As promised, here’s an interview with one of my heroes in the literary world, Christopher Healy, author of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, and The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw (published by Walden Pond, an imprint of Harper Collins).
Christopher was kind enough to answer my questions about his books and the publishing process. Aspiring authors may appreciate his insights.
BK: First, please tell us about the heroes.
CH: This is the story of four fairy tale princes who are tired of living in the shadows of their more famous female counterparts, so they decide to team up and make a name for themselves, only to discover that they’re pretty lousy at being heroes.
BK: Christopher’s description only hints at how funny these books are. My husband and I cracked up all the way through them. It wasn’t until later that we realized that they were meant for children. We gave the first one to our eight-year-old who read it in a day and a half, putting us both to shame.
Back to the interview, how did you get your start with writing?
CH: It was second grade when Mrs. Sheinman told my parents that my creative writing project—a folded construction paper book called, “Space Race”—was gold star material. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an author. It took another 30 years or so to make it happen, though. I actually began my professional writing career freelancing for various magazines, newspapers, and websites. I’d write whatever they’d let me write—mostly reviews and tiny little 50-word items, but it helped me build up a clip file. When I became a dad, though, it was hard to focus on much other than my kids, so I started writing about them. Which was actually a great move for me, because I ended up carving out a niche for myself as a “dad writer” with various parenting sites and magazines. And eventually I went from writing about children to writing for children.
BK: How did you land your agent?
CH: It was that “dad writer” thing I mentioned earlier that helped me land my agent. Because the first book I wrote was a non-fiction guide for new fathers. When I pitched the idea to an agent, it helped to already have the background to call myself an “expert” on the topic. I’d written dozens of parenting articles, I’d worked at multiple parenting magazines, I had children (that one was pretty much a requirement). Anyway, I got the agent and sold the book. It was called “Pop Culture”—get it? Pop? It was a great pun, but evidently not a great book title, because nobody read it.
BK: Could you give us some insight into the whole process, starting with what you believe to be your final draft?
CH: I don’t think I truly believe any draft to be the “final” draft. When I have a good-enough-to-be-seen-by-other-human-eyes draft, I share it with my personal readers—trusted friends, family, etc. After I’ve fixed all the parts they think are pure trash, then I have my good-enough-to-fool-my-agent-into-thinking-I’m-this-good-on-a-first-draft draft. Then I use my agent’s notes to formulate my good-enough-not-to-embarrass-me-in-front-of-a-professional draft, which goes to the editor—as do the next 458 drafts. Once it’s finally in a place where everyone is feeling good about it (though still not “final”), it goes to a copy editor and gets a full service tune-up on grammar, spelling, and continuity errors. Then I wait another half-year-plus and eventually see it in real, live book form. And that is an amazing day. Until I read through it again and find something I wish I could fix.
BK: And probably the overused but obligatory question: How did you come up with your ideas? And why fairy tales? Is it because of their recent popularity, or did the idea stem independently and organically from the nether regions of your brain?
CH: Back when I wrote the first book of my series, most of those fairy tale shows and movies weren’t even out yet. It was before Once Upon a Time, before Grimm, before Snow White and the Huntsman, etc. (Now, I’m not saying I started the recent trend in fairytale retellings, but if you’d like to interpret it that way, I’m not going to stop you.) But seriously, I had no idea at the time that I was jumping in at the forefront of a huge pop culture trend. I wanted to write about Prince Charming because when my daughter was five, she watched Disney’s Snow White and angrily told me afterwards, “I don’t like that prince! He’s boring! Snow White should stay with the dwarfs! They were fun!” She made me determined to write a story in which I could make Prince Charming fun.
BK: Tell us what’s coming next for you. I must say that I’m relieved to see from your website that a fourth Hero’s Guide is on your radar.
CH: A fourth Hero’s Guide is definitely on my literary to-do list, but like most items on my regular everyday to-do list, I can’t tell you when I’ll actually get around to it. Currently, I’m in the middle of writing the first book of a new children’s series, tentatively titled Perilous Journey. It’s about two young inventor’s assistants in 1880’s America who stumble across the plans to a dastardly plot. It’s a big departure from Hero’s Guide in terms of genre and setting, but a lot of the same spirit and humor will be there.
BK: Is it true there’s going to be a Hero’s Guide movie?? If so, how did that come about?
CH: Thanks to a top-notch film agent (one who works with my literary agent), rights to Hero’s Guide have been optioned by Fox and a movie is currently in development with Blue Sky Studios (Fox’s animation arm). There’s no guarantee the film will ever see the light of day, because movie studios back out of projects all the time, but for now—fingers crossed.
BK: Any advice for us mere mortals aka, aspiring novelists?
CH: Work on thickening your skin, because one of the best skills a writer can have is the ability to take criticism. You don’t have to listen to all of it, but it helps to be able to sort out the meaningful stuff from the non. Hearing that meaningful criticism, not letting it get you down, and learning from it to improve your writing—that’s what will get your book past “good enough.”
Thank you again, Christopher. It was an honor to have you grace the pages of my blog!
Readers, I hope you enjoyed this interview. Check out Christopher’s books on amazon by clicking on their pictures. Thanks for reading!