Get to know our featured author for July, Gregg McBride! Gregg is a film and television writer/producer. One of his best known works is the film A Heavenly Christmas, which premiered to the highest ratings in Hallmark Channel history. In addition to film writing, Gregg is also an author of three book, Weightless, Just Stop Eating So Much, and his newest children’s book, Biron the Bee Who Couldn’t.
I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Gregg, where we discuss his career, his inspiration behind his books, his love for rescuing animals, and so much more! Check out our conversation and remember that you could follow Gregg on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @GreggMcBride. You can purchase Biron the Bee Who Couldn’t and Just Stop Eating so Much on BookBaby Bookshop.
Joe: Alright Gregg! Thanks for being here. I’d like to start just by asking you to tell us about yourself!
Gregg: Well this is very exciting! I feel like I’m in a beauty pageant.. so why not? I have been a writer for a long time. I think I’m a comedian, but not everyone would agree. But I’ve always been a writer from a very young age. I remember when I was young I would write novels – I would rip off some of them from what I’d see on TV. I’d take a good idea and run with it. Novels for me were a lot of work, so I eventually discovered screenplays, which I liked even more. And then I got really attracted to film making.
I went to school for theatre and communications and was always writing my whole life. After college, I went into advertising. I would use my writing and creative skills and eventually became an Associate Creative Director. I worked in fashion for a while, and then in direct marketing when catalogues were a thing. You know, connecting words and images – it’s all part of a big picture.
Joe: Right. What did you like most about working in advertising?
Gregg: Well, one of the things I loved most about working in advertising was that there were days you felt creative and some you did not, but you were always part of a team. And I’ve come to learn that anything good, there’s been a team involved. And so, eventually, I transitioned from advertising to screenwriting. I was always writing scripts while I worked for advertising companies and then I moved to Los Angeles and was lucky enough to sell my first screenplay – which was a disaster movie, meaning that it was a movie about a disaster, not that it was a movie that was a disaster ha! I had written it with Jennifer Lopez in mind, but it had ended up being bought by a B movie company, so it was a little bit different than I envisioned it. In fact, I remember being at the film’s premier and remembering that they spelled my name incorrectly in the credits.
Joe: Oh no oh my God!
Gregg: They spelled it “G R E G” instead of “G R E G G” McBride. And that was my first realization that in Hollywood, the writer is definitely at the bottom of the food chain. But even with the misspelled name, it was so exciting to see things that I had just imagined in my mind up on the screen! With a disaster movie it was fun because you could see all these great special effects and you think, “wow I imagined that and someone interpreted it and there it is up on the screen!”
So I’ve been writing screenplays and TV ever since. I’ve done a lot of work that a lot of people who end up watching or reading this interview know as ending up in “development hell”. A lot of stuff gets bought in Hollywood but is constantly in development and never sees the light of day. But one of my biggest successes was a Christmas movie that I wrote for the Hallmark Channel. But it wasn’t just any Christmas movie, it was the Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas movie – which meant we had a much higher budget and a bigger cast.
It ended up starring Kristin Davis, Eric McCormack, and Shirley MacLaine and was called A Heavenly Christmas and it premiered to the highest ratings in the history of the channel, so that was very exciting!
Joe: That has to be just such an incredible feeling.
Gregg: It’s amazing to have a legend like Shirley MacLaine stating my dialogue. It’s so interesting because when I first found out she was cast, I was so excited. But all I could think about was that there were these many awards she has won and these great movies she’s done, and I thought, “oh gosh, what does she think about doing this little Christmas movie?” And I have to say that she was in her eighties at the time of doing the movie and she was one of these people who was present and so into the craft and I was just so amazed by that. You have someone who is a legend and she’s just putting herself all into it. As an artist, writer, and creator, that just really moved me. Sometimes you might think that something might not be quite so big or it is a little different – but why not put your whole heart into it? That’s something that really stuck with me.
So circling back to the publishing world… I always had a very avid interest in books. I had written two other books – one was a memoir, and one was a bit more of a “how to” but when I graduated from college I weighed 450 pounds and had been overweight my entire life. I eventually lost the weight the old fashion way – through diet and exercise. So I wrote about that because there are some many misconceptions about diet, and weight loss, and loving yourself no matter what size you are. Both were great successes, but something I always wanted to write was a children’s book. It was always in my head, maybe since childhood.
But to talk about collaboration, to have an amazing children’s book, you have to have amazing artwork. I eventually met an artist online, of all places. She’s also an author, so we talked about collaborating on this project, Biron the Bee Who Couldn’t. And we decided that we wanted to go with a publisher like BookBaby because it was very important for us to retain creative control. It is technically a book written for 5-year-olds but it’s also something that you could give to graduates or hey even I need the book! It’s all about reaffirming that our dreams matter. But beyond just keeping creative control, we also wanted to utilize a publisher that is attentive to every single detail. When you have a children’s book, it’s so much different than a standard book with just black words on a white page. The weight of the page is really important! The glossiness of the page matters! Will it be able to show the vibrancy of the artwork? Will the book feel great when you hold it? How will the eBook look? So we just really loved all of the stuff that BookBaby offered. So the book debuted in June 2022 and the reception has been great. And we’re so excited about this project. By the way I know you thought my answer would be ten words, but it was about ten minutes, so sorry Joe!
