By Catherine Kolonko
Biotech executive-turned-children's-author Douglas E. Richards enjoys writing about science fiction as much as he did reading it when he was the age of his literary audience.
A Carmel Valley resident and creator of the "Prometheus Project" trilogy, Richards is scheduled to appear at Comic-Con International in San Diego to talk about his books that feature the unusual adventures of a brother and sister of middle-school age who must battle an alien world to save themselves, their parents and all that they believe in. The 48-year-old author is among a group of guest writers invited to attend the annual event in San Diego that attracts lovers of comics, science fiction and fantasy worldwide.
"It's really exciting to be a part of that," Richards said in a recent interview from his Carmel Valley home. He considers it an awesome honor to be in the same group as Stan Lee, Ray Bradbury and other well-known artists who are slated to appear at Comic-Con 2010, which runs from July 22 - July 25.
Kids seem to enjoy the fast pace of the Prometheus Project series, "Trapped, Captured, and Stranded," written for ages 9 to 14, said Richards. He has heard from teachers and parents that the series is even popular among youth who typically don't favor the written word — educators call them reluctant readers. Teachers are desperate for books that boys will want to read and apparently what they like is the action and adventure of the Prometheus Project series, Richards said, noting that girls and even adults enjoy the stories too.
At the beginning of the series the two main characters, Regan and Ryan, are faced with an unhappy relocation from San Diego to Pennsylvania. The initial boredom they feel in their new town quickly dissipates when they encounter the first of many mysteries they must solve without their parents who are themselves in jeopardy.
"They are trapped in this underground city and they can't find their way out," Richards explained.
Richards' children were the same ages as his characters in the series when he first began writing but now they are teenagers. The characters are named after them but otherwise they have their own personalities, says Richards — A point he makes again later in the interview when his daughter enters the room and he tells her that he has already explained that Regan in the book is not his daughter Regan. She thanks him and moves on.
The author says an added advantage to his books is that he writes science fiction that actually uses science. But he doesn't like to talk too much about it. If you make too big a deal about it, it's akin to something that tastes good and is good for you — the kids might not like it, he said.
"I really strive to be accurate," Richards said "Somehow science teachers pick up on that."
Still, if there's some way...
"Whatever you do, don't tell kids that educators like it," Richards said half-jokingly. "Let's keep that a secret."
As children of scientists, the characters in his Prometheus series use science to overcome obstacles they encounter during their adventures. In "Book 1: Trapped," based on what they learned from their mother about the properties of water, they test a liquid that appears to be water before they drink it. They realize that in an alien city, danger lurks where they least expect it because it is less obvious to them than it might be on earth.
"I just loved science fiction as a kid," Richards said. "It ... got me interested in a career in science."
Originally from Cincinnati, Richards, his wife Kelly and their two children have lived in Carmel Valley for 12 years. Richards has a master's degree in molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He wrote his first book while working full-time as an executive in the San Diego biotech industry.
"I left biotech to pursue my dream of writing," Richards said.
Nowadays, he sometimes writes for 12 hours a day, seven days a week until he bumps up against a problem in the story that he has to methodically think his way through. For example, the characters are trapped somewhere and how will they escape? When he writes for hours it seems like minutes because he is doing what he loves, he said.
Richards wrote his first book as a hobby and was pleased and somewhat relieved when he read it aloud to his children and they were eager to hear more, he said.
"They didn't want me to stop really, so that was a good sign."
Still he wondered how it would be received outside his family and was pleasantly surprised when he read his first positive review.
"You never know while you're writing whether people will hate it or love it," he said.
Richards often speaks at schools to students who are usually familiar with his work. Many are fans and he sometimes "feels like Elvis" when asked to sign his books, he said. When he learns (often through Google alerts) that students are reading his book in class, he sometimes offers to phone in to the class so they can ask him questions about the characters and story.
"It's really gone over well," Richards said. "The kids really get a kick out of it. It's really fun for me too."
The third book in the trilogy is now available and Richards is wrapping up his fourth book, which is not part of the Prometheus Project series. Richards' son Ryan inspired the topic of his latest book that he describes as a fencing thriller. He competes on the fencing team at Torrey Pines High School. Fencing is a sport that Richards knew nothing about, but it quickly earned his fascination and admiration when he began to attend his son's competitions.
The book, titled "The Devil's Sword," takes place on a military Air Force base where a 14-year-old boy is attending a tournament with his fellow fencers and the trio crosses paths with a villain who is trying to steal a super weapon. Richards expects to begin promoting the book after his appearance at Comic-Con.
More information about Richards, his books and his appearance at Comic-Con 2010 can be found at
"I really, really like this book," he said.
Becoming a published author has led to additional opportunities for Richards who was recruited to write science-related articles for National Geographic KIDS magazine. Some of his articles have been translated into a dozen languages for various countries, including Mexico, Russian, Turkey and Israel. In addition, Richards recently completed a deal to allow the first Prometheus Project book to be published in Korea later this year, he said.