Please welcome to The Qwillery Harry Heckel and John Peck collectively known as Jack Heckel, the author(s) of the The Charming Tales.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. How did you decide to collaborate on a series?
H: John and I have been friends since our university days. We had been part of a pen and paper roleplaying group and stayed in contact over the years.
J: We were best men at each other’s weddings.
H: John was always someone who I enjoyed sharing my ideas with and his feedback has inspired me on numerous occasions in the past. One day in 2008, John was visiting the East Coast and we were talking about novel ideas. The idea for The Charming Tales was his, but he wasn’t sure that he could write it.
J: He is being generous. I was CERTAIN I couldn’t write it by myself.
H: The concept stuck with me for weeks, and I couldn’t put it away. Finally, I called him a few months later and said something like, “It’s time to write this.” Fortunately, he agreed and we’ve had a blast reconnecting and creating worlds together. One of the best decisions ever.
J: And, mine. It was Harry that really drove the project forward and kept it going when while I struggled to figure out how to write. Having an experienced writer like Harry as a partner, and to complete your sentences for you is a luxury I think all writers could benefit from.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about co-writing?
H: This one is easy for me – time zones. John is in California, and I’m in Virginia. When we need to talk, the main problem is finding a good time. Email and texts are wonderful, but they don’t replace time spent talking. Since we both have busy day jobs and often events in the evening, I usually have to call him after midnight during the week to have a long talk.
J: I don’t think of it as a challenge at all. Co-writing to me is an advantage. If either of us gets stuck, we have a co-author who can help us write through it. If day jobs attack, we can pass the baton and keep making progress on our novel. Our real secret is that we don’t worry about who has written what or how many words. We’ve both written the entire book.
H & J : As far as the actual collaboration, we have a good system. We create an outline, assign chapters to one another and write them chronologically. When one of us finishes a chapter, they send it to the other to rewrite. Finally, it goes back to the original author for a review and touch up. We’ve found that gives the book a single voice.
TQ: What appealed to you about writing twisted fairy tales?
H: The Charming Tales really came from the question of “Who is this mysterious Prince Charming who shows up to rescue the princess in all the fairy tales?” When the series was originally conceived, we wanted to explore who this person would be if he didn’t get to rescue the princess. It was going to be sad and dark, like the tragic fall of star athletes who turn out to be busts or child actors who can’t or don’t want to continue their careers into adulthood. What happens to a man who has been told all his life he was going to be a hero and then never becomes that hero?
After talking, we decided that the series would be better with a comedic take. Once we did that, we decided to write something like The Princess Bride, Piers Anthony’s Xanth series or a Terry Pratchett book but with fairy tales. Once we got into the fairy tales, there was so much source material for us to explore that it’s been incredible fun ever since. I think one of the real joys is that our readers already know the stories behind our novel, so we can play off the original fairy tales and the numerous modern versions.
J: First, let me second everything Harry said, but add that for me all of fairytale was a draw. I have been a voracious reader of fairytales and fairytale commentary for years. I’m one of those weird people that love to read the annotated versions of fairytales, Maria Tatar is my favorite, and to try and understand why these stories keep drawing readers back to them hundreds of years after their original publication. Then there is the fact that they are so elegant and spare, that they provide the perfect canvas from which to launch new stories. And, where else can you find source material that is so widely and universally known. The teaser trailer for Disney’s upcoming adaptation of Cinderella is just an image of a crystal slipper. Even Star Wars can’t get away with that level of abstraction.
TQ: Tell us something about Once Upon a Rhyme and Happily Never After that we won't find in the book descriptions.
H: Although it may seem from the descriptions that Will Pickett is the hero of the The Charming Tales, Liz Pickett is probably the true protagonist of the tale. Liz has to struggle to save her brother, and she is the only one who knows about Princess Gwendolyn’s madness. She’s Will’s practical older sister, and after a lifetime of disappointment, she needs to find the courage to believe that she can find her own happy ending and perhaps fall in love.
J: That’s a good one, but for me it is that the villainess, Princess Gwendolyn, may be my favorite character. She was certainly the hardest to write, but more than that she provides a voice for all those distressed damsels whose rescues don’t go quite as planned.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Once Upon a Rhyme and Happily Never After?
