Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Half Upon a Time: and life's no fairy tale for Jack

I met James Riley at a conference. He was under a very bright light. No kidding! The fairy tale gods were shining down on him and his books. (Okay, one of the overhead lights was pointing right at his chair and the lights were too high for anyone to adjust, but I’m glad about that or I may not have seen James in the crowd that was there.)

Half Upon a Time is a laugh-out-loud funny novel that I would recommend to anyone who loves to be transported to new worlds filled with adventure, magic and monsters to defeat. Boys are sure to relate to Jack who really could care less about saving a princess (come on, we all know how snooty royalty can be) and girls will love May, the sassy princess who fell from the sky.

Really, she falls from the sky and believe me, she’s just as surprised about this as Jack.

Half Upon a Time
by James Riley
SYNOPSIS: Life’s no fairy tale for Jack. After all, his father's been missing ever since that incident with the beanstalk and the giant, and his grandfather keeps pushing him to get out and find a princess to rescue. Who'd want to rescue a snobby, entitled princess anyway? Especially one that falls out of the sky wearing a shirt that says "Punk Princess," and still denies she's royalty. In fact, May doesn't even believe in magic. Yeah, what's that about? May does need help though--a huntsman is chasing her, her grandmother has been kidnapped, and Jack thinks it’s all because of the Wicked Queen . . . mostly because May’s grandmother might just be the long-lost Snow White. Jack and May's thrillingly hilarious adventure combines all the classic stories—fractured as a broken magic mirror—into the first of an epic new series of novels for the ages.

After reading Half Upon a Time I wanted to tell anyone and everyone I could about the book. It’s just too good to keep to myself. James was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

Cherie:  I understand that Half Upon a Time is your debut novel. Can you tell us a little about your journey, from signing with your agent to selling your first book?

James:  Sure! My novel's journey began in Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, as every debut novel journey does. From there, through a variety of plot holes and cliched twists, the journey ended in Los Angeles, having completed its character arc, and ready to move forward with a new appreciation for life. Also, I think there was a montage in there somewhere, preferably to The Killers "All These Things That I've Done." I think that'd really highlight how far I've come ... as in like 3000 miles. 

Writing-wise, Half Upon a Time was actually my third novel. The other two will forever be nameless and unpublished, according to a Department of Defense ruling. Trust me, it's better that way. Still, I learned from that ruling, kept at it (after a laughable amount of rejections from agents, followed by an unlaughable amount, then an actually kind of sad amount), and eventually lucked into an agent. Literally. It was pure luck that my future agent had heard publishers talking about looking for fairy tales just the day before receiving my pitch. If my story teaches anything, it's to never discount the power of luck. And hit Vegas soon afterwards, because you might be on a roll. 

After getting an agent, it was actually a much faster process to find a publisher who was interested, the inestimable Liesa Abrams at Aladdin. I think that means you can't estimate how great she is? Let's hope so, as that's what I wanted to say: I literally can't even begin to estimate her greatness. 

And the rest, as they say, is the present. 

Cherie You've had quite a ride! There's nothing wrong with having luck on your side. It's even better when the story you've written is exactly what publishers are looking for. Half Upon a Time is such a clever and fun twist to old fairy tales. Where did you get the idea for your novel?

James:  Unlike the rest of everyone, I grew up reading fairy tales as a kid. I know, weird how I'm the only one. My favorites were Ruth Manning-Sanders' A Book Of... series that collected fairy tales from around the world. There was just something amazing about stories where magic wasn't something mysterious, it was everyday life ... and it would eat you. With big teeth. I mean, BIG teeth. And obviously that seemed like a great place to start writing for children.

Also, I'm an enormous Disney fan (at least eight feet tall), and so many children have a foundation in fairy tales from the Disney movies, it seemed like almost a universally well-known place to start building a series.

Plus, if everyone thinks they know who the Big Bad Wolf or Little Red Riding Hood are, then you can subvert their expectations. And there's nothing quite so much fun as subverting things. 

Cherie:  I'm a huge fan of Disney too, although not so much the big teeth. You did such a wonderful job of weaving the different fairy tale characters into your story. Did you plan out each chapter before you began to write or did you start with the storyline/plot and just jump right into writing?

James:  I actually plotted out all four books in the Half Upon a Time series so I could set up the second, third and fourth books within the first. Spoiler alert: There are clues setting up the second, third and fourth books in the first. But other than the overall story, I generally left how they got from point A to point C (they often would overshoot point B) up to whatever happened naturally. And by naturally, I mean sitting at my computer for days on end, pounding hard on the keyboard in frustration. 