Joe: It’s so interesting to hear your background because you truly are a writer who writes. And that stands out in your creativity and the work you do. Biron the Bee Who Couldn’t is just one of my favorite children’s books that we have here, and I know that you said you were always interested in writing and writing a children’s book. But to get into the specifics of this story, can you share some of that?
Gregg: Yeah I was always struck by a little bee who doesn’t want to make honey! He wants to do a million other things. I’m sure it’s a little autobiographical. I was always very attracted to so many different things – but isn’t that what childhood is all about? One day we want to be a truck driver, then we want to be a movie star, and one day we want to be president. I loved the idea of encouraging that, instead of discouraging that. This is true for people of all ages. Places like BookBaby can make any of them authors! Yes you want to take the time with it, you want to get it edited, but there’s no feeling like getting that box and seeing an idea that was just in your head! And the quality is amazing. I’m veering off the subject a bit here, but another thing about Biron was timing. The time was now to do it because let’s face it, you turn on the news and you think, “is this Gregg’s disaster movie?” Everything can be so depressing and dark. We really wanted to put something out in the world that just made people feel good. And children’s books, that’s a whole form of art in itself. There are so many rules, and we did break some of them! But I always say that you have to know the rules before you break them. And so we were very careful. We would do test audiences, send the words to teachers, even drawing the bee took a ton of work. There are a million established ways to draw a bee, so we had to come up with an original illustration. But even as we were reading it to test audiences, a room full of adults, you would finish and notice that special moment at the end where the message speaks to them – so we really knew that we were onto something with the message of the book. So that’s why we wanted to do it.
Now, there is a little twist to the story! Biron realizes that it really isn’t other people telling him that he can’t do what he wants, he’s the one who has it in his head that he can’t do something. So how many times do we do that as adults and writers. The book’s message brings some light into this world, and so that’s what made me think that this was the right time for Biron.
Joe: That’s the thing about children’s books. They are the easiest to read but they share some of the most important life lessons. Some of my favorite books of all time are children’s books. They are simple, yet profound. I was wondering if you learned anything about yourself while writing this book or even any of your other books?
Gregg: I think that the thing you learn is what being an artist is all about. You know it’s funny, when I was first sharing the copy with Anais and she was doing the test drawings, I noticed that Biron had a red cape on! At first I was like, “oh, we never talked about this”. But then I thought that it would be fun to work it into the story. And so it became this very collaborative process! The red cape made Biron feel super. It gave him this little boost to his self-esteem.
So to answer your question, I love the little details, or shall I say bee-tails in regard to Biron that can be in the book. Children’s books, because of the artwork, can actually be treated like coffee table books. That’s how I treat cookbooks by the way. But if you’re going to have a successful children’s book, children are going to want to hear it again and again. So you want to be cognizant of the word count and all of the little rules that you have to follow. But you also want to the parents to enjoy the book as well! You don’t want them to dread having to read it one more time.
So you write it and illustrate it to interest everyone and you’ll see – since I foster a lot of animals – you’ll find in the illustrations that Biron has a little stuffed black cat. At the time of writing the book, I was fostering these four little kittens, so the artist put them in the book! So there’s no mention of this little stuffed black cat but if you look in the book, you can see him in different places. So I think that’s how you create a perennial. We really were so particular and careful about everything we put in the book, we were very careful about the words used and wrote it so that it stands the test of time, because there are so many books that we love from childhood that are timeless. That’s why children’s books are a category onto themselves – which is another reason to use BookBaby. By the way, Joe has not paid me to do this interview, everyone!
Luckily, we did a lot of research, and a lot of that was the artist, Anais. But BookBaby really does speak to all of the needs that children’s books require.
Sometimes when you think about self-publishing, you think about people just waiting at a copy machine. But when you look at BookBaby’s catalogue or on the BookBaby Bookshop, there’s this surprise of all the different categories of books and I love to see all of the amazing covers. At BookBaby, they are artists who have decided to express their talents through publishing as a device. And another thing about BookBaby – remember everyone, not paid to be here! – is that you can always reach someone by phone, and I love that. If there’s a problem or you get something that you don’t understand, you could always reach someone. I think that’s really important! You don’t want to be surprised when you get your book. BookBaby lets you know how things will look – even if you use the wrong CMYK color, they’ll let you know that something won’t print properly. They don’t want any surprises. So it’s that attention to detail that artists and writers need to have. And to have it with your publishing partner, it really helps.
Joe: Gregg, I really appreciate those words and remember, Gregg is not on the payroll! It means a lot that you have such good things to say about us and we’ve really enjoyed working with you. Your books have been great and I’m very curious to ask – was it more difficult for you to write a children’s book or your personal work of non-fiction?
