Interview with Serena Valentino on the Sixth Disney Villains Novel, The Odd Sisters
Originally posted @thedisneyblog
Cups of Tea and Those Sisters Three
Today – Tuesday, July 2, 2019 – is not just any old date. On this fittingly overcast day way down in New Orleans, renowned author Serena Valentino and I caught up to celebrate the release of the sixth book and the Disney Villains series, The Odd Sisters: A Villains Novel.
It has been 10 years since Disney published the very first novel in the series, Fairest of All. The tale of the Wicked Queen was followed by The Beast Within (2014), Poor Unfortunate Soul (2016), Mistress of All Evil (2017), and Mother Knows Best (2018).
With no end in sight, the unstoppable Serena and I took the opportunity on this particular tea-filled Tuesday to chat about – and click our teacups to — the long-awaited origin story of the Odd Sisters.
Q: The Odd Sisters release day is here! How do you feel?
Honestly, really excited. I have had this story swirling around in my head for years and I am so happy to finally be able to share it with my readers.
Q: We were introduced to the Odd Sisters back in 2009 in Fairest of All and have had the pleasure (and pain) of meeting up with them in each of the books since. How did you ever come to create these now infamous sisters?
When I wrote Fairest of All I wanted characters that felt like they belonged entirely to me. The Odd Sisters were the perfect way for me to own the story, and tell it in a way that felt authentic to my storytelling style, and to bring some of my darker aesthetic to this world.
Q: … And now here they are, with their very own origin story. Did you know when you first created Lucinda, Ruby and Martha, that they would have their very own book in the series?
From the start I felt they had their own story to share, but I wasn’t sure if Disney would be keen on the idea. I think it was around the time Ursula came out my editor at the time suggested I do a book about the Odd Sisters, which was something I was planning on asking him anyway, so I was over the moon. I knew I wanted to tell Maleficent’s and Gothel’s stories first, and that would lead us to the Odd Sisters’ story, so I’ve been waiting a long time to share this story.
Q: We are going to dig a little more into specifics, but for now, just generally, what sets The Odd Sisters: A Villains Novel apart from the first five books?
There are a few things in my opinion that set it apart from the other Villains books. Even though this is the Odd Sisters’ story, it’s also Circe’s. I wanted this book to be about her journey, as much as it was about learning the truth about the Odd Sisters’ past.
Illustration by Pablo Santander
For me, this book was always about Circe learning about her mothers, and having an adventure with Snow White. Circe is center stage in this story, even though most of what she’s contending with involves her mothers. The other thing that sets it apart is the lovely illustrations by Pablo.
Q: We can’t get enough of Pablo’s intriguing artwork! What prompted you, Disney and Pablo to include pictures in this book?
The Odd Sisters are not iconic Disney characters, the readers only know what they look like in their imaginations from my descriptions, and while that is the case with a lot of stories, I think because we are dealing with a pantheon of well-known Disney characters that readers know visually, I wanted to bring the Odd Sisters into this world I’ve created in a visual way. I also wanted this book to belong to the witches, so for me that was sharing pages from the spell books, from the Book of Fairytales, showing a map of the Many Kingdoms, sharing the family trees, and giving the readers faces to go along with all the characters I have created for this series, like Nanny, Tulip, Mrs. Tiddlebottom, as well as Lucinda, Ruby, Martha, and Circe. And lastly I wanted proper chapter illustrations.
I’ve always loved chapter illustrations and I thought that would be a perfect way to share how I see these characters and their world with my readers. I was so thrilled when Disney agreed to let Pablo Santander do the interior illustrations. I have had the pleasure of working with him in the past, and I am utterly in love with his artwork. Pablo has an uncanny ability to see into my imagination in a way no other illustrator has. It’s like a supernatural ability. And I am so thrilled I was able to work with him on this book with him. It’s a truly beautiful book because of him.
Q: Similarly, the cover by Jeffrey Thomas is awesome and so appropriate. Who was involved with the design process and decision making for this masterpiece?
I love Jeffrey. Not only is he an amazing artist, but he’s a lovely person. The covers are a collaborative process. Brainstorming between me, my editor, and a number of others. And then Jeffrey does his magic, and he has never let me down. All of his covers are beautiful and I feel so lucky that he’s on team Villain!
Illustration by Pablo Santander
Q: When we spoke back in December of last year, you mentioned that Odd Sisters is your favorite Villains novel because it has elements Mistress of All Evil and Mother Knows Best. Can you elaborate on those elements now that readers have read or, any day now, will read, the sixth book?
I think what I meant by that is that The Odd Sisters has the heart (and emotional impact) of Mistress of All Evil, but takes us further long the journey Circe and Snow set upon in Mother Knows Best. It’s not quite as dark as Mother Knows Best, but there are some shocking scenes, and I am rather interested in hearing what readers think of them. Anything else I can say would spoil the surprising revelations in store for the readers in this book.
