Marissa Meyer is an American novelist, best known for The Lunar Chronicles, which are fairy tale stories in a sci-fi setting. Her latest book, Heartless has delighted fans. We caught up with her to find out more.
STARBURST: How would you describe Heartless to an elderly relative?
Marissa Meyer: A prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland that tells the story of how a fairly normal teenage girl would ultimately become the infamous Queen of Hearts.
Out of all the characters from Alice, why this one?
I love villain origin stories, and I grew up surrounded by Alice in Wonderland (my mom is a mega-fan). One of the wonderful things about Alice is that it’s full of fascinating, quirky characters, but we learn so little about them, so there was a lot of room for me to play around in this world. And to me, the Queen was the biggest mystery of all. Why is she so merciless, so angry, so… well, heartless? I felt like there must be so much more to her and her backstory than Lewis Carroll gave us, and I really wanted to explore that.
Tell us about Hatter.
If the Queen hadn’t captured my attention first, I’m sure Hatter would have! He is another of those characters that looms so large in classic literature, and so many of our childhood memories. In Alice he is random and rude and there are a hundred curious things that he says that seem to have deeper meanings (such as an apparent relationship with Time). And other than Alice, he and the March Hare are also the only characters that reappear in Alice through the Looking Glass, which just made him even more intriguing to me.
When I started writing my version of the Hatter, I wanted to show how charismatic he was - a fashionable businessman known for his elaborate tea parties - but as the story goes on we also discover that he’s harboring more than one secret. I loved writing him and being able to slowly reveal those mysteries throughout the story.
Why did you torture your characters so?
Ha! Can you imagine reading a book in which nothing bad happens to the characters? How very dull! Torturing characters is sort of in the job description.
How is Heartless different from the many retellings of Alice out there?
There are a lot of wonderful adaptations out there, though the vast majority of them are true retellings - books that re-imagine the plot and the world, such as with a steampunk spin, or by adding in zombies, etc. Heartless, on the other hand, isn’t a retelling but a prequel… it takes place before Alice had fallen down the rabbit hole. While I’ve certainly taken a fair amount of liberties with Carroll’s world, I also put a lot of effort into making sure that there is nothing in Heartless that would directly contradict what’s in the originals. My hope is that readers will come away from it thinking that this truly could have been what Wonderland and these characters were like twenty or so years before Alice arrived.
Will the public ever tire of tales of a woman wronged?
I don’t think any of us can say for sure what the public will or won’t tire of, but woman-wronged stories have been going strong since before the Grimm Brothers and Shakespeare and even before Greek Mythology, so… I don’t think it’s in any danger of running out of steam in my lifetime.
What was the most wicked scene to write?
I can’t go into detail because spoilers, but there is a scene near the end of the book that was incredibly difficult for me to write - both technically and emotionally. I knew it was coming and had been planning it since I’d first conceptualized the book, but it still broke my heart when I got there.
How does this compare to your previous work?
There are a lot of differences between Heartless and my first book series, The Lunar Chronicles. For one, Heartless is a stand-alone novel, so it’s generally a more simple story - fewer characters and subplots, not as many epic battles, stuff like that. Also, whereas TLC was science-fiction, Heartless is about as fantastical as a story can get. Sort of the point of Wonderland is that things don’t always have to make sense, so I really got to let my imagination run wild with this book, rather than always feeling compelled to have a scientific explanation for everything.
There are certainly a lot of similarities too, though. They both are inspired by well-known stories (Alice and fairy tales), they both have strong-willed female protagonists, and they both have plenty of romance amid all those monsters and battles. Of course, I also hope they’re both fun to read!
I have a novel coming out this November titled Renegades, which is a love story involving superheroes and supervillains. Beyond that… we’ll see! I have no shortage of ideas.
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