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As a mother's education increases, so does the likelihood that her child is read to every day. In 1999, 70 percent of ... More


Author Showcase

FALL 2006 FEATURED AUTHOR, DARYL BURKHARD

RT: Without giving away the plot, Riddle in the Mountain is a novel built around time travel. Three children in Boulder, Colorado circa 2005 are transported to Boulder as it was in 1879. The book includes a lot of historically-accurate details. How important are those facts to the plot? Did they influence the personalities of the characters?

Daryl: For me, the historical West is as much a character in Riddle in the Mountain as Kathy, David, and Frank. It is alive and breathing. To be true to that character, it is important to use historically accurate details—at least as much as possible given the overriding fantasy element of the story. Otherwise, why bother with a story involving time-travel? Even the element of fantasy that sets the plot in motion is based on our American heritage. It is a part of the mix of folklore that arrived with our Western settlers. So, yes, the historical details of the story do shape and drive the plot. They also affect the personalities of the characters who live in the historical West. After all, it is their home and the world that they live in. Do the historical details influence the personalities of Kathy, David, and Frank? For Frank, I would say yes. He grew up in Colorado, just as I did, and the Western heritage is in his blood. Kathy and David, however, are new to the area and unfamiliar with its history. Who they are as individuals was determined by another place, by other forces. Still, we are the sum of our experiences. Over time perhaps, as Kathy and David get to know this new world better, they too will be changed and molded by its many faces.

RT: Rocky Mountain Joe was a real person. What about James and Mrs. Acheson? If they weren't real, how were their characters created?

Daryl: Neither James nor Mrs. Acheson was a real individual. As fictional characters they were formed on the page, although each was created in a different way. Like many of my fictional characters, Mrs. Acheson was pieced together by combining elements of real people that I have known with qualities gleaned from the imagination. Her character draws heavily from my memories of a childhood neighbor—an elderly, somewhat quirky individual who always seemed to have some treasure hidden in her earthen basement. I remember once waiting with bated breath in the dim light of that dirt room while she retrieved a special box from the shadows. Eagerly I watched as she opened the lid to reveal its prize—scraps of colorful cloth that were perfect for makeshift doll dresses. Today such a prize would seem silly and mundane, but back then it all felt magical. I thought my neighbor was some odd and wonderful fairy godmother. I took those remembered qualities, added a stern interior and a few other traits, and wrapped it all in magic of a different kind. So Mrs. Acheson is somewhat like my neighbor, or at least like my childhood perception of her, but she also has her own unique qualities, both strengths and weaknesses, that my neighbor never had.

As for James, I don’t really know where he came from. He just was. He hit the page fully formed. I sometimes wonder about characters like that. Perhaps they lead lives of their own somewhere in a world we can not see.

RT: One reviewer commented that Riddle in the Mountain is perfect for sequels. Do you envision more adventures for Kathy, David, and/or Frank?

Daryl: When I wrote Riddle in the Mountain, I didn’t plan on writing any sequels. It was my intent for the story to stand on its own. However, when the book was acquired by my publisher, I received so much positive feedback about writing a sequel that I began to wonder—what might happen next? Well, now I know and yes, Kathy, David, and Frank are now facing a new adventure. I am a slow writer, however, and the trio’s next adventure is much more complicated than their first, so it’ll be a while before I’m finished. It’ll be a grand adventure, though, and, yes, the children are going to the Sierra Nevada mountains.

RT: On your Web site, you explain that you never really thought about writing a story until you were in college, but that you didn't start writing stories until you were 44. What was the first piece you submitted for publication?

Daryl: When I decided it was time to get serious about writing stories, at the age of 44, the first thing I did was take an online class in creative writing since I knew little about the subject or even where to start. For class, each student was required to write a short story of about 3000 words. I wrote “Consequences,” a tale about a young girl cleaning dog kennels at the pound who had a very unusual talent. With encouragement from my writers’ critique group, I submitted the piece to a literary magazine. It was rejected. The editors were kind enough, however, to write a note explaining why. That was the first story I ever submitted for publication. Riddle in the Mountain was my second.

