Plano Star Courier

Children's author plays the game

By: TODD MCCONAUGHY, Staff writer January 27, 2001

Plano author H.J. Ralles will hold the first in a series of book signings today at 2 p.m. at Borders Books, 1601 Preston Road. Ralles is promoting her first book, "Keeper of the Kingdom," a children's fantasy novel geared toward 10- to 13-year-olds. The story centers on a boy who is sucked into a computer game who must play the game from within, and becomes a character fighting for survival.

"This is a tale of technology that is out of control," Ralles said. "It questions what it would really be like to be IN a computer game."

Ralles' inspiration for the story came from watching her children become enthralled with computer games, and the difficulty she found in finding books that appealed to them.

"They were always so caught up in their games, and I wanted to come up
with stories that could relate to their passions in a literary form," Ralles said. "I began using my imagination and love for writing to come up with stories that would enliven children's minds and get them passionate about reading."

Ralles had authored several manuscripts through the years, but never
thought to show them to a publisher. She enjoyed creative writing teaching and being a stay-at-home mom, but continued to write in her spare time.

"I moved to Plano three years ago and took courses at Collin County Community College in novel writing and publishing," Ralles said. "I decided to pursue a dream and find a publisher, only I didn't realize what a difficult task that would be."

The tasks at hand included finding an agent and struggling with big publishers in New York and other major cities. Ralles ended up signing on with a local publisher, Top Publications Co. of Dallas.

"There are many pros and cons with small publishers, but its nice to work with someone local," Ralles said. "They have been so supportive and so helpful of me. I'm delighted with how my relationship has gone with them so far."

Ralles feels a shortage of material exists for young adults and children to read, especially for boys. She said there is a great deal of competition for kids to read books.

"We have television, movies, computers and video games keeping kids occupied nowadays," Ralles said. "I was looking for material to get kids interested in reading books again."

"Kingdom" brings out Ralles' simple, yet powerful message about the current state of the world.

"Computers are beginning to take over our lives," Ralles said. "The question is where this will leave us, and what does the future hold?"

"I think kids will be captured by this story, and it helps me give my enthusiasm for reading and storytelling back to the kids," she said.

Ralles will embark on an extensive calendar of book signings and other events in the coming months, including today's visit to Borders, as well as a Feb. 3 appearance at the Dallas Public Library.

"That day will be spent in a workshop with about 30 kids," Ralles said.
"I'll be working with them on fun ways to write a story, including the use of newspapers for information and inspiration in the creative process."

Thoughts on the future make Ralles hopeful of the impact of her novels.
"Everyone wants to see their first book published; there is a sense of immortality in that," she said. "I'd love to be a best-selling author, but what I'm really focused on is being known as an author that stirs children's imaginations."

"I'm looking to use my imagination, and pass on my ideas and passion to kids," Ralles said.
Ralles is a member of the Plano Writers Lab, the Golden Triangle Writers Guild and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Her second book, "Darok 9," will be published in early 2002. Ralles also is working on a sequel to "Keeper of the Kingdom."