Perry Moore is difficult to define by any single title. Best-selling author, director, screenwriter, film producer, surfer, comic book fan – he’s a man of many passions and that’s evident in his work. While he’s best known for being the executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it was his groundbreaking novel HERO that caught my attention.
I received the book as a Christmas gift from my aunt along with the note, “I think you’ll get a kick out of this book.” She seriously underestimated the power of HERO. For four hours on a Saturday night, I was totally immersed in the world of Thom Creed and his family and friends. Even now, weeks later, certain scenes and bits of dialogue are still lingering in my head. The novel made an impression on me that I’ll never forget.
Later, I was visiting www.perrymoorestories.com and found a slight inaccuracy in his feature, “WHO CARES ABOUT THE DEATH OF A GAY SUPERHERO ANYWAY?” I e-mailed Perry Moore my thoughts and was excited to find an appreciative and friendly e-mail from him the next morning. Soon after, we began exchanging e-mails. I was fortunate enough that Mr. Moore granted me the pleasure of interviewing him.
Despite his recent title as People Magazine’s Sexy Man of the Week, it’s Perry Moore’s sincere desire to make the world better that I find most intriguing. The following interview is both insightful and educational; and for those of you that have not yet read HERO, be warned that spoilers abound! If you’ve already read HERO and you’re looking for dish on Perry Moore’s future projects, you’ve come to the right place.
What inspired you most to write HERO? Was it your love of comic books, a desire to tell a powerful gay coming of age story, or the need to write a truly groundbreaking novel?
My inspiration to write a novel as groundbreaking as HERO came from all the things you mention, but specifically it came from:
1) My love of comic books, and…
2) My love for my dad, my real-life hero.
I based the character of Hal Creed, the protagonist’s father, on my own dad, and their relationship is the emotional spine of the novel. I’d always wanted to write about my relationship with him. Two people striving to find their place in the universe; two people, who for very different reasons, don’t feel they belong.
My father is a Vietnam War veteran and he won a Bronze Star for valor in the field, so he IS a real-life hero. But, that background made him very complicated. I can remember growing up I thought everyone’s dad went to fight in that war. It wasn’t until I was older, that reality set in and I realized almost everyone else’s father somehow avoided going to Vietnam. Fighting in that war, and how Dad was perceived upon his return, shaped a lot of who he is. Not necessarily in a great way. Times were different then, people didn’t talk about Vietnam; in fact, it made Dad feel very alienated, and now I can understand why. You can see the massive difference in the way we respect our veterans today – which is a good thing – and back then, culturally, Vietnam Vets were largely ignored; certainly not embraced. If anything, they were treated as pariahs. And yet, Dad overcame all those social stigmas to raise a very healthy, loving family. It’s remarkable, a real testament to his spiritual fortitude that he came out of that horrific war as well as he did. I can’t say I would have been able to.
In my case, I felt very alienated as a gay kid growing up in the conservative Christian South. Being gay was considered about as bad as anything could be, one step up from child-molester. I remember thinking my only alternative was to kill myself one day. It was very bleak. I had no one to relate to or talk to, and there were certainly few if any real-life gay heroes or role models to draw on for inspiration. So I wrote HERO in the hopes that Thom Creed could show the world that no matter who you are – gay or straight, black or white, old or young, big or small, — there is a HERO in all of us. Believe!
I was impressed that HERO was released as a young adult novel. Was that your decision or your publisher’s? Were there concerns the novel couldn’t be marketed to the teens because of the gay content?
I wrote the book entirely on my own, without any real notion of it ever being published. I certainly wanted to connect with a large audience, but I had no idea what would happen until I finished it and began shopping the book around. My wonderful agent, Merrilee Heifetz at Writer’s House, saw it as a young adult book, and there were a number of publishers who vied for the right to publish it. When I sat down with the whole team at Hyperion, there was never a question about the gay content. They loved the story, the book’s mission, and embraced its content. I consider myself very lucky to have Merrilee and Hyperion in my life. The book is reaching so many people due to their incredibly hard work, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
Were the scenes with Hal and Thom Creed difficult for you to write? How closely do their experiences parallel yours with your own father?
