Once upon a time, Sara Ella dreamed she would marry a prince and live in a castle. Now she spends her days homeschooling her three Jedi in training, braving the Arizona summers, and reminding her superhero husband that it’s almost Christmas. When she’s not writing, Sara might be found behind her camera lens or planning her next adventure in the great wide somewhere. She is a Hufflepuff who finds joy in the simplicity of sipping a lavender white mocha and singing Disney tunes in the car. Sara is the author of the Unblemished Trilogy and Coral, a re-imagining of The Little Mermaid that focuses on mental health.
In this interview, Sara talks with us about book number one in her new The Curious Realities Series, The Wonderland Trials.
FF: What inspired the story in your book?
The story of Alice in Wonderland has always been very near and dear to my heart. As a child, I dreamed of one day playing the Disney character in real life. I would dress up and speak in my best British accent and throw mad tea parties with my dolls and stuffed animals. During my time in the Walt Disney World College Program that dream became a reality. Naturally, my love for playing out my favorite stories intertwined with retelling those stories.
Many Alice retellings focus on the darker side of things, but I wanted my retelling to be more whimsical and fun. I adore playing games and anything to do with competition. Since Lewis Carroll’s original tale featured several nods to games of various sorts, I took that idea and ran with it, and thus the idea for The Wonderland Trials was born.
FF: What can you tell us about the main characters in your book?
I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say that Alice is very much me and Chess is very much my husband. They balance each other out. He helps her to not take herself so seriously, and she helps him be more serious when the moment calls for it. They’re a fun match and I enjoyed writing them. Chess may be my favorite of the male characters I’ve written yet!
FF: Which character surprised you the most?
That’s a tough call. I am a discovery writer, which means I discover the story and character motivations as I write. I would have to say that Charlotte probably surprised me the most, though I won’t say why. What would be the fun in that?
FF: Why do you think storytelling is such a powerful way to share truth?
Jesus was the original storyteller. He taught using parables the people of his time could relate to on a more personal level. I think allegory and faith-filled themes in fiction are so powerful because you have to dig below the surface to get to their core meanings. And even then there are layers to those meanings.
In the end, I think it comes down to the fact that we have been created as relational beings. We live out our own stories every day, so naturally we would relate to the stories we read. We see ourselves in the characters for all their flaws and failures, tribulations and triumphs. Stories filled with truth reveal something we couldn’t see before. When we aren’t looking for the “message” of a story, and we simply read because we love it, that’s usually when the message pops out and hits us deeply.
FF: What can you tell us about your next book?
Not much, haha. I can say that The Curious Realities Series is a two-book series, so readers can expect a sequel to The Wonderland Trials. Look forward to more game-filled fun, higher stakes, and loads of surprises.
FF: What kind of research did you do for this book?
My heart ached to visit Oxford and London for a research trip, but that wasn’t in the cards for me this time. Since I couldn’t travel, I relied heavily on the internet as my source for all things Alice. I started with Paul J. Hale’s Cinema Story Origins (formerly Disney Story Origins) podcast. He has multiple episodes dedicated to comparing and contrasting Lewis Carroll’s original to the Disney version. The podcast alone was a gold mine. So many ideas and what-ifs came out of listening to those episodes.
Aside from the podcast, documentaries on Lewis Carroll and, of course, reading the original book helped fuel my imagination. I watched every film version of Alice that I could (including the classic The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland). Google Maps also helped give me a visual as I mapped Alice’s journey from Oxford to London to Wonderland.
FF: What do you want readers to take away after reading your book?
I want readers to discover that family and friendships can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places. I want them to believe in the impossible and to find the truth of what’s real, even if they can’t see it.
FF: What are the biggest challenges for you as an author writing in your specific genre?
It can be difficult to keep up with trends and pop culture when writing for young adults who are so influenced by those things. Teens today live in an entirely different world than I did growing up. We didn’t have social media constantly vying for our attention. Readers of every age (myself included) have become so used to instant satisfaction and gratification thanks to technology. If I don’t grab a reader’s attention from page one, they’re likely to put the book down and move on to a different one. I think getting their attention and keeping it for the entirety of a novel is probably the most challenging thing about writing.
FF: What authors or books have inspired you as an author?
How much time do you have? Haha. To name a few, I would say Kiera Cass, Nadine Brandes, Kasie West, Marissa Meyer, Shannon Hale, Mary Weber, and Shannon Dittemore have been huge inspirations for me in my writing. I’m rereading Kiera Cass’s The Selection at the moment, and it’s inspired me all over again. There’s just something about returning to a trusted author or old favorite book that gets the wheels of inspiration turning.
FF: How has your faith or world view impacted the way you tell stories?
I think it’s impossible to write a story that doesn’t reflect the author’s beliefs in some way. My faith is a part of me, so naturally it comes out in the characters I create and the stories I tell. Sometimes I push too hard, and that faith element doesn’t come through the way I want it to. But when I let go and give the story over to God, that’s when that natural theme I’ve been looking for comes out in a story thread I didn’t see coming. I always want my readers to come away, not feeling preached at, but feeling uplifted and full of hope. I want them to come away thinking more deeply about those themes and truths woven between the pages. My stories are one way I express my love and thanks to God. He’s the reason I write and all the glory goes to him.
The Wonderland Trials
The Curious Realities #1
Genres: YA/Teen, Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Release Date: July 12, 2022
Solve the clues. Face your fears. Survive the Trials.
All Alice Liddell wants is to escape her Normal life in Oxford and find the parents who abandoned her ten years ago. But she gets more than she bargained for when her older sister Charlotte is arrested for having the infamous Wonder Gene—the key to unlocking the curious Wonderland Reality.
Soon, Alice receives a rather cryptic invitation to play for Team Heart in this year’s annual—and often deadly—Wonderland Trials. Now she has less than twenty-four hours to find her way into Wonderland where nothing is impossible…or what it seems.
The stakes are raised when she discovers players go missing during the Trials each year. Will she and her team solve the clues and find the missing players? Or will betrayal and distrust win, leaving Alice alone in a world of her own? Follow the White Rabbit into this topsy-turvy fantasy where players become prey, a sip of the wrong tea might as well be poison, and a queen’s ways do not always lead one where they ought to go.
Buy The Wonderland Trials from the FF Store HERE!
Buy The Wonderland Trials from Amazon HERE!