Tres Seymour (1966-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Given name pronounced "Trace"; born 1966, in Glasgow, KY; Education: Southern Methodist University, B.A. (English and journalism), 1989; University of Kentucky, M.S.L.S., 1991; attended University of Tennessee, beginning 1993. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, watching science-fiction television shows, fencing, hiking, travel, playing music (dulcimer, banjo, fife, bodhran, Celtic harp).
Office—Battle for the Bridge Project, P.O. Box 606, Munfordville, KY 42765.
Freelance writer. National Park Service, Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, seasonal park ranger, beginning 1987; Hart County Historical Society Battle for the Bridge Historic Preserve, Munfordville, KY, currently executive director.
Life in the Desert was named an American Library Association Recommended Book for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 1993; Notable Books of the Year citation, New York Times, and Best Books of the Year citation, School Library Journal, both 1993, both for Hunting the White Cow.
Life in the Desert (novel), Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Pole Dog, illustrated by David Soman, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Hunting the White Cow, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
I Love My Buzzard, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
The Smash-up, Crash-up Derby, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.
The Gulls of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Orchard (New York, NY), 1996.
Black Sky River, illustrations by Dan Andreasen, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Too Quiet for These Old Bones, illustrations by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1997.
The Revelation of Saint Bruce, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1998.
We Played Marbles, illustrations by Dan Andreasen, Orchards Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Jake Johnson: The Story of a Mule, illustrations by Marsha Gray Carrington, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1999.
Our Neighbor Is a Strange, Strange Man, illustrations by Walter Lyon Krudop, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Auction!, illustrations by Cat Bowman Smith, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Work in Progress
Made of Stone, a poetry collection; Stephen, King of the Dark, a young adult novel.
Tres Seymour followed in his father's footsteps by working as a forest ranger for several years, and then took on a second career as a children's book author. Now executive director of a civil war battlefield site near his home in Kentucky, Seymour is known to younger readers as the author of the novels Life in the Desert and The Revelation of Saint Bruce as well as of highly praised picture books such as We Played Marbles, which takes place near the civil war site where Seymour now works. In what a Publishers Weekly dubbed a "sophisticated anti-war book," Seymour creates a rhyming text in which two boys playing marbles near the wreckage of a civil war fort are joined by their grandfather, a veteran of the war. Praising the illustrations by Dan Andreasen, Booklist critic Helen Rosenberg cited We Played Marbles as "an intriguing way to provide background on a landmark and present historical events."
Life in the Desert focuses on the friendship between ninth-grader Rebecca Altsheler and her emotionally withdrawn classmate, Joseph Bell, who refers to himself as O.Z. As Rebecca earns O.Z.'s trust, she discovers that he often retreats into his own fantasy world, the "Desert," to hide from life's pressures, including his parents' unrealistic expectations. When Rebecca takes O.Z.'s journal to school, it is stolen by other students who use it to fuel their harsh ridicule of their shy classmate. Emotionally shattered, O. Z. attempts suicide as Rebecca and O.Z.'s brother, Reuben, attempt to prevent this destructive act.
Many critics described Life in the Desert as an affecting portrait of adolescent loneliness and alienation. "O.Z.'s feelings and needs are basic to us all," wrote Laura L. Lent in the Voice of Youth Advocates. "At some point, the utter loneliness of O. Z. will be felt by the reading audience and will, no doubt, leave few eyes dry." Mary M. Burns, reviewing the work in Horn Book, deemed Life in the Desert "notable for its evocation of a unique personality through the eyes of a sympathetic observer." In School Library Journal, Jacqueline Rose stated that the author "conveys the pain experienced by a troubled teen…. However, like Rebecca, readers are ultimately kept in the dark as to what makes O.Z. tick."
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Conversely, Booklist reviewer Janice Del Negro observed that Seymour "realistically creates the environment that surrounds Rebecca and O.Z. and gently draws … the reader into the fantasy world O. Z. has created."
In The Revelation of Saint Bruce a young high schooler gains the nickname "Saint Bruce" because of his straight-laced behavior. When Bruce has a confidential talk with the teacher and turns in the fellow members of his Latin Club for drinking during school, he has to deal with the retaliation that follows. He also begins to question his own motivations for his fuddy-duddy behavior: are they good or bad? Reviewing the novel in Booklist, Roger Leslie wrote that Seymour's text is "layered with quandaries that offer much for young readers to ponder and discuss." In Publishers Weekly a contributor praised the "breezy" narrative and echoed the view that the "questions about conformity and forgiveness" raised in The Revelation of Saint Bruce "will engage readers."
Seymour's picture books include Hunting the White Cow, Jake Johnson: The Story of a Mule, and Too Quiet for These Old Bones. In Hunting the Cow a young farm girl relates her family's efforts to recapture an elusive white cow that "went wild." After several messy, failed attempts to track the cow on the part of the family's menfolk, the young girl manages to rope the animal, only to see it escape before she can return it to the farm. Critics were enthusiastic in their praise for Hunting the White Cow. In the New York Times Book Review, Kathleen Krull commended Seymour's "admirably terse and evocative" prose, while School Library Journal reviewer Trev Jones found the tale "spare and clean, accentuated with just the right amount of repetition and local color." Calling the book "an excellent picture book," New Yorker contributor David Menaker added that Seymour infuses his text "with quiet humor and authority."
