Interview: Author Serena Valentino on Crafting Cruella’s Past in ‘Evil Thing’ [EXCLUSIVE]

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Image Courtesy Disney Hyperion.

We all know the familiar 101 Dalmatians tune, “Cruella De Vil, if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will!” Well, author Serena Valentino has shed a light on the evil thing’s past in her latest Disney Villains installment, Evil Thing. In it, readers get a first hand account of her life from none other than Cruella herself. The memoir styled book is a fantastic read (find our review here), and we sat down with Serena to talk about Cruella’s story. Check it out below!

Nerds and Beyond: Tell us a little about the Disney Villains series. What appealed to you about the concept of telling the villain’s story?

Serena Valentino: The Disney Villains series started out with a little book about Grimhilde, the Wicked Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney approached me and asked if there were any characters in their pantheon I’d be interested in writing about, and I said, “the villains of course!” I think I like writing about the villains because they are the least explored in the films, giving me a lot of freedom to come up with their back stories. And let’s just face it, the villains are the coolest characters. They usually have the funniest lines, are dressed the best, and are the most memorable parts of the films. Seriously though, what I enjoy most is really getting to know these characters, getting into their heads, and sharing their side of the story.

Nerds and Beyond: Do you have a favorite villain you’ve written so far?

Serena Valentino: Maleficent has always been my favorite Disney villain, and I loved telling her story. But now that I’ve written Evil Thing, in Cruella’s voice, that was probably the most fun I’ve had with this series so far.

Nerds and Beyond: What is your process like? Do you begin with certain research or questions in mind for each new villain?

Serena Valentino: There is a lot of research that goes into writing these stories, everything from watching the animated films, reading about the Broadway plays, reading the interviews with the filmmakers and actors, reading the stories the films were based on (again, I am really into fairytales), and watching other adaptations of the stories. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing.

Image Courtesy Disney Hyperion.

Nerds and Beyond: Cruella is a step forward in time from your previous villains and also doesn’t involve the Odd Sisters. Did you find it challenging stepping outside that realm?

Serena Valentino: I’ve wanted to tell Cruella’s story in this way for quite a few years, so I was prepared to make this leap. We just needed to find the right time, and we felt with the Odd Sisters and Circe trying to decide what to do after the events at the end of the Odd Sisters novel, this would be the perfect time to write about a character that didn’t live in their world or timeline. I found it really refreshing to write this novel, even though at first I was a little intimidated by writing it in her voice, and not my own, I really got into it after tackling the second draft. She’s an interesting one, that Cruella, and it was a pleasure telling her story in the style of memoir and being able to share her most intimate thoughts with my readers.

Nerds and Beyond: There are so many directions to go with Cruella; the original story and movies present a lot of options. How did you decide what elements to keep?

Serena Valetino: I was always intrigued that Roger says Cruella and Anita were old school friends. So from the start I wanted the book to focus on Cruella and Anita’s friendship. And as I thought more about how Cruella might have grown up, it became clear to me her mother had a big influence in how she became the person we know from the animated film. I think all the elements from the film are there, really. There are just those I chose to focus on more than others.

Nerds and Beyond: The book is cleverly written like a memoir in Cruella’s own voice. What inspired that idea?

Serena Valentino: Thank you. For years now I wanted to tell her story as a memoir. For some reason it just seemed right for Cruella. She has such a strong personality, and voice, and she doesn’t strike me as someone who would sit idly by and let someone else tell her story. I mean who better to tell the world how fabulous she is, other than the Evil Thing herself?

Nerds and Beyond: We get the sense that Cruella’s potentially cursed earrings might be behind her downfall; what inspired you to bring in that little element of magic to an otherwise non-magic story?

Serena Valentino: I thought it would be fun to have the Odd Sisters lurking in the shadows, even though they weren’t at the forefront of this novel.

Image Courtesy Disney Hyperion.

Nerds and Beyond: Cruella’s mother is… a very unique character. Was it difficult to write any of those scenes between Cruella and her mother? Was keeping Cruella’s view of her mother as constantly positive and loving challenging?

Serena Valentino: Cruella’s relationship is very interesting to me. I think at first it was a little challenging because I don’t think I have ever written a character who was so lacking in self-awareness. But it was my intention from the start to have her never (or rarely) see her mother for who she was. Their relationship is really heartbreaking to me, and I can’t help but wonder how her life would have been different had her mother just loved her.

Nerds and Beyond: Do you have a favorite element or moment from Cruella’s story?

Serena Valentino: I really love it when Cruella tells the headmistress to buy herself a new hat. And I love the scenes where she champions Anita. I adore her for how devoted she was to Anita and wish she could have stayed that person. I think as much as Cruella’s mother played a part in the path Cruella chose to take as she got older, I also feel things might have been different for Cruella had Anita chosen to travel the world with her like Cruella always wanted.

Nerds and Beyond: What can we look forward to next? Have you settled on your next villain?

Serena Valentino: I have settled on the next villain! In fact I am finishing up her story now and look forward to announcing her identity sometime in the near future. I think readers are going to be really excited. I know I am!

Evil Thing is available in-stores and online now!

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By Brianna
Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09
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