My book group recently read The Traitor King, by Todd Mitchell, and the author was kind enough to join our book group for the discussion. For anyone looking for authors to invite to speak at your schools, libraries, bookstores, or conferences, you might want to consider Todd. Based on how he was with our book group, I think he’d be fabulous for an author visit. (You can find information on his visits and how to contact him at his website www.toddmitchellbooks.com.) He has been a teacher for the past twelve years and is currently the Director of the Beginning Creative Writing Teaching Program at Colorado State University. He is very personable, and I think would have wide appeal speaking to both young audiences and adults. He did a lot of research on Celtic mythology, which is incorporated into his book, and might be a good curriculum tie-in. If you’re not familiar with the book, The Traitor King is a middle grade mix of contemporary fiction and fantasy. Darren Manahan goes on his annual family summer trip to his uncle’s house only to find his uncle has disappeared. He and his sister solve a series of clues while being pursued by the creepy skeleton man and end up discovering the fantastical Land of the Forever Young where their uncle is held captive. It’s up to Darren and his sister to save their uncle, with the aid of a brownie, a wolf, and a nixie. Along with the Celtic mythology woven into the story, there are also themes of alcoholism and environmental awareness that might be of interest to students.
I’m not singing the praises of Todd Mitchell and his book because he’s a personal friend—I’d never met him before our book group meeting—but I do have to confess, I have an ulterior motive in spreading the word about The Traitor King. You see, I was surprised to learn in talking with Todd that, although this book is clearly set up as the beginning of a series (he said it was a trilogy), his publisher has no plans at the moment to publish the next two books. I understand that publishing is a business and from a business standpoint, it must not have made sense to agree to all three books right from the get-go. But as someone who enjoyed reading the book and whose main question for Todd was “When’s the next one coming out,” well, I’m sure any fellow book lover can imagine what a let down it was to hear “maybe never” as the answer. But! An independent bookstore here in Colorado called The Reader’s Cove has started a campaign to help get the sequels (and paperback version of the first book) published. If you’ve read The Traitor King or know of others who have and enjoyed it, you can send an email to Reader’s Cove at email@example.com telling them what you liked about the book and why there should be a sequel. The bookstore will pass all the emails on to Todd’s editor. I think it’s wonderful that The Reader’s Cove is supporting Todd like this, and as a fan of the book I hope their efforts work. I’ve already sent in my email.
Could you imagine if there was only a Book One of the Harry Potter series? His Dark Materials? Series of Unfortunate Events? Of course in retrospect it might be hard to imagine that because those books have millions of fans now. But they didn’t have millions of fans with the first book. Their popularity grew as the series grew. Well, I can’t say that for a fact about Philip Pullman because I believe he was a more established writer when The Golden Compass came out, so maybe he did have a million fans right off the bat, but I suspect not. And even if he did, the amount has surely grown with the completion of the series and everything that followed. I was working in a children’s bookstore and as a nanny when the Harry Potter books were published in the U. S. and saw firsthand how the buzz around those first three books started small and grew and grew until I went to the midnight release party for the fourth book which was a frenzied, festive, literary event the likes of which I’d never witnessed before. It was seriously like a rock concert, minus the rock music, drugs, and stage diving. I’ve heard booksellers tell stories of meeting J. K. Rowling at an author event for the first book where there were maybe twenty people in attendance. I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Handler when he presented at a small writing conference when the first of the Unfortunate Events books was published. He had many wise words to share (like stygian, omphalos, and Schadenfreude) and struck me as a witty, talented writer with a panache for playing the accordian. But he also seemed relatively unknown at the time. (Although I went to a reading he gave that same weekend and while there wasn’t a tremendous amount of kids in attendance, boy did they go nuts for him. Daniel Handler has the ability to make people giggle even when all he’s doing is standing still.) Fast forward several years to when I was sitting in a sold out theater in downtown San Francisco, listening to Daniel Handler and Pulitzer prize winner Michael Chabon chatting with each other onstage.
So am I saying that I think The Traitor King will become as popular as these three series? I have no idea. If there were a way to accurately predict the runaway successes, the whole publishing game would change. The success of the series will depend on the rest of the story Todd Mitchell has to tell and how readers respond to it. But I sure hope I get the chance to read the rest of the story.