Today I am welcoming to my FairySockmother blog two amazing collaborative authors who have a really awesome book coming out November 1st! I first discovered Jack Heckel through a delightful series The Charming Tales. They include a delightful mix of classic fairytales and humor. To what do you credit your love of fairytales – was it a childhood addiction or did you wander into a fairytale in a past life?
First, we’d like to make sure that your readers know that Jack Heckel is a penname used by John Peck and Harry Heckel. We’ll make sure that we answer with an H: for Harry and a J: for John as we go through the questions.
H: I’d like to say that I wandered into fairytales in my past life, but I’m pretty sure that’s not true. My first fairytales came from Disney, I remember Snow White and Cinderella being some of the first movies that I ever saw. My mother loved Snow White. At some point, I had a book of fairytales as a kid, far darker than the Disney movies, and I was both terrified and intrigued by them. Since then, I’ve been caught on a path to fantasy, whether in the form of fairy godmothers, mythical winged horses, or one ring to rule them all. Although sci-fi has a role in that as well. I think my favorite fairytale might be Doctor Who.
J: I like the phrasing of this question: ‘wandering into fairytale.’ It reminds me of how so many fairytales start themselves, with the characters wandering out of their safe worlds and into the wilderness. As for me, my wanderings began at a very early age with a wonderful illustrated edition of Grimm. Since then the fables have become a sort of obsession. I love reading and watching different versions of the stories and seeing how they change and take new forms for new generations.
John, I used “wander into a fairytale” because that is so often the way fairytales begin. I doubt that Sleeping Beauty had any intention of becoming infamous when she prickled her pinky on that stupid spindle!
How did you choose which fairytales to include in your books? Did you pick your favorites or simply plug in the ones that fit well as you went along?
H: I think the answer is that we found the ones that fit, but we knew that we’d have elements of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in our novel. John is really the expert on fairytales on our team, and the idea for the book was originally his concept. What do you think, John?
J: Thanks for the shoutout, Harry, but the choice of which stories to include is definitely collaborative. I would say that the fairytale archetypes that make up the underlying plot of the Charming stories (Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and so on) are selected very carefully, but most of the references seem to insert themselves almost of their own accord. The wonderful thing about fairytales is that they speak a common language, and so they naturally want to be told together. I’ll give you an example, when your characters are talking to a bunch of precocious goats it seems only natural that they might mention their run in with a well-dress cat.
Absolutely, I agree, especially since I grew up having some very wise old goats as pets. You can’t even imagine some of the tales they told!
Is The Dark Lord part of The Charming Tales, a standalone, or the first in a new series?
H: The Dark Lord is a novel that can be standalone, but we plan to have it be the first in a series. We are working on a proposal for a sequel and have a tentative title and thoughts on the third book. It has a darker tone but has fun with epic fantasy much in the same way that The Charming Tales series fractures fairytales.
J: The writing begins again! We are in fact in the process of working up our outline and initial chapters for the sequel to the Dark Lord. But, for those Charming Tales fans out there don’t dismay, Harry and I have an outline for a third book in that series ready to go as well.
The cover of The Dark Lord is phenomenal! That eerie mist creeping through the window send shivers down my spine. Did you use a new illustrator for this book?
H: We had our own cover artist for A Fairy-tale Ending and The Pitchfork of Destiny because we were looking for a certain style for the series. However, we changed for The Dark Lord, as it has a different tone. Our cover artist for this series is… the art department at Harper Voyager Impulse! They engaged us in the process and offered us four options and responded to our feedback. We are very pleased and thankful for their hard work.
J: I just want to add another big thank you to the Harper Voyager Impulse art department. There is nothing more fun that looking at four fantastic mockups of your cover and agonizing over which to choose.
The one you chose really is awesome!! I can’t wait to read the book! The title of The Dark Lord evokes Harry Potter; what sources or incidents inspired you to write it?
H: Certainly, there’s some Harry Potter, but we were much more inspired by Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons. We tried to incorporate elements from a number of sources. This book is our homage to the great fantasy literature that has filled our lives.
