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Indianapolis lawyer wins national book prize

October 10, 2016

An Indianapolis attorney has won a prestigious national book award for his debut novel “The Drum of Destiny,” a work of historical fiction for young readers set around the American Revolution.

Wilson Kehoe Winingham attorney Chris Stevenson was presented the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize on Oct. 6 at the Library of Congress in Washington. His tale of an orphaned 12-year-old patriot who escapes a house of loyalists to join the fight for the nation’s independence is written primarily for children in grades 4-7.

“It’s not every day you get a dinner in your honor at the Library of Congress,” Stevenson said Monday. “It’s pretty amazing to be selected.”

Founded by author and publisher David Bruce Smith and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities Bruce Cole, the Grateful American Book Prize was established in 2015 to recognize outstanding works of historical fiction for young readers and to promote history education. The prize includes a $13,000 cash award in honor of the 13 original American colonies.

Stevenson said he was inspired to write the book by his five sons and because he felt there was little storytelling aimed at young readers about the time period around the nation’s founding. Years ago, he began telling his boys bedtime stories from the Revolutionary period about a boy named Gabriel Cooper, which became the inspiration for “The Drum of Destiny.”

“For me, it’s one of the most transformative periods of time not just for our nation but for the entire world,” Stevenson said. “These were relatively untrained soldiers who decided to stand up to the most powerful empire in the world. … It’s one of those things I wanted my kids and hopefully other kids to learn about the freedom that we have, and why did we want to do it.”  

An associate whose practice focuses on aviation and product liability litigation, Stevenson said he worked late at night on the book for about a year, but getting his first book published proved a daunting task. He hired an agent and said it took three or four years and many rejections before publisher Capstone Young Readers was sold on the project.

He said young readers can learn much from historical fiction that doesn’t always come through in fact-bound history textbooks. “It’s not only able to give you facts but also help you understand why things happened, how they happened and the personal stories behind the facts they’re reading about.”

While the book is targeted for readers primarily in grades 4-7, Stevenson said he also envisioned this as a book that adults also would read, either for themselves or to their children.

Stevenson said “The Drum of Destiny” is the opening salvo in a series of five novels that will trace the colonial-era adventures of young Gabriel as he grows during the quest for independence. He said the second volume in the series has been completed but a release date has not been set.
 

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