With the recent release of "The Hobbit" movie, fantasy is once again on people's minds. Local author J.T. Hartke hopes readers will look for books in the same genre — and his debut novel, "A Balance Broken," is a perfect fit for Tolkien fans.
It's high fantasy and well-done; from the first chapter, readers will see that Hartke has built a world that readers can delve into. But he didn't forget about his characters in the meantime: his two protagonists, Tallen and Maddi, and of course, the evil one, the antagonist, Slar.
"Tallen and Maddi are the yin and yang of my tale," Hartke said. "I consider them the dual protagonists in a classic 'coming of age' story. Their dynamic romance will be a key part in how the rest of the saga plays out."
In "A Balance Broken," readers are introduced to the three characters as well as a slew of others — dragons included — and are taken on a topsy-turvy ride through Tarmor, the world which is introduced to us with a detailed map at the beginning of the book.
Hartke has plans for a five-book series and is currently working on book No. 2, which is supposed be out in July. He lives in Champaign, where he also writes, of course, but doesn't have a "regular" writing routine. Some days, he'll write as many as 5,000 words, and then for the next several days, only a few hundred.
When writing his fantasy series, Hartke must concentrate on building his story world and making the fantasy "realistic" for the reader.
"Many years of imagination went into building this world. ... I guess it is imagination, combined with dozens of influences from other writers, movies and personal life experience," Hartke said. "The history and specifics of the world are not so hard for me to keep track of — only those things that have changed multiple times through the editing process. A few of the nobles' names have changed, but I keep extensive notes on my royal hierarchy."
This attention to detail is obvious throughout his first book.
Getting it published was not a fast process. He started writing the story in 1993, but he didn't finish much — writing six chapters and drawing the map. In 2007, he picked the story back up after encouragement from his wife (then girlfriend). Then when his publisher signed him in 2010, he had to completely rewrite it, and this took about 1 1/2 years.
Hartke always has been an avid fantasy reader, starting with "The Chronicles of Narnia" when he was 8 and "The Lord of the Rings" at 12, and then he became hooked. Some of his favorite authors are George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks and Raymond Feist.
Hartke's publisher premiered "A Broken Balance" at Comic-Con in San Diego.
"That was quite an experience," he said. "That's where I met a movie producer from Davis Films, the company who did the 'Resident Evil' movies as well as several other large films.
"We aren't in negotiations yet, but he is very interested."
Besides going to conventions, Hartke also does visits to middle school, high school and college classrooms, where he discusses writing and publishing as well as his book. He says two pieces of advice that he always gives to students are that they need to learn to write, and they should never give up.
If you enjoy high fantasy, you will love this book. But you don't have to be a devoted fantasy lover to get into the story: Hartke's characters help you do that, even if this isn't your favorite genre.
Hartke said he's getting positive responses, even from people who aren't "regular fantasy writers."
"I seem to be getting great reviews," he said. "As a first-time author, that's always a surprise for some reason. ... Women also respect my female characters, which means a lot to me personally.
"And if people enjoy, they should review and share, because that is the best way for a new author like me to be seen by other readers."
"A Broken Balance" is available in print or e-book from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Locally, readers can buy a copy in Jane Addams Book Shoppe or Gmart Comics.
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). Formerly of East Central Illinois, she lives in St. Louis with her family.