We are so excited about your book release! Let's learn a little more about the novel.
What inspired you to write The First Story?
I guess the initial inspiration came from my love of fairy tales. I really like the old tales; the ones before the modern age got a hold on them. I liked the combination of reality and fantasy that they represented. There was darkness, with a purpose, and a moral to the story. I think when we sanitize them for the sake of children or because they make us uncomfortable then something is lost.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the DIsney version of fairy tales that I grew up with, that we all grew up with, are wonderful. There is just a different tone to them. The old tales are mysterious and dangerous. When I first started learning the old version, I was fascinated by them. The First Story is kinda my attempt to create modern feeling, old tone fairy tales.
I love the Disney classics too--but they adapted the original fairy tales as well. Did you research the origins or histories of any fairy tales as part of writing The First Story?
Yes, I studied some Irish folktales and stories in college. Those stories got me interested in Celtic mythology. I read a bunch of old fairytale stories that were dark and suspenseful and just so engaging. I was fascinated by characters that inspired Snow White, but these characters had stories that were so very different. It got me thinking about modern stories, the stories we’ve created. They’re in novels and movies and t.v., but they are fairy tales, or at least the essence of fairy tales. I wondered what characters we have created, and will create, that are archetypes in our world. So, my characters are a mixture of old archetypes and new ones and fake ones and potential ones.
Are there any themes, symbols, or motifs in your story?
My intent with the theme was to talk about marginalization, which is centered around many of the characters, especially Matt and John. Some of the fantasy characters deal with marginalized people too, and using them to explore the theme brought me to a place where I discussed the forces that create marginalized populations.
I wanted to write tales that spoke to a modern audience. Whereas Red Riding Hood warned children about the dangers of strangers, I wanted something like the Puppeteer teaching us a lesson about the dangers of isolation. The modern world, with all the technology, is conditioned to separate us, even though the purpose of social media was to connect us. The overall theme of the fantasy aspect sort of became the dangers of that segmented reality as I talked about the causes of marginalization.
I love that! Tell me, who is your favorite character?
I’m mostly drawn to the Dottere. He’s a plague doctor with the mask that looks like a bird’s beak. I like the dichotomy of a doctor in such a terrifying outfit coming out of the dark to “help” desperate people. The first image I ever saw of a plague doctor was in an old sci-fi tv show when I was very young and I never forgot it. It was one of those things where I wondered how the people of the times related to the image. I thought that maybe they didn’t have the connotation that we have with it. We associate the figure with death and suffering, but maybe they saw it as redemption and hope. I couldn’t see how that was possible, but I don’t know, maybe.
It’s kinda how I view clowns. I tried to write a character that was a clown, but not a scary clown. I found it impossible. And I wondered about that with our culture. I spent some of my formative years near Chicago. There were two competing version of clowns around me at that time--Bozo and John Wayne Gacy. I remember when I was very young that I adored Bozo and the show. I would practice the games they played just in case Bozo invited me on the show one day, but that changed after the John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown, case. I was far too young to know anything about the case, but I somehow still got the idea that clowns were now somehow frightening. I think that’s why the Dottore speaks to me. I don’t have the same association that the people of the time had, but I still feel the impact of whatever association they created. It speaks to culture and society and how all of the different parts speak to each other across the ages.
Dottore reminds me of the commedia del’arte character, Dottore (who is also a doctor). How did you craft your world?
There are two worlds in the book. There’s the “real” world where Matt and John live. It is supposed to be based on a typical suburban town. I tried to make it generic enough to stand in for everything from a town near a metropolitan area to one that was rural. I wanted that word to be just a representation of as many American experiences as I could make it.
The fantasy world was a different matter. I wanted it to center on a setting that I find interesting in so many fairy tales--the woods. So many fairy tales take place in or near a forest, which was alternatively, depending on the type of tale, a scary place or a place of refuge. I loved that dichotomy--safety and danger wrapped up in a bunch of trees. And in that world I wanted all of the representatives of my modern fairy tales as I could get. I wanted them walking down paths, meeting at inns, going on quests, discovering new parts, all of that. And I wanted the world to be ethereal, fragile, just like ideas.
Who are your favorite authors?
I get asked this a lot, being an English teacher, and I always find it difficult to answer. I typically have favorite books rather than authors. I suppose the author I have read the most would be Stephen King. I was a bit obsessed with him in high school. The author I’ve studied the most would be C.S. Lewis. I wrote my Master’s thesis on him, so I’ve read multiple books by him too.
Now books, I have several favorites. I fell in love with Wuthering Heights the minute I read it as an undergrad. The tone and mood of that novel was so luscious. It made me want to wander around the moors feeling all moody and such. I used to read it once a year around September, just to put me in the mood for the winter months. Along with Bronte, another writer who evokes the same feelings with me is Diane Setterfield. Her The Thirteenth Tale was a gem I discovered that added to my Wuthering Heights addiction.
The one book that I fell in love with from C.S. Lewis was probably one of his least known books, Till We Have Faces. I adored the way he retold the Cupid and Psyche myth from the viewpoint of Psyche’s older sister. It was such an interesting take and was done so well.
I could go on and on with books I fell in love with and authors I admire, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Augesten Burroughs, David Sedaris, and I like each one for very different reasons. Hemingway and Burroughs both have an economy of language that I love, O’Connor has a courage that I long for, and Sedaris possesses an easy comedic voice that isn’t forced or awkward.
Those are some of my favorites, too! What can we expect next from you?
One of the ideas behind the structure of The First Story was to create self-contained stories that could serve as inspiration for longer works. I truly set out to put to paper every little idea I had in regards to stories. So, that’s what I’m working on. I took one of the stories and am developing it into a larger work. I also have an idea for a sequel to The First Story, which will tackle the theme of social justice in the same way that the first dealt with marginalization. I think I am farther along planning the sequel, so I expect that one to be the next thing.
Brad, thanks so much for sharing with us today! Let's take a look at what your novel is about.
Matt lives to write stories. And those stories might be the only thing keeping his best friend alive after school bullies brutally attack him for being gay. At the side of John’s hospital bed, Matt weaves together tales in the hopes of waking him from his coma before it’s too late...
Storytelling itself comes to life in the world of Creativity. When unexpected changes cause chaos there, personified character archetypes known as Aspects must find the source before everything they know is lost. They suspect that someone has stolen the most powerful thing in all of Creativity: the First Story. But who is powerful enough to wield it?
Follow the Aspects as they journey through an ever-changing series of folktales, ghost-stories, tragedies, comedies, classic fantasy, and modern science fiction to piece the clues together. If the Aspects cannot trust in reality—or even their own memories—can they work together to find the thief and restore their world?
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