Upon glimpsing the dynamic covers for the new paperback editions of Marissa Meyer’s reimagined fairy tale series The Lunar Chronicles, one can’t help but notice there’s something familiar about them—especially the gorgeous stepbacks that feature Cinder in a ballgown and Cress staring wistfully in the opposite direction of the strapping Thorne, silhouetted by moonlight. They bring to mind… Sailor Moon.
Meyer laughs when this comparison is brought up, considering her background as a Sailor Moon fanfiction writer, but says that it was not intentional: “I think that’s just Tomer [Hanuka]’s style.” However, when her publisher Macmillan sent along the artist’s portfolio, she was certainly struck by Hanuka’s work.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why I was so drawn to him,” says Meyer. “Because it does have a little bit of that Japanese/manga vibe to it, which I love. And coming from that fandom and that background, there’s definitely a lot of influence in the books. So, I think that it plays really well; the artwork very much complements the series in a great way.”
While The Lunar Chronicles concluded with its fourth and final novel, Winter, in 2015, fans have been able to spend more time in Meyer’s science fiction fairy tale universe with subsequent releases including the short fiction collection Stars Above and the graphic novel Wires and Nerve.
Now, a re-release of the original quartet with brand-new covers showcasing each of the key characters proves that the series is still relevant to readers today. To wit, part of the new covers process involved crowdsourcing favorite scenes from the active and enthusiastic fandom via Instagram. Meyer describes seeing the same scenes suggested over and over, which made their way into the new designs: Wolf spiriting Scarlet away from danger. Winter and Jacin in a romantic clinch in her menagerie.
It’s quite the departure from the original covers, each of which featured one key element from its respective book: Cinder’s mechanical leg (in place of Cinderella’s glass slipper); Scarlet’s (or Little Red Riding Hood’s) cape; Cress’ Rapunzel-esque hair; and Winter’s plague-laced apple. While the series has long been celebrated for centering the stories of princesses of color—Cinder is Asian/Caucasian, while Winter is black—and for its representation of mental illness, now those women are actually on the covers in the (human and cyborg) flesh.
“They’re so beautiful and so vibrant,” Meyer says. “I love what [Tomer] does with colors, and so when you see all four of them together, it just stands out so much. I couldn’t be any happier with them.”
That said, this is not the first time that the series has been illustrated. In addition to the aforementioned Wires and Nerve, there is also The Lunar Chronicles Coloring Book. While most authors do not experience the opportunity to see their work adapted thusly, let alone three, Meyer says it feels “incredible,” though she hastens to add that there is a fourth lens: fan art!
“It’s unbelievable to think about these characters and this world that lived inside my head for so many years, and then to see other people putting their interpretation behind it,” she says. “And in a way that there’s such wonderful justice to it, and [that] really captures the same sorts of emotions that I was trying to put into my writing. It’s just like one giant compliment. There’s nothing quite like it!”
Recent years have seen more and more science fiction and fantasy authors talking candidly about their fanfiction backgrounds, including N.K. Jemisin (the Broken Earth series), Naomi Novik (Spinning Silver), Tamsyn Muir (Gideon the Ninth), Tochi Onyebuchi (Riot Baby), and Brooke Bolander (The Only Harmless Great Thing). But Meyer has always drawn a line connecting her professional work and her fanfic persona, Alicia Blade, as seen on her old website via the Wayback Machine. It’s no surprise, then, that Lunar Chronicles fan art and fanfiction began cropping up online not long after Cinder was published in 2012.
“That’s the fantasy,” Meyer says, “for there to be fanfic of your own work, because I know what love goes into creating fanfiction, and how fandoms can really rally around it.” And how must that feel for a former fanfiction writer?
“It’s a little weird, honestly! But it’s wonderful, and I’m hugely honored to know there are so many people who have taken the characters and gone off and done their own things with them.”
Early on, Meyer had to decide whether she would actually read the stories on Fanfiction.net and the Archive of Our Own (AO3). Despite her burning curiosity, she considered that “if Naoko Takeuchi, the creator of Sailor Moon, regularly went on and read Sailor Moon fanfiction, I think that that might have changed what I was writing and what I was putting out there. And so early on I decided, ‘No, I want that to be for the fans; I don’t think I should be involved in that side of it.’ But knowing that it exists brings me much, much joy.”
