Out of Hedgelands
by Rick Johnson
Genre – Fantasy / Middle Grade
Rating – PG
Twelve-year-old Helga has more danger in her life than most beasts her age. Wrackshee slavers after her, a vicious attack by bandits that nearly kills her, a race against dragons pursuing her, and leading a daring rebellion to save her life, and rescue friends and family, from the insidious WooZan. And that is just the beginning. But what do you expect when you are a young beast who just can’t see the stupid rules of the world making any sense? Helga can’t accept things as they are and ends up taking on not just one, but two all-powerful, supreme tyrants in two different realms.
Helga never intended to lead a revolution. It just sort of happened because she wouldn’t go along with the “rules of normal” that keep tyrants in power and entire societies enslaved. Beginning on a dangerous quest to solve some mysteries in her own past, Helga leads her quirky comrades on a journey that will not only forever change them, but upset ancient civilizations.
As an author, I’m drawn to eccentric, unexpected characters: those who surprise because they hear a distant galaxy, see a different music, create their own fragrance rather than get hooked on a soundtrack; the child who has her own ideas about how the emperor is dressed; the lunatics and rebels who tell stories on the boundaries. Helga’s unusual story will take readers to worlds they never imagined—definitely a whole new ride.
Time and again, the unconventional heroine and her eccentric comrades overcome ominous tyrants and black-hearted slavers, not by battling to the last beast standing, but by being the first beast to think differently.
Helga: Out of Hedgelands is divided into three books which introduce the epic saga of the Wood Cow clan and their role in overturning centuries of slavery and tyranny. This story will continue in additional volumes of the Wood Cow Chronicles now in development. Over the series of current and future volumes, the entire history of the Wood Cow clan, the fall of Maev Astuté, and the coming of Lord Farseeker to the Outer Rings, will be told.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life? Having raised two children who appear to be far better than I am.
What is your favorite color? I like all the diverse colors and hues when they mingle together as in a delightful flower garden. Many colors are more glorious to me than one.
What is your favorite food? I like many kinds of foods, but it’s pretty hard to beat a plain old plate of rice and lentils with some kind of hot spice.
What’s your favorite place in the entire world? I am a native of the Great Plains of the United States, having grown up on a farm in the Platte River Valley of western Nebraska. I love the wild beauty of the Plains and nearby Rocky Mountains—the too hot, too cold, too empty, too full of life extremes. Typically, the awesomely diverse and the awesomely stark are much the same, even as they are different. Although I have lived in Michigan, North Carolina, and British Columbia, the western plains, high mountains, and desert are in my heart. If you cannot find me at my desk, I’m likely out hiking these places.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I wrote many stories in elementary school and many more outside of school. I’ve enjoyed writing and storytelling all my life, so far as I remember.
What genre are you most comfortable writing? Children’s stories are my favorite genre—especially fantasy. I have worked with children up through middle school for years and enjoy learning from children about how they hear and see the world.
What inspired you to write your first book? At a point some years ago, my wife was traveling extensively for her work. On one international trip she was gone for a bit more than 10 days, so I decided to begin working on a novel during that time. That provided a good beginning and I continued.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began? The biggest influence on my writing for children has been striving to think like a child, which requires paying close attention to children and trying to experience their world.
What made you want to be a writer? From the time I was young, I have enjoyed writing and storytelling. Because my main career has been in education, including creative writing, writing has been a natural part of my life for many years. It has just gradually evolved to include a wider range of venues and formats.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? Creating enough focused time to write several chapters, or the equivalent, at roughly the same time. I write best if I can begin writing and keep going for several hours straight. Throughout most of my life, that has been a challenge.
Have you developed a specific writing style? I like to think of my writing as trying to move “beyond the box” of people’s expectations. I try to develop characters and storylines that go against “normal” expectations. I’m drawn to eccentric, unexpected characters: those who surprise because they hear a distant galaxy, see a different music, create their own fragrance rather than get hooked on a soundtrack; the child who has her own ideas about how the emperor is dressed; the lunatics and rebels who tell stories on the boundaries.
What is your greatest strength as a writer? Trying to provide something that people find surprising and unexpected. I’m told by readers that they like being unable to predict what will happen next.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it? No, I have never had a problem with writer’s block. My problem is finding time to put to paper what comes pretty naturally once I start.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? I am currently working on Volume Two of the Wood Cow Chronicles. Volume Two picks up where Volume One leaves off, but in the course of the story, there will be some elements that fill in the background story prior to the events of Volume One. There will also be some new characters and situations introduced that foreshadow developments in the storyline that will be central to Volume Three.
How did you come up with the title? The central character of Helga: Out of Hedgelands (and the Wood Cow Chronicles series more generally) is Helga, thus her name is part of the title. The subtitle alludes to the main theme of Volume One—namely the banishment of the Wood Cow clan from the Hedgelands.