Author Lisi Harrison to sign ‘Monster High’ in H.B.

April 01, 2011|By PETER LARSEN

Lisi Harrison laughs as she recalls the night when she opened the door of her Laguna Beach home to find Frankie Stein, a character from one of her best-selling young adult novels, standing there before her.

"I, of course, thought I was going insane," Harrison says. "'Oh, my God! My characters are coming to life!' It was so funny, so cool."

It was also Halloween, of course, which meant Frankie was not actually a figment of the imagination Harrison had tapped into as she wrote the first of her new "Monster High" books. Just a kid out trick-or-treating, who, by doing so, also provided a treat for Harrison, too, as she saw in that moment how quickly the world of "Monster High" had burst into the tween-and-teen pop culture consciousness.

Harrison, who comes to Barnes & Noble in Huntington Beach on Wednesday, April 6 to sign the second book, "Monster High: The Ghoul Next Door," says its success has pleased her greatly in part because of the unusual way in which she came to write this new young adult series. For unlike with her first two best-selling series, "The Clique" and "Alphas," "Monster High" didn't develop from within her, but instead arrived already dreamed up by the toy makers at Mattel.

"The interesting thing with this, it's pretty unconventional how it all happened," Harrison says. "Mattel came up with the dolls and the world of Monster High before I even came into the picture, and then they approached my publisher and me to see if I wanted to write the series.

"As an author, I was a little bit wary, to be honest," she says. "Anyone with any creative ego would be, 'No way, I'd never do that!' So I met with Mattel and sort of gave them my feelings on how the book series would have to unfold for me to be onboard. And they were surprisingly and incredibly open to my vision."

Her vision steered the stories she wrote away from Mattel's original concept of a high school entirely populated by teen descendants of famous monsters, Harrison says. It's a Monster High world that includes dolls, a website with ongoing webisodes and other activities, clothing for girls sold at Justice and Macy's, and eventually perhaps a live-action movie. For the books, though, Harrison got to call most of the shots.

"I definitely got to go off on my own," she says. "Mattel thought of one school called Monster High, and it was just filled with monsters. And I had a problem with that. I wanted to put them in a normal world and have normal characters, too, so we could see them not fitting in. If they were all equals, it didn't seem as dramatic to me.

"It's an amazing metaphor for puberty and high school, and growing and changing, and how (teens) feel like monsters. I felt you couldn't really show that without putting them in a context where they seem abnormal. I wanted to show how unequal everybody was, and hopefully through struggling and learning and growing, you end up in a place of more acceptance."

When she met with Mattel, the dolls were already created, so some of the style of the characters already existed. Some of the original doll character names, though, felt too obvious to her writer's sensibility, so she sought and received the OK to change a few for the books, with obvious names such as Draculaura, Lagoona Blue and Clawdeen Wolf became Lala, Blue and Claudine.

Sitting down to write monster stories after all the more traditional teen girl tales of "The Clique" and "Alphas" seemed difficult at first, Harrison said, until she realized that teen monsters are just teens with different colored skin (light green with stitching for Frankie Stein), diets (Lala is a vegan vampire), or body types (Blue has webbed hands and gills). "I definitely struggled, because I'm not one to naturally take on monsters," Harrison says. "And especially because it was a time where 'Twilight' was everywhere, and I was sensitive about not being seen as riding that train.

"So I decided to say, 'OK, I'm going to make monsters for "The Clique" girls,' she says. "Nobody had done it in a fun, glamorous way before. The drama by nature is brooding and dark. They're not functioning in a normal pop culture world.

"I just saw this as monster books for girls like me who wouldn't normally read monster books."

After that, everything in the new world of Monster High made sense to Harrison. "'The Clique' books were about how far people will go to be accepted by friends," she says. "This sort of does the same thing. I like writing about taking the masks off and exposing people. I think it's a shame that we try to hide our true nature from people and try to become this ideal."

Talks to write the "Monster High" books got underway about the time Harrison moved from New York City to Laguna Beach in 2007, a transition that helped her identify with her characters.

"If that wasn't a difference, and if I didn't feel like a monster," she says of the move. "It's the same country, but it's a different world."

One difference that came with the move was that Harrison found it harder to write in Laguna Beach, where the lifestyle is easy-going and the weather is almost always mellow, too.

"I found New York easier to write in because there's so much stimulation no matter where you are," she says. "You can't open your eyes without seeing something incredible on some level. Here, it's a bubble of protection, it's harder for me to get upset about something – what do I have to get upset about, I'm living in paradise?

"But for me, humor comes from anger, so I'm trying very hard to be more miserable," she says with a laugh.

The "Monster High" books are set to continue for at least a total of six books, with the third one already done and work underway on the fourth. The final "Clique" book just came out, and the final "Alphas" book will soon be published, so Harrison is working now to develop a new young adult novel and her first adult book, too.

"It's a bit scary because it's uncharted territory," Harrison says of writing for adults. "It's a different audience, though I do believe in my heart of hearts that the teen audience is harder than the adults in terms of getting them on board.

"They have a built-in B.S. detector, so I feel if I can make it there I can make it anywhere, and the things we want at any age don't change that much – the drama's there."

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