In his latest book, Hilton Head Island author Charlie Ryan weaves a winter tale about a group of precocious neighborhood kids searching for adventure at Christmastime.
"The Pullman Hilton" is a young adult read set in 1938 in a West Virginia railroad town. The seven kids living on Maple Avenue, aptly nicknamed "The Maple Avenue Gang," set out to explore the abandoned train car yard near their homes. Mystery, intrigue and shenanigans ensue -- a la "The Polar Express" meets "The Goonies."
The book was inspired by Ryan's upbringing in Keyser, W.Va., where he and his friends on (real) Maple Avenue would ride their bikes to the Pullman railroad yard.
"Our parents told us to never go in there, so of course we did," Ryan said.
The leader of the Maple Avenue Gang is M.V., an 11-year-old girl named after Ryan's sister, Mary Virginia.
"I did that because of my admiration for my sister and the leadership she always gave us, Ryan said. "She was a year older than us. The year made a big difference, I think."
In real life, Ryan said he and his sister and friends never encountered anything particularly exciting in the old Pullman cars, but the children in the book certainly do.
To give the story some "pizzazz," Ryan set it during the Great Depression, when hoboes regularly rode the rails. In "The Pullman Hilton," two hoboes restore one of Pullman cars to its original glory, to the point where one says that Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels and Resorts, would approve. Hence the title.
Ryan was also inspired by his grandchildren on whom he would test out material.
"That was helpful," he said. "They would tell me when they didn't understand this or that."
The goal was to write a book that would encourage kids to read, he said.
"I tell them it's great because it doesn't require batteries."
After a career in broadcast news, advertising, public relations and business, Ryan retired to Hilton Head four and a half years ago. He is currently working on three more books, he said.
A sequel to "The Pullman Hilton" is also a possibility.