I'm kidding, that's how you break keyboards. I gently pounded on it instead. 

I'm a firm believer in editing later, honestly. When I'm doing a first draft, I give myself as much freedom as possible to just write, not editing at all as I go. I do go back and add notes in places where I need to change things, but otherwise, I save editing for future drafts. And by editing, sometimes I mean complete rewrites. Other people might call that rewriting, but I like to call it "NOOOOOOOOO, why won't this just WORK!!!!" It's easier that way. 

Cherie:  My first thought: Yes! There are three more books to look forward to! My next thought: Definitely pound gently on your keyboard, we wouldn't want you not to be able to write. Thanks for sharing a little about your writing style. I found myself laughing out loud while I read Half Upon a Time, which earned me quite a few curious stares from my family, all of whom I told could read the book as soon as I was done. Are you naturally this funny or do you have others who inspired this wit?  

James:  Well, I wouldn't call it natural: I paid good money for any wit I have, and it's all virtually made of plastic anyway. Completely recyclable, but also completely unnatural. As for inspiration, I could list a few names ... Steve Martin, Woody Allen, Douglas Adams ... but I won't.  

Cherie:  After interviewing you, I’m going to have to disagree that you aren’t naturally witty. It not only shows in your writing, but in your responses too. (Insert big grin here - since blogger seems to hate my smileys.) As I read your story, I started to wonder what it would be like to walk around one of my favorite fairy tales. If you could be transported to any fairy tale, which would you choose and why?

James:  Oh, easy ... I'd want to be transported into King Midas's story RIGHT as he learns his lesson, and has no use for an entire kingdom full of gold. I'd be more than happy to help him with that. Of course, I'd need transportation back. I hope that's inherent in the question. If I have to go live somewhere permanently, I'd say Rip Van Winkle's story, because I could really use the sleep. 

Cherie:  Yes, you definitely get transportation back! I’ll even throw in an extremely huge trunk with wheels. You’ll need it for all that gold. I’m very excited to know that I’ll be able to join Jack and his friends next spring as they set out on a new adventure. Can you tell us a little about book two, Twice Upon a Time?

James:  Sure! Jack, May and Phillip get caught in a war between pirates and mermen, hunted by the Big Bad Wolf and a new mysterious villain, and get trapped in the Land of Never, where no one grows up and everyone can eat chocolate all day. ...OK, that last one is worse than it sounds, trust me. Oh, and we definitely for sure find out where May comes from. Trust me again. 

I'd love to tell you the title for the third book, but it might possibly spoil the end of Twice Upon a Time, so I'll keep quiet. For now. Dun dun dunnnnn.

Cherie:  I don’t know, never growing up and chocolate all day, I can’t see the downside of that. And since I hate spoilers, I'll forgive you for making me wait to find out the title of book three. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

James:  Yup, thanks for hosting me here, Cherie! It's been fun!

Cherie:  It's truly been a pleasure to have you here! Thanks so much for being a part of my blog!

Want to know more about James Riley and his books, stop by halfuponatime.com  


  1. Great interview! I need to pick up this book :).

  2. I would love to find a "laugh out loud" book. Thanks.

  3. There are some great fractured fairy tales making there way. I've been loving it since watching the movie Hoodwinked. This interview was awesome - thanks James and Cherie - and I really enjoyed being introduced to some more great fractured fairy tales I can sink my teeth into :-)

  4. I'll have to check out this novel! It's wonderful to see a new generation of writers inspired by Ruth Manning-Sanders. I write about her extensively on my blog ... http://papergreat.blogspot.com/search/label/Ruth%20Manning-Sanders

  5. Thanks Giles and Lee :)

    Angela, I enjoyed Hoodwinked too and I'm always on the look-out for books that give a new take on my favorite fairy tales.

    Chris, I'll be heading over to your blog later. Thanks for sharing the link.

  6. Awesome interview. And these books sound fantastic. Definitely my cup of tea. Thanks for hosting James! :)

  7. Sounds awesome! Thanks for introducing us to James and his debut novel.

  8. Great interview and the book sounds amazing!

  9. James made this interview a lot of fun.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Great interview. The series sounds amazing. I'm hopping over to his website now. Thanks, Cherie! :)

  11. What a cool cover! I laughed out loud on the Department of Defense comment, so I can imagine these stories are a hoot.

  12. I once lived in Northern virginia. All success to James. Great interview, Cherie.

  13. Great interview! I loved the first book and adored James' quick wit. I love knowing there are four books in the series. I can't wait for the next book!