Gregory Maguire interview

Hope Katz Gibbs: So it is a thrill and an honor to interview Gregory Maguire, the award winning, bestselling author of the blockbuster Broadway hit and a billion books about Wicked and Fairy Tails. So thank you for being on Inkandescent radio and for agreeing to be our cover story for Costco magazine, coming soon.

Gregory Maguire: Well I am very grateful to be invited Hope and it’s nice to be chatting with you.

HKG: You too! Alright first let’s cut to the chase, you have a new book out called Hiddensee. What inspired this book and tell us about the storyline.

GM: The story has a subtitle, “A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker.” So right away you ought to be hearing strains of Tchaikovsky in the background: (Hums famous progression from Nutcracker) and if you do then you’d be right, you’d be on the right page, you’d be on the right place on the playing board. This is a story that takes up the peculiar character of the Nutcracker. Now you know Hope and, well just about everybody in your listening range I think will know, that the Nutcracker has become one of the most iconic characters, figures, figments if you will, of the holiday season every December and yet—very little is known about him. Where he came from. Where he gets his magic powers. Oh sure, we know who invented him. We know that the story of the Nutcracker was originally written 201 years ago by E.T.A. Hoffmann, that’s two F’s and two N’s, spelling mistake I constantly make, H-O-F-F-M-A-N-N, he wrote the tale of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Which eventually inspired the ballet and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite but it is a very lumpy story Hope and I suspect you’ve never gone back and read it or if you have done you will remember or will discover that it’s basically almost schizophrenic, it’s like the ballet. Act one, the wonderful story about the Nutcracker and the Mouse King and their fight across the floorboards of a Christmas Eve salon have nothing to do with act two, which is some sort of tour around the world sponsored by, Disney caricatures almost, of citizens from all over the universe, well all over the world. You might as well it be, “It’s a Small World After All.” The two parts have nothing to do with each other and the second part, the visually beautiful, basically breaks the spine of the story and ruins it, I think, as a really eternal tale.
So Hiddensee, Hiddensee—what is hidden in that story of the Nutcracker and what might we see if we look a little deeper? That’s my inspiration and that’s my intention in this novel for adults.

HKG: That’s fantastic and you know, the most amazing thing about it to me is the writing and how you’re just sucked in to Bavaria, 1808, with this character living in the woods with an old man and an old woman and you just want to know more, you can’t put it down. Your sentence structure is so rich and powerful, it reminds me of Tom Robbins, you know like the Skinny Legs and All, the story is secondary to the writing which is just poetry right?

(Both Laughing)

GM: Oh aren’t you nice? And you know every now and then I look at my hands and I think, “Am I retired? Maybe I’m retired after this book.” But Hope you give me courage to keep on, such a nice compliment I appreciate that.

HKG: Well it’s amazing, let’s talk about the new book and then I want to talk more about your fantastic history and career and you know I’ve had the privilege of doing some deep research, a little deep research on you and how you got to where you are and your academic work. So I want to talk about all of it but let’s sell the book first. So this is something that you leveraged off of where you talk about well known stories and fairy tales in many of your books for children and adults. So why do you find that satisfying?

GM: Well Hope I find, and I’m not alone in this, that as Western culture, as contemporary culture in our lifetimes, creaks on from decade to decade it becomes more fractured, more schismatic, and people find themselves in smaller and smaller communities where they only can talk to people with whom they agree on all major issues of the day. I’m not alone in noting that. What I discovered, about 20, 25 years ago, is that if you start talking to a random group of adults about the significant children’s books in their childhoods and in the childhood’s of our culture in a sense, then you finally have a lingua franca to which everyone can respond. You know, a hundred years ago you might have expected that most people in the United States, say, would have a passing familiarity with the stories of the Old Testament and possibly some of the parables of the New Testament. Regardless of their religious affiliation or piety. They just were part of the framework of the language of the culture. A hundred and fifty years ago, in certain circles, you have found that almost everyone with at least a limited educational background had some experience of the Greek myths. We now no longer can share, with certainty, the fact that we have a common language—except when it comes to fairy tales and to those stories we got as children. So I love to work with those because I want to talk to everybody I don’t just want to talk to my friends. I want to talk to anybody in the room and I know that regardless of how you vote or where you live or what branch of the economic tree you find yourself perched upon that, chances are, you have the Grimm Fairy Tales in your background and childhood. That’s something we all share and I want to talk to all of us. So that’s really how I came upon my particular strategy.

