Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book Blog Tour: The Dragon King by Nils Johnson-Shelton -- Author Interview and Book #Giveaway

"If you loved how Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series put a fun spin on Greek mythology, then you’ll love how Nils Johnson-Shelton is retelling the King Arthur legend in his middle-grade series, The Otherworld Chronicles. Brother and sister duo Artie and Kay Kingfisher who are thrown into an epic adventure when his video game, Otherworld, springs to life.

When Artie discovers he is none other than THE King Arthur, brought to life in the 21st century, it’s up to him and his sister to save the REAL Otherworld. In The Dragon King, Artie’s life-changing quest comes to a spectacular close as the young king discovers what it truly means to be a hero."

I had the chance to interview of this middle-grade series,Nils Johnson-Shelton, and found out more about the new book in his popular The Otherworld Chronicles series, The Dragon King, as well as what he is currently working on.

Want to win a copy of The Dragon King, the third book in this popular series, to share with your children/grandchild?  After reading my Author Spotlight, please complete the entries in the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win a copy of Nils Johnson-Shelton's new book. 

And, now for my Author Spotlight with Nils Johnson-Shelton, author of The Otherworld Chronicles, including the most recent book (#3) in the series release, The Dragon King:

A Little Background on the Author

Otherworld Chronicles is bestselling author Nils Johnson-Shelton’s first foray into books for children (and grown-ups who never, er, grew up). His first book, No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels, which he co-authored with ATF Special Agent Jay Dobyns, became a New York Times bestseller. Nils currently lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York. He likes rock climbing, sleeping, basketball, and even beets. When Nils isn’t at his desk writing, he’s usually shuttling his kids from one place to another, wishing he had time to play more video games, or going out to get even more coffee.

My Q&A with Nils Johnson-Shelton:

Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?  

The idea came from a friend, actually. He knew I was looking for a new story and he suggested, "Dude, why don't you write a story about a kid who finds out he's the second coming of King Arthur from his favorite video game?" This seemed like a good start to me, primarily because when I was Artie's age (12), I was, for lack of a better word, a nerd. I lived ate and breathed D&D and video games and comic books and regular old books. I was never very into King Arthur, except that around that time I also watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail about 133 times. Basically every weekend for a few years. Loved that movie. (I also snuck a look at Excalibur around 13 or so, which was cool, if wildly inappropriate).

Instead of getting bogged down in old Arthurian legends, I decided to run with the idea. I realized that Arthurian stories have from the beginning basically been popular stories, and that was liberating. Also liberating was the fact that many of those old stories are consistently inconsistent. In one story a knight might be best fiends with another knight, and in the next story they will be mortal enemies. In one story a woman may love a man and then in the next be trying to poison him. In one story a monster is something to be feared and in the next it's something to be revered. The old stories are also teeming with all kinds of material that is very much not for children (how Arthur was conceived is one such example—look it up if you're unfamiliar), and in a way that liberated me too. Since I couldn't write a children's series that included things like incest and worse, I decided that I could basically do whatever I wanted. Examples of some ideas I took from the old stories include: Artie is an orphan; he has a sibling (in his case a sister instead of a brother) named Kay; they've been raised by a single father; Artie has to go on quests in the "Otherworld" which is basically the fairy world; he has to pull a sword from a stone; he has to get Excalibur from the Lady in the Lake; he has to help Merlin; Tom Thumb (yes, that Tom Thumb) is one of the the young King Arthur's knights. Examples of ideas that I either made up or took from other, newer stories include: Tom Thumb rides a "vorpal bunny," which is a take on Monty Python; the Black Knight loses limbs throughout the stories (also from Python); the Green Knight is a literal-minded and humorous empty suit of plate mail armor; the sword from the stone is named "Cleomede"; and many other things.

Otherworld Chronicles, while technically fantasy, is really just an adventure story about a couple of young teens who have to grow up a little and in ways that they didn't completely expect (which, I'd wager, is probably true of most teens, even ones who don't wield swords or occasionally teleport to the fairy world). The long and the short of it is that Artie, who is just a regular kid from Pittsburgh, and his sister, Kay, have to go on many adventures to first help Merlin escape from a prison he's been stuck in for the last 1500-odd years (Book 1, The Invisible Tower); then go on a quest that will unite seven magical swords from antiquity with their rightful owners (Book 2, The Seven Swords); and finally, to see that Artie complete's his coronation in the Otherworld, becomes a proper king, and tries to defeat the person who has turned out to be his mortal enemy (Book 3, The Dragon King). 

