Mom put pen to paper to fix son's blahs, then found fame as author

02/01/2003 By LINDA STEWART BALL / The Dallas Morning News

Poring through the rows of children's books with her 10-year-old son at a local bookstore, Hilary J. Ralles was growing more and more frustrated.

Everything she selected as a possible read he dismissed as too boring.

Fed up with his lack of enthusiasm for the written word, Ms. Ralles said she'd finally had enough. In her frustration, the Plano homemaker and former schoolteacher vowed to write a book that even her dyslexic, video-game-obsessed son would enjoy.

To her amazement and his she did.

That was six years and several rough drafts ago. Today, Ms. Ralles' two sons are among the growing legion of fans the local author can claim.

Last week, more than 200 young devotees crowded the Barnes and Noble on 15th Street to buy her newly released third book, Keeper of the Realm . That was so successful that she's having a book signing at the Barnes and Noble on Preston Road in West Plano at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Ten-year-old Steven Yan said he bought Keeper of the Realm the first day it came out and considers it Ms. Ralles' best.

"It's good," the Plano fifth-grader said. "I've read all of the books that she wrote so far. They're really suspense, action adventures."

Steven devoured the book's 231 pages in two or three days.

It's the second book in Ms. Ralles' Keeper series, sort of a futuristic look at what happens when you get sucked into a "mysterious and dangerous" computer game and must outwit the characters you once controlled.

Ms. Ralles' third book in the series will be released next January, although I wondered when she'd have time to actually write it. Between shuttling her now teenage sons to their activities, conducting creative writing workshops and flying across country on sporadic book tours, she's a tad busy.

But she said that she makes the time to write each day: early in the morning, late in the evening, on weekends and summer vacations.

"Quite often my husband will have to drag me off late at night because I get so involved," Ms. Ralles said. "The ideas come so fast when they come that I don't want to stop writing."

Snubbed by major publishers, she turned to a regional press. Top Publications drew her interest just because it was nearby in Dallas.

She's sold more than 6,000 copies of her first book, which was released in 2001.

Not bad for a small press with a first-time author.

"Her other books will do equally as well," predicts William Manchee, a Plano attorney who founded Top Publications. "She connects with the kids."

It seems parents are pleased, too.

Maybe it's because good always triumphs over evil in her stories. And adults and children work together to solve problems in an environment of mutual respect. While that might sound like a formula guaranteed to send kids running in the other direction, for some reason it hasn't.

Ms. Ralles, who conducted a writing workshop for fourth- and fifth-graders at Weatherford Elementary School in Plano last year, returned to do another earlier this week.

"She was back by popular demand," said Jayme Karen, the school's librarian. "Both the teachers and the students just love her. First of all, she has this adorable British accent. They sit up right away and notice that.

"She's selling a genre that's not very prevalent. A lot of students are into fantasy and science fiction, but there's not a lot to choose from," Ms. Karen said. "She's addressing a need for that age group. Her books are very exciting. ... She writes what they want to hear."

After students leave her lively workshops, during which key elements of the state-standardized tests are also addressed, I'm told students want to sit down and write themselves.

Hmm. If H.J. Ralles truly transforms reluctant readers into passionate writers, then she sounds like a keeper of the literary kingdom to me.

E-mail LSBall@dallasnews.com

or call 214-977-6968.