So many questions are answered, and side stories are expanded upon, and of course secrets are revealed. I can’t wait to hear what readers think of everything that comes to light in this story. I’m especially curious to hear what people think of the ending. And I’m hoping Disney will agree to publish more Odd Sisters books, because their story isn’t over quite yet.
Q: We hope so too! Now, you mentioned that Circe is another one of your original characters and The Odd Sisters is very much her story too – she even delivers a heartfelt prologue in book six. What can you tell us about Circe’s character development and its significance to the Odd Sisters’ origins?
Circe has been on an interesting journey since The Beast Within. Really the Odd Sisters’ arc (throughout the Villains series) has been about her, even as far back as Fairest of All, as readers will learn. Throughout the series she has been learning the truth about her mothers, deciding what sort of witch she wants to be, learning about her own powers, and struggling with what to do about her mothers who have been causing so much death in destruction in her name.
I don’t think Circe has ever truly realized what a powerful witch she really is. She has been so focused on helping clean up after her mothers’ messes, she doesn’t even realize she’s wielding powerful magic as she’s doing so. I think in becoming friends with Snow White, and seeing her destructive relationship with Grimhilde, Circe is seeing her mothers in a new way, and she’s finally at a place where she feels she has to do something about all the havoc and despair her mothers have been causing. She is finally forced to make a decision about them.
From the prologue you get a sense that Circe has already made her decision, but she isn’t quite ready to act upon it, not until she’s learned more about her mothers. This book is about that journey and exploration. Together Circe and Snow uncover the truth behind why the Odd Sisters are such a destructive force of nature. And then it’s up to Circe to decide what to do about it.
Q: It has been such an adventure seeing the relationship between Circe and Snow evolve. What has been the best part about integrating your original characters and their stories with those of Disney’s classic characters, particularly in this book?
I love Circe and Snow’s relationship so much. They truly love each other, and have helped each other to grow, and to see how their relationships with their mothers have caused them both emotional damage.
Illustration by Pablo Santander
I loved Snow’s development in this story, seeing her grow, and become stronger and more independent from her mother, and really coming to terms with the events from her childhood. I don’t think that could have happened for her without her friendship with Circe.
And I don’t think Circe could have faced this adventure alone. It was really because of Snow that Circe had the strength to learn the truth about her mothers. And it’s Snow after all who finds their story in the Book of Fairytales. One of my favorite scenes in this story is seeing Snow stand up for herself, and being truly brave. She is the strong woman I always wanted her to be when I feel in love with her as a little girl when I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Q: There is certainly a lot more to Snow than meets the eye. Besides Circe and Snow, do you have a favorite Disney-Valentino character pairing?
Circe and Snow are my favorite. I also loved Mrs. Tiddlebottom and Gothel. There is a couple of other pairings that I love but it would be a spoiler. I’m hoping readers are as endeared by them as I am.
Q: Earlier we talked about the alluring art. There are other additions in the book, such as the Sisters’ list, which also gives readers a different type of snapshot into the Sisters’ lives and antics. It is like “primary source” material, if you will. Why was this important for their story, and not for the Disney villains in the previous books?
I think if we went delving into the Odd Sisters spell books in another villain’s stories it would distract us from that villain’s story. And since this book is about Circe and Snow learning the truth about the Odd Sisters, what better place to look than in the Odd Sisters’ books?
Q: What about primary source material as written by the classic Disney villains, like the Beast, for example. Did you ever have any desire to include his first-hand ponderings in The Beast Within?
No, I didn’t have any desire to do that. Witches by nature are record keepers. They have spell books, and books of shadows, they track their lineage, and their precious treasures. They also muse about how they feel about the various people in their lives; and I thought it would be fun to share that with my readers.
Q: We identified so many key themes in this book, including love, magic, relationships, storytelling and sacrifice. In your view, does The Odd Sisters carry a specific message for readers?
I think the only one you missed is: choices.
Q: Here comes my just-for-fun, totally theoretical, question: If The Odd Sisters ever make it to the big screen, who would you personally cast as Lucinda, Ruby and Martha, if you had a choice?
I’d love it if Harriet Walter (Lady Shackelton from Downton Abbey) played the sisters when they are older. Illeana Douglas (Six Feet Under) or Gillian Anderson (X Files) would be amazing when the sisters are midway through their timeline. I can’t quite decide who should play them when they’re much younger, say teens and early 20’s. I’ll have to give that more thought.
The Odd Sisters: A Villains Novel is now available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and The Garden District Book Shop. Signed copies are available for over-the-phone or email orders at the Garden District Bookshop; phone (504) 895-2266 or email email@example.com. Online orders will not be signed.
“… Even as I ask myself this, I already know the answer. It’s become heart breakingly clear… And there is only one thing to be done about it. I just need to find the courage to bring myself to the task.”
– Page 13, The Odd Sisters: A Villains Novel by Serena Valentino