Monday, November 28, 2011: Kids' Maximum Shelf: Cinder

Macmillan Children's: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Macmillan Children's: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Macmillan Children's: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Macmillan Children's: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Editors' Note

Maximum Shelf: Cinder

In this edition of Kids' Maximum Shelf--the monthly Shelf Awareness feature that focuses on an upcoming title that we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere--we present Cinder by Marissa Meyer, which goes on sale on January 3, 2012. The review and interviews are by Jennifer M. Brown. Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, has helped support the issue.


Macmillan Children's: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Books & Authors

YA Review: Cinder

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, $17.99 hardcover, 9780312641894, 400p., ages 12-up, January 3, 2012)

Once upon a time, Cinderella was a cyborg supporting herself and her adoptive family as a skilled mechanic in a plague-ridden future.

Marissa Meyer's wildly inventive debut YA novel opens with 16-year-old Cinder yanking her foot from the socket where the screws are rusting. As she waits for Iko, her android-assistant and constant companion, to return with a new, proper-size foot, a customer arrives at her booth at New Beijing's weekly marketplace. Cinder recognizes him before her retina display finishes scanning his features: Prince Kaito, crown prince of the Eastern Commonwealth.

Meyer creates here a feminist fairytale for modern teens. The prince comes to Cinder because of her reputation as the most skilled mechanic in the land. His android suddenly stopped working and he needs her to fix it, preferably before the upcoming festival. They meet as equals, and a friendship takes hold. He will return the following week to pick up his android. Just after his departure, Cinder hears a scream. It's Chang Sacha, the baker who shuns Cinder because she's a cyborg. The woman has contracted the plague, and an emergency hover arrives to place her in quarantine, separating Chang Sacha from her young son. The author smoothly places these cornerstone elements in the first chapter, then builds a coming-of age story layered with an intergalactic threat of war and plague.

Cinder knows little of her past, and the guardian who took her in at age 11 died soon after. Her stepmother, Adri, though not especially cruel (she permits Cinder to use a cramped, chilly storage space in the basement to do her work), treats her own daughters, Pearl and Peony, as superior to Cinder. In a refreshing twist on the fairytale classic, Peony shows kindness to her stepsister, and the two share a true friendship. However, when tragedy strikes, Adri hands over Cinder to the "cyborg draft" for the financial reward she receives. Rather than becoming soldiers, cyborgs instead serve as guinea pigs for doctors and scientists to test antidotes for Letumosis, the plague that claimed Chang Sacha, which is quickly taking hold in New Beijing. Even the emperor is in the plague's final stages, with Prince Kai his imminent heir.

The draft, however, delivers an unexpected silver lining. Dr. Demetri Erland, who examines Cinder, recognizes her abilities, and the two strike a deal to give her liberties to come and go freely, so she can continue her own work and return to the lab to aid the doctor. Prince Kai frequently visits the lab, and an alliance forms between him and Cinder. But time is running out for the emperor, and Queen Levana, who rules Luna (the moon), applies pressure for a marriage between herself and Prince Kai--or else she threatens war on Earth. Meanwhile, Cinder begins to unlock other mysteries, such as the one Prince Kai's android keeps, as well as clues to the origins of Letumosis and also to Cinder's own identity.

Meyer takes the essentials of the original fairytale and uses them to reexamine the ideas at its root. Cinder is a cyborg. What makes someone human? Is it purely flesh and bone? Queen Levana manipulates a glamour to maintain a veneer of enchanting looks (literally: for her visit to Earth, she orders all mirrors covered in advance of her arrival). How do we define beauty? And what contributes to a lasting connection between two people?

While Meyer does not take Cinder to happily-ever-after in this first book of a planned quartet, she does bring this thought-provoking twist on Cinderella to satisfying completion, and also puts in place the markers for the heroine's larger journey.  


Macmillan Children's: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer: A Self-Reliant Cinderella

The heroine of Marissa Meyer's debut novel needs no fairy godmother. As New Beijing's best mechanic, Cinder earns her own keep and supports her adoptive family. "I have always seen Cinder as a self-reliant character," Meyer says. "I'm a fan of the original Cinderella, but one of my problems is that the girls are so dependent. I like girls who are courageous." Cinder fashions her own "coach" from a gasoline-powered car she discovers in the junkyard with the help of her right-hand android, Iko. Here the author discusses the seeds for her highly original retelling, and fan fiction as her writing lab.

What inspired the story of Cinder?

It started with a writing contest for a short story. We had to include two items out of 10. I chose a fairy tale and to set it in the future, and wrote about a futuristic robot, Puss in Boots, a talking cat that found a poor girl and convinced her she was a princess. It was so fun to write that after I finished it, I thought I'd write a whole series of futuristic fairy tales. One night, drifting off to sleep, I got an image of Cinderella as a cyborg, and her foot was falling off.

Before this, you were writing fan fiction?

I wrote fan fiction for "Sailor Moon" [under the pen name Alicia Blade], which was a really popular anime series in the 1990s. It has six or seven series, but I always wrote from the first one, in which the male and female have secret identities. When they're superheroes, they love each other, but they couldn't stand each other when they were posing as their secret identities. I really enjoyed writing fan fiction, and met great friends. Three of them are my beta readers for Cinder. I know all my "Sailor Moon" fans will recognize elements of those stories in Cinder. In "Sailor Moon" there's also a moon kingdom and a lost princess, and I know they infiltrated my subconscious. Fan fiction is a great way to get your feet wet as a writer.

How did you come up with the idea of Cinder as a mechanic?

