Perry Moore is the executive producer of the Chronicles of Narnia films, author of a book about making The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, author and director (with his partner, Hunter Hill) of the feature film, Lake City starring Sissy Spacek, and author of Hero, his first novel. Hero is a book intended for young adults, males or females, males who are gay and/or anyone who just doesn’t feel like they fit in for one reason or another. It is an action packed story about Thom Creed, an athletic gay high school student who develops super-hero powers. It begins on the high school basketball court and moves into the community where Thom finds himself fighting one crime after the other. Hero is also a love story. As Thom becomes more confident about his sexuality he lusts after various people and then finally falls in love with Goran.
YALSA: Perry, before we get started I just want to say congratulations on winning the Lambda award for Hero. You must be very excited knowing that your work has made such an impression in the LGBT community.
MOORE: Great question to start with. Just like Thom longs to find his place in the universe, I think we all do.
Winning the Lambda, receiving over four thousand e-mails from fans who’ve been touched by the book, all of that makes me feel like somehow I count in the grand scheme of things. And, let me tell you, it’s a lesson in humility. Because unless you write something above the stratosphere of “successful” into the category of mega-successful, you don’t do this type of work for the money. You do it for the reason you touch on with your question. In Hero‘s case, I wrote it to show that gay, straight, black, white, old, young, big, or small, we can all be heroes. With the gay media I was seeing especially, I wanted a young male gay superhero who was the star of his own story – I’d craved to read it, but I’d never seen it done before – and I wanted to show that you can be a male gay hero without the story having to end in tragedy. (Though, come to think of it, there are some deeply felt moments at the end of the book!).
Thanks for the shout-out about the Lambda – you know they have no category in GLAAD which gets all the big press for books, I don’t really know why. Still, I consider winning the Lambda, and being an ALA Top Ten of the Year, two of the greatest honors I could ever achieve. Made me realize my true dreams of connecting with an audience came true! And that’s a bigger reward than any amount of money or fame a work could bring you. Giving someone hope, inspiring someone to be a real hero. That’s what it’s all about.
YALSA: Perry, this interview is being posted to a blog designed for librarians who deliver services to adolescents and teens so I would ike to talk with you about your work, but also a little about your relationship with libraries. In your book about making The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe you talk about your mother taking you to the library every week. Can you tell us more about the role of the library in your life as you were growing up?
MOORE: Like most families, we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, so my mother took us to the library at least twice a week (which was, except for the price of a library card, free). I learned to read my first book there: Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. And I was always a big fan of storytime because they usually read books I wouldn’t have picked on my own, but ended up enjoying nonetheless.
When I was in 2nd grade my mother, Nancy Moore, of Virginia Beach, VA, gave me The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to read. I remember drawing out visions of the battle scenes wth friends at school. There was simply nothing cooler. I also remember it was the first book I’d ever read where I’d notice that I’d passed the page-100 milestone. I thought, wow, I can read anything! And I spent the rest of my life doing just that.
Comic books came into my life about two years later. My dad brought me some home from the drugstore when I was sick. From there, I was hooked. I had a tight group of friends and every Friday we’d save our allowance money and go to the comic book shop and buy our books. Mom says she loved it because we’d get home, race upstairs, and then you wouldn’t hear a peep from us for about two to three hours as we read and re-read every issue. I am so nostalgic for that time in some ways …
YALSA: As a young adult, you, like most of us, struggled with your sexuality. You are now openly gay. In your novel Hero, the protagonist, Thom, is also gay. Would you say Thom’s experiences with homophobia in his community were typical of the kinds of experiences you had when you were in high school? Can you think of anything librarians can do to help teens facing homophobia? Can you think of anything librarians can do to make the library a more welcoming place for everyone?
MOORE: Wow, you asked a ton of important questions. First, yes, I did struggle with my sexuality, growing up in the south. In Hero, Hal is an allegorized version of my dad, a Bronze Star decorated Vietnam Veteran. On rare occasion, some folks will ask me, ‘hey, don’t you think things have gotten better?’ From the letters I’ve received from students in this position, I would say yes and no. Yes, in that they have an outlet: they can talk to me. But no, in the sense that you still can’t name a popular American male athlete who is gay. Some come out after retirement, but wouldn’t it be great for young gay men to have someone in the field of sports to look up to?
To answer some of your other questions, I am a firm believer that education is the answer to everything. My very first book talk ever when Hero came out was at the American Librarian Convention in DC. I had just flown in from LA. That was my favorite talk because this audience was devoted to getting young people to read! These were the very people who’d offered me a safe haven to explore that which I didn’t even understand about myself when I was young.
So, here are my specific suggestions for librarians:
First, use the book, Hero. And I’ll tell you why. I received this wonderful letter from a student who came out to his sister and then to his family BY GIVING THEM HERO to read! Saying the words, “I’m gay,” can be so hard.
