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Festival of Words authors answer questions

Daily Staff Report
Special to the DailyGregory Maguire brings his in-depth knowledge of wickedness to the 2004 Festival of Words.
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The 2004 Festival of Words is fast approaching with the festivities kicking off on Friday, April 16. The Booklovers’ Wellness Weekend offers participants the chance to meet nationally recognized authors and hear their stories.

In order for participants to get to know the authors before the event, the Vail Daily is featuring an interview with each author every Friday in the weeks leading up to the Festival.

Meet Gregory Maguire:

After writing a dozen children’s books, Gregory Maguire decided to try his hand at an adult novel. His first effort resulted in a bestseller, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” which is currently a Broadway musical. He followed with “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister,” which aired on ABC-TV in 2002 starring Stockard Channing and Jonathan Price. “Lost” was published in 2001 followed by “Mirror, Mirror” in 2003.

Maguire is the co-director of Boston-based Children’s Literature New England, founded in 1987 to promote the significance of literature in the lives of children. He makes his home outside of Boston with his partner, the painter Andy Newman, their two sons and daughter.

How did you start writing?

My parents were seriously strict and also had to manage the family with a tight budget. There simply weren’t very many games to play or trips to take or even toys to smash. Our entertainment therefore involved, first, creating plays to amuse ourselves and our parents, and, shortly thereafter, reading and writing. Five of my seven siblings became writers, though I’m the only fiction writer among us.

Is there a particular author, past or present, who has influenced your writing?

I could name two writers. The fantasist (and adult murder mystery writer) Jane Langton, who published a series of well-regarded fantasies about children in Concord, Mass., that were so riveting to me that I have made my home in Concord for the past 10 years. I learned from her that books for children could be lively and dramatic and also philosophical and even moral.

However, when I look at my adult work, I think perhaps the work of T. H. White, particularly in his novel “The Once and Future King,” a retelling of the King Arthur legends, provided me with my model for “Wicked” and subsequent books. At once rich, learned, comic, episodic and tragic, “The Once and Future King” assumed that the material of legend was adult stuff and suitable for adult audiences. When I decided to revisit Oz in my novel “Wicked,” I hoped to achieve a similar blend of classy writing, narrative zing, memorable characters – and also write about a subject. White’s subject was power and its uses. Mine was evil and its definitions.

3. How do you spend your time when you are not writing?

Andy says I do “good works.” This can mean sitting on boards, or cutting up celery, or addressing the kids’ valentines for them because they’ve gotten bored halfway through the process. I am a compulsive neatnik, and since we now have a large house, I am always in the middle of some closet-cleaning or basement-organizing project or other. I wonder if this actually is part of my writing process. I think the constant registration of mess, externally, is akin to the process of organizing the mental mess that writing a novel requires one to do.

4. If you could trade places with one famous person for a day, who would it be and why?

I’ve become friends with Joel Grey, who plays the Wizard in the Broadway musical production of “Wicked.” We are almost the same shape and size – I may be a few inches taller, but not much – and we have joked about my inheriting his costume when the time comes for him to leave the show. I would love to play his part one day. I would love to get the applause he gets!

5. What is your best personal quality?

My total honesty in all things. Frankly, I’m wonderful, and we all know it. Oh, all right. My best personal quality is endurance. I rarely give up.

6. What is your most aggravating habit?

The same – endurance. I rarely give up. This includes saying hello to people for weeks, months, even years, one day after the next, refusing to accept that people who see each other regularly shouldn’t acknowledge it with a simple greeting. It would be easier to give up. But in the end we want to go to our graves knowing something certain about ourselves, and I would like to know – or to have it known – that I was a person of tenacity, even if, occasionally, tenacity about the wrong things.

7. Finish this sentence: What is your favorite way to waste time?

When I’m on book tour and in distant cities where no friends or family can know, I don’t trawl for sex in city parks nor drink myself into a stupor. I lie on the bed in my hotel room and channel surf for “The Simpsons” or “The Golden Girl” reruns. We watch no TV at home so for me this is a sinful luxury.

8. If your house were on fire, what would you try to save and why?

Assuming all personnel were safe and so were family photos, I’d probably save in this order:

An autographed copy of Robert Frost poetry, given to me by my stepmother (he had originally signed it to her); autographed copies of books by Maurice Sendak and letters from Stephen Sondheim and Tony Kushner, all of whom are among my heroes; paintings, any and all – we have several Renaissance landscapes by anonymous painters (views of Lake Como, Florence, etc.) – all the paintings by Andy Newman, which are pricey to the outside world and priceless to me.

9. What is the worst job you ever had?

Scooping ice cream at a Friendly’s ice cream bar. To learn why, read my story “Chatterbox” in the anthology called “I Believe in Water.”

10. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

A professional liar.

The 2004 Festival of Words is a three-day event beginning with a Wine and Wit evening of poetry on Friday, April 16, and followed by an Afternoon with Authors on Saturday, April 17. A Footnote Breakfast with the authors will cap off the weekend on Sunday, April 18. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the Vail Symposium at 476-0954 or visit http://www.festivalofwords.org.


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