Jacket design and photo composition by Krista Vossen
I have the pleasure of announcing another book launch from my friends in the 2k9 debut authors' group. I've interviewed the author of BULL RIDER, Suzanne Morgan Williams, and here's what she had to say:
Congratulations on the publication of your novel, BULL RIDER. It is a true vignette of the American West. How did you come up with the story?
I live in Nevada and when a particular editor was speaking at Nevada SCBWI, I ended up telling her lots of stories about the history, the land, cowboys, and Indians. She asked me for a series proposal – set in Nevada about cowboys. The story changed significantly over time, but it started with me outlining the characters in the O’Mara family. I knew I was going to write a book about a boy, Cam O’Mara, who wanted to be a bull rider. When I created his extended family, I gave him a grandfather who had been a champion bull rider and an older brother who was a bull rider too. Where was that brother now? In the Marines. That was a pretty dangerous place to be. The story evolved from that point.
One major subplot is the effect of the war in Iraq on Cam’s family and the injuries to his brother. Is this a familiar issue for you?
Thankfully, I don’t have any family members who have been injured in Iraq. I do have a son-in-law who is in the Navy and we have a family friend who served in Iraq for a year. I have a number of friends with loved ones who have served there too. I am old enough though, to have watched many people who are close to me suffer diminished capacities due to various causes – to be familiar with their reactions and mine to that scenario. And our oldest daughter had severe chronic asthma. I was very aware that her illness, and the care it required, affected our other children as well. You don’t live in a family without touching each other’s lives.
Did you face any challenges in the writing of this book?
I was really uncomfortable with getting into the details of Ben’s injuries, with talking to people about that subject and facing the uglier aspects of the war. At first I hardly mentioned the war and Ben was sort of off stage, but it became apparent that this was a story of the brothers and that the Iraq War and the toll it takes needed to be addressed. That was the story I was meant to tell, so I did my research and I told it.
How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
My first nonfiction book, Made in China; Ideas and Inventions from Ancient China, was published in 1997. I have ten published and one upcoming nonfiction books for teens and children. BULL RIDER is my first novel and I believe my background in nonfiction really helped me to dig deep to research the book and ground it in facts.
Can you describe your path to the publication of BULL RIDER?
Oh, it was twisted. Bull Rider started out as the first in a series for seven or eight year olds. It was more of a school/pal story about Cam at age twelve who wanted to take up bull riding. Ben was totally off stage, simply having been “injured” in an accident while in the Marines. That version came very close to being published but in the end it didn’t happen and I knew I had to make BULL RIDER a bigger stand alone book before I sent it out again. I put the manuscript away for about eight months.
Then my friend, Ellen Hopkins, called and said the pro bull riders were coming to Reno and she could get me an interview with some of them. We went to the bull riding and attended the “after party” where I interviewed bull riders and two photographers about their experiences – which was quite something considering the volume of the music and the flowing of the drinks. One of the photographers offered me a “back stage” tour the next day and I got to see the chutes, tack room, talk to the hands up close. I watched them bring the bulls in for the day’s rides – including one bull called “Ugly.” After that weekend, I knew I had a story and it was an older one.
I rewrote the book as a YA novel – Cam aged sixteen. Ben became a major character, his injury got serious and happened in Iraq, and Ben had a girl friend. Once there was editorial interest we decided the book would work best as middle grade and I wrote round three – Cam aged fourteen and the story of Cam and Ben’s relationship front and center. It took a while, but I think the story unfolded with the right relationships at the right level.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
My best advice is to read and to listen. Read lots of books. Go to critique groups and classes and listen to what is shared – both about your work and about the work of others. Really listening is hard sometimes. Put your own reactions on hold and just absorb what others have to teach you. Oh, and write. You won’t become a writer if you don’t actually sit down and put in the hours writing.
Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I’m always trying to balance this. My writing is very important to me, so is my family and my writing friends. I want to write more novels, travel, and be able to spend time with the people I love. I definitely want to introduce BULL RIDER to lots of readers, so will be traveling some to do presentations and signings. I have pets and like to garden so I like sticking around home too. It’s a pretty good life.
Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
Always. I’ll keep you posted.
For more information, you can visit Suzanne at www.suzannemorganwilliams.com