HKG: Now I want to get to your background but first lemme ask you just a quick couple of questions.

GM: Sure.

HKG: Are there other stories you’d like to explore? And do you see a time when you might find inspiration elsewhere?

GM: I always have inspiration elsewhere and I have actually done a lot of material over the last 40 years, a lot of books, that are completely original and that don’t rely on the structure and the givens of a familiar and commonly recognized fairy tale or children’s story. That said, my books that have done the best are the ones in which people can find themselves comfortably welcomed like, say, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is quite clearly going to be a consideration of the Cinderella tale and After Alice, is probably going to have quite a lot to do with Alice and Wonderland. If you thought that you’d be right on both counts. I would like to try my hand at theater at some point and possibly even a screenplay but I would recommend Hope that you don’t hold your breath for those things. They’ll come if they come and if they don’t I think the world will be none the poorer.

HKG: Well you’re already on Broadway and in “the movies,” right?

GM: Yeah, I’m on Broadway and the movies are coming so we’ll see what we see.

HKG: Did Stockard Channing do the Ugly Stepsister?

GM: Yes she did! I used to say Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister was made by a Disney ABC starring Stockard Channing and her eyelashes. She the most improbably hennaed, coal-laden eyelashes for a woman in the 17th century. But boy was she great, she’s a fine actress and a very interesting and wonderful person to meet too. She really walked away with the role of the ugly stepsister’s mother who would be called the wicked stepmother, only she’s not quite so wicked in my version.

HKG: And so let’s get right down to the Wicked story. So your first adult novel was published in 1995 when you were 39 and the musical opened in October of 2003 which, how much has that generated so far?

GM: Well in terms of ticket sales, you mean?

HKG: Tickets sales and book sales both.

GM: Well book sales, before the play had opened the book had sold I dunno maybe 750,000 copies over a 7 year period? Which is pretty good especially in that, unlike the trajectory of most books, the trajectory of Wicked started off slow and began to rise and it rose every season for about 7 years. Every half year marking period it earned more than the period before, which, is really opposite how it’s supposed to go, how it usually goes. And then it levelled off a little bit—no! What I mean to say is it didn’t level off a little bit, then the play opened and then it shot up even more and stayed stratospheric for about 10 years. So in terms of books sales I think I’ve sold over 5 million copies of Wicked and probably 5 million copies of my 9 other adult novels all take together. In terms of ticket sales, of course I don’t see, I’m not the person holding his hat out at the doors of the theater waiting for people to drop their shekels in as they leave. Nonetheless, the play has done very well and I’m told it’s earned, I think, over a billion dollars on Broadway alone and there have been something like 8 different production companies travelling on 4 different continents. So it has not failed to impress those people who follow such things. I will be honest, Hope, money is nice and it is nicer to have some than not to have some but, between you and me, it wasn’t why I got into being an artist. I intended to be the starving artist in the Garrett like all of my illustrious forebearers. And so when good fortune comes it’s actually pesky to take care of and I’m just as happy when I can get back to my work and not have to worry about doing the accounting or making sure that everything is arranged “just so.”

HKG: So interesting isn’t it, the double edged sword of success?

GM: Well it is and people say, “How has success changed you?” and I say, “Well, it’s liberated me from certain financial worries.” Indeed I was able to go ahead and adopt 3 children from overseas which I had wanted to do and probably wouldn’t have felt it was correct for me to do without being sure I could support them, before Wicked. On the other hand, it’s also boxed me in as the grown-up writer who writes or rewrites children’s stories for adults. Well, it’s better to be known for something rather than nothing—that is to say, if you’re an artist. You don’t want to be known for being the ax murderer at the end of the block but on the other hand it is harder for me to get interest in anything that I want to do that breaks the quote unquote “brand,” the “Maguire brand.” It’s not impossible but it’s harder. People can sometimes roll their eyes if I try to present something that breaks their conception of what I’m interested in and what I’m accomplished at.

