If you've heard maniacal laughter lately, you can bet it's because something cool just happened in the Hazzardous Universe.

"It's kind of like a mad scientist giggle," said "Hazzardous Universe" author Julie Wright as she explained her sometimes reaction to favorite parts in her story. "I think, 'I totally thought that up. I made up something just awesome.'"

But the idea of "Hazzardous Universe" (Covenant Communications, $12.99) wasn't Wright's alone. In fact, rewind a couple of years to 1993, when illustrator Kevin Wasden began sketches of a character named Hap.

"(The main characert Hap) just hung around in sketchbooks, loose leafs and in drawers. I just felt like I could never let him go and I kept generating," Wasden explained.

In 2007, Wasden and Wright met at BYU's "Life, the Universe and Everything" symposium, where Wright noticed his doodlings. After drawing a couple of pictures for Wright's boys, the illustrator bought — and enjoyed — her first book, "My Not So Fairy-Tale Life."

"I liked her development of characters and dialogue. I couldn't get it out of my head, so I broke kind of the cardinal sin of asking an author, 'I have this project, you want to do it?'" Wasden said. "You just don't do that."

But Wright had already seen his work and knew that he was a respected and professional illustrator. The two met for lunch to discuss Wasden's ideas for a book series.

"He had this file filled with illustrations, and he just kind of slid them across the table and said, 'OK, here is what I got. Do you want to do this?'" Wright recalled.

The rest is history.

Wasden had his own ideas of what he wanted Hap and many of book characters to be. Wasden explained Wright took the "spirit of Hap" and put him in a world that she created and crafted around it. Wright browsed Wasden's sketches and picked which ones inspired her and would be incorporated into the story. Then Wright added a few of her own, such as Tara.

"It's fun for me to read through and see how my characters are developed. (Wright) has taken them and given them life and depth," Wasden said. "Everyone tells you not to get into collaborations, but the secret is that you have to allow the other to craft into it and do their part."

For Wright, who will have written 13 books after finishing the second book in the four-book Hazzardous series, this is her first book without LDS characters or tie-ins. Wright said it was important to write to her "own people."

"I didn't understand the girls in my ward when I was growing up. They were so not me," Wright said. "My teachers who were really smart started feeding me books of girls who were people I could relate to a little better, and I learned a lot of my own testimony through fictional novels.”

Because Julie was able to grow and grasp her place in the gospel through books, it was important for her to write to and affect teenagers who might be struggling or wonder how they fit in God’s plan.

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Although "Hazzardous" is not an LDS book, there are familiar LDS themes. The book was written, in many ways, for Wasden's and Wright's children, the illustrator explained. Wasden, the father of five, and Wright, the mother of three, dedicated the first book to their sons — with being a man of honor as a strong theme in the first book. "We wanted to encourage people to do what is right."

In the end, Wright and Wasden have enjoyed the collaboration because of the “sheer adventure of it.”

“The fact you are dealing with the universe means the possibilities of adventure are limitless,” Wright said. “I hope when kids read this they feel that limitless potential they each have. That there is a universe full of possibilities for them, and they can achieve great things if they are willing to stand up and do the right thing.”

Hikari Loftus lives in Salt Lake City and received her bachelor's degree from the University of Utah in journalism.


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