Plano Top Stories

Author seeks to put fun into science fiction


Eight-foot-tall talking lizards from outer space landed Saturday at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Preston Road to the great delight of some Plano Independent School District students.

Hilary Ralles, writing as H.J. Ralles, read to the students from her fourth science fiction novel, "Keeper of the Empire," which is aimed at middle school students.

"This is my way of giving back to Plano," said Ralles, whose oldest son, a student at Plano East Senior High School who will attend the University of Arkansas in the fall.

Ralles said she wants to show young people that science fiction can be fun.

"A lot of people are turned off because they've picked the wrong type for them," Ralles said of the varying quality and abundance of work within that genre. "My books are technically science fiction, but I like to think of them as futuristic adventures."

Those released previously have been a hit with local kids, and the profits from her books sold in PISD schools are channeled back to the district.

Martheil Mauthe-Clanton, executive director of the Plano ISD Education Foundation, said the books raised about $3,000 during the 2001-2002 school year and $3,600 last year.

"My kids read them - and love them," Mauthe-Clanton said of her own fifth-grader and third-grader.

Ralles, once a school teacher in England, began writing these books seven years ago in what became a successful attempt to divert her two sons from video games, and to inspire them to read more often.

Having her children help critique her drafts has contributed to the effort.

"They do pick up on things that adults don't pick up on," Ralles said.

Formerly the Plano Futures Foundation, the Plano ISD Education Foundation was created 11 years ago. Prior to 2000, the foundation brought in about $15,000 to $20,000 annually, Mauthe-Clanton said, but in recent years, after revamping the program, they've averaged from $150,000 to $200,000 annually.

Innovative instructional programs, emergency assistance for teachers and staff in crisis, academic enrichment, recruitment and retention of quality teachers and recognition of teachers and staff members are the main programs.

But "we are looking at a couple of new things," she said.

Ralles believes about 60 percent of her readers are boys, and she said she makes certain to provide strong female characters.

Ralles shares an audience with children's fantasy author J.K Rowling.

"I'm delighted by what she's done by writing," Ralles said. "Not for a century, no one's done it like her."

Ralles' work is not fantasy; it's science fiction.

"They're not the same thing," she said.

Ralles also conducts workshops at regional schools, allowing students to participate in "Meet the Author" programs and composition and writing projects and contests.

Contact staff writer Gentry Braswell at 972.398.4264 or


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