Author Colleen Oakes on transitioning from chick lit to fantasy

Local author Colleen Oakes's newest book, Queen of Hearts hit the shelves on February 14. To celebrate the first book in her new trilogy, she will be at Bookbar on Saturday , February 22 at 6:30 p.m. Oakes took a break from writing to talk to us about straying far away from chick lit, which she identifies her first book Elly In Bloom as and channeling the anger of the infamous Queen of Hearts.

See also: Melinda Chateauvert talks Stonewall, SlutWalk, rights for sex workers and her new book

Westword: What's it like seeing your books on shelves?

Colleen Oakes: There's a moment where you first hold your book in your hand and you flash through all those unglamorous moments leading up to the publication: like when you were writing at 2 a.m., looking like a caffeine-junkie, or when you laughed your way through editing a horrid chapter, or when you finally wrote "The End" only to realize that you had to fix something again...and it all feels a bit unreal, like it's happening to someone else. But then you hold it, and you smell it and you read the words that you so labored over and loved, and the joy is, well it's very real. Your proud heart wants to take a picture and send it to your parents. Which I absolutely did. By the time a book makes it onto shelves, there are years of work behind it, and so it's incredible gratifying in that moment.

Do you think Queen of Hearts will appeal to the same fan base that Elly in Bloom appealed to?

I would like to believe that most prolific readers out there would be willing to take a gamble on both. As a reader, I enjoy many genres, so my hope is that I'm not alone. However, I think that if you are a dedicated chick-lit reader then Queen of Hearts might be a bit dark for you, seeing how the height of trauma is vastly different: Elly in Bloom's most stressful situation is a wedding, where in Queen of Hearts it's people getting beheaded. One has a lot of flowers, and the other has a lot of blood, so ultimately it comes down to a matter of taste. I hope that the more adventurous readers will roll the dice and be pleasantly surprised. Until I really started reading fantasy, I thought I was just a women's fiction kind of gal. Reading retains it's power to transform anyone.

Who and what inspired Queen of Hearts?

I was driving to meet a friend at the mall (honestly, I only go there like once a year, just so this doesn't sound ridiculous) and the idea just popped into my head. I had been thinking about Alice in Wonderland, and the Queen, and I think the thought that started it all was "Why is the Queen of Hearts so angry all the time?" I had wanted to venture into fantasy and a more serious story than the Elly in Bloom series was giving me, and once the idea hit I couldn't stop thinking about it. By the time I made it to California Pizza Kitchen, I had already figured out the characters. I grabbed a napkin and began mapping out a plot. When I actually started researching, I stumbled across a quote from Lewis Carroll describing The Queen as "an embodiment of blind fury". At that moment, I knew I would write it and when I did, it would be a story of love denied on an epic scale.

Dinah sounds like a bad ass, do you identify with her?

My husband teases me all the time that I am Dinah. When I get mad -- say, when I drop a grocery bag, or hit my knee on a wall -- I just rage at that inanimate object. When I'm feeling out of control, I do have thoughts like "I wish I could burn this city to the ground!" He jokes about making me a tiny city so that I can tromp through it like Godzilla. My temper is fleeting and humorous at best, but I do have that fury inside of me that rises up at the worst of times and washes over me. I hate feeling out of control of my emotions, and I think both of my characters -- Dinah and Elly -- struggle with that. I think all humans struggle with that. Luckily, I have everything I need in my life to turn away from any rage effects, whereas Dinah has nothing, and turns towards it.

What's you're favorite fantasy series?

It's a toss up between the Harry Potter series and The Song of Fire and Ice Saga by George R.R Martin. Both were epic reads that completely transported me into another world and made a drooling fan-girl out of this otherwise mature woman.

Who would you picture as Dinah in a major motion picture?

From the moment I wrote the first lines of Queen of Hearts, Mae Whitman was my Dinah. She is currently playing Amber in Parenthood, and I loved her cheeky turn in Arrested Development as well. She is both darkly striking and talented, and it was easy to imagine her slowly turning into an anger tsunami.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Zoe Yabrove is a Denver native with an undergraduate degree in creative writing and a master’s in special education. She is a teacher in Denver Public Schools and contributes to Westword to get her writing fix.
Contact: Zoe Yabrove