The Dalles Chronicle 2/9/2004

 What if you had a chance to meet J.K. Rowling just before the first Harry Potter book took off? Wouldn’t that make for an extraordinary memory?
     Local residents may have just such a chance this Tuesday when author Patrick Carman comes to The Dalles for a booksigning from 5 to 7 p.m. at Klindt’s Booksellers. 
     Carman is the author of “The Land of Elyon Book I: The Dark Hills Divide.” The 200-page book (see review) is the first in a young people’s fantasy trilogy set in a land reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. 
     At a recent booksigning at Seattle’s Third Place Books, 400 kids and their parents showed up – and the only advance publicity was the author’s visit to several area schools the previous day. 
     Impressed with the turnout, the store’s owner called several agencies; major publishers including Simon & Schuster, Harper-Collins and Random House, are now talking with the author. 
     The Seattle experience wasn’t a fluke. Carman drew similar crowds in the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla. 
     “In many ways, I’m a big kid myself,” he said, saying that kids can sense his interest and enthusiasm for them. 
     Carman was born in Walla Walla, Wash., and lives there now, although his family moved to Salem when he was five. He grew up in Salem, graduating from Willamette University in 1988.
     Carman, 37, is an Entrepreneur with a capital “E.” At the age of 22, he persuaded his college roommate’s parents to lend him $20,000 to start an ad agency, which he sold after nine years. 
     His next venture was a board game company that eventually placed its products in 5,000 stores, followed by a company that provided on-line services for 300 newspapers. His current venture produces and syndicates programs for Christian music radio stations, and a weekly television program seen on three cable networks; part of the proceeds help 17 developing communities in South America. 
     So why, with all this business background, did Carmen decide to become an author? “If you run an ad agency, you’re surrounded by a lot of creative people,” he said. “So this journey is all about trying to find a creative outlet. I tried playing guitar, painting. I can’t draw and I’m only a so-so designer, but when I started writing, I felt ‘This is it. I can do this.'” 
     Carman said the actual genesis of “The Dark Hills Divide” came when he and his wife Karen decided she’d get out of the house one night a week and he would stay with their two daughters. “I came up with this idea of a girl who’s in this town surrounded by walls and she has to figure out a way to sort of crawl under it and she’d go out and have these little adventures. I started keeping a journal as I was weaving the story for the girls each week. I spent about six months with this journal working out the rest of the characters and the plot. And it just developed from there.” 
     Carman said he wrote the books thinking of a junior high market, but was surprised to find a core audience that included second through fifth-graders as well. 
     “Books are the quiet medium,” he noted. “They’re up against radio, the Internet, movies, TV … to get a kid to read is harder.” 
     His solution was to create a book that had short chapters with lots of action. “You really want them so engrossed in the story that they have to find out what happens next.”

     Patrick Carman is onto something here. In “The Dark Hills Divide,” the first of a projected fantasy trilogy, he’s found an uncommonly developed voice for a first-time author. Carmen writes in a clean, transparently engaging style that will appeal to youngsters and parents alike.
     Among the delights to be found in “Hills” are: a protagonist who is a 12-year-old girl, secret passages, talking animals, hidden messages, a traitor who must be uncovered, gems with hidden meanings, some scary bits, and a short, but very real chess problem, suitable for surprising a more experienced player, such as a parent or older sibling. Magic, while definitely part of the tale, is kept to a realistic minimum (in this case, allowing humans to communicate with animals). There are no magic solutions used to pull the author out of a tight corner. Characters have to do the hard stuff themselves. 
     “Hills” is family-friendly without being corny, and the story has a developed texture and richness that implies a considerable backstory. 
     Highly recommended

Patrick Carman