Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Art, Fantasy, Imagination, and the "Hollow Earth" of the Barrowmans, Carole and John.

The first thing on everybody's mind is Hurricane Sandy.Our thoughts are with our friends with everyone in the book world who are dealing with the storm's effects.

A lot of folks were calling last night to make sure our event with Joan Walsh was still a go. In fact, she had already arrived in Milwaukee previous to the event, having friends in the area (and yes, we had a great time). I've checked with our other upcoming authors who were on tour, and nobody seemed to be coming from the east coast, with the exception of Orson Scott Card, who was connecting in Atlanta, but there appear to be no delays in that area. And now onto today's post for John and Carole Barrowman's new novel, Hollow Earth.

So the first problem when the Barrowman siblings write a novel like Hollow Earth (on sale today, October 30) together is that if you say "John and Carole E. Barrowman," it sounds like they are married. Saying John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman implies a slightly less close relationship, but it's clunky. So at least for now, I'm going with the Barrowman siblings.

Locals know that Carole is a professor at Alverno College, teaching in the English department and directing the relatively new creative writing program. She is also know for her book criticism at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (focusing on mysteries and speculative novels), as well as her regular appearances on Morning Blend. We've hosted her at Boswell twice, once for co-writing Barrowman's second memoir, I Am What I Am, and once as part of a group event with some of the writers from Chicks Dig Timelords.

And her brother John? Best known for his role as Captain Jack Harkness in "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood," he's also been featured in several American television shows, recorded several music albums, and had lead roles in musicals both on New York's Broadway and London's West End.

With a pedigree like that, you can imagine what their interests would be. The book would have both fantastical and mystery elements. It would celebrate creativity and the arts. And it would likely feature a pair of close siblings. And you'd be right. And there would be a medley of show tunes!

Matt and Emily Calder live with their mom Sandie in London, where she works as an artist. Their dad has long ago run off. But the twins have a secret--they know they can bring artwork to life. It turns out that these are the skills of Animares, a gifted line of artists that have been known throughout history. And there are also Guardians, who pair off with Animares to watch over them. Guardians have special powers too, of the empathic variety. But the rule is that Guardians and Animares must never have children together, but guess what? Matt and Em's father was a Guardian.

So the secret's out that Matt and Em's powers are developing (they usually don't fully mature until the age of 16) and so now there are evil forces after them, battling bands who either want to stop or harness their powers. And the worst of the bunch are the Hollow Earth Society, who wants to find the portal to the world where all the demons go after they vanish from artistic creation.

Sandie and the twins are whisked off to an island off the coast of Scotland, where they are reunited with their grandfather and some family friends, including Zach, a deaf kid of their age who is a science geek. The twins of course pick up sign language easily, but better than that, Em figures out she can communicate telepathically.

So of course the stage is set. Three curious kids. Ominous villains. And things will get worse before they get better, because pretty much everyone wants Matt and Em, either to protect them, study them, use them, or destroy them.

The Barrowmans started with a metaphor for imagination and creativity and took it to the the nth degree. In a way, an artist of any kind (writer, painter, musician, actor) takes the artificial and makes it real. And Hollow Earth proclaims that this power can change the world, and of course we know it really can. All this wrapped around a fun adventure. Sure it's a bit violent, but one of the ways you can tell this is positioned as a middle grade and not a young adult novel is that the good people are, at least to my knowledge, gravely hurt but rarely killed. Jump the age range another four years and there would be a lot more carnage.

Matt and Em's relationship is at the core of the story, and you can guess that the Barrowmans put a bit of themselves into the Hollow Earth siblings. They are incredibly protective of each other, but not above teasing. When one is afraid, the other is strong. And they also learn that they can accomplish great things when they collaborate, but they can also do great things on their own, just like in life.

Nowadays a lot of first books in a series have cliffhanger endings. But it's also not unusual for them to be self-contained, but with unanswered questions, and Hollow Earth follows the latter path. I'm grateful for that, because it allows folks who are never going to get through a three, four, or increasingly seven-to-nine novel experience and can still have a satisfying reading experience.

John and Carole are appearing at Alverno College's Wehr Hall on Friday, November 2, 7 pm. The hall is located at 4100 W. Morgan Ave. Because Alverno provided the space to us as part of their school programming with no charge, we are not ticketing this event. Space is limited to 350, but if it fills up, don't worry, you'll still be able to get a book signed by John and Carole. But if you do want to come, I'd get there early, certainly by 6:30. Buy your copy of Hollow Earth from us and pass the time in a world of Animares and Guardians.

I'm expecting the show tune medley in the sequel. Don't let me down, Barrowman siblings!

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