In the nearly 20 years since Gregory Maguire humanized the Wicked Witch of the
West in “Wicked,” his bestselling novel which became a hit Broadway musical, he has written more than a dozen books for adults and children. This month, he released “Egg and Spoon,” a fairy tale set in Russia. He lives with his husband and children in Concord.
WHERE THE WILD IDEAS ARE: One of my muses is Maurice Sendak. On one wall, I have a beautiful pencil drawing [of his] that I bought — some “Wild Things’’ playing musical instruments in an air balloon. I go back again and again to what he told me personally or what he said during the many, many times I heard him speak in public. He relied hugely on the subconscious to tell him what his work was about. I have learned to do that, too. I’ll write like a school kid, trying to get to the end of the page and then pad it so I can go out and play. I’ll follow the whim and the fun of writing, but when I go back the next day and look at it, time after time I see my subconscious has set me up to notice something. I follow along the clues my subconscious gives me, but I have to be very astute [to notice].
GOOD BONES: I spend much more time on editing [than writing]; I write rather quickly and cleanly. I always try to make my sentences shorter. I clip out as many adverbs as I possibly can. You overwrite to give yourself conviction, but once you’re sure of your destination, then you go back and take out the guiderails. That’s what editing is for me — taking away all I can to reveal the bones of the piece.
THINK PIECES: If I can collect a little assemblage of items that put me in a mood of the book, then I find some place in my study where I can put them out. For “Egg and Spoon,” I had some wonderful things. I had a 1940’s era paper mache Baba Yaga’s cottage. It’s only standing on one chicken’s foot; it got broken somewhere along the way. I have a number of matryoshkas I’ve collected over the years. I have a number of painted eggs I’ve painted myself starting 40 years ago; I used to paint one every Easter. Some of them have Russian themes. I have little British foot soldiers. I’ll arrange them on a little altar to the muse. I don’t play with them — I don’t march them around the room and sing little songs — but the fact that they’re there is a clue to myself that the studio is open.
MOOD MUSIC: To get into the mood, fifteen minutes before I start [writing], I’ll listen to music. For something like “Egg and Spoon,’’ which has a romantic feeling, I listened to Tchaikovsky. I found some piano sonatas by a Russian composer named Nikolai Medtner. The effect, to me, is slightly restrained, and I’m not capsized. I start drowning when the “1812 Overture’’ comes on. I like music that’s suggestive rather than declarative.
FOR THE KIDS: I stand in such awe of my great heroes like E.M. Forster and Emily Dickinson [and Maurice Sendak and Hans Christian Andersen] that every time I read them or encounter their work, it feels like they took a chisel to my skull and cracked it open and poured the hot wax of their intelligence and their quivering intensity into my brain. I have to escape it and persuade myself that it’s OK to work. Sometimes I’ll pull up onto my computer photos of kids — my great-nieces and nephews, some kids splashing in a fire hydrant in Mattapan — and say, “You’re not writing for the ages. You’re writing for them.”
Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson@ gmail.com.