Interview: Jack Heckel, Author of ONCE UPON A RHYME (The Charming Tales)

Jack Heckel is the writing team of John Peck, an IP attorney living in Long Beach, CA who is looking forward to the upcoming release of Once Upon A Rhyme, and Harry Heckel, a roleplaying game designer and fantasy author, who is looking forward to the publication of Happily Never After.

“Jack” — er…”Jack” and Prince Charming, that is — kindly answered a few of my questions about ONCE UPON A RHYME!


Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about the new book, ONCE UPON A RHYME?

Jack Heckel: The book is about a fairy tale that goes wrong. When the dragon of legend dies by impaling herself on peasant Will Pickett’s pitchfork, he decides to rescue the princess it has been holding captive. The kingdom lauds him as a hero, but there’s a problem – Prince Charming was supposed to slay the dragon and save the princess. Liz Pickett, Will’s sister, finds herself trying to keep the kingdom from falling in love with Will, while finding herself falling for Charming.

Meanwhile, Charming, who could do no wrong previously, can seemingly do no right. While Charming and Will attempt to prove who is the better man through a series of adventures, or misadventures, Liz learns that the most dangerous threat to the kingdom isn’t trolls, bandits or even the worst beer ever made, but the rescued princess. It’s a fun comedic fantasy tale which should make the reader laugh while dealing with everything that could go wrong on the way to a happy ending.

KC: Why do you think readers will root for William Pickett?

JH: At his core, Will is a good-hearted dreamer who wants to be a hero but has never had the opportunity. We hope that readers will relate to his story, because he is a normal guy in a fairy tale world, and—

Prince Charming: “Ahem.”

JH: And, in the end, you get to follow him as he discovers that there are consequences when your wish for adventure and glory finally—

PC: “Are you quite done with this drivel?”

JH: –finally comes true. Yes, Charming?

PC: “Yes, Charming? That’s all you have to say? First off, I’m the title character, Jack, and therefore the one the reader should be rooting for. You need to delve into the trauma that I endure as my life’s quest is stolen, and all that I’ve been led to believe is taken due to some straw man and a pitchfork. Truly, it’s worthy of epic. Perhaps an epic tragedy about me with a focus on my own poetic soul. And this title, Once Upon a Rhyme? Charming and Couplet might be better. And more than anything, not a word about my outfit?”

JH: You look dashing.

PC: “Dashing? That’s it? Dashing? How far have I fallen to have you as my writer? It’s all that charlatan Pickett’s fault. I’ll prove to my father, the King, what kind of lout this Pickett truly is. Why the man doesn’t even know how to spell couplet!”

JH: And, he’s gone. Charming does make one good point. Although Will does rescue the princess and he could be called the hero of the story, I wouldn’t say that he’s the only hero. There’s Will’s sister, Liz, who may be the most practical person in the book, as she dares to believe in her own dreams. There’s also the dramatic Lady Rapunzel, or Elle, a character who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. And there may be a few redeeming qualities in the Princess Gwendolyn and perhaps even Prince Charming, but don’t tell him I said that.

KC: Why fairy tales? Why do you think fairy tales are so popular?

JH: It’s funny you should ask that question, because I’ve written whole articles about fairy tales. Ultimately, I chose a fairy tale world, because I was interested in Prince Charming. He’s fascinating, because the fairy tales tell us almost nothing about him, and yet he is essential to so many of their plots. He simply shows up, saves the day and marries the princess, and we know nothing more about him than we did before. I wanted to play with the enigma of Charming and explore his character.

In terms of why are fairy tales so popular, there is something universal about them. Most everyone knows the basic outlines of the popular fairy tales, and that gives authors and moviemakers a fantastic common language they can use to tell new stories and connect to audiences. Look at the teaser-trailer that is running right now for Disney’s live-action adaptation of Cinderella. All you see during the course of the trailer is a close-up of a glass slipper, and yet the audience knows from only that what the story is and what it’s about.

KC: Do you already have a planned number of books in the series?

JH: The second book, Happily Never After, is set for release in November, and it continues and concludes the story set out in Once Upon a Rhyme. I have a third book that picks up the story after Happily Never After’s happily ever after that I am already working on, planned for release sometime next year, plus outlines and ideas for a fourth and even potentially a fifth book. The wonderful thing about fairy tales is that there is a nearly inexhaustible amount of material to draw from. I feel like I could create stories about these characters for as long as my readers want more.

KC: What are a few of your favorite fairy tales?

JH: The classics, like Briar Rose, Cinderella and Snow White, are lovely, but there are two stories that are relatively unknown that I really enjoy. The first is the Seven Ravens, which I love because it defies the generally accepted notion that fairy tale maidens should be weak and passive. (I am writing an article for Tor that focuses on this story.) In the tale a young girl takes it on herself to rescue her brothers from a curse, and must travel to the sun and the moon and the stars, and endure terrible hardship and sacrifice, and she does it all without having a prince marry her at the end. A great story, and one that, if we really want good role models for girls, should be in the canon of stories we tell and retell like Briar Rose and Cinderella and Snow White, if for no other reason than to show that the worth of a girl is not entirely tied up in her appearance, but can also lie in the boldness of her deeds.

The second is The Blue Bird, a truly strange tale that itself is kind of a mash-up of many different fairy tale tropes. There are a prince and princess, an evil stepmother, a cruel and ugly stepsister, a meddlesome fairy, an enchanter, at least two curses, a case of mistaken identity and so on. It was first published in 1697 by Madame d’Aulnoy. I am not sure I would say it’s a great story, but it holds a place in my heart because it is generally accepted as the first time in a fairy tale where a character was actually called Prince Charming.

KC: What do you look for in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put down a book, unfinished?

JH: A good book takes me away from the world, and leaves me altered when I emerge again from reading. A good example for me would be Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I picked up this book on vacation many years ago and could not put it down. When I was done I could swear that, for a time, colors looked different to me. It was almost as though the world had taken on a kind of dusky, twilight quality.

I don’t know about the second part of your question. I know that I have put books down and not finished them, but I don’t know if I could put my finger on why. Sometimes I will read a book and the writing is simply not euphonious–the words grate against one another. If I don’t like the way an author strings words together I simply can’t keep reading, even if the plotting and pacing and setting are all fantastic.

KC: What’s next for you?

PC: “I will tell you what’s next, more stories about me!”

JH: I hate to encourage him, but Charming is right. For the next while I will be focused on getting additional stories about the prince and the Picketts out to the world. However, along with that I am also working on a new series that tries to do to the fantasy world what I’ve been doing to the fairy tale world in The Charming Tales. I’ve been reading fantasy novels my entire life, and there are so many “universal” tropes to play with and twist and make fun of. Instead of turning Cinderella and Snow White on their heads, I am turning Tolkien and Zelazny and Jordan on theirs, and it’s a blast.