Disney villains author explores origin of Cinderella’s stepmother in ‘Cold Hearted’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Cold Hearted' (Part 1)

After nearly a century of Disney heroes, it’s time to see what makes the villains tick.

Author Serena Valentino presents “Cold Hearted,” the eighth book in her villains series.

“This time we’re focusing on Lady Tremaine from ‘Cinderella’ and her daughters Anastasia and Drizella,” Valentino told WTOP. “We start the story out before she marries Cinderella’s father. We see what her life was like and the different things that happened to her that lead her down the path to become the woman that we remember.”

Turns out, Lady Tremaine wasn’t always so mean.

“She thinks this is going to be her happily ever after,” Valentino said. “She meets Cinderella’s father, he whisks her off to a magical kingdom. It ends up being a terrible situation. He’s just interested in her fortune, he wants someone to take care of his daughter, Cinderella, while he’s off on adventures, somebody to clean the house, cook the meals. She becomes terribly unhappy.”

The book continues a consistent theme about who gets to enjoy “bibbidi-bobbidi” magic.

“Why do the princesses have fairy godmothers but other people in the stories don’t?” Valentino said. “Maybe if Lady Tremaine had a fairy godmother, she wouldn’t have gone down the path she did, she wouldn’t have done the things to Cinderella that she did if she had somebody there to protect her. … She turns Cinderella into a servant the way that she was by Cinderella’s father.”

While we learn her backstory, the plot actually starts after the events of “Cinderella.”

“Lady Tremaine is one of the few Disney villains that are alive at the end of the story, so I get to explore what happens to her and the stepsisters after Cinderella has moved off with her prince,” Valentino said. “That’s the story starts out: Cinderella hears that her stepsisters are in a deplorable situation with their tyrannical mother. She pleads with the Fairy Godmother to go help them.”

Valentino previously wrote “Fairest of All” about the Evil Queen in “Snow White;” “The Beast Within” about the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast;” “Poor Unfortunate Soul” about Ursula in “The Little Mermaid;” “Mistress of All Evil” about Maleficent in “Sleeping Beauty;” “Mother Knows Best” about Mother Gothel in “Tangled;” and “Evil Thing” about Cruella de Vil in “101 Dalmatians.”

“Maleficent is my favorite Disney villain,” Valentino said. “It was such a pleasure to write Maleficent’s story. That book was my love letter to Maleficent because I love her so much. That is one of the first books where people really felt, ‘Wow, Maleficent got a raw deal. We do not blame her for the events that happened in her film. … Readers really felt it was a redemption story.”

There was also an interlude novel, “The Odd Sisters,” featuring recurring new characters.

“The Odd Sisters are characters that I created,” Valentino said. “They’re a trio of identical witches that link this entire series together. These Odd Sisters meddle in the lives of all of these villains.”

How did she get this dream job of writing about Disney villains?

“I started my career writing comic books,” Valentino said. “An editor at Disney saw the work I was doing in ‘Nightmares & Fairy Tales” [and] approached me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to write for us?” … I jumped on the chance to write abut the villains. They’re not really explored, they’re not really fleshed out, there’s a lot of room, there isn’t a lot of canon. That was my best opportunity.”

Who is the next villain she is going to explore?

“I’m already working on the next novel,” Valentino said. “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you who the character is, but I will say that there’s a lot of clues in ‘Cold Hearted.’ I’m already getting theories from readers who are guessing who they think it is.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Cold Hearted' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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