Today on the blog, I’d like to introduce you to the duo that together comprise the author of Once Upon a Rhyme (Volume I of the Charming Tales), Jack Heckel, they are John Peck and Harry Heckel.
To share a bit about this talented team, I can tell you that they live in opposite sides of the USA, John in the west coast where he works as a lawyer, and Harry in the east coast where—as a IT QA team lead— basks in his ability to break computers and make programmers miserable. They were roommates in college and were each other’s best man at their weddings.
Their novel ONCE UPON A RHYME was published by Harper Voyager Impulse and released in August. After reading it, I can tell you that these guys have an incredible sense of humor and can make you laugh out loud. You can read my short review of his novel on Amazon or Goodreads.
Now, let’s learn a bit more about John and Harry:
You are the first co-authors I’ve ever interviewed and I find myself very curious about the process. How does a typical day go for John and Harry as they twirl to become Jack Heckel? Or do you guys go in a telephone booth?
H: Unfortunately, we can’t give away our secret identities, but we have been writing together for five years. A typical day would be one of us writing a chapter while the other one edits a previous chapter, plans out the next chapter or does an article or social media work.
As far as the process of creating a novel, we always start with an outline. Once we discuss the outline at length, we agree on what chapters or story arcs each of us wants to initially write. After each chapter is completed, we send it to the other person for a rewrite. After the rewrite, it goes back to the original writer to review. This way the book sounds like it’s written by Jack Heckel, rather than Harry or John.
J: It is a fascinating process, because at the end of the day we often can’t identify who wrote what. Early on we would share our material with a writing group and they would try to guess who wrote what. I’m not sure they ever got it right. We always took that as a good sign that we’d gotten Jack’s voice right. And the uncertainty extends to us as well. Several times I’ve complemented Harry for some turn of phrase only for him to tell me he thought that I’d written that.
Sounds very cool! Living in opposite sides of the USA, how do you breach the distance and work together?
H: We do a lot of texting and emailing. However, that doesn’t make up for talking on the phone. We talk a lot when we are working together, often after midnight on the East Coast. When we really need to get through a milestone, we meet in person and have a writing retreat.
J: Harry is definitely the one impacted the most when we are under the gun, because he has to wait till I am free to talk, and that is often very late his time. But, for the most part the time change actually works well for us. Often times Harry can finish his work or edits on a chapter just in time for me to get started for the evening.
What advice would you give others considering co-authoring a book?
H: The most important rule is to have mutual respect. You need to be able to give and receive honest feedback and take 100% ownership of the work. Don’t worry about who wrote what or how many words. Be willing to compromise. Also, be willing to ask your co-author for help. I’ve had times when I was stuck and John bailed me out, either by writing part of my chapter, giving me an idea or just acting as a sounding board.
J: And on that last point, I can remember entire sections of the book where I would stare at a blinking cursor for a day or two and then call Harry and beg him to take over. Often all it takes is a few words for inspiration and that gets you going. In many ways I find it MUCH MUCH harder to write on my own. I think another key, beside respect, which I think goes without saying (though I’m glad Harry said it), is that you actually have to enjoy writing with your co-author. If there is any jealousy or bad feelings they are going to come out in the process of writing and the project will likely fall apart.
Do you see each other writing other series together? Any plans for solo projects?
J & H: Absolutely. In fact, we already are writing other series. We have a proposal for a set of novels in a similar vein to the Charming Tales but focused on epic fantasy. The first book is tentatively called (ominous music) . . . The Dark Lord. The main character, Avery, not only has to face down everything that can go wrong in a fantasy world, but also find a way to complete his thesis before he’s kicked out of school. And did we mention that he’s (ominous music) . . . The Dark Lord?
Additionally, we’ve been working on a set of YA novels about what happens when Rigel, the daughter of Orion, one of the world’s greatest superheroes decides to start her heroic career. She’s invited to join Freedom Squad, a team assembled to pay homage to the Victory Squad of World War II. Once she arrives at their headquarters, she finds herself surrounded by an earth elemental who can’t talk, a malfunctioning alien robot and a guy who claims not to have any powers at all. Oh, and then the mayor of the city appoints her team leader . . .
H: On the solo front, I’ve written a few small press books as Harry Heckel, including In the Service of the King (A Crimson Hawks Adventure), which is a swash and buckle story of a mercenary company who accepts an offer that’s too good to be true, and a black powder and sorcery series called the Krueger Chronicles. I’ve got several other novels waiting to find a publication home, including an epic fantasy and “A Greek hoplite goes to mythological Egypt” tale. Additionally, I write pen and paper role-playing games, notably in the past for White Wolf Game Studio and currently for Black Onyx.
J: I am definitely the junior member of Team Jack when it comes to writing. At present I don’t have any completed projects, but I do have several in the works that I will be publishing (or trying to publish) under a still to be determined pen name, including an urban fantasy that I hope will reestablish demons as the bad-ass villains they should be, and a YA dream trilogy that was inspired by a single line of prose that I could not get out of my head: “When I was ten and he was twelve we went to war, my friend and I.”
J and H: However, no matter what might happen in our solo careers, we plan for Jack Heckel to be here to stay. There may be side projects, but we are both committed to keeping the band together long term. We are having a blast.
It sounds like you guys will be busy. All these projects sounds wonderful! ONCE UPON A RHYME is absolutely hilarious. Humor—especially in the written form—isn’t easy to accomplish, what is the trick?
H: I really think that John and I are funniest when we start playing off each other. Life has a certain inherent ridiculousness to it, plus, we have plentiful source material in fairy tales. I’m not really sure what the real trick is, but I’m just glad that whatever we are doing works.
J: The phone calls are key. When we were in college we used to sit in the dark at night and stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling (yes we are so old that glow-in-the-dark stars were still a novelty) and tell each other stories. There is really no difference in our process today. That many of our stories turn out to be funny is something alchemic. It can’t be explained. I’ve told the story before, but my initial vision for The Charming Tales was a dark brooding exploration of the prince’s descent into madness. I’m so glad Harry pulled us back from that, because these novels have been so much fun to write.
How many more volumes are planned for the Charming Tales? What else can you tell us about upcoming books to whet our appetite?
H: We are currently planning for three more, if you include Happily Never After, which releases on November 25th. I could easily see that number climbing as long as we have material and enjoy visiting the characters. Happily Never After is really the second part of the story that began in Once Upon a Rhyme and we find out the results of Gwendolyn’s schemes as well as finding out if Charming will ever achieve couplet again. There’s a bit more romance as well.
As far as books after that, I don’t want to say too much, but Book 3 is tentatively called Pitchfork of Destiny and it starts with the Great Dragon of the North coming to Royaume and discovering that his love, the Great Wyrm of the South is dead.
J: And Book 3 ends with the teaser for Book 4, which I won’t speak of at all, but for which we already have a basic storyline sketched out. As for inspiration for more beyond that, I think fairytale is limitless in its potential. Between the Grimm Brothers, Perrault and Andrew Lang you have nearly a thousand stories to “borrow” from.
Rapid Fire Questions
Who is funnier John or Harry?
J: Can I change my answer? I like Harry’s better.
Did you outline ONCE UPON A RHYME or did you pants it?
J and H: We outlined first and then pants’d our way through the outline.
Favorite ONCE UPON A RHYME scene?
H: I love the whole book, but if I have to pick one scene, it’s what happens to Will while Charming is battling Gnarsh the Troll.
J: No doubt, for me it is the confrontation between Will and the Scarlet Scoundrel. Aha!
Thanks so much for visiting, Harry and John!
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