You may know actor Eric Pierpoint as the bald alien George in “Alien Nation” or Chief Trumple in “Parks and Recreation” or Harold in “Hart of Dixie.”
But young readers now are going to know him as the author of the new adventure novel “The Last Ride of Caleb O'Toole.”
The book follows three orphan children as they travel from Great Bend, Kan., where their parents died in a cholera epidemic, to an aunt's home in the Bitterroot Mountains in the Montana Territory.
A big chunk of the story takes place in Nebraska as the children try to hook up with a wagon train to make their journey safer from some of the hazards of the 1877 prairie: dangerous animals, outlaws, sickness, unpredictable weather and hostile Indians.
Pierpoint was able to draw on family diaries for the background on what pioneers encountered day to day on their journeys west. He also grew up on TV westerns of the 1960s, such as “Bonanza” and “Rawhide,” he said.
As he started work on the book, he decided to follow the footsteps his ancestors talked about in their diaries.
“There I was, sitting at my computer to write, but I wanted to see what (the characters) would see,” Pierpoint said in a recent telephone interview.
The actor and his dog, Joey, plotted a course for 12-year-old Caleb and his sisters, Tilly and Julie. That meant man and dog spending time in Nebraska, where he took in Chimney Rock, Scottsbluff, the Platte River and other points of interest in the state before heading west to Yellowstone, Virginia City and the Bitterroots.
The Nebraska scenery was able to give him some sense of the wide, open spaces pioneer travelers would have seen, he said. “The farther west I got, the more fascinating the topography got.”
Another part of his research involved sitting in Barnes & Noble and reading children's literature. He discovered that most of the successful stories had a common theme: “A kid overcomes something.”
But he couldn't find much historical fiction for kids, more specifically for boys. He was interested in writing something they would enjoy. “Boys need books to read,” he said.
It should be pointed out that girls seem to like the story just as much as boys. So do adult readers. (I was caught up in the story enough that I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. so I could finish the book.)
Though he had done writing in the past, his work was screenplays, not a novel. “One screenplay was a Western movie for the Hallmark Channel. It had this book's characters.”
But putting them into a novel wasn't easy. “Writing is so much work!” he said dramatically. “It's enjoyable, but hard.”
He's already at work on his next book, another historical fiction novel about the Revolutionary War.
His budding literary career has left him little time for acting. “When I get offered roles in plays, I have to say, 'No,' ” he said. “Launching 'Caleb' involves a lot.”