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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Michael Hebler Shares His New Children's Book, The Night After Christmas

Hello, my name is Michael Hebler and I am a Southern California native, specifically from Orange County.  Until my mid-20's, the only goal in my life was to become an actor.  As a child, I would constantly put together performances and coerce other neighborhood children to join me in entertaining and being creative.  I played a part in everything from being the managing director of our own amusement park in the backyard (done with big wheels and Radio Flyer wagons) to directing and performing song and dance numbers from the 1980's cult classic musical, The Pirate Movie.  You might think I had "short-man's complex" if I had been short, but always being slightly taller than the others my age, I think I fell into the category of "control freak" or "director".
Once I entered high school, I put the wagons and big wheels up for sale in the yard and placed the performances on a real stage with people who were much more willing to play with me.  It was in high school that I also dabbled in short story writing, but that was merely something to pass the time in a classroom where I had trouble paying attention.  It was in my senior year that our theatre teacher decided to let the students write a one-act play for an original play festival.  I had very excitedly and enthusiastically picked one of the gatrillion ideas bouncing around inside my head and put it to paper.  The teacher along with a select few students (one of which is now a famous film director) formed a judging committee and picked the top 10 student written one-acts… mine was not picked.  Although devastated, I told myself it would be okay because I did not really want to write, but to perform, and put away the pen and paper...
…But only until college.  As expected, I majored in theatre arts at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.  Original one-act play festivals were as regular as Hollywood award shows, and it did not take long for me to try my hand at writing again.  I wrote a very dark comedy one-act about a dysfunctional family called, Meet the Waldorfs that received a standing ovation.  I would have to pinpoint this moment as the first in my life where I actually considered doing something other than acting.  The euphoria of having a group of people enjoy something that I had written was more powerful than any applause I received as a performer.  However, wanting to become an actor for so much of my life, this would not be an easy transition.
Being swallowed up by the theatre and spending as much time with my "second" family as possible, I ended up spending 5-years at a 2-year college, and in that time I fine-tuned my craft by writing many more one-act plays, but it was a small piece that I wrote for children's Christmas variety show that changed my life.  I was included in a cast who also doubled as the show runners.  Together, we picked skits, vignettes and music for the show.  It was suggested that we end the play with a reciting of The Night Before Christmas, which would have been very appropriate.  But then I chimed in and suggested since "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was introducing Santa Claus, why not open with that and then close with a similar piece called The Night AFTER Christmas, about Santa returning home.  Of course, the poem needed to pass this new committee, but I was given the green light to write it.
I wrote The Night After Christmas in September 1993, while coming down the mountain from a weekend leadership retreat in Lake Arrowhead.  Being the beginning of fall, the leaves were changing colors (which is difficult to come by in California) and it gave me great inspiration, so much so, that I found it difficult to pay attention to the leadership seminars and started constructing ideas for the story in my head.  Sound familiar?
It felt like déjà vu all over again when I presented the poem to the committee, but this time, it passed with flying colors.  We recited The Night After Christmas in the Christmas Variety Show and after each performance, parents would come up to me and tell me that if my poem ever became a children's book, they would rush out and get a copy.  And that was the first moment that I wanted to become a published author.
Although, as many people can attest, life does not guide you in the direction you think it should go, but sometimes, it's only a slight detour, which happens to be my case.  My detour was becoming an international publicist for feature films; however, I believe this was always the path I was meant to take because being an author (whether self-published or traditionally published), having the publicity and marketing knowhow have become extremely important.  I became a victim of our second great depression; however, it turned out to be one of the best tragedies that I could have happened to me as I would probably still be wrangling journalists and dealing with per-snippety A-list talent.  Now, I can say that I am a published author.
By the way, I no longer wish to be an actor.
Tell us about the genre of your work.
The Night After Christmas is my first foray into children's literature; however, this is not my only genre.  I have just started publishing a western/horror series based on the legendary creature, el chupacabra.  But as for children's literature, I can say that, for me, it is more challenging and gratifying as I am not only telling a story with words, but with illustrations as well.  Do not get me wrong, writing the series is challenging too and has its own rewards, but there is a much larger level of creativity behind children's picture books because it goes beyond black and white.  There are so many more components to writing a picture book than to writing a novel; I consider children's literature to be more of a "project.”  This might have something to do with the face that I cannot draw anything beyond a stick figure and I am forced to relinquish some of my creative control to my illustrator, Anita Driessen, whom I trust whole-heartedly.
Why did you choose this genre?
Even though The Night After Christmas is my very first publication, I do not consider children's literature to be my primary genre.  The aforementioned western/horror series for adult readers is my primary genre; however, since I enjoyed working on The Night After Christmas so much, and I have a fantastic illustrator, Anita Driessen, at my fingertips, we have decided to another children's picture book together and possibly a third.  I guess you could say that I did not choose this genre, but that it chose me.  Cliché, I know, but accurate.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
Well, as for children's literature, The Night After Christmas is my one and only and is available in both print and digital download.  I do have two publications in my Chupacabra series thus far, Night of the Chupacabra, which is Book I and Hunt for the Chupacabra, which is a short story that leads up to the events of Book I and is a free download.  Hunt is only available as a digital download where Night has been published in both print and digital formats.  I also have two more publications that will be available soon, Book II in the Chupacabra series, Curse of the Chupacabra and my second picture book that will teach children the origins of Halloween and why we celebrate that holiday.  I still have not decided on a title for this second picture book, but it will most likely become available sometime around August 2012, and it will be available in both traditional print and digital formats.
What ages do you direct your books?
The Christmas Variety Show we did back in college was performed for audience members between the ages of one and Up, so it is the same for The Night After Christmas.  I really do consider it a story for believers of any age.
The Chupacabra Series would be ideal for Teenagers and up.  There are some violent scenes, of course, and some mild language, but no sexual situations.  I am not opposed to detailed intimacy if it is warranted, but it has not been warranted just yet.  Although it is a horror series, the heart of the stories really center on family and lost love.  They are quite eclectic tales and very fun, rollercoaster reads, I think.  They are what I would pick up to read.
Would you tell us more about your books?
The Night After Christmas extends the Clement C. Moore tale as Santa returns to the North Pole, where his family and friends await, after completing his busiest night of the year.  It is available at http://www.thenightafterchristmas.net/.  It is also currently available at http://www.amazon.com/ (Print & Kindle); http://www.amazon.co.uk/ (Print & Kindle), http://www.amazon.ca/; http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (Print & Nook); http://www.buy.com/; http://www.amazon.fr/; http://www.amazon.jp/; http://www.amazon.it/; http://www.amazon.de/ (Print & Kindle); iTunes, and many other online retailers including Sony Reader.  Print ISBN: 978-0-6153-9525-8 / Digital ISBN: 978-1-4581-0546-2
Hunt for the Chupacabra follows a retired Confederate tracker in pursuit of the elusive and legendary creature for some well-deserved revenge.  It is available for digital download only at iTunes, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (Print & Nook) and many other e-readers at http://www.smashwords.com/ and online book retailers.
Night of the Chupacabra.  There is a creature that lurks in the deserts of the West.  It can only survive on blood and prefers to prey on the weak and the young, but will destroy anything or anyone, when provoked.  It is available at http://www.amazon.com/ (Print & Kindle); http://www.amazon.co.uk/ (Print & Kindle), http://www.amazon.ca/; http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (Print & Nook); http://www.buy.com/; http://www.amazon.fr/; http://www.amazon.jp/; http://www.amazon.it/; http://www.amazon.de/ (Print & Kindle); iTunes, and many other online retailers including Sony Reader.  Print ISBN: 978-0-9833-8840-1 / Digital ISBN: TBA
Curse of the Chupacabra.  They thought it was luck to be one of the few survivors, but it was a curse.  It will be available sometime this winter 2011/2012 with all the same retailers as Night of the Chupacabra.  Print ISBN: 978-0-9833-8841-8 / Digital ISBN: TBA
Do your books have a teaching objective?  If so, what is it?
Not until my Halloween picture book is released do I feel that I am actually "teaching" anything to anyone; however, that being said, even though The Night After Christmas was written purely for entertainment purposes; I hope children will discover the subtle message of not jumping to conclusions and to always be optimistic.
My Chupacabra series also have subtle messages from within, but they vary and are not the main concentration of the stories.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

