Christopher Healy, our next Wizard of Words, helps readers across the globe find their inner hero.
Christopher is the author of The Hero’s Guide trilogy as well as the upcoming The Worst Thing About Saving The World. A New York native, he started his writing career as a video game reviewer but also lent his byline to various newspaper, magazine and website articles before penning his first novel, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom.
Thank you for taking time to answer our questions, Christopher!
7 Magic Islands: Your interest in books goes back to before you could even read. You once said you wrote a number of Tables of Contents when you were young, but not the books to go along with them. Why do you think that is and have you ever followed through on filling any of the tables?
Christopher Healy: Oh, I fully planned on writing the novels that went along with those TOC’s. But the best-laid plans of 8-year-olds often go astray. When I was a kid and I wanted to write a story, the Table of Contents seemed like a good place to start. It does come at the front of the book after all. Sometimes the chapter titles were very specific and the TOC was almost an outline of the plot; other times the chapter titles were mysterious and vague and they’d make me excited to see what would happen in those chapters when I got around to writing them. Of course, I was usually distracted by the siren call of my Star Wars figures before I ever got that far. By the time I’d get back to writing—even if it was only a couple of hours later—I had already mentally moved on to some new story idea (often inspired by whatever plotline I’d been acting out with my action figures).
7 Magic Islands: At least your imagination got a workout – just in a different way! Before you wrote the Hero’s Guide trilogy, you had a number of jobs, including but not limited to actor, haunted house zombie and celebrity name spell-checker. How do these experiences away from the writer’s desk help you on a creative level?
Christopher Healy: I was actually a theatre major in college (which is why I spell it with an re) and acted for several years after graduation. As an actor, you really have to get inside the head of a character, and that experience has helped me immensely as a writer. As for my magazine fact-checking days—they showed me the value of looking stuff up before putting it down on paper.
7 Magic Islands: Both important skills when it comes to your writing career, for sure. You mention your first children’s book, 2012’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is something you wrote for your children. What kind of storytelling traditions do you have with your children and what kind of stories do they like best?
Christopher Healy: As a parent, it just felt right to me to try to create a book my kids would (hopefully) want to read. And—whew!—they’re both fans. Unless they’re lying to me to make me feel better. In which case, thanks, kids—you’re the best! I’ve read a lot of anecdotes from writers who say their books originated with bedtime stories they told their kids. That wasn’t the case with Hero’s Guide. I have always told bedtime stories to my kids (and still do to my 8-year-old), but I doubt I’ll ever turn one of them into a book. They’re generally about characters with names like Stinkleberry Jones (which my son made up) and are full of incredibly immature in-jokes. Let’s just say they’re very specifically tailored to their audience.
7 Magic Islands: Speaking of childhood, you mention one of the first articles you published was a video game review. Were you more of a reader or a gamer when you were a child? What were your favourite books and games?
Christopher Healy: Reader, definitely. Don’t get me wrong—I loved my original NES. (I even had R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy accessory that only worked with one bad game.) But books were my true love. I became more of a gamer as I got older and games got more sophisticated. My favourites have always been games that tell a story, like the Legend of Zelda series or some of the more immersive role-playing games.
7 Magic Islands: It’s really cool how you immersed yourself in fantastical worlds so early. Your book series follows the four Princes Charming: Prince Frederic saved Cinderella, Prince Liam Sleeping Beauty, Prince Gustav Rapunzel and Prince Duncan Snow White. We don’t want to give too much away, but all four aren’t the heroes their time-honoured tales claim them to be. Of the four, which prince do you think you relate to most and why?
Christopher Healy: I like to say that there’s a little bit of me in each of the princes, like I broke myself into four people. But I probably relate to Frederic more than any of the others. Not because of his fancy clothes and dancing talent—I have neither of those—but because he, like me, would love to be a bolder, more daring person. He just has a hard time doing so.
7 Magic Islands: A lot of kids and adults can relate to that! The first volume of the trilogy garnered a ton of positive response from reviewers at The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and plenty of commenters on your website, christopherhealy.com. What is it like to interact with such a fan base and receive so many good reviews from prestigious sources?
Christopher Healy: I have the greatest fans in the world. Seriously, I cannot truly express how much I adore all the readers who have written to me, sent me fan art, dressed up as my characters, recommended my books to their friends, etc. I show my appreciation by trying my best to respond to every single email, letter, and website comment I get. All writing is a form of communication, but a novel is usually a pretty one-sided conversation. I am thrilled that I actually have a back-and-forth going with my readers. And as much as I love positive reviews (who doesn’t?), I always remind myself that the kids who are writing to me didn’t pick up Hero’s Guide because they read about it in The New York Times or Publishers Weekly. They most likely heard about the book from another fan, which is all the more reason to appreciate them.
7 Magic Islands: The thirteen kingdoms seem like amazing places; between the vast ocean, scorching deserts and fantastic and dangerous creatures, it’s ripe with adventure around every corner. If you ever found yourself in the thirteen kingdoms, what would you do if you were moved into the world of your own creation?