HKG: So interesting, so interesting. Go back in time with me if you will because this is something that I found so beautiful and I want to share this with our readers, about your personal history, if I may.

GM: Sure.

HKG: Your mom died from complications she suffered during childbirth with you, you were her fourth child. You were sent to live with your Aunt and then she turned you over to St. Christopher’s Infant Home where the nuns raised you. The article I read said that they named you Gregory the Executive for your perpetually somber expression. Your dad had just suffered such a loss it’s understandable but it must be painful obviously. Fortunately when you were two your dad remarried your mom’s best friend and the family reunited and they had 3 more kids. So tell us a little about that, do you mind taking us back to those childhood years?

GM: Well I don’t and you’ve got it almost letter-perfect, it was St. Catherine’s Infant Home in Albany, NY. My father was not prosperous at that time of his life, which was the mid-50’s, and he was a freelance writer, eventually he got a job working for a newspaper, the local Albany Times Union, after his first wife died, my first mother as I call her, and he married my second mother, his second wife, and as you say she had already been a family friend because she had been my birth mother’s best friend from the time they were 10. So she knew my father and she knew the children very well and in some ways it was a perfectly obvious thing to happen. She was better educated than he in the books, that is to say she had two or three degrees and he had just, I’m not even sure he actually had ever gotten out of highschool. You know one could be successful in those days without needing a college degree. But little by little they kind of shaped the family together. So we were raised in a kind of lower middle class milieu. We had a nice house because they bought it on a tax sale from somebody who was escaping prison by dumping all his property and so we lived in a slightly better neighborhood than we probably should have been able to afford but my second mother was very canny with money and very frugal, they were both children of The Depression, so one way or another they cobbled together a life for all 7 of us and raised us on a shoestring and they were skeptical of television, they were skeptical of certain aspects of contemporary culture in the 60’s but they were not skeptical of the values of the library card. So I sometimes joke that I was raised by my father, my second mother, and the librarians at the Albany public library because although they were strict and prohibitive in many ways and we certainly didn’t have much by way of allowances or vacations or toys or ponies or yachts, we did have the absolute luxury of a passport to all the thinking and feeling and imagining in the whole world, in the public library, and I consider, not only did it inspire me for the rest of my life, but it probably kept me, more or less, mentally healthy. Now my children might argue with you and with me about how mentally healthy I actually am but I think that reading is a great way to sort of operate the safety valves and the pressures in one’s own character and in reading I was able both to escape myself and to become more myself. That’s why I’m a writer because I try to perform that therapeutic and missionary function for readers in the same way that it seemed so beneficial for me to indulge in as a child.

HKG: Yeah and it’s fascinating what takes you on a journey that gives you peace internally. I read that you went into the library and decided that you were going to read every book in there and that you read and reread every fairy tale between 7 and 17 and then you wrote a hundred stories yourself.

GM: That’s true and I have most of them. At one point when I was in a fit of archival rectitude I threw out whole armfuls of things that I had written between kindergarten and fourth grade. Now of course I curse myself for having done that but I threw out thirty or forty shorts stories, illustrated, because I had gotten better and I was no longer proud of my juvenile work. I wanted the record to show that I was more competent but from fourth grade on I have about [several (? Audio is unclear)] hundred stories. Some of them are brief, and only, you know, by brief I mean 30 or 40 pages, but many of them are several hundred pages. I was a little story factory I was like Charles Dickens except I was a juvenile, just cranking out, you know writing every day, for 10 years straight. It was release. It was fun. I was not interested in sports and I didn’t have the permission from my parents to go rambling very far away from the block. So I kept myself sane by using my imagination.

HKG: It’s fascinating, I think a lot about what, as a journalist, what motivates people. What helps them to accomplish their success, what holds other people back.

GM: Right.

HKG: You could have gone in a million different directions, right? But because your parents were a little overprotective, because of the family’s losses, you went in this direction. How do you explain that?

