By Libby Stille, Publicist
Today we talk with author Lenore Appelhans about her latest YA novel, The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project.
Manic Pixie follows Riley, who lives in TropeTown. Everyone who lives in TropeTown plays stock roles in novels, from Crotchety Old Men to No-Nonsense Street Cleaners. Riley, a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, is sent to group therapy after going off-script. He knows that breaking the rules again could get him terminated, yet he feels there must be more to life than recycling the same clichés for readers’ entertainment. While in therapy he discovers that TropeTown has a dark secret, and it’s up to Riley and his fellow Manic Pixies to get to the bottom of it.
Q&A with Lenore Appelhans
The characters in Manic Pixie have character trait sheets that list their hobbies, talents, style, etc. Give us your trait sheet!
Trope: YA Author (sub-type of Author)
Birthday: May 31, Gemini
General physical description: Often mistaken for someone who does yoga. Hazel eyes. Dark hair.
Clothing style: Bright colors, traditional styles but with quirky details
Hobbies: Going to the grocery store to get ice cream in my pajamas, collecting fancy notebooks, travelling
Talents: Closing off nose on command (helpful when trying to avoid bad smells), writing, petting cats
Strongest positive personality traits: Loyal, light-hearted, and adaptable
Strongest negative personality traits: Procrastinator, slothful, over-analyzes everything
Ambitions: To keep writing and publishing intellectually quirky novels
Life philosophy: Embrace your authentic self
Favorite foods: Chocolate, banana-flavored foods, nectarines
Phobias: Afraid to reveal phobia
What gave you the idea for Manic Pixie?
For my MFA program, I wrote to my adviser, Susan Fletcher, about the MPDG [Manic Pixie Dream Girl] trope and how I felt Alaska got a raw deal in John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Susan then asked me if there was such a thing as a boy who was a Manic Pixie. So I started to research it, and there really isn’t, unless you count Jack from Titanic. The idea of a boy Manic Pixie fascinated me. I had been working on this other idea about a town where dead fictional animals go to live, and I combined the two ideas. The scene with Riley in the elevator with all the animals is the first scene I wrote.
Do you have any other favorite books that are about the characters in books?
Yes, although this answer is going to be slightly spoiler-y, so look away if spoilers bother you.
Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair is about a book detective who can jump into novels and interact with the characters. Jostein Garder’s Sophie’s World is a wonderful mix of meta-fiction and philosophy. And more recently, I adored Melissa’s Albert’s The Hazel Wood about a girl whose life is plagued by dangerous fairy tale characters.
Author Jess Rothenberg called Manic Pixie “delightfully meta.” Are there instances from your reading life that you made specific reference to in the book?
Several of the scenes are homages to scenes in movies. For example, when Riley and Zelda lie on the frozen pond, that’s a callout to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And all of the Manic Pixie characters are very loosely based on girls we all know from pop culture (movies/books/music). It’s fun to hear reader guesses.
Did you have a favorite character to write?
Without a doubt I had the most fun writing Nebraska with her “velvet sledgehammer.” Nebraska is a very twisted vision of MGDG burnout and I went down that rabbit hole to explore her motivation. She owes her status to playing this part, but at the same time, she essentially lost any sense of her true self ages ago. So she’s outrageously self-important and condescending, but she still maintains this veneer of quirk and fun, because otherwise she wouldn’t fit the trope.
Praise for The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project
“How long has it been since you had a good laugh? This book is the one you’ve been waiting for. Witty, sharp, surprising—a refreshing read.”—Martha Brockenbrough, author of The Game of Love and Death
“Funny, romantic, and delightfully meta—The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project was a joy to read from beginning to end.”—Jess Rothenberg, author of The Catastrophic History of You & Me and The Kingdom
“Recommend this well-crafted book to voracious readers of YA who will appreciate the satire.”—School Library Journal
“If you are obsessed with the TV show The Good Place, you need this book.”—Tirzah Price, Book Riot’s All the Books Podcast
“It’s meta, it’s ridiculous, and it manages to explore the ways in which our stereotypical labels can restrain us.”—Rachel Strolle, BNTeen Blog