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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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Matthew Peterson: Hello there. Iím Matthew Peterson, author of Paraworld Zero and radio show host of The Author Hour: Youíre Guide to Fantastic Fiction, which can be found at Last week on my show I had Sherrilyn Kenyon, Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong, and Charles de Lint. Today Iíve got four young adult authors: James A. Owen, Frank Beddor, John Flanagan, and James Dashner. My first guest is James A. Owen, illustrator and writer of the Starchild comic books and Mythworld series. James is the founder and executive director of Coppervale International, an art and design studio. In both 1994 and Ď95, James was listed by Hero Illustrated as one of the top 100 most influential people in the Comic Book Industry. James has also written and illustrated the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, which includes Here There Be Dragons. Thanks for being on the show, James.

James A. Owen: Oh, thanks for having me, Matthew.

Matthew Peterson: Now, I met you not too long ago where you, me, and Aprilynn Pike were doing a book signing together.

James A. Owen: Yeah, at the convention in Tempe.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, the FiestaCon, I think. You had a very unique way of signing books that put Aprilynn and me to shame. [laughs] You actually drew a picture of a dragon on the cover page with your signature.

James A. Owen: Well . . . [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Do you always do that? [laughs]

James A. Owen: You know I keep saying that Iím going to stop doing that, but it goes over so well with the readers that I always end up breaking down and pulling out the pens and going to town on it. You know, itís kind of a unique position to be in, where Iím also the illustrator of the books that I write. That really doesnít happen too often.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: And my background in comic books, we used to do the trade shows, myself and several other creators, and I learned from them how to do these sketches for these retailers. So I got in the practice. I mean, at one trade show I think we all did twelve-fifteen hundred sketches in four days.

Matthew Peterson: Oh. Oh man!

James A. Owen: So you had to learn how to draw in ink really fast while youíre having a conversation with people. And one of the first trade shows I did for Here There Be Dragons, one of the first people in line for the advance reader copies was a comic book retailer. And he said, ďAre you going to do a sketch in the book, like you did in the graphic novels?Ē And I thought that sounded like a fine idea, so I did a few sort of lousy dragons and then that night sat in my hotel room and figured out a way to do a nice looking dragon with minimum number of lines and ever since Iíve contributed a lot to the pen manufacturersí bottom lines.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, I can imagine.

James A. Owen: Buying lots of blue and red and green and . . . [laughs] pens I needed to draw the sketches.

Matthew Peterson: Well, I have a hard enough time signing my own name while talking to someone. So I just canít imagine doing a whole sketch. Thatís definitely a talent that you have.

James A. Owen: Itís gotten a rhythm now. You get that rhythm down. There was a woman that came to a signing in New York and I was doing the drawing and she turned to her daughter and said, ďLook, hun, that only took him five minutes.Ē And I said, ďActually, itís taken me 30 years.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

James A. Owen: Itís a cumulative thing and you know, I must have drawn eight or ten thousand of those dragons by now, so Iíve kind of got it down.

Matthew Peterson: Youíve got it down. Yeah.

Well, the other day I saw a video of you online. This was kind of a funny video. It was a ďSave the Book BabeĒ event with Stephenie Meyer . . .

James A. Owen: Oh! [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: . . . Brandon Mull, and Shannon Hale and others. [laughs]

James A. Owen: That was quite an event. Which video was it?

Matthew Peterson: The video was probably the more incriminating one. You were up on the stage singing and the other authors were behind you, dancing, or rather trying to dance. [laughs]

James A. Owen: Okay. Now, having that range of authors as my backup dancers, you know, thatís now the top item on my resume.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yep.

James A. Owen: It was Project Book Babe for our friend Faith Hochhalter, who was instrumental in helping launch the careers of me and Shannon Hale and Stephenie Meyer and P.J. Haarsma, just a dozen authors that came together to help her out when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And Shannon Hale got this idea of us dancing to this Aretha Franklin song on stage and then for whatever reason, and I blamed it on the cold medication I was taking, I thought it would be less embarrassing to actually sing the Aretha Franklin song so I wouldnít have to dance with the rest of the authors.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Oh man.

James A. Owen: So, uh, yeah. Faith loved it and YouTube loves it and whew! [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: I thought it was pretty funny. And they kept zooming in to Brandon Mull and heís just shaking his arms and then all of a sudden he starts getting into the beat and . . . [laughs]

James A. Owen: The funny part is we never got to rehearse. And the version that we learned the song to is a slightly different version than the one they learned to dance to. And when we started, we couldnít hear the music. The auditorium could, but we couldnít.

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

James A. Owen: So I started late. The music was already going, so the choreography didnít match up with the lyrics I was singing. And then at the end when they were supposed to start freestyling, Brandon Mull started freestyle dancing when the rest of them were trying to do the choreographed stuff.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, thatís what I saw.

James A. Owen: And then Dean Lorey and Stephenie Meyer came out behind us and started vogue-ing their way across the stage, and the whole audience screamed, which meant we couldnít hear the music at all, so pretty much it was an absolute travesty as far as music and dancing ability went. But as far as an event for our friend, Faith, I think it was a smash.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Oh, definitely. I think a lot of money was given. And I feel like such a dummy. I got an email about it. I was going to go and I donít remember, something came up. I mean I actually live not too far from where it was, so I feel like a dummy, I didnít go. But I did see it on YouTube.

James A. Owen: Oh, that was quite a night. We had to do something else where we started a story and then had to add one line. Each author added one line across the stage and the story was called Stephenieís dress and it was supposed to be a horror story. And it got to me and I had pre-prepared something. So it basically sounded very clever. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Uh huh. [laughs]

James A. Owen: I had poetry to recite. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Oh man.

