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Interview: Disney Villains Author Serena Valentino on Cruella’s Story and More

Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil, if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will!

Ever since Disney announced that Cruella De Vil would be the next villain novelized by super storyteller talented Serena Valentino, we haven’t stopped humming that famous tune.

Cruella’s story, Evil Thing, will be the seventh novel in the wildly successful Valentino Disney Villains series. While we anxiously await the book’s release, we opened the floor up to our wonderful The Disney Blog readers to ask their questions of Ms. Valentino. 

Note that while learning more about Serena and encouraging her to spill the beans on her plans for Cruella and beyond, we are delighted to report that no puppies were harmed in the (writing or interviewing) process.

Q: As a little girl, did you love Disney? Were you more of a villains fan back then rather than a fan of the princesses?

As a little girl, the first Disney films I remember seeing were Bambi and the Fox and the Hound. I remember being upset for weeks after seeing those movies. So I wasn’t particularly fond of the villains at that age. When I was a little older and saw Snow White and Sleeping Beauty I think that’s when my love of villains was born. Both of them were so beautiful and mysterious and I just had to know more about them. Little did I know back then I would be creating how they came to be so wicked. 

Did Disney approach you requesting for you to write about the villains or did you approach them with the idea?

Disney approached me. I had been writing my comic book series Nightmares & Fairy Tales, and one of the editors at Disney had seen my work and asked if there were any Disney characters I’d be interested in writing. Of course I said the villains! 

Were the events of your books always logical in your mind? Did you always ask yourself what could have pushed the villains to their wicked deeds?

Yes, that is always how I approach each book, asking myself why. For example I asked myself why Maleficent was so angry she wasn’t invited to the christening. Or why Ursula was so upset with King Triton and wanted his throne. It always starts with “why?”

How did you come up with the concept of the Odd Sisters?

When I was writing Fairest of All, I wanted something that made me feel like the story was mine, something that put my stamp and storytelling style on the pages of a very well-known story, and thus the Odd Sisters were born. 

Who is your favorite character you have written about so far and why? 

That’s a really hard question. They are all my favorites when I’m writing about them. And of course I have a special fondness for the characters I created for the series. But if I had to choose I would say Snow White as an adult. I really love the woman she had become over the course of the series. 

For Disney, the focus has always been to shine a light on the goodness in every story. For you, it seems to be the opposite. You shine a light on the darker part of the story. Which, in a way, shines an even bigger light on the goodness in the end because the princess (at least the Disney ones) always get their happily ever after. Have you always seen the yin & yang of a story?

I think what I’m doing is looking deeper into our villains’ motivations. Sharing their version of the story and giving my readers an opportunity to get to know them in an intimate way. And then it’s up to them to decide if their reasons for going down dark paths were warranted or not. 

We are so excited for Book 7, Evil Thing! Did you envision your Disney Villains series running up to at least a seventh novel?

Did I imagine the series would run so long? I think a part of me did, yes. From the start the editor I was working with at the time and I envisioned this, however there were times when it felt like the series wouldn’t continue. It wasn’t until Poor Unfortunate Soul that the series really caught on with the readers, so I wasn’t sure if Disney would want to continue publishing the books, but the series is going strong now, so it seems like I will be writing these books for many years to come, which thrills me because I love telling these stories. 

What resources did you look to for inspiration for Cruella’s backstory?

The Disney film of course, and the original story it was based on. I also re-watched a lot of old British shows like Upstairs Downstairs for inspiration for the home she grew up in, and what it was like to be raised by a lord and lady, and to be surrounded by servants. I also re-watched Downton Abbey, and of course I went back to 101 Dalmatians, and watched that countless times.  

You mentioned on social media that Cruella’s story takes place outside the Many Kingdoms and does not include the Odd Sisters as we are used to seeing them in the previous novels. What made you change the setting of this story and why is now – Book 7 – the time to do it?

Cruella’s story takes place in London in a completely different time period as our other stories. And there are no elements of magic in her London world. It didn’t make sense to have the odd sisters time-traveling and running around London trying to corrupt Cruella. I’ve had Cruella’s story in mind for many years. I always wanted it to read like an autobiography, and I wanted it set in the real world; her world in London. So when we decided to do another trilogy I thought it was a good time to tell some stories outside of the Many Kingdoms for a change and give the Odd Sisters a much deserved break. After all they are still in the Place Between trying to decide what their next move will be! 

Will any of the future novels be in the same realm as that of Cruella’s story?

In London? Yes. All of the books in this trilogy will involve London in some way. But not necessarily in the same time period as Cruella’s story. 

What challenges did you face writing Evil Thing that you did not encounter in writing your previous books?

It was the first time I fashioned a book to read like an autobiography, which I found to be challenging at first but soon learned to love because I adored writing in Cruella’s voice. She’s a hoot! I feel this is probably the most intimate story I’ve written for this series, being able to tell it in Cruella’s voice. It’s so different from the other novels. Yes, it’s heartbreaking, and sometimes funny, and tragic, but it’s told completely in her own words. We really get to see how she’s feeling, and how she sees the world she lives in. It’s probably my favorite book in the entire series. 

Does the famous ‘Cruella De Vil’ tune, written by Pongo’s pet, Roger, in the 101 Dalmatians film, make an appearance in Cruella’s story?

It does. But only a little. It’s more alluded to than written out on the page. 

How many more villains novels do you plan on writing?

Officially we are planned up to Book Nine. But you never know what the future will bring! 

How do you feel about the Disney Twisted Tales and the fact that their character backgrounds are different to ones in your villain novels? 

I feel Twisted Tales is its own series, and therefore it makes sense that the characters would have their own backgrounds. 

If you had the choice, would you rather your books be made into a TV series or (one or several) movies?

Given the choice I think I would prefer a TV series. I think a series would give more room for character development, and more time to tell their stories. I don’t think there is enough room in a two hour film to cover our villains’ complex and layered lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be thrilled if they made a film based on my books, but since we’re asking what I’d prefer in a magical version of the universe where I get to make those decisions, then I would wish for a television series that is a faithful adaptation of the books. 

Want to catch up on our reviews, articles or prior interviews of the Valentino Disney Villains Series, Books 1-6? Check them out here!