I wrote Hero in response to a trade of books between me and my dad. He never, practically NEVER, spoke about Vietnam. Wasn’t until I was packing at age twenty to move to DC to work as an intern in the White House that I found in an old suitcase a shoebox of pictures he’d taken and saved from Vietnam. There was a set of pictures so disturbing and graphic and gory that I lost hours staring at these photos. Then dad caught me staring at the secret stash. Dad has mellowed so much with age. The anger he came home with and had no outlet for, he’s learned to open up in a healthy way. So instead of flying into a rage, he explained the graphic photos were shots of his camp which was overrun by the enemy one night. He survived. (I think that’s how he won his Bronze Star). But I had so many questions for him. I wanted to know what the experience was like for him on a personal level. He responded by handing me a book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. He said, ‘Son, if you want to understand what it was like for me and for hundreds of thousands, read this book.’ So I read it, and was obsessed. (One of my filmmaking dreams is to turn that Tim O’Brien book into a movie, cable or theatrical, I don’t care, as long as they let us tell the REAL story). So I wrote Hero to let him know – despite the often fantastic nature of the story – what it was like to grow up gay.
Because of this, and because of Hyperion/Disney’s excellent teacher’s guide to Hero, I truly believe the book should be the one that librarians, teachers, and guidance counselors recommend for kids struggling with their sexuality to give to their loved ones. And I firmly believe the book should be taught in schools. Growing up, we read books that detailed in first person what it was like to grow up outside of the main stream of culture, but there was not a specific book about growing up gay. I have heard from many of the people who have written in – parents and students – that they believe Hero is actually the best book with a gay protagonist they’ve read that they think straight students will equally enjoy. I consider this one of the greatest compliments.
I would also suggest an LGBT History week or month, where you focus on certain books like Hero. Perhaps even discussions, or guest speakers. I’d be happy to come on in and be a speaker!
YALSA: I like the idea of an LGBT History week! Thanks Perry.
Perry, when I first read your novel, it struck me as being almost like reading a comic book without the pictures. I later read your interview with Gustines (2007) in the New York Times, in which you talk about comic books and your concerns about how gay characters are treated in them. I understand you even went so far as to protest with post it notes?
MOORE: Gosh, you know the first two things that come to mind about that article are one, George Gustines is almost solely responsible for bringing the medium of comic books, graphic novels, and superhero literature to the masses. George is one of my heroes. Two, that is the worst picture of me in that article ever taken. Ever. Yes, I’ll admit I’m vain. Whoa, that was a bad photo.
YALSA: For what it’s worth, I think you looked great.
MOORE: I did compile a list, inspired by one of my favorite comic writers, Gail Simone, who had done a similar list about the mistreatment of women in comic books. I decided to do the research after Northstar, Marvel’s first out superhero (who still had yet to have a boyfriend), and his death in three different comic books, the most offensive of which to me took place in the pages of Wolverine and its “Enemy of the State” storyline. I mean, the guy’s powers are superspeed. He could have dodged the claws.
But Wolverine is Marvel’s most popular (and one-note and overused, in my modest opinion) characters, and I thought that sent a message that Marvel’s most prominent gay character was just a “Red Shirt” (a Star Trek term for disposable character whose sole purpose in the story is to get killed to further along the plot). I was so horrified that yes, I did do the post its. But my list of the treatment of LGBT characters I hope will become laughable one day, as readers of different shapes and sizes demand heros and villains – heck, just interesting characters – who represent all sorts of interesting people. I saw a tremendous dearth in the representation of LGBT characters in comics, and those who made it were either footnotes or mistreated.
Something great came out of it though. I begged Allan Heinberg to make Wiccan and Hulkling boyfriends in the pages of Young Avengers. And the brave Allen Heinberg did it! Hulkling was originally slated to be a female.
In retrospect, I didn’t even need to write the post its – which are not permanent – you can just take them off if you want. Hero said it all. The list was really just meant as a tool to get folks to read Hero. I was surprised that some comic fans read and commented on the list without Hero. That’s the cart without the horse!
By the way, it’s too bad young adult readers don’t read George Gustines’ columns in the Times. They should – he has a lot of great books to turn then onto!
YALSA: So, it was comics that influenced the way you wrote Hero/helped you decide to give Thom super hero powers?
MOORE: Most superhero teams have heavy-hitters. I wanted to start off with a character who had powers that wouldn’t necessarily be the ones you’d pick if you asked a group of students, “If you could have a superpower, which would you pick?” (Probably won’t get a lot of answers that involve healing.) I like to pose another question to the readers or potential readers of the book: why do you think Thom is given the powers of healing? And furthermore, why is it that you think those powers evolve as the book progresses? And yes, my love of comics fueled the way I wrote Hero in many ways. Especially the action sequences.
YALSA: It is interesting that the theme of the hero also runs throughout the Narnia tales – the fantasy of another world in which young people have power and influence. Do you think the Narnia tales might also have influenced your writing of Hero?
