Author Interviews

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Gregory Maguire Interview

Posted by Michelle on April 3, 2008

Gregory Maguire is the author of a range of books for adults and children. His novel Wicked has been transformed into a hit West End musical.

Q. For those who may not have heard of you, can you briefly tell us a little about your books. How would you describe them?

A. Some people say my books are retellings, and I think that makes me sound like a translator. What I do admit to, with great pleasure, is reintroducing people to familiar stories, often from childhood, with new information, a new spin, to show them that the old familiar characters are still full of juice and sass, the old situations still valid and even shocking.Q. I would imagine that you’re now best known for Wicked. How did it feel, seeing it as a stage musical?

A. One of my first vocational hopes was to work in the theatre. When I was in grade school I wrote and produced plays that were put on for audiences in the school. I had no adult supervision but lots of adult approval, and early hopes for me were that I would go into the theatre. (Probably the hopes were that I would go away into the theatre, or into prison, or into the seminary…) So for WICKED to hit the boards as a big important musical was a kind of childhood dream come true, even if my original vision of the story was fiction (and at its heart my conception of the truest WICKED remains as a novel, not the lovely and fun play it has become).

Q. How about your other books, are there others that you would like to see either on the stage, or on the big screen?

A. There was some interest recently in putting CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER into an opera. I would enjoy that hugely! Indeed, once I thought it might be a musical and I began to write lyrics for it out of a benighted sense of privilege. CONFESSIONS was filmed by ABC TV for a movie, starring Stockard Channing and Jonathan Pryce, and I enjoyed that experience hugely, too.

Q. What first triggered you to start writing, and what age were you? Were those early writings published?

A. I came from a lower middle class family that was governed by strict and uncompromising parents. My dad wrote for the newspapers, and my stepmother, who raised me, was a poet. By example they showed an enthusiasm for and interest in the worth of good writing, and of reading as an entertainment, and so I wrote from childhood. My first novel for children was published in the US in 1978 and in the UK (by Chatto and Windus) in 1979.

Q. Where else do you think your life may have taken you if you hadn’t become a successful author?

A. Since part of my family is Greek, I had high hopes of running what in the States we would call a greasy Greek diner. I also had aspirations toward being an architect until I learned how much math one needed to master. I was very aware from earliest days that I wanted to be self-employed and in one or another branch of the arts, either as a painter or a musician, an actor or a novelist. The only branch of arts that seemed beyond me was dance, as I have the legs of a turtle.

Q. You’ve also written a number of children’s books.. could you tell us a little about them?

A. I began my career publishing books for children, and from 1978 until WICKED was published in 1995 I had published a dozen novels and picture books. None of them had made much of a splash. In recent years I have done a series of comic novels with titles like SEVEN SPIDERS SPINNING, SIX HAUNTED HAIRDOS, FIVE ALIEN ELVES, FOUR STUPID CUPIDS, etc. But I am proudest of a children’s book called WHAT-THE-DICKENS: THE STORY OF A ROGUE TOOTH FAIRY. It marries my affection and high regard for children with the themes and elements I have brought to my adult novels. It will be published in the United Kingdom sometime soon, I’m told.

Q. Which do you enjoy writing more, books for adults, or for children?

A. Writing for children is harder. Children are so bestial and impatient. With an adult audience I can linger lovingly over a description or a rumination, and know that if one reader doesn’t care for it, he or she will hang on until the next exciting bit, usually. A child reader has no such resources and no politeness to speak of, and will happily chuck the offending volume at my noggin and go outdoors and play instead. That makes me very skittish about writing for kids, and in some ways I think makes me try harder.

Q. Out of all your books, do you have any favourites, or have you enjoyed them all?

A. In that the commercial success of WICKED has given me the funds with which I could feel comfortable enough to adopt my own three children, WICKED has to be my favourite. But my newest books are the ones closest to bloom, so the sweetest in my senses. WHAT-THE-DICKENS, mentioned above, and this autumn’s A LION AMONG MEN. That said, readers have very much enjoyed CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER and I think next to WICKED it is the book most often cited by readers in autograph lines as their favourite. It is my second-to-WICKED bestseller, too.

Q. Do you enjoy reading yourself? Who are some of your favourite books or authors?

A. I’d be avoiding the obvious if I didn’t say I had been mesmerized by Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy. Interestingly I have most often enjoyed reading English novelists—not always contemporary. Among my favourite books of all time are MISTRESS MASHAM’S REPOSE and THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T. H. White; QUEEN OF THE TAMBOURINE by Jane Gardam; UNLEAVING by Jill Paton Walsh; THE TOWERS OF TREBIZOND by Rose Macaulay; and THE REALMS OF GOLD by Margaret Drabble. I admire Amis and McKeon and that lot, but here are some recent favourites among American writers: Stona Fitch’s SENSELESS, Ron Hansen’s MARIETTE IN ECSTACY and HITLER’S NIECE, and Jess Walter’s CITIZEN VINCE. I also found Christopher Moore’s farcical LAMB oddly moving as well as a comic maelstrom of a novel.

Q. What are you promoting at the moment, and can you tell us anything about what is coming next?

A. I mention above A LION AMONG MEN, which is the third volume in the proposed quartet to be known as THE WICKED YEARS. The first three books are WICKED, SON OF A WITCH, and A LION AMONG MEN. I have just begun to sketch out ideas for the fourth and final volume.

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One Response to “Gregory Maguire Interview”

  1. draabe said

    Thanks for an interesting interview. I really enjoyed reading Wicked, as well as a few other Maguire books.

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