Miami Herald 3/30/2004

WALLA WALLA — The publishing powerhouse behind the best-selling Harry Potter series believes a Walla Walla author’s fantasy book could be a bestseller in 2005.

Patrick Carman of Walla Walla signed a six-figure book deal with Scholastic for his first children’s novel, The Dark Hills Divide.

Scholastic has purchased the North American English language rights, world Spanish language rights, North American French language and audio rights for the book, which will be available in hardcover, possibly by Christmas.

Carman’s book advance is between $200,000 and $350,000, said Peter Rubie, his New York City-based literary agent.

“It’s a notable advance in that it really talks about the publisher’s enthusiasm and aggression to make something of this book,” Rubie said.

Carman’s 200-page fantasy is the first in a trilogy about Alexa, a 12-year-old girl who grew up inside a walled city. The 40-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide stone walls protect the townspeople from “enchanted dangers” outside.

But the story’s heroine isn’t satisfied with her safe haven. She wants to see what’s outside the walls.

And so begins her adventure in the magical Land of Elyon where animals can talk and stones tell the future.

Craig Walker, vice president and editorial director for Scholastic in New York City, said his company expects the book to be a major seller in 2005. He said what he liked about the classic fantasy was the strong female heroine.

“She’s one of these unexpected heroes, like a Frodo in Lord of the Rings,” Walker said.

“Naturally he’s a native son up there, but there’s more than that,” Walker said. “I began to hear what Patrick was doing out there, the signings and school visits. He fits the Scholastic author to a T. We do so much of our business through the schools.”

Alex MacKay, a children’s book buyer at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park north of Seattle, enthusiastically endorsed Carman’s book with Scholastic’s Northwest representative. The independent bookstore is touting the book as a “a smart and engaging tale that will thrill children and adults alike” on its Web site. It continues to sell the independently printed copies.

“I really liked it. It was a good plot with wonderful characters. I always appreciate children’s books that are more complex and have fine lines between good, bad and what’s going on. It’s not that clear-cut,” MacKay said.

The modest Carman is amazed at how well the book has sold. He’s also amazed Scholastic wants to publish the trilogy.

“I’m shocked because this is Scholastic. The Harry Potter label, the Captain Underpants label and involved in so many school book fairs,” he said.

Rubie called Carman a phenomenon because he sold about 10,000 books in less than four months.

“That is quite remarkable for someone doing it on his own. Imagine what he can do with the publishers of Harry Potter behind him. I can’t promise he can hit the list but the odds are more in his favor than not,” Rubie said.

Carman will be back in the Tri-Cities on May 21-22 to kick off the summer reading program at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Kennewick. His book was chosen as the summer reading program pick.

At Carman’s book signing there in January, more than 200 people showed up to meet Carman, said Michelle Price, community relations manager at Barnes & Noble.

“I have a good feeling about this book and it’s going to be big,” she said. “What’s so exciting about this is Patrick really encourages the kids to read anyway. With the competition with video games — to have a book from a local author and actually meet the author is huge. You get them reading on one book and it’s like a domino effect.”

The only drawback to the Scholastic deal is the delay in the release of the next two novels, MacKay said.

“We were expecting to read the second one by December and now we don’t get to. We don’t get to read the sequel for another year and a half,” MacKay said.

Patrick Carman