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Michael Cadnum (1949–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1949, in Orange, CA; Education: Attended University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State University.


Agent—Katharine Kidde, Kidde, Hoyt, and Picard, 335 E. 51st St., New York, NY 10022.


Writer. Worked for a suicide prevention help-line.

Honors Awards

Creative writing fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts; Helen Bullis Prize, Poetry Northwest; Owl Creek Book Award; finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Award; finalist, National Book Award, 2000, for The Book of the Lion.



Saint Peter's Wolf, Carroll and Graf (New York, NY), 1991.

Calling Home, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.

Breaking the Fall, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.

Taking It, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.

In a Dark Wood, Orchard (New York, NY), 1998.

Heat, Viking (New York, NY), 1998.

Raven of the Waves, Orchard (New York, NY), 2000.

The Book of the Lion, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.

Forbidden Forest: The Story of Little John and Robin Hood, Orchard (New York, NY), 2002.

The Leopard Sword (sequel to The Book of the Lion), Viking (New York, NY) 2002.

Michael Cadnum

Daughter of the Wind, Orchard (New York, NY), 2003.

Ship of Fire, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.

Starfall: Phaeton and the Chariot of the Sun, Orchard (New York, NY), 2004.

Blood Gold, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.

The Dragon Throne (sequel to The Leopard Sword), Viking (New York, NY), 2005.

Nightsong, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.


The Lost and Found House, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.


Nightlight, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Sleepwalker, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Ghostwright, Carroll and Graf (New York, NY), 1992.

The Horses of the Night, Carroll and Graf (New York, NY), 1993.

Skyscape, Carroll and Graf (New York, NY), 1994.

The Judas Glass, Carroll and Graf (New York, NY), 1996.

Zero at the Bone, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.

Edge, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.

Rundown, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

Redhanded, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.


The Morning of the Massacre (chapbook), Bieler Press, 1982.

Wrecking the Cactus (chapbook), Salt Lick Press, 1985.

Invisible Mirror (chapbook), Ommation Press, 1986.

Foreign Springs (chapbook), Amelia Press (Bakersfield, CA), 1987.

By Evening, Owl Creek Press (Seattle, WA), 1992.

The Cities We Will Never See, Singular Speech Press (Canton, CT), 1993.

The Woman Who Discovered Math, Red Booth Chapbooks, 2001.

Illicit (chapbook), Frank Cat Press, 2001.

Also author of Day by Day (e-book), Mudlark, 2003.


Ella and the Canary Prince (fiction chapbook), Subterranean Press, 1999.

Together Again: The True Story of Humpty Dumpty (fiction chapbook), Subterranean Press, 2001.

Can't Catch Me (short stories), Tachyon Publications, 2006.

Contributor to anthologies, including Mystery Writer's Annual, Mystery Scene, Poet and Critic, and Second Sight: Stories for a New Millennium, Putnam, 1999. Contributor to periodicals, including America, Antioch Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, and Rolling Stone. Contributor to "Read This" (column), New York Review of Science Fiction.

Work in Progress

Crimson Voyage: The Story of Jason and Medea, for Orchard.


Known as a poet during the 1980s, Michael Cadnum has since gained a reputation for his adult suspense novels as well as his many young-adult novels based on history, myth, and legend. Horror and suspense novels such as Ghostwright, Sleepwalker, and The Judas Glass have a broad appeal to adults and teens who enjoy stories featuring ghosts, werewolves, and vampires, while his psychological thrillers address many of the serious problems experienced by adolescents. In more recent years, teen novels such as Ship of Fire, National Book Award finalist The Book of the Lion, and The Dragon Throne have presented new twists on traditional stories, by featuring exciting storylines, compelling characters, and realistic settings that bring to life everything from the voyage of Sir Francis Drake to the crusades of Richard the Lionhearted to Ovid's Metamorphoses. Reviewing Ship of Fire, a story about Drake's raid on Spanish ships at Cadiz in 1597, Booklist critic John Peters cited Cadnum's reputation "for rousing historical adventures set against gruesomely naturalistic backdrops." In a contrast that shows the author's versatility, Cadnum's retelling of portions of Ovid's ancient tales in Starfall: Phaeton and the Chariot of the Sun was praised by a Publishers Weekly contributor as "a trilogy of enchanting tales" in which the storyteller succeeds in "humanizing classical figures and transforming lofty language into accessible, lyrical prose."

Cadnum grew up near the beaches of Southern California, and while he enjoyed watching television like most teens, he derived even greater pleasure from reading. "I have always felt our lives are too small, too thin and insubstantial," he explained in an interview with Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA). "When we watch television—and I have always watched a lot of television—we are powerfully distracted from our routines, but only through reading are we really nourished." A voracious reader, he dipped into everything from pulp fiction to philosophy, and in books he discovered much about the world. "Books, like so much in the real world, give, and ask nothing in return," Cadnum explained.

