Barbara Bryan is the author of Topanga Canyon: Fire Season. Topanga Canyon: Fire Season follows Matt, a teenage boy who is exiled to his grandfather’s horse ranch in Topanga, California by his alcoholic mother. The novel explores a tale that touches on change. YEM was able to speak with Barbara her writing process, writing about horses, and what is coming next for her.
Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know that you wanted to be an author?
Barbara Bryan: What a great question to start with.
Wanting to be an author came at an early age, but being an author didn’t come until much later. I was and partly still am a terrible speller and was repeatedly told by almost everyone that I could never become an author because my spelling was so bad. I believed them and put that dream aside. But with the advent of Spell Check, my world changed, and I began writing short stories and now a full-fledged book. I only regret that I listened to their ridiculous claims and hope you find the courage to start living your passion, no matter what it is, and not be distracted by those who say you can’t.
YEM: Is Topanga Canyon: Fire Season inspired by anything in your real life?
Barbara: As a beginning author, I found weaving some of my experiences into the story a good way to keep it authentic. Thus, some of the storylines, such as Matt’s relationship with the horses and the Santa Ana fires, were taken from my past. And I am always happy coming across people trying to make a difference in the world. The ASPCA has long fought against the practice of soring, which is one reason I focused on soring and the Tennessee Walking Horse to help bring more awareness to the issue.
YEM: Did you always know that you wanted to write a book that involved horses?
Barbara: The short answer is yes. Now, at one point in our history and not that long ago, everyone had horses in their lives, from horse-drawn wagons to simple everyday transportation. Before cars- it was horses. Times have changed, and our distancing from these beautiful creatures has encouraged the thought that perhaps they are obsolete. Hopefully, this story will remind people how wonderful horses are. And, I am so excited about horses now being used as therapy animals for everything from PTSD to autism – what a perfect way to reintroduce these incredible creatures to the general public, doing what they do best – being man’s companion and helper.
YEM: What does your writing process look like?
Barbara: I work a full-time job, so my writing is squeezed in whenever I can. It all adds up, even if it’s just a sentence written down in a ten-minute break. When the book began to take shape, I simply got up an hour earlier and spent the time writing. Then at the end of the day, I would review it in preparation for the next day’s early rise.
YEM: What did you learn through the process of writing Topanga Canyon: Fire Season?
Barbara: That it’s really smart to read your work out loud. Wish I had started doing it earlier. You can catch a lot of mistakes with how a sentence flows and if the story is unfolding in an enjoyable, readable form.
YEM: Is there a particular part of writing your book that you enjoyed more than the others?
Barbara: I enjoyed writing about Matt, and his growing relationship with and knowledge of working with horses. His rookie mistakes were based on some of my childhood memories and hours spent mucking out stalls.
YEM: Did you do any research on horses for your book, or did you write from what you knew already?
Barbara: Mostly, what I knew already, but when my memory was hazy, I quizzed fellow riders, and when that failed, I researched what I was unclear about.
YEM: What do you hope your readers take away from reading Topanga Canyon: Fire Season?
Barbara: Besides enjoying the story and perhaps gaining a new understanding and love of horses, I hope it would reignite in the reader the essential truth – that we all intrinsically possess the courage to face the myriad challenges in today’s world and restore the knowledge that through each of us, change is possible.
YEM: What is some advice you have for those who want to be an author one day?
Barbara: Like most things in life, it is a matter of showing up. Make a commitment that each day you will write something, anything, no matter how long. One sentence can be the beginning of your masterpiece.
YEM: Who is an author that inspires you?
Barbara: Any author who has taken the time to write a book inspires me. But one book I return to often is Watch for Me on the Mountain by Forrest Carter. It’s about Geronimo and the Apache Nation. The last book I read that resonated with me was Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs by David Philipps.
YEM: What is your favorite scene or quote from Topanga Canyon: Fire Season?
Barbara: Matt is frustrated at being stuck at the ranch and doing too many chores. He vents his pent-up anger by kicking a wheelbarrow and, by doing so, trips into the water trough. Matt jumps out of the trough and begins angrily stomping his feet on the hard ground. It’s at this point that Esmerelda happens upon the distraught boy.
“Matt, why are you pounding the earth?” asked Esmerelda.
“You keep telling me you are no longer a child, and here you are having a temper tantrum.”
“I want to go home to my Mom.”
“Acting like this will not speed your journey.” Esmerelda rested her laundry basket on a bale of straw. “You need to think about the path you walk each day. Each step you take echoes back to you like a drum beat. You need to listen to the song you are making.”
YEM: Are you working on any more books right now?
Barbara: Thanks for asking. I am finishing a compilation of short stories I had been working on and am about to start a book about Matt’s next adventure.