Raised in a one-stoplight county near the North Carolina coast, John Claude Bemis often sought adventure in both fairy tales and the swampy lands near his home. “Growing up in a rural place, I had to entertain myself a lot,” he says. “I loved being outdoors and devoured books, especially those for the fourth- to fifth-grade age group.”
As a writer, that sense of imagination has remained invaluable. “I try to write things that I would have liked to read at that age,” John says, but admits that his 13 years as an elementary school teacher in Chatham, Orange and Durham counties provided him with serious insight too. “I truly love being in the classroom,” he says, and being around kids helped hone his storytelling style.
John also finds inspiration in history, folklore, and of course, the works of his predecessors. “I loved immersing myself in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ as a child,” he says, “and I believe some of the best children’s books have been written in the past twenty to thirty years,” citing J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series as an example.
With titles including “The Prince Who Fell from the Sky” and “The Clockwork Dark” trilogy under his belt, John’s latest focus has been a second trilogy called “Out of Abaton,” which began with “The Wooden Prince” in 2016.
The second book, “Lord of Monsters,” was published in June, and its fictional land of Abaton is at once familiar and completely unexpected. Protagonist Pinocchio, a more complex version of the classic puppet, navigates stewardship of the kingdom as well as some newfound abilities, amplified by a powerful tool bestowed on him by Abaton’s previous ruler. With talking foxes, cats, gnomes and mushrooms at their side, Pinocchio and co-ruler Lazuli begin a mission to save their people from a horde of monsters whose depictions recall those of ancient Greek drakes and chimeras.
A third book in the “Out of Abaton” series is in the works, and John has a few other projects up his sleeve: “I’ve just finished two other books, but I will definitely come back to Abaton.” When he isn’t writing, John enjoys life in Hillsborough with wife Amy Gorely, vice president of strategic initiatives and outreach at Carolina Meadows, and daughter Rose, 10, a fifth-grader at Hillsborough Elementary. “This is a community of such creative, inspiring people,” he says. “From Hillsborough Arts Council events to gatherings at Cup-A-Joe or the Riverwalk, everyone here makes it a special, exciting, vibrant place to live.”
Below are some of the sketches he made to help him work out the characters of his new book.