Well, don't tell anyone, but the names for The Night After Christmas were already chosen for me, although I do not think I could have ever come up with a better name for Santa Claus.

As for my Chupacabra series, about 80% of the names come from the research I have done in my own family Ancestry.  Genealogy is a big hobby of mine and I thought what better (and easier) way to come up with stacks of names than by honoring the people who made me and my existence possible in the first place.  This was actually a lot of fun to do and I now look forward to needing a new name for a story because it gives me a reason to revisit my genealogy when writing becomes all consuming.  As for the chupacabra itself, it is actually a fairly recent folklore story that dates "about" two decades back.  There has been a lot of debate about what exactly the chupacabra is and there have been theories that range from an animal infected by radiation to an extra-terrestrial pet left behind.  I have my own theory.

How did you develop the character/s in each of your books?

In The Night Before Christmas, the two main characters were Santa and the man of the house.  I really wanted to visit The Night After Christmas from Mrs. Claus's point of view, as I thought her perspective would be fresh and unique.

For the Chupacabra Series, each character was a work-in-progress.  In the transition from acting to writing, I wrote a few screenplays and submitted them into the competition circuit.  The chupacabra series began as a screenplay that did very well by placing as a finalist in most contests.  With some contests, I would also receive feedback.  It was based on this feedback that would continue my development of the characters.

