Fred Holmes, Author of The Ugly Teapot
Q: Could you share a little about yourself and what led you to become a writer?
FH: I didn’t start out to be a writer. I started out to be a director of television and films. I began my career as an editor in television commercials, worked my way up to directing commercials, then segued into directing television documentaries shot all over the world. Directing documentaries is physically demanding (and occasionally dangerous), so after a few years I worked my way into directing TV shows and films. This went well and I was nominated for Emmys five times and won twice; plus I’ve won three CINE Golden Eagles, and a bunch of other awards. I started writing screenplays and teleplays because I was unhappy with the quality of scripts I was being given to direct. This led, eventually, to me writing spec screenplays in Hollywood. I could devote a whole post to writing spec screenplays in LA, but suffice to say that it’s a fun, but challenging, endeavor. However, one of these scripts was loved by everyone who read it, and was optioned numerous times. The script was called FIREFLIES, and one of the people who optioned it was Jerry Molen. Jerry won the Academy Award for producing SCHINDLER’S LIST, and he shopped FIREFLIES all over LA, but was never able to get it turned into a film for a variety of frustrating reasons. After it went into turn-around, a friend of mine at Disney read it, loved it, and suggested I turn it into a novel. I’d always wanted to write a novel, so I did, and that novel became THE UGLY TEAPOT.
Q: Do you write full time? How much of your life is set aside for writing?
FH: This varies greatly. THE UGLY TEAPOT is my first novel, so I’m still writing and directing television. To date, I’ve written and/or directed over 250 episodes of TV, plus I’ve directed three feature films, so that takes up a large percentage of my time, forcing me to write between projects, on planes, in hotel rooms, and on nights and weekends.
Q: Why did you chose to write for the age level?
FH: A lot of the TV shows I’ve directed were for kids—WISHBONE, BARNEY & FRIENDS, IN SEARCH OF THE HEROES, MARY LOU RETTON’S FLIP FLOP SHOP, HORSELAND, etc. I’ve always had a heart for kids, and I’m just a big kid myself, so it was only natural that I should write for them.
Q: Could you tell us a little about your novel?
FH: It is the story of a young girl who goes on an amazing adventure with her father. There is just one problem. Her father died a month ago.
Q: Would you take us on a brief tour of your novel and the world you’ve created?
FH: My story begins with death. My heroine’s father is dead. He was a famous photographer who traveled the world taking pictures in dangerous places, and all of that danger finally caught up with him. My heroine was always terrified something like this might happen to him; so to allay her fears, each time her father came home he brought her silly gifts. These gifts were mythological in nature, with supposed magical powers—like Aladdin’s Lamp. But the problem with this lamp, from my heroine’s standpoint, was that it looked like an ugly teapot. Besides, she’d never believed in all of that fairy tale nonsense. Nevertheless, when he was killed, she was so devastated she did something she never thought she would ever do. She took out that teapot and gave it a rub.
Q: Where does the inspiration for you main character and story come from?
FH: The main character is a composite of a lot of women I’ve known. The story came from tragedy. My brother died of cancer when he was very young, and I had a difficult time dealing with it. THE UGLY TEAPOT was my way of helping myself, and others, deal with such tragedies.
Q: What is the message behind the story? Was it something you specifically wrote a story around or did it develop as your characters came to life?
FH: The message is simple—death is not the end. What is the tired cliché? Life is a journey, not a destination—and death is part of that journey. And yes, I specifically wrote the story with this in mind because of my brother’s death.
Q: Do you work from an outline or just go with the flow? If you use an outline, how detailed is it?
FH: I’m a plantzer—someone who writes spontaneously, but goes in with a plan. By the time I start writing I already have a beginning, middle, and end in my head, along with a few plot elements—surprises, twists, etc. I also have my main characters firmly in my head—their likes, dislikes, issues, flaws, etc. However, I never, ever force myself to stick to my plan. If something comes along unexpectedly, I go with it. I should note that I also sleep poorly when I’m in the middle of writing a novel. I’m constantly up in the middle of the night changing, adapting, rewriting—things tend to occur to me while I sleep.
Q: What is the time span in your novel, weeks, months, years? How much research went into it?
FH: The story takes place over several months, but the main action transpires over one long weekend. And I can’t say I “researched” that time frame. I did, however, carefully plot it because there are two time frames going on—one in the fantasy world, and one in the real world.
Q: Could you tell us how you go about your research, how you ‘catalogue’ information to make it all work?
