Workshop Episode 6 (Guest Host: Phillipa Ballantine)

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 6, with Phillipa Ballentine and Leatrice McKinneyPhillipa Ballantine – author, podcaster, and maven of amazement – takes time from her frightfully busy schedule to take a seat at the Roundtable for an unforgettable episode.  She’s joined by the talented and charming L. L. McKinney who offers up a fabulous story based on Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland” (though Alice was never so badass).  The show went a little long but dang… with great hosts, awesome guests and an amazing story what are we supposed to do? (And hey… don’t miss Pip’s Showcase Episode either!)


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Workshop Episode 6 (Guest Host: Phillipa Ballantine)

[caution: mature language – listener discretion is advised]

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Comments (19)

Ack! As usual, while listening I’m filled with ideas I wish I could add and comments I could make regarding the things you guys are saying, but finally I’ve been frustrated enough that I have to pop over and say something. Brion, I think you’re completely wrong regarding the topic of why Addison chose Alice to be Alice (and if you change your stance later in the episode, which I haven’t gotten to yet, then consider this post null and void). By saying that Addison having chosen Alice at random means that it’s Fate that’s in control instead of choices is a bit shortsighted. Just because Alice wasn’t chosen for any reason in particular doesn’t mean that her choices were out the window. Destiny may be part of it, but destiny doesn’t wipe your tears away when people you love are killed, it doesn’t lift you up when you feel like you have no more strength, and it doesn’t slay the evil in your stead. You have to do all those things. THINKING you’re destined for something might give you courage, just like Dumbo thought it was the magic feather that let him fly, but as well all know it was him all along. The same for Alice. That’s what she has to realize, and that is what will give her her greatest strength. Her real strength came from within, not from without.

I have to say, I love the idea of Addison being a former lover of the Black Queen. I think that’s marvelous. And, I think it would be great if he was key to her overthrow, that even though he loved her, he hated what she was becoming, and so he had to break his own heart by betraying her. And, because of his past with her and his betrayal, he has to be the one who chooses the Alice’s as his penance. It’s his job to make sure his former love never rises again. That would breed some pretty deep bitterness, I’m sure.

Anyway, that’s it. Great job as usual!

Justin! Shortsighted?! Really?! Oh, boy…the gloves come off!!! I’m kidding, of course. Sort of. = )

I do agree with you on the concept of fate itself and I’m glad you pointed that out. I had to go back and listen again to see if what I said really came across that way. Here what I was trying to get at: If Addison honestly and unequivocally chooses Alice completely at random and it turns out to be the right choice in the end, for me, it has too many overtones of the Greek concept of Fate. The idea that what we do is pre-ordained and there is no way of changing it. That this particular Alice was meant to be chosen and meant to defeat the Queen and the Nightmares and all the rest of the baddies. That it could not have been any other person chosen at random simply by virtue of Alice’s own character arc in which she discovers from her own actions and choices that she is special in some way that gives her that one advantage that ultimately allows her to win. My main point was to offer, at the very least, some kind of a subconscious push, that Addison may be wholly unaware of, that leads him to what he otherwise believes is a purely random choice. I may be doing a worse job of explaining myself here than I did in the episode.

Basically, I think it is important that if Addison choose Alice at random, that while he believes it to be random, there is still something (within him) that bumps his finger away from another less suitable choice. It could be his predilection for redheads, or the way she smiles that catches his eye. Later, he might discover that there was some wisdom in his choice that he ignored or was completely unaware of.

As to the idea of fate, what you were describing was exactly what I wanted the story to avoid. Fate and destiny are certainly not black and white. One may lead a character to a battle and abandon her there, and these characters certainly do seem to represent a kind of pantheon that enjoy meddling with humans. When I said that if it is fated that Addison choose Alice, then every other decision that is made is fated as well, I agree, that was a bit circumspect. What I meant to say, or maybe more accurately, what I mean to say now, is that if you introduce an element of fate such as it being fated that Addison choose this particular Alice, then the reader (I would hope) will need to call into question every other decision made as possibly fated as well. Not empirically, but similar to the idea of an unreliable narrator. When we discover a narrator to be unreliable, we have to question everything that has been told to us through that narrator. That doesn’t mean that everything is wrong, a lie, or deceitful, but we do need to question it.

