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James A. Owen
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James A. Owen   James A. Owen is the illustrator and writer of the Starchild comic books and the Mythworld series. He's also the founder and executive director of Coppervale International, an art and design studio. In both 1994 and 1995, James A. Owen was listed by Hero Illustrated as one of the top 100 most influential people in the Comic Book Industry. He has also written and illustrated the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, which includes Here There Be Dragons.

Buy James A. Owen's Books at the following locations: (downloadable audio books) (independent bookstores)
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This episode originally aired on 12/10/2009 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with James A. Owen

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Bonus Question(s) that Didn't Air on the Live Radio Show

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it.

Matthew Peterson: Let me ask you a bonus question here.

James A. Owen: Okay.

Matthew Peterson: I thought this would be a fun story. You told me a very interesting story of your first job as a newspaper writer, do you mind sharing with everybody your story of how you got that job?

James A. Owen: [laughs] I donít mind. When I was just out of high school, Iíd actually had several years of experience as an illustrator, but wanted to get into something a little bit more creative and I thought Iíd like a job as a newspaper man. I was going through a very serious Clark Kent stage. And I decided thatís what Iíd like to be is a newspaper reporter, but found out very quickly that youíve got to have things like a degree in journalism to be a newspaper reporter.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: Also, if you just walk in and ask for a job theyíll usually point you to like the loading docks. And that wasnít exactly what I had in mind. So I took a cue from a story Iíd heard about Steven Spielberg and Universal Studios. Where he went on the Universal tour in a suit with his fatherís briefcase that had nothing but a sandwich in it and a name plate that read ďSteven Spielberg, Director.Ē And he left the tour, found an empty trailer on the Universal lot and set himself up in an office. And basically just talked his way in to having an office on the Universal lot.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: So I had done some work for some printers and built up some credit and I took one of the business cards from this newspaper and basically made up my own business cards and gave myself a title of ďEditorial InternĒ because I figured if I was an editorial intern nobody would squawk at that. Talked my way into the editorial department by showing them the business cards, then found an empty desk where I had a little name plate that I had made up to match the other name plates there and then basically survived because I was a decent enough writer that I could rewrite pieces for the editors on the spot.

I couldnít type, but I figured out that if you did errands for the secretarial pool they would more than gladly type up anything I needed typed, while I learned how to type. And then this was also early enough that everybody was starting to switch things to computers, but nobody was really used to it yet, and so when payday came around I went to my editor and told him I hadnít actually gotten a pay check.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

James A. Owen: And he basically cursed the new computers for losing the information and then sat there and entered my information on the spot. And it took several months and I got through a couple of promotions before I ended up taking another job with another company. And it wasnít until my going away party that somebody figured out Iíd never actually been hired.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

James A. Owen: No one could remember interviewing me. I just suddenly had shown up and had the hutzba to just talk my way into a job. But the important thing when I tell people--especially students--this story is itís not just having the boldness of going in there and doing something. I had to be able to write.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: I had to be able to write fast and cleanly and do it on demand. Thatís the requirements of a job at a newspaper, and if I hadnít been able to do that then all the boldness and business cards in the world wouldnít have done me any good, but yeah, that was . . . [laughs] one of the early adventurous episodes of my young writing career.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, that was a very unique story. That definitely takes some courage to do something like that. You know, I donít think I could ever do something quite like that. [laughs] Just walk in with a name tag, and there you go!

James A. Owen: Iíd go into an advertising agency and these were ones that knew me. Youíd go in there with the idea that youíre going to be a trouble shooter and somebodyís always got some design job or layout or something thatís over due and off schedule. And if you go in there with enough confidence that, you know, ďI can take care of this for you. I can fix this.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: A lot of times when people are having problems like that, what they want is somebody that says, ďI can fix this.Ē Thatís half of it is somebody saying, ďI can do this for you.Ē And if youíve had enough experience where you can demonstrate that youíve done this before. Thatís the other half of the battle.

Matthew Peterson: Thank you so much, James. I think thatís a great bonus question. [laughs]

James A. Owen: You are welcome. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: I thought that was really funny when you shared that story that first time.

James A. Owen: You know, I havenít talked about where it was in many years, because I said which newspaper it was once.

Matthew Peterson: Uh, huh.

James A. Owen: Oh man! They had like half a dozen people come in there with fake business cards. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Ohhh! Really?

