Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sam's Quest for the Crimson Crystal and Sam's Quest: The Royal Trident by Ben Furman (with interview and giveaway)

Sam's Quest for the Crimson Crystal is the first book in a new fantasy trilogy for children by former FBI counterterrorism chief Ben Furman, who tells the story of Samantha "Sam" Costas, an 11-year-old girl whose life changes forever when she arrives at her grandfather's farm for the summer and stumbles into a different world located in the mountains. She and her grandfather's dog, Patch, are summoned to Innerworld by the Awokian Prince Buznor. He explains to Sam that she is the Seeker destined to find the Crimson Crystal that prevents the violent Zogs from invading Innerworld. The Zogs are digging a tunnel from Bottomworld and are preparing to attack the Awoks. Sam accepts the mission to find the crystal and save the Awoks, beginning her journey on the back of a dragonfly, fighting dwarfs and other monsters, making new friends, and finding out about herself and her family history along the way.

In Sam's Quest: The Royal Trident, the second book in the trilogy, Sam moves in with her grandfather for good after the death of her parents, who disappeared on a trip to find the lost city of Atlantis. She is called back to the worlds in the mountains, this time to save her friend, Prince Buznor, and his uncle, King Kaylan, as they journey to find the Originators, the makers of the Crimson Crystal. Her adventure takes her to the World of Bergeron and the Kingdom of Ornia, where she meets "family," King Vorak and Princess Digan, who could be Sam's twin. Someone from within the kingdom is helping the evil Pax in their quest to rule the Originators and all the World of Bergeron, and Sam must figure out a way to stop them.

Perfect for kids between the ages of 8 and 12, the Sam's Quest books show that you don't have to be extraordinary to be a hero. Sam is an awkward girl with thick glasses and severe asthma that prevents her from playing sports and engaging in other activities with her friends. She is unsure whether she's the right one to save the Awokians because she's just plain ole Sam. But in both books, Sam discovers strength she didn't know she had. Furman does a great job portraying a young girl at a difficult stage of childhood looking to belong. In book two, he paints a realistic portrait of a girl grieving over the death of her parents and her old life and longing for a place that feels like home. The Sam's Quest books provide children with an escape into different worlds, each with their own people and challenges, and while there is some violence associated with war, it's not bloody or scary. Sam is faced with many decisions, and she shows a great deal of integrity in her choices. Furman has created a compelling adventure and a good role model who revamps the definition of hero.

Because the books are geared toward middle-grade readers, I wasn't sure I would enjoy reading them on my own (I've since passed them on to my daughter). It took me a chapter or two to become absorbed in the story, but overall, I found it an enjoyable, quick read. I grew attached to Sam, and I was a bit disappointed at the end of the second book because the third one hasn't yet been released!

Read an excerpt from Sam's Quest for the Crimson Crystal here.

Read an excerpt from Sam's Quest: The Royal Trident here.

These books also were reviewed by:

Out of the Blue
Literarily (Book 1 and Book 2)

As part of Mr. Furman's Pump Up Your Book Promotion tour, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about Sam's Quest.

What inspired you to write Sam's Quest?

I had an overwhelming urge to vet the deep inner conflicts I had suffered as a child; to understand the yin and yang of my existence. No, not really. A cute girl was behind it all.

So, here's the start of it. On the first day of my fifth grade history class a new girl with long red hair and green eyes sat a couple of rows away from me. Samantha instantly became my favorite girl's name. I wracked my brain to come up with something to impress her. I wanted to move closer, but Johnny "the Jerk" who sat directly behind Samantha refused to switch places with me. Our history teacher's cataracts restricted her field of fire to the first row seats, which would have given me adequate cover, but no sale.

I spin a pretty good tale and I can draw. My answer: A story-boarded Samantha fantasy adventure with drawings and words! As the project gained speed I heard the whispers. She had asthma! Asthma? Was it contagious? No! I added an aspirator that Samantha used to spray in the villain's eyes, thus defeating him and saving Innerworld! I slipped the finished story on her desk one recess. Then I held my breath as she read it, shoved it inside her desk, and turned around to smile at Johnny, who had just pulled her hair. She never acknowledged me--ever, and feeling like a complete dunce I retrieved the story when no one was around. Thankfully at the end of the school year Samantha moved away, ending my gut-gnawing embarrassment.