GM: Well you know if you ever read a biography of Stephen Sondheim, the great musical composer of Into the Woods and the lyricist for West Side Story and things like that. He says that he was a fatherless child and his mother threw him onto the kind offices of the neighbors in their connecticut neighborhood I guess it was, I think it was connecticut, maybe upstate new york, and one of them was, I think it was Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote, of course, The Sound of Music and The King and I and South Pacific and things like that, and Stephen Sondheim, so desperately in need of fatherly attention, began to try to write like his, like the man down the block, write words and music, and he has said if the man down the block who gave me some fatherly attention at the time that I needed it, had been a bioengineer or a mathematician I probably would be a bioengineer or a mathematician right now. In other words there was just, he was an intelligent person with a lot of verve and it was simply that the role of musical theater was the area in which his father figure was working and so he wanted to impress him and that’s what he did. In the same way, I don’t think I wanted to impress my father, I wasn’t terribly fond of my father through most of childhood, I have come around to understand him a lot better and certainly forgiven him and even forgiven myself for not being terribly fond of him at the time, but he was a writer. And so although he and my mother would have loved us to be doctors or lawyers or Indian chiefs even, 5 of his 7 children became writers because we saw that’s what he did and my stepmother loved language and poetry, they were both great storytellers and very precise in their use of grammar and fine raconteurs and fine linguists, interested in etymology, and they conferred that interest to me and all my siblings whether they wanted to or not. So here I am.

HKG: Ah, it’s amazing. Well let’s talk a little bit about this. I read that you said that in all of your books the main character’s either lost a parent, a mother especially, and you said, “If you have a question about it, do you totter more than somebody else? Or do you walk more forcefully because you’re questioning it and lean more forcefully into the questions that life provides? I don’t know the answer. But I’m really conscious of the fact that I can’t seem to start a novel unless the character doesn’t have a mother. If the mother is still alive, if the mother was there—what’s the problem? There’s nothing to write about.” Talk a little bit about that.

GM: I forgot I had written that so explicitly and if we were on Skype you’d probably see me blushing a little bit but in fact I do sort of believe that. There are people who say, “writers only have one story” and they write it over and over and over again. And on a certain level I think that that’s true, with the exception of perhaps some Shakespeare, but even Shakespeare had one burning issue which is how do I communicate the complexity of the human experience by demonstrating it through character. Maurice Sendak is another, was a friend of mine, and he’s definitely one of my muses and he did about a hundred books but the common thread through all of them is that children have the resources to push through whatever besets them whether they know it or not, that is if they’re healthy enough and if they’re lucky enough, if they’re not run over by, you know, the Nazi war machine. Children have incredible resources, much more staunch in their architecture and in their resilience than we generally think of when we think of pretty, rosey cheeked, grinning children or sleeping children. Children are strong little beggars and you see that in all of his books, once you get that you see that’s always what he’s writing about.
Well yes in most of my books I’m writing about a character who has to find a way to push through without the guiding and inspiring tutelage, usually of a maternal figure it’s true, but you know, a lot of people lost their mothers through childbirth through most of human history, it’s only in the last fifty years, even in the United States, that deaths in childbirth have dropped so significantly that people don’t think of them as a common scourge and a cost of childbearing. When my mother died it was in the paper, 1954, and it was the first death in childbirth in quite some time in Albany, it made the news, and it really doesn’t happen very often any more. So there’s my particular little psychic burden and it’s true that if there’s a father and a mother and a child and they’re all sitting at the breakfast table eating their cheerios there’s no story to write, call off the book and go work on your garden. There has to be some turmoil.

HKG: You also said that you want to write about the nature of evil and the various ways that people demonize their enemies. Because in Wicked, you switched it around which is so fantastic, so you said once you got the idea of using the witch as a way to think how we bully you started thinking about what you knew about her and you were almost, days, a week, away from being drafted potentially into the Vietnam war. Nixon was solidly in your head which colored your answer [key (hard to hear)]. I love this stuff because you question things that we just sort of swallow hook line and sinker, right? So tell us a little bit more about that brilliant idea?

