Gleeks know him as Kurt Hummel on Fox’s Glee, but Chris Colfer is more than a SAG- and Golden Globe-winning actor. Today marks the release of his first novel, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, a modern fairytale for aimed at readers ages 8 and up. Colfer—who also wrote the screenplay and will star in the upcoming indie film Struck by Lightening—visits Chicago Thursday 19– Saturday 21 for three book signings to promote the book.
The Land of Stories tells the story of 12-year-old twins who embark on a magical adventure and marathon scavenger hunt in a fairytale world. Looking for an escape after their father’s death, and the twins find it when they fall into their grandmother’s book of fairytales. We recently talked with Colfer about his debut novel and the upcoming season of Glee, which begins on September 13.
You’re best known for your role as Kurt Hummel on Glee, but over ther past few years you also wrote a screenplay and now you’re publishing your first novel. How do you juggle it all?
Oh, I don’t know. I think that’s the biggest mystery to myself. I devote a lot of time to it and luckily for me, I love every minute of it. I’m very, very thankful.
So which is your biggest passion–writing, singing or acting?
You know, it’s all the same to me because it’s all storytelling. Whether I’m in front of the camera, behind the camera, at my computer writing a novel or a screenplay, as long as I get to entertain someone out there, I’m happy. I really, really enjoyed this whole The Land of Stories process so much. I’ve been very fortunate in everything else I’ve ever done—I’ve always had help—but with The Land of Stories it’s completely 100 percent me, and I’ve had to supply the audience with every single word and detail in the story. It’s very, very fulfilling and nerve-racking.
What inspired you to write a children’s book?
It was a promise I made to myself when I was 10. When I was very, very young—like six, seven or eight-years-old—I came up with the story and really, really wanted to write it. The story had worked wonders for me because it was really such an amazing escape. I was in the hospital as a kid; there was a lot of stuff that was going on that was worth escaping. So I really used the story as a sort of therapeutic way to escape all that and decided then that I really wanted to write the book and hopefully get it out to other kids who need an escape, who need to go on an adventure for a few hours in a book. I promised myself then that one day I knew I would [find] an opportunity to write it, and here I am.
Tell us about the story’s two protagonists, Alex and Connor? Do they each have a little piece of you?
I think Alex and Connor are me exactly. They are absolutely me in every sense. They represent kind of the two traits of my personality. Alex is my people pleasing, bookworm, smart good side, and Connor is my sarcastic, funny, doesn’t-give-a-crap side.
You put so many interesting twists on classic characters, like making Red Riding Hood vain and Goldilocks an outlaw. Were those also elements you imagined when you were 10-years-old?
Absolutely. I think when I was younger I so desperately wanted those stories to continue that I thought, “Ok, how would they logically continue?” Goldilocks was easy because sometimes when a person has a troubled past they lead a life of crime, so it was fun to think about what laws she’s breaking in the present day. With Red Riding Hood, I definitely took that for a little bit of a spin and made up this whole revolution with peasants revolting against the country because the wolves were attacking. They put Red Riding Hood on a pedestal and claimed her to be kind of the symbol of their struggle. Naturally, she would become a very vain, selfish person after that. Also, I never thought Red Riding Hood was very bright. Here’s a girl walking through a forest where she knows they are wolves, wearing a bright red jacket, talking to strangers. And when she gets to her grandmother’s house she can’t even recognize a wolf in drag? She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.
We learn a lot about the villain of the story, the Evil Queen. Why did you decide to tell the her side of the story?
I think it’s a story that’s never been told. We’ve always heard the stories of Cinderella, Snow White and the Evil Queen from the storyteller’s perspective, of how the world saw them and what the world thought of them. Being a part of Glee, I was made out to be this Cinderella story myself, and I agreed with it, but I felt like people thought that for many of the wrong reasons. A lot of people would say to me, “So Chris, you were bullied in high school and now you’re famous, so you’ve had a Cinderella story.” And I’d think, “What? Are you kidding?” Fame is not a solution. I’m a Cinderella story because I was in an unfortunate situation, and now I’m in a place where I get to do what I love. I think all of those elements inspired me to tell the story from her point of view.
Bullying came up several times in the book, and you’ve mentioned you were bullied in high school. How can do you think we can culturally combat the problem?
First of all, let me say, I hate the word bullying. I can’t stand it. I really feel like bullying is a childish world. It’s harassment. It’s physical and emotional abuse. I really wish it were called that.
The best way that I dealt with harassment, bullying, whatever it’s called, was just daydreaming and setting goals for myself and focusing on those goals and making sure I wasn’t going to stop until I’d gotten there. But as far as a solution for kids nowadays, I think part of it lies with the teachers at school and the adults in their lives. When I was in high school, I never would have thought to go to a counselor or a teacher about being bullied because it was all about discipline. They were there to give kids detention and punish them, but I never once thought that they would help me with anything. I feel like a factor in getting control of this situation is making sure adults make themselves available to kids.
There are lots of messages in the book about staying true to yourself and being understanding of others. Are there any others you hope readers take away?
I tried sprinkling as many morals and lessons as I could. But I think the biggest thing I want is for people to walk away feeling fulfilled because they’ve experienced an adventure with these kids.
Will we see any sequels to The Land of Stories in the future?
Yes, I’m writing the second one as we speak. I was really, really excited, of course, for the first one. I almost expected this huge relief to come after I finished it, but now I think I’m so excited for the second one that it completely [creates] that need to write again.
What about a screenplay? Are we going to see The Land of Stories on the big screen?
I don’t know. We’ll see. I really want this book to be a book for a while. I really hate the idea that a book, for it to have its full lifespan, has to be turned into a movie. I would much rather the book be around for the while and there be an established audience who wants to see a movie, rather than a movie just be made and shoved down people’s throat.
The Land of Stories audio book will also be out on July 17. What was that process like?
I recorded the audio book, and it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do because there were 70 different speaking characters. I tried to do a different voice or nuance in my voice for every character. It was rough. I recorded it over two weekends while I was filming Glee, so I had to read 110 pages a day. It was a crazy experience.
The new season of Glee is strats in September. Many viewers were shocked when your character, Kurt, wasn’t accepted to the perfomring arts school NYADA. What’s in store for Kurt this season?
I am still mad about that. I’m upset with that because, I mean personally, it’s like I wore these tight gold pants for nothing.
They were pretty tight.
Oh my god, don’t get me started. I will say for the record that when I was in my trailer or costume department trying on those gold pants, they did not seem that tight in those rooms. But as soon as I got on stage with that lighting, they looked like they were tights.
Have your copy of The Land of Stories signed at 7pm on Thurs 19 at Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W Jefferson, Naperville; 7pm onFri 20 at Barnes & Noble, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie; and 1pm on Sat 21 at Barbara’s Bookstore in Macy’s, 111 N State St.