After graduating from high school, Cadnum attended college, taking classes at both the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University, and earning a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for his poetry. His first published book, The Morning of the Massacre, was published in 1982, and was followed by several other verse collections. While poetry continued to be his main focus through the 1980s, Cadnum was dabbling with prose as early as the 1970s, when he began the copious research on the historical novel that would be published, decades later, as Ship of Fire.

In addition to his writing, Cadnum also worked for a suicide help-line, which brought him into contact with people who exist on the margins of life, such as successful professionals harboring unfulfilled desires or hidden demons and troubled teenagers coping with dysfunctional families. His first published novel, 1990's Nightlight, features a man who is haunted by a recurring nightmare that ultimately morphs into real-life terror during his search for a missing relative. An archaeologist who is haunted by dreams of his dead wife finds his own tendency to sleepwalk shared by an eighth-century Norse corpse that he and his crew discover while excavating a Yorkshire bog in Sleepwalker, while Saint Peter's Wolf finds a San Francisco psychologist and art collector with marital problems becoming obsessed by werewolves after discovering a set of antique silver fangs. Saint Peter's Wolf, which was Cadnum's first book to attract a young-adult audience, retells the werewolf myth with a twist: after the psychologist begins to morph into a violent beast, he finds the freedom and power of his creature-self attractive and ultimately attempts to cast off his human side. Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Delia A. Culberson praised Saint Peter's Wolf as "a spellbinding tour de force in a rare blend of fantasy, horror, adventure, suspense, and passionate love…. A superb, fascinating book that subtly evokes that ancient, primal yearning in all living, breathing things for total, exhilarating freedom."

Although it was written for an adult audience, Calling Home was Cadnum's first book published specifically for young adults. The novel focuses on Peter, a teenaged alcoholic who accidentally kills his best friend, Mead, in a moment of drunken anger. To cover up the act, Peter impersonates Mead in phone calls to the boy's worried parents, making them think that Mead has run away. Ultimately, his guilt overcomes his alcoholic haze, and Peter confesses to another friend.

Reviewing Calling Home for the Wilson Library Journal, Cathi Dunn MacRae noted that Cadnum "skillfully shapes suspense through masterful control of language," taking readers "so completely inside this disconnected boy,… they will never forget the experience." Horn Book critic Patty Campbell dubbed the novel an "exquisitely crafted work, a prose poem of devastating impact," adding that, "not since the debut of Robert Cormier with The Chocolate War … has such a major talent emerged in adolescent literature." Roger Sutton observed in the Bulletin of the Children's Center for Books that Calling Home offers "probably the truest portrait of a teenaged alcoholic we've had in YA fiction."

Like Calling Home, Breaking the Fall focuses on a troubled teenager. In this case, high school sophomore Stanley North has difficulty coping with his parents' crumbling marriage and his grades are suffering. While his savvy girlfriend Sky encourages him to turn to sports as a way of dealing with his stress, Stanley's self-destructive friend Jared has a stronger lure: the thrill of breaking into houses. Praising the author's engrossing, suspenseful plot and his ability to create sympathetic characters, Horn Book contributor Maeve Visser Knoth wrote that in Breaking the Fall Cadnum "writes truthfully about the seductive nature of power and friendships, recognizing the lengths to which young people will go in order to prove themselves." Susan L. Rogers noted as a caveat in School Library Journal that "some readers may be disturbed by this story, although mature teens may find it a more realistic reflection of a troubled world."

Other teen thrillers followed, including Taking It, Zero to the Bone, and Edge. In Taking It, Cadnum traces the psychological deterioration of Anna Charles, a seventeen-year-old kleptomaniac and the daughter of wealthy, divorced parents, as her compulsion to shoplift causes her to withdraw from family and friends and ultimately put herself in danger. Zero at the Bone is narrated by Cray Buchanan, a high-school senior whose sister, Anita, has disappeared, sending the Buchanan family into an emotional tailspin. Family tragedy is also the subject of Edge, which focuses on high-school dropout Zachary Madison. After his successful father, a writer, is permanently paralyzed by a car-jacker, Zach decides to seek justice after the man accused of attacking his father is set free. Praising Cadnum's "tight, beautiful prose" and his "finesse" in handling Anna's problems, Booklist reviewer Merri Monks concluded that Taking It "should not be missed." A Publishers Weekly commentator was similarly impressed, declaring that Cadnum writes with "subtlety and tremendous insight" and "keeps readers on the edge of their seats with this taut psychological portrait."

