#1 New York Times–bestselling author Marissa Meyer's new book, Gilded, is a remarkable retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Marissa has also written the Renegades Trilogy, The Lunar Chronicles series, the Wires and Nerve graphic novels, and The Lunar Chronicles Colouring Book. Her first standalone novel, Heartless, was also a #1 New York Times bestseller. Marissa created and hosts a podcast called The Happy Writer. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and their two daughters.
Gilded (Hot Key Books)
Gilded is Marissa Meyer's retelling of the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin, with all the darkness and foreboding elicited by the original Grimms tale, but with adventure, humour and even romance woven into the threads of the story. We asked her to tell us more about her fairy tale retellings and why she wanted to revisit the story of Rumpelstiltskin.
Q&A with Marissa Meyer
1. Did you start writing fantasy because that is what you enjoy reading?
Definitely. I remember being swept away to Narnia and Middle Earth when I was young, and fantasy books became a huge influence on me when I started writing my own stories. Every one of my early attempts at writing a novel featured princesses, magic, and epic quests!
2. A number of your novels, like your new book Gilded, draw on fairy tales. What do you enjoy about exploring these stories?
I am fascinated by how universal fairy tales are. The same themes and story patterns appear in stories from all over the world and across time. That really says something about humans, and how our desires, fears, and hopes are so similar, no matter who we are or where we come from. As a writer, I love that we can take the skeleton of these stories that are so familiar and beloved to so many people and add our own voice and thoughts to them.
3. Do you seek happy-ever-afters in your retellings? Or do fairy tales always come with a bite?
A little of both! Not all of my books have ended up, but by and large, I do prefer a happily ever after. That said, I like to make my characters work for it! It isn't satisfying if it comes too easily. I also recognize that "happily ever after" can mean different things to different people, which I think is an interesting theme in itself to play with.
4. How did you respond to the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale as a child, what kinds of questions did it leave you with?
I both loved and hated this fairy tale - perhaps more than any other! I was drawn to its darkness and strangeness, but also frustrated at how many unanswered questions were left. Did the king never ask the miller's daughter (now his queen) to spin straw into gold after they were married? Was she really happy with this man who had threated to kill her multiple times? Did her father - the original liar - never meet any consequence? And why, WHY did Rumpelstiltskin want the firstborn child? Those are just some of the questions that were gnawing at me for decades, that I've really enjoyed exploring in Gilded.
5. Why did you return to Rumpelstiltskin as inspiration for Gilded?
For the most part, I have the same questions now as I did then, but now I also have the confidence as a writer to take those questions and the heart of the story and twist things around to fit the narrative I want to tell. I wanted to give the miller's daughter a lot more autonomy and control over her destiny.
I also knew from the beginning that the king, not Rumpelstiltskin, would be the villain of the story, because he always struck me as villainous in the fairy tale. That left room for a new romantic interest, which is probably the biggest change I made to the story, but one I really enjoyed writing.
6. How did your lead character, Serilda, develop; did she grow on the page or do you know your characters well before you start to write them?
Most of my main characters change and develop in the writing and revision process, and Serilda is no different. It took maybe three drafts before I really started to hear her voice and understand how she sees the world.
She's a bit of an outcast in her town, but rather than becoming withdrawn and defensive, she goes through life with a bright outlook and attempts to charm people she meets - before they realize that she's been cursed and can shun her. I suppose that's a defence tactic, too, but it made her a really fun and charming character to write.
7. What gave you the idea to link her to the 'god of lies'?
The catalyst for Rumpelstiltskin begins with a lie. In the fairy tale, it's the miller who tells the king his daughter can spin straw into gold, but I wanted that lie to come from the girl herself, so that everything that happens afterward is a result of her own actions, not those of her father's. I also knew that I wanted her to be different, to be labelled as an outsider from the beginning. So that blossomed into this idea that she is a hopeless liar - and also an extravagant storyteller - and that she has been marked or cursed by a trickster god. Which then continued to expand into an entire pantheon of gods, and... at some point, it turned into the story of Gilded.
Honestly, it's hard to look back and try to trace how some of these concepts and ideas took hold. Once I land on something that feels "right" for the book, it's hard to imagine that it wasn't like that the entire time!
8. Fairy tale characters always have a lesson to learn. What does Serilda discover through Gilded?
That maybe she shouldn't lie so much!
9. Can you tell us about your world building for Gilded, and how you developed your 'rules' for the dark king Erlking's world?
A lot of the worldbuilding came from research. I was very inspired by 16th-century Germany, so that was a big influence for the general feel of the world. Food, clothing, transportation, etc. Magic is trickier to nail down, but there, too, I drew a lot of inspiration from Germanic and Norse mythology and folklore, starting with stories of the Wild Hunt and this wicked bogeyman-type character called the Erlking.
He was one of those characters that parents would pretend was real in order to get their children to behave, and some stories would have him kidnap children from the woods and eat their hearts, which seemed like good fodder for a villain. Some stories also put him as the leader of the Wild Hunt, which I loved, but that opened up a whole new batch of questions. When does the Wild Hunt ride and what are they hunting and who, exactly, are the hunters?
There was a lot of room for interpretation. So for me, a lot of worldbuilding comes down to asking questions, and then trying to find answers that work within the context of the story, and also make for an interesting landscape that I'd like to spend some time in.
10. Do you have any favourite creations in this world of ghouls and lost souls?
I'm pretty proud of my pantheon of gods. There are seven of them, and while they are drawn largely from pagan mythology, I took a lot of liberties, and I love thinking of them as real people with a history that has impacted this world. Readers will learn a lot more about them in Book Two.
11. In all good fairy tales, we learn something about ourselves and the world. What might your readers take from Gilded?
Stories are powerful. Serilda is a storyteller, and at the beginning, she doesn't give that particular skill very much credit, but over time, she comes to recognize that weaving a good story is its own sort of magic. But then, I might be biased!
12. Are there other fairy tales or legends that call to the writer in you? What are you writing currently?
Currently I am working on the sequel to Gilded, which will be out next fall. But I do have a number of other fairy tales that I would love to retell at some point! For a long time I've been toying with the idea of doing "Bluebeard". Another one that has been on my radar for years and years is "East of the Sun, West of the Moon". But we will see where inspiration takes me next.
13. Where and when do you do your best writing?
Whenever I can! We are home-schooling our seven-year-old twins, so that eats up most of my mornings. Early afternoons are often spent working on my weekly podcast or going for a run (I am currently training to run my first half-marathon). Which means writing doesn't generally happen until after 3:00 or 4:00pm. My husband takes the kids and I escape to my office, or crawl into bed, and write until it's time to make dinner. It's a busy schedule, but it's working!
14. Who are your go-to authors when you want to chill? What else do you enjoy doing away from your desk?
So many! Some of my favorites include Roshani Chokshi, Leigh Bardugo, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, Nicola Yoon... oh my gosh, I could go on forever.
When not reading or writing (or homeschooling... or running...), I love to cook, go wine-tasting, binge-watch documentaries on ancient history and archaeology, and take my kids on any sort of new adventure - whether that's going to see a concert in the park or hiking through lava tubes. You just never know what will inspire a new story idea, so I'm always up for trying new things!