Interview with Marissa Meyer

Posted by Goodreads on October 31, 2016
It's hard to overestimate the love that exists for Marissa Meyer's books. Fans have been devouring The Lunar Chronicles since the 2012 release of Cinder, part one of her ingenious tetralogy (and accompanying titles) in which popular fairy tales undergo a futuristic dystopian reimagining. (Cinder saw the downtrodden Cinderella as a cyborg mechanic who loses not a slipper on the palace steps but a foot.)

Now comes Heartless, Meyer's hotly anticipated new novel in which she turns from sci-fi-like fairy tales to Alice in Wonderland, offering a riveting prequel to the Lewis Carroll classic centered on the Queen of Hearts, aka Cath, "a fairly normal girl with a big dream" whose choices snowball into villainy.

No surprise, then, that when Goodreads emailed readers, asking them to submit questions for this Q&A, we received one of our biggest responses ever, with more than 1,000 replies. It was hard to whittle them down! Read on to discover all about Heartless, Meyer's literary heroes, why she writes in 53-minute bursts, and what the prolific author plans to tackle next.

Jacky: What inspired you to write Heartless?

Marissa Meyer: I absolutely love villain origin stories, especially when they take everything you think you know about a villain and completely turn it around, making it so the reader can understand, maybe even sympathize, with this character that once they may have despised.

Gregory Maguire's Wicked is, of course, a classic example of this, and he really gave the Wicked Witch of the West an entirely new identity, which is no small feat!
I loved the idea of taking on a similar challenge to create a new perception of the infamous Queen of Hearts. We learn so little about her character in Alice in Wonderland, and I felt there was so much potential to craft a backstory that would bring her to life in a brand-new way.

Kelly: How do you plan to create a sympathetic protagonist in Cath when the Queen of Hearts is generally the villain of the story?

MM: I really want readers to come away from reading Heartless feeling like it's understandable—even inevitable—that this character has become the Queen of Hearts we know from Lewis Carroll's work, furiously stampeding around and calling for someone's head after the slightest infraction. But I knew she wouldn't begin the story as a villain, so I wanted to craft a story about a fairly normal girl with a big dream, something that I hope readers will connect with right away.

However, because of the forces at work against her and the choices that Cath makes, she is gradually led down this path of love and heartbreak and magic and madness, until she has no choice but to emerge as this bloodthirsty queen. My hope is that readers will relate to Catherine and understand what led her to become this character we recognize from the classic.

Patricia: What did you like about writing Heartless? Was writing this novel as hard as writing Cinder? Is there anything that you particularly enjoy about Heartless?

MM: There are so many things I loved about writing Heartless, but probably my favorite was simply having the opportunity to craft my own version of Wonderland.

Lewis Carroll set very few rules for this world, so I entered it with an "anything goes" attitude. I wanted to grasp that same feeling of nonsense and silliness that we get from Alice while slipping in extra layers of darkness as well. It really gave me the chance to let my imagination run wild, which is something I was craving as a writer, especially after all the rules of technology and science and world-building I'd built into the universe of The Lunar Chronicles.

Overall, writing Heartless was definitely easier than writing Cinder. Not that it didn't have its own challenges—every book does!—but there was a lot more freedom with the world, and it's also a much simpler story.

With Cinder, I knew I was setting the groundwork for this four-book series involving multiple story lines and conflicts and protagonists, and it took a lot of time and planning in order to work in the necessary explanations and foreshadowing for all that was to come. Heartless, on the other hand, is one girl's story from beginning to end. It came together much easier for me.

Cristina: Has it been hard to part with the characters from The Lunar Chronicles? How has writing Heartless been different for you?

MM: I actually wrote Heartless in between writing Cress and Fairest, when I was feeling the need to step away from the epic sci-fi world for a while to give my imagination a break from epic wars and plagues and revolutions, so it made for the perfect mental break for me at that time and I think really reenergized me to go in and finish The Lunar Chronicles series and be able to pour my whole heart into it again.

It's weird to have finished Heartless so long ago, though, and to just now have it coming into the world—I had to go back and reread it to remember everything that happens, ha!

That said, parting with Cinder and the crew was very bittersweet. I cried when I finished Winter, thinking that this was good-bye and I would never again get to hang out with these characters who had become so dear to me after eight long years of working on the series. However, my imagination didn't put them to rest, and soon after finishing Winter I was writing the Stars Above collection, and now I have two Lunar Chronicles graphic novels coming out called Wires & Nerve, featuring the whole cast once again. So that's really helped to ease the pain of saying good-bye...

Or maybe it's only prolonging it!

Emma: Do you prefer writing about heroes (as in Cinder) or villains (as in Fairest or Heartless)?

MM: Oooh, tough question! The thing is, when I'm writing someone's story, they are always the hero.

Levana truly believed she was saving the country she loved. Cath, in Heartless, is doing her best to please everyone around her while also attempting to follow her own heart. Even the series I'm working on now, which is a take on superheroes, has a number of characters that walk the line between hero and villain, and it isn't always clear which is which.

I do really love that added challenge of writing villains, though, because you have to try to craft their motivations in a way that makes sense to the reader. Even if the reader doesn't agree with their choices, we should be able to understand why they're making them, and I enjoy the process of watching them evolve as choices are made and consequences realized.

Lynn Dell: The Lunar Chronicles can be categorized as science fiction and fantasy. What made you write Heartless without the sci-fi aspect?

