Meet James Riley
James Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of the Half Upon a Time and Story Thieves series, as well as many books too unwritten to count. He’s met thousands of imaginary people, most of whom are more polite than you’d think, but less interesting than you’d hope. He doesn’t believe fairy tales actually happened, mostly because he’s never had tiny elves do his work for him at night, despite them promising several times. James currently lives outside Washington, DC, but it’s not like he’s special that way … so do a lot of other people.
Now onto the interview!
It seems fairy tales are making a comeback in the current market. Why did you decide to write a fairy tale based story for children?
“Fairy tales in literature are almost like pop music: Even if you don’t seek it out, you can probably still hum along with the biggest songs. Everyone knows the stories generally, so I thought it’d be fun to use that knowledge base as a starting point, then tweak it, hopefully in a fun way. It’s a great source for misdirection, which can lead to some interesting plot twists.”
In your opinion, how do you think fairy tales benefit children?
“I’m not someone who thinks fairy tales are morality tales designed to teach children how to behave. I might just learn the wrong lessons, though, since in spite of the result, I stand by Hansel and Gretel’s decision to eat from a house made of candy. Who wouldn’t give it a taste? Mainly I think fairy tales are just a great introduction to story in general, and create building blocks for storytelling for the rest of their lives. Fairy tales are like Latin to romance languages: You can see their influence in all kinds of stories.
…Maybe I should stop comparing fairy tales to things.”
“Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series.” How does this quote summarize/explain not only your new series Story Thieves, but your other series Half Upon A Time and your philosophy on writing?
“Basically, we’re misled all over the place by children’s books. We’re taught from an early age (including with fairy tales) that being clever and good will result in finding love, respect, and ideally, our own kingdom. So I thought it’d be fun to have a character waiting for the excitement and adventure promised by stories to finally show up. Then it all goes hideously wrong, of course, because what we wish for is almost never what we actually need. That idea plays the opposite role in Half Upon a Time, as the hero, Jack, is told that he needs to embrace the adventurous life if he wants to get anywhere. But he’s far more interested in just being normal, after growing up in the midst of magic inherent in a fairy tale world.
So I guess my philosophy on writing is to give my characters what they want, then laugh in their faces when they realize it’s the wrong thing? Wow, I’m a horrible person!”
What is one thing you want every young writer to know as they explore their own writing?
“DON’T JUDGE IT UNTIL IT’S FINISHED. Granted, I still want me to know this, because I do it all the time, but the easiest way to not finish a story is to worry about how good or bad it is while writing it. That’s what the editing process is for, and you need to finish the story to truly know what needs fixing, so give yourself permission to write something truly terrible. You can always make it better later.”
Why did you decide to write for younger audience versus writing for YA or adult?
“I’ve actually got ideas for both YA and adult books, so it’s maybe more a matter of what came first. I’ve got the sense of humor of a 12 year old, so that might have played a part. But I think it came down to me finding a welcome sincerity in books for kids (or all-ages appropriate, as I tend to think of it). You can tell big stories about epic emotions and not have to apologize for it. Though I AM sorry.”
Is there anything else to share you want to share today?
“I take questions on my blog/tumblr/whatever it is at jamesrileyauthor.com, so feel free to ask me anything there, on twitter @_jamesriley_, facebook (jamesrileyauthor) or if you see me on the street!
To the survival of fairy tales!
Thank you for the interview!