Years later I was severely scolded by my sister, who told me to get off my butt and do something with the story. To put things in perspective I have a foot and a half and a hundred pounds on my diminutive older sister. But she's never given a wit. Growing up I'd tasted her right cross more than once, the greatest since Joe Frazier! I decided to write the Sam's Quest trilogy for my two daughters. The original core characters and the message didn't change: To be successful you don't have to be Superman, even he has a weakness. Keep churning and good things will come of it.

How long did it take to write the Sam's Quest books, given that you've created numerous worlds, creatures, and characters? While writing, how did you keep track of them all?

It took about three years to complete the two young adult books and to get underway on the third. I did the initial cover art for The Royal Trident and a good friend did the coloration. We spent way too much time blabbing about middle tones, highlighting and such. During this span I also wrote my first adult book, a counterterrorism thriller, and I'm about half way through the second. To keep my sanity I bounce back and forth from the bomb throwers to Sam, the bomb stopper.

I started off as a "hip shooter" writer, letting the story meander as it willed. After being crucified by a fine editor (there was so much red ink in the returned manuscript that it required a blood transfusion) I went back to the basics: outlining, story boarding, moving chapters around, character development, all the boring but essential work that's needed before beginning the serious writing. Developing new worlds, settings and creatures can be a challenge and to keep everything in sync requires a solid blueprint. That said, I always leave enough wiggle room for a creative something that I hadn't anticipated. That's the fun of it!

Could you tell us a bit about the next installment of Sam's Quest? I'm dying to know about her next adventure!

Okay, now the squeeze play is on. I'll try to couch my answer so that it doesn't reveal too much.

In Sam's Quest: The Catacomb of Evil, we circle back to answer some of the unresolved issues about Sam, her parents, the original protector of the Awokians, and how some of the carry-over characters from the previous books fit into the scheme of things.

Sam, Buzz, and of course Patch, are into some serious trouble at the get-go and the intrepid team has to work together to figure their way out. And we take a deeper look into Sam's main antagonist, the villain in Book 2, who was just too good to dispatch. And though it's hard to believe, the evil villain has gathered even more sinister and dangerous creatures to destroy Sam. Revenge, yes, but with Sam out of the way the path to world domination is wide open.

Sam encounters new lands such as Digan's Keep, an ancient stone fortress that's perpetually shrouded in the red mists of the Black Mountains. There are those that swear the Keep is a live, pulsating monstrous rock creature that obeys the will of its master, the evil force. But most disagree and scoff at the idea that the fortress actually exists.

. . .Protus, the advisor to King Vorak, nervously stepped forward and answered the king. "But sire, these are just ramblings of old men that tell bedtime stories to scare their grandchildren. Of course they are not true. Surely there is no such place."

Sam looked at Buzz, who gave a slight nod. Yes, the advisor believed. . .

I read that you used to be an FBI agent. What made you decide to turn to writing, or have you always been a writer?

I've been writing and drawing since I was five or six. I received a college art scholarship that didn't pay much, and the full boat athletic scholarship seemed more practical at the time. I warmed the bench for four years as I watched better athletes run up and down the football field. English and art were minors; criminal justice was my major. Writing for writing's sake took a back seat for a number of years. I was recruited by the FBI after the military, and buddy, you'd better be able to write iron-clad prosecutorial reports that stand up in court. My writing background held me in good stead. I started the Rexus Corporation, a corporate security consulting company, after retiring from the FBI. Three years ago, my oldest daughter assumed the CEO position, which allowed me time to write and paint full time. Not a bad gig.

What are young girls saying about Sam's Quest? I plan on sharing them with my 8-year-old daughter, who I'm sure will love the story of the reluctant, unlikely heroine.

I hoped that the Sam's Quest series with a less than perfect heroine would strike a positive chord with young readers, girls and boys alike. I wanted someone they could relate to, someone who could be one of their classmates. I worked hard to show them not only Sam's inner strength, but her fears and frailties as well. For example, how she copes with her debilitating asthma is a crucial lesson. And despite taking blow after blow, both mentally and physically, she stays steady. She "stands up" and by her wits and tenacity overcomes the most daunting obstacles.

