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 mostly 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. He has directed more than 250 episodes of television and has been nominated for Emmys five times, winning twice. He has also won three CINE Golden Eagles, plus numerous other awards. In addition to his television work, he has directed three feature films: DAKOTA, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, distributed by Miramax, HARLEY, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, distributed by Lionsgate, and HEART LAND, a Bollywood feature film shot on location in India, starring Divya Dutta and Prem Chopra. He lives in the southwest United States, and can be found online at www.flholmes.com
In an interview with LitPick, you mentioned that when a friend brought up the idea of converting your screenplay into a novel, you were sceptical because you did not consider yourself a real writer. How does it feel, now that you have actually written one?
I’m still skeptical. ☺ I’ve learned a lot about writing novels, but I still have so much more to learn. What’s the old adage? It’s not the destination, it’s the journey? That is true about a lot of things, not the least of which writing novels. I read the works of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, and so many, many others, and I see a brilliance that I don’t see in my own writing. That used to discourage me. No more. First of all, every person is different and every person has something to contribute in their own special way. So I’ve learned to ignore the doubts and realize I can contribute to literature in a positive way, regardless of my level of talent. And second of all, we all have to start somewhere, and when you begin, you will not be as good as you will be if you continue to work hard at it. So again, ignore the doubts and work hard. You may never be Ray Bradbury, but you will be the very best YOU!
Your book merges real with the magical and the uncanny. So in this context, what do you identify more with – Surrealism or magical realism?
To me, surrealism connotes an irrational juxtaposition of ideas or imagery, and for that reason, I don’t see myself as a surrealist. There is a rational reason why events happen in THE UGLY TEAPOT, they just might seem irrational at the time. There will be three books in the series, and within each book there is a certain rationale, just as there is an overarching rationale for the entire series. Something that might seem confusing in book one, might not be completely explained until you get to book three. So having said this, I guess you could say I identify more with magical realism. I’m a huge fan of urban fantasy and low fantasy. I like some high fantasy—Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD series for example—but ultimately I’m a low fantasy kind of guy. I love believing that magic exists all around us in the real world. We’ve simply lost our ability to see it. Perhaps that’s why I love children’s literature so much. It gets me back in touch with my inner child—the one who still believes in Santa Claus!
Writing a book may sometimes take a long time or it might just come to one. What was it like with The Ugly Tea Pot? How much time did it take you to actually pen down this adventure?
THE UGLY TEAPOT did not come about in the normal way. It actually began life as a screenplay called FIREFLIES. FIREFLIES was my emotional reaction to the death of my brother, Jim, at a young age from cancer. That was a painful time, and FIREFLIES was my way of finding some solace. I gave the script to my agent and she shopped it all over Hollywood and everyone loved it, and it was optioned numerous times. One of those who optioned it was Jerry Molen, who won the Academy Award for producing SCHINDLER’S LIST. Jerry tried for several years to turn it into a movie, but was never able to do so for a lot of frustrating reasons. Then one day a friend of mine at Disney suggested I turn it into a novel. I’d never considered myself a real writer, but I loved the idea of writing a novel, so I gave it a try. It took a lot of years, and a massive number of drafts, before I finally felt it worked well enough to release. The result of all that work was THE UGLY TEAPOT. So how long did it take to write? Decades. However, interestingly enough, the sequel only took six months.
Could you tell us what we should be expecting in your next?
I’m about to finish the sequel. It will go out to my beta readers, then come back to me for changes, and from there it goes to an editor—so it will be awhile before it’s out. I can’t tell you too much about what’s in it without a lot of spoiler alerts, but I can tell you that something very strange is happening in the tiny town of Green Park, Tennessee. Aladdin’s Lamp has decided to take up residence, and life there will never be the same.
As a kid, what intrigued you most about stories?
