A "Wicked" interview in advance of Thursday's Gregory Maguire event
In advance of our Thursday, October 20, conversation event with Gregory Maguire, we're sharing freelance writer Jack Rightmyer's interview with the novelist published in Sunday's Times Union.
Gregory Maguire, in conversation with Jo Page
7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 20, 2022
Page Hall, UAlbany Downtown campus 135 Western Avenue Albany NY 12203 Free and open to the public. Free parking.
Books will be for sale at the event.
A signing will follow the conversation.
Albany native Gregory Maguire on Wicked success, fantasy escapism
By Jack Rightmyer
Oct. 12, 2022, Albany Times Union. Reprinted with permission.
Albany native Gregory Maguire, author of more than 20 books including Wicked, which became the source for the enormously popular Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, believes writing has allowed him to keep his sanity.
“While Oz for most of us is the archetypical story of a lost child who finds her way home, for me it has been a stand in for how I look at the real world, which I find much more mysterious and incomprehensible than Oz,” Maguire said.
As a writer Maguire loves that he can control and create his own worlds. “It’s a type of therapy. The world today is not only mysterious, but it’s very frightening. Without Oz to inspire me and allow me to use my creative imagination I’d probably be lost in my anxieties.”
Maguire's most recent book The Oracle of Maracoor is volume two of the Another Day Trilogy, and the seventh book he’s written related to Oz. It continues the story of Elphaba’s green-skinned daughter, Rain, as she travels through the mysterious land of Maracoor across the ocean from Oz. She and some companions are in search for the fabled Oracle of Maracoor with the hope of finding her way back to Oz.
“In March 2020 we didn’t know how many people in the world would be dead in a year, if the economy was going to flatten out, and if we were heading into another Great Depression," Maguire said. "The world had shut down. I could no longer travel. I couldn’t even leave my house. I had three children, and I needed to stay functional and keep myself strong. That’s how I ended up writing about Maracoor. That was my psychological escape hatch.”
As his characters journeyed through Maracoor, Maguire went along with them not sure where they were taking him and what would happen. “I was walking with them in this act of creation, and that was so much fun because for a few hours every day it took me out of the reality of COVID,” he said.
Maguire will feature in two upcoming local events: A reading and conversation at Page Hall at the University of Albany on Thursday, Oct. 20, via the New York State Writers Institute, and as the keynote speaker at the Saratoga Book Festival at the Saratoga Springs City Center the following Saturday.
Maguire has always loved reading and writing stories of fantasy, and has found himself in good company. “The popularity of fantasy has come and gone in waves. When Wicked was published in 1995 it was the beginning of this great era of fantasy writing. It was published the same year as the first book of The Game of Thrones and just before the first Harry Potter book. Fantasy has maintained its popularity even today with all the Marvel movies.”
He sees fantasy as a way to see our own homeland a bit more clearly. “We look through the lens of some foreign place to see who we are. Most fantasies are often about the weak, the abandoned, and the cursed, so fantasy allows us to cheer on the underdog.”
Maguire often feels like a parent to the characters he has created. “The final job of parenting is to let your child go. That’s your obligation. I have grown to like the character of Rain very much. I want her to fly free and live her own life and not her grandmother’s or her father’s. It’s the same thing I hope for my three children who are all quickly becoming adults.”
He published his first book in 1978, and one of the big surprises for him is that in the last 44 years he’s developed a large readership. “Writing is more enjoyable today than it has ever been. I’ve been very frugal and today I no longer rely on the money I receive from my book sales. I also feel I’m writing as well as I ever have maybe because I don’t feel such pressure to write a bestseller. I love language, and I love to surprise my readers which makes writing such fun.”
Maguire attributes much of his good fortune as a writer to an extraordinary book review Wicked received in 1995 in the Los Angeles Times. “That review was on the front page of the book section, and the very next day all the Hollywood people wanted to buy it. That’s how it first became a play.”
He has now seen the play 61 times in the last 20 years, and he’s never short of breathless when Elphaba flies up into the heavens just before intermission. “I always feel electrified watching that scene. This is my character. She is one aspect of my personality.”
The first time Maguire saw the play with an audience was a preview production in San Francisco. “I was sitting in row H and had no idea how the show was going to go. I had read the script, heard some of the songs, but I had not seen the costumes, the staging, or the special effects.”
As the play began and the audience was laughing as Glinda, the good witch, came down in her bubble, he wondered if the production was intent on making fun of the story he had written. “I was feeling a bit uneasy about that, but then eight minutes in Elphaba strides on stage all dressed in green, and the audience went wild. What occurred to me was how much they liked the wicked witch. They were welcoming her back. They were on her side, and that’s what I had hoped for.”
The film version of Wicked starring Cynthia Erivo, Ariana Grande, and Jonathan Bailey will begin filming in London in the next four months with an expected release date of December 2024.
“I’m excited for the movie, and I hope to be present at some of the filming," Maguire said. "It’s going to be a big budget film, and even if it’s a disappointment like the movie ‘Cats,’ it won’t change the effect ‘Wicked’ on stage has had throughout the world where over 100 million people have seen it.”