Life Overnight Turned Upside Down
Posted by Literary Titan
Topanga Canyon: Fire Season follows a teenage boy from Chicago who is sent to live on his grandfather’s horse ranch in Topanga, CA. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?
I’ve never been disciplined enough to keep a daily journal, but I do enjoy chronicling moments and thoughts by writing short stories when time allows. And when the Coronavirus countywide “Stay at Home Order” took effect in Los Angeles, turning my life, and everyone else’s, instantly upside down, I found I had a lot of it.
Overnight everything came to a halt. A few designated businesses were allowed to remain open if deemed “essential”: as long as the employees followed a strict regimen of cleaning, mask-wearing, and intensified hygiene.
Our small café was one of them. Granted, we had the option of closing, but we were desperate to have some sense of normalcy in our lives and the lives of our customers, neighbors, and friends despite the constantly terrifying, changing world of Covid. And that the simple act of brewing coffee and baking muffins would signal our trust that that world would, one day, return to normal.
Santa Monica had become a ghost town. Hours would go by before anyone entered the café. And the unknown deadly threat of Covid and the sudden lack of control over our future began to get to me. I began to write a short story about Matt, a teenager whose life overnight turned upside down, and how he dealt with the frightening new circumstances
Around the same time, I came across an old interview from 2014 on NPR about Tennessee Walking Horses.
Now, Walking Horses are an American breed started by Albert Derment in the late 1800s in Tennessee. Albert bred horses, and late in his life, he purchased a rather plain-looking small black stallion named Allan, who had this uncanny ability to walk at different speeds. Now that might sound like a simple thing to do, but other horses cannot do that. And because Allan could walk at different speeds riding him was like sitting in a rocking chair. So Albert Derment began breeding the stallion with this genetic quirk to see if his offspring would also carry that trait. And some of them did. This selective breeding resulted in what is known as the Tennessee Walking Horse. They are beautiful to watch with their heads held high, their front legs fully extended, and their long flowing tails as they fast walk around a show ring.
Unfortunately, to ensure show horses raised their legs higher, some unscrupulous trainers invented the practice of soring, which is applying a caustic material on the horses’ legs so that the pain would make them raise their legs higher. Granted, legislation through Congress has been passed to eliminate this decades-long abomination, but the laws were basically toothless. The most recent bill H.R. 5441 117th Congress, reintroduced as the PAST Act of 2021, is still pending. I hoped that by highlighting this ongoing practice, people would once again become aware and get involved in ending soring once and for all. And I was convinced that my main character Matt would be able to do that.
Why choose this place and time for the setting of the story?
Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga Canyon is next to 16,000 acres of Topanga State Park. With its deep canyons and slopes dotted with oak trees, this pristine park allows one to envision what California looked like a hundred years ago when the indigenous people, the Tongva, thrived in the Los Angeles Basin. Topanga Canyon is a magical place where one can be transported to another place and time. And I did not know how to write about the Canyon without bringing in a character of Tongva heritage. I thought Topanga Canyon was the perfect place for a horse ranch where Matt could be introduced to that reality and Los Angeles today with its vibrant and evolving indigenous community.
What were some challenges you felt were important to defining your characters in this story?
As my little short story grew into a much longer project, I found that the more time I spent with my main characters, the more solid they became. It took a while to ensure that each one had their own voice and did not blend into one another. I had to be careful to avoid every character saying the same thing in trying to get a point across. It was important that each one had their own point of view and were true to their age and gender. This was easier said than done.
Will there be a follow-up novel to this story? If so, what aspects of the story will the next book cover?
I enjoyed my time at the High Stepping Ranch. And Matt keeps leaving articles on my desk about Horse Therapy, also known as hippotherapy, and how it is used with people with PTSD, Autism, and physical disabilities. Silas’s boots banging down the hallway as he complains about the proposed Convention Center slated for the pristine Canyon reverberates in my head. And Esmerelda keeps whispering about researching the Tongva language. So I would enjoy doing a follow-up novel.
Posted in Interviews
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Posted by Literary Titan
Topanga Canyon by Barbara Bryan follows the story of Matt, a fourteen-year-old boy who is forced to live with his grandfather at his horse ranch. He is assigned the job of mucking the horse stalls and helping Esmeralda with her horse. Unfamiliar with ranch life, he eventually falls in love with Esmeralda’s cooking and bonds with Ariel. Silas, whose ranch is failing to keep up with the expenses, rents his barn to Sinclair. Matt has a way with horses and calms them down, which leads to Sinclair employing him as his ranch assistant. It is there that Matt discovers the horrible method Sinclair uses to train horses. Finally adjusting to his new life, Matt must decide between his ranch’s future and doing something for the horses.
This coming-of-age story starts with an air of mystery and intrigue as to the whereabouts of Matt and slowly unfolds the story, building the same aura of surprise towards the end. I liked the suspense right from the start and where the story was leading. I know nothing about horses, so the element of surprise was prevalent throughout the book.
The descriptive writing style is simple and enjoyable. Barbara is a horse enthusiast, so the entire horse-related read was extra special. It made me fall in love with horses again and provided information about their breeds and behavior. The characters are diverse in their differences, and I enjoyed reading about Matt. What I love most is the fusion of native American culture in this book, which made the whole reading experience fabulous. Whether it is calming down Black Water or having his first sweat, Matt is a typical protagonist but a great deal more realistic with his awkwardness, silliness, and occasional blush.
Topanga Canyon: Fire Season by Barbara Bryan is a gripping coming-of-age novel that teens and young adults will be able to relate to. The story of finding where you belong and struggling to do what is right are themes that this age group often encounters. I recommend this book to young adults, horse lovers, or anyone looking to enjoy a good read about horses.
Pages: 338 | ISBN: 1639887288
Posted in Book Reviews, Five Stars
Tags: author, Barbara Bryan, book, book recommendations, book review, book reviews, book shelf, bookblogger, books, books to read, coming of age, ebook, fiction, goodreads, indie author, kindle, kobo, literature, nook, novel, read, reader, reading, story, teen, Topanga Canyon, writer, writing, young adult