As a wannabe writer, there are certain authors you aspire to be like. For me, Marissa Meyer is one of those authors. And it’s not every day that you get to interview your idol!
Her ‘The Lunar Chronicles’ is a national and New York Times-bestselling YA series and her most recent release, ‘Heartless’, is set to follow in its predecessors’ footsteps. Her penchant for penning retellings of classic and renowned fairy tales has seen her become one of the most popular and beloved authors of our time.
We got chatting to the infamous author about her writing past, present and future.
Your ‘The Lunar Chronicles’ series features retellings of various fairy tales and your most recent release, ‘Heartless’, is an ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ retelling. What is it that attracts you to this format?
I love being able to take a story that is very familiar to readers—one they feel they know inside and out—and be able to twist it around and give them something completely new. With ‘The Lunar Chronicles’ it was setting fairy tales in a science-fiction setting, where Cinderella became a cyborg and Rapunzel was a computer hacker. There was still the same bones to the story (a prince, a ball, a witch, a “tower”), but they’re all re-imagined inside a world that also has a plague ravishing the planet and a society of people living on the moon. It was a fun way to play with those well-worn tropes and see how far I could push them.
Similarly, with ‘Heartless’, I wanted to create a story that had that familiarity of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and all those fantastic characters that Lewis Carroll gave us, while also digging deeper into their backstories, and asking questions that Carroll never gave us answers to. Why is the Hatter mad? How did the turtle become a Mock Turtle? Why is the Queen of Hearts so incredibly angry? I hoped to write something that would change the way readers think about this story they already know so well.
Why did you specifically choose ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ to rework?
I don’t feel so much that I chose it, but that it chose me! (Painfully cheesy as that sounds…) I wasn’t adamantly looking to do another retelling after ‘The Lunar Chronicles’, but the story for ‘Heartless’ came into my head one day and wouldn’t let go. I have a lot of childhood ties to Alice (my mom is an enormous Alice fan), so it’s a story that I already felt a connection to. Plus, as a writer, it’s hard to imagine a world more fun to play around in than Wonderland.
What prompted you to rewrite ‘Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland’ from the villain’s perspective?
That’s really how the story entered my head—the catalyst for the whole idea was to dig into the Queen of Heart’s backstory and figure out how she became the bloodthirsty monarch Carroll gave us. I was very much inspired by Gregorey Maguire’s ‘Wicked‘, and how he managed to completely change the way an entire generation viewed the Wicked Witch of the West. I felt that the Queen of Hearts was similarly deserving of a chance to show her side of the story.
The protagonist, Cath, manages to be both loved by the reader and yet still become the villain of the tale. How did you go about constructing her character to make her be viewed in this way?
It was definitely one of the biggest challenges that I faced in writing this book. I knew that she would ultimately become the Queen—resentful, temperamental, and merciless—but to start out with that character wouldn’t have allowed readers to form a connection to her. I really wanted readers to be rooting for her. I started with creating a character that I personally found likeable and interesting. She has dreams and goals, but she’s stuck in a society that isn’t supportive of those dreams, so she’s constantly running into roadblocks. She’s also conflicted through much of the story, wanting to follow her heart, but simultaneously wanting to please her parents, which I think is something a lot of people, especially teenagers, can relate to.
So I started there, and began constructing a story in which every decision Cath makes and every obstacle she faces would pull her in the direction of becoming the infamous Queen of Hearts, and hoped that ultimately the transformation would not only seem understandable, but inevitable.
Is Cath’s character based on yourself or anyone you know?
Not really—I rarely take direct inspiration from real-life people to put into my characters. I do enjoy baking occasionally, but I’m nowhere near as talented as Cath! If anything, I think the biggest similarity we share is that we both had a dream that pulled strongly at us from a young age: for Cath, to be a baker, and for me, to be a writer. Luckily, my dream turned out a lot better than hers did.
Cath’s heart is captured by the court jester, Jest. What made you decide to add a romantic element to the original tale. And what is it about their two characters that make them so compatible?
From the first moment that I started questioning why the Queen of Hearts is so bitter and enraged all the time, I felt strongly that it was tied to a love-lost element in her past. I wasn’t sure at the time if she had been betrayed or had her heart broken or what, exactly, had happened, but I felt it was fitting that the Queen of Hearts had literally lost her heart along the way… and I knew it wasn’t to the King.
As for compatibility, whenever I write romances I try to ensure that the characters have at least something in common that they can share with each other—in Jest and Cath’s case, I focused a lot on how they are both willing to believe in and hope for the impossible, even when all odds were against them. I also try to give each character a gift or talent that the other can admire and respect. From the first time they meet, Cath is enthralled with Jest’s many talents, from magic to acrobatics to music, and it doesn’t take long for Jest to notice and admire Cath’s skill with baking and how much her passion for it lights her up inside.
Who is your favourite character that features in ‘Heartless’? What elements from Carroll’s original tale did you use to create their character and what did you add to make them your own?
I had so much fun incorporating lots of Wonderland characters, but probably my favourite to write was Cheshire. I wanted to give him the same lackadaisical personality that annoys Alice at times, while also drawing on those hints of arrogance and even mischief that we saw in the original work, such as when he invades the croquet game and the trial. But I also got to give my own spin on his character by making him one of Cath’s closest confidantes. He became the town’s biggest gossip in ‘Heartless’, and the sort of character who was always appearing at opportune times and using the information he’d gathered always to his own advantage.
Apart from, of course, Lewis Carroll, are there any other books or authors that influence your writing in any way?
Oh, lots! I think we’re constantly being influenced by the work we take in, whether it’s admiring another writer’s ability to world-build, or their poetic use of language, or the way some writers can make you feel like you know a character intimately with only a few choice details. Specific to ‘Heartless’, as I mentioned before I was heavily influenced by Gregory Maguire and his phenomenal ability to give new life to well-known villains. I’d say I was also inspired by Maggie Stiefvater and Laini Taylor for this book in particular, as their use of language is breathtaking and I put a lot of effort into using the language within the book itself to add another playful, whimsical element to the story.
Can we expect more from the ‘Heartless’ world, in the future?
Right now I’m quite content with ‘Heartless’ remaining a stand-alone novel. That said, my fingers are tightly crossed that it might someday be adapted for the big screen… or perhaps even a musical, which would positively make my life.
Are there any other projects you are currently working on?
Yes! I am in the midst of writing a new novel—a star-crossed lovers story involving teenage superheroes—that will be out in the states this fall. I’m also working with the artist to wrap up the sequel to ‘Wires’ and ‘Nerve’, my two-part graphic novel series set in the world of ‘The Lunar Chronicles’.
— Marissa Meyer (@marissa_meyer) February 24, 2017