Today, I'm doing something a little different - I'm holding my first author interview! Earlier this week I reviewed The Ugly Teapot, Book One: Hannah by Fred Holmes after receiving a free ecopy from the author - you can read my review here - and I really enjoyed it. Anyway, I'm honored to share his responses to my questions here on my blog.
Without further ado, on to the interview:
1. You have a background in writing and directing for tv and movies. What has it been like transitioning between storytelling mediums with your first novel, The Ugly Teapot?
Honestly, it’s been a challenge. Screenplays have their own unique “language”, a kind of shorthand that is very visual, and very spare. By spare I mean you utilize few words. Screenplays are very impressionistic—if done right. They give you the feel, the emotion, of a scene, without using a lot of words. Read William Goldman’s script for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, or Shane Black’s LETHAL WEAPON. Both are great examples of this. Consequently, you can be a successful screenwriter without being particularly good at grammar, etc. Yes, you do need to know how to write. What is the old cliché? You have to know the rules in order to break them? That is true. But what I mean to say here is that those rules are somewhat different based on the media you are working in. Screenplays also do not explore the interior lives of the characters, plus one of the biggest rules in writing screenplays is that you only include what the audience can see and hear. So when it came time for me to write a novel, I found I had to reacquaint myself with good grammar, and I had to force myself to get into the head of my protagonist and explore her motivation. When I started doing that, I found myself telling and not showing, plus I had a tendency to over explain things. Those are issues I continue to struggle with, but the road to recovery begins with admitting you have a problem, right? ☺️ Something that has helped me greatly is that novels have evolved over the last few decades. They’re developing their own shorthand and becoming more impressionistic. I seriously LOVE that, and I am trying to get better at it.
2. One of the tv shows that you have worked on in the past is Wishbone. Wishbone was absolutely one of my favorite shows growing up and I watched it obsessively. Do you have any memories from your time working on the show that you'd like to share?
I have so many wonderful memories from my time on WISHBONE. We had a terrific cast and crew, and got to do some fun stuff. My favorite parts of each episode were the fantasy scenes when Wishbone would imagine himself inside a story. We built French castles and Spanish galleons and English country inns, and had battles and wars and did all sorts of exciting things. We actually had three “Wishbones”, as our picture dog, Soccer, had a few phobias. He hated cannons going off, or muskets, and was terrified of water. So we used other dogs (with makeup) for those scenes requiring pyrotechnics or swimming. Soccer was insured for a million dollars, flew first class, had his own air conditioned doghouse on the set—we’re talking pampered—and his trainer, Jackie Captain, was very protective. She was also one of the finest animal trainers I’ve worked with. She did WHITE FANG, and a bunch of other Disney shows, and was great at making Soccer look like he could act. Which brings up a story you might enjoy. I was directing TREASURE ISLAND and we had built the interior of a ship on the soundstage. We were doing a scene where Soccer was supposed to start on the top deck of the ship and come down some wooden stairs to the hold where I had the camera set up. From the deck to the hold was about a ten foot drop. Jackie was in the hold with me, beside camera, to call Soccer down, while her assistant was on the top deck with Soccer. Without Jackie’s knowledge, I had her assistant substitute the stuffed animal we used for Soccer’s stand-in (which looked remarkably like Soccer) for Soccer. When we rolled camera, I had Jackie call for Soccer and her assistant tossed the substitute through the air into the hold. I heard Jackie scream as “Soccer” splattered on the floor at her feet. Needless to say, when she found out it was my idea she chased me around the soundstage.
3. If I may ask, what was your inspiration for The Ugly Teapot?
TEAPOT came about as my emotional response to the death of my brother, Jim. He died of cancer at a young age, and it took seven years to kill him. It was a horrible, awful time, and I’m still not over it. As a way of therapy, I wrote a screenplay called FIREFLIES, and had my agent shop it all over Hollywood. Writing spec screenplays in Hollywood is a hoot, and I could tell you some stories—good and bad—about the process, but the short version is that everyone loved FIREFLIES and it was optioned numerous times. One of the people who optioned it was Jerry Molen, who won the Academy Award for producing SCHINDLER’S LIST (along with Spielberg and a guy named Branko Lustig). Jerry tried for several years to get FIREFLIES made, but was unable to do it for a variety of reasons. Then a friend of mine at Disney read it, loved it, and suggested I turn it into a novel. By then I was writing and directing a lot of children’s television, and I loved the idea of creating a story that would help kids deal with trauma. So I took FIREFLIES the screenplay and turned it into THE UGLY TEAPOT. There will be three novels in the series, and when they’re done, I truly hope they will help kids deal in a positive way with those emotions I once went through.
4. Hannah, the main character from The Ugly Teapot, feels very relatable for everything that she's going through from the loss of her father to this grand adventure. How did you keep her so grounded through the course of the story?