If we need then to question every event in this story as whether it was determined by will or by destiny, that could be a massive headache for a writer when that doesn’t seem to be primary drive or theme of the story.

I guess what it comes down to is I just don’t think it “should” be a random choice. I agree that it is a great idea that it “seem” to be random and Addison can believe that it is random until it is revealed through Alice’s actions or his discovery that it was in some way, unconsciously or subconsciously informed. I would enjoy that more as a reader.

You are a rockstar, sir, for calling me out on this. If you still disagree or take issue with what I have said here…Just wait until we get you on the podcast. I am relentless and vicious and my bark is severe, sir! Quite severe!!!

Sincerely looking forward to it! = )

Brion, I’m not sure if we’re looking at fate the same way. If Addison had a reason to pick Alice, even if he didn’t know what it was, isn’t that also a possible means of fate intervening? If he chose her at random, and she succeeds, it isn’t because she was fated to be chosen or to win, but because she herself had the strength and courage to do it. Her failure and success rides purely on her, no outside agency required.

I guess what I’m also trying to say is that I’ve grown a bit weary of the whole “chosen” thing. Buffy had it, Neo had it, and examples litter the library shelves. Being chosen to be a savior or what have you might have some supernatural significance that gives people a warm fuzzy, but it also undercuts their own innate power. I guess that’s why I always rooted more for the people like Xander than I did for Buffy. She had special strength, she was gifted with power, she was CHOSEN. Xander didn’t, yet he waded into battle again and again, and through his own facilities he was able to survive and win. Now THAT is something. To have Alice be that same sort of hero is something I think a lot of people would find empowering. You don’t have to be touched by the Gods to be good and strong, you just have to find it in yourself.

Justin has hit upon the point I was trying (awkwardly) to make in the podcast: that a person who ISN’T “chosen” not only can be a hero, but that they are even more heroic because they have done what they have done without a node from the powers that be. And that’s really the essence of the message I thought the YA audience might appreciate… that YOU chose if you’re a hero, not some external agency.

I see what Brion is saying… that if Alice essentially WASN’T chosen (because it was random) and she “wins”, that has the taint of deus ex machina and a contrived plot. That can be mitigated by how she wins and the price she had to pay. There are victories that don’t seem all that victorious if the price is too high.

And also, it depends (heavily) on how Leatrice writes it. All the themes and elements we’re discussing can be validated or implemented in a most satisfying way by a confident author’s hand (no pressure, Leatrice). 😉

No pressure at all!

Though I’m now curious where the possibility of Alice being the Red Princess lands her in the entire Fate argument. If she’s a princess of Wonderland, then was she indirectly fated (oxymoron if I ever saw on) to be the chosen one? Or does being of Wonderland somehow cripple her against fighting the Nightmares effectively, essentially un-choosing her?

If that makes any sense at all…

I don’t think that we’re not looking at fate the same way, I think we’re approaching two completely separate points from different perspectives and thinking we’re looking at the same thing. I completely agree with your assessment. I also completely agree that it is stronger to shift away from fate and give a character the ability to discover her own strength without having been “chosen.” I’m simply looking at this from the confines we were working in. It started with a “what if she is chosen.” If she is chosen, who chooses her? And why? Dave suggested it be random and there be no special reason for choosing her. That’s where I had an issue because of my need for motivation.

