by: PHOTO: ELLEN SPITALERI - Victoria Holmes, as Erin Hunter, signs books for Nicole, 11, left, and Aliya, 11, after her presentation at Barnes & Noble on March 10.Without the ring on her finger, she is Victoria Holmes, a “very shy” British writer “who doesn’t have a big voice.” But when she puts on the ornate ring, she becomes Erin Hunter, the author of more than 60 books with animals as the protagonists.

As Erin Hunter, she drew around 400 young readers and their parents to the Clackamas Town Center Barnes & Noble bookstore Sunday, March 10. The crowd was so large that the presentation took place in the mall itself at the lower entrance to the bookstore.

Most of the children attending were clutching copies of Hunter’s new book “Dawn of the Clans —The Sun Trail,” which she signed after the presentation. The book is part of the “Warriors” series, which features cats. Other series in the animal fantasy books include “Seekers,” which features books about bears, and “Survivors,” which has dogs as the main characters. Holmes answered questions, drawing many laughs with her wry answers.

One youngster asked when her next book was coming out, and she answered “is four days ago soon enough for you?”

She added: “You can’t move these days without tripping over a book by me. There is one coming out every month this year.”

It seemed like almost every other question from the readers dealt with the death of a favorite cat character.

“You do realize that I am not actually killing cats, just making a good story. I’m not that bloodthirsty; I’m a vegetarian,” Hunter said.

Unusual writing process

Erin Hunter actually is the writing name for a group of four authors. Holmes is the chief writer and editor, and when she is too busy to fully write a book, she sends a “very detailed storyline” to Kate Cary and Cherith Baldry or Tui T. Sutherland.

She tells readers she creates a metaphorical balloon with a pattern on it.

“It is flat and lifeless until Kate and Cerith get it and they breathe life into it. They then send it to me, and I edit it and sometimes revise it or do some rewriting of it,” Holmes said. “They trust me to give them a great storyline, and I trust them to write beautifully.”

She came up with the name Erin Hunter, because Erin is a name she loves, and she chose Hunter because she wanted her books to be alphabetically close to the books on the shelf by Brian Jacques, the author of the “Redwall” series, featuring heroic mice, evil rats and other animals of the forest.

Although the majority of her readers are children, she never thinks of writing just for children, she said, noting that the themes of her books, like Shakespeare’s themes, include “doomed romance, revenge, betrayal, politics, war and death.”

Cats are the stars in Warriors

“Dawn of the Clans — The Sun Trail” is the start of the fifth series, with a brand-new set of cats.

This book takes the reader back to the early history of the cats in the earlier “Warriors” series, who started out living in a forest, but had to move to the lake when a new road destroyed the forest.

“We meet the cats who first settled in that forest; we see where they all came from, how the different personalities of the clans formed, and how the warrior code developed. Readers of the early books can recognize the ancestors of those cats in this book,” Holmes said.

For new readers, Holmes suggested they start with the first book in the “Warriors” series, “Into the Wild.” But she noted readers could simply pick up her latest book, because all the characters are new.

Holmes spent more than two hours signing books after her presentation, noting that she was “overwhelmed and honored” by all the attention.

She added, “Without the fans, I’d be writing in the dark.”

Fans follow the characters

The Barnes & Noble store at Clackamas Town Center has more than 50 autographed copies of the new book, noted Aaron Kier, community relations manager for the bookstore.

The author has an “amazing ability to create characters that these readers respond to. These kids know all of them, and they are really invested in the characters,” he said.

Aliya, an 11-year-old fan of Hunter’s books, said “Into the Wild,” Hunter’s first book featuring the cat clans, is her favorite.

“I like the way she brings things to life, and I love the details,” she said, adding that her favorite character is Yellowfang, who is noted for her “sharp tongue.”

Aliya’s friend Nicole, 11, said her favorite book is “Last Hope,” the sixth in the “Omen of the Stars” series, because it is exciting and she likes the dramatic action.

Addison, who is 12, has read all the books, and said she has loved them since her third-grade teacher gave her the first one.

“I fell in love with them. The characters are perfect, especially Rusty and Gray Paw — they have a true friendship,” she said.

As for the fact that cats die in the course of the books, Addison thinks that aspect of the books is completely appropriate.

“Unless there is death involved, people won’t take the books seriously, and death is a big part of the warrior code,” she said. She also noted that when the good cats die, they become part of the Star Clan, and can be seen in the sky every night, while the bad cats go to the Dark Forest when they die.

Visit to Oregon City

Holmes spoke in Oregon City on Monday, March 11, at a districtwide assembly for all fourth- and fifth-graders, said Jan Snyder, district media specialist for Oregon City Schools.

“We brought Erin Hunter to speak with our fourth- and fifth-grade students, as she is a very popular author with that age of student, and her books are widely read from grades three to seven.

“Having the students interact with a live author gives them huge motivation and encouragement in the writing process,” Snyder said.

Hunter’s books appeal to young readers “because they relate to everyday character issues and problems of students, told through the lives of various clans of cats. They speak of loyalty, compassion, friendship, honesty, as well as the negative, and not so admirable, aspects of character traits such as lying, stealing, jealousy. There is lots of intrigue and action,” she said.

After the assembly, Snyder said, “the kids were enthralled. They were fascinated with her talk. They had a wonderful time listening to the descriptions of the various clans from the ‘Warriors’ series, and deciding which clan best fit them individually.”

She added that the students asked very thoughtful questions about how Hunter develops a character, and how she decided which cats would live or die in her stories.

“Students were very intrigued with her collaborative writing process, which is something they occasionally do in the classroom as well. It was a wonderful assembly all the way around,” Snyder said.

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