"THE UGLY TEAPOT is Fred Holmes’s first fiction novel, having previously ghost written a nonfiction book, LETTERS FROM DAD, published by Thomas Nelson. He is known primarily as a writer and director of films and television, working primarily in family films and children’s television. His work can be seen on Mary Lou Retton’s FLIP FLOP SHOP, BARNEY & FRIENDS, WISHBONE, HORSELAND, IN SEARCH OF THE HEROES, and many other shows, for which he has won two Emmys and three CINE Golden Eagles, among numerous other awards. He has also directed three feature films, including DAKOTA, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, distributed by Miramax, and HEART LAND, a Bollywood feature film shot on location in India. He lives with his wife and son in the southwest United States." (Goodreads)
KBR: What was your favorite activity to do as a child? Did you have a favorite book?
FH: There was a theater in the town where I grew up and I used to act in children’s plays like THE WIZARD OF OZ and ALADDIN AND HIS WONDERFUL LAMP. I loved being in plays and if I had been any good, I would have loved being a professional actor; but I wasn’t, so I had to settle for directing actors in movies and television shows. As far as a favorite childhood book, there were several: THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP by Charles Dickens, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, and DANDELION WINE by Ray Bradbury. I read all of these (and many, many others) in middle school, and they remain some of my favorite books of all time.
KBR: Did you ever consider becoming an author as a child? If so, what was your first story about?
FH: No, I never considered being an author when I was young. In my family, being an “artist” wasn’t respected and I was looked down on because I enjoyed acting in plays. I was the third of three boys, and when you’re in that position you’re the expendable one in a family. Should you get run over by a Mack truck, your parents would be upset, but not overly so; they had spares. Because of this I was a loner growing up and one of the ways I entertained myself was by creating little scenarios in my mind. They would be short stories with a beginning, middle, and an end, and I
was always heroic and loved in them. Did you ever read THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY by James Thurber? That was me.
KBR: Are there any obstacles you overcame as a writer, and if so, how did you overcome them?
FH: The thing is I started out to be a director of television and films, not a writer. I did pretty well—earned a couple of Emmys and a bunch of other awards—but I was disappointed in some of the scripts I was given to direct and found myself constantly rewriting them for no credit. So one day I decided to start writing my own scripts, and this, eventually, led to me writing novels.
KBR: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice before beginning THE UGLY TEAPOT, what would it be, and why?
FH: Stop, don’t write it! It’s going to mean years of headache and heartache and sleepless nights! Just kidding. I have loved the process, but it hasn’t been easy. Then again, nothing worthwhile ever is. Knowing what I know now, would I have done anything different? No. Because the process I went through has led to what I now have...THE UGLY TEAPOT...and I am very proud of it.
KBR: THE UGLY TEAPOT is about a girl whose father, a photographer, passes away while on assignment. Her dog, Griff, convinces her to use the so-called Aladdin’s Lamp to bring back her father, setting off a chain of wild events. What was your inspiration for this story?
FH: The story, unfortunately, sprang from tragedy. One of my brothers, Jim, died from cancer at a very young age and his death affected me deeply. It made me cynical and depressed and I questioned everything about life—what was the point? Was it worthwhile? Why do those we love have to die? I struggled with all of these questions. Eventually, this pain led me to write a screenplay called FIREFLIES. My agent shopped it all over Hollywood and it was very well received. Several high profile producers optioned it (if you’re curious how option deals work, leave me a comment and I’ll tell you). One of those producers who optioned it was Gerald R. Molen who won the Academy Award for producing SCHINDLER’S LIST (along with Spielberg and Branko Lustig). Jerry tried to get FIREFLIES made into a movie for several years, but he was known for producing big budgeted blockbusters and FIREFLIES was a sweet, small budgeted film, so he was never able to get it off the ground. Then a friend of mine at Disney read it, loved it, and suggested I turn it into a novel. I’d always been intrigued by the idea of writing a novel, so I gave it a shot, and the result was THE UGLY TEAPOT. And even though it deals with some heavy topics, my goal was to create a fun, and funny, action/adventure novel, that in the end (very subtlety) teaches some good lessons about handling loss.
KBR: In THE UGLY TEAPOT, Hannah, the main character, travels to many different places, specifically within the Middle East. How did you conceive of the setting of this story?
