'Lunar Chronicles' Writer Marissa Meyer on New Book, 'Heartless'

The best-selling author talked with a 14-year-old fan about her 'Alice in Wonderland' Queen of Hearts prequel, her literary influences and the possibility of 'Cinder' coming to the small screen.
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Marissa Meyer, the author of the best-selling Lunar Chronicles series, has a new book, Heartless, out Nov. 8. It's a prequel to Lewis Carroll's Alice and Wonderland, telling the untold story of how the Queen of Hearts evolved from a normal teenage girl comes who falls in love, to the bloodthirsty queen who delights in yelling, “off with their heads!” Meyer’s first series, The Lunar Chronicles, spun classic fairy tales into a futuristic world of cyborgs and androids. Meyer talked about the turning the Queen of Hearts from a villain into a sympathetic character, what she would change in the Lunar Chronicles, how it might become a TV show now and the special writing cottage her husband built for her.

Since we've never known the Queen of Hearts as anything but a villain, how did you come up with Catherine's personality? 
I had to discover her as I was writing the book. She grew over the course of writing multiple drafts. I knew from the start that I wanted her to be a character that was likable and easy for readers to connect with. But also knowing who she was destined to become, I wanted her to have just a little bit of a darker edge to her. I started playing with what sort of girl would be the daughter of a Marquess, growing up in this very peculiar world.

You manage to blend Lewis Carroll's ideas with your own. How did you decide which aspects you wanted to change and what you wanted to keep?
The first thing I did was I went through and read Alice in Wonderland. I made notes to myself about things in Lewis Carroll's work that are referred to as something that happened in the past. We're not really given much information about the world of Wonderland prior to Alice coming to it, but every now and then, there's a little hint. I tried to find things that I could incorporate into the fabric of my story, so that it's not just the tale of the Queen of Hearts, it's the tale of Wonderland. It was almost like having a whole bunch of puzzle pieces that I needed to start fitting together and trying to make a story out of.

I really liked the addition of new characters like Jest and Raven to Wonderland. How did you come up with these ideas?
Raven was very much inspired by the raven from Edgar Allan Poe's work. Lewis Carroll himself took a lot of references from various literature, so I felt like I could do so as well in my own book. Jest is inspired by court jesters, and the Joker card, which is the most useless card in a deck of playing cards, but is always there. I put those things together to come up with someone who was magical and the kind of guy you can't take your eyes off of.

The Lunar Chronicles had pretty happy endings for all the main characters, so was it hard to write this book and develop this character knowing that she inevitably had to become a villain?
Knowing her ultimate fate actually made things easier because I knew who she was going to become, and where the story was headed from the beginning. One of the challenges was definitely making sure that she is a character that readers are going to like and feel like she is the sort of girl they could be friends with in real life. But, at the same time, making it believable that she would go from this fairly normal, happy girl, to becoming this incredibly livid, angry woman that we know from the book.

Heartless is a stand-alone novel. Do you ever think you're going to develop it further, whether that's turning it into a series or writing a novella?
I don't think so. As I was writing Heartless, I was constantly trying to think of different spinoff stories and different characters that I might want to tell their stories as well at some point. Nothing ever really felt right, and nothing ever really grabbed my imagination.

In both Heartless and Fairest, which spun off from Cinder, you wrote the backstories of villains. Do think you're ever going to do something like that again?
I don't have any plans right now for additional villain stories, but I do love them. I think that if I have a great idea, then I would certainly pursue it. One idea that is by no means guaranteed to happen is the tale of Bluebeard. I think it would be really fun to adapt for the young-adult market, whether that would be with Bluebeard as the main character, or like it is in the fairytale with the girl as the main character. I love that story and love that villain, so it's one that I think about a lot.

Were you surprised when Cinder became such a big hit?
Yes, I'm still surprised. It never feels real. Even today, when people talk about The Lunar Chronicles or compliment them, it has that weird surreal feeling. I feel like they're talking about somebody else's book and somebody else's character. It's really difficult for me to put the two together, like, "Oh, I wrote that." It still feels really weird. But very cool.

If you had to do it over again, would you change anything in the Lunar Chronicles?
Lately in the young-adult genre and marketplace, there's been so much talk about diversity, which I think is very important. I'm happy with the amount of diversity as far as various ethnicities and backgrounds that I was able to include in the book. But there's very little same-sex couples or diversity of sexuality. I think that if I were to go back and start writing the series again, I would have tried to incorporate some of that.

You sold the movie rights to Cinder. Is there any update on that?
The movie rights to the series sold, and that feels like ages ago. It was sold with the intention of being a feature film. But currently, they've started playing with the idea of possibly doing it in another medium, which could be a TV show. It could be a miniseries; I’m not sure all of what they're considering. I'm waiting to hear if they're going to move forward with it. My fingers are crossed because I really want something to happen.

It's clear that you're really influenced by classic fantasy stories such as Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. When were you first interested in these classics?
I don't remember ever not being interested. Like everyone in our generation, I grew up with Disney movies. I was maybe 5 when I saw Disney's The Little Mermaid. I loved it, of course. Not long after that, my grandma gave me a little book of fairy tales. In that book was the original story of The Little Mermaid, which is nothing like the Disney version. I was devastated, but then it made me really curious. Even from that young age, I became really interested in fairy tales, and started reading the old Grimm stories.

Were you ever interested in another genre besides fantasy or sci-fi?
Oh, yes. I love reading in multiple genres and I hope to explore multiple genres in my writing. Fantasy has always been a big one for me. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series was my first introduction to the world of high fantasy. That immediately sparked my imagination and got me curious about all the possibilities in this genre. Beyond that, I love reading historical fiction, as well as contemporary romances, horrors, thrillers and all sorts of genres. I certainly have a fair amount of ideas for things beyond the re-telling genre, so we will see where it takes me.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
Definitely J.K. Rowling, of course. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, as is everybody. But looking at contemporary YA writers, I love Leigh Bardugo. I really admire Robin LaFevers as well. Marie Rutkoski is brilliant. There's so many, and thinking back to my childhood, Roald Dahl was hugely influential to me, with the way that he just could so perfectly get into the heads of children and create these wonderful fantasies for them. Gail Carson Levine was a really big influence for specifically writing fairy tale re-tellings. There's so many, I could go on and on.

What advice do you have for young writers?
For young aspiring writers, I think it's really important to not become concerned with getting published too soon. It can be really heartbreaking if you start trying to get published before you're truly ready. If you can put off that attempting to get published in order to build a foundation of writing things that you love and developing your voice, you ultimately save yourself lot of heartache. Enjoy that beginning where you're just falling in love with writing.

Where do you write during the day?
Well, I am very spoiled. My husband is a wonderful carpenter and he built me my own private writing studio out in our backyard. It's an adorable little fairytale cottage-esque building with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a crystal chandelier. It's kind of my own little dream space.

What are you working on now?
I have two graphic novels. My first, out in January, is set in the world of The Lunar Chronicles and is called Wires and Nerves. I'm also working on a new trilogy. The first one will be out next fall, and it’s about teenage superheroes.

Ellie Purinton, a 14-year-old YA super fan (and book editor Andy Lewis' niece), interviewed Lunar Chronicles writer Marissa Meyer for THR. 

 

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