Wow, what a question. Yes, it was very hard to write some of the scenes between Thom and his father because they hit so close to home. Some of the conflicts were verbatim things that happened between me and my father when I was young. In fact, when I finally gathered the courage to give him the book to read (He was the last person in my family to read it, I was so nervous about his reaction to the book being published.), I remember word for word what he said when I called to ask him what he thought.
Dad was halfway through reading the book, and he said, “Perry, I wasn’t that much of a monster, was I?” “No, Dad,” I said, “Just keep reading.” And, he did. That final scene between Thom and his father is so heartbreaking and real, it’s hard for me to read it again sometimes. I get very choked up even when I think about it. Their relationship is so complicated, so hard-earned, so real. But like I said, my father is my real hero. Always has been. Always will be.
One of the funniest, and most realistic, scenes in the book was when Thom broke his father’s laptop looking at shirtless pictures of Uberman on the Internet. I’m surprised that his sexuality could be handled so frankly in a YA novel. Did you receive any objections from your editor or the publisher over that scene?
My incredible editor, the lovely and talented Alessandra Balzer at Hyperion, took no issue whatsoever with the sexual implications of the book. In reality, the book is very clean. Sorry folks, teens masturbate, they have fantasies. And, sure, the truth has a way of making some people feel uncomfortable (A teacher recently wrote to tell me how the book had been banned at he and his wife’s school in Hawaii, but it’s now flying off the shelves in the library because of it.) One of the messages of the book is that the truth will set you free. And it does, objections or no objections.
And, what about Thom’s first kiss with a man he picked up at a cruising spot? Even though the scene amounted to no more than a very sweet kiss, it does imply some risky behavior on Tom’s part. Why did you decide to include that potentially controversial scene?
I never considered that scene very controversial, just true. By then in the writing process, I was listening to the characters 100% of the time. This may sound strange when you’re writing fiction, but it’s true. You have to tell the truth. And this scene in the parking lot was the truth about what Thom was doing at that point in his journey. It’s very real. That’s all there is to it. Authenticity is everything. I learned that from reading and working with Narnia and CS Lewis: never talk down to young people. They’ll smell the insincerity a mile away.
Quite a few of Amazon.com’s reviewers mention Thom’s father because he’s so integral to the storyline, but I felt Thom’s invisible, chain-smoking mother was also a big factor in his journey. While she certainly wasn’t June Cleaver, she obviously loved her son very much. Who or what inspired her character?
Thanks for giving Thom’s mother a shout-out. She’s equally important to the story, even in her absence.
She’s not inspired by any one person in particular; unlike some of the other characters in the book. Scarlett, for instance, is largely inspired by my oldest, best friend from childhood, Bretta Zimmer Lewis. We’re still incredibly tight today. I spend every Christmas Eve with her. And, those who know her, recognize her in Scarlett right off the bat. In addition, Ruth is an amalgam of some very tough Southern women in my family who never minced words. But, Thom’s mother had no direct inspiration. She’s Thom’s mother; that’s it. (Although I’d love for Julianne Moore to play her in the movie.)
Don’t think things are over with Thom’s mother, either. When you can’t find a body, well, it’s awfully hard to determine whether the Invisible Woman died or not. She plays a MAJOR part in the SEQUELS. You’ll find out so much more about why she left, who she is, and what she’s been up to. There are so many more surprises in store for Thom to discover about his mother. I can’t wait to write them!
Your question is very keen and perceptive, because the more I thought about it, Thom’s mother was so far away from my own mom in almost every way. Still, there is a basic similarity, and I didn’t even realize it until well after I finished the book. Can you guess what it is? It has a lot to do with being invisible. My mom, one of the most caring women and most devout Christians on this planet kept her mouth shut when I was growing up and Dad would say such hateful things about gay people. She was so careful to raise her own children in a modern, open-minded way. But she let that stuff go, and it killed me. Every day, a little piece of me died whenever someone mentioned something about homosexuality. And there was no one around to un-demonize it for me. I truly feel this book can change things in that regard.
How has overall reception of HERO been? Considering all the furor over J.K. Rowling’s outing of Albus Dumbledore, I would think that now would be a very difficult time to have a young adult novel with a gay protagonist on the market.
HERO’s welcome reception has been off the chart! Its success has even surprised me. I thought it would be such a tough sell because of the subject matter, but it turns out people – and not just gay people – have been waiting for a story like this for a very long time. I couldn’t be more proud to be the first person to tell the story.
