This week we’re revealing the cover for On a Good Horse, and we wanted to spend a little time getting to know its author, Darby Karchut. We’ve had the honor of working with Darby on several books now, and she’s what every publisher’s dreams are made of. In fact, she embodies many of the same traits as the cowboys she writes about: hard working, smart as a whip, kind and fair, and doesn’t take no crap off of nobody! Just kidding about that last one. We like melodrama around here. Suffice it to say, she is an author well worth getting to know, and her books are one-of-a-kind Middle Grade delights. We hope you’ll stick around!
Thanks for talking with us, Darby! Can you tell us a little bit about you newest novel, On a Good Horse?
It’s a contemporary MG book about eleven-year-old Alex Nash, who loses his mother in a tragic accident and is forced to move to rural Colorado and live with his estranged father, a man Alex’s family has always painted as the family villain. Until Alex discovers his dad has bought him one heck of a gift, one with a red coat, lightning speed, and a fighting spirit. A spitfire of a horse that just might heal a boy’s broken heart and reunite father and son.
Written from the dual perspective of both boy and horse, it’s a story about grief and loss and family, and a boy learning how to be a son, and a man learning (or rather re-learning) how to be a father. It’s a celebration of the bond between human and horse, and the therapy that comes from that unique relationship. In short, it’s a story that proves the old saying is true: “There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.”
You’ve written a lot of different types of books for different genres and ages. What’s unique about On a Good Horse that you’re excited about?
On A Good Horse holds two major “firsts” for me. It’s my very first MG contemporary book. I mostly write fantasy/magical realism, so this book was a totally different sandbox to play in, and I loved and cursed every minute of it. Also, this was the first time I’ve written a story from an animal’s point of view – in this case, from the Arab/Quarter Horse gelding Rio’s. Creating Rio’s equine voice was hands down the most gratifying writing I’ve ever done. I’ve wanted to tell this story for a long time, but never felt my writing chops were up to the task until now.
You like to write books from male perspectives. Why is that?
I believe that writers have many kinds of lenses through which they view the world. That’s why all people can tell tales from all different perspectives. But I also believe that for most writers, there is one lens that is clearer and truer and more compelling than the others. For me, my lens is the male perspective. Why is that? I honestly don’t know. I mean, I’m a straight woman (albeit a complete tomboy) with a husband who is also my best friend. I enjoy a wide variety of genres with all sorts of characters. My head is just hardwired to write books from a guy’s POV. I’m totally cool with that.
What were some of your favorite books as a child?
The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien, the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, King of the Wind, Man O’ War, Justin Morgan Had A Horse, Album of Horses, and Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West all by Marguerite Henry; Black Beauty by Anna Sewell; The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley; My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O’Hara; and Copper’s Chance by Jane McIlvaine McClary. Oh, and when I was really, really young, the Blaze and Billy series by Clarence William Anderson.
How has being a former teacher continued to influence the stories you tell?
When I started writing my first book, I was still teaching middle school—7th grade social studies, to be exact. Talk about a perfect research venue for an author. Not only could I chat with my students all the time about what books they were reading and what I was reading, but it also gave me boots-on-the-ground insights to pre-teens. I would observe them, often jotting notes about the way they talked and behaved and interacted with each other. All those observations became scenes in my books, especially in On A Good Horse and Del Toro Moon.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Each book is different, but I usually do my research in chunks as the need arises. Just-in-time-learning, so to speak. In On A Good Horse, Alex’s dad, Rob Nash, is a horse shoer by trade (which is not the same as a farrier, by the way). To write those scenes, I first drew upon my memories of watching our local farrier shoe my horse as I held the lead rope. Building on that background, I would write a shoeing scene as best as I could, then dive into the researching hole to make sure I had everything correct. I also watched a truckload of YouTube videos featuring farriers and blacksmiths and horse shoers. Fascinating trade.
What are you excited for readers to discover in On a Good Horse?
So many things! I’m excited to introduce readers to the fundamentals of horsemanship. I mean literally how to saddle a horse, mount, hold the reins, the position of one’s body, and even the not so glamorous chore of shoveling manure. I’m also eager for folks to discover that quieter books can have a place in their hearts, and that there is room in our schools and libraries for books that feature good fathers, even if they are a bit flawed.
What’s the thing you’re most proud of so far in your author career?
Two things actually: Del Toro Moon winning the Colorado Book Award for Juvenile Literature, and that On A Good Horse will be my fifteenth book. Fifteen! Holy moly, how did that happen?
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Grow a thick skin right away. Sooner if you can. Ignore 90% of the stuff people say. Also, don’t sit in that old overstuffed chair in the corner of your office too much. It’ll mess up your left hamstring something fierce. Trust me.
If you could ride off into the sunset with three authors, living or dead, who would you take and why?
Why, I’d mount up with J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Marguerite Henry, Ivan Doig, J.K. Rowling, Naomi Novik, and Craig Johnson. Oops. That’s seven. I am such a rebel.
If there’s a question you’d like to ask Darby, leave a comment here or find her on Twitter or Instagram. She loves interacting with readers! Thanks for your time, Darby! We can’t wait for readers to discover this wonderful new story this fall.
Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy wrangling words.
Her books include the best selling middle grade series, THE ADVENTURE OF FINN MacCULLEN, and award-winning DEL TORO MOON. Coolest thing ever: her YA debut novel, GRIFFIN RISING, has been optioned for film.