Christopher Healy: I’d probably try to find a nice place to settle down in Prince Frederic’s peaceful kingdom of Harmonia. The fewer random monster encounters, the better. Or maybe I’d look for some nice lakefront property in the kingdom of Jangleheim, where one can make a very comfortable living as a terrible artist.
7 Magic Islands: There’s something to be said for the quiet life. Your Hero’s Guide trilogy takes the four Princes Charming on quite a journey from outcast heroes to outlaws looking to clear their names. What will become of the League of Princes in the near future?
Christopher Healy: Hmm, I feel like there’s almost nothing I can say here without giving away some kind of spoiler. Well, on a very literal level, the princes won’t be doing much of anything in the very near future, because I’ll be working on some unrelated books for a while.
7 Magic Islands: Well, the princes would certainly be grateful for the rest after all those adventures! You have a new book planned for this fall – a departure from the Hero’s Guide series called The Worst Thing about Saving the World, a tale about the aftermath of an average kid saving the world. Can you tell us any more about the book or when we can learn more about it?
Christopher Healy: At this point, it’s looking like we probably won’t see the published book until 2016. But I’m hoping I can make it worth the wait. As for what it’s about? Well, what if the kid prophesied to save the world was less of a Harry Potter and more of a Greg Heffley? And what if he had no idea what to do with himself after his world-saving destiny was complete?
7 Magic Islands: Such an intriguing premise! Now that you’ve created the Hero’s Guide trilogy, you indicated on your website you’re planning another trilogy with the working title A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem. It’s a bold title to be sure! What else can you tell us about the upcoming trilogy?
Christopher Healy: With Perilous Journey, I’ll be applying Hero’s Guide-style humour and sensibility to a Jules Verne-style mystery adventure. It’s too early to say much more.
7 Magic Islands: We can hardly wait! Speaking of departures from your Hero’s Guide trilogy, you wrote a book called Pop Culture about fatherhood when you were a new dad. Now that a few years have passed, how do you feel about the book when you look back at it? Will you be writing another Pop Culture in the future?
Christopher Healy: Pop Culture grew directly out of my magazine work, most of which was for parenting publications and websites. Looking back on it, I still think it’s a funny book (even if it probably could have used a bit more genuine parenting advice), but it’s not the kind of thing I’d write now. Fiction is my first love and I’m happy to finally be in that line of work.
7 Magic Islands: You’re in an interesting position among the Wizards of Words in that you’ve written for such a variety of venues from magazines to newspapers, websites and books. How is the process of writing a series of articles different from penning one of your full-length novels?
Christopher Healy: Well, there’s a huge difference in the timeframe involved. When you’re writing for magazines and newspapers, editors need you to turnaround an article very quickly. Even more so for websites, where you can get a same-day deadline. But from a writing perspective, the biggest difference may be in the voice. When you’re writing for a specific publication or website, you have to make sure you’re writer’s voice fits in with the established tone of the publication. When you’re writing a book—it’s all you.
7 Magic Islands: That freedom must have been refreshing. One of the most recent posts on the news section of your website, you’ve been to a number of children’s book panels and festivals. What do you like best about taking your work on the road?
Christopher Healy: I thrive in situations like that. Doing school visits is really a form of performing, and it sates my inner actor (who hasn’t been on a traditional stage since 1998). It’s a huge thrill to meet readers face-to-face, too. There was a moment a couple of years back, at a bookstore event in Richmond, Virginia, that will always go down as one of the best moments of my career, when a young girl in the signing line introduced herself and I recognized her name as the first person who had ever sent me a piece of fan mail. I think I was more excited to meet her than she was to meet me.
7 Magic Islands: That’s so neat! Among the interviews you’ve conducted in the past, it seems a number of young bloggers (some as young as Grade 3!) have reached out to interview you. Of the number of children who have asked you questions, which question stands out as most memorable for you?
Christopher Healy: My favourite questions from kid interviewers are usually the ones that have nothing to do with my books, like this one from a 5-year-old interviewer: “My teeth keep falling out! Should I ask the tooth fairy for more than a dollar a tooth?”
7 Magic Islands: (Between you and the 7MI crew, it couldn’t hurt to try, young writer!) We have a traditional final question at 7 Magic Islands. First of all, we thank you for taking the time to talk to us and secondly how do you encourage kids to read more?
Christopher Healy: Thanks for inviting me! If you want to encourage reluctant readers, I think the most important thing you can do is be an avid, enthusiastic reader yourself. Let your kids see you reading all the time—and enjoying it. Have lots of books around the house. Talk about books with your kids. Or at least in front of them. And read to them. Even reluctant readers will often enjoy hearing a book read aloud to them. Once they learn to love stories, with any luck, they’ll start picking up books themselves. Or they’ll at least get frustrated by how long it takes to read a whole book aloud and move on to solo reading out of sheer impatience.
Learn more about Christopher and his work online at www.christopherhealy.com.
More author interviews in our Wizard of Words series:
- Kimberly Morris
- Sherri Duskey Rinker
- Bill Scollon
- Lara Bergen
- Sheila Sweeny Higginson
- Marc Clark
- Sarah Prineas
- Cressida Cowell
- Michelle Eastman