If Ernest Hemingway were alive today and felt like writing a Western in the middle grade fiction genre, he might have written The El Dorado Map. Unfortunately, Hemingway’s long passed. Silver lining: New Englander Michael O’Hearn did write The El Dorado Map and seems to’ve channeled Papa Hemingway.
Published by Capstone Press in September 2015, The El Dorado Map tells the story of the boy Cody, a young would-be outlaw who’s got a snaky father villainous as any Clint Eastwood movie desperado. A hitch in the father-son duo’s synchronicity is that Cody, even at his young age, is bigger mentally than his physically superior dad. Cody is attuned to the wake of repercussions left by theft and violence. When the two become separated early in the plot, the idea that there’s more than just physical distance between him and his father crystallizes in Cody’s mind.
O’Hearn’s writing style is truly reminiscent of the tough, terse prose that made Hemingway’s name well known. But to call it simply tough and terse wouldn’t do his style justice because it can be tender and flowing as well. For an adventure book, the balance of action and thought is pleasingly rendered and weighted. O’Hearn’s Cody is thoughtful and empathetic but also ready for action—and discerningly loyal. He’s a boy who could be your most trustworthy friend.
I recently put some questions to O’Hearn, and what follows is a condensed version of question and answer.
Capstone Connect: El Dorado has great mythical meaning. What drew you to El Dorado, and how did you make El Dorado your own?
Michael O’Hearn: For Cody, El Dorado is a place where he can escape. The legendary gold represents the freedom we all imagine comes with great wealth. But wealth often carries a price, so El Dorado also presents Cody with choices about what’s most important to him. And El Dorado, being a place of great wealth, is like a magnet for Cody’s outlaw father and other greedy and dangerous men. El Dorado creates lots of internal and external conflict for Cody. Plus, the mythology of El Dorado gave me the perfect setting to create a Western that was also a fantasy story.
C.C.: Your website (http://www.michaelohearn.com) mentions that you play the drums. If your novel The El Dorado Map had a sound track, what five songs would undoubtedly make the playlist?
M.O’H.: 1. Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” has to be at the top of the list. It just carries the feel of the Old West so well.
- Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” is a song about love. Part of Cody’s journey of understanding is about love, both who loves him and what and who he loves. Plus, he’s reborn through fire.
- The Eagles’ “Desperado” lyrically doesn’t quite mesh. But it feels like Cody’s journey to me, a little sad at times, a little desperate.
- Ronnie James Dio’s “Stand Up and Shout” is a song about thinking and acting for yourself in the face of the forces that bear down on you.
- Metallica’s “Unforgiven” is heavy metal, but it’s a Western at heart. I’d like to think The El Dorado Map charts a similar path.
C.C.: The artistic genre of Wild West fare is buckingly, grittily, and adventurously American. What are some things that especially spark your interest about the literary genre of the Western?
M.O’H.: Middle Grade fantasies traditionally have a European backdrop—knights, castles, wizards, and all things fairy tale. I wanted to write a fantasy that was American at its heart. Our mythology is the Wild West. It gave me a perfect backdrop to touch on themes that are at the center for America: work, race, greed, violence, fatherhood.
I love the characters and conflict built into the Wild West setting, outlaws and sheriffs pitted against one another, the mysticism and mystery of the native tribes, and the average folks who built an extraordinary and far-reaching society in the face of violent and challenging forces.
I grew up on Western movies . . . John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. I know times have changed, but I don’t want to see that mythology die out.
C.C.: You’ve written a number of other titles for Capstone. What’s something you enjoy about working with Capstone?
M.O’H.: For one, Capstone gave me a chance to start my career as a published author. What's fun, though, is that they offer such a variety of titles to so many age groups. I've written about both monster trucks and monster battles. I’ve written about Indian legends and dinosaurs (not in the same book, of course). What could be more fun than that?
C.C. What else is in the hopper for you, creatively? Any new stories you’re working on?
M.O’H.: I've started writing a young adult novel about a kid who discovers his dad is a "superhero" and sets out to follow in his footsteps. Mayhem and destruction ensue. I’m about five chapters in, so quite a bit more to go. Can’t say much more right now other than I’m pretty excited about what I’ve written so far.
-Nate LeBoutillier, Capstone Editor