As a writer/reader of Mid-Grade books, and the father of a Mid-Grade reluctant reader, it is refreshing to come across a book that is smart, witty and keeps readers wanting more. Almost two years ago, I came across Christopher Healy and his wonderful fractured fairy tale world of Prince Charmings – The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Together, my son and I enjoyed the series so much that we would push bedtime back a bit later so we could get one more chapter in.
I was so excited when Chris agreed to be interviewed for the MG Mafia blog. I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did and if you haven’t read his books, what are you waiting for? Now I have the pleasure of sharing the talented Christopher Healy.
Middle Grade Mafia: I enjoy hearing best selling author’s stories before they were famous (is that too VH1?), please share your journey to becoming a published author.
Christopher Healy: I took something of a roundabout path to becoming a children’s novelist. I went from magazine fact-checker (the guy who makes sure that the actual writer didn’t make any mistakes) to writer of tiny 150-word magazine articles. And then writer of longer articles. And then, after becoming a parent, writer of longer articles about parenting. And then author of a guidebook for new dads (it was called Pop Culture —a delicious pun which, in retrospect, was too easily misunderstood). From there, I became the regular children’s book critic for a few different magazines and websites. And then, after years of writing about other people’s novels, I decided to finally write my own. (And luckily, I already had an agent from the fatherhood book.)
MGM: Take us through your process in taking an idea and developing it into a full story?
CH: Sometimes, it’s a number of seeds, germs, and quasi-ideas that suddenly gel together to form the fully fleshed idea for a story. In this case, I’d been telling people for years that I wanted “to write a story about Prince Charming.” I used to read a lot of fairy tales when I was younger, but began looking at them through new eyes when my daughter was five or so and going through a heavy princess phase. I began to notice how blank, bland, and generally undeveloped the princes were in all of the classic stories she was hearing. So I knew I wanted to write a Prince Charming story, but had no idea what that story would be about. The actual characters and plot took form when I revisited some of the long-standing questions I’d always had about classic fairy tales, questions that dated back to when I was a kid and was first exposed to these stories myself. It was in answering these questions (which I’ll be more specific about in my answer to the next question) that I found the plot for my general “Prince Charming” idea.
MGM: The characters from the Hero’s Guide series have appeared in movies produced by Disney. How did you go about creating characters very different from their original stories?
CH: Even when I was young, I aware of the many glaring plot-holes in classic fairy tales—the bits that seemed to be utterly lacking in sense and logic. I’m not talking about the fantasy elements, like the existence of magic or monsters; I’m talking about the bizarre choices made the characters. Why didn’t Rapunzel’s prince just get a ladder? Why does Cinderella’s prince send servants to find his runaway dream girl, instead of seeking her out himself? Why should we believe that Sleeping Beauty and her prince were lucky enough to be a perfect match when they’d never met until he woke her from her trance? Why does Snow White’s prince spend so much time wandering through the woods by himself? (He’s royalty, right? Shouldn’t he have some friends? An entourage of some kind?) I built my characters by answering these questions, and got a boneheaded prince who wants to be a hero so badly that he rushes into danger without thinking, a cowardly prince who has been too timid to ever actually leave the grounds of his palace, a cocky prince who scoffs at the idea of “true love’s kiss,” and an eccentric prince whose tendency to shout out random names for every animal he sees has made him the most unpopular man in his own kingdom. I used the same process for the women in the books.
MGM: I read your books with my son, how does your adult fans differ from the kids?
CH: There are certain jokes that I put into the books that I knew would probably fly over the head of most younger readers. But I made sure such gags were never pivotal to the narrative. I think of them as Easter eggs for adult readers or more pop-culture savvy kids. It’s my way of saying to the grown-up reader, “I appreciate you reading this book even though it has a cartoon dragon on the cover.” I also know that lots of adults read with or to their kids, and I they deserve a little something extra. The name of a certain female prisoner from Book 3 is a good example—if you get the joke, maybe you get a bit of added enjoyment from it; but if you don’t, you can keep on reading smoothly without even knowing that you missed something. But I will say that I love any time I see an older reader post something on Twitter like, “Did I just read an Airplane reference in Hero’s Guide?”
MGM: Is there a literary character that you relate to the most?
CH: Maybe Neville Longbottom—incredibly unpopular among his schoolmates, but only because nobody realizes how awesome he actually is.
MGM: Can you give us a preview of your next project, THE WORST THING ABOUT SAVING THE WORLD?
CH: It’s a work in progress, so I wouldn’t want to tease out any plot details that end up changing by the time of publication. But the basic gist is this: There’s a normal, average kid who finds out he is actually the special Chosen Child from an age-old prophecy. He is destined to save the world. And he does. And then the book starts. Because I wanted to see what happens when one of these Harry Potter/Percy Jackson types has to try to go back to a normal middle-school existence.
MGM: Any advice you could give to beginning writers?
CH: Different methods work for different writers, of course, but I’ve learned a pretty valuable lesson recently: Develop your characters first and let them drive the plot. That’s what I did with Hero’s Guide, and I felt like I knew the characters so well that, especially by the third book, the plot just seemed to fall into place. With my new book, I attempted to do the opposite—because I’d already dreamed up this plot that I loved. But by the end of the first draft, I ended up with a flawed manuscript in which the characters behaved very inconsistently. And that was because I’d tried to force my characters into this pre-existing plot. I had these things I wanted the characters to do in order to drive the plot, but, in retrospect, I saw that they weren’t actions these characters would logically take. That’s why I’m currently in the middle of a pretty heavy revision. Which actually brings me to my number one piece of advice for writers: Revise, revise, revise. Your book is never finished the first time around.
I want to sincerely thank Chris for joining the Mafia and sharing with us his insights into writing. I know I cannot wait to read his next book. If you want to learn more about Chris and his work, you can visit hi website and like him on Facebook