GM: Well somebody said, “When did you get this idea?” And sometimes the answer to, “Where did the idea for Wicked come from?” I said well, I started getting the idea when I was 5 and first saw the movie The Wizard of Oz for the first time and I kept getting the idea for every year between say nineteen, I think the first time it was on tv was 1959 or around there, and like most children I watched it through every year of my childhood. It was one of the few things my parents would relent and let us watch on tv. They let us watch a little bit of half hour sitcoms and when we were older we could watch the The Carol Burnett Show but, generally speaking, they were very strict about tv, they didn’t think it was good for us and they didn’t care to have us spend our time watching it but every year, religiously if you will, they relented and let us watch The Wizard of Oz. So I started getting the idea when I was five or six because after it aired I would bully my brothers and sisters and neighborhood children into our backyard and we would play The Wizard of OZ and I was the director, I was Robert Altman and I would give people their parts and their roles and we would, everybody in the neighborhood had seen it the night before, it was the definition of must see tv if you were in grade school in the 50’s and 60’s. So we would play it and I would shake it up a little bit. I’d say, “Okay that was pretty good. Let’s do it again.” And then I’d change the roles around and then I’d say, “And this time, Sheila, you can be the Wicked Witch of the West and Jeff, you can be Captain Hook.” And then some bloody little fundamentalist among my siblings would say, “But wait Captain Hook’s not in that story, you got the wrong story!” And I’d say, “Excuse me, I’m the director. In this version Captain Hook is in the story and all we know so far is that he and the Wicked Witch of the West are gonna get married and have twins. So let’s go.” And you know once you start telling the story again and you’ve changed even one detail it’s like that principle about the butterfly flapping its wings in China and there being monsoons and hurricanes in the Central American plains. It changes everything if you change one detail because every action is slightly differently impacted and then it snowballs into a very different story. So in a way I began writing Wicked when I was 5 but in another way I didn’t really begin until I was in my late 30’s and I began to have serious intellectual questions about the nature of evil. Specifically there was the murder of a small boy in England by two schoolchildren ages 11 and 14 and as the nation, and indeed the world, tried to grapple with how could two boys in grade school decide in the morning after breakfast on their way to school to skip school and hang out at the local mall and become murderers by dinnertime. The question has to be asked: how does that happen? Where does that evil potential come from? How could they do that? And it was such a gripping question and remains for me such a gripping question that I felt I had to write about it. I had to understand a little better or die and since I’m Irish and I’m glib so I can talk for a long time but I’m actually a fairly slow thinker, the only way that I really understand anything is by writing about it. So I decided I needed to write a story in which evil was a really central concern, a plank, and people say, “You have to write what you know” and I think, “Well, what do I know? I know church music and children’s books. Where’s the evil there?” And then the scales fell from my eyes and I thought, “Ugh, there are a lot of villains in children’s books and because they’re childrens books they’re very simple villains so that they can be defeated without any second thoughts morally and I thought of the Wicked Witch of the West and I had my vision if you will, my inspiration, and I knew it too. The moment that I thought of the Wicked Witch of the West I started to laugh because I knew nobody knew anything about her and so no New York Review of Books critic could say I got it all wrong. There wasn’t anything there, anything that I said could be right and I knew then that I was onto something.

HKG: Wow. Well you had come up with Once Upon a Time, the fabulous TV series way before they did.

(Both laugh)

GM: Various people have asked me did I inspire that TV show and I say, “Well, only indirectly my dears. Only indirectly.” But I think Wicked as a novel, I certainly don’t claim to have invented the idea of looking at a famous story from another character’s point of view, I mean Tom Stoppard, no less than the genius Tom Stoppard, did it brilliantly in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Jeane Rhys did it in Wide Sargasso Sea about the backstory if you will of Ms. Rochester from Wuthering Heights. So it’s been done before and it’s been done by people who are better writers than I but I think it hadn’t quite been done for looking at children’s books from an adult’s perspective in quite the same way. So that I suppose is my particular contribution and Wicked became known as a crossover novel because although it was published for adults and it is very much an adult novel, a lot of teenagers read it. More so than I expected, if I’d known teenagers were gonna read it I would have tempered the language a little bit.

HKG: Yeah the New York Times article starts off with that in the lead how you’re sort of scolding some of these young girls who want to read it and you said, “Well only if your mom reads it first.”

