Local children’s author Barry Wolverton has written the first book in a new adventure trilogy for middle grade readers. The Chronicles of the Black Tulip Vol. 1: The Vanishing Island, published by Walden Pond Press, was released in September.
Wolverton's adventure story spans oceans and cultures, bringing together the folklore of East and West. Readers journey back to 1599, the Age of Discovery in Britannia. Twelve-year-old Bren Owen, enticed by sailors’ tales, is certain that fame and fortune await him in other lands. But his hopes are dashed by several failed attempts to stow aboard sailing ships.
Then Bren meets a dying sailor who gives him a gift containing a hidden message. He sets out to crack the code and pursue a fabled lost treasure. As the story unfolds, he meets a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.
Kirkus Reviews says of The Vanishing Island, “Fast-paced and entertaining, this fine trilogy opener will keep both fantasy and historical-fiction buffs turning the pages.” Wolverton’s first book, Neversink, was selected as the Children’s Book of Choice by Literacy Mid-South for their Read Across America program in 2014.
Barry Wolverton greets enthusiastic young readers.
At his book signing at Laurelwood Booksellers, a standing-room only crowd came out to celebrate.
“I get lots of fulfillment out of the act of writing a book," says Wolverton. "Fiction is the ultimate expression for your imagination." Wolverton works full-time at Archer-Malmo, so he rises early to write before heading to the office. On the weekends, he continues developing his story arc and characters to create intriguing worlds for young readers. He is currently writing the second book in the series.
We spoke with Wolverton about his new trilogy.
You describe your first book, Neversink, as 'animal fantasy.’ What inspired you to go in a different direction with your new trilogy?
The common thread is that with both books, I am returning to the types of stories that were important to me as a boy. Animal fantasies were my first love — Uncle Wiggily, the Jungle Book, the Mouse and the Motorcycle — and then adventure fantasies like those of Piers Anthony and Edgar Rice Burroughs rekindled my love of reading when I was a bit older. In The Vanishing Island, I wanted to take a classic adventure story like Treasure Island and put my own spin on it. It’s both an adventure novel and detective novel with a different thrust than your typical sea-faring adventure.
How do you use mythology in your story?
Mythology and folklore are supreme acts of invention that any creative writer has to admire. In fantasy and science fiction, we emphasize "world building" because our stories take place in alternate time periods or universes. But we're just playing at it — our worlds only have to make sense within the confines of a book. The original myth-makers and storytellers were, in a sense, building the world people actually lived in. Another compelling thing about mythology is how you have these fundamental patterns in stories across every culture, no matter how diverse: how the world began; how it will end; explanations for natural phenomena. And this plays a big role in The Vanishing Island, when Bren, trying to decode an ancient map, realizes the key may lie within the overlap of Eastern and Western folklore.
As an author, is it challenging to compete with video games and social media and to draw kids to the written page?
I’ve only been writing in today’s age, but it seems very difficult. I don’t see as many kids in bookstores as I’d like and when I do school visits, you can tell that a lot of kids don’t read regularly even though they’re good students and bright kids. I try not to be a grumpy old man about it.
Your mother shared her love of books with you. What was it like to share the news that you had a publishing contract for your first book?
It was one of the best days of my life. My agent and I had been rejected a dozen times at least, and then on Easter weekend of 2010, I was packing up to drive from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi, to visit my mother. My agent was in New Zealand on vacation, so you can imagine my surprise when I got an email from halfway around the world that said we had sold Neversink to HarperCollins. That was the longest three-hour drive of my life! But I got to share the news in person, and mom got to send the Publishers Weekly announcement around to all her friends and family. Unfortunately, she had lung cancer, and though we both badly wanted her to be able to see the book published, she didn't quite make it. But Neversink is dedicated to her.”
What's up next for you?
The draft of book two is with my editor and the cover art is already being designed. Then I will likely have a ridiculously short amount of time to revise the manuscript, and barely enjoy the holidays before having to write book three. But I love where the overall story of the trilogy is going, so I can't wait.