MOORE: Oh yes, indeed, very perceptive of you. Just wait until you read my next book, Way of the Wolf, Book One: Fire. Reading that book, plus Hero, plus what I learned from working on the Narnia movies shows that I will probably always write – in one form or another – about the empowerment of young people.
YALSA: I really enjoyed reading Hero and I think it is a must read for any young adult who feels like they don’t fit in. I especially like the fact that the entire book is in Thom’s voice. Often people who are not considered a part of the main stream of society in some way have been silenced, but you spoke to that issue by giving your protagonist a voice. Was it a conscious decision on your part to make Thom the narrator?
MOORE: You ask the best questions. Man, I struggled with this, whether to write Hero in the first or third person. In fact I wrote the first section in both first person and then the same section in third person. From there, I had no question. First person came so naturally to me. Seemed more personal to me. Like a good friend was sitting you down to tell you his story from his own slanted point of view. So yes, it was a very conscious, hard-wrought decision to make Thom the narrator. But I like the way it turned out. Because Thom – and not me – is the HERO. And I think his first person narrative helps emphasize that point. And I hope that makes the book read more intimate. Like you’re walking a mile in Thom’s boots and basketball shoes.
YALSA: Yes, I think you were successful with the voice. I think it is more intimate in first person than it would have been in third.
Perry, it sounds like you have a lot of fun naming your characters – I am thinking of “Uberman” (the man Thom lusts after) in particular. How did you come up with the names?
MOORE: I had two points with the names. You’ll notice the older generations of heroes have names that are thinly veiled homages to all the big-time heroes we know and love. I deliberatley named the group of newer heroes – especially Thom’s motley crew of probationaires – with much more original names. I hope that point comes across, because I believe it can be a lot of fun when you read the book with that in mind. Typhoid Larry? What a joy it was when I came up with his name! A far cry from Superman or Wonder Woman.
YALSA: Rumor has it that Marvel is going to create a comic book based on your novel. Is it true?
MOORE: Wow, I hope it’s true. The head of publishing at Disney made me an offer at a Disney publishing party during the holiday season, but you never know. It could easily have been cocktail chatter, or it could have been real… But make no mistake, my incredible book agent, Merrilee Heifetz of Writer’s House, had the good sense to reserve rights for us to write Hero as a comic book or a graphic novel. I truly hope fans will urge their favorite publishers – including Marvel – to embrace the project. I’m dying to write it in that format! It would be such a labor of love.
YALSA: Andrew Adamson, the director of the Narnia Chronicles, also worked on the animated Shrek films. Have you ever thought about asking him to help create your own animated film adaptation of Hero?
MOORE: Of course I’ve dreamt of Andrew taking Hero and doing that with it! Andrew, please! I gave him and the young cast of Narnia a copy of the book to read when it was in ARC’s. The young cast was so complimentary. Andrew had his hands full with directing the giant sequel known as “Prince Caspian”, so we talked more about that project than we ever did about Hero. Maybe I’ll write him and ask him about considering it. I do know that Andrew is focusing on writing his own stuff, so look out world, Andrew is quite a talent, with quite a track record. I don’t have anything like that, but I would be truly honored for his or any other experienced director’s consideration.
YALSA: Are you working on a sequel? What are you working on now?
MOORE: Saving the world. One book, one movie at a time …
Seriously, next two things up.
First, my next book, Way of the Wolf, Book One: Fire. It is an epic tale of triplets who inherit two grand powers and an awesome responsibility to save the Earth from a villain, the Trickster (who rivals the White Witch herself, because these books are only as good as the villain). The protagonist, the middle girl, discovers that she has control over fire … and her brothers have control over the other elements. With the exception of earth, that’s a big surprise for th end of the book. Oh and did I mention that I rewrite the entire mythos of the werewolf?! (I love mythology, researching it, playing with it!) I’m really pleased with the results.
Next up, sequel to Hero.
And somewhere in there is a major movie that my partner Hunter and I will direct starring Julianne Moore, a fine writer herself (Freckleface Strawberry, which reminds me so much of my little sister, Jane.) That will be a 66 Production, with our partner, my muse Allison Sarofim, producing, and it will be pure joy.
Aim for your dreams. Work hard enough, and eventually they can come true.
And then maybe teaching one day … or becoming a volunteer in a library. If I ever made it really really big, that would be my one big cause -revitalizing all libraries. They were my refuge growing up, and we still need them now more than ever!
YALSA: Thank you Perry. You are such a pleasure to interview. I can’t think of any other questions at the moment, is there anything else you would like to say to librarians who serve young adults?
MOORE: PLEASE WRITE ME at firstname.lastname@example.org. May take a little bit, but I WILL write you back It’s my favorite part of the job, connecting with readers.
YALSA: Thank you Perry, for doing this interview. I can’t wait for your next book!
MOORE: Thank YOU, Nancy, for caring. And keep reminding your students that there’s a HERO in each and every one of them. BELIEVE!