Serena Valentino has taken the world by storm with her best-selling Disney Villains series, whisking them away between somewhere dreams and nightmares. Her stories give readers the opportunity to explore the villains they know and love. The villains range from the Wicked Queen and the Beast, to Ursella and Malificent. Readers meet to new characters in the series as well. They operate behind the scenes of classic Disney plots, giving tales-as-old-as-time a bewitching new twist.
Lady Tremaine has become widowed and raising two headstrong girls alone. She finds herself falling for a knight from a far-off land who is looking for a stepmother for his daughter. But stepmothers in the Many Kingdoms never tend to fare well…and Lady Tremaine just might be destined for a not-so-happily ever after. YEM was able to speak with Serena about which villain was the most interesting to write for. She also shared her writing inspirations, and advice she has for other writers.
Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?
Serena Valentino: I knew I wanted to be a writer at a young age, though I never imagined it would happen because I struggled with dyslexia growing up. However I felt I wouldn’t be happy unless I did something creative so I threw myself into singing, acting, and musical theater, and eventually went to school to teach theater. Then when I was about 28 I decided to write a story that was inspired by something that happened in my life (for my comic book GloomCookie that was published a year later), and to my great surprise it was published and people loved it, and there has never been anything I love doing more than writing. I’m so happy I finally had the courage to do what a I truly love, and incredibly lucky I get to do it for a living.
YEM: What made you want to start to write from the perspective of the Disney villains?
Serena: Before I started writing my Villains series with Disney, I was writing indie comic books. One of the books I was writing at the time was called Nightmares & Fairy Tales where I retold various fairytales from the protagonist’s point of view, though I did explore the various villains, their backgrounds, and their motivations more throughly than the original tales. I think I’ve always been curious why the villains from these stories did what they did in their original tales, and in the Classic Disney adaptations. So it just made sense that I would go on to explore their backgrounds for Disney.
YEM: Is there a particular villain that you found was the most interesting to write for?
Serena: That’s a hard question, because I find them all interesting for different reasons, but if I had to pick, I think it would be Cruella De Vil because I wrote her book as an autobiography in first person, and I really got into writing in her voice. Like Lady Tremaine she doesn’t have magical powers so it was interesting to write both of their stories, with neither of them being from a magical world, but I do have to admit I really did quite enjoy getting back to the magical realms with Lady Tremaine once she married Cinderella’s father. I missed the Odd Sisters, the fairies and witches, and I’m very excited I will be spending even more time with the magical characters and their world in the books to come.
YEM: Would you say that the villains are misunderstood characters?
Serena: I would, because their stories were never really explored. I don’t set out to write redemption stories, I’m just giving the villains a chance to share their story from their point of view. It will be up to the readers however to decide if their stories redeem them.
YEM: What is something that you would like your readers to learn from reading your books?
Serena: That’s entirely up to the reader. These are cautionary tales, but I don’t set out to hit my readers over the head with the topics that are important to me that I have woven into these stories. Intent is all very well and good, but it’s all about perception in art, and I love seeing what readers get form my stories without me telling them what they should be looking for.
YEM: Who are some of your writing inspirations?
Serena: That’s a long list but I will share a few. Angela Carter, Francesca Lia Block, Oscar Wilde, Los Bros Hernandez, Katherine Dunn, and Anne Rice are a few.
YEM: How do you create a more multi-dimensional character that has already been established?
Serena: That’s a very long process, but the short answer is that I ask myself why the villains in the animated films did what they did. Why was Maleficent so angry she wasn’t invited to the christening? What would drive the Wicked Queen to kill her own stepdaughter? What would cause Lady Tremaine to turn her stepdaughter into a servant in her own home? And then I go from there getting to know the characters, what their personalities are like, and what their motivations might be. I do a lot of research, a lot of thinking, and then decide what their backstories might be, and I hope the readers will enjoy their stories, and get more insight as to why the villains took the paths they did.
YEM: Do you have any advice for someone who also wants to become a writer?
Serena: Write what you love, the story you always wanted to read, something you’re proud of writing. Because in the end we need to write for ourselves. We need to be happy with it, it’s a bonus if others love it as much as we do.
YEM: What was your favorite Disney movie and character growing up?
Serena: It’s a tie between Snow White and Maleficent.