In the late 1990s Cadnum shifted his focus once again, this time moving from contemporary suspense to more time-bound novels. An interest in fairy tales inspired In a Dark Wood while Forbidden Forest: The Story of Little John and Robin Hood is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend. "I did a tremendous amount of research for In a Dark Wood," Cadnum recalled, "but I didn't know I was doing research. I thought I was reading about Robin Hood and traveling to Crusader castles in the Middle East and monasteries in France. I was just doing what I loved, and I turned out to know enough after a while to write a novel." In the first novel the classic story is told from the point of view of the Sheriff of Nottingham, usually cast as the villain of the piece. In Cadnum's version, the sheriff and his teenaged assistant must deal with the chaos caused by the wily thief known only as Robin Hood. In Forbidden Forest the story of Robin's slow-witted sidekick Little John is recounted, from the man's flight into the woods to avoid the wrath of a vicious nobleman to his efforts to right a wrong done to a beautiful young woman that has won his heart. "Cadnum succeeds admirably in capturing the squalor and casual brutality of the times," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic in reviewing Forbidden Forest, while in Kliatt Paula Rohrlick deemed the novel a "stirring story that imaginatively elaborates on the legend of the forest outlaws."

Continuing his focus on medieval history, Cadnum spins a three-part story of the Crusades in The Book of the Lion, The Leopard Sword, and The Dragon Throne. As the trilogy opens, Edmund finds himself fleeing for his life after his master, a moneyer who mints coins for the king, is found to be dishonest. Captured and imprisoned, the boy is taken on as squire to Sir Nigel, a knight on his way to Rome to fight for the cross in the Third Crusade The pair meet up with Sir Rannulf and his squire, Hubert. Traveling together, they join the armies of King Richard and other Christian kings to fight in the bloody Siege of Acre, during which Muslim commander Saladin and his army ultimately manage to withstand the crusading armies for almost two years before surrendering.

Narrated by eighteen-year-old Hubert, The Leopard Sword finds the knights and their retinue surviving shipwrecks, storms, and Roman thieves before making the treacherous journey back to England. Once at home, the war-weary group encounters a kingdom in tatters due to Prince John's efforts to usurp the throne from his brother, Richard, as well as more personal difficulties. While noting the violence throughout the series, Rorhlick wrote in Kliatt that the books "offer … a new perspective on knights and the Crusades." Praising The Leopard Sword, Rohrlick described the novel as a "stirring, violent tale of life in the Middle Ages" in which "Cadnum continues his exploration of 'the call that war has on young people.'" In School Library Journal Renee Steinberg praised the book's "exciting climax," noting that Cadnum has "skillfully woven" a wealth of historical facts into his fictional tale.

An act of courage on the part of Hubert results in knighthood for both squires, and in The Dragon Throne Edmund and Hubert once again find themselves on the road to Rome. While hunted by Prince John due to their continued allegiance to King Richard, the pair are also escorting Ester de Laci on a pilgrimage to the holy city so that she can pray for her injured father. "During this journey through Europe, the dangers and unrest of the time period come alive," Denise Moore noted in School Library Journal, describing the third volume in the series, while in Kirkus Reviews a critic note that The Dragon Throne will, "like its predecessors,… leave readers pondering … 'the terrible paradox—that caring, responsible individuals can engage in acts of brutality.'"

In addition to his poetry and novels for older readers, Cadnum has also authored several collections of short stories as well as the picture book The Lost and Found House, which describes the excitement of moving to a new home. In this work the author's poetic text is complemented with paintings by Steven Johnson and Lou Fancher that portray the experience through the eyes of an unnamed small boy. "My family moved several times during my childhood," Cadnum explained in his AAYA interview, "much like the family in The Lost and Found House."

In his AAYA interview Cadnum described his wider purpose in creating fiction: "I want to give a voice to characters who ordinarily never have one. So few people tell the story of a family that never discovers the truth about a missing child, as in Zero at the Bone," he asserted. "Few people have seen the Robin Hood story through the eyes of the Sheriff of Nottingham, as I do in In a Dark Wood. I want to tell the secrets that are not told, and to see the world through new eyes." Finally, Cadnum is motivated by the ultimate challenge to a writer: "I want to experience the joys and fears of people whom I never really meet."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 23, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, second edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


America, October 28, 1995, p. 27.

Booklist, July, 1991; November 15, 1992; July, 1995, Merri Monks, review of Taking It, p. 1879; August, 1996, p. 1094; December 1, 1997, p. 639; March 1, 1998, p. 1124; September 15, 1999, p. 252; August, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Leopard Sword, p. 1945; September 15, 2003, John Peters, review of Ship of Fire, p. 229; November 15, 2003, Linda Perkins, review of Daughter of the Wind, p. 591; January 1, 2004, Patricia Austin, review of The Book of the Lion, p. 892; May 15, 2004, Ed Sullivan, review of Blood Gold, p. 1628; October 1, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Starfall: Phaeton and the Chariot of the Sun, p. 321.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1991, Roger Sutton, review of Calling Home, p. 212; July-August, 1997, Deborah Stevenson, review of Edge.