James A. Owen: As in other people trying to do it.

Matthew Peterson: Trying to do the same . . .

James A. Owen: Just to see if they could get a job.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, no!

James A. Owen: So Iíve never said it since. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. How funny. How funny.

James A. Owen: Every once in a while . . . I actually heard that story told at the BYU Management Society.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, really?

James A. Owen: In Mesa. My roommates were like the secretary and editor of the newsletter for the BYU Management Society and we went to this banquet and one of the speakers was an executive from like Zionís Bank.

Matthew Peterson: Uh, huh.

James A. Owen: And he tells this story of an example of entrepreneurial spirit.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

James A. Owen: Not realizing that the guy the storyís about it in the audience.

Matthew Peterson: Is in the audience.

James A. Owen: All of my friends are sitting there laughing while this guyís telling the story Ďcause he has no clue Iím there. But that was pretty cool.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, thatís funny. I just realized that I forgot to ask you a question that I wanted to ask. And I thought this would be good. I hear that Warner Bros bought the rights to Here There Be Dragons. Any news on that?

James A. Owen: [laughs] Actually as of last December we got the rights back.

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

James A. Owen: They had only optioned it. They hadnít purchased it, and the producers that had taken it were David Goyer, who wrote the Batman movies and David Heyman who makes the Harry Potter films. And just Heyman being involved got me a lot of attention when Here There Be Dragons came out. And I wrote the first draft of the screenplay for Warner. And then it was a matter of just waiting for the schedules to work out, and then they decided to split the last Harry Potter film into two movies.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

James A. Owen: And that pushed anything that David was going to do many years ahead. So we got to the point where Warner was going to renew the options, and we discussed it with them and decided that we wanted to go in a different direction. And it would have been nice to continue to work with David Heyman, but on the other hand, when we did the original deal with Warner, it was an unknown book; I was a fairly unknown author and they saw it as taking a lot of risks. And now Iím being published in a lot of countries, and weíre into our sixth hard cover printing on Here There Be Dragons and the fourth book in the series is out. So itís a much better position to be discussing with studios, and hopefully thereís going to be some announcements about the new movie studio.

Matthew Peterson: Oh good! Thatís exciting Ďcause I know lots of books do get optioned. Few of them do become movies. I talked to one author who said, ďMan I hope my book never becomes a movie because then Iíll miss out on all this money Iím getting. Iíve sold the options several times so far. What if itís a flop? Then I wonít be able to sell the options to my other books.Ē

James A. Owen: Well, even one that doesnít do as well as anybody expects, take Eragon.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: Eragon was not a wonderful movie. It didnít perform as well as they wanted, and Chris still sold like 11 million books.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: If thatís a flop, you know, bring it on!

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Bring it on. Definitely. Yeah, so thatís exciting, though. Iíll be looking forward to that.

James A. Owen: Me too!

Matthew Peterson: It would be definitely a good book to become a movie.

James A. Owen: Thank you. Now when they put out the press release, the weekend before the book went on sale... And the bad part about that was they gave away the big secret at the end of the book.

Matthew Peterson: Oh. Okay.

James A. Owen: In like the first paragraph.

Matthew Peterson: So I was careful not to do that Ďcause I could tell that you didnít want to reveal that, so I didnít.

James A. Owen: Weíre still getting enough new readers that I try to hold back, but it was like in all those reports.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: But at the same time, you know, that meant the week before my book went on sale my name got connected to Harry Potter.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: Which got huge exposure.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, I can imagine.

James A. Owen: Oh, I know, that gave us a boost.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. That secret is . . . I mean, people arenít scared to share secrets, you know, the endings of books and stuff like that in amazon reviews and stuff like that.

James A. Owen: Oh, yeah.

Matthew Peterson: I got some secrets at the end of my book and Iím like, ďOh!Ē My little boy was telling everybody at school the endings of my book and Iím like, ďNo! You donít do that!Ē [laughs]

James A. Owen: [laughs] Right. Iíve been a little more lax about it because weíre basically four books in.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: If people have read them enough to even start buying them, theyíll come across it. If they havenít then itís kind of a, ďOh really? Well, now Iím going to go look it up.Ē So Iím not quite as worried about it as I used to be, but itís still fun when people hit it cold.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: And then hit that surprise not seeing it coming at all.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Itís like Enderís Game. You know, thatís the type of thing. Itís like, you cannot tell the secret to [Enderís Game], Ďcause the next book is totally different.

