<B>Wee watchmaker returnsGet ready for more adventures with Hoeye's mouse hero</B>Take 14 letters from the alphabet, arrange them into an unrecognizable word in 60 seconds, and what have you got? Hermux Tantamoq, the main character of two and soon to be three hit children's books: <I>Time Stops for No Mouse </I>(Putnam, $14,99, 288 pages, ISBN 0399238786) and <B>The Sands of Time</B> (Putnam, $14.99, 288 pages, ISBN 0399238794). Author Michael Hoeye, who had taught seminars on creativity but had never written an actual book before, unwittingly discovered the world of Hermux Tantamoq and friends one summer morning at a breakfast cafÅ½ in Portland, Oregon. Hoeye and his wife Martha had just picked up an old board game called Anagrams similar to Scrabble at a garage sale. While waiting for their food, they drew letters and challenged each other to make up names. Hoeye had just drawn X and Q two difficult letters to work with when the idea of Hermux Tantamoq popped into his head. Hoeye saw Hermux as an ordinary but likable mouse who was a watchmaker. It was a wonderful moment, recalls Hoeye. I thought someday, I'd like to write about this character. That someday presented itself two years later when Hoeye's wife, an art and textile buyer, left for Southeast Asia on a two-month business trip. I wanted to e-mail her every day, says Hoeye, but after the first day, I realized that just telling her about the weather or what was going on at home was going to be really boring. So Hoeye revived his old friend Hermux and started writing e-mail messages about the tiny watchmaker's life and adventures, creating an entire world around him. Within a week, Hoeye had written nearly 10 chapters, each sent off to his wife as an e-mail. Meanwhile in Southeast Asia, Martha was reading the stories and sharing them with people in her hotel. Everyone wanted to know what was going to happen next, remembers Hoeye, and suddenly I realized I was writing a serial. By the time Martha had returned from Asia, <I>Time Stops for No Mouse</I> was nearly a third of the way finished, and Hoeye was already scheduled to do a bookstore reading. I had compiled some of the chapters and passed them around to friends and family, says Hoeye. One of my friends just happened to work in a bookstore and invited me to come in. Soon, his originally spiral-bound book was being distributed across the country in paperback, and Hoeye knew it was time to explore more about Hermux. For the second book, I wanted to focus on history, says Hoeye, specifically on the concept of how we continually pose answers religiously, scientifically, philosophically yet no one ever agrees. In <B>The Sands of Time</B>, Hermux's adventures lead him to explore the origins of language, technology and history. In the book, Hermux sets off on an adventure to find a hidden temple that once was ruled by a fabled animal called a cat. The mission is cloaked in scandal and intrigue, because in Hermux's world, cats are myths and terrible, scary ones at that.
But don't mistake Hoeye's sojourn into thought-provoking ideas as a lecture on archaeology; this book is every bit as exciting, entertaining and entangled as the first.
And Hoeye's characters continue to engage, delight and surprise throughout their many adventures as well. In fact, according to Hoeye, all of their personalities and idiosyncrasies are inspired by ordinary people. The bad aspects are taken from people I know, and the good from people I'd like to know, claims Hoeye. I think it's important to love your villains, he adds, because without them, you have no story. Now that <I>Time Stops for No Mouse</I> has been published in 22 languages around the world and <B>The Sands of Time</B> is set to follow suit, it's time for Hoeye to invent more escapades for his wee watchmaker. I am not sure how many books about Hermux I'll write, admits Hoeye, who is in the midst of writing his third book. I guess it'll just depend on how many good stories I can imagine for him. But if Hoeye's adeptness at creating characters from Anagram tiles is any proof of the depth of his imagination, we are sure to be reading about Hermux for a long time to come. <I>Heidi Henneman writes from San Francisco.</I>