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Richard Paul Evans' new hero is 'something special'

Published: Saturday, Aug. 6 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Author Richard Paul Evans talks Monday, March 28, 2011 about his news book "Miles to go".

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Sometimes, says author Richard Paul Evans, the story chooses you. Sometimes, something that you really had no intention of writing pops up in your mind and won't let go until you write it down.

That's how it was for his new series of young adult books about a boy named Michael Vey.

Evans is currently working on the third installment of "The Walk," a series about a man who lost everything and is walking across the country. He's still writing books that come out each year around Christmas. So, his two-books-a year regimen is keeping him plenty busy. "I wasn't really looking for anything else," he says.

But a while back, Evans was out for a walk on his southern Utah ranch, "and this idea just came to me."

He started writing, and "I've never had inspiration come so fast. There were days when I'd write 6,000 words a day. It felt like I was downloading more than writing."

The first book in the series, which will be released Aug. 9, is called "Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25" (Mercury Inc., an imprint of Simon & Schuster, $17.99). It tells the story of a boy who is kind of shy, kind of socially inept, gets bullied at school and made fun of because he has Tourette syndrome, but also has a magical electrical power.

He comes in contact with other kids with a variety of powers, in particular a cute cheerleader named Taylor, and is befriended by a man named Hatch, who runs the Elgen Academy.

And while everything seems good on the surface, there are disturbing undercurrents that lead Michael and Taylor into a fight for their lives — and the lives of many others.

It will be a seven-book series, which is "a long arc," says Evans, so there will be lots of adventures, lots of growth and development, lots of intrigue. Even he is not sure exactly where it will take readers, but he promises it will be a fun ride.

"All you need to know at this point is that Hatch is a liar."

The idea of an "electric" hero intrigues him. "After all, we are all bioelectric. In Michael's case, it goes awry. He has more than he should." Of course, "electricity is a metaphor for how Michael discovers his inner talents and powers. Everyone has some inner power that awaits discovery."

There is actually a lot of Christian archetypes in the book, says Evans. And good moral values, although they don't hit you over the head.

"So much of young adult literature has turned dark, almost pathological. It's almost as if there is a race to see who can be the most dysfunctional. This is the opposite of that."

Evans wanted to buck that trend with a very different kind of hero. "I love fantasy, but I wanted something unique and different, not like all the vampires and wizards that are out there now."

And the science angle is also fun, he says.

Basically, says Evans, "this is a book I'd have loved to read as a boy. I was not a reader at all, not until I discovered 'The Hobbit.' That changed my life. It gave me the courage to read. It led me to the Lord of the Rings series. And once I'd read that, I knew I could read anything because I had just read thousands of pages."

That's what reading does, he says, it empowers you.

"Plus, it organizes your brain; it's exercise for the brain. The kids who speak well, are articulate and intelligent are all readers."

If early feedback from "Michael Vey" is any indication, this a book that helps turn kids into readers.

"We tested early copies in schools all over the country, and in every case, it was the same. I've had science teachers tell me their kids are more interested in science because of the book." One teacher pointed out a kid who was getting straight F's, except he was getting his first B — in English because he loved reading the book.

Another teacher thanked him for writing a book that "the boys went nuts over. The girls are easy, she said; they will read. But she was so happy to have a book that she didn't have to beg the boys to read."

With a strong female character, it is a book that appeals to girls, too, says Evans. "And I've had kids as young as 8 who have loved it."

In one of their surveys, 93 percent of the students said they liked or loved the book; and that was in a class where 22 percent said they didn't like to read, "so we were capturing a lot of nonreaders. I love that. Also, 80 percent had told three or more friends about the book."

This book means a lot to Evans for another reason. "Of all the people I've written about, Michael is the closest to who I am."

Evans was diagnosed a few years ago with Tourette syndrome, something that is not widely understood.

"As a boy, all I knew was that I had these tics and twitches that made me different."

He hopes to raise awareness of Tourette's, but to also let kids know they are not alone.

"I got a letter from a boy who said when he read the book it was the first time in his life that he did not feel like a freak.

Another letter from a mother of a boy with Asperger syndrome said that her son felt empowered, was doing things he hadn't done before after he read about Michael."

Those are the kinds of letters that make it all worthwhile, says Evans.

"It takes a lot of faith to write a book," he says; you never know how it will be received.

So far, he hasn't had to worry. Evans is the author of 16 novels that have all appeared on the New York Times best-seller list. More than 14 million copies of his books are in print worldwide. They've been translated into 25 languages. Four books have been produced as television movies, and his list of prizes they've won ranges from a 1998 American Mothers Book Award to the 2010 Wilbur Award.

So, when he says he as a feeling that "Michael Vey is going to be very special," and that he "likes it better than anything I've done for a long time," it's really saying something.

If you go …

What: Launch party for "Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25"

When: Aug. 10, 6-9 p.m.

Where: Taylorsville High School, 5225 S. Redwood Road

How much: Free

Evans will also sign copies of his new book Aug. 11, 7 p.m., Barnes and Noble, 1780 N. Woodland Park Drive, Layton; Aug. 12, 7 p.m., Provo Library, 550 N. University Ave., Provo; Aug. 13, 10:30 a.m.-noon, Costco, 11100 S. Auto Mall Drive, Sandy; Aug. 13, 1:30-3 p.m., Costco, 648 E. 800 South, Orem; and Aug. 13, 4-5:30 p.m., 198 N. 1200 East, Lehi.

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