From the first draft, she had an innate ability with mechanics and understanding of how things work, and that's how she earned her keep with her stepmother. But a lot of her other awesome talents didn't develop until two or three drafts into it. After I'd written the first draft, it occurred to me that I had this cyborg character and hadn't developed her to her full extent. Her ability to detect lies, for example, wasn't originally part of her character.

With the tensions between Lunar society and Earth, inhabitants of both question what is good and what is evil. It's complicated, isn't it? Even stepmother Adri isn't all bad.

I don't think there's somebody who's all good or all bad. I think it's important to explore all the different levels in their characters. It's tempting to make someone all bad all the time. That's the easy way out, but I didn't want to do that with Adri or Queen Levana. Here you only see the evil side of the queen, but in future books readers will start to understand more where she's coming from also. That's a goal for me as a writer--to make the villains as real and interesting as the good guys are.

Will we get to see what Luna looks like?

Almost the entire fourth book will take place on Luna.

How did you come up with the plague, Letumosis?

That was one of my early ideas for Snow White. She has to wind up in a glass coffin. I knew she would go into a suspended animation phase, and it would be because of this disease. I need it for the fourth book to work, but it creates conflict from the very start.

And Queen Levana's glamour?

The glamour came about because of this idea of the evil queen in the fairy tales always being so vain. And in Snow White the stepmother tries to have her murdered because Snow White is more beautiful. Queen Levana is quite a bit older than our characters, so that's how the glamour got started.

Did you always know it would be four books? Or did that start to take shape as you wrote Cinder?

I knew it would be four books early on. I started by making a list of my favorite fairy tales--six or seven altogether. As I tried to fit them into a sci-fi genre, I thought, "Could these overlap? How could they tie together?" While I was doing this, I came up with the Queen Levana character. She quickly became the villain for all four. The way they'd tie together came to me pretty early on, and also how they'd overlap to make one continuous story.

Tell us about the other three books.

Book two is Scarlet, and it's based on Little Red Riding Hood. Book three is Cress, inspired by Rapunzel. And the fourth, Winter, is based on Snow White. We'll continue to follow Cinder as she puts together the pieces of her past and how to defeat Levana. They'll have separate, parallel story lines, and Cinder's path will cross with theirs. They'll form one group with a mission to defeat Queen Levana and stop the war.

At what stage did you begin submitting the manuscript for Cinder?

I had a detailed outline of the first three books before I started writing, and a vague idea of book four. I started writing the first three books back to back without pausing. When I first started querying agents, Cinder had been revised many times. But I was also on the third draft of the second book, and the second draft of the third book before I started submitting it to agents. I knew that, being a new author, it would be difficult to convince someone I could pull off four books in a series. That's part of the reason I was so neurotic about making sure I had so much finished.


She Had Me at 'Cyborg'

When Liz Szabla, editor-in-chief for Feiwel & Friends, saw the word "cyborg" in agent Jill Grinberg's pitch letter for Cinder, "I was all over it," Szabla said. "I hadn't heard or seen that word in anything to do with my work. It felt fresh." She also admitted to being a huge Terminator fan: "I kept it covered up because it felt nerdy to me," she said with a laugh. Her colleagues at Macmillan also quickly came on board. "There was something there for everybody," said Szabla. She felt that Cinder's strength has a lot to do with the book's appeal, too.

Marissa Meyer's level of professionalism also impressed Szabla. The author holds a Master's in publishing from Pace University and had worked for five years at Marquand Books, an indie small press in Seattle. "She's very well versed in the publishing process," Szabla said. "She'd made it her business, because she was so interested in writing, to learn about publishing." For her proposed quartet, the author had completed not only the manuscript for the first book, but also submitted the first 50 pages of the second book to Szabla, and was well into a revision of the third. "It's counter to the way the market is going right now. I'm getting submissions for trilogies, quartets or quintets that have a great premise or a big name, but are not as well thought out," Szabla said. "The experience of working with Marissa has raised the bar so high for me in that respect."

At this point, Szabla has the manuscript for the second book, Scarlet (inspired by Little Red Riding Hood and scheduled for winter 2013), but has not yet seen a draft of the third book, Cress (based on Rapunzel, slated for winter 2014). Winter, the conclusion rooted in Snow White, will be published in winter 2015. "The intertwining starts right away in book two," Szabla said, referring to the way the other fairytale heroines will enter Cinder's story. Meyer is in complete control of her story, she said: "It's airtight."


Book Brahmin: Marissa Meyer

On your nightstand now:

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. I haven't started it yet but I've heard so many great things, and that cover!

Favorite book when you were a child:

Anne of Green Gables. I always felt like Anne and I shared the same imagination.

Your top five authors:

Jane Austen, Scott Westerfeld, John Green, J.K. Rowling, Gregory Maguire. BONUS: Gail Carson Levine. Is that allowed?

Book you've faked reading:

The Call of the Wild. It was required reading in fourth grade and I hated it so much I was in tears at the idea of finishing it. (Melodramatic much?) I got about halfway through.

Book you are an evangelist for:

Pride and Prejudice! Unoriginal, I know, but it's definitely my favorite book of all time. I've been trying to get my mom to read it for years, but she's having none of that wordy Regency stuff. Sigh.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Entwined by Heather Dixon. And I loved it! Fairy tale retellings FTW!

Book that changed your life:

The Giver by Lois Lowry. Fifth grade. I remember yelling at the book: "What do you mean he's seeing the color RED?" I had no idea that a book could change my perception of the world like that.

Favorite line from a book:

I don't know if it's my favorite of all time, but this line from Lisa Mantchev's So Silver Bright is definitely my favorite so far this year:

"I have flown and fallen, and I have swum deep and drowned, but there should be more to love than 'I survived it.' "

ACK, it still gives me chills!

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Hunger Games. Never has a book kept me so breathless.


Powered by: Xtenit