I read (and LOVED) Daniel McInerny’s Kingdom of Patria books (reviewed at CatholicMom.com a while back) and couldn’t resist the chance to interview him.
Tell us a little about yourself, Daniel.
I am the husband of the beautiful and talented Amy McInerny and the father of three adorable and perfect (so say their grandparents) children: two teenage girls, Lucy and Rita, and a son, Francis, who is twelve.
I grew up the last of my parents’ seven children in South Bend, Indiana, and, after graduating from the University of Notre Dame (BA English, 1986), I fell in with a bad crowd and eventually obtained a PhD in philosophy from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
I spent some 17 years in academia, teaching and working at various universities, including the University of Notre Dame, but in the spring of 2011 I decided to pursue a dream long deferred of launching out on my own as a writer. That’s when I founded my children’s entertainment company, Trojan Tub Entertainment, which features my humorous Kingdom of Patria stories for middle grade readers. My family and I now live in Virginia.
What inspired you to start writing?
My first and best inspiration was my late father, Ralph McInerny, an award-winning author of both literary fiction and mysteries. I started imitating my father as soon as I was able to balance on the spare stool in his basement office and bang away on his old Royal typewriter.
My first published work was the thrilling Danny and the Monsters, which I self-published around the age of six or seven with loose leaf paper and my mother’s stapler. The skin-creeping pictures of Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the Werewolf, are all from my own hand. This book was quickly followed by Island at War, an epic tale which had to do, if memory serves, with an island and a war. I remember enjoying drawing the bullets flying through the air. The hero was a soldier named General Danny, who had been promoted due to his success in the previous encounter with the monsters.
Since then I’ve continued to write fiction, but only in 2011 did I decide to launch a career as an independent author-entrepreneur.
What’s an “author-entrepreneur”?
In general, the name refers to any author looking to make a living through his work. But for me, the name refers in particular to authors seeking to make the most of the new digital media and distribution channels (like Amazon) to market their work.
Your Kingdom of Patria series for middle grade readers caught my imagination. You have built a world. Where did you get the idea?
Some years ago, when my two daughters were small, I was reading Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, where Tolkien is quoted as saying something to the effect that, in imagining a new world, it was important for him (the professional linguist) to start with a name. So, for example, he began with the strange name “hobbit,” and extrapolated an entire mythological universe from there. That very night, in telling a bedtime story to my girls, I copied Tolkien, inventing the name “Twillies” for a microscopic guild of fairies who minister to their princess in various ways by helping disentangle her hair, keeping soap bubbles out of her eyes in the bath, etc. In continuing to tell “Twillies” stories I elaborated upon the world that eventually became the Kingdom of Patria.
At that beginning, in these family bedtime stories, Patria was a magical world, deeply indebted (I believe the more usual word is stolen) from the imaginations of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. But as I began to think about how to approach a written version of my Patria stories, I found myself increasingly disinterested in writing about a magical world. I suppose I was afraid of writing clichés. But I also became very much attracted to the idea of a fantastic world that, given a rather wacky alternative take on history, is very much part of our world. That idea is at the very heart of what Patria is today. Nonetheless, it took me a long time to bring this new world of Patria into focus. Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits, the first book in the Patria series, was begun in earnest about three years ago, and only completed in the summer of 2011. The sequel, Stoop of Mastodon Meadow, was published in March, 2012.
Twillies, by the way, being magical creatures, were left on the cutting room floor in the re-imagining of Patria. But my daughters still miss them intensely. Perhaps there will be an occasion to work them into the series later on, to introduce the magical element. But at present I’m very happy exploring Patria as a tiny kingdom hidden in the midst of contemporary northern Indiana.
For what age range are the Patria books?
The Patria series is in what is called the “middle grade” genre, which means their target audience is children ages approximately 8 to 13. But as read-alouds, the books can skew even a little younger–and, hopefully, older!
Where do folks find the Patria books?
The books exist as both print and ebooks. Those requiring the bound mass of dried tree-pulp can simply go to Amazon to find both Patria books. Those who want the ebooks can find them at Amazon, barnesandnoble.com, iTunes, and Kobo.
How would you describe the “tone” of the Patria books?
I am a great fan of the comic stories of P.G. Wodehouse. In praising Wodehouse’s tales of feckless bachelors and wise butlers, Evelyn Waugh spoke of Wodehouse as creating a “fairy tale” world. It occurred to me that it would be fun to turn Waugh’s comment on its head and set out to create a fairy tale world that aspired to be as comical as the books of Wodehouse.