I do get what you’re saying about the idea that even if the hatter chooses her completely randomly she can still succeed without it being “fated” that she do so. I suppose my hang up is this: If Addison chooses her at random, whether she succeeds or not, what is the point of it being him to choose her? Why not a lottery or a contest or any other character? Why him if it truly is random? I know you can come up with all kinds of different outcomes for him that might make an interesting character arc, I just don’t buy it. And maybe that’s all it comes down to.

I am all for Alice succeeding despite others believing she is not special, or she is doomed to fail. It does make her success that much sweeter and powerful, and that’s fine.

Maybe the problem here is that Addison doesn’t pick Alice. Maybe he is stuck with her. If he serves as a reluctant mentor rather than being endowed with the duty of choosing the next Alice, then he can be surly and cranky and aghast that this is what he’s been given and tell her how she’s ordinary and will never measure up and then she can do everything she needs to do despite him.

In the end, I may still be on an island here, but I stick by what I said before. If Addison is the one who is supposed to choose the next Alice, I don’t believe that it can, nor should, be totally random. Whether he makes it random or not, he can still be so burnt out from previous Alices failing that he see nothing special in this one and she is forced to prove herself on her own merits rather than working from praise or prophecy.

What if, through human agency, the choosing of Alice as the next guardian is both chance and choice. Their meeting is completely random but her personality and skill set virtually demand Addison choose her as the Guardian if only for the reason that she might be tough enough to survive the job.
As an example, what if Alice is a member of the high school women’s kick boxing team [or other preferred martial skill, Jousting anyone? :-)] and she lost a bet with two of her friends. Her team is looking for people to sponsor a trip to nationals and Alice must let her friends choose where she goes to look for sponsors for the next week. As a prank, they take her to Addison’s pub where the two meet for the first time. During the course of their conversation, Alice impresses him such that he feels almost compelled to pick her as the next guardian.

I have to say it’s great to hear a fellow Kansan taking an already great story and hitting it out of the park!

I just wanted to chime in on the Red Queen who seems to have gone MIA. What if the Red Queen has been missing for many years and is suspected of being one the first victims of the more violent nightmare manifestations. What if the attack left her as an analog of her self in the real world with little or no memory of her life in Wonderland. She is forced to live her life in our world as best she can, falls in love, gets married and has a daughter. A daughter who is chosen by Addison, seemingly at random but there is something (within him) that bumps his finger away from another less suitable choice.

Alice is a daughter of two worlds.

Oh SNAP! I’m with Leatrice… now THAT is a lovely twist, with a dash of irony, and goes a long way to providing a foundation for Alice’s “gifts”.

Can’t WAIT until your episode, Tracy! 😀

Yeah. Totally on board with that. And seriously, to Leatrice, everything above is still complete and total riffing and I want to say, that one simple aspect of this story (that you may not even want to use, by the way) can spark the kind of debate we’ve had here, then BRAVO! One hell of a story!

Michael Brudenell

I love Tracy’s idea, as well. Here are some thoughts I had.

Brion and Justin’s debate of when is a decision (random or otherwise) fated or preordained is delightful, but one item that is interesting to me is the protagonist being names Alice. In the confines of this story, being from Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland” and the characters name being Allison (Alice for short), and all the other Alice’s before her. Is all their names actually their given name of “Alice”? Isn’t this then a non-random requirement of The Guardian of these two worlds? If the Red Queen’s analog in this world is the mother of Alice, was there a part of her that subconsciously still remembers Wonderland? When deciding how and who chooses the next Guardian this needs to be taken into account.

What if a Guardian is from a blood line, and each mother names her daughter Alice? Addison is a mentor to each Alice, and has known the family through generations. But, what if this time a tragedy strikes and the new Alice dies before her time. Addison is now forced to choose a new Alice. Addison chooses a girl named Alice that is the same age, gives the girl a relic from the family line which imbues her with the necessary power. This could play interestingly on the idea of destiny. The family line is destined to be the Guardians, but with no other choice Addison picks another. Addison will always have doubts He will have kept from Alice that she was not the destined “Alice” until Addison’s moment of greatest despair. At that moment of despair Addison tells her that she is not even the right “Alice”. This revelation destroys her confidence, because she had always thought that I am the chosen. Now that she is not the chosen she feels inadequate. Her arc then comes to her decision to try anyway. Addison’s redemption comes when he sees her trying despite the odds, and fate. Addison decides to try, as well.