What is your favorite thing about your book/s?
The Night After Christmas’s simplicity and capture of the traditional holiday spirit is what I like most about the picture book.  I wanted to create another timeless classic, and given a little bit more time, I believe that is what I created.  I also love the little back-story of how I found my illustrator as well. 
Believe it or not, it was on Facebook, but I had already known Anita many years prior.  She was a fellow classmate at Orange Coast College whom I had lost contact with over the years, but then "friended" on Facebook.  I never knew she had been a budding illustrator back in college and was surprised to discover so when she posted some random images that she drew on her page, which just so happened to be the style that was perfect for this story.  Therefore, thanks to Facebook, the birth of Print-On-Demand publishing and a lot of patience, The Night After Christmas finally came to fruition.
The world I created for Chupacabra is my favorite aspect for the series.  Additionally, the idea of mixing Western with Horror just elated me, but no story is complete without interesting and unique characters.  I have fallen in love with many of my chupacabra characters, even the not-so-nice ones.  They are probably my favorite.

Is your book illustrated?  If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator, can you discuss that experience?
The Night After Christmas is illustrated and has 26 pages of full illustrations.  Working with Anita was fun, easy and a fantastic learning experience for the both of us.  It was nice that we had been friends for years, but there is always that line between friendship and business, and we seemed to cross that line effortlessly.  I would have to say that we had the same mindset about 90% of time and whenever one of us was stumped with a problem, the other would run to their rescue. As I mentioned before, we plan on working together for at least one more project, and I cannot wait to get started.
The series does not have any illustrations beyond the cover, which I did myself using Photoshop.  I may not be able to draw, but I can click.
Are there any problems in getting children’s’ books published?
I self-published The Night After Christmas as well as my non-children's book without even attempting to publish through a publishing house, so I'm afraid I would not know what kind of problems lurk for getting children's books published.  As for self-publishing, although the Print-On-Demand company I used had very specific and precise guidelines that required a lot of attention to detail, I think the biggest hurdle was, and still is, marketing and publicity, which an author would have to still do whether or not they went through a publishing house.
What is your writing schedule?
I write when I am inspired, which is quite often, actually.  I also like having a deadline so as a self-publisher, with nobody setting an end date for me, I give myself one.  This helps keep me focused and on track, and keeps me writing at least a little bit each day, if even for only 15 minutes.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
I have the Halloween origins story that I have written and am now waiting to start art concepts with my illustrator, Anita.  I am just wrapping up Book Two of my upcoming Chupacabra Series, of which five books are currently planned, along with a few more short story freebies in-between.  I also have an untitled Christmas novel that I had written originally as a screenplay that did even better than Chupacabra in the competition circuit that I am planning to adapt sometime next year.  Finally, I am spinning the wheels on two more children's books based on specific topics:  Birth and Bullying, very important topics that have been getting a lot of attention in the media these days.
What kind of advice or tips do you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
I actually have three bits of advice:  1) Attention to detail, 2) Patience and 3) Flexibility.  I think these are three very important tips for any writer.  I have always been told, "anything worth doing is worth doing well,” so attention to detail is particularly important.  I have a crackpot team of five people who help me critique my work before it is published.  They do everything from typo-s to editing to format.  It is important to not rush through the process.  I know the temptation of gratification of publishing is hard to overcome, but it is extremely important to be taken seriously and to do that, your work needs to be flawless.  So, take your time and make sure the product you want people to pay their hard-earned money for is as polished as what you would want to pay your hard-earned money for.  And be flexible, which is what I probably struggle with the most personally, but there are a lot other people out there with just as good, and sometimes even better ideas.  Really listen to what they have to say.  You do not have to always follow what they suggest, but do not discredit their ideas before you have had the opportunity to analyze it and ask yourself if it is best for your story.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
I would just like to say that always write from the heart and when you can, write from experience.  This is the same advice I received time and time again from instructors, colleagues and mentors, and no truer words have ever been spoken.
Do not give up on your dreams and do not ignore constructive criticism, but know the difference between constructive and damaging comments.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I am geek at heart.  I love playing video games, watching movies and going to see live performances.  Although I no longer wish to become an actor, I have recently been involved in a couple of plays as a favor to my sister, Melissa Cook, who I passed along the acting bug to; however, unlike me, she still carries it proudly and helps run a theatre in Westminster, California.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
The most recent one was when I had been invited to Handy Elementary School in Orange, California to read The Night After Christmas to multiple classrooms and speak about the importance of reading and writing.  Seeing the children's faces light up as they listened to me read my own story was nothing less than amazing.
Add your web site, blogs, and links here.
"The Night After Christmas" - http://www.thenightafterchristmas.net/ 
Each novel has its own Facebook page as well, which you can find by searching, Night of the Chupacabra, Curse of the Chupacabra, Legend of the Chupacabra (Book III)

2 comments:

Michael Hebler said...

Thank you Sylvia for your time and questions. It was pleasure being your subject. I would like to add that since our interview, new developments have been made on 'Night of the Chupacabra', which is now currently scheduled for release in Spring 2012 and not currently available.

sheena said...

I wanted to thank you for this great post!! I enjoyed every little bit of it, I have you bookmarked and waiting for all the new stuff you post.
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