Saturday, May 17, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Artemis' author dishes about Fowl, fairies and future projects

Seattle Times staff reporter

Author appearance

Eoin Colfer will sign copies of his new book, "Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code" (Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children, $16.95) at 11 a.m. today at All for Kids, 2900 N.E. Blakeley St., Seattle; 11 a.m. Monday at Borders in Puyallup, 3829 S. Meridian; and 7 p.m. Monday at University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle.

Irish author Eoin Colfer described his first "Artemis Fowl" book as " 'Die Hard' with fairies." If so, then his latest, "Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code," should be pitched as " 'Ocean's Eleven' with a dwarf."

Colfer, speaking from Washington, D.C., is happy to go along with that. "I love a good heist," he said. "They don't come along often, especially with a twist."

In "The Eternity Code," criminal mastermind Artemis, age 13, travels across the Atlantic to steal the "C Cube," a supercomputer fashioned from fairy technology, back from a shady Chicago businessman.

The magical gang — fairy Captain Holly Short, techie centaur Foaly and dirt-chomping dwarf Mulch Diggums — are all back to help, with bodyguard Juliet filling in for the usually reliable Butler.

The first "Artemis" book spent 36 weeks on The New York Times children's best-seller list, with its sequel, "Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident," on the list for 22 weeks.

A Miramax movie is still "in that dreaded phase known as 'development,' " but the screenplay (not by Colfer) is finished. Now it just needs a budget and stars.

Colfer, for what it's worth, is pushing for Julia Stiles as Holly and Jason Lee as Butler. Lee is "not as big as people imagine (Butler), but he's got such a screen presence," he says.

Though he'd like to see an Irish actor as Artemis, he wouldn't mind some "brilliant" American actors filling out the magical cast. He's always pictured the LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police reconnaissance) as "a 'Hill Street Blues' with fairies."

Clearly, Colfer has watched plenty of American media in his native Ireland, where he used to be a schoolteacher.

When asked if he worries about making his books too contemporary — Artemis notes it will take a couple of years for laws to control his supercomputer because "look how long it took to shut down Napster" — Colfer agrees it's a challenge not to sound outdated.

"You don't want it to be like 'Miami Vice' — 'my God, did I wear that?' " he said. "I try not to pin it down too much and to look ahead a bit. But if it was 2010, looking back at 2000, I guess a bit of nostalgia is OK, as long as it's not too hokey. Kind of like looking back at 'Star Trek' now."

"The Eternity Code" has garnered mostly positive reviews, with Publishers Weekly calling it even better than "The Arctic Incident." Entertainment Weekly pronounced "Colfer's characters — cantankerous elves, a flighty girl bodyguard, and a dwarf who shoots gas balls out of his bum — are still silly and saucy, and Fowl's foul deeds continue to tweak his conscience in an endearingly unsoggy way."

Fans will enjoy the fast-paced tale, though on the third spin, the characters' banter and quirks are starting to feel a bit tired. Artemis' attempt to rise to his father's challenge "to be a hero" falls flat when it involves nothing more than a transfer of money to a charity rather than to himself. After the first book some critics denounced Artemis as an anti-hero (a book review in Time magazine called him "repellent in almost every regard") and the books as too violent. But Colfer says Artemis' pangs of goodness were always around.

"I accept that in the beginning, he's a bad role model," Colfer said. "But if you keep reading to the end, Artemis realizes that the important things in life are relationships and family. He does change."

Besides, he says, a selfish, greedy child is probably more realistic than a heroic kid. "Toys and money — that's what kids think are important in life," he said. "My (5-year-old) son cares a lot more about what lollipop he gets than world peace."

The fairy Holly is "definitely the hero," Colfer said. Though boys tend to respond to the books' techie, gun-toting elements, he also hears from girls who like the take-charge sprite. As for the violence, while characters lose body parts, "it's like 'The A-Team' — there are big shootouts but nobody dies," Colfer said. "There are some close calls, a coma, but that's the great thing about fairy magic — you can always call on it when you need it."

As a father of two boys, Colfer thinks parents should know what their kids are reading before they pick up a book, rather than complain after the fact.

His book "The Wish List," previously published in Ireland, will come out in the United States this fall. It's a ghost story with a plot involving heaven and hell.

"If you don't approve of your children reading about those, I appreciate that," Colfer said. "I want to be up front, so people know what they're getting into."

His 5-year-old son, Finn, hasn't read "Artemis Fowl," but does insist on Artemis stories every night at bedtime. Some of them turn out so well Colfer writes them down, perhaps for a future "young Artemis" or "son of Artemis" tale.

Though originally billed as a trilogy, Colfer says he has plans for "a couple" more Artemis books. The end of "The Eternity Code" certainly leaves the option open. But it won't happen soon.

"If I went straight to a fourth book, the standards would suffer," he said. "If I did it now, it would be too routine. I need a break."

Instead, he's writing a science-fiction novel and a picture book for his sons.

With a 2-month-old, Seán, his U.S. book tour is more than just hawking books — it's a chance to get some sleep.

"I have three weeks off, I mean, away," he said. "I'll have to make up for it when I go home."


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