Gary Ghislain is the author of “How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend,” the story of 14-year-old David, the son of a famous French psychologist, who falls in love with Zelda, a new patient who just so happens to believe she’s from outer space. Zelda’s mission: to find her chosen one —actor Johnny Depp. Below is a complete transcript of Gary’s email interview with Cracking the Cover.
Background — Have you always wanted to write? Why?
I’ve always had a very flimsy relationship with reality. As a kid, I loved nothing more than to escape into any given fictional world. Especially if it had a viscous creature from outer space and a ‘wow!’ factor to it. Science Fiction, Superheroes, Galaxies far far away, and giant spider-thingies from planet Zorg were all part of my daily life as a French schoolboy. And I loved it. I guess writing is my way of keeping that buzz from childhood alive.
Why write for young adults?
I didn’t deliberately choose the YA genre. I definitely chose the Sci-fi and humorous backdrops. But as for the characters age group, it goes the other way around. I don’t choose them, they choose me. Sure, I love reading YA titles, but I can’t go like, “hey, let’s write a YA novel! Let’s say… Vampires!” and go to my laptop and just do that. It won’t work. I need to have a feeling for my main characters, hear their voice, let them drag me into writing. And if those characters are teenagers, bingo!, we have YA title.
Where did the idea for “How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend” come from?
I got the idea in a train while crossing Sweden. I was thinking about the Norse mythology, the Valkyries, the Vikings, etc. I was also mulling over and idea I had for a short story called “The Seed”, where I imagined a distant planet of religious fanatics sending into space genetically engineered girls to populate inhabitable worlds. But to be completely honest with you, I was mostly thinking about Swedish girls… And then, suddenly, SHAZAM! Zelda and the main plot line for my novel were born.
Why Johnny Depp?
A few days after that train trip, I was taking a break from writing and walking through a wood nearby Gothenburg City. By that time, I was very excited by that project and had most of my story sorted. The writing was great. David, a young and shy earthling, was my witty narrator. Zelda would destroy his comfortable life and crush his heart. Her crazy quest for the perfect earthling would create all sort of havoc in Paris. But I needed something more. Something very comical that would drive the story forward. Right there, I had my second SHAZAM moment. I thought: Zelda want the greatest human being alive on the planet. Zelda wants what every other girl wants. ZELDA WANTS JOHNNY DEPP! I started to laugh out loud and nearly ran back to my flat to write that story.
It took me about 4 months to complete the first draft and another 3 month to have the final draft ready.
Where did the different characters come from? Are they based on anyone you know?
David, the main character and narrator, is very similar to the teenager I used to be. We share the same sense of humor, shyness, and a passion for Marvel comic books. As for Zelda, she’s my very own version of Doctor Frankenstein’s creature. I took parts from different characters and stitched them together. Part Barbarella, part Princess Lea, bits of Nikita, a touch of Ripley, and large chunks of Taarna, the Taarakians warrior maiden from Heavy Metal. A bit of lightning, and… voila! SHE’S ALIVE! She’s the exact opposite of David. She’s all he isn’t. Courageous, violent, unstoppable. I haven’t met anybody like her in real life. But then again, I haven’t met any spacegirl. Yet.
Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?
It would be David’s mother. I love the fact that she’s such a dragon and yet, there’s something touching about her. David’s just like me when it comes to her. Where everybody sees a monster, and the worse parent in the world, I see a person who loves him but doesn’t know how to say or show it nicely.
What were the challenges working on “How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend”? And conversely, the highlights?
I want to write funny, laugh out loud novels. And that’s quite a challenge, sometimes. You need to come up with good jokes and amusing dialogues, page after page. Some day, the jokes just won’t come. And then, you just wish you were writing a really dark vampire story or chose a career in banking instead.
But the highlights are the good days, of course. When comedy just flaws out of you and you characters surprise you with funny dialogues and witty comments and you can’t resist laughing out loud.
What do you hope kids will get out of “How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend”?
Quite a few laughs. And maybe a tear or two when it comes to David’s interaction with his mother.
Looking back, how has your writing evolved from when you first started until now?
I’ve learnt a lot while editing my manuscript with Chronicle Books. Mary Colgan, my editor at the time, pushed the manuscript in all the right directions. We worked on characterization a lot. Before working with Mary, my stories were all jokes, actions, but no emotional reactions from my characters. She helped me adding this dimension to my writing. It has completely changed the way I work today, for the better.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on “Us versus the Galaxy” – a fast paced humorous sci-fi meets romance YA extravaganza where all the adults turn into cold blooded Aliens (Invasion of the Body Snatchers Style) – and the teenagers/kids are left alone to do all the fighting and resistance – it has a good narrator with a funny voice and a deadpan sense of humor.
Did you have a favorite book or book that really resonated with you as a young reader?
When I was about 11 years old, I was wandering through my parents’ library and found my very first science fiction novel. It was The Ice People by French writer Barjavel. It’s a great novel, part sci-fi, part romance, part genius. I opened it, sat in the library and started reading it. It was just great. Before that book, I was just a Marvel comics fanatic. After it,
I became an official bookworm and sci-fi enthusiast – and I never looked back.