WICHITA, Kan. — A former rural newspaper editor and sports writer has drawn upon his coverage of sporting events and country life to create a new teen sports novel, which is harvesting praise for its realistic view of life on a Kansas family farm.
Author Grant Overstake says his years spent as a journalist embedded in Kansas wheat country helped him create a vivid setting for the story, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, in which a high school senior named Maggie Steele struggles with the same difficult decision faced by many of today’s rural teens — pursue the life of her dreams or stay home to save the multigenerational family farm.
“As the only surviving child, Maggie has many factors to consider about a possible future on the farm,” Overstake said. “Of course, readers will have to read the story to follow her journey of self-discovery, and to see which path she chooses to take.”
As editor of the Hillsboro Star-Journal, Overstake was a two-time winner of the Kansas Farm Bureau’s Golden Wheat Award for excellence in agriculture writing. The author places his story near the fictional town of Grain Valley, Kan., which, in real life, could be anyplace where sports still matter and the grain elevator is the busiest place in town, especially at harvest time.
The new book, released in mid-October, has already earned several five-star reviews from readers on Amazon.com, including one that reads, “Getting to know Maggie Steele, her family, and the whole warm and caring community of Grain Valley was a pure delight…”
In addition to his acquired knowledge of farming, Overstake knows a lot about sports. The Wichita native began his professional writing career at age 18 as a part-time sports writer for the Wichita Eagle. After earning a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, he served a short stint as editor of the Johnson City Pioneer, in far western Kansas, before moving on to write sports, news and features for the Miami Herald in South Florida. After a 20-year hiatus from journalism, the author returned to the Sunflower State to edit the Star-Journal, where he received a dozen Awards of Excellence from the Kansas Press Association.
In writing his first novel, the author consulted with three-time Olympic pole-vaulter and coach, Earl Bell, to make certain that the pole-vaulting segments were realistic as possible. The result was a book that has been endorsed by a pair of 2012 U.S. Olympic pole-vaulters, and USA Today sports columnist and author Christine Brennan. Recently featured in the national VAULTER Magazine, the novel has been called an “inspiring” work of sports fiction about one of the fastest-growing sports, especially among girls.
The book also earned high praise from hard-to-please Kirkus Reviews, which called Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, “A fine YA [young adult] novel about perseverance in sports and in life.” Kirkus adds,“Overstake’s novel exudes sweetness; in some ways, it feels as if it takes place in another era, as it lacks the dark edge seen in other popular YA stories…”
Most meaningful to the author, however, are the positive reviews from readers with roots in rural Kansas, who see themselves and their cherished lifestyles reflected in the characters portrayed in the pages of Maggie Vaults Over the Moon.
“I’ve heard from many people from farms and small towns like Grain Valley,” Overstake said. “One of them is a 13 year-old girl named Mackenzie who lives on a farm near Beloit, Kansas. She’s a real-life Maggie Steele who drives a grain wagon, shows sheep at the county fair, and pole-vaults! She wrote to tell me that she loves the story so much that she keeps reading it over and over again.”
While the book was written at the middle school and high school level, the novel’s uplifting message is reaching older readers as well.
“A man in his late seventies told me that the story took him back to the farm where he’d grown up as a boy,” Overstake said. “He said that the setting touched him so deeply and seemed so real that he cried when he finished reading it, because he didn’t want the story to end.”
Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is available in paperback and e-book at Amazon.com.