This is just an idea and could be complete crap. Also, it might ruin Tracy’s idea for the Red Queen. Unless, Addison chooses the Red Queen’s daughter unknowingly, and perhaps this girl of both worlds, with the will not to give up is what finally heals the rift between the worlds.


Michael – What a great way to wrap it all together. I agree, the idea that she is already named (at least a variation of) Alice does lend itself to that idea of a destiny or intervention by fate. And let’s just say fate with a lowercase “f.” More and more as we discuss this, I see the true story shifting away from Alice and toward Addison as though Alice is really the tool to Addison’s salvation. You make a good case, sir! The funny thing to me is that Leatrice may not have any inclination at all to have Addison be the one to choose Alice, but the theme here is fairly universal and I’m glad that so many people weighed in and am excited to see what, of the myriad ideas presented, remain and where the story ends up. Very cool.

I think having Addison be the main character, and not Alice, is an inspired idea. When it comes to Alice In Wonderland, she’s always the lead character. Throw convention on its head and have Addison be it. Make this a redemption story. Or, if you just have to have Alice as a main character, then perhaps have them alternate.

Boilerplate disclaimer – this is probably just crap, but…

Michael – I like your idea of having the guardianship being bestowed on a bloodline with mother passing it to daughter. The name Alice could be both synonymous with the guardianship and an indication of the chosen successor. Perhaps in this scenario, Addison usually only acts as an adviser and mentor but can act as the agent to choose the next Alice if the previous guardian is unable to fulfill that duty.
As to the form the endowment of the guardian’s power takes, I also like your idea of having that power invested in an object. If it is a family relic, then does Alice have to have it on her person or can it be merely left on the mantle at home? Can is be stolen? If it can be stolen, is that how the Black Queen grants Alice’s covetous friend the powers of the guardian. Is its theft the reason for Addison’s descent into despair and his lashing out at Alice with the truth of how he just picked her as the first Alice he ran across after the death of the true guardian.
Perhaps that would be a good time for the trusting Dormouse to make an appearance, lead both Alice and Addison out of their dark places, get its self into trouble with a nightmare and have Alice save it despite having lost the guardians powers. Being the Red Princess might allow Alice to continue to fight the nightmares and confront both the False Guardian and the Black Queen.

Another great episode guys. One thing I did have to come by and let you know about though, I’m sorry to say Indiana Jim already has the whip sound as his bell – so it’s already been taken 🙂

Oh MAN! We didn’t even think of that! (sigh) Well, I can totally see the whip FX being perfect for Indiana Jim. Thanks, Dan, for that heads-up… but he CAN’T have the phrase! 😉

And friends, DO check out “The Adventures of Indian Jim”, a great podcast on writing, indie publishing, and general writerly goodness. You can find it at

Yes, the phrase is all you guys 🙂 I just wanted to say again that this podcast is awesome and thank you guys for putting it out. It’s great to hear all the amazing brain storming going on about people’s cool stories! When I started writing I thought it was all about beautifully written prose, but now I know the hardest part isn’t the writing, it’s coming up with a great story with a compelling plot. That’s not easy, and brainstorming the way you guys do is such a great way to try and work out some of those hard story ideas into something that works and rocks. So thank you guys for putting out this awesome podcast!

Back over on the “it’s in her blood” camp, what if the previous Alice was her Father’s Mother? This way her own mother was not a potential candidate, but it would still be an inherited task. Maybe her father left because he couldn’t stand to see his daughter get pulled into Wonderland the way his mother was.

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