What I’ve always enjoyed most about stories is their ability to take me out of my normal everyday life. I admit to not being a fan of real life. Real life is filled with pain and disappointment. You get pain and disappointment in stories as well, but they’re happening to someone else, and you can learn the lessons they teach vicariously without experiencing the suffering yourself. Also, through stories I can be a different person. I can travel across the globe or across the universe, and learn about people I’ll never meet and wondrous places I’ll never get to visit. I’ve been fortunate to travel quite a bit in my life, and the thing I’ve always loved most about traveling is the ability to step into the lives of others for a short while. As a writer, what I love about creating these stories is the opportunity to create moments in time that have never existed before, and that, hopefully, generations far removed from me will read and enjoy.
As an adult, why do you think storytelling is important?
Storytelling is vitally important on so many levels. First, a good story teaches you empathy. You get to walk in someone else’s shoes for awhile. Second, it broadens your horizons. You learn that it’s a great big world out there with diverse ways of living and thinking, and learning about this diversity makes you a better, more rounded human being. Third, a good story teaches you to dream. It makes you realize you can accomplish so much more than you ever thought you could. There are many other reasons why stories are important, but these three are some of the best.
Are you an avid reader? Which book enhanced your love for reading?
I read constantly—at home, on planes, wherever I am. I love to read. And there were a lot of books and authors who’ve earned my undying gratitude for creating stories that have inspired, encouraged, and enthralled me. There are too many to name, but perhaps my favorite book of all time is Ray Bradbury’s DANDELION WINE. It touched me deeply, and for the life of me, I can’t tell you why. It was written about an era I didn’t live through, and yet I really identify with the story. I can tell you that as a writer DANDELION WINE contains prose that is beyond description. Ray has a unique ability to see the world differently than the rest of us, and to employ prose that is as close to poetry as you can get. As a side note, years ago (before Ray died) my friend, Jerry Molen, was hired by Universal Studios to turn Ray’s novel, THE MARTIAN CHRONOCLES, into a movie. I was in Jerry’s office at DreamWorks one day and he told me about working with Ray and I told Jerry how much DANDELION WINE had touched my life. Well, the next day Jerry gave me a copy of the book autographed by Ray, and Ray had drawn a dandelion and written, “Fred, this dandelion is for you!” To this day, it is one of my most prized possessions.
After reading your book, I am drawn to believe that you do have a certain inclination towards photography bordering passion. Is it so? Should we expect a photography book anytime soon?
I’ve always loved photography and have taken photographs my entire life. As a filmmaker, I deal with photography all of the time. Am I a great photographer? No. Do I have the upmost respect for those who are? Absolutely. It is such a wonderfully creative endeavor. But you shouldn’t expect a photography book from me. I’ll stick to directing films and writing fiction.
What is it that you enjoy the most – Writing, directing or photography?
Boy, that’s like asking which of your kids do you like best. I like them all for different reasons. But what I can tell you is that one of the main reasons I became a director is that directors get to utilize all of these passions in making a film. I’m also a frustrated actor, and I get to work with actors as well. As a director, I don’t have to be great at any one of these things, but I have to know a little bit about them all. Such fun!
What is your message to those storytellers who have yet not found the courage to share their stories / What is your message to the ones dancing to the music that remains unheard by the rest?
To those of you who’ve yet to find the courage to share your stories I say—what are you waiting for? Life is short and very unpredictable. So don’t wait. Start today. Start this very moment—this very second! Ignore those who can’t hear your music. It’s not their music, after all. It’s uniquely yours. No one—and I’m talking no one in the entire universe—can write your story. So quit hesitating and get to work on it. And once you start, realize that stories are meant to be shared. They’re your gift to the future, so make them a good gift. And I have one request: tell stories the lift people up and make their lives better. There’s already enough hatred and meanness in the world. Be someone who tells stories that make the world a better place. Then who knows. A thousand years from now someone just like you might read your story and be touched by it and be inspired to write their own story. Can you think of a better legacy?