'Wicked' author at work on new Oz book

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Each day, Gregory Maguire fires up his considerable imagination so he can find his way out of Oz.

That's because "Out of Oz" is the working title of the fourth and final book in the series he launched in 1995 with "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West."

"I'm only on page 162," said the author during a telephone interview from his home in Concord, Mass. "The book opens with Glinda under house arrest. That's all I can say because I'm not sure where I'm going."

Gregory Maguire

Where: Drue Heinz Lecture Series at Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland.

When: 7:30 tonight.

Tickets: $15-$25. 412-622-8866 or www.pittsburghlectures.org.

Mr. Maguire, 55, speaks tonight at 7:30 at the Drue Heinz Lecture Series in Oakland's Carnegie Music Hall. His talk, "The Geography of the Fantastic," includes 74 images. He promises to amuse, entertain and enlighten.

Right after his two sons and daughter leave for school, he starts writing five to eight pages so HarperCollins can publish the book next October.

Once that happens, he added, "I will have finished with what I can see in Oz."

The author's mother, Helen, died while giving birth to him in 1954. An aunt took care of him for six months. He spent a year and a half in an orphanage until his father, John Maguire, married his deceased mother's best friend.

The marriage united four Maguire children, and three additional children followed. John Maguire supported his family by writing a humorous column for the Times Union newspaper in Albany, N.Y., and as a speechwriter.

"My parents were strenuously opposed to commercial television," Mr. Maguire recalled.

"We were allowed to watch one half-hour a week. We had to vote every Saturday. Every Saturday we voted for "Gilligan's Island," which says a great deal about the limitations of democracy. There were more younger kids than older kids."

So, he and his siblings found alternatives to television.

"In order to keep from collapsing of boredom, we all read a lot. We talked about what we read. We had library cards from an early age. The library was within walking distance," he said.

At Thanksgiving dinner, Mr. Maguire and his siblings can easily spend 20 minutes "talking about various forms of the subjunctive, its use and misuses, and we'll enjoy it. We all love the science of grammar."

His stepmother, Marie, introduced him to the works of authors Virginia Woolf and Dame Emilie Rose Macaulay. When he was 9, he showed her a homework assignment about his favorite author, William Pene du Bois, a French-American author and illustrator.

"She didn't do our homework for us. But she said, 'You need to go do this again. You can write this differently. You can use fewer words," he recalled, adding that this basic editing taught him about the necessity for revision.

"I hate to go back and revise. I want to leap forward and invent the new scene," he said. But his mother's advice, and the result, was a powerful lesson in organizing his work.

The subject of evil fascinated him, prompting him to reread L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz." His thoughts led to the invention of Elphaba.

"I wanted to write about the ways people demonize their enemies. You can thrill to the shapeliness of a story when it encapsulates a moral conundrum in a digestible and apprehensible way."

And that's not an exercise reserved for writers.

"You can pick any item you like out of last week's news and say, 'Is there an aspect of demonization going on here? Who benefits by targeting somebody else as dismissible?' That's a question we have an obligation to ask any time we see potential violence or inequity. It's probably a universal tic of the human condition. But that means we always need to remember to be cautious about it."

In one of the first legal gay marriages in Massachusetts, Mr. Maguire married Andy Newman, a painter, in 2004. The couple adopted two sons from Cambodia and a daughter from Guatemala. Luke is 12, Alex is 9, and their daughter, Helen, is 8.

Luke, a sixth-grader, is learning to organize his time.

"He says to me, 'I need to get up at 5:45 because I have to study for my civics test and I have to finish my math.' He sinks or swims on his own efforts."

Alex is "not nerdy, not jockish, not effeminate. He marches to his own drummer. He's sui generis and very warm to my heart."

Mr. Maguire relies on Helen for her memory and innate sense of protocol.

"She has great skill at the exercise of social nicety, such as who should sit where and what we brought the last time we went to someone's house and what we got for Grandma for her 90th birthday."

Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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