Zoe Hana Mikuta on Her Sapphic, Korean-Inspired Wonderland Retelling

Read on for an a glimpse through the looking glass into the frighteningly wondrous worlds of Carroll and Mikuta.

Author Interviews Author's Corner Book Culture On This Day
Interview with Zoe Hana Mikuta

While better known in the US for more star-spangled celebrations, July 4 is also known as Alice in Wonderland Day. This curious(er and curiouser) holiday commemorates the day author Lewis Carroll first orally told his most enduring story to young family friend Alice Liddell in 1862. It was first celebrated in 2015, the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘s first publication. This year on July 6, residents of Oxford, England will take to the streets in memory of Lewis and Alice, their nextdoor neighbors from another time.

This holiday attests to the undying, childlike wonder that stories can inspire. As lovers of the written word and all things imaginative, the Bookstr team invites you to celebrate this auspicious day with us — and a special guest! No, it’s not the Mad Hatter, it’s author Zoe Hana Mikuta! We had the immense pleasure of asking Zoe a few questions about her Wonderland-inspired Sapphic Fantasy book and more. Read on for an a glimpse through the looking glass into the frighteningly wondrous worlds of Carroll and Mikuta.

About Zoe Hana Mikuta

Twenty-four-year-old Zoe Hana Mikuta has a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Washington with a minor in History of Religion. She enjoys writing about deteriorating worlds and horrible people. She is the author of the Gearbreakers duology (F&F/Macmillan), Off With Their Heads (Disney-Hyperion), and The Coven Tendency, a standalone fantasy horror upcoming Spring 2025 from Disney-Hyperion. She is based in Seattle.

Zoe Hana Mikuta

Can you pitch Off With Their Heads to any potential readers out there?

Off With Their Heads is an Alice in Wonderland fantasy horror retelling set in a Korean-inspired world. Two young witches, once sentenced to hunt the unimaginable horrors that nest in Wonderland Forest, have now grown from lovers into mortal enemies. One is now the Red Queen’s favorite butcher, and the other is intent on stealing the throne. But the Red Queen’s habit of experimenting on the Forest’s monsters and her overall obsession with Wonderland is rooted in a dark secret, and, with her madness about to spill over, the volatile struggle for power might bring to light the origins of Wonderland’s infestation. 

Off With Their Heads by Zoe Hana Mikuta

What about Alice in Wonderland inspires, or possibly scares you? Why do you think it is such an enduring story in literature and pop culture?

Alice in Wonderland is such a perfect medium for a horror retelling specifically because of its themes of the strange and the unfamiliar — both elements that the horror genre likes to gleefully exploit! And so did I! I think people find Wonderland’s surrealism especially alluring, so much so that it has staked its claim as a modern-day fairy tale — it is the ultimate story of escapism.

Disney's Alice in Wonderland

What aspects of Lewis Carroll’s original source material did you use or change? And, in what ways is Off With Their Heads similar and different to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

The three main characters of OWTH are reminiscent of Alice, the white rabbit, and the Mad Hatter (combined with the Red Queen), while other characters I turned into the monsters that infest Wonderland. I made the footrace the holiday of the Saints Race; made the tea party, while still a tea party, feature a bloody show; and made the trial the final battle.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll

One thing that is starkly different from the source material is that the “Alice” of OWTH doesn’t happen upon Wonderland; Wonderland Forest is already known and feared, serving as both a prison and hunting ground. In terms of perspective, I think one of the only reasons Lewis Carroll’s original story isn’t completely horrifying is because Alice is around five years old, and the journey is told from her childhood-wonder-tinged narrative.

While I did age up the characters into teenagers/early 20s, and even though I made Wonderland monster-infested, I wanted to keep that kind of original awe, those rose-colored glasses Alice descends with. As this awe is held by restless and sadistic girls, and is directed toward the vileness that lies in Wonderland, I aimed for this element of childlike curiosity to be a bit more unsettling than how it reads in the original text. 

Aside from Carroll’s works, did you take inspiration from any other stories, authors, aesthetics, or artists when writing OWTH?

Shirley Jackson is my god, and I will take inspiration from her forever. Her stories encourage me to be as strange as I want to be in my writing. Now that writing is my livelihood ever since I graduated from undergrad last year with two books already under my belt, I find I need reminders to not just treat this like a job, but to do it for the craft! Jackson’s writing pushes me like that.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass

But less generally, I also drew great aesthetic inspiration from my times visiting family in South Korea. In OWTH, Wonderland Forest is both feared and revered, and that kind of connection with and careful respect of nature is so prominent in the culture, from tree-lined footpaths in Seoul where you’re encouraged to take off your shoes, to the little shrines that dot the mountains.

The world of Wonderland has seen many reincarnations, both on screen and on paper. Do you have any personal favorite adaptations or retellings?

Writing an Alice in Wonderland horror retelling has always been on my bucket list because of all the amazing horror retellings already out there! Specifically coming to mind are the Alice: The Madness Returns video game and Alice by Christina Henry. (They’re) mega messed up. 

Alice by Christina Henry

In your opinion, why are diverse retellings of popular stories important?

Because the fact that a diverse retelling needs to be specified as diverse — when they are popular stories that have been retold multiple times over — tells you exactly what the baseline is still considered.

Alice: Madness Returns

Do you have a favorite character from the original Wonderland? And from OWTH’s Wonderland?

My favorite character from the original Wonderland has to be the Mad Hatter, so I’m not taking the biggest of leaps when I say that Hattie is my favorite from OWTH. Hattie is also the Red Queen, so she’s an amalgamation of those two characters from the original text — which is funny because her magic includes the ability to stitch bodies together to create new, horrifying monsters.

Alice and the Mad Hatter

Finally, if you got lost in Wonderland (either in its original imagining or the dark, dangerous wood from OWTH), what would be your plan of escape — or attack?

I would 100% not survive the world I created in OWTH unless I had some serious powers, but as for the original Wonderland, I think my best shot would be trying to get in good with the Cheshire Cat. That little freak is like an Eldritch god and I believe his skills are massively underutilized, like, you could definitely start a cult around him, so I’d probably just do that if I was in a list-with-no-return scenario. Use the power of the masses to overthrow the Red Queen, easy peasy.

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

A massive thank you to Zoe for celebrating Alice in Wonderland Day with us! Be sure to follow her on Instagram and add Off With Their Heads to your TBR. Gear up for more maddening, bone-chilling words from Zoe in 2025’s The Coven Tendency.

To uncover hidden references in Alice in Wonderland, click here.

To browse Zoe’s novels and more, click here.