Sci-fi authors share their stories at West MS

DOWNEY - Under a slow-burning, midmorning Monday sun, two Australian fantasy and sci-fi authors spoke for the better part of an hour before a gathered squatting audience of some 800-900 middle school students, the eighth graders just emerged from a round of state testing which was also being administered at the other schools.The authors' visit was part of West Middle School's Library & Research Center's year-round efforts to [further] "inspire a passion for learning" among the school's student population via, among other things, exposing them to real-life writers and authors. Visiting the campus were Sydney's Garth Nix, described as a New York Times best-selling author of the "Seventh Tower" and "Keys to the Kingdom" series, as well as the award-winning, acclaimed novels "Sabriel," "Lirael" and "Abhorsen" (he is perhaps better known for the first book he ever wrote, "The Ragwitch"), and Adelaide's Sean Williams, also a NYT best-seller and prolific author of some 35 novels and 75 short stories, as well as a novelization of the Star Wars video game, "The Force Unleashed," and several other Star Wars titles. The two had been writing books independently for years but after becoming friends 15 years ago had talked off and on about a possible collaboration on a book. Their conversation turned serious nearly two years ago, when, after bumping into each other at a convention, they agreed on exploring a promising storyline about a twin's struggle against "an ancient evil force." After six months or so of making notes and otherwise planning the episodes, the dialogue, and so on, they got together to compare their notes. Back and forth they discussed the chapter outlines and the other elements of the story. After they agreed on how they would proceed, they started writing. This took eight months. On May 1, one day before they were to address the West students, their first co-authored book, "Troubletwisters," came out. They read one or two passages from the fresh-smelling book, copies of which were laid out on a table nearby for book-signing, as well as a passage from one of Williams' Star Wars novels, with Nix, who possessed a deep voice, reading Darth Vader's lines. In the Q&A period, Nix said: "This is hot off the press, and this is just the second reading we've done anywhere. So, you're ahead of the rest of the world!" Indeed, the duo's visit to Downey was the second leg of their Southern California promotional swing sponsored by their New York-based publishers, Scholastic Press. The swing first took them earlier over the weekend to the LA Festival of Books at USC (where they did their first reading), while their third, and final, book-signing stop here was scheduled for the evening of May 4 at Vroman's in Pasadena. Then they take off for New York, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K. It was learned that the center's library media teacher, Julia Desalernos, used her connection with her friend, Sharon Hearn, owner of Scholastic Press titles distributor Children's Book World of Rancho Park to arrange their Downey visit. As writers, the visitors' message, in essence, to the middle schoolers, was, "If we can write a book, so can you." They both recounted their common experience of how they started: while maintaining day jobs, they wrote on weekends and at odd moments. By the end of the year, they found they'd finished writing a book. When, over time, they found their niches, and were earning enough from their royalties to "make a living," they decided to write full-time. To date, Nix said his books have sold more than 5 million copies, and been translated into some 30-odd languages. He, like Williams, travels the world for research, lectures, etc., picking up story ideas as they go along. Nix is a BA in professional writing graduate of the University of Canberra, and had worked for the Australian government, worked in a bookshop, in publishing (sales rep, publicist, editor), and as a PR consultant, before he found real success as a professional writer. Williams, who as well has received numerous awards over the years and is currently working on his Ph. D. in creative writing, teaches, sits on committees, travels, etc. He continues to churn out works of science fiction and fantasy ("The Fixers" series, his "The Broken Land" series, the "Books of the Cataclysm" series, his Star Wars series, etc.). Some of his books have also been translated into several languages. During their sojourn here, there was also the peripheral chatter about movie tie-ups and other possibilities. To this they could only say, "We hope." In the lively Q&A segment, a student wanted to know who the authors' favorite writers were. Nix, who had indicated earlier that he'd always read widely (science, literature, history, etc., in addition to fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction), said there were really many he liked, including C. S. Lewis ("The Chronicles of Narnia"), R.L. Stevenson, and authors such as Robert Heinlein and his like. Williams said he liked Alexander Dumas, Dickens, Jane Austen, etc.; and if some of his children's books, he said, tended to be on the dark side, it's because "I like being scared, but on the safe side. I like my characters to be as real as possible. But, having said that, I like good triumphing over evil in my books and short stories. I like to have hope." Having heard Nix mimic Darth Vader's voice earlier, the kids begged for more. Nix obliged, this time in a much more resonant, deeper voice, delighting the kids. Here are some tips on writing Nix offered: "Read a lot, and read widely (not just in one genre or area); "Write as often as you can, even if it's only a few paragraphs at a time" ("Writing anything is better than not writing something perfect"); "Read, write, revise, submit, repeat," and "Never believe the first twenty publishers who reject your work. For the twenty-first, submit something new." Here is Williams (culled from his '10.5 Commandments' of writing: "Work hard, write what you love, never give up, constantly listen to other writers, read a lot." Desalernos said the authors' book enjoyed good sales, but she was told it was contact with the West kids that thrilled the visitors more-a sure indication that a seminal cultural encounter, whose eventual magical effects can only be guessed at, had indeed at least for one day occurred at West.

********** Published: May 5, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 3