J: The real inspiration for The Dark Lord is that there is a “dark lord” in almost every high fantasy novel you read. That being may be called Voldemort by Harry Potter or Sauron in Lord of the Rings or Torak in the Belgariad or literally the Dark One in Robert Jordon’s Wheel of Time novels, but he, she or it is always there, and usually wears black. It is the presence of these archetypes, similar to the Prince Charmings and damsels in distress in fairytale, that we love to play with in our novels.
Having been obsessed by The Lord of the Rings in college, it makes me want to read this even more!
Without revealing too much, can you give us a sneak peek at this new book? I, for one, can’t wait until it’s released!
Thanks! November 1st is the release date, and we are excited too. Here’s a sneak peek at a section of the book:
Hello, my name is Avery, and I am the Dark Lord.
If you have ever read any other accounts of dark lords or, gods forbid, been under the thumb of one yourself, your first thought should be, “What is a guy named Avery doing being a dark lord?”
At least, that’s what I was thinking as I watched the final battle in the War between Light and Dark from the highest balcony of the tallest tower of my Fortress of Despair. Far below, on the poisoned steppes of the Plains of Drek before the blood red gates of the stronghold, men, elves, and dwarfs united against all the forces of evil: me and my army.
All day the Army of Light had been advancing inexorably, but every inch of progress came at a terrible cost in blood and death. It was awful to behold, and I wanted nothing more than to turn away, but I wouldn’t let myself. Since this war, for better or worse, was being fought at my bidding, I felt the least I could do was bear witness.
And so I did, though I was not sure how much more I could take.
The worst of it was the smell. No matter how hard I tried to abstract myself from what was happening on the battlefield, the smell would not let me. It was a mix of something burning and something metallic, something sweaty and something rotten. It got into my mouth and made me want to spit.
Gods, what could make such a smell?
The images that formed in answer to my unspoken question made my stomach lurch and my hands begin to shake uncontrollably. I grasped the rough wall of the parapet to still them, and reminded myself again that this was necessary and that good would come of it. The reassurance had worked well at one time, but over the past few months it had grown threadbare with overuse.
I was brought back to the present as the stone beneath my hands shuddered violently. Looking down I saw that the Army of Light had fought its way to the very walls of the fortress and even now were battering at the gates. My defeat seemed certain. I mouthed a prayer of thanks and was about to retreat to my throne room to await the inevitable when I heard voices drifting up from a balcony below.
“Cravock,” a familiar voice roared. “What news?”
I peeked over the edge of the parapet and saw Morgarr the Slaughterer, the merciless general of the Army of Evil, and his sniveling reptilian servant, Cravock. Morgarr was standing in full battle armor surveying the carnage of the battle with an imperious glare. Cravock squirmed and prostrated at his heal. Morgarr should have been down with his men. Those were my orders. But I couldn’t blame him for disobeying. I wouldn’t have wanted to be out there either.
“Your Great Wickednessss,” Cravock hissed, “the enemy isss at the gatesss. You mussst do sssomething before it isss too late.”
“I must?” Morgarr roared. The hell-forged plate that encased him rippled as it tried to contain his rage. He hefted Death Slasher, his black double-headed battle-axe, and pointed its curved blade at the half-lizard, half-man. But while Morgarr’s attention was on Cravock, and Cravock’s attention was on Death Slasher, the living eye embedded in the handle of the battle-axe was staring up at me with a burning hatred. It was hard to say if the Army of Dark was more afraid of Morgarr or that battle-axe, but for me there was no contest. Death Slasher was terrifying.
I ducked back out of sight while Cravock whined, “Pleassse forgive me, Great Dessstroyer. I meant no insssult. It isss only that I thought—”
“I do the thinking, toad,” Morgarr shouted. “You do my bidding. Order out our reserves, the blood orcs, the twelve-headed rage demons, the viper dragon—empty the fortress if you must!”
I almost felt bad for Cravock, because I knew he wasn’t going to be able to do any of those things. Earlier this morning I had given orders to ensure that the blood orcs were led into an ambush and destroyed. Last night I had painstakingly removed each of the twelve heads of each of the twelve-headed rage demons. And a couple of days ago I’d freed the viper dragon from his magical enslavement with the command to fly off and never return.
Cravock hissed, “Your Wrathfulnessss, we have no reservesss. The blood orcsss have been routed, the rage demonsss dessstroyed to the lassst head, and the viper dragon hasss not been ssseen sssince the night before lassst. All that we had hasss already been deployed. Only the power of the Dark Lord himssself can sssave us now.”
