PW: You are best known for Wicked, your first adult novel (1995), which used themes from The Wizard of Oz. What were you doing before that book?
Gregory Maguire: My first book was 25 years ago, for children, a sensibly forgotten novel called The Lightning Time. The publisher said, "This protagonist is 12 years old. I'm sending you down to the juvenile department." They were right. I published children's books for 16 or 17 years. They were novels, what are known in the trade as chapter books.
PW: What brought Wicked about?
GM: In the early '90s, I was living in England. I wanted to write an adult novel, about an evil character, and my initial impulse was to write about Hitler, but I did not feel competent enough to take on such a big subject. I thought, who else is really bad? The next person who floated up was the Wicked Witch of the West. If to each person in life comes one moment of brainstorming genius, I just had mine, because everyone knows who she is. I wrote Wicked in five months.
PW: Was Wicked intended as an Oz book?
GM: I didn't care whether people who loved Oz would admire it, not that I wanted to trash Oz, but after Wicked was in paperback, I started getting letters from children, kids of 12 or 13. My two-year-old is like the witch, pretty monstrous at times, but she will be cultivated into glorious humanity. Before her, I don't think I could have written about the relationship of a girl and her father.
PW: Your latest, Mirror Mirror , which takes off on the story of Snow White, is the only one of your four adult books with a happy ending. Why?
GM: Because I identify closely with the father grieving for his lost girl and the girl grieving for her father. The dwarfs of Mirror Mirror have a connection in a way with the Munchkins of Wicked. I did not want them to be comic buffoons. I had to make them almost a new species.
PW: Your dwarfs seem to be boulders, imbued with life by Bianca, your Snow White.
GM: That's right. One of the underlying motifs in the book is evolution, the evolution of history, the evolution of a child into an adult and then the evolution of these creatures who are going to have to take on human characteristics if they ever want to be sensate.
PW:Mirror Mirror and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister are directly related to the framework of classic fairy tales, ingeniously relocated with historical references, whereas Wicked and Lost are more free-standing.
GM: That's how I intended them. I don't want ever to be a slave to my success, if you know what I mean. I don't want to write "Rapunzel in Duluth" just because Mirror Mirror is in Tuscany.
PW: The Venice finale in Mirror Mirror with Lucrezia Borgia, Bianca's evil witch, was dazzling. Could a Venice book be in the future for you?
GM: How did you guess that? Just today I was writing a little piece and I was thinking of Venice, too.
PW: You have organized a group, Children's Literature New England. What is it about?
GM: We explore children's books for craft, art and significance. This summer is the 17th annual conference. We believe children educated in the arts are more likely to be good citizens and have more resources in time of trial. We [invite] people like Maurice Sendak and Ursula Le Guin [to speak].
PW: Do you have another children's classic ready to transpose yet, like Ugly Stepsister in Holland, Mirror Mirror in Italy?
GM: I've decided to take the summer off because there's been so much promotional work for Mirror Mirror and for the musical play of Wicked.
PW: Is there a date for the New York opening?
GM: Yes, the opening is October 30. Although I did not write any of the dialogue, I have seen it and could sit back smiling happily.