Interview with Dan Peterson
Fergus, The Soccer Playing Colt
Reader Views is pleased to have Dan Peterson, author of “Fergus, The Soccer Playing Colt” with us today. Great to have you here Dan.
Irene: What inspired you to write “Fergus, The Soccer Playing Colt”?
Dan: I had a palomino horse which I had raised from a weanling. The book is based loosely on that horse. He could open gates, get grain out of an old tire; he would also carry around a ball (with a handle on it) or anything else he could pick up that interested him. And I just wanted to write a kids' book.
Irene: Did you train your horse to do those things, or is this innate?
Dan: No this is learned behavior. Innate behavior I think is fleeing a predator or grazing on pasture grass. This horse actually learned how to do those things on his own. I think the grain in an old tire is a good example. I don't know how he figured it out but he would actually pick up the tire and toss it to the ground in front of him. Every time he did that a few bits of the grain would bounce out. He would continue the routine until he had every last morsel of grain out of that tire.
Irene: Why did you have Fergus playing soccer rather, than say, baseball, or football?
Dan: I had Fergus playing soccer because it would be more believable that a horse could kick around a fair-sized round ball, etc. That would not have been possible with a football or a baseball. And basket ball was out of the question. And I had carried around the first couple of lines in my head for about a year. I wanted the colt to be more than just an acrobat. It would give my story more possibilities for other things to happen.
Irene: How did you come up with the characters in the story?
Dan: Well, I of course knew that I'd have to have kids in a kid story, hence Bobby and Ramon. Ian Connor was a convenience or a conveyance--a way to get Fergus and Bobby and Ramon on the excursion, where the rest of the story might happen. I don't know how I came up with the "bad" guys. I knew they couldn't be really scary bad, so I tried to laugh at all of them a little bit. Rumble Smith was a villain, but a sort of bumbling villain. He could be dishonest (and pay the price for it eventually), but he could not be threatening. Reiterate was just a sidekick, but I didn't want him to be bland or uninteresting. I wanted him to contribute to the story. Billy Joe was essential as someone with more dimension.
I liked all of these characters. They are, in fact, my favorites. I still like reading about them. I don't know how I cam up with them. They just sort of appeared and took on a life of their own. I knew when I decided to have Fergus stolen that it would have to be by a cowboy like Rumble. More plausible that the colt be stolen by someone other than another soccer type, because it would be easier to make the colt, Fergus, disappear. As I'm sure you know, the characters gain dimension and their personalities as the story progresses. They didn't all arrive as what they ended up being.
Irene: How much of yourself is in the plot?
Dan: Me in the plot. I think if I'm anyone in the plot, I'm Bobby Simpson, though the story is not told exclusively from his point of view.
Irene: When writing a children’s book, do you have to place yourself in the eyes and minds of a child of the age group you are writing for? If so, how do you do that?
Dan: I think of course you have to view the world through the eyes of a child. You have to think things that a kid would think but give a kid's view more dimension. Can't be just declarative sentences of what the kids in the book are doing or thinking. I don't know how well I succeeded. I do try to think and stay young and not be an "old fart" that my kids and my grandkids have trouble relating too. Plus I spend a lot of time with my grandkids when I can and I like to talk to kids sometimes. And I try hard to remember what I would be doing and thinking and feeling at that age.
Irene: Have any of your grandchildren read Fergus? If so, what are their responses?
Dan: My granddaughter, who is a reluctant reader, finally finished the book a couple of months after I gave it to her. She told me she loved it and that she cried in some parts, but that may be because she wanted to please me or not hurt my feelings. Her brother, my only other grandchild has not yet read the book, but he's too young for it right now.
Irene: You seem to have a close connection to horses. Tell me more about that.
Dan: I do have a close connection to horses. I was raised around them, on my grandparent's farm, I learned to ride early, and I've always liked being around horses. I think they are magical creatures. As a kid--and that was a very long time ago--I read all the horse stories I could find. I have raised several babies, trained them into adults I could ride, etc. I just love the animals. They enchant me. But they also make me angry and frustrated sometimes. I wish I could think more like a horse like some of the great trainers do. Some people have almost a mystical connection. I have never been able to achieve that with horses.
Irene: When you say “mystical” do you mean that people can communicate with the horse – for instance, a horse whisper? Have you tried to communicate on another level?
Dan: Yes I firmly believe that a select few people can communicate with horses. I have never been able to reach that level partly because I don't spend all my time with them, and partly because I don't have the gift. I just listened to an interview on our local PBS station about a woman who was autistic but was able to complete the work for her doctorate. The gist of what she said while I was listening was that she and some autistic people like her don't see words in their mind's eye but pictures. She thinks that's the best approach to communicating with animals. You first try to see the world as they see it. And I think that all the great trainers do that.
Irene: This book isn’t just about a colt playing soccer. The story has a deeper message. Would you tell your reading audience what that message is?
Dan: I never realized this book had a message until other people started telling me it did have one. I just wanted to tell a story that was in my mind and that progressed as I wrote. But I am told it sends a message that differences are a good thing and not a bad thing; that teamwork is a good way to accomplish goals (Fergus and Bouncer). If I wanted consciously to send a message it would have been that animals are capable of more than most people expect of them, and that they can surprise you with their intelligence and adaptability. And maybe in Billy Joe Culpepper's case, that someone can do bad or questionable things, but not be bad themselves.
Irene: “Fergus” is geared for pre-teen boys. Have you had young boys read the book, and, if so, what were the responses?
Dan: I have actually received more responses from young girls than from young boys. All the ones I have talked to have liked the book. But I think it is a sad thing that kids just do not read as much as they used to. Too much TV; too much Nintendo, etc. I have yet to have someone tell me they didn't like the book.
Irene: What do you believe it is that they like about the book? It is nothing like what kids watch on TV.
Dan: It's true. It's nothing like what kids are watching on TV today. And I think that most kids are watching TV and not reading. If they read my book I think they like the parts where Fergus and the dog, Bouncer, team up to rescue themselves. I think they maybe like to fantasize about having a horse like Fergus. And they might like the idea of Reiterate Johnson. He was sort of my comic relief. But I'm just guessing about that one.
Irene: You have authored and published various publications. What is different about “Fergus: The Soccer-Playing Colt” from your other writing?
Dan: Fergus was fun to write and satisfying. Though it was kids' fiction, it was still fiction. I would rather write fiction and poetry any day because it gives you so much more leeway for your imagination. I like lyrical writing; imagery. Fiction gives you an opportunity to try your hand at that, even if it is for kids. I would hope that kids like stories that are more than just exposition or informational text.
Irene: Is there anything else that you would like to tell our reading audience about yourself or your book?
Dan: Only that after writing it, and rereading passages I still think it's a very good book and that's usually a sign that you've done a fairly good job. I would also like to ask people who read it to email me their reactions whether good or bad. And that I am 65 and have never given up wanting to get something published, showing that anything is possible when you stay with it.