Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Modern-Day Story Weaver: Interview with Marissa Meyer



It’s a mathematical truth, that while you can only connect to points with one line, you can pass an indefinite amount of lines through a single one. Similarly, there are a thousand ways you could look at an issue, but only one if you stand at a certain point.

My post from a few weeks back on morals and values in YA only looks at things from a certain perspective, so today, we have the pleasure of welcoming up and coming YA author, Marissa Meyer, to talk a little about fairy tales and how they translate into our modern day world. Marissa’s debut novel, CINDER, is due for release in spring 2012, and I for one will definitely be on the line to get my hands on a copy. So without further ado…

Well, first of all, welcome, Marissa! Ok, so *goes into journalist mode* I know this is cheesy, but let's go through the basics. Tell us a little about yourself and about Cinder.

Thanks, Kate, I’m so excited to be on the Book Lantern! CINDER is my debut novel—it’s a futuristic retelling of Cinderella. It follows Cinder, a 16-year-old mechanic who happens to be a cyborg (half girl, half machine), whose life is turned upside-down when she’s hired by the Crown Prince to fix an android that may or may not have Very Important Information. Soon, she’s caught in the middle of a long-standing political feud that’s tipping dangerously close to a full-on war. CINDER is set to release in early 2012 and is the first in a four-book series that will bring together other fairy-tale-based heroines (Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White) as they try to save the world and find their happily ever afters.

Is there any particular reason why you write in this genre?

I’ve always loved YA fiction. I’m drawn to the passion associated with first loves and the strength of loyalties we form in our teen years. Mostly, I love the optimism that surrounds young adult fiction—the idea that even the weakest, lowliest, most unexpected person can become a hero and change the world. I think we sometimes forget that as we get older.

How do you feel fairy tales relate to us in 2011?

As is evidenced by Hollywood’s current obsession with them, fairy tales never really go out of style. The same stories have been told for hundreds of years and yet we continue to find new and exciting ways to tell them. I took a fairy tale literature class a few years ago and we talked a lot about the symbolism behind fairy tales and how it relates to our psyche (Sleeping Beauty as a metaphor for sexual maturation, Little Red Riding Hood as a metaphor for rape and male dominance, etc., pretty deep stuff). All of these cultural and societal issues are just as relevant now as they were when the Grimm Brothers first recorded the tales two hundred years ago. We may change the characters, setting, time, even the outcome of the stories, but at their heart, fairy tales remain literary glimpses into our natural concerns, fears, desires, and dreams.

That—and they still combine magic, gore, and happy endings. Who doesn’t love that?

What are your influences? Tell us about one of your favorite books. What is it about, and what are your experiences with it?

I’ve been influenced by all the great writers who have kept fairy tale retellings going strong over the years and shown that there will always be new ways to twist the archetypes—Gregory Maguire, Shannon Hale, and Gail Carson Levine are some of my favorites. Also, George Lucas and Joss Whedon for proving that good science fiction is timeless!

Asking me to choose one favorite book is such a cruel question. I’m going to go way, way back and say Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. It’s a picture book about this boy (Harold) who uses a purple crayon to draw an adventure for himself. Something about this book really triggered my imagination when I was a kid and I fell in love with the idea of being able to create my own stories. I’m sure this book is partially responsible for my overactive imagination.

In which aspects do you think fiction reflects life? How do you feel your personal worldviews affect your writing?

No matter how off-the-wall or fantastical a story is, fiction continues to deal with those things that are most important to us: fitting in, finding love and friendship, growing up, discovering purpose in our life, facing our fears, striving to achieve our dreams… These are things that every person can relate to. It’s just that in fiction, we get to experience them in much more intense and exciting ways than most of us will ever get to in real life (which is usually a good thing).

As to my personal worldviews, I actually think my writing is affected more by what I wish the world was like than what I believe it’s actually like: that everything happens for a reason, that good will be rewarded and evil will be punished, that courage and strength will come to us when we most need it.

Do you think Young Adult books are examined more closely for their underlying messages because of the intended audience?

I don’t think any genre is immune to such scrutiny, but there’s definitely a lot of discussion on the messages in YA books and whether or not authors should be concerned with sending the “right” messages, especially as our books grow darker and deal with more mature themes. Personally, I feel like my job as a writer is to entertain, not teach, and I sometimes feel like critics spend so much time examining a book for moral flaws and/or didacticism that they forget to ask whether or not it’s a good story. If a young reader comes away from my book feeling empowered or motivated to make good decisions or like they’ve learned something about themselves—awesome. But I’m much more concerned with whether or not they had fun reading it.