H: We read a lot of fairy tales. John sent me a copy of The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tatar, and we’ve both used that as a point of reference. We watched several Disney and Dreamworks movies (as well as The Princess Bride, as we love the tone of it) as well as read scholarly articles and analyses of the fairy tales.
J: The research for The Charming Tales really began in my nursery. One of my favorite stories as a child was Jack and the Beanstalk. I loved the idea of a castle in the clouds. I could lie back in the grass in my backyard and watch all those mysterious lands filled with treasures and giants and magic drift by right over my head. Over the years I’ve taken that love for fairytales and read everything I could get my hands on, Perrault’s Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books (I particularly love The Green Fairy, which introduces to the world for the first time the character of Prince Charming in a story called The Blue Bird), and of course Children’s and Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm.
TQ: Do you have a favorite fairy tale?
H: As far as classic fairy tales, I would have to choose Sleeping Beauty, but it’s a difficult decision. As far as modern stories, I have to say that Frozen was amazing, especially since I was able to see it with my young daughter.
J: That’s easy for me. There is a rather obscure but beautiful little story in the Brothers Grimm collection called The Seven Ravens I have a particular fondness for. It is about a young girl who finds out that her seven brothers have been cursed to live as ravens. To break the curse she undertakes a quest to the sun and to the moon and to the stars before she finally sets them free. I am drawn to it because the female protagonist is so strikingly different from many of the more passive heroines in the better-known fairytales. Also, she undertakes the quest not for personal gain, either material or romantic, but because that is what a sister would do for her brothers.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Happily Never After.
H: Here’s one of my favorites –
“Not just ‘seven players’—The Seven Players,” Grady bristled. “Capitalize it when you say it. I won’t be insulted by a common foot soldier.”
J: I had a tough time with this, mostly with trying to decide if something is “spoilery” or “non-spoilery”, but ultimately I picked this one –
He bowed and spread his hands wide in a gesture of surrender. “Forgive me. I am being pushy, and nobody likes a pushy frog.”
TQ: What's next?
H: We are working diligently on Book 3 of The Charming Tales, Pitchfork of Destiny. It’s currently scheduled for release in mid-July of 2015. We also have a series in the works that should fracture epic fantasy in a similar fashion to the carnage we’ve wrought on fairy tales. There are a plethora of unpublished novels in our backlog and hopefully, many more ideas to come.
J: One more word, superheroes, or should I say, superheroine!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Once Upon a Rhyme
The Charming Tales 1
Harper Voyager Impulse, August 26, 2014
The dragon is dead. The princess has been saved. There is but one problem: Prince Charming had nothing to do with it.
In order to save his royal reputation, Prince Charming must begrudgingly enlist the help of accidental hero William Pickett. The two set out on an adventure that has them fighting trolls, outwitting a scoundrel, and drinking the foulest ale ever, collecting bruises to both body and pride along the way. Meanwhile, the rescued princess, Gwendolyn, turns out to be one dangerously distressed damsel, and an evil presence takes over Castle White in Charming's absence …
Enter this rollicking world and discover just what happens when a fairytale leaves the well-trodden path of "once upon a time."
Happily Never After
The Charming Tales 2
Harper Voyager Impulse, November 25, 2014
Once upon, once again …
The dragon has been slain, but the problems have just begun for Prince Charming.
Disowned by his father, the King, and abandoned by his only friend, William Pickett, Charming must find a new path in life—but he's going to need a lot of help. His love, Liz, barely survived an assassination attempt; his former fling, Rapunzel, is in danger; and William is under an evil spell cast by Princess Gwendolyn.
The fate of Castle White hangs in the balance as Charming tries to find himself, while finding new allies along the way—including an odd number of dwarfs (or is it dwarves?) and a reformed beast. But he's running out of time to stop royally ruinous wedding bells from ringing …
Jack Heckel’s life is an open book, actually, it’s the book you are in all hope holding right now (and if you are not holding it, he would like to tell you it can be purchased from any of your finest purveyors of the written word). Beyond that, Jack aspires to be either a witty, urbane, world-traveler who lives on his vintage yacht, The Clever Double Entendre, or a geographically illiterate professor of literature who spends his non-writing time restoring an 18th century lighthouse off a remote part of the Vermont coastline. More than anything, Jack lives for his readers.