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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Author Interview – John Phythyon @JohnRPhythyonJr

6:00 AM Posted by James Noel No comments

Q: Can you share a little of your current work with us?

A: Yes! Beauty & the Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale re-imagines the classic story at a contemporary high school. “Beauty” is the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper; “The Beast” is the third-string running back on the football team. He’s a nice guy but not very good-looking. Both of them dream of a better life, and the new AP English teacher at the school, Mr. Nickleby, has the means to accommodate them. He just wants their souls in return. The scene below features Caleb (the titular “Beast”) before the magic starts to happen.

“We need to get you a girlfriend,” Evan said as they got dressed after practice.

            “Yeah, sure,” Caleb replied. “Have you seen this face? I crack so many mirrors I give other people bad luck.”

            “See? That’s what I’m talking about,” Evan said with a laugh. “It ain’t all about the looks. It’s about personality, and you’ve got a lot of that.”

            Caleb frowned. He did want a girlfriend. Who wouldn’t? But he didn’t think Evan was being realistic.

            “I don’t know, man,” he said. “In my experience, the girls have to not run away from your face before they can figure out you’ve got a personality.”

            “Dude, you are not ugly,” Evan replied.

            “Oh, yes, he is,” Mike said as he walked by, wrapped in a towel on his way to his locker. He shook his head, flicking water on them from his close-cropped, blonde hair and flashed an asshole smile with a set of perfect teeth. “You better get your eyes checked, E.”

            Caleb laughed. Getting angry would only make Mike worse.

            “Man, don’t listen to him,” Evan said.

            “I don’t know, Evan,” Caleb said with a sigh. “Mike’s a jerk, but it’s hard to argue with the evidence. GQ hasn’t called to shoot this mug, and I’ve been unattached pretty much since we got to LHS. The girls aren’t interested.”

            “You just haven’t found the right girl yet,” Evan countered.

            “Cuz he’s looking here instead of the zoo!” Mike shouted from around the corner of the lockers.

            A couple of people laughed. Mike howled like a wolf.

            “Dude, you best be knockin’ that shit off if you want me to block for you Friday night,” Evan called out.

            There was another round of laughter, but Mike didn’t retort. Caleb smiled. He pulled on his shirt and did his best to ignore Mike.

            “As much as I appreciate this,” Caleb said, “there would have to be someone available I wouldn’t scare away.”

            Evan frowned. He always crinkled his forehead when he was thinking.

            “What about that girl who edits the paper?” he said. “Nobody’s datin’ her.”

            “Who? Rory Bellin?” Caleb said.

            “Yeah! That’s her! That girl is hot!”

            “She’s also really smart,” Caleb said, expressing doubt. “I wouldn’t even know what to say to her.”

            “What?” Evan said, looking floored. “Dude, you always know what to say. You are the funniest guy I know.”

            “Funny-looking,” Caleb countered.

            “Dude, stop talkin’ like Mike,” Evan scolded. “If you run yourself down, ain’t nobody gonna want you. And you’ve got a lot goin’ for you.”

            “Like what?”

            “Ain’t I been tellin’ you you’re funny and personable?”


            “Plus, you play for the football team,” Evan added. “Every girl likes that.”

            “I’m the third-string running back, not the starter like you,” Caleb said.


            “I never play,” Caleb went on.


            Caleb sighed. There was no arguing with Evan. He had it in his brain that Rory would go out with Caleb, and nothing was going to get the idea out of there except seeing it fail. Caleb knew his friend too well. Once Evan Marshall became convinced of something, there was no dissuading him.

            “How do you know she’d even be interested in me,” Caleb said. “I hear she’s pretty obsessed with The Budget.”

            “That’s the truth,” Mike said, walking over and buttoning his shirt. “Holly says the only thing she cares about is building her résumé so she can get into Harvard or Yale or some place. Even if she would be interested in a dog-face like you, Johnson, I don’t think she wants a boyfriend. She’s too busy getting ready for college.”

            “Only one way to find out,” Evan said. “Ask her.”

            Caleb sighed again. Evan was right, of course. But he could barely imagine speaking to Rory Bellin, let alone asking her on a date. It seemed hopeless.

Q: Tell us about the main characters.

A: Rory is extremely driven. Her father got her mother pregnant with her in high school before he left to play football in college. Her mom is lost in the memories of her bygone popularity.

Rory is determined she’s not going to end up like her mom. She’s worked very hard to get to the top of the class at Lawrence High School, and she’s editor-in-chief of the paper. She plans to go to Yale next year. Nothing and no one is going to stand in her way.

But she’s also angry that all her hard work hasn’t brought the popularity her mother enjoyed. She feels slighted by the way the world works, and she can’t understand why people she doesn’t think deserves it are kings and queens of the school.