GM: Well yes, I have a fatherly aspect to me. I don’t want to cause anybody to be alarmed. However I know full well from my own reading that if there was something in a book that I either didn’t get or didn’t like I would just kind of discount it and go on. If I didn’t understand what was going on I just would keep reading and get, you know, til I got to a place where I did and just gained it again. Or if I didn’t like a particular section, I didn’t have any shame about skipping to the next line break and finding what was happening after this, you know, boring or ugly or upsetting scene. So kids are pretty strong.

HKG: I know I never understand people who stop, I’m like, “Keep goin’ there’s more.”

GM: Yeah really.

(Both laugh)

HKG: Well let’s talk a little bit about that fatherly instinct that you have. So in 2004 you married Andy Newman who is a lawyer in D.C. and he really had a passion to become a painter and he is now, I actually just watched his youtube video, his intro, which is fantastic. And you were one of the first legal gay marriages in Massachusetts, correct?

GM: That’s true, we weren’t one of the first in terms of the first hour or the first day or even the first week but the more time goes on and we realize, well were within the first six weeks, that actually does count us among the first. And we got married about five weeks after it became legal I think, five or five and a half.

HKG: And so how did you meet him?

GM: Oh I met Andy at an artist colony in upstate New York, called Blue Mountain Center. He was there to put the finishing touches on a show he was going to have in Midtown Manhattan, of his artwork, and I was there working over the first draft of what would be Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and our paths overlapped by a month and it only took about two and a half weeks to recognize that there were big life changes ahead for both of us. We clicked instantly and that was twenty years ago this September. So we’ve been together for 20 years and our oldest child is turning twenty in December so we started adopting children just as quickly as we could. We recognized pretty quickly that this was a permanent situation that happened by great luck and grace.

HKG: So tell us a little bit about those kids. So Luke and Alex were adopted from Cambodia and your daughter Helen who has your mom’s name, she is from Guatemala.

GM: That’s right and we got them each when they were on the dotted line between infancy and toddlerhood. The youngest at the age of adoption was Alex and he was 8 and a half month old and the other two, respectively were 15 months and 11 months. So we didn’t quite do midnight feedings of infants but we did pretty nearly everything else and so now the oldest is in college and the next few are going to be in 11th and 12th grades respectively. So we’re almost done with our 20 year exercise of having children under the age of 18 which is hard to believe and I’ll tell you, I don’t mind the notion that we’re almost at the finish line either because it gets harder the older they get in some ways until they cross the line and really begin to be self regulating and that’s happening but it happens in fits and starts as anybody who has been a parent of a teenager will remember.

HKG: Yes, my kids are 18 and 21 I’m so with you.

(Both laugh)

HKG: So are they aspiring to be writers?

GM: I wouldn’t say that they are although one of them, and you know I’ve learned that it isn’t fair to talk to much about them and their lives because at this point they’re entering their own adult lives pretty much as so they can speak for themselves but one of them does some poetry/song lyrics and another one is interested in dance and in art and another one, who isn’t particularly interested in art, draws very well just by the by. So who knows what is down the road for them but I hope it is something that is fun, rewarding, and that makes a contribution to the world and I suspect that, probably, it will be.

HKG: That’s wonderful. So you’re still in Concord, Mass.?

GM: That’s true I’m in Concord, yup.

HKG: So what’s next for you?

GM: Well, that’s a really good question hope and I’m not sure. I will be spending the rest of this year promoting Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker and after that I am waiting to see. I may be sort of partially pregnant with a new book but I haven’t done the test yet so I’m not sure. I’m waiting to see if I can feel any kicking and see whether there’s something live germinating. I’m not sure, you can walk around with an idea sometime for two or three weeks or two or three months or two or three years and then eventually you think, “You know? That might have been a live idea ten years ago but it isn’t now” or it might be a live idea in ten more years and it isn’t yet. I’ll give you an example of that. In Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker there is a concept about a forest that has been severed from its native land and is slowly migrating across Europe, from southern Europe to northern Europe. It’s disguised as a forest because it looks like a forest and it is a forest so no one quite recognizes because it moves so slowly, that in fact it is a kind of sacred grove. It’s a forest with spirit and it’s slowly moving northward. Well, that’s an important part of Hiddensee, it’s really a central issue although it’s slightly disguised, and about 25 years ago when I was working on Wicked, right before i began Wicked in fact, I had a little manilla file full of potential picture book ideas. I’ve written a couple of picture books but they don’t come easily to me and it’s not my strong suit. But one of them was called The Little Lost Forest and I’d written about a page and a half and it wasn’t taking off anywhere, it wasn’t getting anywhere, so I put it back in the file and it had to wait 25 years before, in fact, it wandered across the terrain and found its home in Hiddensee. So I’m very patient with ideas. Sometimes they get born and then they go into hiding until the moment comes for them to come forth and flower and I’m patient with that and I’ll just wait and see what happens.

