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new england writers at work

Gregory Maguire writes and edits for kids

Author Gregory Maguire fills his study with items that put him in the mood to write.
Author Gregory Maguire fills his study with items that put him in the mood to write. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

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.

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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.

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A mounted paper cut-out by Hans Christian Andersen in the study.
A mounted paper cut-out by Hans Christian Andersen in the study. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

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.

A Russian hut from the 1940s sits in the Concord home.
A Russian hut from the 1940s sits in the Concord home. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

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.”

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Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson@ gmail.com.