Out of any city in the world to set a series of fantasy books based in Norse mythology, Pilot Rock seems a pretty unlikely choice.
To author Alane Adams, however, the small Eastern Oregon city was perfect.
“Why would I choose Pilot Rock, right? It’s crazy,” Adams asked a classroom of English students at Pilot Rock Jr./Sr. High on Thursday during her very first time setting foot in town. “Is this an exciting town?”
“No,” the teenagers chorused, looking at her like she was indeed crazy.
But Adams said she wanted the protagonist of the “Legends of Orkney” series to grow up somewhere very “small town U.S.A.” — somewhere he felt safe and ordinary before his life was turned upside down by the discovery that he was actually the son of a witch and a Norse god.
Adams started researching towns in Oregon, where her family travels from California to visit extended family in La Grande and take camping trips. When she found out about the actual rock by which Pilot Rock is named, she knew she had hit the jackpot.
“I needed something symbolic to act as a portal,” she said.
So Adams, using Google Earth and other information from the Internet, set her first novel, “The Red Sun,” in Pilot Rock. And the towering rock formation outside of town became a portal to a magical realm called Orkney.
Adams has written two other books in the series and has been handing them out to schools where she speaks, but they aren’t for sale yet. Before they are published Adams thought it would be a good idea to come and take a tour of Pilot Rock and weave in more details about the community.
“I’ve read so much about this place I wanted to come and see it for myself,” she said.
As part of her visit she surprised the school with a gift of $1,000 for new library books from the Rise Up Foundation, which Adams started to encourage children to get excited about reading.
Adams recycles the net proceeds from her books back into the foundation, which has given away more than 6,000 books since it began.
In another effort to “drive kids to reading,” Adams is working with a developer on a mobile gaming app based on her books. The game can be played without having read the books but it is easier to advance and collect points if the player knows things from the books about the characters. The idea is to prompt teens and pre-teens to cross over from the game to the books.
“So many kids are hooked to their devices,” Adams said.
Her goal is to encourage more kids to pick up a book and voluntarily read it from cover to cover.
In a presentation to the Pilot Rock students — her eighth one of the day — Adams said mediums like movies can be good for getting people interested in a book, but reading is always better than watching.
When she wrote the word “tree” on the board, she said everyone in the room was picturing a different size, shape and species of tree unique to them. Watching a movie, she said, was like looking at the picture of a tree she had just pulled out.
“The moment you see this picture your brain no longer has to do any work,” she said.
She told students the brain is a muscle and the more they exercise it by reading the smarter they will get.
Another advantage of reading, she said, is building empathy. Someone watching a movie can guess what a character is feeling from their facial expressions, but someone reading a book knows exactly what the character is thinking. It can help them step into someone else’s shoes in an unprecedented way.
Adams said reading also allows people to imagine what can be. The most innovative scientists of our country, she said, including the people who put the first man on the moon, were reading science fiction about space travel and other technological advances long before they became a reality.
“You have to read to believe in other places and possibilities,” Adams said. “When you read books you escape this life and believe another life is possible, that you can do something better with your life.”
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.