SALT LAKE CITY — The local book with the strange title and mysterious author — “Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo” by Obert Skye — will be a featured product two weeks from now when the biggest book show in the country — Book Expo America — is held in New York City.
Booksellers from near and far will line up to hear why this publication, already blessed with positive reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, is projected to be among the best and brightest – – and briskest-selling — of the new season.
Not bad for a “no-name publisher and no-name author.”
Those aren’t my words. They come from the mouth of Chris Schoebinger, project director for Deseret Book Co., who is more than happy to paint David-Goliath imagery for a product that is causing such a stir.
The book, the first in a projected five-book series, stars a 14- year-old boy named Leven Thumps, while Foo is a land “someplace between the possible and the impossible, where hope lives.” The story line is about the power of imagination and the battle between good and evil, with the hope of all mankind hanging in the balance.
If you’re thinking “Lord of the Rings” meets “Harry Potter” and “Eragon” with just a touch of “Lemony Snicket,” Schoebinger would not disagree.
“But it is no knock-off,” Schoebinger says, “it stands on its own. It’s not as dark as Harry Potter, but funnier.”
Officially, the publisher of “Leven Thumps” is Shadow Mountain, the imprint used by the LDS Church-owned Deseret Book Co. for its non-religious products.
And while Shadow Mountain has had its share of successes — among them books by Orson Scott Card and Ron Carter — “nothing has opened with this much inertia,” says Schoebinger.
Since being released on April 1 — “April Foo’s Day,” as dubbed by Deseret Book’s marketers — Schoebinger says 50,000 copies have already been shipped to booksellers around the country. Wal-Mart has placed a large order for its stores from coast to coast, while national book-selling chain Barnes & Noble is advertising the book as a nice way to bide one’s time until July 16 — the date for the much-awaited release of Harry Potter No. 6.
I went to lunch with Chris Schoebinger and Gail Halladay, Deseret Book’s public relations director, to hear more about the burgeoning phenomenon of “Leven Thumps.”
The author, the mysterious Obert Skye, was not there, although Chris and Gail did put a napkin over the empty chair at our table — symbolic of the writer’s rather elusive nature.
I was told that Obert Skye — a pseudonym — gives plenty of public appearances, despite the fact his true identity and place of residence are closely guarded secrets. He’s been at 29 elementary school assemblies in Utah since the book’s release, for instance, and he will be at the upcoming Book Expo in New York to sign books and talk to booksellers. But he prefers to keep the focus off himself and on the book’s theme, which is the power of hope and imagination.
“Have courage, believe in yourself, all things are possible,” says Gail. “That’s the message of Leven Thumps. It’s not witchcraft or wizardry.
“Some reviewers have called it better than Harry Potter,” she adds. “We’re not going to say that — but they did.”
If you can imagine that.
Lee Benson’s column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and faxes to 801-237-2527.
Copyright Deseret News Publishing Company May 22, 2005