FH: This is different for each project—and I’m referring to the scripts I’ve written, in addition to my first novel. Some projects require extensive research. For example, in the sequel to THE UGLY TEAPOT that I am currently writing, my protagonist has an unusual form of brain cancer, and I’ve researched this extensively, along with adding several pediatric oncologists to my beta reader list. One tool I’ve started relying on heavily to help me track and catalogue my research is Scrivener. It’s proven to be a great writing tool.
Q: How does this book differ from what you have written in the past?
FH: Well, since this is my first novel, that’s hard to say. However, if I compare it to the scripts I’ve written, it’s dramatically different. THE UGLY TEAPOT was my response to a one-time event—my brother’s death—whereas the other projects I’ve written were more just for fun.
Q: How have the changes in present day publishing impacted your schedule as a writer?
FH: They have had zero impact so far. I have read about writers who are churning out several books a year because they feel the only way you can make money as a writer today is with volume. I don’t know if this is true or not. Maybe so because I do know folks like James Patterson are hiring “teams” of writers to turn out his books. If this is true, I find it VERY disappointing. Yes, I know writing is both a business and an art, but when the business takes over, the art invariably suffers. Now I’m not naïve. I know you have to make money to keep writing. But if that is your primary motivation, you demean the craft. Why were there 750,000 self-published novels last year? People were trying to “cash in”. They’d heard other people were getting rich on Amazon, and because they had no respect for their craft or their readers, they slapped together a book. 750,000. I have a hard time getting my head around that number. And I’m sure there are some great writers among them who are tired of a small group of publishers controlling what everyone reads, but if you talk to bloggers, approximately 749,000 of those self-published books were poorly written, poorly conceived, and filled with typos. Worse yet, when these people were given bad reviews, they turned on the reviewers. Why? Because their motivation was not to do good work. Their motivation was money. So sad.
Q: How do you handle marketing? Do you have a plan, a publicist or just take one day at a time?
FH: That is evolving. Yes, I did have a plan going in, but a lot of those plans haven’t worked out because of the changing landscape in publishing. Everyone’s being inundated with books—publishers, bloggers, vloggers, newspapers, book stores, everyone—and with so many books out there, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make an individual book stand out in the crowd. How am I handling that? I’m experimenting with different approaches, and we’ll see what happens.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
FH: I offer the same advice everyone else does—write—but with a few addendums. You need to understand that writing is a journey, not a destination. You will never, ever write the perfect novel, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. And if you do try, each novel you write will be better than the last. And finally, be kind. My goodness, we’re all in this life together and all of us are different and none of us are perfect. So if someone doesn’t like your novel, learn from their criticisms and apply those lessons to your next novel. Don’t blame. Learn.
Q: Could you tell us what you’re working on now?
FH: I am currently writing the sequel to THE UGLY TEAPOT and I like it even more than the first one. I LOVE my protagonist. She’s feisty and fun and full of surprises. I can’t wait for you to read about her!
About the Book
Fourteen-year-old Hannah Bradbury loved her father so much that she worried about him constantly. After all, he was a photographer who traveled to the most dangerous places in the world.
To allay her fears, each time he came home he brought her silly gifts, each one with supposed magical powers: the Seal of Solomon, the Ring of Gyges, even Aladdin’s Lamp. It was that lamp Hannah found the most unbelievable, for it looked like an ugly teapot. Nevertheless, her father assured her it was real, and made her promise to save her three wishes for something very special.
Then . . . six months later . . . the unthinkable happened. Her father was killed while on assignment to Baghdad. And so on the day of his funeral Hannah did something she never thought she would ever do.
She took out that teapot and gave it a rub . . .
The Ugly Teapot by Fred Holmes is a timeless tale, filled with magic and adventure. More importantly, it will make you believe in the overwhelming power of love.
About the Author
Fred Holmes is known primarily as a writer/director in television and films, mainly in children’s television and family films. He has worked on such TV shows as WISHBONE, BARNEY & FRIENDS, MARY LOU RETTON’S FLIP FLOP SHOP, IN SEARCH OF THE HEROES, HORSELAND, and many, many other shows. He has earned two Emmys, three CINE Golden Eagles, plus numerous other awards. Besides his work in TV, he has directed three feature films: DAKOTA, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, for Miramax; HARLEY, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, for Lionsgate; and HEART LAND, a Bollywood feature film that he directed in India that starred Indian superstars Divya Dutta and Prem Chopra.
His first novel, THE UGLY TEAPOT, began life as a screenplay optioned by several high-profile producers in Hollywood, including Gerald R. Molen, who won the Academy Award for producing SCHINDLER’S LIST. He lives in the southwest United States with his wife and son, and can be found online.