Teacher launches series of clue-laden teen books

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by: Jaime Valdez, Multnomah Village provides the backdrop for action and intrigue in David Michael Slater’s young adult “Sacred Books” series. The first volume, right, earned praise from three of Slater’s best readers in his language arts classes.

David Michael Slater just completed a new literary fantasy adventure series fraught with suspense, hidden clues, bizarre twists and an ancient book full of utter nonsense.

The first volume in Slater's five-part, young adult 'Sacred Books' series will be released in October.

In 'The Book of Nonsense,' readers will be introduced to 13-year-old twins Daphna and Dexter and the evolution of their strained relationship as they work together to learn the truth about a mysterious book that enters their lives and threatens to tear their world apart.

'The series is unique and not like anything people have read before,' the Hillsdale author said of his first young adult series. 'It's more serious than the normal teen book.

'I wrote vigorously in terms of making the story both thought provoking and exciting.'

The 'Sacred Books' series will challenge young readers.

As a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Mountain View Middle School, Slater understands that the secret to capturing the interest of teens is to engage their curiosity and intelligence by hooking them with a blend of unusual references, mysterious clues and a dark, suspenseful plot packed with action.

'I also want to get readers to think about how powerful and important words are,' Slater said. 'In a real way, they work magic for better or for worse in the world.

'(This series) is about how the world is complex and things don't always work out. The journey is a struggle, but that's what makes people who they are.'

Sitting in the living room of his Hillsdale home, Slater's eyes are drawn to an early copy of his book resting on a coffee table in front of him.

'It's strange to see it sitting there,' he admitted. 'I know there is so much more of the story wanting to get out.

'I want to talk about how much further it goes. This first book gives the vaguest hint about how far out there the story goes and how layered and deep the secrets get.'

'I had to get it all out on paper'

When Slater sat down to write Daphna and Dexter's adventure with 'The Book of Nonsense,' several years ago, he had no idea he was beginning a series.

The idea for the story came from an adult short fiction he wrote called 'The Book/The Phrase/The Word/The Symbol.'

'It wasn't enough, and I thought it would really work as a young adult idea as well,' Slater recalled. 'I was intrigued with the idea of a book on which the words change and the possibilities that brings up.'

Slater squeezed in at least an hour a day to devote to writing the young adult version of the story.

'I didn't know where it was going, but it just got bigger and bigger,' he said. 'The secrets behind the story kept getting larger and larger.'

Before he knew it, the idea for one book turned into a trilogy and finally to a 'Sacred Books' five-volume series, with the first book being completed in 2004 and the final installment finished just three weeks ago.

'The later books are a bit edgier and riskier,' Slater hinted. 'There will be people not liking where the story goes. They are the same people that didn't like books like 'The Golden Compass,' 'Harry Potter' and 'Da Vinci Code.''

Online bloggers are already talking about banning Slater's 'Sacred Books' series.

'I do not expect any issues with this first book, but that will come later,' Slater said.

The first volume was scheduled to be released last October, but the publisher, Blooming Tree Books, pushed back the date, giving Slater more time to complete the series and tweak little details.

'It turned out to be a total blessing that they are all finished before they are published,' Slater said. 'The books are so interconnected.

'I went back and revised the first book to set up clues and make sure it lined up with the later books. I also added some small, little changes that hint at what is going to happen in book five - there are no details that aren't significant in the later books. For the bookish kid that wants to dig for clues and hints, there's a lot in there.'

Putting the Village on the map

Local readers are also in for a treat with the 'Sacred Books' series.

The story is based in the Hillsdale area where Slater and his family live. Daphna and Dexter run up and down neighborhood streets and spend a great deal of time frequenting Multnomah Village haunts.

'I love the Village,' Slater said of his reasons for placing the fictional Antiquarian Book Center in Multnomah Village. 'And, I love the neighborhood.

'I like the idea of playing a role to let more people know about it. We'll put the Village on the map.'

Villagers will recognize references to Gabriel Park, the U.S. Post Office at the bottom of the hill, the apartments across the street, Village Coffee, and in later books, the Multnomah Arts Center - to name a few.

'I love the thought of all this stuff happening right here,' Slater said as he strolled along Capitol Highway.

Readers should know that as an author, Slater did take 'some poetic license' and his references are not 100 percent perfect.

For example, rather than the quaint Annie Bloom's Bookstore in the Village, the fictitious Antiquarian Book Center in Slater's book would be closer in size to the Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland.

Also, because the writing process spanned several years, little details about the Village may also be off a bit with the changes that have taken place in the area over time, but the character and charm shine through, Slater said.

In addition to Slater letting readers inside the neighborhood he loves, he also used his personal background as a twin, professional knowledge as a teacher and enjoyment of books to add layers of depth and insight to the series.

'I'm dying to hear what people think and have to say about these books,' he said.

Slater has mixed emotions about finishing the last book in the series.

'It's bittersweet,' he said. 'In one way it's a huge sigh of relief.

'I can't believe I got here and it worked. I also immediately started to miss the characters. I've become attached to Dex and Daphna.'

Knowing the 'Sacred Books' series will now be added to Slater's growing collection of published works makes him both proud and awed.

'I'm still totally amazed that any are published or out there,' Slater said.

Slater has written nine children's picture books and several adult short fiction stories which have all been published.

This year, publishing houses will also release 'Selfless,' an adult novel; 'The Book of Letters,' an adult collection of short fiction stories; 'The Labyrinth,' a picture book; and 'The Bored Book,' another picture book. A film version of Slater's recent screenplay, 'Mocha Cola High' is also in development with Right Angle Pictures.

'It's strange having all these projects land at once, but I'll take it,' Slater said.

Slater books slated

The 'Sacred Books' series includes the following titles:

- 'The Book of Nonsense,' available October 2008

- 'The Infinite,' available October 2009

- 'The Library,' available October 2010

- 'The Book of the Map,' available October 2011

- 'The Book of All Things,' available October 2012.

For information about other David Michael Slater books, visit www.davidmichaelslater.com.