Bullies should be warned never to step foot in Joseph Helgerson's imaginative town of Blue Wing, Minn., along the Mississippi River. They may find themselves transformed into a rhinoceros, which happens to be the meal of choice of a rock troll named Bodacious Deepthink. In Horns & Wrinkles (Houghton), Helgerson's first novel, fiesty heroine Claire must use her wits to save her mean cousin Duke from just such a fate.

Horns & Wrinkles has received two starred reviews, was an SLJ Hot Pick for September and is currently the #3 title on Book Sense's winter list.

Helgerson, now 56, discovered the Beat writers in college, which sparked his aspirations to be a writer. He wrote poetry and fiction while working evenings as support staff in the emergency room of a local hospital. When he began reading stories to his own children he gained an appreciation of children's books and began to think, "I could write stories like that."

Several years later, with manuscript in hand, Helgerson landed an agent at Lazear Agency. His manuscript eventually found its way to the desk of Kate O'Sullivan at Houghton. Under O'Sullivan's guidance, Helgerson did several revisions until "the third version ended up becoming the book."

What drew O'Sullivan to Helgerson's manuscript, she says, was how "the characters seemed to walk right off the page, along with his ingenious turns of phrase."

Helgerson's next book, Wouldn't (Houghton), is a historical novel, once again set on the Mississippi River. In the meantime, the success of Horns & Wrinkles hasn't changed life too much. But he admits that at bookstore signings "it's been a real kick to have someone come up and have read the book already, and be enamored of the characters and story. That's a really good feeling."