FH: TEAPOT is based, very loosely, on ALADDIN AND HIS WONDERFUL LAMP. LAMP is one of several Middle Eastern folktales found in the book ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS. The story originally took place in China, but over the years it has been moved from the Far East to the Middle East. A classic example of this is the Disney version, ALADDIN, which was set in Baghdad. I stuck with this approach, using modern day Iraq, so my readers wouldn’t find it confusing to suddenly find themselves in China.
KBR: THE UGLY TEAPOT was originally a screenplay. What was it like transitioning from screenplays to novels? What was it like adapting a screenplay into a novel?
FH: Adapting my screenplay, FIREFLIES, into my novel, THE UGLY TEAPOT, was a challenge. In screenplays, you only write down what the audience can see and hear, and in many ways this is very limiting. You can’t get inside your characters’ heads and see what they are thinking and feeling. However, when you write a screenplay, you have to know what your characters’ are thinking and feeling, so all of that research comes in handy when you set out to write your novel. The challenging part (at least for me) about adapting FIREFLIES into a novel was twofold: First,
I had to teach myself how to portray my characters’ thoughts and feelings through the use of prose; and second, I had to reacquaint myself with good grammar. There isn’t a heavy emphasis on good grammar in writing screenplays, plus they have their own unique style and structure that is totally different from the style and structure of novels. One final, but important, note: In a novel, the most important thing you can do is SHOW what a character is thinking or feeling by their ACTIONS and not by their WORDS; so having gone through the process of writing the screenplay first (where I had to do that) proved quite helpful.
KBR: What’s your favorite part about writing a novel? What’s your favorite part about writing a screenplay?
FH: My favorite part about writing a novel is having the chains removed from my storytelling. I’m able to get inside my characters’ heads and portray what’s there in various ways. My favorite part of writing screenplays is that there are fewer rules. The best screenplays are merely blueprints for how a movie will be constructed through shooting and editing, so this “shorthand” makes them fast, emotional reads. Interestingly enough, I’ve employed some of these same techniques in writing THE UGLY TEAPOT, and I will continue to experiment and push the limits as I progress through my career as a novelist.
KBR: Before writing THE UGLY TEAPOT, you wrote screenplays and directed TV shows and movies. Why did you decide to start writing novels?
FH: As I said earlier, I didn’t start out to be a writer at all. I started out to be a director, but grew weary of the poor quality of the screenplays (and teleplays) I was being given to direct...so I started writing my own scripts. I have always had the upmost respect for those who write novels, so when the chance came along to write my own, I leaped at it.
KBR: Do you have any new children’s books in the making? If so, could you share a few hints?
FH: I am currently writing the sequel to THE UGLY TEAPOT. I can’t tell you too much about it without a lot of spoiler alerts, but I can tell you this: Aladdin’s Lamp has appeared in a small village in Tennessee, and life there will never be the same. Fathers will rise from the dead, dogs will start talking, and people will die. And that’s just on the first day.
KBR: THE UGLY TEAPOT is extremely creative and well-written. What is one question you would ask yourself, and could you please answer it?
FH: I absolutely adore this question! I wish I had a brilliant answer! I do appreciate the fact that you found TEAPOT creative and well-written, for I worked very, very hard on it for a very, very long time. And I guess the question I would ask myself is the same question someone reading this right now might be asking...why should I read THE UGLY TEAPOT? And my answer to that question is another question—why should you read any book? Your motivation may be different from mine, but I will share with you why I love to read. There are actually three reasons: First, a good story teaches me empathy. I get to walk in someone else’s shoes for awhile. Second, a good story broadens my horizons. It’s a great big world out there with diverse ways of living and thinking, and learning about this diversity makes me a better, more well-rounded human being. And third, a good story teaches me to dream. It makes me realize I can accomplish so much more than I ever thought I could. Does THE UGLY TEAPOT embody all of these principles? I sure hope so. I tried my best to portray them. And I would be honored if folks would give it a chance. But let me ask you and your readers that same question...why do you love to read?
Thank you for the question, and for a wonderful interview! We love to read for all three of those reasons, and one more: reading allows us to travel to places we'd otherwise never be able to go, do things we'd otherwise never be able to do, see things we'd never get to see... you get the idea! Reading allows limitless room for imagination - what's better than that? :)