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Suzanne Morgan Williams, author of “Bull Rider,” her first novel for young adults will sign copies of her book from 6- 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Otowi Station Bookstore. Williams will also speak to classes at Los Alamos Middle School.
In her book, Cam O’Mara, 14, is a champion skateboarder and when he is not helping out on the family’s desert ranch, he is practicing his moves with his friends in his small Nevada town. But when his older brother Ben comes home from the Iraq War severely injured and depressed, everything changes. Ben was a champion bull rider and Cam makes a pact with his brother to continue the family tradition: If Cam rides the bull to win, Ben will not give up hope that he can rebuild his life.
Driven by his brother’s pain, Cam is determined to prove himself in the dangerous bullring, even if it means faking his identity and lying to his family. Told in a clipped, first-person narrative, William’s first novel makes the details of skateboarding and bull riding part of the contemporary story of family, community and work.
In a recent interview, Williams discussed the challenges in bringing “Bull Rider” to life.
She said, “I love research and I can immerse myself, perhaps drown myself in it, particularly when I’m stuck writing. The trick is to stop researching when I find the new spark that I need to continue writing. I also needed to learn when research was important and facts were necessary and when I could depend on the book being fiction—there were lots of things about it I could just make up.”
Williams continued, “One thing I couldn’t make up was the information about bull riding, ranching and Ben’s war injuries. Researching the bull riding was fun. I’m a rodeo fan and besides going to the Professional Bull Riders’ events, I visited a local bull arena and watched some guys get on a bull for the first time.”
She said that her biggest challenge was accepting the fact that “Bull Rider” needed to be about the two brothers’ relationship. “That meant bringing brain injured, amputee Ben front and center. I was scared to learn about traumatic brain injury and I felt like it was intrusive to interview victims of traumatic brain injury — especially after all they’d already been through. I ended up interviewing the people who care for war injured.”
Learning about traumatic brain injury was enlightening for Williams. “I learned that most injured soldiers want to return to their units. I learned that TBI can be invisible and still create life-altering changes in its victims’ thought processes. I developed a deep respect for the men and women who’ve given so much in the line of duty. I began to understand how people hold up in wartime. Talk about writing a book changing the author.”
Williams concluded, “I am so honored to share ‘Bull Rider’ with readers. I believe we owe these veterans not only our respect, but continued quality care, perhaps for many years.”
Suzanne Morgan Williams is a former elementary school teacher.
She is known for careful on-site research, which for “Bull Rider” included interviewing professional bull riders, ranchers and caregivers who work with severely wounded veterans.