While Wizard of Oz-themed costumes are popular every Halloween, author Gregory Maguire will be “hanging up his broomstick” with Out of Oz, the fourth and final title in the Wicked series. The book will be released tomorrow.
We caught up with Maguire (pictured, via Andy Newman) to talk about the lengthy writing process that went into this work and his thoughts on creating fantasy fiction. The highlights follow below…
Q: Describe your writing and research process for the concluding title in the Wicked series, Out of Oz.
A: It’s very interesting for Out of Oz, the fourth in a series of four books. It’s 500 pages long and the three books, lined up together, that precede it are 1000 pages. So in order to research for that, I had first to read all three books over again. While I did that, I took notes of what happened. So, I have about a 32-page synopsis of those three books in which every single scene; what happens and what’s important to the scenes is written in the first person. Even within a scene, if there’s a line break showing a different time or a different place in the world I make note of that with everyone so I know where every character is at every point.
Then I also did a 58-page glossary or index of every word and every concept that I invented in the first three books. So there are dozens and dozens and dozens, hundreds I suppose, of vocabulary words I made up to identify foreign (but oddly accurate-sounding) names of food, trees, animals, concepts, religions, architectural styles, clothes, fabrics, linens, artists and things. So this document, 58-pages single-spaced, is also an index so that I can check and see any particular invention occurs.
For instance if you said, ‘I want to know about the grimmerie. What can you tell me about the grimmerie?’ Well, I could grab that bible, if you will, look up the heading called ‘items of magic'; look up under ‘g’ for grimmerie and there will then be a list of maybe 60 pages of where the grimmerie is featured. There might some headings saying ‘description of grimmerie,’ ‘use of grimmerie’ or ‘origins of grimmerie.’ If I just need a description, I can go directly to that.
So I created for myself what the TV world calls ‘the bible'; the giant encyclopedia of all things known so far about this story. All that work took me a year! It took me a year to do all that back-writing because I provide myself on the eternal coherence and consistency even in a world with magic to preserve anyone’s expectations of what the world was really like.
Q: When writers borrow from other stories or mythology, what responsibility do you think they have to honor the original work?
A: They have at the very least a responsibility to acknowledge it. Even if they’re making it; not to acknowledge it is called theft. Even if the work is out of copyright; that’s my belief. But they do not have adore it. A work of art, if it’s a good work of art and a sound work of art, can take an awful lot of punching. Take a look at Tom Stoppard‘s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.
That’s an absolutely brilliant play, but you know what? It doesn’t muck up anybody’s ability to go back to Hamlet the next time somebody puts on a wonderful production of it. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern played fun with the great original but they could not knock it over. So I say you should be aware of your points of departure, but you need not be overly respectful because that’s giving yourself too much credit. You can’t really upset a profoundly true work of art. It will always be itself no matter what you do to it.
Q: What’s the best advice you can offer to those looking to write fantasy fiction?
A: In order for the magic to be convincing, the surroundings of the magic or the world where the magic is going to happen has to be convincing. If you have a beautiful ruby ring, the important part might be the ruby but the setting better dignify or show it off.
Q: Is there any possibilty that any of your other novels might be adapted for a musical or the stage?
A: I’ve heard many rumors over the years that my novel Confessions of an Ugly Sister, which is a Cinderella story set in Holland in 1628, is being considered for a play or a musical or an opera. I would embrace the chance for any of those but until it happens, that’s a special magic charm of its own.
Q: Is there anything you can tease about what Wicked series fans can expect from this concluding title?
A: Here’s what I say. I do not answer the question about whether Elphaba returns although I know a lot of people ask that. Glinda is under house arrest. Dorothy comes back to Oz for a second visit and is put on trial. And the Cowardly Lion goes to be witness in her defense.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: A great big long white noise period in which I sit as still as possible and see if the muse is still talking to me.