Welcome to Ask 5 Answer 5, where I ask 5 questions of a writer I would love to have a conversation with. In return, they ask me 5 questions and we mash it all up here for your reading pleasure.
My inaugural guest is author Gregory Maguire, perhaps best known for Wicked.
First off. I am always curious as to how writers prepare themselves to write. What do you do to help settle yourself down to writing? For instance, I like to dust with a feather duster.
Well I do three things to settle down and write. I walk. I read poetry (the more incomprehensible the better—Wallace Stevens does wonders for my mental constipation). And I ask myself questions before I go to bed, I mean questions about the work at hand. So often I find when I wake up my subconscious has been busy all night working out useful answers, like the Elves who made shoes for the
Your latest novel, After Alice, while re-visiting much of the world of Victorian London and Lewis Carroll’s original work, is not intended for children. What did you discover about Wonderland that inspired you to write for adult readers?
I had always known Wonderland was anarchic and unreliable; I had not realized until I was grownup that it was yet another iteration of Hell. The punishments milder, of course—no burning flames, no remorse—but the endless circling and transmutations with no possibility escape of escape: oh! Bergman’s Seventh Seal: there’s a chess game played with Death, no? And my joke of the season is “Kafka for Kindergartners.” I think Kafka’s The Trial seriously owes something to the nonsense of Lewis Carroll. (And perhaps he owes something to the dread labyrinths of the law portrayed by Dickens in Bleak House.) .
When do you show what you are writing to other ‘privileged’ eyes? How far in? For instance, rough first draft? And who is your preferred ‘first reader’?
I wait until I have a draft that could go into print as a “as found” edition in case I stepped on the third rail of a subway line when trying to retrieve my dropped MetroRail pass. It’s usually third or fourth draft. My first reader is my husband, Andy Newman, who gets the mss. with a strict set of instructions: note factual errors, grammatical errors, places where you didn’t understand the prose or what was going on, sentences that seemed unclear or clumsy. But in no instance comment on the validity of the ambition or even on its execution. I have to live and die on my own sense of that as it is.
You have said that Wonderland as written by Lewis Carroll gave you your first experience of Dadaism. Do you have a particular piece of Wonderland art from any era/medium that captures your mind’s eye vision best?
Oh, my, do you know the edition of Alice with art by Lassen Ghiuselev? Though interspersed with line drawings in conte crayon, its main pages are all drawn from a single painting done on a panel of twenty by forty inches, as I understand it. The painting shows episodes and characters from the entire book. Greatly influenced by Escher, and done in tones of rose and burnt sienna. I took this fine book out and had it on my viewing stand for months last year, and only recently put it away. Looking through it now, I think perhaps the sketch of the Dodo and the Mouse on p. 20—in which the Mouse is wearing a cap—perhaps inspired my cap-headed mouse that Ada finds in her own long drop down the rabbit hole.
Wonderland, Neverland or Disneyland? Where would you prefer to spend the night? Alone. And why?
Oh, my, none of them would be be very restful, would they? Neverland has all those ticking clocks and crocodiles and pirates and such creeping about. Disneyland—who could sleep? Fireworks every hour on the hour! So I suppose my answer about be Wonderland, but only provisionally: only if I could spend the night in the home of the Duchess and the Cook and the baby who turns into a pig. As the pig has run off, it won’t be crying all night, and though I imagine the Duchess will snore, at least any establishment that can boast a Cook probably has a guest bedroom, and maybe
far enough away that the smell of pepper from the cooking exercises will have dissipated some.
Gregory is asking the questions and I am answering. Questions posed often reveal as
much or more than answers given.
So, what’s Gregory curious about?
I am a novice in the great fields of Wonderland, but you have been an emigrant to that foreign landscape for some time now. Lewis Carroll’s dreamscape is perhaps the most recognizable literary landscape in history. Can you tell me what gave you the initial fortitude even to apply for a passport? Or, in other words, were you pushed or did you jump?
