Detroit Daily Tribune Elyon review 2006

Before he started writing, Patrick Carman was plagued by creative frustration. The Walla Walla, Wash. Resident had plenty of outlets for his ingenuity, including running his own advertising agency and crafting and marketing his own board games, he never found the perfect fit for his creative spirit. That all changed when he started telling bedtime stories to his young daughters. Carman’s girls, then 6 and 8 years old, thrived on fantastical tales about walled cities, tiny men and brave girls who could speak to animals. So rather than keeping the stories to himself in his office, he secretly started putting his saga down on paper.When I sat down and started writing, I didn’t tell anyone, not even my wife, recalled Carman. It wasn’t until I got about halfway through and felt like it was actually working and I was having so much fun that I thought that maybe I had found what I was looking for and sure enough this was it.That epiphany led to Carman’s writing and self-publishing of The Dark Hills Divide, the first in his Land of Elyon trilogy.But self-publishing means self-promoting, too, so Carman put his advertising and marketing savvy to work by scheduling book signings and school visits throughout his home state. Little did he know that two major publishers were watching in the wings, both of which bid for the rights to publish all three books in the series. In the end Scholastic won the bid.The journey to becoming a writer is different for every person, Carman said.And for me, all that stuff that I did in the past that seemed frustrating actually added up to be the sort of skills neccasary to do it myself in way that people actually thought it was really well done. I took some risks on it.Carman’s second book in the series, Beyond the Valley of Thorns, was released this month and continues the story of 13 year-old Alexa Daley, daughter of the mayor of fictional Lathbury, and her adventures in mystical lands surrounding her home. Likes it’s predecessor, The Dark Hills Divide, this book has a beautifully illustrated cover, and magically transports readers to Once upon a time, a long, long, time ago&A scan of a bookstore’s young adult fiction shelves will show that publishers tend to market books for boys and books for girls, with not a lot of common ground. Yet Carman’s books are enjoying a healthy mixed-gender relationship, with about 30 percent of his readers being boys, said the author.Oddly enough, there are a lot of books that are basically written for girls, Carman said. The thing about the ones written for boys is that the girls read those too. But if it has a girl as a main character, it’s more likely that only girls will read it. That hasn’t been true of my book. Carman credits this relatively high percentage of young male readers to the series’ fantasy element and the fact that it’s main character, Alexa, is a vibrant and brave girl who faces adventures any youngster can find interesting, regardless of gender. I wrote it because I wanted to have a strong female character for my own kids to emulate, Carman said. It so happens, that it appeals to boys as well.Another possibility for the series’ universal appeal is its serious subject matter. In The Dark Hills Divide, the fictional village, on the brink of destruction by evil forces, is salvaged by hard work and difficult decisions of one 12 year-old girl. Beyond the Valley of Thorns takes the reader to even more treacherous life-or-death situations, like fires, swarms of bats and hideous giants.Although the story is fairly complex, the books’ themes are everyday. For instance, the walls that play a key role in The Dark Hills Divide are symbolic for the peer pressure induced barriers kids surround themselves with said Carman. A lot of kids lose sight of what they really want to do, whether is being in the band or the chess club or whatever it might be, Carman said.The walls coming down is breaking out of peer pressure and doing what you feel is right for you.There is a critical moment when that is really, really hard. Thematically, it is about doing just that  breaking down these kinds of barriers.The Land of Elyon series is sophisticated reading, with characters every bit as sinister as those found in Harry Potter and a Series of Unfortunate Events series. So what happened to the kindler gentler young adult fiction in the era of Charlottes Web and Little House in the Big Woods?There are things about current young adult fiction that are probably negative, some people would say, but the fact that kids are reading is really important, says Carman. There are so many kids that are reluctant readers. They are not going to read unless they have to, or unless something that really interests them.And though the Land of Elyon series will end with the third book, The Tenth City, is released during the summer of 2006, Carman fans will be thrilled to know that he is hard at work on another fantasy series, to be published by Time Warner’s Little, Brown division.Atherton Will have a male lead character, and is due out in 2007.

Patrick Carman