Marissa Meyer talks playing the Queen of Hearts and the lure of destiny in her newest novel, Heartless.
Heartless is your first standalone novel beyond The Lunar Chronicles. Why did you choose to write about the story of Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts?
There were two catalysts. The first is that I’ve been surrounded by Alice in Wonderland since I was a child. It’s one of my mom’s favorite stories, and she actually has an entire Alice collection — from blown-glass Christmas ornaments to music boxes to tea sets and more! So this world and characters have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
[And] I guess a part of me wanted to write it for my mom, too. I recall one Halloween where my mom went as the Queen of Hearts and my dad was the Mad Hatter, and I think that’s when I started to fall in love with this character. There were so many unknowns about her. In fact, this whole world is full of unknowns! So from the start I felt like there was so much potential, so much that could be done with this story.
The second catalyst was Wicked by Gregory Maguire, a book that I have a ton of admiration for. I love villain origin stories, and he really took that one to the next level — not only turning everything we thought we knew about the Wicked Witch of the West on its head, but even making an entire generation of readers love and sympathize with her.
I wondered if I could accomplish something similar with the Queen of Hearts. It felt like a great challenge.
Cath, the Queen of Hearts, has amazing romantic chemistry with her court jester, Jest. What do you think makes them such a perfect match and how do you get into the mindset to write their romance?
Whenever I’m writing a romance, I first feel that I have to start to fall in love myself. If the emotions are there for me, then it’s a lot easier for me to translate them into the character and the character’s actions and responses, and… I hope, it will transfer then to the reader! So, I wanted both Cath and Jest to have a quirkiness to them, a sense of humor that could play off each other. I had a lot of fun writing their playful banter.
And Jest is clearly the “outsider” from the start, yet there is a magnetism to him that Cath can’t resist, something so magical that it feels brand new and extraordinary, even in this very magical world they live in. But Cath doesn’t realize that she, too, has that same magnetism in her. She has a strength and fierceness that few people recognize, but Jest picks up on it right away.
Also, Cath snorts when she laughs, and I think that pretty much did Jest in from the start.
Do you believe in destiny?
Ha! If that’s not a loaded question…
Yes, and no. I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I do feel that there have been too many “coincidences” in my life to feel that there isn’t some force in the universe gently guiding us… or maybe lighting our paths is a better analogy. However, I think it’s up to us to ultimately choose the path we’ll travel down, and we should probably bring along a flashlight and a machete for when we get into those particularly gnarly parts of the trail. It’s not fair to leave everything up to destiny.
I will use an example from my own life: the very first moment I ever laid eyes on my husband, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be important in my life. I didn’t love him, I hadn’t even spoken to him! But I felt sure that he was meant to be something to me. That was destiny shining a big fat spotlight on him and telling me to pay attention. However, it was my choice to go dancing with friends that night rather than stay in relaxing after a long work week. It was my choice to ask him to dance. It was his choice to say yes, and ask for my number at the end of the night. Destiny might be there, lighting the way, but it won’t do everything for you.
When you were writing Heartless, were you tempted to have Cath defy her destiny and get her heart’s desire?
There was always a part of me that was rooting for her to get her heart’s desire. There still is, in fact! And there were many times in writing it when I found myself hoping that maybe I’d gotten her ending wrong, that there was a way for her to defy destiny while still making this the origin story of The Queen… without it all feeling like a big trick I was playing on the readers. But it was just as, or more important, for me to pay respect to the character we see in Alice in Wonderland, and to make that as natural a result of this tale as possible.
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer hits stores on Nov. 8, and is available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local independent bookstore.
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