I cheated. I based her on a lot of women I know. That makes creating a character so much easier. You take emotional courage from one person, physical courage from another. You study how someone reacts to danger or emotional trauma. None of us are perfect, so you look at their flaws and weaknesses as well. And their greatness comes from how they overcome those flaws and weaknesses. One of Hannah’s attributes I love is her courage. That doesn’t mean she was never frightened. Oh no, she was frightened a lot. But she never, ever let her fear stop her from doing what was right. So how did I keep her grounded? Easy. She was grounded because the amazing women I have around me everyday are grounded.
5. Hannah also has quite an interesting relationship with her dog, Griff, as they share a telepathic link. Why do you think she considers that perfectly normal, but doesn't initially think that the lamp could have its own brand of magic?
That, quite frankly, was a mistake. I originally had Hannah reacting strongly when Griff first spoke to her, but through several revisions it got lost and I never noticed until the book was published. Does it drive me crazy? Yes. Especially when that moment was really nice originally, and when I hate—HATE—illogical plot points. BTW, a lot of people have asked me if Griff could really communicate telepathically, or was it part of Hannah’s delusion, and I’ll let the readers decide for themselves. I should also tell you that Griff was based on my dog, Griff, who went to college with me. His full name was David Wark Griffith the Second, Griff for short, and he was named after a famous film director, D.W. Griffith. He was the smartest dog I have ever known, and my dad always said he was the one who graduated from college, not me. I loved Griff. He was primarily a Border Collie (with a few other breeds mixed in) and we lived in a tiny room off campus. We would get up in the morning, shower together, eat breakfast together, then he’d walk with me to class and sleep beside my chair. If I started dating someone he didn’t like, I would say goodbye—and not to Griff. We were inseparable, and to this day, I swear he could understand me, and I could understand him. ☺️
6. As you might have been able to tell from my review, Aladdin is one of my favorite Disney movies and the Genie is one of my favorite characters. Your genie in this novel is quite a bit different in comparison. He's been around for practically forever, has a few crucial rules, and an almost lawyer-ly tone. Do you have any ideas as to the things he's seen or done in the past to develop into the detached character he is when Hannah meets him?
Yes, the Genie has his own back-story, which I can’t tell too much about because it would give away some huge surprises that are coming in books two and three. I can tell you I deliberately “modernized” him. I didn’t want to create the same old caricature, although I adored the Robin Williams version. In creating both the Genie and the Magician, I went back to the original story and studied how they had been first visualized. That way any changes I made would be founded on “fact”. What you will discover as the stories progress is that the Genie and the Magician are fighting over control of the lamp, and the fate of the world lies in the balance. On a side note, I actually got to attend the world premier of ALADDIN at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood (Disney’s flagship theater) with my good friend Lou Diamond Phillips. It was an amazing evening. Not only was the movie extraordinary, but before it began, all of the Disney characters came out on the stage and performed famous Disney songs while they pumped the auditorium full of bubbles. Very cool.
7. Hannah's story in The Ugly Teapot is the first in a new series. Can you give us a little sneak peek at what we can look forward to in the sequel?
I am about to send out a draft to my beta readers, so Book Two: Natty, is very close to completion. Without revealing any spoilers, I can tell you I like Natty even more than Hannah. She’s feisty and tough and brilliant, and I can’t wait for you to read about her. Like Hannah, Natty is struggling with some tough issues, but she’s a fighter, and her battles to overcome those issues make her one of my favorite literary characters. Yes, I’m biased, and unabashedly so. What I can tell you about Book Two is that there is a lot more going on in Green Park, Tennessee, than meets the eye—a struggle between good and evil—set in a tiny town in the Great Smoky Mountains. If you’ve never been to the Smoky Mountains, they have a mystical quality about them that I adore. I have always loved how Washington Irving used the Hudson Valley for stories like THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW and RIP VAN WINKLE, and I wanted to do the same with the Smoky Mountains. They’re the perfect setting for a magical battle. And finally, I can also tell you that in THE UGLY TEAPOT series not everyone who’s dead, stays dead, but that is where I will have to leave it for now.
Thanks again, Mr. Holmes! It has been wonderful working with you! I'm truly looking forward to The Ugly Teapot, Book Two: Natty.
About Fred Holmes:
THE UGLY TEAPOT is Fred Holmes’s first fiction novel, having previously ghost written a nonfiction book, LETTERS FROM DAD, published by Thomas Nelson. He is known primarily as a writer and director of films and television, working primarily in family films and children’s television. His work can be seen on Mary Lou Retton’s FLIP FLOP SHOP, BARNEY & FRIENDS, WISHBONE, HORSELAND, IN SEARCH OF THE HEROES, and many other shows, for which he has won two Emmys and three CINE Golden Eagles, among numerous other awards. He has also directed three feature films, including DAKOTA, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, distributed by Miramax, and HEART LAND, a Bollywood feature film shot on location in India. He lives with his wife and son in the southwest United States, and can be found online at www.flholmes.com. [From Goodreads]