I cannot take credit for any sort of fortitude when the fact of the matter is I was pushed to the edge of credibility and forced to jump! My temerity was inspired by an afternoon spent inside the British Museum over 15 years ago where I came across a strange deck of cards that seemed to be telling a story. The images summoned a place that as a boy I was far from enamored of, Wonderland. The deck was incomplete. Driven by some persistent muse I tracked the remaining cards to a London antiquities dealer who revealed another story of Wonderland, a story of an exiled Princess Alyss finding her way to London where she met a young author. Bolstered and emboldened, I began writing the Looking Glass Wars.
Do you, as I do, dream in narrative? Do you remember your dreams at all? Some people only dream in images, others in emotional states—or all they can remember is nearly beyond words. “It was so—and then there was this—and I was so—oh, I can’t put it into words!” I have a theory that born storytellers dream in plots, or at least scraps of plots. Or maybe all I really mean is we all do that, and born storytellers are better at remembering them.
I do remember my dreams. In fact, they are often the most interesting events of my ‘day’. The narratives are generally a mash up – seemingly disconnected episodes – quite mad at times – much like being in Wonderland. But as the night continues the episodes find connections and the narrative continues picking up people/events/places where they had stopped earlier. I find that if I remember the most vivid image of the dream – and I often make an almost lucid attempt to do this – then the next day when I am trying to remember the rest of the dream, it unfolds, as though cued. Usually if I can wake up enough to write my dreams down I only need write one word, and that word will trigger a cascade of dreaming. Quite efficient!
It takes a great hubris—or a great modesty and sense of admiration at the feet of a master—to dare to trespass into someone else’s created world. Of course, Shakespeare and Milton and Homer did it. (To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “The Odyssey was written by Homer, or someone else of the same name.”) Is it possible to suppose that some portion of your own inventions is tribute and what is challenge to the status quo of genius? If so, does that cause you sleepless nights?
Many things cause me sleepless nights but I cannot include my relationship with Lewis Carroll. His genius, the certifiable existence of it, actually comforts me in a world where so little exists. My initial underlying effort in writing LGW was to examine how and why ‘Wonderland’ has remained such a powerful icon of creativity for so many generations. My hubris in meddling with Carroll’s inspired accomplishment was to investigate Wonderland as the source of ALL Imagination. And at the center of Wonderland, I ‘found’ the Heart Crystal, emanating the creative energy that is sent to our world as a gift to artists, children, dreamers, and all those who remain open to the possibility of ‘wonder’. I wove adventures around this centerpiece as a way for readers to believe they too can access what Lewis Carroll accessed, Wonderland’s great gift of Imagination.
Leaving Alice aside, who really is your favorite character from the two famous books? Or maybe I don’t even need to begin with that condition—maybe little Alice never was your favorite.
Well my favorite character from both books, if I may bend the definition of character, is Wonderland. Other realms, other worlds, whether inside, above, below or encircling this world fascinate me. The crack in consensus reality is my favorite place to wander.
If Lewis Carroll were writing today, he might still be able to use a mirror to get Alice into the world of her dreams, but he might not use a rabbit-hole for a portal. How do you think he might arrange transport in this day and age?
A: FB Excellent question to ponder! Lewis Carroll’s choice of transport in this age to Wonderland. Hmmm. I chose puddles where no puddles should be as the most direct route, but what would Lewis choose? What might he invent to assist a small girl in believing she can travel from this world to another. I imagine he would have her watch the sun through half closed eyes, examining the sunbeams that fall to earth, until she spots the one that has been sent for her. She must then point a decisive finger towards her beam to claim it. And at that moment it will begin to lift her skyward, sending her towards the stars and not down, down, down into the mad anarchy of Wonderland. Maybe something like that. But, of course, better!
Thank you Gregory Maguire for this mind merging conversation!
About Gregory Maguire
Time for another trip down the rabbit hole! Gregory takes you on his unique exploration of Wonderland in After Alice. In stores now.
Read all the latest news and information about Gregory at gregorymaguire.com.
Also find him on Facebook!
About Frank Beddor
For more adventures in Wonderland discover the prequel AND the sequel to the New York Times best-selling Looking Glass Wars trilogy. Frank’s new prose novel, Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the Hatbox, and graphic novel, Looking Glass Wars: Crossfire, available now wherever books are sold.