Marissa Meyer lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and three cats. She’s a fan of most things geeky (Sailor Moon, Firefly, color-coordinating her bookshelf . . .), and has been in love with fairy tales since she was given a small book of them when she was a child. She may or may not be a cyborg. Cinder is her first novel.
Michelle Black recently had a chance to sit down with New York Times Best Selling author Marissa Meyer. Listen in.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your hectic schedule to talk with us about the dynamic world and characters you’ve created in Cinder. Your book is a multifaceted tale, with layers of rich theme, characters real enough to breathe, and heart wrenching circumstances. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to introduce Cinder to our readers. Without any further ado, let’s get to the questions.
TCM: Most fairytales begin with “Once Upon A Time” but in Cinder, you turn that beginning on its ear, and start in a time and place that might be, but isn’t yet, here on Earth. Readers look forward, not over their shoulders, as they discover Cinder’s world. Would you tell our readers a little about your fairytale from the future?
Marissa Meyer: I grew up loving fairy tales and their retellings, but “Cinderella” is one story that’s been done over and over again. When I had the idea to write a retelling myself, set in the distant future, I wanted to make sure that it was something truly unique. I started playing around with a setting that is very different from the world we live in today. There are hovercars and spaceships and androids, and my main character is part human and part machine. There’s also a society of people living on the moon who have descended from a moon colony and evolved to have crazy powers of mind control.
That said, I didn’t want this world to feel entirely strange and foreign, so there are some familiar elements to the setting as well. It’s set in Asia, in a country called the Eastern Commonwealth that has held onto much of its Asian heritage, including elements of traditions and symbolism, language, foods, and clothing that give the country an East-meets-West vibe.
TCM: G.K. Chesterton said this of fairy tales, “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” What do you think of his statement? Do you agree with him, that fairy tales offer more than just entertainment that at their heart there is a call for the reader to take a stand against evil?
Marissa Meyer: There are many different types of fairy tales, and absolutely, I think much of their power lies in how they speak to our subconscious in a way that can show us strength and bravery even when we feel powerless. (Imagine little Hansel and Gretel pushing the witch into her own oven.)
But not all fairy tales have happy endings and not all fairy tale heroes are all that heroic. Cinderella herself, in many renditions of the story, does very little to improve her own station, intead relying on gifts from magical trees and singing birds to get her to the ball. Most fairy tales come to us from a time when the vast majority of society were given no power or rights (i.e., women, children, and peasants). Fairy tales, I think, were a way to give hope in some cases (“If you are good, then you too could marry a prince and escape this life.”) and teach lessons in others (“Don’t stray from the path or you might run into a big, bad wolf.”)
The continuous thread, here, is that all these things – courage, hope, and life lessons – are things that remain important to every culture in every time period. This is why I feel these stories continue to enthrall us the way they do.
TCM: One of the delights for me in Cinder are the secondary characters she meets in her journey. My favorite is Dr. Erland who both acts in Cinder’s interest, and in his own. He has so many facets to his character and every time I thought I had him figured out, you gave a reveal that made me catch my breath and reevaluate him. How do you go about crafting a character like Dr. Erland, a character who makes the reader wonder just exactly which side he is on, and yet keep him a sympathetic person?
Marissa Meyer: As a writer, it’s important to keep in mind that every person in the story has their own history, their own motivations, their own fears and desires and goals. Whether they’re a hero or a villain, a prince or a stepmother, they have their own reasons for doing the things they do. With Dr. Erland in particular, I spent a lot of time thinking about where he came from and what happened in his life to bring him to the place he is today. He’s an old man, so he’s had a LOT happen to him, and all those details from his past impact the decisions he’s made. What I find interesting (and was rather unintentional on my part) is that he has become one of the most fascinating and beloved characters in the book, even though in many ways he could be considered one of the story’s greatest villains. The difference, I think, is that we can understand why he’s done the horrible things he’s done, even if we don’t condone it.
TCM: There is a reoccurring push-pull in Cinder of love verses fear. The love of a sister for her younger sibling, the love of a son for his father, the love of the ruler for their people faces off against the fear of a terrible plague, the fear of a tyrant who will not tolerate rivals, and the fear of cyborgs which are more than machine but less than human. This rich mosaic of Cinder’s tale caught at my heart as I see echoes of that same kind of war in our world. Which do you think is stronger, love or fear and why?
Marissa Meyer: As an optimist and a romantic, I have to say Love. We hear stories all the time of people doing great things in the face of fear because a child or pet or loved one is in danger. Part of it is instinctual, of course, but I like to think that as humans we have the capacity to do wonderful, amazing things for unselfish reasons. Those unselfish reasons always seem to come back to love.
One of the great roles of fiction is to give us the opportunity to make decisions and face our fears in a safe environment. We hope that the line between love and fear will never be tested in our lifetimes, but if you’ve read enough books in which the hero fought against fear for the sake of love, it’s easier to imagine that, in the same situation, we would do the same.
TCM: The relationship between Cyborgs and Humans in Cinder’s world is an uneasy one, and the prejudice both sides hold hums along in under the words, like a live-wire waiting to shock the unwary when it is exposed. What advice would you give to those that like Cinder, face unjust treatment, and are mistreated instead of seen as someone of value?
Marissa Meyer: I’m not sure I feel qualified to give advice to anyone when I haven’t walked in their shoes and seen what they, as an individual, are dealing with. But as a society, I think it’s so important for us to embrace differences and celebrate human rights. You hear the word “tolerance” thrown around a lot these days, but I don’t feel like that’s the right word to use when we’re talking about prejudices and mistreatment. I’d much rather see respect, acceptance, and appreciation for everyone.
TCM: Playwrights have known for centuries that you have to allow an audience to laugh after a serious moment or frightening scene, to allow them to reset and prepare for the next walloping event in the story. You handle this most skillfully in Cinder. Just as I was reeling from a revelation or a plot twist in the story, you gave me a moment to laugh or smile, usually because of Iko, Cinder’s android companion, doing or saying something humorous. Do you as a novelist find it harder to write the humorous scenes in your stories, or is it the drama that makes you flex your author’s muscles most?
Marissa Meyer: The humor comes pretty natural to me, although I don’t always feel that the humor is coming from me, exactly. I’ve just managed to create characters who are fun and lively and have come into existence as three-dimensional characters. Iko is a great example – when I first started writing her, I expected her to be a very boring android character. But out of nowhere, she started developing this completely unexpected personality that was so charming and absurd, so I just let her say and do what she wanted. Of course, she’s now one of my favorite characters.
The dramatic scenes can be more difficult – not so much in the mechanics of writing them, but just in how emotionally draining they can be. To write something, you almost have to feel as though you’re living it, and that can be tough on a person’s psyche when you’re putting your characters through some truly awful things.
TCM: Having finished Cinder I was overjoyed to hear that the next book in your Lunar series, Scarlet, is due out in 2013. It is at the very top of my reading list, and I am counting the days until I can return to your remarkable world. Can you give our readers any tantalizing hints or promises of what they will find in the pages of Scarlet?
Marissa Meyer: Thank you, I’m so glad to hear that and I hope you’ll enjoy it! Scarlet will continue Cinder’s story as she attempts to stay one step ahead of the evil queen who wants to kill her, while also trying to learn more about her past. Meanwhile, readers will be introduced to Scarlet Benoit, a girl who lives on a farm in southern France with her grandmother. Except her grandmother has mysteriously disappeared and the only person who seems to have any information is a street fighter who goes by Wolf and has more than a few mysteries of his own.