Where did you get the idea for Wicked?

When I was a kid, watching the annual TV broadcast of MGM’s 1939 masterpiece, The Wizard of Oz, was a ritual of American childhood, right up there with Hallowe’en trick-or-treats and Fourth of July fireworks. In the days following the broadcast, I bullied my siblings and friends to act out the play. Years later, when questions arose in me about the mystery of evil and how the concept of the inhuman enemy is used to legitimize violence (institutionalized bullying!) I needed to write a novel about it. Using L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz made sense because I wanted to write about a character already understood to be wicked. And who could be more wicked than someone for whom the word “wicked” was nearly a part of her name?

Have you always wanted to write?

I grew up in a lower middle-class family, the fourth of seven children. My father was a journalist and my stepmother, who raised me, something of a poet. They both loved words and etymologies, good writing, and storytelling of every variety. So the library became a sanctuary (because it was free and because it was almost the only place I was allowed to go on my own, my parents being possessed of nervous dispositions). I began to write stories, then, by the time I was in first or second grade, and wrote for fun all through grade school and high school. I didn’t realize I was conducting my own apprenticeship. I was interned to all the writers in the Albany Public Library whose books I loved, and I emulated their work and had fun doing it. I didn’t think of it as preparing for a career.

What were your favorite books as a child?

In no special order, here they are. Only a few surprises, I bet (to people of my generation anyway).

The Narnia chronicles. C. S. Lewis
Harriet the Spy. Louise Fitzhugh.
The Diamond in the Window series by Jane Langton.
A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L’Engle.
Half Magic. And other books by Edward Eager.
Loretta Mason Potts. Mary Ellen Chase.
The Mary Poppins books. P. L. Travers.
The Green Knowe books. L. M. Boston.
Higglety Pigglety Pop! And others by Maurice Sendak.
The Borrowers series. Mary Norton.
The Moomintroll series. Tove Jansson.
Charlotte’s Web. E. B. White.
Peter Pan. J. M. Barrie.
Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll.
The Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum.

Bonus: Here are some children’s books and series I have loved as an adult, but that weren’t around or I didn’t discover when I was a kid.

The Golden Compass. (Northern Lights series). Philip Pullman.
The Earthsea series. Ursula K. Le Guin.
The Dark Is Rising series. Susan Cooper.
The Box of Delights. John Masefield.
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. Nancy Farmer.
Howl’s Moving Castle. Diana Wynne Jones.
Tuck Everlasting. Natalie Babbitt.
Unleaving. Jill Paton Walsh.
A Step Off the Path. Peter Hunt.

I’d probably also have cherished J. K. Rowling, Terri Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Brian Jacques, and such writers as those if I had gotten them earlier. As it is, I admire them but they aren’t central to me. Nor, for that matter, is J. R. R. Tolkien, though I am fond of The Hobbit.

What adult novels have inspired you?

The most important one is T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, the story of King Arthur from boyhood to death. I didn’t realize until I had written Wicked that the T. H. White story is probably the prototype for Wicked, as White’s novel is also a new presentation of a famous story, daringly told as if it had never been told before.

Others, inspiring for reasons of tone and style and theme:

Angle of Repose. Wallace Stegner.
Mariette in Ecstasy. Ron Hansen.
(Also Hitler’s Niece by Ron Hansen.)
Human Voices. Penelope Fitzgerald.
Senseless. Stona Fitch.
To the Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf.
In Search of Lost Time. Marcel Proust.
Howard’s End, A Passage to India. E. M. Forster.
An Uncommon Reader. Alan Bennett.

What is your involvement with children’s literature education and with literacy efforts?

With a master of arts degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College, I taught at Simmons for eight years. Then I helped colleagues and friends found Children’s Literature New England, Inc., and codirected it for 25 years. The mission statement of CLNE is “to raise awareness of the significance of literature in the lives of children.”

To that end, I’ve also taught in master’s degree programs at Lesley College and at U. Mass / Boston. I’ve served on the Board of Associates of the Boston Public Library and on other boards. My working life has had two strands: that of professional writer (which includes reviewing and criticism as well as fiction) and that of advocate for excellence in literature for the young. When younger, I took in so much from school and libraries that today I am passionate about supporting literacy programs for children whenever I can.

What is your working day like?

It depends. I have three teenagers at home as I write this, so there is a lot of work as a Personal Assistant to the young. Scheduling, taxiing, harrying, encouraging, hectoring. Loving all around. That always comes first. If I’m in the middle of the first draft of a novel, I often try to do between 2 and 5 pages a day, sometimes at home but more often out at a coffee shop or library. I share a work space in a block of artist’s studios in my home town, too. This first-draft writing can sometimes be done in an hour or so, but it is a draining hour. Any day in which I come up with 2 to 5 new pages of prose is a day of accomplishment.

It takes me between 8 to 15 weeks to get the initial draft of a new novel written—and sometimes I have to break for summer holidays, Christmas, family matters. I do about 5 drafts before I show it to anyone, and another 5 drafts before it appears in print—if anyone wants to publish it. I can edit for far longer than an hour at a time.

At this schedule, I publish about a book a year, give or take.

What are you working on now?

In 2016 I am dabbling with a novel, probably for adults, that has some relationship with a rather well known children’s story one often comes across during the Christmas season…