Plano Star Courier

Move over Rowling, here comes Ralles

By: TODD McCONAUGHY, Staff writer January 19, 2002

Plano children's author set for release of second book

What a difference a year makes.

Last January, Plano author H.J. Ralles nervously awaited the release of her first work, "Keeper of the Kingdom," a fantasy she wrote in reaction to her struggles with finding books that appealed to her computer-literate children.

A small, local publishing company released "Keeper," a story about a boy sucked into a computer game who must play the game from within and fight for survival.

Almost immediately it began attracting fans, not only in the Dallas area but also throughout the southwest.

Ralles spent 2001 promoting her novel through signings at countless area bookstores and through traveling to places such as Las Vegas and Tucson, Ariz. She spent much time away from her family in an effort to get her name and her work noticed by as many people as possible.

One year later, her hard work apparently has paid off.

"Keeper" is in its second printing after selling out its first printing in eight months. Along the way, Ralles was named the Barnes and Noble Author of the Month for the Dallas District in September.

The book made several local best-seller lists, and became part of the reading curriculum at Carlisle Elementary School in the Plano school district.

"My life has changed completely in the last year," Ralles said. "It's been extremely rewarding while also very demanding at the same time.

"I've been all around Texas and several out-of-state locations promoting the book, and it's been tough. But I'm so grateful for the support of my family. My husband and kids have been wonderful and understanding of my schedule."

Ralles also credits her publishing company, Top Publications, and local bookstores, namely Barnes and Noble and Borders, for their support in making "Keeper" a success.

"My publisher is very author-friendly, and I'm eternally thankful for them," Ralles said. "Area book stores have been so supportive and provided me with added publicity, which is tough to come by when you're an unknown author with a small publishing company. It's definitely been an unbelievable year, and it's all about to start over again."

Ralles' second book, "Darok 9," will be released this weekend, and the author will be promoting her new work at least as much as her first.

She will take part in a release party for the novel at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Barnes and Noble at 801 W. 15th St. She'll read excerpts from the new book to children and provide instruction on how to design books covers.

"Darok 9," set in 2120, is about a young scientist living on the moon, where former Earth inhabitants now live.

To aid humans in the extreme living conditions on the lunar surface, he has created a drug that eliminates the body's need for water. Meanwhile, officials running the lunar towns, called Daroks, want the drug and its secrets, putting the scientist's life in danger.

The book, along with Ralles' first novel, is meant for readers ages 10 to 13. The author, however, believes adults also can enjoy the action-packed fantasy found in both works.

"I really hope adults enjoy it while recognizing it's for kids," Ralles said. "My stories are fast-moving, have good morals and clean language.

"The new book is wonderful, and my hope is that it has double the popularity compared to my first one."

Although Ralles would love for her books to become nationally known and keep increasing in popularity, the potential for riches and fame is not why she is an author.

"I love writing, and I love that my stories are helping to bring kids into reading," she said. "It's all about the kids for me. If I inspire just one, it's all worth it. I don't want to be rich. I do it for my love of children and my passion for reading and writing."

Ralles has spent a much time in the last year visiting schools and holding writing workshops for students. She touches on everything from how to unleash the imagination and develop story ideas to insight into the writing and publishing process that goes into producing a book.

She has visited several schools around the Dallas area, including several within the PISD.

"I can't even count how many schools I've been to in the last year, but I've loved every one of them," Ralles said.

A native of England, Ralles has lived in Plano for nearly four years with her husband, Malcolm, and sons Richard and Edward, who are students at Clark High School.

She worked as a creative-writing teacher and stay-at-home mom for several years while authoring several manuscripts for her family and friends to read, never dreaming they would be shown to a publisher someday.

After her move to Plano, Ralles took courses at Collin County Community College in novel writing and publishing and decided to pursue her dream and find a publisher.

She wrote "Keeper" in 1997, inspired by watching her sons' fascination with computer and video games.

Ralles is working on the sequel to her first book, "Keeper of the Realm," which will be the second installment in a "Keeper" trilogy.

She is a member of the Plano Writers Lab and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Contact staff writer Todd McConaughy at 972-543-2238 or at mcconaughy@hotmail.com.