‘Atherton’ author entertains

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
Young adult author Patrick Carman speaks to Iola schools fourth- and fifth-graders Thursday afternoon in the Iola High School lecture hall. Carman, author of the Iola Reads fall selection, “Atherton, House of Power,” entertained the classes with tales of his own childhood shenanigans and answered questions on why he began to write books.

Patrick Carman, author of this year’s Iola Reads young adult selection, “Atherton, the House of Power,” regaled Iola fourth- and fifth-graders Thursday afternoon with tales of his own childhood shenanigans. He had the audience laughing at antics such as placing a toy under his mother’s backing-up car while a friend wailed like a run-over cat. “You should have seen her face,” he said. “Crazy-haired Gary and I just laughed and laughed and laughed. Of course, we stopped laughing when my mom’s face peered over the hedge.”
Then he and Gary cut open a goo-filled toy — “let me tell, you, that stuff tasted terrible. It didn’t taste like something you should be eating.” The children — and adults — laughed along, knowing they’d most likely try the same thing.
Carman continued talking to the students about the beauty of reading, how each person’s imagination creates unique pictures in their mind.
“The coolest thing about reading,” he told them, “is you’re the director of your own story. Everything you think or sense about that book is all you. Even if a million other people have read it before you, when you read it, it’s brand new.”
And, he told them, “not everyone is captivated by the same thing. When you see something that’s interesting to you, write it down, or take a picture of it.”
Carman admitted to being oriented more toward visuals than to the written word. Nonetheless, he encouraged students to keep journals. He said when he first started keeping his own, it was all “words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Sigh. Words, words, words, words, words.” So he changed that, and began drawing on the pages.
“I don’t think I’m an amazing artist,” he told the students, “but I like to draw.”
His trick, he said, was to “put little arrows that say what I think I see in the picture.” A sketch of simple lines becomes “a dragon. Its wings are blue. Another arrow points to a line and says, it has huge claws that are going to tear you up.”
In pictures, Carman said, “the big ideas are all right there.”

IT WAS FROM a single sketch, and thinking about the way the earth’s environment is changing, that the idea for the Atherton series was born, he said.
On a plane, talking to someone he met about his ideas for the multi-level world, Carman said the man took out a photograph and said “you’ve got to see this.” It was a picture of a plateau in Greece, where people living at the top use a basket system to receive their goods.
“A lot of (Atherton) started to take shape because I saw this one picture,” he told the students.
Carman told students that Atherton was an anagram about the story. Its moral evolves from the fact that Atherton is a created world.
“In a sense, this guy is playing God, and because he does, he creates a lot of problems,” Carman said.
The Atherton books are a cautionary tale about taking care of the Earth, Carman said.

BECAUSE people are reading less and less, and because Carman himself enjoys video games and the cyber world, he said his latest books involve a merging of the two media.
“Ghost in the Machine” has interruptions in the text that require logging on to a Web site and watching segments of the story, he said. Another series, “39 Clues,” is a video game/book combination written by 10 authors, of which Carman is one. Readers log on to the Web-based game and play as a character in the story. “You find one clue in each book, but you have to find 29 online,” he told the audience.
Despite the blurring between reality and video that seems to be occurring these days, Carman reminded students that books and movies are fiction. “The first thing you have to remember is, I made the whole thing up. The second thing is, it’s not that scary.”
In answering questions from students, Carman said all three of his series, Elyon, Atherton and Skeleton Creek, have been optioned as movies. “Studios have bought the rights to make these into movies, but I don’t know if it will happen.”
Carman said he wrote his first series “for my own kids. I just wanted a good story to tell.” As a child, his first favorite book was “Where the Wild Things Are.” His second was “The Lorax,” the environmental tale by Dr. Seusss.
“When I got a little older, there weren’t that many books for kids,” he told the students. “Learn to love reading now, while the getting’s good,” he said.
Carman said that when selecting books to read, find some “just for fun.”
“When you get older, you’ll be surprised how few adults read.”