Monday, August 26, 2013

Blog Tour, Tens List, & Giveaway: Helga (Rick Johnson

Helga tour

Helga: Out of the Hedgelands Twelve-year-old Helga has more danger in her life than most beasts her age—Wrackshee slavers after her, a vicious attack by bandits that nearly kills her, a race against dragons pursuing her, and leading a daring rebellion to save her life and rescue friends and family from the insidious WooZan. And that is just the beginning. But what do you expect when you are a young beast who just can’t see the stupid rules of the world making any sense? Helga can’t accept things as they are and ends up taking on not just one, but two all-powerful, supreme tyrants in two different realms. Helga never intended to lead a revolution. It just sort of happened because she wouldn’t go along with the “rules of normal” that keep tyrants in power and entire societies enslaved. Beginning on a dangerous quest to solve some mysteries in her own past, Helga leads her quirky comrades on a journey that will not only forever change them, but upset ancient civilizations. As an author, I’m drawn to eccentric, unexpected characters: those who surprise because they hear a distant galaxy, see a different music, create their own fragrance rather than get hooked on a soundtrack; the child who has her own ideas about how the emperor is dressed; the lunatics and rebels who tell stories on the boundaries. Helga’s unusual story will take readers to worlds they never imagined—definitely a whole new ride. Time and again, the unconventional heroine and her eccentric comrades overcome ominous tyrants and black-hearted slavers, not by battling to the last beast standing, but by being the first beast to think differently. Helga: Out of Hedgelands is divided into three books which introduce the epic saga of the Wood Cow clan and their role in overturning centuries of slavery and tyranny. This story will continue in additional volumes of the Wood Cow Chronicles now in development. Over the series of current and future volumes, the entire history of the Wood Cow clan, the fall of Maev Astuté, and the coming of Lord Farseeker to the Outer Rings, will be told.  

Book Trailer 

Author Rick Johnson I am a native of the Great Plains, having grown up on a farm in the Platte River Valley of western Nebraska. I love the wild beauty of the Plains and nearby Rocky Mountains--the too hot, too cold, too empty, too full of life extremes. Typically, the awesomely diverse and the awesomely stark are much the same, even as they are different. Although I have lived in Michigan, North Carolina, and British Columbia, the western plains, mountains, and desert are in my heart. As my day job, for over thirty years I have been a faculty member and administrator in higher education. Teaching broadly in the liberal arts, including creative writing, my professional publications include educational materials, poems, and 28 stories for young readers. During my spare hours, I have also collected and carefully studied the records of former times upon which the Wood Cow Chronicles are based. It is my privilege to bring this astonishing saga to light. The Wood Cow Chronicles have been researched and written with the irreplaceable assistance of Barbara, my beloved wife of more than thirty-five years, and our children. Indeed, the essential research into the history of the Wood Cows has been conducted during the odd hours of family reading and storytelling "around the campfire" as we say--even when there is no campfire! This research continues and grows richer as our family expands across generations and continents.  

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1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?

I write fantasy because imagination is one of the important tools we have in breaking through the barriers or chains that limit our possibilities. The main point of fantasy, I would suggest, is its liberating influence. When we rely on imagination to enter worlds or experiences that are not otherwise available to us, we gain access to an infinite range of degrees of freedom. Running on imagination, our minds and hearts are no longer bound by such “obvious” constraints as common sense, the speed of light, or prejudices of mind. Fantasy enables us to experiment with the infinite frontiers of what is possible and impossible, believable and unbelievable.

Fantasy, especially children’s fantasy, including the idea that cows should, indeed, be allowed to talk—and think—perhaps encourages us to wonder about many other creatures, people, and dimensions of thought that “common sense” keeps us from hearing and seeing. Possibly, we may even discover that there are cows within ourselves waiting to speak. Our capacity to hear things that are, in our “common sense” world, unheard and unheard of, is one of the degrees of freedom we can preserve for ourselves and offer to others. And, for children—kids of all ages—these degrees of freedom are precious and worth nurturing. That is why I write.

In Helga: Out of Hedgelands, the unconventional heroine—perhaps the first cow to lead a heroic quest—and a troupe of other oddball characters embark on a dangerous journey beyond impenetrable truths and prejudices to discover where they could not go—and why. Time and again, Helga and her eccentric comrades overcome ominous tyrants and black-hearted slavers, not by battling to the last beast standing, but by being the first beast to think differently.

My many years of direct work with middle graders have taught me that they are attracted to unexpected, quirky stories that also turn their minds inside out. That is the inspiration for this book.

