Wesley Eure, |
The Red Wings of Christmas
with an interview by Tom Knapp,
Wesley Eure is probably best known for romping with dinosaurs and the insect-like sleestak on the defunct, live-action Saturday morning series, Land of the Lost. Ronald Pailillo is remembered for classroom hijinks and an annoying, whiney laugh on the old prime-time smash, Welcome Back, Kotter.
Eure's Will Marshall and Pailillo's Arnold Horshack have been relegated to reruns. But this unlikely duo has joined forces to create a new Christmas tale called The Red Wings of Christmas. Pailillo provided the illustrations and Eure wrote the story.
Eure, also known for eight years as Michael Horton on Days of Our Lives, a brief stint on Totally Hidden Video, and two years hosting Nickelodeon's Finders Keepers, has fond memories of his days as a pre-Jurassic Park dinosaur dodger. "It was the best job in the world," he said during a telephone interview. "It was every boy's fantasy."
The actor didn't plan to go into writing. "I had an idea for a story," he said. "Children's writing found me."
Eure said it struck him several years ago during a performance of The Nutcracker in New York City. "I said to myself, 'I've seen this so many times, I wish there was another Christmas story for ballet,'" he recalled. "I sat down and started writing. Four days straight. My hands were so cramped, but I couldn't stop writing."
Immediately hailed by critics as an American classic, the story was quickly optioned for animated film rights (and is due for a big-screen release in December 2001). Eure has narrated the tale on cassette. And several American and European ballet companies are looking into stage adaptations.
The large, colorfully illustrated book is not for beginning readers. Its 172 pages are packed with text, which may daunt the younger set. But anyone up to the level of The Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew should have no trouble with Red Wings, which would also make a nice installment series for reading aloud.
"It's a great bedtime story," Eure said. "It's 30 chapters, but they're tiny chapters."
A child's interest can be easily kept alive by Eure's whizzing action and realistic dialogue. Both aspects, he said, were probably helped by his acting experience. "I'm an actor, so I think orally," he said. "I rely heavily on characters and dialogue."
When he writes, he said, he doesn't see words in his head. "It is a movie to me. It is a ballet."
Paolillo has been struggling since his Sweathog days to escape the Horshack stereotype. An artist as well as an actor, he was approached by Eure to provide the visual side of Red Wings. The full-page illustrations are nicely detailed, somewhat reminiscent of old English woodcuts. "It was going to be just black and white, but Ron colored one of the pictures thinking it might be the cover," Eure said. "The publisher saw it and said they all had to be in color."
The book's protagonist is a boy named Albert, who Eure admitted is very much like himself at that age. Albert's adventures take place almost entirely inside Santa's sack, a world of broken toys and, somewhat surprisingly, a band of Christmas killjoys called the Grablies. "As a kid, I wondered about Santa's sack," Eure said. "There must be a gazillion toys in there."
The story begins with Albert only 1 year old. His cradle is swept from his mother's arms and overboard during a 19th-century sea voyage. He is kept alive, first by a maternal tern, then by an English washerwoman. Fantastic rescue aside, Alfred's story is fairly mundane -- even miserable -- until the washerwoman's death six years later. Now homeless and hungry on a frigid Christmas Eve, he finds refuge in the unlikeliest of places: Santa's fallen toy sack, which was swept from his sleigh by a gust of wind. It is there where Albert discovers a fairytale world of living toys, and the real story begins.
Mistaken for a toy himself, Albert is swept up in holiday intrigue and an effort to save Christmas. "I got to know the characters as I wrote them," Eure said. "At each turn in the book I tried to make it as difficult for the characters to proceed as I could. Then I let them figure out how to get out of it."
The title, he said, is from a Christmasy belief in eternal toys. "No toy ever dies," he explained. "When a toy breaks, its heart breaks in two." The broken heart unfurls into wings which fly the toy back to Santa's sack, where it is repaired and given new life with another child.
Eure, who has a few humor books to his credit and is recently finished four new picture books, still isn't sure he has what it takes to be a writer. "I don't know if I'm a good writer or not," he said. "I think it's a good story -- no, I know it's a good story. Whether or not I wrote it well is up to the reader to decide."
[ by Tom Knapp ]