On another note, Thom Creed in HERO and Dumbledore from Harry Potter couldn’t be more different. Just because two male characters happen to be attracted to men doesn’t mean they’re anything alike. Could you imagine how silly it would have been for me to wait through multiple novels to reveal that Thom is gay? Still, I have enormous respect for what JK Rowling has done to ignite young imaginations and make reading a necessary and delightful part of growing up. And for a character in her series to be gay and it’s no big deal to her is fantastic. She’s a real-life hero of mine; I’d love to meet her one day.
You’re known primarily as the executive producer of the Chronicles of Narnia films. Plus, you recently wrote and directed Lake City starring Sissy Spacek. With all your film work, why did you decide to write HERO as a novel?
HERO burned a hole right out of me. It was a story that I HAD TO TELL. Nothing could have stopped me. No other work. That’s not to say that I’m anything other than fully passionate about my film work and the modest role I’ve played in bringing Narnia to the big screen. HERO is so deeply personal, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Connecting with audiences all over the world with HERO has been one of the greatest joys of my life, every bit as fulfilling as my work in the film business. I hope we get the chance to adapt it to the big screen. I can’t wait!
And, working with Sissy Spacek on Lake City was nothing short of phenomenal. I’m dying for that one to connect with audiences everywhere, too. My partner and I wrote and directed that one for our mothers: that story is every bit as personal, too. The next movie we wrote that we will direct is an intensely wild and smart supernatural thriller starring our good friend Rebecca Romijn, with whom we also worked for Lake City. She’s a brilliant actress, a stunningly beautiful person inside and out, and we all lived together when we made Lake City. The practical jokes were on all the time-oh, if those walls could talk! Can’t wait to do another movie with Rebecca.
Looking back now, are there any parts of HERO that you would change? Are there scenes that you might have written differently?
You really ask insightful questions. There is one specific subplot about Scarlett that I had to lose. I can’t tell you what it is, because I may save it for the sequel. But you can try to guess it. Write me at my website: perrymoorestories.com. I love personal feedback, and if you guess what it is, I’ll tell you on the site.
So, what’s next for Perry Moore? And, what about Thom and his Legion of Misfit Superheroes?
You can certainly look forward to the sequel to HERO. I am, for sure. I’ve already mapped it out, and it’s going to blow you away. Where Thom’s relationship goes with Goran, what happens to the team as they continue on their journey, and what Thom’s mother has really been up to. THERE ARE GOING TO BE SOME HAIR-RAISING SURPRISES IN THE SEQUEL TO HERO – GET READY! HOLD ON TO YOUR MASKS!
In the meantime, I’ve written another book, the first in another series. This next book is a bit younger, about trio of triplets, a girl and her two brothers who have to grow up entirely on their own, with a pack of ancient werewolves chasing them and a destiny to fulfill. I took a major page of inspiration from working with CS Lewis’ material for this new series. The first book will make you forget everything you ever thought you knew about werewolves, and for those willing to look a little deeper, underneath all the action is a parable of faith, the parable of the mustard seed in fact. I’m so excited about this book that I don’t want to give away anything else yet.
And Prince Caspian comes out May 16, 2008 in theaters everywhere. Get ready for this one, too, because it will knock your socks off. The action has been bumped up to a whole new level, and yet writer-director Andrew Adamson has actually enhanced the soul of the book and the spirit of the characters in doing so. There is such a joy in seeing the Pevensie family reunited and returned to Narnia. Will Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, and Georgie Henley are all back. And wait until you meet Prince Caspian Ben Barnes – he is a star, plain and simple. And, of course, there’s Aslan. Even when things appear to be at their bleakest, there’s always Aslan.
After you see the movie, you just want to go back to Narnia again. And we’ll be working on the third installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, hopefully commencing principal photography next Fall. Thank you Walden Media, Disney, Doug Gresham (CS Lewis’ stepson, producer, and the great protector of Narnia’s integrity), and Andrew Adamson, the most brilliant director I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with-the cast, the crew, the story, it’s every bit as magical as the first movie!
Please write me at perrymoorestories.com if you want to know anything else.
And, always aim high. There is a HERO in all of us!