast is so appreciated and we cannot wait for you to hear what we have in store for you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you for tuning in to the friends and fiction writers block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast platform. Tune in every Friday for another episode and you can also join us every week on facebook or youtube, where our live friends and fiction show airs at seven PM Eastern Standard Time. We are so glad you're here.

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