Thursday, October 30, 2014

Author Guest Post: The Charming Tales by Jack Heckel

I posted recently about Once Upon a Rhyme: Volume I of the Charming Tales and the upcoming Happily Never After: Volume II of the Charming Tales by Jack Heckel. Now I have a guest post about the books to share with you.

The Charming Tales: A Few Thoughts On the Long and Winding Road to Publication by Jack Heckel:

Recently, SurLaLune was nice enough to mention the release of my debut novel Once Upon a Rhyme, the first volume of The Charming Tales, in a blog entry. In that post a mention was made of the fact that a number of recent releases have been told from Prince Charming’s perspective, and it got me thinking about the original inspiration for the novels, and how quixotic is the journey from concept to page.

The Charming Tales originally came from my obsession with Gregory Maguire’s novels, and particularly from a vacation spent reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Although nothing about Maguire’s prose is simple, I was enthralled with the way simply switching perspective could change the way you experienced a story. That in turn led me to reread, cover to cover, my very ragged copy of The Annotated Brothers Grimm by Maria Tatar. I love this volume, because I learn something new every time I read her commentary.

Anyway, there I was reading these stories I knew so well and imagining how they might be different if told from the perspective of one or other of the characters, when I came to my favorite Grimm story, The Seven Ravens. If you’re unfamiliar with the tale of The Seven Ravens, and I know it isn’t among the pantheon of Cinderella or Snow White or Beauty and the Beast, it is the story of a girl who takes up a quest to rescue her brothers, who have been cursed to live as ravens. It is an unusual story because the girl goes on her quest entirely alone and unaided. It is also unusual in that it lacks the presence in even a peripheral way of a romantic interest for our heroine.

In the annotated volume, the story is preceded almost immediately by Cinderella, with its unnamed, but earnest, shoe-bearing prince hero, and is followed immediately by Little Red Riding Hood with its woodcutter deus ex machina. The absence of a rescuing hero figure in The Seven Ravens struck me, and I thought what would happen to the stories of Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty if their “Prince Charmings” never showed up?

From this kernel of a thought the Charming Tales grew, but as they do between conception and execution the vision changed.

As you probably don’t know, I am the combined persona of two co-authors, John Peck and Harry Heckel, or as I call them, Thing 1 and Thing 2. Thing 1’s original thought was how sad and tragic would it be for Prince Charming, a man destined to be a great hero, if he failed. To what depths of despair would he be driven? How tormented would he be as the fairytale spun on without him? However, when Thing 1 told Thing 2 about the idea of the story, Thing 2 didn’t see the story as a tragedy, but as a comedy. And the more Thing 1 and Thing 2 talked the more the comic potential of a book based around Prince Charming became apparent.

New questions replaced the earlier ones. How insufferable would a man be if he knew he was destined to be a great hero? How quick would he be to fulfill his quest when to undertake it would also be to risk his reputation and his celebrity should he fail? To what lengths would such a man go to regain his reputation once the “rescue” of the maiden, his sole raison d’etre, had been taken from him? And what about the princess, wouldn’t she be a little miffed to miss out on her “prince charming” moment?

Another wonderful thing about exploring Charming’s altered character arc from a place of humor rather than tragedy is that it allows us to play fast and loose with the ridiculousness of the literal fairytale world. So, even though the main plot of Once Upon a Rhyme may resemble a twisted version of Sleeping Beauty, with a slumbering maiden being rescued from the clutches of a dragon, it was also possible to engage in a game of fairytale mixology a la Into the Woods and weave in other elements as well, including Cinderella’s famous glass slippers, the dwarfs from Snow White, an aged beast from Beauty and the Beast, a family of gruff billy goats, trolls, talking frogs, and so on. At times, and in the best traditions of fairytale, the story and characters seemed to take on a life of their own, telling themselves rather than being told.

It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett, “People think stories are shaped by people. In fact, it is the other way around.” At least for me The Charming Tales certainly prove Pratchett’s point, shaping itself to fit a mold that even I could not have foreseen.

Want to read more about fairy tale from Jack Heckel? Try these posts at Tor:

Fairytale’s Most Wanted: The Five Most Well-Known Character Types

Been There, Done That: Why We Keep Retelling Fairy Tales

Power Corrupts? Absolutely!

Slarom, the Backward Morals of Fairytales

Are All Princesses Really Waiting for Princes to Come?

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