After spending his career maneuvering through mergers and acquisitions and navigating the halls of state and municipal government, Jim Shapiro is forging a new professional path -- one filled with tales of epic journeys, intrepid heroes and jaw-dropping discoveries.
Shapiro, a corporate lawyer and former Connecticut state representative from Stamford, recently published his first book, a young adult novel that combines the author's penchant for fantasy fiction with his passion for real-world exploration.
"Killmaiden's Compendium of Uncommon Occurrences" (Inkwater Press, $11.81) follows 12-year-old Alexander Drake, an up-and-comer in a family of adventurers who, for generations, has belonged to the Ancient Order of Explorers. These adventurers travel the Wide World in search of the "extraordinary" (chameleon flowers, alien landings, mythical sites), which is then documented in an encyclopedia -- the "Killmaiden's Compendium of Uncommon Occurrences."
Alexander has long dreamt of joining the ranks of the celebrated pioneers. He already has one discovery under his belt. Then, when his father goes missing during a mysterious mission, he unexpectedly gets his chance. With the help of his younger sister, their teenage governess and an unlikely stowaway, the fledgling explorer goes on a quest to find his father and, in the process, save the world.
Like Frodo Baggins and Peter Pevensie before him, Alexander is thrust into a grave mission that forces him to grow up quickly.
"Alex has always loved the `Compendium,' but for him, it's been about the glamour and the glory," Shapiro said. "Going through this serious mission in search of father and to save the Wide World, he realizes that it's about more than just himself -- it's about the journey."
The book will remind readers of such fantasy classics as "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Lord of the Rings" (two of the author's biggest literary inspirations). That being said, the world of "Killmaiden's Compendium" is grounded more in magical realism than pure fantasy; there aren't any talking lions or evil rings. The geography of Wide World, detailed in a map in the opening pages, is strikingly similar to our own.
Put another way, Shapiro wants readers to get lost in the book, but he doesn't want them to stay there.
"My hope is that readers will take a journey of their own," said Shapiro, who has traveled to Australia, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean, among other overseas locales. "There's an adventure outside every doorway."
Shapiro may have been thinking the same thing during his six-year stint at the state Legislature. While he cherished his tenure, the one-time state representative had few opportunities to tap into his creative side amid the clamor of the busy chamber.
"My writing career is a lot different from my political career," he said. "In government, you have 50 people asking questions, shouting your name from across the room. But with writing, it's just me, my laptop and my ideas."
One of those ideas -- the "Compendium" itself -- was born of Shapiro's "dissatisfaction with the coldness" of Internet search engines and encyclopedias. Shapiro said there is a growing tendency among younger generations to find the answers to their questions with the easy click of a mouse. But, unlike Google and Wikipedia, "Killmaiden's Compendium" is "filled with information based on discoveries made by people going on missions to the far corners of the Earth."
"That to me is a much deeper and truer way of getting information," Shapiro, 42, added.
Most readers won't be able to travel that far afield, Shapiro admitted. But maybe they don't have to -- after all, he said, there is plenty left to discover right in their own backyards.
"My hope is (the book) will inspire young people to get the heck off the couch," Shapiro said. "There's a great big world out there waiting to be explored." Visit www.killmaidens.com.
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