Bursting on to the publishing scene in 2012 with her fairy-tale retelling Cinder (a Cinderella retelling), Marissa Meyer has gone from strength to strength. Following up her bestselling debut with three more instalments, as well as various novellas, The Lunar Chronicles became a much beloved series. Next Meyer inspired audiences with her Alice In Wonderland prequel, Heartless, a look at the Queen of Hearts before she set out on her quest to take down Alice and conquer all of Wonderland.
In 2017, Meyer’s narratives took a different turn when she released her superhero novel Renegades, a tale that made readers question what the meaning of good and evil really was. This year, the Renegades series rounded out with the third instalment Supernova being released in November to rave reviews.
Thanks to Macmillan Australia, I had the opportunity to ask Meyer some burning questions about humble beginnings in fanfiction, bending stereotypes and what’s next from this publishing powerhouse.
From humble beginnings in NaNoWriMo and Sailor Moon fanfic, you hit the publishing scene back in 2012 with the first of the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and since then have gone from strength to strength. What initially inspired this retelling?
Actually, it started with a Sailor Moon fanfic! Years ago, I entered a fanfiction writing contest in which the host had listed about ten random prompts and writers had to choose two of them to include in their stories. The two prompts I chose: Set the story in the future and include a fairy-tale character. My contest entry was a sci-fi version of “Puss in Boots” and I had so much fun writing it that I thought I would try to do an entire series of science-fiction fairy tales. That would later, of course, evolve into Cinder and The Lunar Chronicles.
Following Cinder being released to critical acclaim, you released multiple further novels in the series as well as multiple novellas. Were these additional novels already in the works when Cinder released? How did you decide which characters would be featured in each instalment?
Yes, I had the core series planned out really early on, so before I wrote a single word of Cinder I knew exactly which fairy tales I would be retelling and had a pretty good grasp of how the stories would connect and intertwine. I didn’t initially plan out the companion works (Fairest, Stars Above, and the Wires and Nerve graphic novels), though. Those ideas came later, as the world and characters continued to grow beyond my initial plans, and I realized there were still more stories in this world that I wanted to tell.
As far as which fairy tales I would use throughout the series, I started with a list of about a dozen of my personal favorite fairy tales, and just started brainstorming different ways that I could adapt those stories to science-fiction. (This was really early in the process!) The four that I chose – Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White – were the ones that I felt like I had the best ideas for, and that even in that early stage I could begin to see how they would come together to form one continuous story.
Each of the Lunar Chronicles loosely follows the storyline of a well-known fairy-tale character while adding in others from previous volumes. Was this always the format they were planned to take?
Yes! Well, maybe very, very, very early on I’d played with the idea of keeping the all stand-alones, more like companion novels that would be in the same world but largely set apart from each other. But that idea very quickly got replaced with this bigger, more complex story that was filling my head, in which all these fairy tales would come together and the characters would have to form a rebel group of sorts in order to defeat their mutual enemy – the evil queen from Snow White.
Your novel Heartless is a kind of prequel to Alice in Wonderland and is currently a standalone novel, although it was initially assumed to be part of a series. Can readers expect to see future instalments about the young Queen of Hearts?
This book was actually always intended to be a stand-alone, so no, I don’t currently have any plans of writing more instalments. In many ways, I see Alice in Wonderland itself as the sequel to Heartless, so to me, Cath’s story is pretty well resolved. That said, I do occasionally get glimpses of another story set in the world that would focus mainly on Hatta (the Mad Hatter). I can’t say for sure that I’ll ever write it, but there is something there. So maybe…
So, this leads me to your latest series, Renegades, a series of novels about a group of not-so superheroes who call themselves Renegades and their ‘evil’ nemeses the Anarchists. They follow Nova, a girl who can put her enemies to sleep by touching them and never needs sleep herself, as she endeavours to infiltrate the ever idolised Renegades. What inspired this series of novels?
I got the idea for this series when I was on tour for my second novel, Scarlet, and I was on my way to a book signing. We passed by a large construction site and I caught a glimpse of a sign out of the corner of my eye. At first, I thought the sign read: Coming Soon to this Location: Hero School. I got really excited and looked back to get a better look, only to realize that the sign said something completely different. But from there, I started to imagine what it would be like to go to a school for superheroes, which quickly changed into wondering what it would be like if there were a school for supervillains. But naturally, if these two schools existed they would have an intense rivalry! So what would happen if a boy from one school fell in love with a girl from the other school, not realizing that they were supposed to be enemies?