Childhood Education, fall, 2002, John McAndrew, review of Forbidden Forest, p. 51.

Georgia Review, fall, 1990, pp. 503-505.

Horn Book, November-December, 1992, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Breaking the Fall, p. 726; March-April, 1994, Patrick Jones, "People Are Talking about … Michael Cadnum," pp. 177-180; May-June, 1994, Patty Campbell, review of Calling Home; January-February, 1996, p. 77; September-October, 1996, p. 602; July-August, 1997, Amy E. Chamberlain, review of Edge, p. 452; March-April, 1998, p. 219; March, 2000, p. 192; July-August, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Forbidden Forest, p. 453; July-August, 2004, Betty Carter, review of Blood Gold, p. 448.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1991; May 15, 1992; June 1, 1993, review of Horses of the Night, p. 674; May 1, 2002, review of Forbidden Forest, p. 650; August 15, 2002, review of The Leopard Sword, p. 1219; April 2, 2004, review of Blood Gold, p. 325; September 1, 2004, review of Starfall, p. 861; April 15, 2005, review of The Dragon Throne, p. 469.

Kliatt, March, 1994, Larry W. Prater, review of Ghostwright, p. 14; March, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Forbidden Forest, p. 6, and The Book of the Lion, p. 14; September, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Leopard Sword, p. 8; September, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Ship of Fire, p. 6; November, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of Daughter of the Wind, p. 5; January, 2004, Sherri F. Ginsberg, review of The Book of the Lion, p. 44; May, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Blood Gold, p. 6, and Janet Julian, review of The Leopard Stone, p. 52; September, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Starfall, p. 6; May, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Dragon Throne, p. 8.

Library Journal, February 15, 1991, Eric W. Johnson, review of Sleepwalker, p. 219; July, 1992, Marylaine Block, review of Ghostwright, pp. 119-120; July, 1993; September 1, 1994, Robert C. Moore, review of Skyscape, p. 213.

Locus, June, 1990, Edward Bryant, review of Nightlight, p. 23; June, 1990, Scott Winnett, review of Nightlight, p. 31; December, 1990, pp. 23-24; July, 1993, Scott Winnett, review of Horses of the Night, p. 33.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 21, 1991, Don G. Campbell, review of Saint Peter's Wolf, p. 6.

New York Times Book Review, March 31, 1991, Ed Weiner, review of Sleepwalker, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, January 19, 1990, p. 98; May 3, 1991, p. 62; May 10, 1991; June 1, 1992, review of Ghostwright; November 16, 1992; June 21, 1993; August 22, 1994, review of Skyscape, p. 43; July 10, 1995, review of Taking It, p. 59; January 8, 1996, review of The Judas Glass, p. 59; June 17, 1996, review of Zero at the Bone, p. 66; June 2, 1997, p. 72; October 13, 1997 p. 74; January 26, 1998, p. 92; July 6, 1998, p. 62; June 21, 1999, p. 69; February 21, 2000, p. 88; July 14, 2003, review of Daughter of the Wind, p. 78; October 18, 2004, review of Starfall, p. 64.

School Library Journal, February, 1992, p. 121; September, 1992, Susan L. Rogers, review of Breaking the Fall, p. 274; June, 2002, Starr E. Smith, review of Forbidden Forest, p. 130; October, 2002, Renee Steinberg, review of The Leopard Sword, p. 160; October, 2003, Karen T. Bilton, review of Ship of Fire, p. 162; December, 2003, Barbara Scotto, review of Daughter of the Wind, p. 144; June, 2004, Kimberly Monaghan, review of Blood Gold, p. 136; October, 2004, Patricia D. Lothrop, review of Starfall, p. 158; June, 2005, Denise Moore, review of The Dragon Throne, p. 152.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1990, Mary Lee Tiernan, review of Nightlight, p. 225; August, 1991, Jane Chandra, review of Calling Home, p. 168; December, 1991, Delia A. Culberson, review of Saint Peter's Wolf; February, 1996, Becky Kornman, review of Taking It, pp. 368-369; December, 1996, Rachelle M. Blitz, review of The Judas Glass, p. 276; February, 1997, Carla A. Tripp, review of Zero at the Bone, p. 326.

Wilson Library Journal, April, 1992, Cathi Dunn MacRae, review of Calling Home, p. 98.


Michael Cadnum Web site, http://www.michaelcadnum.com (November 15, 2005).

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