Another way in which The Lunar Chronicles’ heroines have made their way into the world has been through cosplay, which Meyer describes as “one of my greatest pleasures” to see at conventions. One group costume that stands out in her memory is a quartet of women in ballgowns representing the albino wolf, peacock, and other animals in Winter’s menagerie on Luna: “It was this amalgamation of ballgowns and formalwear on Luna, but also the animals of the menagerie, and I just thought it was so clever.”
In addition to fanfiction, Meyer is an alum of another online-centric writing community: National Novel Writing Month. Cinder and four subsequent books began as NaNoWriMo projects, but the life of an author has made it more difficult for Meyer to time drafting to every November. When asked if she might participate this year, she says, “I hope so! I haven’t been able to do it for the last couple of years; it never seems to line up with my deadlines anymore. […] It’s a tradition for me, and one I would love to continue. I can’t say for sure if I’m doing it this year or not; but if I can make it work, then I definitely will.”
However, Meyer fans who are considering undertaking NaNoWriMo themselves will have to juggle a tempting distraction this November: Instant Karma, her contemporary romance novel with a magical twist, will be published November 3. Meyer describes the story, the first in a planned four-book series, as “about a girl who lives in a sunny, beachside town and one day inexplicably gets the power to exact instant karma on people. And she goes around punishing all of the snobs and the bullies and the people that she can’t stand. There’s one boy that she absolutely despises, but every time she tries to use this power on him, it ends up backfiring on her. It will be a love story and secrets will be revealed, etcetera etcetera.”
On her Alicia Blade website sometime before 2012, Meyer described herself as “beloved Sailor Moon fanfiction author and future romance novelist.” While each of the Lunar Chronicles books featured romance, there is something exciting about seeing her fulfill that description with her first romance novel. “It’s been a big change from my previous works,” she says, pointing out that “this is the first thing I’ve written that doesn’t have huge superpowers or futuristic technology. There are no fight scenes! Which is awesome. […] It’s been really nice now writing something that still has romance, still has a theme of good versus evil and what is true justice, and all of these same sort of themes I like to play with, but in a much more subtle, quiet, sweet sort of way.”
But while she expands the Instant Karma world with contemporary happily ever afters, she won’t stay away from fairy tales for long. Meyer teased a new fairy tale retelling—and while she couldn’t say which story she’s adapting, she did share that it will be an epic fantasy what-if story…
“It is going to be fantasy—kinda my first ‘quest’ fantasy novel, which I’m super excited about because growing up, Tolkien and epic fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons—all of that was my jam. It was always weird to me that my first published book was science fiction, because I thought for sure I would write an epic quest story. So this is kinda my first [of] going back to my teenage roots a bit.” The book is tentatively scheduled for fall 2021, though that timing may be subject to change.
Even as she explores new genres and stories, Meyer will never forget the idea that first set her on this path. “I have so much love for this series,” she says, “and not just because it was my first series. I think for every author, the first one you get published is always going to feel really special. From the moment that I had this idea about writing about fairy tales in the future, and this cyborg Cinderella character, I was just so smitten with it, and I loved the idea of bringing all these characters together and throwing them on a spaceship and seeing if they could save the universe.”
“That spoke to my heart and to my nerdiness on so many levels,” she continues, “and I just had so much fun writing it. To see it now in the world, and see how readers have responded to it, and that there’s so much love and interest in the characters, it’s really been incredible. And of course I hope to have many more successful book series throughout my career, but I don’t know that there will ever be anything that’s quite the books-of-my-heart as The Lunar Chronicles have been.”
Close to a decade since Cinder was published, with a dedicated fandom returning to the books over and over, Meyer has one hope for the legacy of the series.
“Gosh, it’s so cheesy—I’m gonna say world peace,” she says. “That’s one of the things that I loved writing, was a world in which Earth and the countries of Earth have obtained world peace, and they have been at peace for over a century. I don’t know if it’s naïve, but I truly like to think that that is a potential future.”
The new, gorgeous paperback editions of The Lunar Chronicles will be available for purchase on February 4th. You can order them now via the official website.
As a former fanfiction writer herself, Natalie Zutter is mightily inspired to finish all of her WIPs. Talk fairy tale retellings with her on Twitter @nataliezutter.