As he neared “The End” of the fourth volume in his bestselling The Land of Stories series, author Chris Colfer had an epiphany.
“I just knew I wasn’t done,” said Colfer, who gained famed for his portrayal of Kurt Hummel on the hit TV series Glee. “I started to get so depressed as I was finishing what was supposed to be the last book that I asked my editor if I could write another one.”
Sure, said Little, Brown’s Alvina Ling. In fact, she ordered two more installments. The fifth, An Author’s Odyssey, publishes July 12 and will be supported by a 10-city tour. The sixth will follow in July 2017.
But there’s more. What began in 2012 as a two-book deal has now grown into a nine-book (and counting), multi-format series, in which siblings Alex and Connor tumble into the land of fairy tales, which is a far cry from the setting described in their storybook. The books have been translated into 19 languages, with more than two million copies sold in the U.S. alone.
In October, Little, Brown will release a companion, The Land of Stories: A Treasury of Classic Fairy Tales, which will contain 30 full-color illustrations by Brandon Dorman, who also did the artwork for Colfer’s novels and picture book The Curvy Tree. The deluxe gift book will contain a collection of 24 fairy tales, designed to replicate the Fairy-Tale Treasury book that started Colfer’s main characters, Alex and Conner, on their adventures in the first book. Additionally, The Mother Goose Diaries and Queen Red Riding Hood’s Guide to Royalty, which were first published in a boxed set in 2015, will be available individually for the first time in July 2017.
It’s pretty impressive for the 26-year-old California native, who loved having stories read to him as a child, but had trouble reading himself. “It’s never been diagnosed but dyslexia runs in my family, so that might have been part of it. But also, I write pretty hysterical e-mails that are missing like 15 words. It might be some kind of actual disorder but I prefer to think of it as having my own special language,” Colfer said.
He fell in love with fairytales listening to his mother read them aloud. He could not get enough. “I would ask her all kinds of questions about the characters and their motives. I wanted the back story,” Colfer recalls. “And my mom wouldn’t have the answers. Finally she said, ‘Why don’t you write your own fairy tales?’ ”
Colfer did try – the series opener, The Wishing Spell, is dedicated to his grandmother, whom he calls his first editor and who told him, “Christopher, I think you should wait until you finish elementary school before worrying about being a failed writer.” It was during those elementary school years that Colfer was often expected to entertain himself because his younger sister had a “very rare and awful form of epilepsy” that required the majority of his parents’ attention. “Writing or even just thinking up stories was wonderful therapy for me, then and now,” Colfer said. “Whenever I am overwhelmed or sad or mad, I retreat to writing. This series has been an escape for me.”
Still, Colfer says he didn’t show any precocious literary talent as a child. “I don’t think any of my teachers would have said ‘He’s going to be a writer.’ They might have said I had a good imagination, but I think they all expected me to stick with performing arts.”
Colfer is still performing: he will appear in the forthcoming Absolutely Fabulous film, based on the British TV series, and will guest star on Julie’s Greenroom, a new Netflix series for preschoolers created by Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, featuring puppets from the Jim Henson Company, which is scheduled to start airing in 2017. He admits that after Glee he needed a break. “Even people in the industry don’t quite understand how grueling the schedule was. It’s one thing to shoot a new episode of an hour-long TV show every week, but we were in constant rehearsal to learn new songs, new dances, new performances,” Colfer said. “I’m still tired from it.”
It was after he broke out as one of the ensemble show’s stars, however, that Colfer was initially approached about writing. “The whole book deal came about because being on a TV show got some people to think I should write my autobiography,” he said. “I was 19. I didn’t think I was old enough to write my autobiography. But I had had this idea for a series about fairy tales since I was seven so I asked if I could write that instead.” Continuing the series not only has allowed him to exercise his fertile imagination, but occasionally allows him to stay in his pajamas all day. “I love the schedule,” he said.
And though, initially, Colfer was opposed to seeing his books turned into films, he’s come around on that topic and is in active talks about adapting Alex and Conner’s story for the big screen. “When the first and second book came out and these conversations about a film started, I mean, readers would be furious if they knew what was being suggested. I had people who wanted to age Alex and Conner up, make them high school age. I had someone suggest, ‘Maybe they’re not brother and sister. Maybe they’re boyfriend and girlfriend?’ I had to try very hard not to roll my eyes or throw up,” Colfer said.
He repeatedly said “No, thank you,” allowing the series to build in popularity, which has given him more leverage. Last year’s fourth volume, Beyond the Kingdoms, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and stayed on the list for the next 11 weeks. Sales of the previous titles rose significantly, too, suggesting new readers were binge-reading to catch up. Colfer says his patience may pay off.
“Many people thought I was an absolute idiot for just not selling it off to the highest bidder, but these are stories I have been carrying around almost my whole life so the series is important to me,” Colfer said. “I don’t want it to be someone’s interpretation of The Land of Stories. What they say about books made into films is that a great adaptation will immortalize the book but a terrible movie will kill it. I want a great movie because I still have so much planned for future books, maybe even a prequel series. So I want to make sure if it gets done, it is done well.”
Colfer will close out the year with the release of his second YA novel, Stranger Than Fan Fiction, a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman about the lead actor of a hit television show who shocks a quartet of fans when he accepts their invitation to go on a cross-country road trip with them. Little, Brown has scheduled it for a December release.
“It’s not the biography people initially wanted but I do realize that growing up on a TV show is a unique adolescence,” Colfer said. “So this is sort of my fictionalized coming of age story.”