It took just this response from Catherine, ten, who lives in Chicago to make all the effort worthwhile and to bring me to my knees. She said, "Samantha was afraid but kept going and she didn't let her asthma stop her. I won't let my diabetes stop me either."

Here are a couple more. Vanessa, thirteen, is from Dallas. "I really liked the way you described things like how the land and sky was, how that mirrored pool was clear and you could see everything through it. I thought that was amazing! It gave me such great ideas when I was in English class and we had to write an essay on magical places and I immediately referred back to your books. Also I really liked the character Sam and how she was so brave to go through with all these dangerous quests!"

Jason, from San Diego, is twelve and well on his way to being a scientist. ". . .I liked the way Sam and Buzz solved the problems together they ran into on their journey. Everything was logical. The characters were great and scary and the silver sea was cool! Dad's buying me the next book. Tell me when you write another one. . ."

The kids get it! Mission accomplished.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Ben!

Thanks for the interview, Anna. I truly appreciate it.

p.s. If your daughter is interested in hearing the interviews of Master Patch and Master Telegu, please visit my blog for the podcasts.

Ben Furman would like to offer a copy of Sam's Quest for the Crimson Crystal to one of my readers and a copy of Sam's Quest: The Royal Trident to another. The giveaway is open to readers everywhere, but you must enter by midnight EST on Nov. 19.

Simply leave a comment on this post telling me why you'd like to read the Sam's Quest books yourself or why you think your children would enjoy them. Please make sure to leave your email address!

Disclosure:  I received free copies of the Sam's Quest books from the author for review purposes.


Serena said...

These books sound inspirational! I would love to pass along these to that wonderful niece of mine...:)

Serena said...

oops...did I mention that these stories about girls finding the stories inspirational is amazing...I'd like to pass that along to my niece. I think she could use the encouragement.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

My daughter would love these. And frankly, they'd be good for her. Heck, for both my kids. Life comes WAY too easy for them.

I've got this posted at Win a Book for you, of course. I want to be as polished and as good an interview as Mr. Furman!

Cheryl said...

Thanks for hosting Ben today. I honestly loved both of these books and I can't wait until Book 3 comes out.


Unknown said...

My daughter is 9 years old, the perfect age for this book. She is doing fine, but I can already see some of the self-confidence and fitting-in issues with some of her classmates. Thanks for the great interview and contest!

Anonymous said...

I would love to read this book with my daughter. It sounds like a great adventure story, and I love that the main character is a girl.

djecse at yahoo dot com

Alyce said...

I would love to win one of these books! I loved the origin of the story (trying to win the affection of his gradeschool crush)! These sound like a lot of fun.

akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

Jeannie said...

No need to enter me, Anna. I just wanted to say how nice it is that Sam is not a "Barbie Doll" and is instead a character that young people can relate to.

Bookfool said...

Oh, please enter me, Anna! My son is 16, but he and I both enjoy reading light fantasy and both books sound enormously fun. I'm going to look up Furman's other works, as well. Thanks for a terrific dual review! He reminded me of my own childhood embarrassments with crushes and writing, which I will never go into. LOL

bookfoolery at yahoo dot com

Carol M said...

A book with a girl as a good role model would be perfect for me to give to my granddaughters. They are nine and eleven. Thank you!
Carol M
mittens0831 AT

darbyscloset said...

I enjoy Furman's writing and therefore know that I would enjoy these books of his as well!
Plus like Serena stated I have a neice that would benefit from the positive aspects as well! A great Christmas gift idea for her!!
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

Lady Blogger said...

Ooooohhhh! These books sound great! I know they would be right up the alley of a great majority of my third graders!

Thanks Anna, for opening my eyes up to yet another fantastic find!!

Dawn said...

Hi Anna! Well, you know my girls fit into this age group so I'd like to enter this contest. These sound very interesting and we'll be looking for them for sure!


Anonymous said...

Unlike everyone, I love reading stuff like this! Being lost in the surreal world, and living in those pages -- it reminds me of my times as a kid :-)

I would love to read this, and the story behind the inspiration- Samantha was cute.. But I dnt know why she didn't acknowledge it :(

But anyways we have a book to read :) and thats great!

Please enter me Anna!
thanks a LOT

Anna said...