James A. Owen: But that was my way of redeeming myself for butchering an Aretha Franklin song. All of which is stuff that youíre not actually prepared for when you decide you want to be an author for a career. Thereís no little clause in the author contract that says, ďAlso, you may have to perform mo-town songs on stage, badly.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Enough authors have a hard time just getting out, signing books, I mean, let alone singing and dancing. Thatís all good fun, and it was for a good cause.

James A. Owen: Yes.

Matthew Peterson: I have to say, even before I met you, I remember seeing the covers just like online and I was like, ďMan, that cover is everywhere. I see that.Ē Itís very recognizable.

James A. Owen: [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: And then Iím doing a book signing, you know, and I look over there and Iím like, ďI recognize that cover, but I donít recognize that name. I just donít recognize that name.Ē I didnít realize it was in another language or something. [laughs]

James A. Owen: Oh!

Matthew Peterson: I think you might have brought a book with a different . . .

James A. Owen: Oh, I think thatís what it was.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, I didnít realize it was Here There Be Dragons.

James A. Owen: [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Well, tell us a little bit about Here There Be Dragons.

James A. Owen: Here There Be Dragons is about three young men, John, Jack and Charles, who meet in London in 1917 when Johnís mentor is murdered. And when they come together and are discussing this terrible event, they also meet a strange little man named Bert, who gives them a book; itís an atlas of maps called The Imaginarium Geographica, and it has maps of every land youíve ever read about. Every myth, legend, fable and fairy tale, they all have places that are listed in this atlas, and there are maps that show you how to get there. And he tells them that Johnís mentor, a professor of ancient literature, had been murdered because he was the caretaker of this book. And now itís their responsibility and they need to leave London because the people who killed Johnís mentor will be looking for them.

Matthew Peterson: Looking for them. How old are the main characters?

James A. Owen: Range from age 17 to age 30.

Matthew Peterson: 17 to 30, okay.

James A. Owen: So Jackís the youngest at 17, Johnís in his early 20ís and just returned on a break from the war, and Charles is 30.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

James A. Owen: And they age progressively in the series. We jump forward several years at a time with each successive book. So the point weíre at now with book four, The Shadow Dragons, theyíre all well into middle age, which is also a bit of a unique thing for a young adult book.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. ĎCause I know it was a young adult book and I heard someone mention that it does help if youíre well-read. You know, because youíre talking about lots of different things in this atlas, different writings.

James A. Owen: Well, I combine lots of literature, folklore, history, mythology, itís all pretty interwoven. But Iíd written them to appeal to as broad a reading range as possible. A good example is from Here There Be Dragons, chapter 4, thereís a character called the Green Knight. If youíre reading at say a grade school level, you see this character named the Green Knight whoís made of wood and thatís pretty cool. If youíre reading a little higher level, say middle grades and up, you realize that heís the guardian of the island of Avalon, so thereís a King Arthur connection.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

James A. Owen: Thatís pretty cool. If youíre high school level and above, you get to read between the lines and you realize that his real name was Charles Darne from Charles Dickensí Tale of Two Cities. And becoming the Green Knight was his penance for what happened to Sidney Carten, but you donít have to catch any of that to enjoy the fact that thereís this cool knight made of wood that moves the story along.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. So I like those different levels. Thatís the type of story I like to read: a story that you can still enjoy without catching all the little . . . the more in depth things. And then as you get older you re-read it and youíre like, ďOh! Look at that!Ē

James A. Owen: Iím getting a lot of mail from people that are reading them, you know, two and three times and are catching some of these details they didnít catch the first time around. And thatís very rewarding as an author to know that a lot of the work you put into that is actually paying off.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. And the latest book in the series, The Shadow Dragons, whatís that book about?

James A. Owen: That one, weíve jumped forward considerably. The first book was 1917. The Shadow Dragons takes place in 1943, so weíre in the heart of World War II. And basically itís a confrontation between the caretakers of the Geographica: John, Jack and Charles and one of their great adversaries. And the fun thing about The Shadow Dragons is for the first time we meet the caretakers emeritus, because inside the cover of The Imaginarium Geographica is a listing of all the caretakers who have come before, and itís all famous men and women from history: scientists and scholars and authors and artists. And thereís a place where they can all actually come together at once. And I get to actually do that in The Shadow Dragons, and thatís probably the most fun of that entire book.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, I can imagine. So not only do you do the covers, which are very unique, very interesting covers. Almost every one of them, I think that Iíve seen, have a dragon on it, but you also do illustrations within the book as well, right?

James A. Owen: Every chapter has a full page illustration with it. Thatís kind of a nod to my background with comics that I love to have the illustrations along with the prose.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. If you had short chapters like a Dan Brown book, youíd be doing an illustration every other page. [laughs]

James A. Owen: [laughs] Well, you know, Iíve gotten into this rhythm. Every book in the series is exactly 24 chapters.

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

James A. Owen: We have six sections of four chapters each. So I know there are going to be 24 drawings in each book and it was kind of daunting when we turned around and looked at it and realized that in the first four books Iíve done over a hundred drawings. And theyíre not exactly the kind that you just phone in.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. [Note: see the extras for more of the interview]

Well, Iíve been speaking with James A. Owen, the author of the Starchild comic books and of Here There Be Dragons. Thanks for being on the show today, James.

James A. Owen: Thank you, Matthew.

Matthew Peterson: Alright, go to to listen to the bonus questions. Stick around. Iíve still got Frank Beddor, John Flanagan, and James Dashner.

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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