Today, Jerry Mahoney — the writer of the popular blog, Mommy Man — moves into new territory and releases his four-book middle grade series, My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Fairy Tales. Here, Jerry talks about the inspiration behind reinventing popular fairy tales, the shift to writing for young readers, and the role that blogging continues to play in his journey as an author.
My focus these days is still pretty much the same — dadding and writing — although my kids are a bit older now. They’re about to turn eight and are going into third grade. They tell all their friends their dad is an author, which is always a bit awkward, since Mommy Man isn’t appropriate for kids that age to read. So their friends will ask: “What books have you written?” And I’ll say, “Um, Green Eggs and Ham?” then run and hide.
That’s how I came to start writing for kids, and it’s been a blast. I get to write the kinds of books I loved to read when I was little, and as anyone who knows me will attest, I still have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy. This allows me to connect with readers who are more on my level 🙂
In these books, a girl named Maddie and her obnoxious stepbrother, Holden, find plot holes in their favorite classic stories and go on an adventure to fix them. What inspired you to create this series?
I think every parent looks forward to sharing their favorite books with their kids. But one thing that struck me when I started doing that was how out-of-date some of these stories were, specifically the fairy tales. They tend to portray a very outdated notion of femininity, where the women are weak and inactive, prized for their physical beauty and only feel complete after getting married. As great as the stories are, I didn’t want my kids picking up ideas I didn’t agree with. So I came up with a concept that would let me pay homage to everything that was wonderful about my favorite fairy tales, while bringing them into the 21st century.
The character of Maddie is the side of me who loves fairy tales and appreciates their innocence and sweetness. Her obnoxious stepbrother Holden is the more cynical side of me, who sees the flaws in them. He’s probably my favorite character I’ve ever written, because he’s so brash and unapologetic — but at the same time, you can’t hate him because he makes some really good points. Things like, “If Cinderella’s Prince is so deeply in love with her, why does he need a shoe to track her down? Can’t he remember what she looks like?” And “If the Beast is being punished for his shallowness, how come he’s able to break the spell by marrying a total babe?” Or “If Snow White knows her stepmother is trying to kill her, why does she just give up and beg seven total strangers to protect her? Why not train them to become an elite fighting squad so they can team up and kick her butt?”
In my versions, I made the princesses a lot more active, crafty, and self-confident. Snow White makes herself look sloppy so she can trick the Wicked Queen’s magic mirror, but even though she no longer appears physically perfect, Prince Charming still falls for her because of her cool personality. Belle tracks down the fairy who cursed the Beast and comes up with a daring plan to test whether his love is true or if he’s still his same shallow old self.
There’s also a fun dynamic between my two main characters that I think a lot of siblings, especially ones from blended families, will relate to. They fight constantly, but they have to learn to work together or they’ll be stuck in the fairy tales forever.
Thankfully, when I read the books to my kids, they loved them and laughed out loud the whole time. Mission accomplished!
I came up with a concept that would let me pay homage to everything that was wonderful about my favorite fairy tales, while bringing them into the 21st century.
You’ve been blogging for an adult readership since 2003. Was it a challenge to write for a younger audience?
It was definitely an adjustment, but I spend so much time with my own kids that I’m used to being in family-friendly mode. Plus, I tend to read the kind of materials I’ve been working on. I used to spend a ton of time on parenting blogs, and these days I’ve been reading a lot of kids’ books, so I’m used to the kind of writing that’s geared for this audience.
This is one of the reasons I decided to start jerrymahoneybooks.com, a new website for my kids’ writing. Many of the old posts on my blog aren’t appropriate for young readers, and I didn’t want to have to go back and sanitize everything for kids who might find their way there looking for information on my books. Now, I can decide where a piece of writing belongs. When I have something to share with grown-ups, I put it on Mommy Man. And when I have something for younger readers, I can put it on my books site.
How has your presence on WordPress.com helped you on your journey as an author? What’s one piece of advice you can give to authors with blogs?
Blogging with WordPress.com has been invaluable in both my personal and professional development as a writer. There’s really no comparison for the immediate connection you can make with readers on a blog. I have a thought, I write it, and within minutes I’m getting responses from readers. (Mostly positive, but the negative ones are helpful, too.)
On the other hand, books can take years to reach publication, which makes that kind of writing much more isolating. That’s why it’s always good to have my blog when I need to make a more instant connection with readers.
One example of when the two fit together perfectly was when I first announced the My Rotten Stepbrother books on my blog. Originally, the title was My Stupid Stepbrother Ruined Fairy Tales. A few readers wrote to me and said that they shuddered at the use of the word “stupid.” I totally got it, because while a lot of kids do talk that way, it’s not a word I let my own kids say either. But it got back to me that “stupid” is more than just a meaningless taunt between siblings. It’s also a common bullying word used against kids who may have special needs. I certainly didn’t want to encourage that, so I talked to my publisher and we agreed to change the title. That’s a case where the long lead time of book publishing and the quick response time of blogging worked well together!
My advice to authors with blogs is to find the right balance in working on them both and to use each one to help build the audience for the other.