Caleb, on the other hand, starts the story as a nice kid, who just wants to get into the football games – he doesn’t even care if he starts; he just wants to play – and get a girlfriend. His friend Evan talks him into going after Rory. Caleb falls for her but can’t figure out how to get her to talk to him.

Both Caleb and Rory are desperate. They want more than what they have, and that opens them up to manipulation by Mr. Nickleby, the novella’s true villain. He tells Caleb he can teach him how to win Rory, and he offers Rory a ring of three wishes to help her change things at LHS. When they take him up on his proposals, things start happening that are beyond their control. They both become obsessed with getting what they want, and that causes all sorts of trouble.

Q: How did you develop the plot and characters?

A: When I began writing it, the book was almost entirely from Rory’s perspective. We kept seeing things through her eyes, and that was limiting what I was doing. I decided there needed to be another point of view in the novella, and that’s when I started writing some scenes from Caleb’s perspective.

As the book evolved, I started writing more and more Caleb scenes, until he had his own interwoven plot line. The book really succeeded when it was about Rory and Caleb, not just Rory.

Q: Why did you choose to write this particular book?

A: My reasons were initially commercial. “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” was my best-performing book, and re-imagined fairy tales are pretty hot right now, courtesy of ABC’s Once Upon A Time. So I thought I would pen another short story that was a modern fairy tale. After looking over some of my favorites, I decided “Beauty & the Beast” had the most potential.

As I got into writing it, though, I really started focusing on themes. I came to see that, as I was writing her, Rory was pretty obsessive. Knowing how I planned to end the book, I recognized obsession as dangerous and destructive. That started informing the choices I made as the book progressed for both Rory and Caleb. I wanted to craft a story that was a cautionary tale about allowing things that aren’t as important as they seem to totally dominate our lives.

Q: Will you write other books in this same genre?

A: Yes. I like fairy tales. They were always intended to be parables – fables you could learn from. In their original incarnations, they were often dark and had bad endings for foolish protagonists. I like re-imagining stories we all know for modern times but taking them back to their roots as dark morality plays.

Q: Is there a message in your book you want readers to grasp?
A: Being driven is a good thing, but obsession is dangerous. We should constantly be striving to achieve, but we have to be careful to keep things in perspective. Nothing is so important you should risk your soul over it. When you’ll do anything to fulfill your goals, you allow yourself to be manipulated and lose the best part of yourself.

Q: Have you started another book yet?

A: Yes! The Sword and the Sorcerer is my next novel, and it will be out in December. I’ve got it finished and am waiting on a cover. In the meantime, I’m writing the next book in the Wolf Dasher series, Roses Are White. I plan to have that one out by March of next year.

Q: How important do you think villains are in a story?

A: I love villains. I’ve always been fond of the bad guys. Mind you, I want them to lose, but I root for them.

A good villain is fun to write. It’s a chance to get outside myself and really indulge those baser instincts. Villains play by a different set of rules than the rest of us. That’s one of the things that makes them fun. A well crafted bad guy makes a story much more entertaining.

Q: What are you goals as a writer?

A: Most importantly, I want to be read. That’s why we do it. We have stories inside us, and we need to get them out, and we enjoy the process of getting it down and shaping it. But writers write to be read. So that’s what’s most important to me. I can’t put a number on that. I don’t know how many readers I need before I think I’ve achieved the goal. Every reader is important to me.

Secondly, I’d like to be able to feed my family. Being published is great, and I really enjoy the business of being an author, but I want a big enough return that the people who believe in me see some benefit. I may be an artist, but I’m an also a commercial writer. I want my books to take care of the people I love – now while I’m alive and after I’m gone.

Q: What books have most influenced your life?

A: The Bible, for sure. I’m not religious, but the basic tenets Jesus Christ was trying to teach – be good to each other, help out the less fortunate, eschew hypocrisy, forgive those who hurt you – are guiding principles for me.

Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus is also a big influence on my life. I found it at a very critical time. The concepts of life being meaningless and that not being a bad thing were exactly what I needed. I love the idea of not committing philosophical suicide – believing in something that cannot be proven. Attributing my own personal meaning to life and finding joy in it, even when things don’t seem to make sense are powerful ideas I return to again and again.

Q: Do you have any advice for writers?

A: Write. It sounds silly and clichéd. But it’s the most important advice any of us can get. If you’re a writer, you have to write. There are so many ways to get caught up and distracted, so many reasons to doubt yourself or stop believing. But if you keep writing, you’ll be happy. You’ll finish that book. And while you’re trying to get it published, write another one. Keep writing. It’s how you get that brilliant piece of literature from your brain to the sales rack.

Q: If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would it be?

A: Enjoy life. Do what you love. It isn’t always easy. You have to make sacrifices. But if you do what you love, if you make an effort to enjoy life, you’ll be happy. It took me 43 years to figure that out. I’m so glad I did.


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Genre - Fairy Tales, Contemproary Fantasy

Rating – PG-13

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