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King's English
Julie Berry speaks this spring at the King's English Bookshop.

Julie Berry is an LDS mother of four boys younger than 12 who lives just outside Boston.

When her debut novel, "The Amaranth Enchantment," was published in March, it triggered a front-page story in the Boston Globe about the growing number of female LDS authors who are "surging into the genre of young-adult literature" with "wholesome" fantasy books.

But for Berry, the book is just a logical extension of what she, herself, always liked to read.

"I grew up loving the 'Narnia' books," she said during a visit to the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City earlier this spring. "I read it over and over. When I was older, I read Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander."

And then, she said, along came Harry Potter. "It legitimized fantasy for young readers and led to a blossoming of the fantasy genre."

Berry actually began by writing humor. "A friend and I challenged each other to write essays about our children, Erma Bombeck-style." That eventually led to a regular column in the MetroWest Daily News and then on to an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College.

"I still didn't know if I could become an author on my own," she said, but she was determined to give it a try.

"I wrote three novels; two were fantasy, one was an alternate reality. 'The Amaranth Enchantment' was the second one I wrote, and it won a prize at Vermont," Berry said. And that led eventually to an agent and a publishing contract.

The story "dips deeply into the fairy-tale well," she said. "It's not a direct retelling of a known story, but you open the cupboard, and you find it all there — all the ingredients of a fairy tale are mixed in."

For her, she said, "fantasy was such a comfortable place to start writing." But she also thinks the stories are a great place for readers to start. "They are a place to find epic stories where miracles happen and all things are possible. When you give yourself permission to believe in magic and monsters, you unlock something in the imagination. I remember so vividly being utterly swept away by the magic, the romance, the adventure. I felt like I was there. And that's the premise of all fiction, to take you there."

If she has one hope for her book, it would be "that it's the kind of book girls would hole up in a corner and read, or stay up late at night with a flashlight to finish."

She also wanted it to be a story that "would open the doors of the mind to larger possibilities of eternity in some way." In the book, the heroine Lucinda does that. "Brushing against that can change lives," said Berry. "It humbles you, but it also helps you realize your own worth."

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Some people tease Berry about writing for girls when she has four boys. "But I am a girl," she said. However, she hopes to "take a stab at a book that boys would be drawn to, too."

For readers looking for other fantasy books to read, she lists a few of her favorites: "Beauty," by Robin McKinley; "Skellig," by David Almond; "The Perilous Guard," by Elizabeth Pope; and "Keturah and Lord Death," by Martine Leavitt.

"They are all beautiful books and imaginative fantasies," she said.

E-mail: carma@desnews.com