Like many of Seymour's books, Too Quiet for These Old Bones brings together the generations, this time in a story of four children and their fun-loving grandmother. When the children come to visit Grandma at her quiet home, they are pleased to learn that the noise and energy they bring is just what the older woman craves. In Booklist Lauren Peterson praised Seymour's "cute and clever" rhyming text, dubbing Too Quiet for These Old Bones a "nicely done just-for-the-fun-of-it story." In Jake Johnson a cagey old mule is pitted against the combined wits of Farmer and Mrs. Puckett, who attempt to motivate the lazy mule to do a lick of work. Seymour relays his story in true tall-tale fashion, creating what a Publishers Weekly contributor called a "leisurely paced picture book" enhanced by "exaggerated" American Gothic-style paintings by Marsha Gray Carrington.
Seymour once told SATA, "When I rediscovered children's books as a college freshman, it was like meeting an old friend from whom I had drifted away and finding that we had more in common than we had ever imagined. The rediscovery began as a tickle in my mind, a memory of a book with a green cover, about some children and a coin, in our old public library in Morristown, Tennessee. I went back, so many years from the time I'd first read it and found the book by sight, having no idea of title or author. It was Edward Eager's Half Magic. Next I found again my favorite book of all time, Carol Kendall's under-recognized The Gammage Cup. My studies of Shakespeare, Faulkner, and their lofty ilk tumbled downhill from there. There was not time. I made weekly visits to what must be one of the best children's bookstores in the nation and came away laden with Nesbit, Alexander, LeGuin, Cooper, Babbit, Jacques, Ransome, Aiken, Christopher, Eddison, Tolkien, E.B. White, T.. White—and so many others. I haven't stopped reading them yet.
"But to actually write—I have read biographies of writers who say that they've been writing since they were seven, or ten, or some such age, and knew what they wanted to do all along. I recall quite vividly that at the age of ten I told someone who suggested to me that I should be a writer that I wouldn't want to be, and I truly thought so. I have no notion why suddenly, as a young collegian, I should want to write books, nor yet why after several years thereafter of writing novels I should suddenly veer into the world of picture books, which I had never dreamed of writing. All of it—motivation, skill, inspiration—has just dropped into my lap. Where from?
"I think I know. As an avid reader, admirer, and student of the work of C.S. Lewis, I can hardly fail to perceive some divine assistance here. I don't want to sound like I think I am one of the chosen or anything; I only mean that I know this gift can't come from me, so I attribute it to God.
"For this reason I don't really worry about whether I'll have any more stories in me when I finish the one I'm working on now. They don't come from me to start with. People who know me often get frustrated when I'm not gushing with pride about a new book. They say, with hand gestures suggesting lifting, 'Aren't you excited?' Well, I suppose so. But why should I take overmuch pride in a book I write any more than a farmer should take overmuch pride in a good field of pumpkins? He may have done a good job of horticulture, but he didn't invent pumpkins.
"I don't, by the way, write for children. I write for me and for anyone enough like me that he or she enjoys my work. My goal has always been to someday write something that could affect another person the way The Gammage Cup affected me. If I've been able to do that, then I am grateful."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 1992, Janice Del Negro, review of Life in the Desert, p. 49; January 15, 1994, p. 939; February 1, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of The Smash-up, Crash-up Derby, p. 1011; November 15, 1996, Lauren Peterson, review of Black Sky River, p. 596; November 15, 1997, Lauren Peterson, review of Too Quiet for These Old Bones, p. 567; February 15, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of We Played Marbles, p. 1020; October 15, 1998, Roger Leslie, review of The Revelation of Saint Bruce, p. 413; February 1, 1999, p. 977; July, 1999, Kathy Broderick, review of Jake Johnson: The Story of a Mule, p. 1955.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1992, p. 87; October, 1993, p. 57; March, 1995, p. 249; February, 1999, review of Our Neighbor Is a Strange, Strange Man, p. 216.
Horn Book, January-February, 1993, Mary M. Burns, review of Life in the Desert, p. 93; July-August, 1993, p. 449; November, 1993, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Hunting the White Cow, pp. 738-739.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1994, p. 403; April 15, 2005, review of Auction!, p. 481.
New Yorker, December 13, 1993, Daniel Menaker, review of Hunting the White Cow, p. 117.
New York Times Book Review, November 14, 1993, Kathleen Krull, "Udder Voices, Udder Rooms," p. 58.
Publishers Weekly, September 14, 1992, p. 126; February 1, 1993, p. 93; July 19, 1993, p. 251; March 20, 1995, review of The Smash-up, Crash-up Derby, p. 59; February 5, 1996, review of The Gulls of the Edmund Fitzgerald, p. 89; August 11, 1997, review of Too Quiet for These Old Bones, p. 401; February 2, 1998, review of We Played Marbles, p. 88; October 5, 1998, review of The Revelation of Saint Bruce, p. 92; February 22, 1999, review of Our Neighbor Is a Strange, Strange Man, p. 95; March 22, 1999, review of Jake Johnson, p. 91.
School Library Journal, November, 1992, Jacqueline Rose, review of Life in the Desert, p. 124; July, 1993, p. 71; December, 1993, Trev Jones, review of Hunting the White Cow, pp. 93-94; October, 1997, Susan Garland, review of Too Quiet for These Old Bones, p. 109; March, 1999, Shirley Wilton, review of Our Neighbor Is a Strange, Strange Man, p. 200; June, 2005, Lynda Ritterman, review of Auction!, p. 128.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 9, 1994, p. 6; September, 1998, Shawn Brommer, review of The Revelation of Saint Bruce, p. 210.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1992, Laura L. Lent, review of Life in the Desert, p. 286.