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Harry Potter, Meet Luke Carter

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Like the Harry Potter books, "Luke Carter and the Sword of Rings" includes a school for the paranormal, a sport involving flying brooms and an exceptional locomotive. Ensor's book begins: "ALONG A NORTHERN Mountain pass, a very special train moved along a very special track at a slow pace through a heavy rainstorm. While there were many other tracks through the mountain passes with many other trains, this train had its own track, and no other trains could ride on this track except for this very special train."

"It is not a parody, and it is not an American 'Harry Potter,'" Ensor says emphatically. It is, he insists, a purely American story, through and through. That means no effete, Oxfordesque heroes wielding wands. "No wands — only swords," Ensor says.

Besides the setting — America's East Coast — the story is full of pioneer, rough-and-ready American attitude. "This is America," one TV ad for his book goes. "We don't run from Darksiders here, wizard boy." Other than this disparaging reference, Ensor's heroes aren't called wizards, either. "They're practitioners," Ensor says.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the tales of Harry and Luke is that Ensor's book includes parental input. "In Potter, kids face life without adult guidance," Ensor says. "These kids get all the help they need from people who love them, even though Luke loses his family in Chapter 8."

Initially, Ensor received a publishing agreement from WinDruid Publishing in St. Louis. "But they didn't have national experience," Ensor notes. So WinDruid partnered with The Jenkins Group in Traverse City, Mich., to get the book into the top 20 markets. "Richmond is 58th in the market," Ensor says with a shrug. But he does have some signed copies of the 427-page book on hand as proof of the finished product.

Ensor says he has already penetrated the market. Luke Carter's Web site, www.lukecarter.com, generated 30,000 hits in two weeks, he says. And although he has gone by the name Andrew since he moved to Richmond in 1997, folks back home in Jersey call him A.J., making the book's byline quickly, if not coincidentally, recognizable.

And in an effort to get Luke Carter's name into the pop culture bubble, Ensor monitors teenage chat rooms to see what's hot. Occasionally, he nudges chats toward the growing Luke Carter topic, "but mostly I just watch." Whatever. He's started the buzz. And that's not all. He's paved the way for small retailers to advertise his book by creating two downloadable 30-second TV commercials, with space at the bottom for retailers to list stores' addresses and phone numbers.

Although Ensor is confident adults will enjoy the book as much as young readers, he doesn't expect the humor to be the hook for the grown-up market. "The humor is lame," he notes. "That's kids' humor." — Lisa Antonelli Bacon



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