How did you get interested in writing this particular genre?  

See above. Basically I thought I could do it because of my interests as a kid. They skewed heavily toward fantasy and science fiction, with plenty of comic books and video games to boot. I enjoyed reading these kinds of stores when I was younger, and still enjoy reading some of the stuff that comes out today for kids (even though I definitely read grown-up books too).

Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books? 

Of course! For kids, I always tell them (the obvious) JRR Tolkien. Even before his re-ascendence courtesy of Peter Jackson, I loved Tolkien's  stories and devoured them repeatedly as a kid. Other books I loved back then: The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin; Dune by Frank Herbert; The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, both by Ray Bradbury; and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. 

The book that probably convinced me that I wanted to be a writer was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which I first read around 18 or 19. In the past decade or so, my favorite books have included: anything by Haruki Murakami, especially Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World (that's one book) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell; and The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stevenson; anything by Raymond Chandler or Graham Greene (especially Greene's The Quiet American). I'm currently reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by (can't recall his first name) Sloan and am quite liking it.

What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal? 

A typical writing day is me at my desk from about 10-5 writing or thinking about writing or researching on the internet. I take breaks, pick up my kid from school, and go on coffee runs. Sometimes I go to the gym, too. Pretty boring. I write in my office, which is a few blocks from my house. I also like to write in restaurants. And yes, I do set a daily goal. When I'm working on a first draft, I try to do 5 pages a day. That works out to 25 pages a week, 100 pages a month, 300 pages in three months—which is usually good enough for a first draft of a book.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?  

I guess being satisfied with what I write. I've only really been completely satisfied with one of my books, which was my first and is not for children (No Angel). 

What’s the best thing about being an author?  

I love the lifestyle. Maybe because I was an only child, I like being alone, and writers certainly spend a lot of time alone. It's also really great not to have to drag my butt into a work environment that I don't like or love. If you can make it, and so far I have been able to, then writing is a nice way to make a living.

What are you working on now?  

Two books. One is a ghostwriting project that I am contractually bound to remain mum about. The book will be for grow-ups, and is kind of an adventure story too. It involves piles of money, a murder, false imprisonment, and one man's vision of justice. The second project has just been announced, and is shaping up to be a big deal. It's a collaborative project with the controversial writer James Frey. It will be marketed to older teens and young adults. It's called ENDGAME. Rather than go into the specifics here, I'll say that it starts in the world in which we live, but ends in an almost completely destroyed Earth. There is a game at its center, a game that is played by twelve representatives of ancient cultural lines that for aeons have waited for Endgame to begin. The winner will inherit the Earth, but if that is a favorable outcome is not clear. The story involves alien meddling, lots of fighting, cryptic clues, exotic locations, very old sacred sites, pyramids, ciphers, guns, cave paintings, creation myths, extinction cycles, stars, and … other things. What sets it apart from similar stories is both the style in which it is written—its voice is very much James Frey's—and the fact that coded into its pages is an actual puzzle that the readers can solve in the real world. Successfully solving this puzzle will result in a significant cash prize. There will be three books, so there will be three prizes, each bigger than the last. And, if all that weren't enough. we've partnered with Google, who is developing a companion "Augmented Reality Game" for mobile devices. All of this goes live in October of this year, so I have a pretty full schedule! 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?  

What I always tell kids is very simple: If you want to learn to write, then READ. You have to read, read, read, and read. And most importantly, love what you read.

For grown-ups, who I presume have already met this first requirement, I tell them the obvious: WRITE. Keep it simple. Don't sit down to write a book. If you wanted to run a marathon, would you just go out and run 26.2 miles? No way. Set low, achievable daily goals, and if you stick with them, you will eventually have the first draft of a novel/memoir/nonfiction book/book of poetry/whatever it is you're trying to produce (I once heard that Graham Greene tried to write 350 words a day. That's it! And look what he managed to get done).

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?  

Wow, uh … Oh, I got it.

Q; What is your favorite color?
A: Blue. No, wait, gree—AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHH! (as I'm flung into an abyss to my death)

(Some will get this, even if you might not).


As promised, up for grabs is a copy of Nils Johnson-Shelton's new book, The Dragon King, from the popular Otherworld Chronicles series.  To enter, please complete the entries on the Rafflecopter form below.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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