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Interview: Marissa Meyer, Author of CINDER and SCARLET

Last year, the first book in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series, CINDER, about a cyborg Cinderella was recieved with high acclaim. The second book in the series, SCARLET, is an adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, which follows Scarlet on the quest for her grandmother who may have been taken because of the secrets she's been keeping. In this interview, Marissa Meyer explains how each book in the Lunar Chronicle series links together, reveals her favorite part of retelling Little Red Riding Hood and shares which fairy tales characters are to come!

The first book in the Lunar Chronicles, CINDER, was based on the fairy tale, Cinderella. What made you choose Red Riding Hood as the next fairy tale in the series?

When I was first plotting out the series, I’d had a list of ten or so of my favorite fairy tales, and I spent a lot of time brainstorming different ways that I could tweak the stories to give them a science-fiction spin. Little Red Riding Hood kept popping to the surface, and I knew it was familiar enough that readers would have an instant connection to it, while also having a lot of wiggle room for me to re-envision the story in my futuristic, high-tech world. I was particularly excited to see what could be done with the character of the Big Bad Wolf.

We also travel to a new part of the world in SCARLET. CINDER was set in China. What prompted you to have Scarlet and her grandmother live a small town in southern France?

Because I knew that Scarlet would feature “werewolves” (although not quite how we normally see them in YA fiction), I wanted to set it someplace that already had a rich history of werewolves or werewolf mythology. Of course, wolf stories are prevalent in cultures all over the
world, so that didn’t exactly narrow it down. Then one day I saw a TV documentary about “The Beast of Gévaudan,” which was a creature that supposedly roamed the French countryside in the 18th-century. There was a slew of killings in a few rural towns and the townspeople attributed it to this beast, which they believed was a werewolf. This legend was also where the idea of werewolves being vulnerable to silver bullets comes from. So that old tale of werewolves, murders and terror inspired the rural French setting for Scarlet.

How is living on a farm in the future different than now? What innovations did you create for Scarlet and her grandmother?

Probably the biggest difference is that they have androids and machines that take care of the majority of the work, such as tilling the fields and harvesting the crops. I don’t think this is too far a jump from the machinery that farmers are already using to lessen the physical labor farming requires --- it’s just taking it one step further. However, Scarlet and her grandmother are old-fashioned in that they still enjoy doing some of the smaller tasks themselves, such as tending to her vegetable garden, feeding the chickens, gathering the eggs, milking the cow, etc. There are androids in this future world that could be programmed to do that, but Scarlet’s grandmother thinks you get a better product when you put hands-on attention and love into it, and she’s instilled those beliefs in Scarlet as well. I think, no matter how good our technology gets, there will always be a place in the world for that personal touch.

Scarlet's grandmother isn't a helpless old lady and Scarlet isn't a naive girl like in the fairy tale. What prompted you to make these changes?

I didn’t want to rely on the stereotypes of popular fairy tale characters, and so I try to avoid them wherever possible. That started with Cinderella --- Cinder isn’t a pushover and Prince Kai isn’t a dandy --- and I hope that will continue through the entire series. For me, it wouldn’t be any fun to write about those characters. I like heroes who are courageous, who stand up for what they believe in and who take steps to right the injustices they see. Of course, they all have their faults, too (both Scarlet and her grandmother are horribly stubborn.)

What did you have the most fun with while adapting this fairy tale to fit in the world of the Lunar Chronicles?

I really enjoyed exploring Wolf and the “gang” he belonged to --- “The Order of the Pack.” I did a lot of research on wolves, their hierarchy, social structure, communication, and hunting skills in order to give these characters as many wolf-like tendencies as I could, while also making sure that I had scientific explanations for how they’ve come to be the way they are. The Pack developed into a small society all on its own, which was really fun to develop and write about.

Scarlet isn't the only main character in the second book in the series: Cinder returns with the challenge of getting out of jail and Kai adjusts to life as a leader. Why did you choose to have a character return in the second book and will we see this throughout the series?

It was my plan fairly early on to have all four books in the series add up to one continuous story, and as I brainstormed the plot, it became clear that the story was going to revolve around two main characters: Cinder and evil Queen Levana. But part of the fun for me is mixing all of the fairy tales together and having these characters cross paths with each other as they move in and out of their own stories. As the story goes on, we get to see how Cinderella’s prince might react to the Big Bad Wolf or how Rapunzel might get along with Snow White’s hunter, etc. So yes, Cinder and Kai will be in all four books, and the cast of characters will continue to grow as we move throughout the different tales.

Did you love fairy tales when you were growing up? If so, which were your favorites?

Absolutely --- I was raised on Disney movies, like most of my generation! But I was still really young when I was given a book of fairy tales that had Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” in it, and I remember being shocked at how different it was from the Disney movie. It really made me question how other popular fairy tales might be different from the movies I was familiar with, and that kicked off a fascination that I have to this day. It’s impossible for me to choose a favorite, but obviously the four that I’ve chosen to rewrite in The Lunar Chronicles (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White) rank highly!

As you read fairy tales as an adult, do you see different things in them than
you did when you were a child?

Oh yes. I took a “fairy tale and fantasy literature” course in college, in which we talked a lot about the psychology and symbolism behind fairy tales. How certain elements are like a “code,” hinting at things like social unrest, sexual maturation, religion and morals, etc. Though I can still read and appreciate a fairy tale as a children’s story without trying to pick it apart, I’ll never be able to read them exactly the same way again.

What has been your favorite reaction from your fans to this series?

I love seeing fanart! It’s been one of the greatest honors to know that readers have been inspired to create something of their own, and I really enjoy seeing how readers interpret what the characters look like or how some scenes might have played out differently. That tells me that readers want to continue to spend time in the world of the Lunar Chronicles, and there’s no greater compliment than that.

What are you hoping fans will get out of this second book in the series?

I hope they fall in love with the new characters --- Scarlet, Wolf and Captain Thorne --- just as much as they fell in love with Cinder and Kai!

There are two more novels in the series. Can you share with us what fairy tale characters they will be based on or is this a secret?

No secret at all! Book Three: CRESS is inspired by Rapunzel, but rather than being trapped in a tower, Cress is stuck in a satellite orbiting Earth. She also happens to be a computer hacker forced to work for Queen Levana. Book Four: WINTER is based on Snow White, where we will finally get to see the world of the Lunars.