Author Interview: Paul Thompson
We sit down with the author of action-packed fantasy Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King to discuss his writing and Drosselmeyer: The Watcher's Realm
Paul Thompson is an award winning, internationally performed composer for theater, film, and live events. The youngest of five children, he often escaped familial hazing with a good hiding spot and a great book. After earning two black belts in martial arts and getting his own apartment, Paul got involved in local and professional theater without fear of wedgies from his older siblings. Paul is the CEO of House of El Music and currently lives in McKinney, Texas with his moderately well-behaved beagle, C.K.
(Copied from his website)
Drosselmeyer: The Watcher’s Realm is available for pre-order!
I loved the first book Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King. In my review, I called it, “One part magic school, one part mystery, one part gory retribution.”
I’ve preordered the second book in the Nutcracker series, and it can’t come to me fast enough!
Paul Thompson has graciously allowed me to pepper him with questions about the Nutcracker series, his faith, and Drosselmeyer: The Watcher’s Realm in particular!
Note: At the time that I reached out to Paul, he had not yet announced the title of the book, so we refer to it as “Book 2” several times.
What inspired you to write about Uncle Drosselmeyer from The Nutcracker?
In 2019, I was dancing the role of Drosselmeyer in the ballet. My background is music so I knew the score but had never seen the production. My character was required to move and act in certain ways with no clear motivation, and when I asked for clarification, no one knew – they just wanted me to move on cue. This led me to delve into the character’s background and the question “who is Drosselmeyer? Why does the Nutcracker even exist?” inspired me to write the book.
“The question ‘who is Drosselmeyer? Why does the Nutcracker even exist?’ inspired me to write the book.”
Can you describe a bit about the process of adapting a ballet? What elements of The Nutcracker lent themselves to this kind of adaptation?
Beyond the first quarter of the ballet, the story is pretty non-sensical. Clara and the Nutcracker Prince watch several themed vignettes. No real plot. I decided that the ballet would act as a memorial for something that had happened in the past. I had to find a connection between the main sections of the ballet and create a character or situation that would inspire that particular dance.
Did you draw inspiration from other sources?
I love reading and am always “drawing inspiration” from my previous reads. Magic is a tricky trope to handle. You need to have some rules governing it or else it becomes an “ex-machina” solution to all problems. (ie. Green Lantern) I loved how magic was used in the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. I also enjoy the fast-paced action of the Jason Bourne novels by Robert Ludlum.
Was there anything from the original ballet that you worked to preserve in the books?
ALL OF IT! Maybe not “all” but I tried to preserve as much of the work as possible. Every ballet company has a different production. My particular production was inspired by famed dance, George Balanchine with a few twists thrown in. I danced for another company this year that had a very different take on the story but the major plot points remained the same. If someone is a dancer, they will get all of my inside jokes. If someone isn’t a dancer, they will still enjoy the story and, when they watch the ballet, may enjoy the new context it’s set in.
Most people think of The Nutcracker as a Christmas story. Did that impact your writing in any way?
Not really. Christmas isn’t a huge deal in the world of Drosselmeyer. I mention the holiday but there’s no references to Santa Clause or religious observances. It is a time of gathering and feasts so it would make sense that we (modern audiences) would produce the Nutcracker Ballet at our own time of gathering and feasts.
Would you share a bit about your faith and how it influences your stories?
I grew up in a Baptist minister’s house. Church was a HUGE part of my life and my faith has always been important to me. During college, I rejected Christianity for Atheism and searched for meaning in that world before coming back to Christianity as the best explanation for how the world exists and humanity’s purpose for being.
I went through an extremely rough situation with a church I worked at and that launched me into the world of spiritual abuse and abuse recovery. Through that ordeal, I was introduced to Reformed theology and “converted”, if you will, about two years ago.
The themes in this book definitely reflect the pain of powerful people abusing the weak. While I don’t write Christian books, I am a Christian who writes books. I could, and have, talk a lot about Christian art but I’ll save that for another time.
