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Evangeline Lilly on Her Book Series, ‘The Squickerwonkers’

At Fan Expo Canada, the actor, best known for her roles in ‘Lost’ and ‘Ant-Man,’ discussed her children’s book and the trials of publishing.

Evangeline Lilly and her book, 'The Squickerwonkers'  (Credit: Fan Expo Canada)

Evangeline Lilly is best known as the first female actor to co-lead a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. After the success of 2015’s Ant-Man, Lilly’s character Hope Van Dyne donned the mantle of The Wasp in this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp.

During her visit to Fan Expo Canada, the Canadian actor was promoting her other passion, being a children’s author.

“Acting is my wonderful day job, but this is my passion. Books are my love, more than anything.”

About ‘The Squickerwonkers’

Squickerwonkers illustration (Credit: @squickerwonkers)

Lilly is the author of the Squickerwonkers series about a “group of vice-ridden marionette puppets”—Papa the Proud, Mama the Mean, Lorna the Lazy, Andy the Arrogant. There are ten books in the series, with the first being an origin story about “how the Squickerwonkers came to be puppets”.

The author described the books as a “a cautionary tale about all of our vices.” Aimed at children 6-10, the books can be read to younger children as Lilly read it to her son when he was three. She mentioned that the series was for parents who want to enjoy the book they’re reading to their children.

The first volume is called The Demise of Selma the Spoiled. It is the first of eight Demise books. The second is called The Demise of Lorna the Lazy, and then The Demise of Andy the Arrogant. Following the eight books, a new set of stories in the Squickerwonkers universe will be explored. In the audiobook for The Demise of Selma the Spoiled, available to buy now on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon, Lilly does the voice of Selma.

“I was a little girl who was a very, very, very slow reader,” Lilly said. “But, I was smart, so books frustrated me to no end because I felt like they were always talking down to me, or too long for me to keep up with. I couldn’t get through a novel when every other kid my age could get through a novel.” She was what is now called a Reluctant Reader, and so is her son. This is because she went to a French-language school, as does her son, and, for them, English is their second language when reading literature.

The Inspiration for the Series

A page from the book (Credit: @squickerwonkers)

Lilly says she drew her inspiration for the Squickerwonkers characters from literary history, more than characters she has portrayed on film and television. Particularly Edward Gorey, who helped her get over her reluctance of reading. The Squickerwonkers is, in many ways, an homage to Gorey’s The Dwindling Party.

“Of all the vices that we explore in these books, being spoilt is one that a lot of little ones can relate to. I think, in 2018, it’s rampant. Young kids today—we are a generation that hasn’t seen war in a very long time, who hasn’t suffered through depression, who have really had so much excess in our lives. That children just have no concept of what it means to suffer; so many of our children tend to become spoilt, including my own,” Lilly explained.

“I also loved the idea of anchoring a series that will appeal to both boys and girls, with a female character. It explores all of these characters, and it’s basically 50-50 guys and girls. But, if we start with a female protagonist, that’s a good place to start today.”

Finding the Perfect Illustrator

Rodrigo Bastos Didier on stage with Lilly (Credit: Fan Expo Canada)

Rodrigo Bastos Didier, who was called on to the stage to join Lilly during her panel, shared his story about how he became the artist on the Squickerwonkers books is inspirational for all aspiring artists. He was a huge fan of the Squickerwonkers prequel and wanted to draw the characters, which he did. He posted his fanart to Lilly’s Facebook page, where she told him that she loved his work but, as Didier says, “It was nothing close to a professional relationship.”

Didier happened to be working at a company that brought the comic con to Brazil. He told them that he was connected to Lilly and that since the book was her primary focus the company should work towards getting a publisher in Brazil to translate the Squickerwonkers in Portuguese. They managed to do this and Lilly came to the Brazil Comic Con. Didier waited till the end of her panel to speak to her and show her his portfolio.

Lilly said she was thrilled to meet him because he was instrumental in her book being published in Brazil. Didier had everything ready to show Lilly – he had his portfolio and his sketchbooks which he laid out for her. But, Didier’s art wasn’t the only thing that impressed Lilly. She was also impressed by Didier himself. 

“He was intelligent, and humble, and creative and collaborative,” said Lilly during the panel. His energy made her excited to work with him.

The Trials of Publishing

“I’m an intense perfectionist, so when I work on a film, I have the added advantage of saying, ‘well, it’s not completely in my hands—the director’s responsible for it, the editors are responsible for it, the producers—so, if it really sucks, it’s not all on me!

“But, this [her book], if it really sucks, that’s all on me. That’s my fault! So, that can be very nerve-wracking.” Lilly did a panic-edit on the book before bringing it out to conventions and was still annoyed with herself because it was perfect before but she was panicking about it being perfect. “It’s a sign of how nerve-wracking it is thinking people are going to read my words and if they’re not good enough, then I won’t have done what I wanted to do, which is put beautiful literature out into the children’s world.”

One would think a personality like Lilly would have easily been able to leverage her fame as an actor to get her book published. This was not the case, however, as Lilly discussed during her panel.

Evangeline Lilly (Credit: Fan Expo Canada)

“At first it [the writing] was flowing out and then I tried to publish, and then I tried to self-publish, and tried to get the books out into the world and known. You know, I’m an actress and I have a platform, and still it’s difficult! There’s something like three million books [being published] a year.”

When speaking of the publishing process, Lilly said she had given away a lot of her books. “I find that people like free stuff! And, then, once they get a free thing and they read it and they love it, now they know. The hardest thing right now is that we live in a media and content saturated culture. There’s so much out there. So, one of the things that I’ve decided to do is to give a lot of books, and that’s one of the things we do at these cons, so that people become aware of it.

“The whole publishing world? I feel like it’s a great big vault and trying to get in, you’ve got to find the code. I’m slowly—I feel like a code-cracker—I’ve just been putting number after number, and I’m getting there and I’m starting to figure out what are the important things for selling a book. If you’re interested in children’s books, I’ve started to learn that one of the really important things is appealing to the gatekeepers—the librarians, the teachers, the parents—they want to understand why this book will benefit their children, why is this book important for their kids to read. Because they take that responsibility really seriously, of being the people who are raising the next generation, and what they read, the content they absorb is forming who they are.

“I brought back cautionary tales, which have all but been abolished from children’s literature. One of the things that I’m saying is, no, it’s important to tell kids about the reality of the consequences of their actions, instead of telling them that it doesn’t matter, everything’s going to turn out just fine, no matter what you do.”

Because of Lilly’s acting work, and Didier’s fondness for all things geeky, the Squickerwonkers books are full of Easter Eggs. There are so many, in fact, that readers will never “find it all.”

Lilly is hopeful for an adaptation of her books, either for television or film. She is developing it now but has yet to receive the green light. “My vision for it, if it does happen, then I want to be able to reveal it, because it’s really different. It’s something that almost nobody’s doing right now, as far as the medium.”

The Trials of Publishing

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