Allison's Book Bag

When Your First Baby Word Is ‘Story’

Posted on: August 29, 2012

This past summer, my sister shared with me the latest book she had read: Cinder by Marissa Meyer. When handing her library copy to me, she told me, “It’s not a romance.” She went on to explain that Cinder is based on the fairy tale of Cinderella, except it’s set in the future when Cinderella is a cyborg.

What’s most unusual about this situation is that my sister doesn’t often share books with me, much less her opinion of them. Yet Cinder she clearly loved. When I finished, so did I. Immediately, I started reading everything I could online about Marissa Meyer and sharing details with my sister. We began talking about reviews, signed copies (available from Garfield Book Company), and interviews.

Although I read Cinder this summer for fun, I knew that I couldn’t skip reviewing it here on Allison’s Book Bag. If you drop by on Friday, you’ll find an interview consisting of questions that my sister sent me to ask Marissa Meyer. Then on Saturday I’ll post my review. Save the dates: September 1 and 2!

Most parents are probably elated when their child’s first word is “Mom” or “Dad”. According to Meyer’s website, one of her first words was “story”. There are other landmarks in a child’s life, some of them perhaps more unique if one wants to be a writer when one grows up. For example, I’ve long felt proud that I had known how to read before starting kindergarten, filled a notebook of stories by the time I’d reached age seven, and talked about being a writer by age nine. Well, Meyer’s favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book! It should come as no surprise then that Meyer has wanted to be a writer ever since she first realized such a job existed.

Main characters of Sailor Moon, a classic exam...

Main characters of Sailor Moon, a classic example of a magical girl anime and manga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long before I knew what fan fiction was, I’d filled notebooks full of stories based on fairy tales, radio stories, and television cartoons. By fourteen, Meyer had discovered the fan fiction world on the web. She tells Post Defiance that because the magical, fun-loving, warrior protagonists of Sailor Moon captivated her, she explored the adventures and relationships of Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Mask, and Sailor Moon’s friends through her own writings. Completing over forty fan fictions under the pen name of Alicia Blade, Meyers apparently became somewhat of an internet sensation. Six of those fan fictions were the length of novels. In addition, Meyers had a novelette “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor” published in the Gothic romance anthology: Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007). Those so inclined can find the rest of her first stories at fanfiction.net. At The News Tribune, Meyer credits the fan fiction community with offering her encouragement, helping her handle criticism, and teaching her about the craft and discipline of being a writer.

EDUCATION AND JOBS

Never losing her passion for writing, Meyer graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature from Pacific Lutheran University. Knowing she wanted a career in books, Meyer also obtained a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University. After graduation, she worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader. At The News Tribune, Meyer states that her editor position helped her understand that there would be times as an author when she wouldn’t hear anything from anybody. Moreover, knowing what was going on behind the scenes (in the publishing industry) helped her stay calm.

WRITING LIFE

“How do you come up with your ideas?” is a cliché question to ask authors. Yet Meyer has a unique answer to how she started Cinder. Meyer entered a writing contest in which the host had listed about ten random prompts and entrants had to choose two of them to include in their stories. Her two prompts of set it in the future and include a fairy-tale character resulted in a sci-fi version of Puss in Boots. While Meyer didn’t win the contest, she had so much fun writing her story that she considered trying to write an entire series of sci-fi fairy tales! A couple of months after the contest, inspiration struck while she was drifting off to sleep: Cinderella…. as a cyborg! Meyer crawled out of bed and spent about an hour brainstorming and jotting notes. And so Cinder was born.

National Novel Writing Month Web Badge

(Photo credit: ajsundby)

In November 2008, instead of writing the expected 50,000 words in 30 days for NaNoWriMo, Meyer wrote 150,000 or the entire first draft of Cinder. After that, she set it aside for a few months, then worked again on it a few months, then sent it to beta readers, and finally worked on it again for a while. From writing the first word to submitting the manuscript to literary agents took about two years. To read more about Meyer’s success with NaNoWritMo, check out The Office of Letters and Light.

Meyer admits that she was one of the very rare and fortunate authors who had a relatively fast submissions process. In August 2010, she started querying agents. Two months later, she had three offers of representation. And by November, on the two-year anniversary from when she’d first started writing Cinder, Meyer had her first offer.

Life since the publication of Cinder has been a whirlwind. “I’m still figuring out what a typical day looks like; the whole experience has really been beyond my wildest dreams,” Meyer told Post Defiance. No wonder when you consider the lengthy list of firsts she’s experienced the past two years: obtaining a literary agent and a four-book publishing deal, quitting her day job to write full-time, making the New York Times Best Sellers list, traveling internationally, getting married, doing her first television and radio interviews, making her first public school appearance via Skype, promoting her book all over the United States, and navigating movie rights. Meyer has all these tasks to do, while continuing to somehow carve out at least four hours a day to write.