“While I don’t write Christian books, I am a Christian who writes books.”
How do you respond to concerns from reviewers that the level of violence is a bit much for a young adult novel?
I have always asserted that these books are for 13+. I describe them as “Harry Potter meets Jason Bourne.” There is violence and abuse; but there is also a hero who learns to stand up to abusive power and fight for those who cannot.
“Harry Potter meets Jason Bourne.”
While books and entertainment have an escapist part to them, it is a reality that violence and abuse exists. We don’t do our kids any benefit from convincing them it doesn’t – it will hurt so much more when they’re exposed to it. But, if they have to suffer abuse, at least let them aspire to characters to who stood up for the weak and triumphed.
If your kids watch Marvel movies, these will be less violent than that.
What were some of the challenges and highlights of writing Curse of the Rat King? Book 2?
Book 2, Drosselmeyer: The Watcher’s Realm, presents new mysteries and situations from Curse of the Rat King, all while continuing the story. Continuity is crucial and very difficult. I have the entire trilogy mapped out on paper and have some good beta readers that are helping me keep track of little details.
Beyond that, just the cost of writing and producing a book was staggering. I had to mark book one as a “sunk cost.” I am not trying to make that money back. I will be making money on Book 2 (hopefully) and have been fixing the mistakes I made on Book 1.
My favorite moments of writing this book were mainly discussions with friends and strangers in coffee shops. There was a connection with the source material and intrigue with the story potential. Even the sweetest little bun heads were looking forward to learning about the demise of the Rat King.
I have also been thrilled to see so many boys connect with the story. I have no desire to write weak male characters and the popularity with the teen guys is reassuring. Biggest challenge was the romance element. (No spoilers). I don’t mind the well-crafted romance of Sense and Sensibility but detest Hallmark. Working that into a YAF without alienating or effeminizing the hero was definitely a challenge.
What did Curse of the Rat King do well that you hope to continue or expand on in Book 2?
CotRK created a likable hero with believable flaws that the reader is rooting for. He’s older in book 2 but still has room to grow and enemies to overcome. I hope his journey is filled with surprise twists and a satisfying story line.
The conclusion of the first book was exciting, but it ended many of the story elements rather dramatically, leaving readers with questions about where Book 2 could be going. Are we going to see a true adaptation (as opposed to a prequel) of The Nutcracker from Fritz’s point of view?
Yes! I wrote this as a trilogy so some elements will be resolved in book three but do not fear, all questions will be answered.
Will we see the return of any beloved characters? New characters?
Mostly new characters but the old ones are not forgotten. Drosselmeyer is shaped by his mentors. He’s gifted, true, but he has much to learn and so he has to meet those people and glean their wisdom and skills for his own challenges.
Curse of the Rat King has a strong magic school component, but the conclusion leaves Fritz without a teacher and in the position of finding an apprentice himself. Will the second book have any of the elements of that genre, or does it move in a new direction?
Definitely a new direction. I wasn’t interested in writing another “Hogwarts” though some elements of that do exist in book one. St. Michael’s has another purpose that comes out in book two but it’s not what you’d expect. The stakes are higher in this book and external forces threaten more than just his education.
What do you hope readers take away from the Nutcracker trilogy?
After my church abuse situation, I found myself reeling from the isolation and loss of community. I was fortunate to have several different friend groups that stepped in to help, but the lack of leadership to stand up to “power” and the abandonment of supposed friends still cut deep. When the 2020 pandemic happened and my rights were stripped away and my business nearly died, I was, again, horrified by the lack of people standing up to power.
I began writing my first book during the “15 days to flatten the curve.” It was supposed to be a short story but over the next few months grew into something bigger as I searched for an outlet to write about the pain of powerful people abusing the weaker.
I hope my readers will be inspired to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves – even if you think you will lose that fight. It’s the resistance that’s important.