An Interview with Gregory Maguire
Where do you get your ideas?
A writer tries not to steal ideas from other writers. However, it is the
nature of ideasI thinkthat they rarely appear full-blown, like the
visitation of an angel or a muse or a fairy godmother, but they grow in good
soil, like a pumpkin or a hollyhock.
I try to keep the soil of my mind moist and rich by feeding it with other
people's inventions (good books, movies, not so much with TV, except
occasionally The Simpsons), and with a steady variety of different experiences.
Trips to new places, meetings with friends old and new, times spent in memory. I
use a journal to help me remember and record what I see and feel.
The works of other artists, the effect of a busy and curious life, the active
exercise of my imagination and memory through a journalthese are the three
main sources of ideas. But dreams, wide and gusty dreams, are a big help, too.
What prompted you to write Wicked?
I was living in London in the early 1990's during the start of the Gulf War.
I was interested to see how my own blood temperature chilled at reading a
headline in the usually cautious British newspaper, the Times of London: Sadaam
Hussein: The New Hitler? I caught myself ready to have a fully-formed political
opinion about the Gulf War and the necessity of action against Sadaam Hussein on
the basis of how that headline made me feel. The use of the word Hitlerwhat a
word! What it evokes!
When a few months later several young schoolboys kidnapped and killed a
toddler, the British press paid much attention to the nature of the crime. I
became interested in the nature of evil, and whether one really could be born
bad. I considered briefly writing a novel about Hitler, but discarded the notion
due to my general discomfort with the reality of those times. But when I
realized that nobody had ever written about the second most evil character in
our collective American subconscious, the Wicked Witch of the West, I thought I
had experienced a small moment of inspiration.
Have you had any experience with adaptations of your novels?
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister has been filmed as an ABC TV program for
the Sunday evening Wonderful World of Disney. It is a serious two-hour drama,
suitable for all ages. It stars Stockard Channing and Jonathan Pryce, and
features as the stepsisters Azura Skye and Emma Poole. I went to Luxembourg to
loiter on the set and watch the professionals do their worka whole different
kind of magic from writing.
For information on how I approached the business of watching Wicked be
transformed into a Broadway play, read the liner notes of the original cast
recording. I will add, though, that the play required a more streamlined plotand
a plot more suitable for general audiencesand therefore I observed the story
change in ways I hadn't anticipated. Though not wholly delighted with some of
the plot variations, nor am I dismayed. I understand that the translation from
medium to medium requires modification, patience, and good spirits. Besides,
haven't I made my own story by modifying earlier material, deeply beloved and
staunchly supported by Oz purists (who called me heretical at first) and Judy
Garland devotees? Art requires daring and sacrifice, and I was happy to let the
professional dramaturges do their work. And, for the record: I love the show.
What places do you love best in the world?
The heart of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York is Blue Mountain
Lake. It is isolated, beautiful, and serves as the setting for an arts colony
called Blue Mountain Center, to which I have gone many times over the past
I feel myself at home in London, where I lived for five years, and in Greece,
where my family on the maternal side originates. I don't speak much Greek, and I
don't get there often, but I feel fully at home when the Olympic Airways jet
touches down at the Athens International Airport.
Places that have literary associations can't help but thrill methe Lake
District in England, and Lucy Boston's Manor House at Hemingford Grey,
Cambridgeshire; the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis in Crete; the Emily Dickinson
homestead in Amherst. I love Frederic Church's home, Olana, outside of Hudson,
New York, as well as certain lively streets in Manhattan.
I love home best. Home, these days, is Massachusetts.
What is your daily writing process?
While I do some nonprofit work in literature education, and speak at schools
as a visiting author, most days I try to write at home. This involves packing
the kids off to their preschools, whirling about the house in a tornado of
activity, doing beds, dishes, laundry, and general domestic rehabilitation. When
that is doneit usually takes an hourI get several hours at my desk. The
writing occurs on the computer or by hand in a notebook; sometimes, to get
myself started, I go out for a walk or a cup of coffee at a local café first.
When I have writer's blockwhich isn't oftena walk usually helps get
things moving again, even if I don't feel that I'm thinking about anything
pertinent while I walk. The reading of good poetry also helps that part of the
mind that uses language to limber up, relax a bitit's akin to shaking your
sillies out, in the terms of that children's song. Working the kinks out,
breaking your own bad habits of easy thinking.
What do you hate most about writing?
And writer's cramp.
Who represents you (and how can I contact them)?
My literary agent is:
John Hawkins and Associates
71 West 23rd St.
1600/NY, NY 10010
My Hollywood agent is:
Paul Kohner Inc.
9300 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 555
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
My publicist is:
10 East 53rd Street
NY, NY 10022