Penguin Young Readers Group and the Jim Henson Company this week announced the winner of the Dark Crystal Author Quest, a writing competition to select the author of a new YA series set in the world of the 1982 fantasy film. The winner is J.M. (Joseph) Lee of Minneapolis, Minn., whose story, “The Ring of Dreams,” was selected from almost 500 contest submissions from established and aspiring writers. The new series will have a storyline that takes place prior to the action of The Dark Crystal film, which was directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz and based on the designs of Brian Froud.
Grosset & Dunlap will release the debut book, whose title has not yet been finalized, in summer 2016. Last month, the publisher issued The Dark Crystal Author Quest as an e-book original containing Lee’s story and the entries by the other four top contenders in the contest, Vinnie Chiappini, Greg Coles, Nancy Gray, and Esther Palmer.
Francesco Sedita, Grosset & Dunlap president and publisher, noted that as a longtime fan of The Dark Crystal, he had been eager to see the contest submissions, and was pleasantly surprised by what he read. “I couldn’t believe the number – and quality – of entries we received,” he said. “That made selecting an author far from easy. But from early on we knew there was something special about J.M. Lee’s writing. He’s a passionate and creative storyteller.”
Lee, a writing mentor, illustrator, and graphic designer with a background in linguistics and film, recalled viewing The Dark Crystal as a child. “As soon as I heard about the contest, I knew I had to enter,” he said. “I love the idea of nostalgic prequels, and The Dark Crystal was a staple video from my childhood. I also felt that my writing style has a darkish, zany nature to it – which might go back to my love of the film as a kid, if one were to think too hard about it.”
Lee decided to focus his story on a character he created, a Gelfling from the swamp-dwelling Drenchen clan. “In the world-building notes on the Dark Crystal website, I felt like this group of Gelfling were a bit misunderstood, so I grabbed on to that right away,” he said. “I like writing about the underdog, and I really wanted to show another side of Gelfling. I thought showing an impulsive character from a remote tribe would be a great way to expand the world and give a new perspective on the era before the movie takes place.”
The author, who heard the news about winning the contest when he was at his day job as a freelance software consultant, knew something was up when his phone rang and he saw a New York City area code. “I suddenly thought, ‘This is it! This is the day I get to leave work because I get to write a book!’ ” he said. “Everyone has been so supportive. I’ve already gotten a few amazing comments from people who read my excerpt in the e-book. It really has been a dream, and very surreal. Still, I’m cracking my fingers and getting ready to dig in and work – and make this book happen!”