In a debut that practically defines "zany," Gary Ghislain launches 14-year-old David onto a rooftop chase through Paris with his therapist father's new patient, Zelda, who claims to be from the all-female planet Vahalal in How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend. With it he makes the galaxy a brighter place by intermingling couture, otherworldly violence and good ol’-fashioned girl power. But what about getting some autobiographical dermal ink?
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What led to such a heightened awareness of fashion amid David and Zelda's sci-fi hijinks?
Decomposing Converse shoes, jeans and a reasonably clean T-shirt is my everyday uniform. But I grew up in a family working in fashion. My mother was a designer. My father was a fashion businessman. I wasn’t blessed with any of their talents. I can’t draw to save my life. I don’t know if purple goes well with pink or if shoulder pads should come back next season.
But my parents were crazy about haute couture when I was a kid. My father, bless his soul, could look at any number and tell you who cut it, where the silk came from and who produced the buttons and bits. They really taught me how to respect fashion like some sort of secret religion. And they definitely taught me never to play Robin Hood with my mum’s Ted Lapidus vintage hat ever again, unless I want to be murdered painfully.
Zelda’s home planet, Vahalal, sounds aggressive and horrifying. Why is it the complete opposite of Eden?
I first thought of Zelda and Vahalal and the Valks while traveling in Sweden. I was fascinated by the Norse mythology—and the violence of the early Scandinavian cultures. Those Vikings were not joking. They tried to create the perfect society, where everyone would be strong and fit and possibly called Lars. If you were weak, different, sick or just didn’t want to eat your herrings, you were toast! I wanted to create a character that would come from that type of culture, a real dangerous fanatic who could be entirely transformed by interacting with us, the messy, marginally dirty, easy-going Earthlings.
One might assume this is a male-oriented book but there are definitely strong female presences. Was this to attract a larger female audience?
I seriously think girls have superpowers guys don’t have. It’s a discussion we had early on with Mary Colgan, my editor at Chronicle Books. We agreed that girls are from outer space. But if you look into it, there’s just no doubt about it! I have a lot of proof that girls are not from this planet and are sort of superior beings. Did you remark how they constantly try to control our mind? Isn’t that exactly what you would expect from an alien race invading the planet? And when you cannot find the wine opener in the drawer, they just walk there and pull it out like they can create objects with the power of their mind! I tell you, it’s just weird.
David's mother is an unapologetic dragon lady who, despite it all, is actually entertaining and—dare we say?—likable. Is there another maternal figure you love to hate just as much and, if so, why?
David’s mother doesn’t come from another fictional world. She’s as real as cholesterol. Many moons ago, my parents were really busy working all the time from one fashion collection to the next. Since they were strange parents, they found the strangest creature to look over me. Germaine was her name. She was a cross between Boris Karloff in The Mummy and Cruella de Vil. She was very famous in the fashion industry. She was the protégé of Christian Dior until he died.
Apparently, her thing was the way she knew how to cut fur. They would fly her around the world just for a few chops into dead animals’ skins. She was plain scary. And tough. And dragon like. And why my parents would think that she was the perfect psychopath to look over me is still a mystery to me. But the thing with her, no matter how cruel and sarcastic and tough she was, I just knew she was good. You know. Deep-down inside. I mean, her heart was good, even though she would bite out her tongue and spit it out on your knickers rather than say something nice. She would have jumped in front of a car to protect me and died gladly just to make sure I was all right. She just didn’t know how to express it nicely.
Why are tattoos such a prevalent part of the chemical make-up of Zelda and her fellow Vahalalians?
I’m fascinated with tattoos. I do have a few myself. You know, when you get a tattoo, you do two things. One, you try not to scream and take it like Vahalalian warrior. And two, you listen to your tattoo artist while sweating buckets. My tattoo artist is a Swedish guy going by the name of Markus. He gave me the ideas of tattoos as an extreme form of biography. That’s what tattoos are, he explained while working on my left shoulder, a recording of your actions and feelings at a given time in your life. Like a résumé inked into your skin.