Known for his fictional work focused on reinventing fairy tales and rehabilitating villains, Gregory Maguire has written dozens of novels for children and adults, along with short stories and some nonfiction. His books like “Wicked,” “After Alice,” and “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister,” have captured the attention of audiences worldwide.
Now, the best selling author will be spending some time in Maine as he leads a retreat on fiction writing in Blue Hill this June.
The Moss Wood Retreats, in its first year, will hold two sessions. From June 7 to 11 there will be an open retreat for writers to visit and work at their own pace. The second retreat will run from June 14 to 18 and is titled “Fiction with Gregory Maguire.”
Maguire envisions the retreat as a combination of reading, working and discussions both between groups and individuals.
“I’m excited about it too. I know Cape Rosier because years and years ago I used to go to … camp with friends,” Maguire said. “You stepped off a dock into a decade 50 or 80 years earlier with a kind of calm that was really hard to achieve anywhere else.”
Patricia McMahon, the director of The Moss Wood Retreats, says she was inspired to create the retreats after spending time at Moss Wood, the Cape Rosier house that sits halfway up a hill with a giant porch.
“I’ve been coming to Cape Rosier for … I think it must be 25 years. And I, like so many people do, just love being there,” McMahon said. She said she wanted to create something that would bring writers together for work and companionship.
“We [writers] work alone … and yet most writers are very convivial,” McMahon said.
And Maguire seemed like a perfect fit for one of the workshops.
“Gregory is a wonderful thinker about writing and about literature,” McMahon said. “Gregory and I met a million years ago. We were both in the first class at the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature [at Simmons College].”
Maguire sees the workshop as a soul-filling opportunity for writers. When he’s attended writers retreats or visited artist colonies in the past, he said he’s “found the experience to be life changing,” because of the camaraderie and support system found there.
The writers attending this year, McMahon said, are “all published and accomplished,” which will set a certain tone for the retreat. “When you have people who wish to write … it’s a different conversation,” McMahon said.
Next year, she hopes to host unpublished writers too.
“I want very much for Moss Wood to provide a place [for aspiring writers], and that’s one of my goals for next year, for people who are very serious about their writing but are just at the beginning,” McMahon said.
Maguire, 62, lives in Massachusetts with his husband and children, and says it was his childhood that led him to his writing style — a world of reinventing fairy tales.
“I didn’t really come up with the idea consciously. I think it really began the way children play … when you’re three or four years old you play the things you know (shopping, supermarket) … And they play with what they have. … When I was young — five to 15 — my parents were unusually strict for the loose 1960s and we were not allowed to do much,” Maguire said. “About the only liberty my parents could afford to give us was a library card. And my library card was my key to mental health.”
He says that his future career could easily have been different.
“If [my] parents had lived life on farm, I might have been a chicken farmer,” Maguire laughed. “All I had was library books so instead I took what I had and played with it.”
His best advice for aspiring fiction writers?
“If you train yourself to write a little everyday the day will come when you realize now I need to do this. This is part of how my brain works. This is how I think,” Maguire said. “It’s like a child on a bike — they balance and they balance and they balance with their parents handling them and then they get on their way.”
He also recommends rereading a children’s classic: “Harriet the Spy.”
“Harriet The Spy is really a bible for how to become a writer because it shows how to take small, momentary perceptions and how to little by little understand the universality of the human experience. She grows in the course of that book from being self-involved to [being able to consider others experience],” Maguire said.
Maguire will also be giving a presentation at the Blue Hill Public Library on Friday, June 16, at 7 p.m., where he’ll be talking about “After Alice,” his most recently published book. That event is sponsored by Word, a Blue Hill Literary Arts Festival planned for October 20-22.
“As an original creative work, [‘Alice in Wonderland’ is] nothing short of visionary. And my book, After Alice, which is for adults, tries to examine … how it has come to mean so much for the writing of literature for children for the last century and a half,” Maguire said.
Maguire has a new book coming this fall called “Hiddensee.” It’s a retelling of the classic tale of The Nutcracker, focusing on the uncle’s story.
“Fairy tales are universal and they belong to every person who hears them,” Maguire said. “To give people things to both make them feel at home … but you can feel comforted with that like getting a postcard from an old friend … and then I can ask serious questions like what is the nature of evil?”