What makes a universal story?

Great question, as the rags-to-riches theme in Cinderella is probably the most universal story there is! Like I mentioned earlier, great fiction often deals with our deepest human fears and desires, and these are things that cross every culture and time period. Love, friendship, belonging, the fear of the unknown, prejudice, justice—these are things that we’ve all experienced in one way or another. A universal story not only embodies these human experiences, it also gives them the resolution that we don’t always get in real life—the prince gets the princess, the evil stepsisters cut off their toes and get their eyes pecked out, all is well with the world.

"You know, it's a truism that writers for children must still be children themselves, deep down, must feel childish feelings, and a child's surprise at the world." - A. S. Byatt. What do you think?

What a great quote! I definitely think there is truth to this. How can you write about magic if you don’t find yourself still trying to use the Force? How can you write about first love if you don’t remember how all-encompassing and passionate first love really is? How can your hero change the world if you’re convinced the world can’t be changed? I don’t think it’s about suspending disbelief—I think it’s about truly believing that crazy, wonderful things are possible in this world, the way we did when we were kids.

Thank you, Marissa, for your time and all your wonderful answers! I’ll be hoping we hear more of you soon!

Marissa Meyer's debut novel, CINDER, is set to release in early 2012. You can read her blog at http://marissameyer.livejournal.com or follow her on twitter at @marissa_meyer.

8 comments:

  1. I'm so happy you interviewed Marissa Meyer, Katya! I'd been very curious about her thoughts and opinions about various things after hearing about CINDER and adding it to my to-read list. (Also, I have to admit to *cough* stalking *cough* her blog and being very intrigued by some of her posts. She seems very down to earth, both from her blog and your interview.) Great interview!

    And I also definitely can't wait to get my hands on CINDER myself! :)

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  2. I know. I really love her posts. I've been following her blog from before she got an agent, and I have to say, I'm so excited about CINDER that I'm half hoping a galley will appear on NetGalley so that I can get my hands on it earlier... though that means I'll have to wait longer for SCARLET.

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  3. This interview was great and CINDER sounds so good. Hollywood is going through this obsession with fairy tale reimaginings. There's three in the upcoming future focused on solely Snow White. Then again Hollywood has always been obsessed with reimaginings and remakes. Unfortunately they lack originality which I can see will be found in spades in this book. Congratulations, Ms Meyer!

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  4. What an epic interview, I must say. I cannot WAIT until Cinder is out, although I'm scared that Australia hasn't bought the rights to it yet. WHAT WILL I HAVE TO RESORT TO? AMAZON? THEY'LL DAMAGE IT! *eye twitches* But no, great interview and great thoughts from a great upcoming authoress :D

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  5. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm, Jillian! I really hope you'll enjoy Cinder when it comes out. (Also, while I have nothing against stalking, I hope you'll say hello on the blog some time too! ^_^)

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  6. Thank you so much, Ursula! I really hope you'll enjoy Cinder when it comes out. I'm pretty excited for all the upcoming fairy-tale movies and I hope we see some great twists on the original stories (I heard one of the Snow Whites involves samurai instead of dwarfs? Awesome!). But you're right, Hollywood isn't always known for their creative thinking. I guess we'll see!

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  7. Thank you so much, SailorEm! Don't give up on Australia yet!

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  8. LOVE the following quote:

    "Personally, I feel like my job as a writer is to entertain, not teach, and I sometimes feel like critics spend so much time examining a book for moral flaws and/or didacticism that they forget to ask whether or not it’s a good story. If a young reader comes away from my book feeling empowered or motivated to make good decisions or like they’ve learned something about themselves—awesome. But I’m much more concerned with whether or not they had fun reading it."

    Yes, yes, YES!!! This is exactly the way I feel, but I never could have said it so well. Some of the criticism toward YA fiction is warranted, but I feel a lot of it goes overboard. I feel like high school and college lit classes, which emphasize reading between the lines to the point of absurdity, have created an army of readers who have lost sight of the true essence of story, which is simply the recounting of events. Yes--there are other important elements (plot, characters, etc.) but not every story needs to be an epic cautionary tale rife with symbolism and meaning. At the end of the day, stories in this context have one purpose: to entertain. So as long as somebody somewhere is enjoying it, I don't really feel like a story can be labeled as a failure.

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