Crowning achievement

Teacher Wayne Batson turns classroom-tested tales of medieval fantasy into a novel, `The Door Within.'


The walls in sixth-grade reading teacher Wayne Thomas Batson's classroom are lined with imitation castle stone and guarded by a knight in shining Rust-Oleum. Pupils at Folly Quarter Middle School in Ellicott City enter his lair and quickly get caught up in his penchant for medieval lore, decorating their given names with honorifics they display on coats of arms: Sir Kyle of Kim. Lady Christina of Krueger. Sir Danny of Dresner.

For 15 years, the Eldersburg instructor has inspired young minds with literary adventures. In turn they've insisted he take his passion beyond the decorated room at the boxy school - namely, that he turn one of his medieval short stories into a full-fledged novel.

That's how Batson's newly released first book, The Door Within, grew from a 17-page piece he had submitted in a short-story contest 13 years ago into an internationally circulated, 320-page fantasy thriller. It chronicles the adventures of Aidan Thomas, a young boy who discovers three scrolls that lead him to a world of knights, warriors and mysterious beings.

Publishers Weekly commended The Door Within last month as a book with "layers of action and adventure ... replete with knights, dragons and powerful swords."

Batson clearly relished dreaming up this fictive universe. "It's an absolute release for me to be able to create these worlds and beings and live life vicariously through them. I'd like to strap on a sword and go for an adventure if such a thing were possible," said Batson, a 36-year old, goateed father of four with the effervescence of a game-show host and the imagination of a George Lucas protege.

Getting The Door Within published has inspired Batson to see how far can he go in the literary world. Tommy Nelson, a children's book publisher, has signed him on for a Door Within trilogy - with The Rise of the Wyrm Lord set to be released in March, followed by The Final Storm in August. The Door Within is also available in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom - all written in English.

Though the University of Maryland graduate has no intention of giving up teaching, he's come up with about 15 more book ideas - many of which, like The Door Within, originated from stories that he has shared with his pupils.

Occasionally, Batson will share only brief excerpts, just enough to put his young readers in suspense. And when he informs them that they'll have to wait another day to read the entire story, they bemoan, "Awww!"

"A lot of [my] passion is definitely the kids," said Batson. "I love to see the expressions on their faces when they've read something I've written."

They're not alone in their delight. Tommy Nelson has given Batson's work the kind of treatment seasoned authors enjoy - a medieval painting on the hardback cover, shaded pages and drawings throughout and a Door Within Web site.

"We wanted to set Wayne's book apart from all the others in the fantasy genre," said Dee Ann Grand, Tommy Nelson vice president and associate publisher. "One way to do that is to find a unique cover style that mirrors the story. We went above and beyond with the cover art that says, `There's more than meets the eye,' and it has paid off. The next two covers in the series also have the `wow factor.'"

The Door Within has all the trappings of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, which Batson read as a child. He got so hooked on its other-world theme that he read the Lord of the Rings trilogy once a year for 16 years - usually during family car trips from his home in Seabrook to his grandfather's home in Panama City, Fla.

"I'm so enamored with Tolkien's writing style and with the personalities of the characters that every year it's like reliving a fun adventure with old buddies," he said.

Anyone who has read Tolkien will find similar story lines and characters in The Door Within, but Batson says, "What makes my book different is the species of being called the Glimpses, the people Aidan meets when he travels to another realm. They're just like us in most ways, but there's a secret about them that Aidan will find out. Middle Earth is Tolkien's world, and that's completely apart from our world. In this book, the realm of the Glimpses is very connected to us."

In a way, Batson is living every novel writer's fantasy. He squared off against the often-challenging publishing industry as a virtual unknown and prevailed.

After he turned his 17-page short story into an 87-page novelette, Batson sought advice from publishers, who insisted he water down the story's language to a fourth-grade reading level and refrain from going past 120 pages.

Instead, Batson kept writing, then he pitched his manuscript to about 10 regional and national publishing houses. He got turned down by all of them. His break came when a friend introduced him to Gregg Wooding, president of I AM PR, an agency that works to get inspirational stories into print.

Wooding circulated Batson's work, and it got a ringing endorsement.

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