The whole thing about the schools would eventually get cut out of the story (though I wrote many drafts trying to get it to work!), but that idea of a love story between a hero and a villain did go on to become Renegades.
Throughout all three novels (Renegades, Archenemies, and Supernova) both the main characters, Nova and Adrian, hide their true selves behind multiple identities. Although the antagonist/villain having multiple public identities is a semi-regularly utilised plot point, in the Renegades series, both the hero and villain exhibit this trait. How did this crossing (and bending) of stereotypes come into being?
One of my favorite tropes / story archetypes is the idea of hidden identities, which is utilized so well in so much superhero fiction (and my old love, Sailor Moon!), and I really wanted to play with that. But in this case, I wanted both characters to A) be falling in love with their “civilian” selves, while B) their alter egos are slowly becoming archenemies. But in order to do that, I needed them both to have these secret identities that they would be keeping from each other. In playing around with different ways to make that work, I eventually landed on this love/hate storyline between Adrian and Nova, the Sentinel and Nightmare.
The Anarchists within these novels are less villain and more antihero, while the Renegades can be validly questioned relating to their ‘hero’ status, especially once Agent N comes into play. With each group exhibiting such a dichotomy of traits compared to the usual expectations of heroes and villains, was there ever concern about how readers would react?
I wasn’t so much concerned with how readers would react as I was concerned with my own ability to write authentically from both sides! I definitely wanted both groups to include a lot of gray areas, but in order to do that, I really had to try to get into both mindsets and understand what was motivating each of the groups. It wasn’t easy, particularly with the Anarchists (personally, I find the idea of anarchy terrifying!), but I did my best, and so far readers have seemed to really respond and connect with both sides, which I find incredibly validating.
So, I’ve spoken about Nova’s power to send people to sleep but I haven’t yet spoken about Adrian. In the novels he possesses the ability to bring things to life that he draws but also to tattoo himself and give himself extra powers. He has however limited these powers to a select few. How did you decide on which ones he would give himself as the Sentinel and the form the tattoos would take?
Mostly it’s a plot device, ha! Early on I was just wanting to give him tattoos and powers that I think most people would try to give themselves if they had this power. (For example, everyone wants to fly, right? Well, he can’t tattoo wings on his own back, so he does the next best thing – springs on the bottoms of his feet.) After that, as I was figuring out the plot, I was constantly trying to toe the line between giving Adrian powers that would make him stronger as it came closer to the big showdowns in the last book, while not make him so powerful that any fight scenes would become moot.See also
If you could give yourself any of the powers from the novels, which would you choose?
Definitely Nightmare’s! I love the idea of not having to sleep, but maintaining consistent wakefulness and energy. Oh, the things I could accomplish! The books I could write! The TBR pile I might finally put a dent in! That’s the dream.
What is the weird/best ships you have seen of your characters?
In the later books of The Lunar Chronicles, there are a couple scenes in which Thorne and Kai have some pretty good heart-to-heart conversations, which has led the fandom to developing this wonderful bromance between the two of them, which I absolutely adore!
If you could have any of your novels/series translated to the screen, which would you choose and what form would it take? Who would be your dream casting?
I would love love love to see Heartless turned into a Broadway musical! That would make my life. Another dream: Cinder…. On Ice! 😀
Is there anything in the works that you can tell us about?
Always! The novel I’m currently working on is called Instant Karma and it’s about a high school girl who suddenly develops the ability to exact instant karma on those around her. She immediately begins to punish the bullies and snobs of her small town, but whenever she tries to punish one boy in particular (who happens to be her lab partner and mortal enemy), her power mysteriously backfires on her. I’m having soooo much fun with this book, and really loving writing my first contemporary romance, and can’t wait to share it with readers!
Last question, what would you tell your younger self about your road to published author if you had the chance?
Relax. Keep working hard and moving forward, but don’t be so utterly focused on publication that you forget to enjoy the journey. Always remember that you’re doing this because you love to write – it’s fun! Don’t let the goal of publication eclipse that.
Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction
Plotter or pantser? Plotter
Favourite bookish trope? Enemies to lovers
Least favourite bookish trope? Love triangles
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Pizza or pasta? Pasta
Beach holiday or hiking in the bush? Beach holiday (with mai tais!)
Convention crowds or smaller signings? Small and cozy
Sunny or rainy? Rainy
If you could pick a single holiday destination for the rest of your life, where would it be? Italy
Music, books or Netflix – you can only pick 2? !!!!!! This one is hard, but… books and music!
If you could recommend five authors to the general public that are must reads, who would they be? Robin LaFevers, Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Gene Luen Yang