MM: While The Lunar Chronicles are very much a retelling or reenvisioning of these classic fairy tales, from the start I wanted Heartless to feel like a natural prequel to Alice in Wonderland, which meant that I tried very hard not to put anything into this story that would directly contradict with something in Lewis Carroll's work.

Certainly I took my liberties, but overall I hope it will feel like a logical transition into the original story and the original Queen of Hearts. So—fantastical whimsy it was, with no science or technology to be seen!

Krista: I really enjoyed that there was a lot of diversity in the main cast of The Lunar Chronicles in the areas of race, social class/background, and general personality and outlook. I was curious if you had any plans to write any stories including queer/LGBT characters in the future.

MM: Yes, definitely. There is one queer character in Heartless, though their sexuality plays a rather small part in the overall plot. However, in the current trilogy I'm working on (the one about superheroes), there are a few LGBT characters and a romantic subplot. (I will also say that this is a question I'm being asked more and more these days, and I love how much readers are paying attention to this. It really shows how far the importance of diversity has come in the YA market, even from just four or five years ago.)

Caitlin: From Cinder to Heartless, where do you feel that your writing has gone and how do you think it will evolve from Heartless to your future works?

MM: Oh my. I like to think I'm getting better? But it's really difficult to step back and look objectively at your own work.

Certainly I don't think I could have written Winter as my first book—I needed the stepping-stones of The Lunar Chronicles to develop the ability of writing a book with so many points of view and parallel story lines. Heartless is a simpler story, plotwise, but I really pushed myself when it came to the language and attempted to write the book in a whimsical tone that used a lot of wordplay, just like Lewis Carroll did.

As for moving forward, I want to continue to try new things, whether it's working in new mediums (such as my first graphic novel that comes out in January, or maybe someday trying my hand at a screenplay) or new genres (I currently have ideas a-bubbling for a YA contemporary romance and a horror novel) and maybe even give nonfiction or picture books a try. Maybe all of the above! I have so many ideas and things I want to try.

That said, I absolutely love writing YA and see myself staying here for a long time. I want to continue to write books with lots of action, lots of romance, lots of comedy mixed in with plenty of darkness. I hope I'm able to entertain readers for a long, long time.

Claire: Who are some of your literary heroes?

MM: Well, Jane Austen is hard to beat. (I just learned recently that she wrote Pride and Prejudice when she was just 21 years old. How amazing is that?!) I am also, of course, a Harry Potter fan and really admire J.K. Rowling's talent with world-building and the way she created a fictional place that fans are still so desperate to be made real.

And I'll also mention Gene Luen Yang, whose stunning graphic novels were incredibly inspirational to me as I tried to figure out how to write one of my own.

Tiffany: What is the worst writing advice you've ever received? And do you have a writing ritual or "writing triggers" that help you get into the mind-set and set the mood for writing?

MM: Well, I really despise the suggestion that a writer should never use a thesaurus. (I think Stephen King was the writer who popularized this advice.) I love my thesaurus and probably pick it up a dozen times a day. Sometimes the right word just isn't coming and you need a little assistance, and there is nothing wrong with that!

As for my "ritual"—I've only gotten serious about giving myself a set schedule this past year, as I've tried to find a balance between writing and home life. (My husband and I have two-year-old twins, and that really threw me for a loop for a while!) So now I spend an hour or two in the morning at my treadmill desk (it's the best ever), answering emails and doing any necessary promotional tasks, such as answering these Goodreads questions.

Then I head out to my special writing studio that my amazing carpenter husband built for me. I light a candle and get a glass of water or a cup of tea and do a ten-minute meditation to switch over to writing brain.

Then I set the timer on my phone for 53 minutes because I read somewhere that 53 minutes is the optimal amount of time for the human brain to focus on one thing. Once the timer starts, I'm not allowed to do anything but write until the timer goes off, at which point I take a 15- or 20-minute break, then do it again.

I can usually get through three or four of these sessions in a workday, which during the first-draft stage nets me anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 words, more if I'm really inspired. (That said, I am a much slower reviser than drafter, so my progress slows way, way down once I'm past the drafting stage.)

Alex: A while ago you mentioned plans for the Gatlon series. With Heartless now in the picture, what is the plan for the series?

MM: Yes, the superhero series is well under way, with the first book to be released next fall. (Probably. I haven't turned it in yet, but it's getting closer!) I'm not sure how much I can tell about the series just yet, but it is set in a world in which superheroes are real and follows a group of teenagers who each have very different beliefs on what makes a hero. It is still intended to be a trilogy, and it will be more similar in tone to The Lunar Chronicles than Heartless, with lots of adventure and good-against-evil and exciting showdowns and the like.

At least, that's what I'm going for. Like I said, I'm still writing it, ha!

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Kristin (new)

Kristin  Aragon Great interview! I need to read the Cinder series. Also, Alice in Wonderland is my all time favorite I can't wait to see your twists.

message 2: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Aw, darn. I wish this interview could be in installments. I submitted four questions. I wish more people could have had one of their questions answered.

I am interested in this superhero series Marissa is planning. I hope there is a girl character who wears glasses, like me, and is a superhero. :)

message 3: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Goldman Awesome interview! Thank you so much for answering my question! :) And aww that's so sweet of your husband to build you a studio. :)

message 4: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin Mcnamee I just realized that my question got answered. Wow! That makes me happy.

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