Still, Meyer wouldn’t chose any other career. Since becoming a fulltime writer, Meyer finds the best part by far is getting to write every day. Other perks include working in her pajamas and getting free books in the name of blurb requests. :-) The worst is business stuff like bookkeeping and taxes. As for her current project, well, Cinder was auctioned to be part of a four-part series: The Lunar Chronicles. So, Meyer is busy on revising the quartet.

BOOKS

Now that you’ve learned the story behind how Meyer’s first novel came to me, let me take a closer look at Cinder. First, Cinder is for young adults. Meyer has always loved young adult fiction. At Book Lantern, she explains, “I’ve always loved young adult fiction. I’m drawn to the passion associated with first loves and the strength of loyalties we form in our teen years. Mostly, I love the optimism that surrounds young adult fiction—the idea that even the weakest, lowliest, most unexpected person can become a hero and change the world.”

Second, Cinder is a futuristic fairy tale. As are the remaining three books in The Lunar Chronicles. When Meyer first started brainstorming the series, she made a list of some of her favorite tales and then thought up ways they could be futurized: The glass coffin became a suspended animation tank, the tower became a satellite orbiting Earth, the wolf became a genetically engineered mutant. Initially, Meyer thought each chronicle would each be a stand-alone story, but the more she thought about them, the more one overarching story started to fall into place. As she tells Uncharted Pages, “Writing this series has been kind of like putting together a huge puzzle.”

Cover of

Cover of Star Wars

Third, Cinder is science fiction. Now although Meyer grew up a big fan of Star Wars, she preferred fantasy. To write Cinder, she had to do a lot of technological research. This included some serious stuff like reading books on physics and scientific journals. It also involved fun stuff like perusing Star Wars encyclopedias to see how George Lucas did it and watching sci-fi movies. When it comes to the technology Meyer employs in The Lunar Chronicles, Meyer contends it could someday be real and refers readers to her Real-World Technology page to find out how.

When it comes to the actual plot, Meyer didn’t write much of the back story but did plan out plenty of it. She even created a timeline that stretches back about sixty years before the start of Cinder.

Looking at her characters, one sees just as much thought went into them. Meyer based them on the Chinese usage of honorifics, which denote respect and are similar to our usage of Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc. With her Asian setting, Meyer allowed herself to take more freedom. Although the choice might have come from her first inspiration for Cinder’s character being Japanese actress Mew Azama, who played Sailor Jupiter in the live-action Sailor Moon show, she admits that she used the first setting that popped into her head. She might have also been inspired by what some scholars believe is the earliest Cinderella tale, “Ye Xian,” which was written in 9th-century China. Yet while Meyer has been to China, it was for only ten days and when she was only thirteen. She freely admits in her FAQ, “All cultural and setting details for Cinder came from research and my own imagination.”

EXTRA

When not writing, Meyer naturally also likes to read. According to an interview at Manga Maniac CafeThe Chronicles of Narnia were the first novels she can remember reading. They enchanted her so much, she just kept on reading books! Her all-time favorite novel however is Pride and Prejudice. You can also find other recommendations by Meyer at Recommended Books.

Believe it or not, authors aren’t all about books. As a throwback to her fan fiction roots, Meyer enjoys cosplay. For those of you (like me) to whom that term is new, cosplay involves wearing a costume, typically of a fictional character. It’s mostly seen at fandom conventions. Back when she had more time, Meyer cosplayed as Sailor Moon, Alice in Wonderland and the Queen of Hearts, Aoshi from Rurouni Kenshin, Princess Leia, and Princess Zelda. According to her last FAQ update, she’s working on a steampunk Little Red Riding Hood. To check out one of her costumers, scroll down the page at The Reading Lair.

Besides dressing up, Meyer enjoys wine-tasting and playing games with family and friends. Her food weakness is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups! Last, she and her husband have three cats: Alexandria Josephine, Blackland Rockwell III, and Stormus Enormous.

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October: Plum Creek

Every fall for the past six years, I have attend the Plum Creek Literacy Festival. In previous years, I've written about the author presentations and plan to do the same in the weeks ahead. Unlike in the past, I also intend to review my book purchases. I'll also continue to include reviews I write for our local multicultural group and for our local dog club. Enjoy!

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  • Daisy to the Rescue by Jeff Campbell
  • Max and Ruby Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells
  • Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies
  • Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos
  • Dead End to Norvelt by Jack Gantos
  • Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
  • Bad Kitty School Daze by NIck Bruel
  • Have You Seen Mary? by Jeff Karrus
  • Tale of Jacob Swift by Jeff Karrus

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Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row and my novel in its second version.

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