2. Who is your favorite character in the book?

I have many characters that I like. I like to think of my writing as trying to move “beyond the box” of people’s expectations. I try to develop characters that go against “normal” expectations. I’m drawn to eccentric, unexpected characters: those who surprise because they hear a distant galaxy, see a different music, create their own fragrance rather than get hooked on a soundtrack; the child who has her own ideas about how the emperor is dressed; the lunatics and rebels who tell stories on the boundaries. There are many that have these qualities, so it’s hard to choose.

However, if I had to pick one character as my favorite, it would have to be Helga. She is brave and doesn’t accept the “rules of normal” that keeps things running smoothly, when running smoothly means enslaving others. Her quirky personality is funny, but also deadly serious. Her character has some of the same questioning, seeking, and challenging of assumptions that makes the middle-grade years both exhilarating and confusing. She takes that internal energy and proves she can do it, no matter what it is. I like her because she is a cow who, by the normal genre rules, has no right to be the heroine of an epic adventure. In short, she would be my favorite because she’s a Wood Cow, and Wood Cows think differently.

3. Which came first, the title or the novel?

The novel came first. I knew that Helga, as a character, would be a connecting thread through the series as it unfolded, so would probably be part of the title, but the full title came later.

4. What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?

I’d suggest the extended scene(s) involving Helga as Tilk Duraow runner at the head of the dragon train. I think this section is unusual and creative, in the sense of entertainment, while also being significant to the story. Helga’s run for her life with the dragon train is the means to expand upon some key characters and resolve some situations in Volume One, while also planting some storylines that will emerge as very important in Volume Two.

5. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?

My vision of what will happen in the future volumes of the Wood Cow Chronicles has been sharpening as characters develop in the current volumes. In particular, a great deal about what will happen in Volume Four of the Wood Cow Chronicles will take a different direction because of some qualities and actions that characters brought to the table as they stepped into the first and second volumes. Volume Two will be coming out this Fall and readers will see that some minor characters from Volume One emerge as central to the story in Volume Two. That had always been the plan, however, what is more significant is that, since I first crafted the long-term plan for the Wood Cow Chronicles series, I have been surprised by how much some characters, as they were actually written, took on power of their own to direct the storyline.

6. What do you like most about the cover of the book?

I like the image of Maev Astuté, the great castle. I think the image captures the mystery, power, and forbidding nature of the fortress. I chose the image of Maev Astuté for the cover of Volume One in the Wood Cow Chronicles because the entire series ultimately is the story of how the powerful, ages-old tyranny based at the castle comes undone. The history of the Wood Cows clan is intimately related to the story of Maev Astuté’s fall, so the title focuses on Helga and the beginning of the conflict with the ruling powers at the castle. Having the castle on the cover, and Helga’s story the focus of the title, symbolizes the fact that these two guiding themes in the series are connected.

7. What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2013?

Although already released, my pick for 2013, to date, is Shana Mlawski’s Hammer of Witches. I like the daring, unexpected, and fresh approach of this middle-grade fantasy. The book combines a classic MG coming-of-age storyline and heroic, fantastic adventure, within a familiar (or so we thought) historical setting. This mix makes for a fresh and creative offering for middle-graders.

8. What was your favorite book in 2012?

I would call it a tie between two books:

· Splendors and Glooms, Laura Amy Schlitz. Schlitz gives us a complex story with multiple storylines skillfully integrated into a story that is funny, dramatic, and terrifying all at once. The interesting and unexpected settings and character development are also good. Great story.

· The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde. The worlds that Fforde creates are intriguing and engaging. His satirical humor and general rather off-beat approach to storytelling also makes this a winner with me.

9. What’s up next for you?

I am currently working on Volume Two of the Wood Cow Chronicles. Volume Two picks up the story where Volume One, Helga: Out of Hedgelands, leaves off. The saga begun in the first novel continues to unfold, with some mysteries from the first volume becoming clear and previously unknown elements of Helga’s background being revealed. Many of readers’ favorite characters from Helga: Out of Hedgelands return in Volume Two, as well as some new characters being introduced. Readers will be surprised to learn that some minor characters and subplots from Volume One emerge as central to the story in the second novel in the Helga series. The new story also foreshadows developments in the storyline that will be central to Volume Three.

10. Is there anything that you would like to add?

If book clubs or other reading groups are reading Helga: Out of Hedgelands, I would be happy to visit a meeting via Google Hangout or Skype at no charge. Just email me at and we can discuss details.

Blog Tour Giveaway

$25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Ends 9/3/13  

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