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Astoria man writes ‘Immortal Lycanthropes’ novel

TimesLedger Newspapers

Supernatural stories are all the rage in young adult fiction, but Astorian Hal Johnson said that for his book, “Immortal Lycanthropes,” he turned to classic children’s literature for inspiration.

The book, published by Houghton Mifflin and released earlier this month, follows the adventures of Myron Horowitz, a disfigured 13-year-old boy living in Pennsylvania who finds out after a bully beats him up that he has the ability to change from a human into an animal. Those with this power cannot die unless killed by another person who can change, and the other immortal lycanthropes may be out to get Myron.

“They all want to manipulate him or kill him or maybe help him, but he’s not sure of that,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who works in Manhattan’s Midtown Comics’ warehouse in Long Island City, said he loves reading 19th-century kids’ books like “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson. He compared the adults in his book to that novel’s villain: infamous pirate Long John Silver.

“Everyone he meets is this charismatic, awful figure, and he has to decide if they’re going to hurt him or they’re going to help him out,” Johnson said of his hero Myron.

Johnson said he began writing the book after pitching the idea to a Houghton Mifflin editor about two to three years ago. Johnson said when he was a child he had read about a weasel family and, since they were so humanlike, he would imagine what it would be like if they became human.

“I tried to think of what kind of world this could be possible in,” Johnson said.

After about nine months of writing, Johnson completed the novel. He said in writing it, he tried to envision what he would enjoy reading about when he was 13.

“I guess my audience would be weird, smart kids,” Johnson said.

The book also features illustrations by Teagan White. Johnson said he never met the young Chicago artist, but he was lucky to have her work on his novel.

“The publisher found her and the art is amazing,” Johnson said. “She did all these really naturalistic pictures.”

While the book has been out a little more than a week, he said he has already gotten some good responses from early readers. Cory Doctrow, a popular sci-fi author and blogger, recently gave Johnson a positive review on the site boingboing.net., calling it “a YA novel unlike any other.”

“I’m still riding that high,” Johnson said.

While Stevenson and other 19th-century boys’ adventure stories may have been the model for Johnson’s book, he said it was Jorge Luis Borges who inspired him to pick up a pen himself. Johnson said he does not plan to write a sequel to “Immortal Lyncanthropes,” but has other stories he hopes to get published.

“I think if you read a lot you kind of automatically desire to write,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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