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Funke pulls readers into fantasy world
Bestselling fantasy author Cornelia Funke lives in a magical world of dragons, unicorns and other creatures.

Her address these days is Beverly Hills 90210, but author Cornelia Funke really lives in a magical world of dragons and unicorns, witches and fairies, powerful fire-eaters and white-clad women of death.

With such characters, Funke draws readers by the millions into her fantasy world.

Her latest book, "Inkdeath," is already a bestseller and wraps up a three-book fantasy-adventure that began in 2004 with "Inkheart." The trilogy chronicles the adventures of bookbinder Mo Folchart and his family after he accidentally conjures characters from a fantasy novel into the real world and havoc ensues.

Funke's own incredible journey has taken her from the small German town of Dorsten, where she was born 49 years ago, to Beverly Hills, where she lives at the foot of a winding canyon in a magical-looking cottage right out of one of her popular books, which include "The Thief Lord" and "Dragon Ride."

Funke and "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, with whom she is often compared, have all but transcended the fantasy genre - once almost exclusively the domain of kids and a few geeky grown-ups.

Funke (pronounced Foon-ka) has captivated readers of all ages and backgrounds with the 10 million books she has sold, says Barry Cunningham, the British publisher and book editor who discovered both Funke and Rowling. Both have created epic novels grounded in fantasy but written in ways that go beyond the genre.

"They're timeless classics in a way … about good and evil," Cunningham says.

Their work has also brought greater attention to other fantasy writers such as Christopher Paolini, Montana author of the breakout novel "Eragon," about a boy and a dragon, and the "Twilight" novels by Stephenie Meyer about a teenage girl and vampire who fall in love.

Funke has broadened her own audience with picture books for preschoolers, shorter novels for young children and the sprawling "Ink" trilogy and "Thief Lord" tales for the older crowd.

"In that sense, she's pretty much unique because she covers all age ranges," Cunningham says.

Funke might disagree.

"I still say I write for children. And, if the grown-ups want to read it, they are allowed to," she says.

"Inkdeath" was born in her guest house after she moved with her husband, Rolf, and their two teenage children to the United States three years ago in search of new adventures.

The walls are covered with drawings by Funke, an illustrator-turned-writer who still envisions her books on story boards before committing them to paper.

The loss of her husband to cancer two years ago was a heartbreaking chapter for the writer. The book printer knew the business as well as the author and was the only one who could get her illustrations to the publisher without bending them, she recalls with a sad smile.

Funke was nearly 30 when she first thought about becoming a writer. She had worked as a social worker and then a book illustrator until growing exasperated with the mediocre children's stories she was asked to illustrate.

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"One night I thought to myself, '… I will just write myself a story I can illustrate so that I can finally do all the illustrations that I want to do, dragons and sea serpents, and not just children on a school yard,' " she recalls.

The author likes to draw characters from real people.

Mo in the "Ink" series was modeled after Brendan Frasier. The actor was so flattered that he and Funke became friends, and, when it came time to make "Inkheart," the movie based on the first book, she insisted he play the role. The film is scheduled to reach U.S. theaters in January.

Writing several hours a day, every day, Funke has published 45 books, with a dozen translated into English since 2002 and more on the way. Her "Wild Chicks" series, about the adventures of school girls, is popular in Germany, with two of the five books being made into movies; it's not available in English.

Funke herself speaks flawless English, with only the slightest hint of an accent. Still, she feels more comfortable writing in her native language and having her English-speaking cousin, Oliver Latsch, do the translation.

She's writing two books simultaneously, one to be called "The Boy and the Knight" and featuring the adventures of an 11-year-old sent to a boarding school. The other, "Reckless," will feature Funke's first adult hero in an adventure set in a 19th-century, "Grimm's Fairy Tales" sort of world.

"You will have dwarfs and unicorns and fairies but in a way that you maybe haven't seen them before," she says. "And you will have gingerbread houses, which are quite scary things."

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