James A. Owen: Right.

Extra Material That was Cut from the Show Because of Time Constraints

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it (you'll need to fast forward past the bonus questions).

Matthew Peterson: Imaginarium Geographica.

James A. Owen: Yep. Thatís the easy one. When I start getting into the Latin names of Islands and things, then it gets complicated.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I can imagine.

James A. Owen: [laughs]

* * * * * * * * * *

Matthew Peterson: So I wanted to ask you a question about Star Child and the Mythworld series. Tell us a little bit about your comic book writing with Star Child and then a little bit about Mythworld. I know Mythworld is in German, right?

James A. Owen: German and French, yeah.

Matthew Peterson: German and French, so itís not as known here in the U.S., but tell us a little bit about those two.

James A. Owen: Star Child was the comic book series that I wrote and illustrated starting in 1992 and going through most of the Ď90s. It was basically my dark and stormy night stories, is what my friends called them. Iíd always loved comics. Iíd started in comics actually as a teenager in the mid Ď80s. So Star Child was my first big project. And somewhere in the mid Ď90s I started getting fan letters from an author named Kai Myer, who really loved these comic books. And it turned out that he was a very, very famous novelist in Germany, and we started a correspondence. And one day he asked me if I would be interested in actually writing a prose novel. And I told him I was. And it turned out he was approached by a publisher to conceive and edit a series of novels that could be sold with his name on the cover, kind of like the Tom Clancy books now. Tom Clancyís NetForce and Op-Center are actually written by other people. But they use his name in the title to get the sales recognition.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: And Kai was creating this series called Mythworld. And he asked if I would be interested in writing one of these seven books. And so he sent me about 3 pages of notes. I was going to write the second or third in the series. So I wrote book two with no existing book one and sent it into him.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

James A. Owen: And it turned out none of the other authors heíd contacted had even started, so I wrote up twenty more pages of notes and ended up writing the rest of the books. And thatís what gave me the experience of prose writing, to be able to do the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica and the fact that I had done 6-700 pages worth of Star Child is what gave me the experience to illustrate it. So the books Iím doing now are kind of a culminating point from what I learned doing Star Child for a number of years and then writing the Mythworld novels.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, not too many authors can say, ďI wrote book two, before book one was even started.Ē [laughs]

James A. Owen: That was a bit of a challenge.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, I can imagine.

James A. Owen: I gave him a caveat of, ďHey, I donít even know anything about these other characters.Ē There werenít even any real characters invented yet. He had some general ideas about it having to do with the Wagner festival, the Ring operas in Bayreuth Germany. And my character was supposed to be about a young American journalist who turns into the Russian witch Baba Yaga. That was the whole outline. It had to do with this Ring opera and the world evolving into a mythological state where technology doesnít work. And so I said, ďYou guys can throw out anything you need to, to make it work with the other novel.Ē And then he said, ďWell, this is obviously a first novel.Ē And I already had some ideas for these other stories.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: And it just worked out that I could write the other books.

Matthew Peterson: Huh. Interesting. So that definitely gave you a nice springboard to do the Chronicles of Imaginarium. And the first book is Here There Be Dragons.

* * * * * * * * * *

James A. Owen: But also to some of the old classic novels, you know, Treasure Island, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Tenniel, or Arthur Rackham.

* * * * * * * * * *

Matthew Peterson: Is there going to be another book after this one? Do you have more in mind?

James A. Owen: Thereís going to be several. Iíve art for book 5 on my drawing board right now and Iím writing book 6. So several more to come, at least, in this series.

* * * * * * * * * *

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: And in the Shadow Dragons thereís one drawing where itís a dinner party and youíve got Percy and Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens sitting at a table, and in the background on the walls I describe these tapestries that were just filled with all this imagery. And I actually drew the tapestries. Itís maybe four inches wide and seven inches long, and there may be 50 or 60 little scenes in this 4 x 7 inch square. Everyone here at the studio thought I was out of my mind. But it worked out.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, I think you showed me that. I remember seeing it and I remember seeing all the detail. Wow, I mean, the drawings are very detailed. Theyíre with a pen, right? Just pen and paper?

James A. Owen: Yes, yep.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

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