October 24, 2014

Local Author Wins “Children’s Book Award” for First Novel

 

PHOTO BY SUSAN GANZ

Local Author Wins “Children’s Book Award” for First Novel

Eric Pierpoint with Joey, his traveling companion, hanging out at home in Topanga.

Longtime Topangan, actor and now author, Eric Pierpoint received the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA) “Reading the West” children’s book award for his first novel, “The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole.”

Classified as juvenile fiction, it is an exciting read for anyone, not just kids, interested in the wild west of the mid-1800s.

“The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole” is about a 12-year-old boy named Caleb and his two sisters, Julie, 15, and Tilly, 6. It begins in the booming and dangerous cattle town of Great Bend, Kansas in 1877. They lost their father to cholera and their mother is now also dying of the deadly disease. Zealots are burning down the houses of the dead. Violence and theft is rampant. The O'Toole kids witness a murder by the notorious Blackstone Gang. Mrs. O'Toole's dying wish is that Caleb take his sisters to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana to live with their Aunt Sarah. Her last words were, “I need you to be strong.” Thus begins a great adventure as they hit the Oregon Trail just as the torch-bearing zealots close in on them. Together the three children journey a thousand treacherous miles with the murderous gang a breath behind.

Pierpoint not only has a good story to tell, he tells it well. It’s a fast read with new adventures and challenges at every turn. Just because it’s a kid’s book, don’t think it was easy to write. We asked him what went into the making of this book (“Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite”) and you’ll see why he deserves this award.

Topanga Messenger: How did the idea for this book come about?

Eric Pierpoint
: I began the book several years ago. I had written a screenplay that was optioned for the Hallmark Channel but their movie division was on pause. My manager suggested I turn it into a novel for younger readers. My first reaction was, "Are you kidding?" It seemed like so much work! So, I wrote the first 50 pages and we submitted it to a literary agent, Adriana Dominguez of Full Circle, who gave me some notes and said to rewrite it.

I hit the road with my dog, Joey, and did a month-long writing/research trip along the Oregon Trail and sent her the rewrites. She asked, “When can I have the whole book? January?” I chained myself to my computer and finished it in February. More notes, another rewrite and a year later we had a publisher, who said, "OK, now rewrite it." For months I labored over his notes and finally, about this time last year, it was ready. Whew!

Once you decided to write a book, what inspired you?

I wanted to write a book I wish I had read when I was young. I was a mentor in Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles for years. I used to take my Little Brother on adventures: Horseback riding, river rafting, ski trips. I watched him grow and learn from new experiences.

My inspiration in writing “The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole” came from a love of the American West. I have a special interest in the plights of children who must overcome great hardship.

My own family has its roots in the western migration during the 1800s. They came across on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails in 1848. They left diaries. In my visits to Montana I began to wonder what it might have been like for children to survive the rugged and dangerous life back then. Once I began to research the history of that era, I got hooked. That led to a wonderful road trip with Joey. We started in Great Bend, Kansas and explored the route the characters of the book would have taken along the Platte River in Nebraska, up through Wyoming, then over to Montana. We ended up in a cabin in the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana, writing notes on the porch.

How did you come to focus on the children as the main characters?

I first developed this story, focusing on the adult characters. After a time, I found it more challenging and interesting emotionally to get into the mindset of 12-year-old Caleb. How would he learn to survive, how would he grow in courage and integrity and ultimately succeed in fulfilling his mother’s last wish? The adults became supportive players, mentors, friends and enemies.

Will you continue to write books in this category (Juvenile)?

I want to write more for this audience. I hope when the last page is turned, the reader will love these characters and wish for more. I would like to think that they learned something of the history of the times. I want them to remember the O’Toole children and think about them, think about their journey, their courage and determination. I would like children to feel that they have had a fun and exciting reading adventure, and become inspired.

I am having a great time visiting schools, speaking to children, writing what I call historical fiction adventure. Such a treat. So many teachers have thanked me for “The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole,” saying, "Even the boys are reading!" What a thrill it is to hear that!

At first, you said the book would be “so much work.” How do you feel about that now?

Overall it has been such a wonderful experience. The great Western vistas, writing beside mountains and rivers, speaking with historians, staying in cabins in the middle of nowhere. I was totally immersed in the project and ever faithful Joey was my best companion. It is one thing to pull history and fact off the internet. That was not nearly enough. I had to see what my ancestors saw, breathe the air, watch the animals.

What’s next?

My next novel takes place during the American Revolution. I spent some time in Virginia to research, walk the battlefields, talk with historians. I find myself becoming more and more interested in our American past.

“The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole,” by Eric Pierpoint. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky
 (jabberwockykids.com

),is available on amazon.com

; barnesandnoble.com

; and at the Topanga Library.