HKG: Fantastic advice for other writers I think. Do you have any other good advice for people that aspire to hit the crescendo that you have?

GM: Well I always loved the advice of the artist Ben Shahn, S-H-A-H-N if I have that correctly. His book is called The Shape of Content, and it’s a set of lectures given about art and specifically directed toward young artists, but one of the pieces of advice he gives is close yourself off to nothing and again, because I’m a type of fatherly figure I’d say, well don’t do anything illegal, don’t do anything dangerous, don’t hurt yourself or anybody else, that’s the bottom line, but barring that, close yourself off to nothing. Listen to everything, listen to everyone, be open to everything because it is really easy for all of us to become blocked, especially as artists, in our own vision and think that it’s prime. In fact our vision is constantly replenished as we replenish our lives so we need to keep replenishing our lives. This is true for old artists and it’s true for young artists too. So, I borrow Ben Shahn’s advice and, I’m sure with his happy recommendation, I share it with anybody who might be listening.

HKG: That is fantastic. One last question, talk a little bit about your spiritual realm, because your books definitely transcend us, not just what’s here on earth but take us to a place that we don’t tend to get to go very often. How does that work for you?

GM: That’s a really good and a complicated question and I’m not going to treat it shabbily by making joke. The truth is that for me, one of the most magical algorithms or transactional energies is the energy of the metaphor. So if I say, “The Sun is like a golden coin” the Sun becomes more than a golden coin it becomes something that is both the Sun and a golden coin and the next time I see a golden coin the golden coin is both a golden coin and also the Sun somehow. There’s some transference of power simply by the use of language and by the mental and spiritual act of considering both things at the same time. Without going into my personal spiritual beliefs or doubts, and they’re wound up quite tightly, together, as they are I think in most people, I will say that I believe that the act of considering at the same time something that is possible and real and something that is shimmeringly imaginative and impossible to confirm, enlarges both one’s sense of reality and one’s sense of the magic possibility of what you might call “non-reality” or “extra-reality.” I hope that’s not too gobbledygook for your listeners but I would never like to go out and say that I think that what I think and see in the world is all that there is. I feel the shimmery-ness in all things, in most things, that poets try to show us. I’m attuned to it and it makes my life richer and in my writing I try to confer some of the shimmery-ness to my readers so that their lives, might just for a moment, also be made richer.

HKG: Well they absolutely were. In fact I think I read that you said that your writing is often dream-like. Everything leads to the other thing without logic and you kind of put the logic in there and you take us with you for sure.

GM: Well you’re so kind to say that and I think that we can be terrified by our dreams of course but we can also be rewarded and inspired by them and maybe it’s important that both of those transactions occur. But I do try to trust my instincts and only when a book is done or a story is done sometimes to I go back and say, Okay, now I’ve landed that baby. Let’s go back and see what it’s really about.

HKG: So how do you feel about Hiddensee? What do you hope people take away.

GM:Well like any stage parent who is pushing his fifth five year old daughter onto the ballet stage for the first time, I’m terribly afraid that it’s going to fall and flop and break its chin on the floorboards but I’m proud of it of course and I hope that it speaks to other people as perhaps it spoke to you Hope.

HKG: Absolutely. Well we are talking to Gregory Maguire, the most amazing author Wicked and Hiddensee, his newest novel, which we’ll see where it goes, I’m sure it will hit the stratosphere as well as these other books that you’ve crafted.

GM: We’ll hope so. Thank you so much.

HKG: Thank you sir it was a pleasure talking to you and you are talking to the Inkandescent Radio Network and you can read my review of Hiddensee in Costco’s October issue. We’ll talk to you soon.

GM: Thanks Hope.