Gregg: I think it’s a bunch of different challenges. When I wrote the non-fiction books, it was because I was pulling so much from my life, I really wanted to be authentic about it. Anyone who is on a journey trying to be healthier knows that there’s so much misinformation out there. There are so many businesses that are more interested in profit than actually helping people reach their goals and love themselves more. So I was really careful about that when working on those books.
Similarly, Biron was sort of the same way because when parents choose a children’s book or a children’s book is popular with kids, what can be more special than that?
Going back to A Heavenly Christmas, it still airs twice a year (thanks to Christmas in July), and I get these messages from people on Twitter about how they were having the worst day and it helped them in some way. One of the main themes of the movie is loss and one of its impetuses was that at the time of writing it, my mother-in-law was dying of bone cancer. So even though it is this fun romantic comedy, there’s some weight to it and I hear from people who are touched and moved by it.
So when working on a children’s book, I wanted to put that same level of care into it – that you can potentially inspire somebody to change their life and follow their dreams. So I think to be reverent about it is so important regardless of what you’re working on.
Joe: You know that’s so true. Writing a children’s book can be so challenging because you have such an important message to share, and you have to say it in a very specific way for children to understand. So it takes a lot of creativity to do that, and you’ve successfully done it. So beyond that, I would actually like to know a bit about you beyond writing. No screenplay, no books, just you time!
Gregg: Well, I’m sure that most writers watching this will tell you that your next project or projects are always on your mind so that’s in me all the time. But as mentioned earlier, I’m very active with animal rescue. I do a lot of work with cat rescue and kitten fostering – that sort of thing takes up quite a bit of time. I’m an active exerciser. As someone who used to weigh 450 pounds, I still love to eat and while I’m careful about moderation, there still are times that I want those sweet potato fries! So I’m always trying to stay very active. And it helps even as a writer because sometimes I’m spending so much time hunched over at the computer. So the exercise helps equalize that a little bit. I love reading, I love movies. Nature… kind of? I think I’d rather be in a movie theatre. But I’ll say nature too.
Joe: Interesting! Well we will have to share off camera some workout talk. I also am a big fitness guy and enjoy CrossFit. Not sure if you ever dabbled with that but all forms of fitness are good. So do you have any future books or projects planned? I know that when I asked about your hobbies you mentioned that you are always thinking about other stuff!
Gregg: I’m always thinking of new ideas! I, along with the artist who created Biron, have dabbled with the idea of making it a “trilobee”. We definitely see Biron in future stories and some of the things we think about is whether he would be the same age or would he get a little older in each book similar to Harry Potter and hopefully take the audience with him. So we’re always thinking about that.
I still love the idea of writing a novel. I bow to novel writers. I have a lot of friends who write novels, and I don’t know if I have it in me but every now and then I think I’d like to write one. And then I’m always working on screenplays. I have another Christmas movie that is getting closer to being purchased which is exciting. And then I have a horror movie that is hopefully going to go into production this summer.
Joe: Awesome. And I know that you also keep busy on social. Has social media been a net positive for you as an author? What are some ways that you like to use social media as a tool for promotion?
Gregg: Well I’ve always loved using it as a tool for promotion and I know very well that it’s one of the main reasons that A Heavenly Christmas got as good ratings as it did. But the algorithm is always changing, and the way people are using social media is always changing. So it’s a challenge! My goal when posting – other than attempting to stop the scroll and get someone’s attention – I want to be authentic for it to really resonate with people. It’s something that I reminded myself about everyday when I was trying to lose weight, to be authentic. So being authentic is the most important thing for me. Another thing to remember is that when you’re promoting a children’s book, you want a consistent message. You have to know that you are creating a brand. The real trick is to get people to share, comment, and engage with your content (which, by the way, BookBaby has been great about). So you want to catch people’s attention, but you want the message to be authentic. So that’s what I keep in mind and what I suggest.
Also, you don’t know what is going to catch fire. But put it out authentically and at a certain point as artists and writers, somewhere a little bit of pixie dust needs to happen. So just put your stuff out there and hope that somewhere down the line people discover it.
Remember that every time even just one person is affected by your work, it matters. Especially we see this now as we watch the early reviews stack up for Biron – you see them getting the message and enjoying your art. And that’s what writing is, it’s an art. So for the writers watching this, pat yourself on the back because what you do is important work that can change the world.
Joe: I think that’s perfectly said. I don’t have anything else for you! I really appreciate your time. This was amazing. I personally love hearing your story and learning more about Biron. I hate to be biased! But it’s probably my favorite children’s book we have so thank you for everything! Do you want to share where readers could stay in touch with you on social media and other platforms?
Gregg: Yes! You could find me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and it’s @Greggmcbride. Don’t forget the extra G at the end of my name like the film producers did at my first movie! And we are on TikTok now too – sometimes I’ll also post the pet videos I take. I’m not up to doing the dances yet! But one day I’ll be doing them.
Joe: One day! You have to do what the algorithm likes!
Gregg: And you burn a few calories while doing them so nothing wrong with that!
Joe: Again, Gregg thank you this was great! I really enjoyed it. Remember that you could purchase Biron the Bee Who Couldn’t on BookBaby Bookshop and follow Gregg to enjoy his amazing content!