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BOOKS & AUTHORS : Children Save World in 'Heart of Valor'

January 03, 1991|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VILLA PARK — In Lisa Smith's 1987 fantasy novel, "The Night of the Solstice," four Villa Park children are recruited by a talking fox to free Morgana, a powerful but good sorceress held captive in a dangerous parallel universe by a master sorcerer bent on enslaving the Earth.

In "Heart of Valor," the sequel to Smith's first novel, the three sisters and one brother take it upon themselves to once again battle the evil forces of Wildworld.

The new novel opens with a seemingly inexplicable string of earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault. But the tremors are actually being caused by a wicked Wildworld sorceress who is attempting to open the western passage to the parallel universe, thus releasing dangerous half-human creatures into the world.

Indeed, the quiet streets of Villa Park where young Alys, Charles, Janie and Claudia live were never so perilous.

Aimed at young adults, "Heart of Valor" (Macmillan; $14.95) is the kind of book Smith, 32, devoured as a child growing up in Villa Park.

"I think I just liked the infinite possibilities, the idea that anything can happen in fantasy novels," said Smith, now a resident of Concord, Calif., during a visit to her parents' Villa Park home over the holidays.

"I think all kids have that feeling about the world anyway: You never know what can be around the next corner. In the real world, kids don't have much power, but in fantasy books they can make a difference. They can save the world."

Smith, who quit her job as a kindergarten teacher a year and a half ago--"I found it's very difficult to teach and write at the same time"--writes under her initials, L.J. Smith.

"I always thought Lisa Smith doesn't sound like an author," she explained. Besides, she added with a laugh, "my favorite authors are J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They use their initials and I figured I could do it too."

The inspiration for a fantasy novel about a parallel universe dates back to when Smith was 14.

"I was baby-sitting in a house that had very strange and unusual mirrors in it," she recalled. "I just looked at them and thought, 'Wouldn't it be neat if those weren't ordinary mirrors and something magical was behind them?' "

Smith, who had been writing short stories and poems at the time, wrote down character descriptions and a plot synopsis of her idea that she showed to her English teacher. "She said: 'That sounds good. You should do something about that.' Of course, I didn't start writing the book then."

Although she continued writing over the years, Smith said, she never tried to get anything published. But in her late 20s, when she decided to write a children's book, she remembered the idea she had scrawled on lined notebook paper in high school. (She still has her original notes, complete with small sketches of the main characters.)

Smith said she had always planned to give a copy of her first book to Zoe Gibbs, her old Villa Park High School English teacher, but neither she nor the school have been able to track down Gibbs.

"She was a tremendous inspiration to me," Smith said, "and she was the one who gave me confidence to actually try writing."

In both of Smith's novels, the good sorceress Morgana's house has magical mirrors that lead to parallel rooms in a castle in Wildworld. (The model for Morgana's house is an old Villa Park house on a hill not far from her parents' home and which, Smith noted with a laugh, "everyone thinks is haunted.")

In writing about Villa Park, "I'm sort of harking back to my childhood," said Smith, whose four young characters attend the same Villa Park schools she attended. "When we came here (in the late '60s), it was almost all orange groves. There is something about Villa Park I really liked--it has almost a small-town atmosphere--and I wanted to put it in the book."

Smith said each of the children in "Heart of Valor" contain "little bits of myself--especially the older two girls who are constantly sort of fighting it out. Janie is kind of intellectual and thinks with her head. And Alys thinks with her heart and sees everything emotionally."

Smith prefers writing strong female characters who initiate the action.

"You always hear about men's coming-of-age stories," she said. "I wanted to do a coming-of-age story for a young girl. I really wanted to do some positive, strong role models for girls."

Smith, however, has had to set aside plans for further adventures of her four Villa Park children.

After "The Night of the Solstice" was published, she was approached to write a trilogy of young-adult books about a couple of vampires who were born in Renaissance Italy and who are now living in a small Virginia town where they are posing as high school students.

Laughed Smith: "They're terrorizing the town folk and charming the girls. It's kind of a horror-romance."

The first book in the trilogy has been completed and is scheduled for publication by Harper & Row in the fall.

Romance Writers: Olga Bicos will discuss "theme" during the pre-meeting workshop of the Orange County chapter of Romance Writers of America at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Sequoia Conference Center, 7530 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park. Attorney Kathleen Sage will discuss the basics of negotiating a contractor for book-length fiction during the regular meeting at 1. Cost: $3 per session.

Factory Readings: Poets Willie Sims and Gene Gallun will read at the Factory Readings meeting at 8 p.m. Monday at Casa Palma Restaurant, 122 E. 17th St., Santa Ana.

War Talk: Eva Krutein will discuss her World War II book, "Eva's War: A True Story of Survival," at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Crown Valley Public Library, 30341 Crown Valley Parkway.

Send information about book-related events to: Books & Authors, View, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Deadline is two weeks before publication.

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