Interview: Marissa Meyer on Winter‘s Woman of Color Snow White & YA Representation

The Lunar Chronicles concludes today, Lunartics.

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So many of us have fallen in love with Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, a unique and empowering take on our favorite fairy tales. Today marks the release of the final book in the quadrilogy, Winter, and we spoke with Meyer about her WoC Snow White, representation in YA, and more.

Sam Maggs (TMS): Winter is the final book in your Lunar Chronicles quadrilogy, a series I know fans will be sad to see come to a close. How does it feel for you, to finally be able to share the big conclusion with the world?

Marissa Meyer: On one hand, I am so ready for this book to be out! I’ve known how the series was going to end almost from the beginning—so way, way back when I started writing Cinder in 2008. That’s a really long time to have a story in your head and not be able to talk about it! I can’t wait to share the conclusion with readers and hope they have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

On the other hand, there’s a lot more pressure with this book than there was when I was writing Cinder and Scarlet, before anyone else had ever heard of a cyborg Cinderella or an evil Lunar queen. Suddenly, there are reader hopes and expectations—heck, there’s an entire fandom now—and it’s a little terrifying. You want the fans who have stuck with you for hundreds and hundreds of pages to feel like it was all worthwhile, and maybe even that they’d like to come revisit this story again in the future. In the end, you just have to do your best and hope it hits the right notes with readers.

TMS: I loved seeing all these women with whom we’ve gotten so close—Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and now Winter—team up to find their happily ever afters. Was it challenging or exciting (or both!) to bring these great gals together?

Meyer: Definitely both! That was probably the biggest appeal for me from the start. I didn’t just want to write one fairy tale retelling, I wanted to write a space opera filled with awesome fairy-tale-inspired protagonists. I wanted to update the classic “princesses” and make them strong, talented, and brave . . . and then throw them and their princes all on a spaceship and see what happened. So it was definitely fun and exciting for me to see their story come to life, and often in ways that surprised even me! That said, it’s not an easy thing to balance so many different characters, each with their own goals, character arcs, romances, and resolutions. There were days when I would beat my head against the desk because I couldn’t figure out how to make it all fit and feel cohesive, but in the end, I’m really happy with how it came together.

TMS: Winter is perhaps my favorite of the four protagonists (though it’s admittedly hard to choose!). What was your inspiration for adapting the Snow White story? What aspects of her story were you most drawn to?

Meyer: I’m so happy to hear that! I hope she (and Jacin) will soon have lots of new fans. I knew early on that “Snow White” was going to be the fourth and final tale that I retold, but interestingly, the character of Snow White started out as an afterthought. I wanted to focus on the villain—that vain and cruel wicked queen with her creepy magic mirror. I’ve also long been fascinated by the huntsman character, and I never felt like he got enough attention in the fairy tale. I thought—there’s clearly more to this guy and his motivations for saving Snow White. So I knew that I wanted that moment from the tale to be really pivotal in Winter, and it’s now one of my favorite scenes from the whole series. But Winter herself grew very organically out of the rest of the books and getting to know the world of Luna and what it must be like living with a stepmother like Levana. When I began to realize the depths of her insanity, and also the internal strength that she had to defy Levana for so long, I really started to fall in love with her.

TMS: Because of Winter’s choices in this book, she is dealing with a kind of mental illness. How did you approach that portrayal?

Meyer: I decided early on that I wanted Winter’s mental illness to be entirely fictional—not with any connection to an existing illness, which is in contrast to how I treat most of my world-building. (Oppositely, when I was creating the letumosis pandemic, I researched diseases and plagues like crazy.) But mental illness is a sensitive topic and I didn’t want to inadvertently introduce any inaccuracies or stereotypes around a real-life illness. We see in the book how Winter’s illness manifests itself in a series of hallucinations, but beyond that, I wanted to keep the line vague as to how much of Winter’s personality is the “disease” and how much is her merely acting crazy in order to fool those around her into underestimating her. That line shifts constantly throughout the book, and allowed me to show Winter’s strength and courage even in the face of these horrible visions that are haunting her.

TMS: Making Winter into a woman of color is a wonderful choice, as we all know representation is so important. Can you talk about your motivation there, especially with a character whose name might have steered you otherwise?

Meyer: Honestly, in my earliest planning for the series, I had intended to make Winter your stereotypical Snow White—hair as black as ebony, lips as red as blood, and skin as white as snow. But then one day, before I’d even started writing Cinder, I was scrolling through a nutrition and diet blog and came across a photo of a beautiful Black model biting into a red apple. My heart skipped and I immediately thought—That’s her! That’s my princess! So the decision to make her black was less intentional and more serendipitous, but it felt like the right decision from the start. After all, why shouldn’t Snow White be a woman of color? Or any other princess, for that matter? There’s absolutely no reason, and I think it’s good to challenge people’s preconceptions sometimes, and be challenged myself.

Plus, as a huge nerd at heart, I really love the idea that every Lunartic can find at least one character that sort-of resembles them, in case they ever want to cosplay at Comic-Con. Because, priorities.

TMS: One of my favorite things about your characters is that they’re not only “Strong,” but also incredibly layered, flawed, and complex. How did you find that balance?

Meyer: This was really important to me, because that’s what makes someone human. I wanted to write characters that felt authentic and believable, and who readers could relate to on more than one level, and no one can be strong, brave, and good all the time. We all have weaknesses and we all have fears and we all have room to grow. Fiction should show that. Plus, to me, doing the right thing even when you’re frightened demonstrates a lot more bravery than never being frightened at all, and that’s something that we can all aspire to, in fiction and real life.

TMS: If you could be any fairy tale heroine, who would you be?

Meyer: Rapunzel! I totally have a fantasy of being trapped in a tower (or, you know, a beach house) and having endless hours to myself that I could devote to reading and writing. Maybe I’d even take up quilting or something. Life can be so hectic, so Rapunzel’s quiet captivity holds a really strong appeal to me.

TMS: What can we expect from you after The Lunar Chronicles?

Meyer: To start, Winter is not exactly the end of this series. I also have a short story collection coming out next February called Stars Above that will include never-before-seen stories from the world and characters. After that, my first stand-alone novel, Heartless, will be out next November. It’s a prequel to Alice in Wonderland that tells the story of how a teenage girl became the infamous Queen of Hearts. Lastly, I’m currently working on a trilogy about teenage superheroes. I hope readers from the Lunar Chronicles will fall in love with this whole new cast of characters, too!

Winter, the final book in The Lunar Chronicles quadrilogy, is available today from Feiwel & Friends.

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Image of Sam Maggs
Sam Maggs
Sam Maggs is a writer and televisioner, currently hailing from the Kingdom of the North (Toronto). Her first book, THE FANGIRL'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY will be out soon from Quirk Books. Sam’s parents saw Star Wars: A New Hope 24 times when it first came out, so none of this is really her fault.