Two ordinary Pekin girls reach a fountain in the center of Mineral Springs Park and make an astounding discovery: A portal to another world.

So begins their adventure in local author Rey Clark’s latest fantasy novel “Legends of the Vale: A Kuk Sool Won Story.” The Pekin martial arts academy and Clark’s daughter Lana Wicklund provided the author with the inspiration for the book. 

“My daughter takes lessons at Kuk Sool Won of Pekin,” Clark said. “She becomes a black belt candidate in March, so she’s pretty far along. I’ve been watching her practice. They don’t just teach martial arts there. They also teach life skills. They teach confidence, self-esteem, and the importance of being a good role model. I found it very inspiring and wanted to write a book about how two middle grade martial arts students take what they’re learning and apply it to a fantasy, save-the world type of situation.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Clark based one of her main characters on Wicklund.

“Lana’s got a quirky, kind of sarcastic personality, and it worked really well when I was writing her character,” she said. “She can never keep her room clean, so of course I had that carry over to the story. I wanted the book to be relatable to the 9-to-12-year-old group I was writing it for. Watching Lana and consulting with her gave me the perspective I needed on what today’s kids go through and gave me insight on how to use the story to instill confidence in kids that age.” 

Clark also had local children in her targeted age group read and comment on the book while she was drafting it. She focused particularly on Kuk Sool Won students because of their firsthand acquaintance with the martial arts and life skills taught at the school.

“I was really impressed with the feedback I got from the kids,” she said. “They were phenomenal. Some of them wanted to see more of a certain character, or more action in certain scenes. It was really helpful to get their input and incorporate some of it into my story.”

The world that Clark’s protagonists set out to save is an alternate reality ruled by a tyrannical queen who seeks to eliminate the realm’s magical creatures and steal their magic to increase her own power. Clark’s protagonists discover a dragon’s egg that will, in time, hatch the world’s last dragon. Using their Kuk Sool Won martial arts and life skills, they must protect the egg and help restore magic to the Vale. 

“I do a lot of my writing while she’s practicing,” said Clark. “I thought, ‘Why not use what’s around me?’ And what’s around me is Pekin, Illinois. Why change anything?”

Published on Dec. 29, 2018, “Legends of the Vale” is Clark’s fourth book. Her previous titles are “Dawn of Genesis,” “Flames of Valor” and “Fire Forged.” Her literary influences include science fiction and fantasy authors like Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss.

“For Robert Jordan, I like the world he created and the detail he put into it,” Clark said. “Brandon Sanderson takes standard fantasy tropes and makes them new again. Neil Gaiman is just a masterful writer. As a writer myself, I can normally see twists and turns coming a mile away, but he has moments in his books that make me say ‘No! That didn’t just happen!’ And Patrick Rothfuss is just a fantastic storyteller.”

“Legends of the Vale” is currently available online at www.amazon.com. Clark hopes the book will soon be in stock at bookstores such as Barnes and Noble. She will make appearances at PeoriaCon at Peoria’s Exposition Gardens in March and Pekin’s Marigold Festival in September.