“That displeases me greatly,” Morgarr said quietly. “I must have an audience with my master.”
That was my cue. I left the balcony and made my way down to the throne room. As I descended, the Fortress of Despair shook with the impacts from siege engines and explosions from magical spells. I could hear distant shouts of triumph. The enemy had breached the gates, and from the number of abandoned guardrooms and barracks I passed, my army had been broken. Even the murk-scaled kobolds and mindless gibberlings that normally lurked about in the shadowy corners of the keep had fled. The forces of good would face no further resistance. A vast weight lifted from my shoulders.
When I reached my inner sanctum, some signs of normalcy returned. Flanking the entrance were my ever present gaunt-fiend honor guard. They snapped to attention and I swept between them as the doors closed behind me. I mounted the stairs of my dais of skulls and arranged myself atop my throne of skulls to wait the end. To pass the time I pulled out a small notebook and began chronicling my last day as the Dark Lord.
Everything had to be properly documented if I wanted to have any chance of including this in a later publication.
I had barely begun recording my impressions of the final battle when there was a loud boom and the doors to the chamber were thrown open. Morgarr stood in the vaulted doorway, bowing, his great horned helmet tucked under his arm. I gave him a negligent backhanded gesture. He ducked his head and ran forward, prostrating himself before the stairs to my throne. He remained there at my feet not daring to meet my gaze, though I could not say the same for his cursed battle-axe. Its red eye glared at me knowingly.
“Rise!” I commanded, and then realized that I was still holding my notebook. Hastily, I shoved it under my seat and tried to assume my most diabolical expression.
By the time my gaze was properly ominous Morgarr had already begun to plead. I cleared my thoughts and tried to focus on the behemoth of a man before me. “. . . I have done all that I can, Dark Lord. The enemy has breached our defenses. The legions of undead have been shattered. The beastmen and brigands have fled like dogs. The blood orcs are no more, the rage demons have lost their heads, and the viper dragon has abandoned us. The Heroes of the Ages will be here in moments. There is nothing more that we can do. We are lost without you, my master. You must unleash your powers to save us . . .”
I will spare you the rest of what he said. Suffice it to say there was a lot of blame shifting, minimizing, and justifying going on. When he finished I fixed him with one of my well-rehearsed, pitiless stares.
What’s next after The Dark Lord? Do you have any more manuscripts waiting in the wings?
We have a proposal for a sequel to The Dark Lord, but we are also determined to write another book or two in The Charming Tales if sales permit. As for other manuscripts, we have ideas for several, but nothing concrete as Jack Heckel. John has started work on a few manuscripts for solo novels, and Harry has a number of manuscripts including some for his Crimson Hawks and Krueger Chronicles series as well as for a superhero series featuring a female hero named Rigel.
Have you always written fantasy or is there another genre that interests you as well?
J: Most of my writing and inspiration contains an element of the fantastical in it, whether the genre be urban fantasy, fairytale or science fiction, but I do have a deep and abiding love for the locked room mystery novel. I have a dream of writing a series of classical whodunits with a curmudgeonly detective and lots of confusing plot twists. One day. All I need is my hand guide of obscure poisons and I figure I’ll be ready to go.
H: I love fantasy, but for many years, I was known as an author of horror roleplaying games. I love sci-fi, having written material for Star Wars and Star Trek roleplaying games, and I like superheroes as well, so all things geek. Additionally, I have a desire to write at least one piece of literary fiction before the end of my writing career.
We have a lot in common because I love both Star Wars and Star Trek. How fantastic that you wrote material for the role play games!
Last but not least, every writer needs a support group. Who’s there for you to bounce ideas off and act as a sounding board for you?
H: Obviously, we work as a team, so that helps immensely. I have numerous friends who are writers and receive support from nearly everyone I’ve ever worked with. If I were to make a list, I’m not sure where it would end. Ultimately, my biggest support comes from my wife and my daughter. Without them, I don’t know how I’d write.
J: I couldn’t say it any better than that and so I won’t try. Harry, my family and friends are best support any author could ask for.
Please come visit us at www.jackheckel.com!