My Patria stories are first and foremost meant to be laugh-out-load funny. Their plots revolve around adventure and mystery, but the tone is always light and fluffy. Their humor owes a lot to Wodehouse, but also to that of Roald Dahl, as well as J.K. Rowling in the more whimsical portions of the Harry Potter books.
One of my reviewers on Amazon compared Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits to the film version of Ian Fleming’ children’s novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I like that comparison. Rob Reiner’s film, The Princess Bride, from a script by William Goldman, also masterfully hits the tone I am striving for.
Tell us about the companion Kingdom of Patria website.
I do hope your audience will come visit us in Patria–they can do so by clicking here. At the Kingdom of Patria they’ll find free Patria short stories in both text and audio, clubs for kids to join (for boys, the Illustrious Order of Knights of the Blue Sock; for girls, Madame Mimi’s Well-Ordered School for Ill-Mannered Girls), blogs by each of the three main characters (Oliver Stoop, Princess Rose, and Prince Farnsworth), an interactive map of Patria, and more.
Are there more Patria books coming? (Please say yes!)
Yes! Oui! Certo! Da!
The third book in the Patria series will be released later this year. It’s next in the queue after I finish the novel I’m currently writing for adults.
Novel for adults? So tell us about your other writing.
Last year I published my first novel for adults, a darkly comic thriller entitled High Concepts: A Hollywood Nightmare, available exclusively on Amazon as an ebook. I also write screenplays. My very first screenplay, in fact, earned me representation from an agent in Los Angeles (though alas, no sale).
And you blog, too, right?
Yes. I’ve just started a literary blog entitled The Comic Muse, which your audience can find by clicking here. Those interested in the craft of fiction, as well as literary and publishing industry discussion, including indie publishing, will want to check it out. I also serve as a consultant for writers and those seeking to independently publish their work. Anyone interested in those services can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So what’s your “day job”? How does it impact, inspire, and influence your writing?
I have my own business as a freelance writer, which includes my fiction and The Comic Muse, as well as various other projects, mainly in the Catholic world. For instance, I am on the editorial board of the exciting new Catholic site, Aleteia. My most recent piece was on Pope Benedict’s abdication.
My nonfiction writing and philosophical interests impact my fiction in subtle but sure ways. To take one example, I don’t think I would have ever imagined Patria the way it is if I hadn’t read Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas on the best kind of political arrangement and G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc on distributist economics. Not that these thinkers are ever discussed in the Patria books! (Though, now that I think of it, a book called The Lost Dialogues of Aristotle does play a key role in Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits.)
What’s your “secret weapon” as a writer?
Humor. If I’m not writing something that’s laugh out loud funny, or at least a sly, satiric dig at contemporary mores, my teeth begin to itch and I know I’m going off on an unfruitful tangent.
In terms of the practice of being a writer, I love my father’s favorite adage: “A writer is someone who writes.” That’s an unromantic, lunch pail, craftsman’s take on what it means to be a writer, and I think it’s the best advice that any writer can begin with and return to.
When it comes to entire books on the craft of writing, I like Dorothea Brande’s Becoming A Writer, Stephen King’s On Writing, Robert McKee’s Story, and Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners.
Thanks, Daniel, for joining me today! How can folks find you online if they care to?
Easy-peasy, Sarah. Besides coming to visit the Kingdom of Patria, folks should feel free to drop by the Trojan Tub Entertainment Facebook page (and give it a “Like” if you like). Folks can also keep abreast of the news from Patria by following along on Twitter: @kingdomofpatria. I also maintain a Twitter account for my journalistic and other activities: @danielmcinerny. Don’t forget, too, The Comic Muse.
Now, how does one get front row tickets to the new play at Patria’s Blackrobe Theater? I hear it’s sold out.
The Blackrobe’s acting company is called The King’s Men, Two Ladies, and Their Dog, and Supminster “Soupy” Chatterbox, one of the actors, is a great friend of mine. I think I’ll be able to wangle some tickets out of him.
Thanks so much, Sarah!
Sarah Reinhard’s a Catholic wife, mom, and author whose nose is probably in a book if she’s not scraping something off of her shoes. Her latest book is A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism and she’s online at SnoringScholar.com.
Visit Sarah’s blog: http://SnoringScholar.com/
Check out her books: http://SnoringScholar.com/my-books/
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