Interview with Gregory Maguire

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Gregory Maguire is an American author who is best known for his critically acclaimed novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which was made into the hit Broadway production of the same name. Maguire has also written Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and many other novels for adults and children.

Howl: When you first started writing did you imagine one of your books would become a Broadway musical?

Maguire: No. I didn’t even imagine I would ever be published. Of course I started writing when I was about 5. I just wrote for my own fun, much as I write now.

Howl: What advice do you have to give to aspiring authors?

Maguire: I try still to read EVERYTHING I can, including and esp. books I think I won’t like and on topics that don’t initially interest me. Science and math are the hardest for me. It keeps stretching the mind.

Howl: Has traveling influenced any of your works? If so, where and why?

Maguire: Living in London for five years made me long for the US while I was writing WICKED, and made me also able more confidently to give my Oz a slightly more Anglo-spin. I think Americans love the British Isles precisely for the same reasons we love Oz: it is familiar-foreign in an acceptable proportion. We love and notice the differences, we are not so out of our depth (as we might be say on a South Sea atoll or in a Hutu village) that we don’t know how to register what we are seeing.

Howl: What kind of books are you drawn to as a reader?

Maguire: Recently I am reading a lot of history to give me ballast and confidence for two different works, one that takes place in Russia in about 1906 and the other in Oxford, England, in about 1865.

Howl: What inspires you as a writer?

Maguire: The sense of mystery that an evocative landscape provides (mist on a big lake in June that cloaks the sight of camps on the far shore, making it feel not like upstate NY but the highlands of Burma… oh, divine!).

Howl: What obstacles did you face when trying to become a writer? 

Maguire: I was lucky to face few obstacles. My parents both loved words, writing, and reading, and so all their children took after them. My father was a journalist and the idea of a man writing for his living was embedded  early in my mind and in the minds of my siblings. That was helpful.

Howl: What kind of impact have your children taken on your writing?

Maguire: My children have had no impact on my writing. I am surprised that this is true, but it is. They are not especially interested in reading, alas. It is the times they are growing up in, and a health childhood distaste for anything having to do with their parents’ lives, perhaps.

Howl: How would you describe your writing to those who haven’t read your books?

Maguire: I think of my books as meditations disguised as popular fantasies. They are almost all prompted initially by an ethical or philosophical question (the nature of evil, the relative values of beauty, etc.) but housed in approachable fantasy or fairy-tale garb to make them appealing.

Howl: Do you think that Stephen Schwartz changed the course of your professional life to the better?

Maguire: Yes. He certainly helped remove what was remaining in my life about obscurity and insolvency, which was already well under control and now is not a problem.

Howl: Why did you decide to make the  wizard Elphaba’s real father?

Maguire: I had to find a reason that Elphaba had such extraordinary complexity compared to the other citizens of Oz. I did not want to rely on any obvious reasons (that she was abused as a child; that she was immortal; etc.). It seems to me that people who live on the margins are often lucky enough to be gifted with a kind of second-sight (sort of like what I was saying about about looking back at the US from the shores of England.) If you are either neither/nor or you are BOTH rather than one or the other, that makes you aloof and alone, but also special and gifted. Or it can do.

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