RT: Although you didn't have a passion for writing as a child, clearly you participated in the imaginative ideas your father and sister shared, and enjoyed the great folklore of the west. Do you think your early exposure to what we now call "pretend play" and those stories helped you in creating Riddle on the Mountain?

Daryl: Absolutely! Personally, I can’t imagine a childhood without stories and pretend play. Everything about Riddle in the Mountain came from the stories, the dreams, and the love of the West that wrapped my childhood in a warm, shimmering blanket. Magic was everywhere, thanks to my sister and my father. It wasn’t just something reserved for Ireland or Britain or Disney TV. It was alive in the grass, the flowers, and the trees. It oozed through the weathered boards of the decrepit old mining shacks, flitted among the pine trees, and stood like a grand old master on the top of giant slabs of stone. It danced with the stories of the West that were turned into childhood games. My playmates, including my brother and sister, and I were the Magnificent Seven (or four or five—depending on how many of us played) performing some wonderful deed, pioneers making mud cakes from grass seed grains, or Indians tiptoeing through the woods in our moccasins. Those stories, games, and imaginary adventures created the fertile ground from which Riddle in the Mountain sprouted. In fact, the seed idea of Riddle in the Mountain, an adventure under a porch, came directly from a childhood experience involving magic and imagination.

RT: You also say you loved to read. Do you have a favorite children's book? What was it about the book that made you come back to it over and over again?

Daryl: There are so many wonderful children’s books. I can't identify any one as the childhood favorite. When I was six or seven I remember reading The Red Balloon, Edith and Mr. Bear, and Sleeping Beauty over and over until the covers were frayed and the spines broken. When I was nine, I loved Little Women, Jo’s Boys, and Little Men; and was mesmerized by Charlotte’s Web. As I got older, the adventures of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew occupied my time along with lots of science fiction and fantasy such as Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain; C.S. Lewis' The Witch, the Lion, and the Wardrobe; H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, and Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. I think, however, that the books I read the most, as both a child and later as an adult, would have to be The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Every time I finished The Return of the King I would feel an ache in my heart, a kind of disorientation. I didn’t want that world to end. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

As an adult, I have found new children’s books that are just as wonderful as my old childhood friends. They are too many to list, so I will not try. What draws me to these wonderful stories? An interesting and enchanting world, great characters, and, always, an exciting adventure—whether it be a quest or just plain living. A great book is one that you don’t want to put down, even in the end, because you want that world and those characters to go on forever.

RT: Do you have any advice for first-time authors? How many drafts did you go through before you were satisfied that the manuscript for Riddle in the Mountain was ready for a publisher's consideration? Were there specific things you were looking for in a publisher or did you just send it to multiple houses?

Daryl: For me, learning to write and tell a good story is an ongoing process. Hopefully with each try, I get a little better. My advice to new authors is to immerse yourself in the process and don’t worry about the initial results. Take classes and seminars. Join a good writers’ critique group. Read and practice. Time will smooth out the kinks.

I have no idea how many drafts of Riddle in the Mountain I went through before sending out my first query letter. I know it was a lot. Five? Ten? Twenty? I tend to revise in pieces making draft counts messy and unclear. The stack of paper that I saved was over a foot high. I didn’t count the number of small trees that I threw out. Even after the first round of queries and subsequent rejections, the revision process didn’t stop. My eye became sharper. My understanding of the craft became clearer. If I detected a weakness in the story that I had failed to see before, I took the time to mend it. The story is better for it. As for selecting publishers, it is important to do your homework. I only submitted to those publishers that were interested in middle-grade novels involving adventure, fantasy, and historical elements. Many publishers aren’t. It would have been a waste of my time and theirs to have sent them a query letter.

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Daryl: One of my favorite things about creating stories like Riddle in the Mountain is discovering and learning about all sorts of new things and ideas through my research. For those who are interested, some of the research material that went into Riddle in the Mountain can be found at the back of the book. Even more information is shared on my website at www.darylburkhard.com. I hope my readers have as much fun exploring this information as I did. The world is such a fascinating place.

Website: http://www.darylburkhard.com




                 

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