INTERVIEW: Evangeline Lilly talks Squickerwonkers and her longtime passion for writing

Jul 16, 2014 at 8:30 a.m. ET
Image: WENN

In the back-page bio of her upcoming children's picture book, The Squickerwonkers, Evangeline Lilly admits she always wanted to be a writer. Now, she is, officially, but hey, what about that whole successful actress thing?

"I kind of stumbled into acting by accident," she said. "I hesitate to say that because I could get lynched for it."

Probably. There aren't very many successful actresses who can say they fell into a career-making role like Kate on Lost. For Lilly, the audition process was just an experiment on what she terms a "psychological journey of self-discovery."

"I was stepping out and doing things that were kind of scary and bold, so I was doing these auditions just as an exercise," she said. "Suddenly, I got the job."

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Other jobs have followed her breakthrough in Lost, but an entire new breakthrough for Lilly is about to hit bookshelves Nov. 18. The Squickerwonkers is the story of clever Selma of the Rin-Run Royals and how she comes upon a mysterious carnival crew known, of course, as The Squickerwonkers.

Squickerwonkers by Evangeline Lilly

Lilly admits the story has been rolling around in her head for the past 20 years and she's been an avid writer (behind closed doors) for 30 years. She said, "I've never been paid for [writing]; I've never thought of being paid for it. I do it because I have to do it, because I need to get it out of my system."

Following the success of Lost, Lilly did some soul-searching. Critics scoffed at the idea of her feeling less than fulfilled with her job and Lilly agrees, "How could someone be unsatisfied by a very successful acting career?"

But no matter the Hollywood project (or New Zealand project, as of late), Lilly felt she was missing something. That "something" was the written word. Lilly began to see a pattern: Whenever she wrote, she emerged happy, peaceful and energetic. Her mental lightbulb exploded.

Yes, she would be a writer. "That's what you have to do for your job," she said. "The thing that makes you feel like you have more energy than when you started, more love to give than when you started."

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Lilly grew up idolizing Dr. Seuss and films like Labyrinth. It's no wonder The Squickerwonkers is a touch on the dark side. The fantastical illustrations by movie man, Johnny Fraser-Allen, certainly add to the ambience.

There's an ever-expanding belief among artists that children's books are becoming too safe, too cautious. The Squickerwonkers is neither. Still, Lilly isn't worried her motley crew will creep out any kids (but parents maybe).

Her 3-year-old son loves it. Plus, it's all about perspective. Lilly said, "Children come into the world with a really clean slate. Until we teach them 'This is scary,' they don't relate to things with fear. They relate to things with love."

The Squickerwonkers does not set out to just be quirky and weird. I mean, it is, but the picture book is much more than that. In the world of children's fiction, characters are usually either good or bad — and you fit somewhere in between. Lilly wants kids to understand it's more than good or bad. It's about decisions.

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"It's about actions and consequences," said Lilly. "Selma is a clever and passionate girl, and then, she makes some kind of crappy choices. She acts really badly and there are consequences to that. Little kids are going to make bad choices, too, but it doesn't make them bad people."

The Squickerwonkers — Selma included — are not bad people. They're just people with some unhealthy habits, and to quote the book, "They may have vices, but those are life's spices." What would Lilly's Squickerwonker name be? Sandy the Self-Involved.

She laughed. "I'm a Leo, so we can't help but love on other people, but first and foremost, we love ourselves."

Up next for the soon-to-be published actress will be a young adult series with a graphic novel tie-in, although she couldn't give me any other details. First, she has several more Squickerwonker books to write, including an entire series entitled Demise, in which we learn how each Squickerwonker meets his or her untimely doom.

With Squickerwonkers, Lilly set out to write a book that both children and parents could enjoy — since parents will be the ones reading the book over and over. She has succeeded. She touches the Labyrinth-loving part of me that will never grow up and she'll be sure to teach your kids a thing or two about the bad side of being a brat.

Lilly will be appearing at San Diego Comic-Con to talk Squickerwonkers on July 25th. She will speak in room 6A at 10:30 AM, followed by a book signing at noon in AA20. Stop by and say hello!

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