Gregory Maguire’s accomplished literary career is the stuff that writers dream about. His creatively revisionist, bestselling novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West proved a tantalizing launch pad for its Tony Award-winning Broadway theatrical adaptation that captivated the hearts and imaginations of adults and children alike.
Maguire was grateful, sentimental but also forthright when he recently spoke to us about this fourth and final entry in the series, Out of Oz. He talked about his influences, his life and his excitement and ambivalence about what the literary road has in store. We won’t give away any hints about the outcome of this long-awaited series finale, but the esteemed author certainly opened up about the pains and passions of literary success.
Aside from your books in the Wicked series, your literary omnibus is largely based on books meant for children and teens. Where does your inspiration for writing children’s books come from?
Well, it sure doesn’t come from my own three children! If I had adopted them with the intent on achieving some kind of inspiration, then that endeavor would have been a failure. The act and art of being a parent and an author form parallel universes, but each can be at odds with the other.
I continually try to remember what I liked about reading when I was a kid. It was the books that made me feel smart, that used decent vocabulary, books that were not patronizing in tone and that understood that kids can have an ironic sense of humor as well. They held a wider secret in the world than most parents, teachers and librarians were willing to admit in a court of law.
How did you come up with the original idea to expand upon The Wizard of Oz and its characters?
I had lots of questions about the film when I saw it as a kid. But when I was in my late 20s, I had a private difficulty with a friend, and I had to ask myself one of the basic questions about character—is character changeable, pervertable, does it only grow in one direction [to improve], or can it deteriorate?
Therefore, I had to ask that about myself and about others in the world. I still do not know the answer, but in thinking about it, I wondered about the bad characters when they were young. What were they really like when they were kids? From there, it was a very quick leap to the Wicked Witch of the West. What was she like when she was young? Was she always trouble? Or was that trouble caused to her first?
At what point and why did you decide to end the series?
Wicked, the Musical is such an enormous enterprise—it’s like having the Starship Enterprise tethered to my private chimney!
I don’t want to live in its shadow either. In order to welcome the muse back into my life, I feel I need to take a pair of pinking shears to it and just let it float away. All stories have natural shapes, and they have to have an end in order for the meaning to take hold.
Do you think you can top the success of the Wicked series?
The actuarial side of me that’s a business person says no. The creative, more aesthetic side of me says yes, but reminds me that I never did this for glory or the money in the first place. I think that as long as your motives are right, just do the work and see what happens. But, of course, it’s nice to make money from something that I poured my whole heart into.
Did the theatrical version of Wicked live up to your expectations?
Yes, it did. My expectations were high when it came to the caliber of people working on the production. When it opened and began to be recognized as a hit, I was overjoyed, but if it closed after a week, I would’ve been sad for the people working on it, but just happy that it came to fruition.
Are you sad to see these characters’ adventures end?
There’s definitely mixed feelings. I have authorial post-partum depression about it. I’m sad, but I’ve tried to give every sense of satisfaction to the reader.
You and your husband have three adopted children. What’s the secret to juggling the demands of parenthood while keeping a productive, deadline-driven writing schedule?
He is an artist as well, and we have some advantages in that we are both self-employed and work in creative fields that have a sort of noncompete clause, so we can support each other. We are a two-person, live-in, day-care arrangement, so it is enormously time-consuming and time sapping but frankly, family takes precedence. I feel like I live in a kind of useful schizophrenia!
What keeps you busy now that the Oz series is completed?
I’m lecturing here and there. I don’t know what is in the sky, once the obstruction is out of the way. I will tell you that for a very small press here in Massachusetts, Madras Press, I am donating to charity four stories entitled “Tales Told in Oz,” that will be published in the next six months. The money raised will go to relief for Vermont libraries that suffered damage from the recent hurricane.