Serena: I was touched by the stories from the kids as well. I think your niece will enjoy them! I can't wait for The Girl to read them, and if she wants me to revisit the books and post her thoughts, I'd be happy to.

Susan: Thanks for posting the giveaway. It's much appreciated. And thanks for entering the giveaway! I feel honored that your broke your no giveaway rule on my blog! ;)

Cheryl: You're very welcome! Thanks for the opportunity to read and review them! I probably wouldn't have heard of the books otherwise, and I would've missed out on a great story. I'm looking forward to book 3 as well.

Janel: My daughter's going through that already at 8. It's such a difficult time for them. They're still children, but they're craving independence and acceptance. I hope your daughter gets a chance to read the books!

Carol: I think young girls need books with lead characters they can identify with, and Sam is a character I wouldn't mind my daughter wanting to emulate.

Alyce: That was a cute story, wasn't it?

Jeannie: I agree! I cringe at some of the supposed role models out there for young girls today.

Bookfool: Glad you enjoyed the reviews! I've never reviewed two at once before, and it was a bit of a challenge, especially with the second book and trying not to give away anything that happens in the first book. I'd love to know what you and your son think if you get a chance to read them!

Carol M: I bet your granddaughters would love the books!

Darby: I'd never read anything by Furman until Sam's Quest. I think I'll check out his other books now. And I agree that these would make great Christmas gifts!

Lady Blogger: You're welcome! If you ever read these with your class, let me know what they think!

Dawn: Hi there!! ((HUGS)) back! So glad to see you pop in here from time to time!

Veens: Young girls can be strange. Who knows why she didn't acknowlege it? Before I started reviewing books on my site, the only fantasy books I'd read were Harry Potter. Blogging has opened my eyes to a lot of great books in genres I don't usually consider, and I'm glad for opportunities like this!

Rebekah E. said...

These books would be great for my 10 year old daughter. I think she would really love them. Please enter me.

Keyo said...

i really want to read this to my nephew who is a bookworm himself at such a tender age! gotta love it!
:) thanks.pls include me!!

Shana said...

Anna, I'll be back to read this after I finish the book. I'm on the tour too. I did peek and see that you liked the book - YAY!


Anna said...

Rebekah E.: Consider yourself entered!!

Keyomi: That's so kind of you to think of your nephew! My daughter is a little bookworm, too.

Shana: I didn't realize you were on the tour! That's great! Looking forward to your review!

Asylumgirl said...

I think these might even get my reluctant nine year old son to read them.

deidre_durance at hotmail dot com

The Bookworm said...

These sound very good.
I'm also liking those book covers.
Great review and interview :)
Both my kids would enjoy these, especially since the heroine is an everyday person.


Paradox said...

I can't help but love books that involve someone normal (or appearing to be normal) discovers a hidden world and has to save it. Sounds corny, but I've always loved those stories. And the person is a girl in these books! Another point for feminism!

Epic fantasy adventure stories just never get old for me, so I really want to read these books!!!

Wendi said...

What a great interview - my niece would probably love this book!

~ Wendi

Your interview has been added to

About the Author - An Author Interview Index

Unknown said...

These books sound great! It's nice to have an average girl as a heroine who does extraordinary things. Thanks for running this contest!

Anna said...

Deidre: I love when reluctant readers find a book they really enjoy! If your son reads them, please let me know what he thought of them!

Naida: I thought the covers were interesting, too.

Paradox: I hope you get a chance to read them! Never really paid attention to the feminist aspect, but I can see what you mean.

Wendi: Thanks for adding the link!

Lisa: Thanks for stopping by my blog! Your profile isn't available, so if you'd like to be entered, please come back and leave your email! :)

caseykelp said...

Sounds like a good read to share with the young ones i know.
Thank you for the giveaway


Ginny said...

I absolutely love books like this & this one looks great. I love giving my girls new style books to read, I think they'd enjoy this!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anna- I totally understand. And I thank You for hosting this wonderful giveaway :)

Paradox said...

Who won?

Anna said...

Sorry that I'm a bit late in posting the winners! I've been really swamped at work and a bit under the weather. The winners have been emailed, and I'll announce them this evening. Thanks for entering everyone!

Anna said...

Oh, and Veens, you're very welcome!