Sunday, January 18, 2009

Guest Blogger: Rhonda Lane--Choose Wisely, Aspiring Novelist

Today, we have a guest blogger, Rhonda Lane, an aspiring mystery novelist.

Because I’m writing a horse mystery, I have two weekends of the year in which I must choose between two excellent, useful events.

So, do I go with the mystery weekend? Or do I go with the horse option? Or can I manage both?

The Kentucky Derby or Malice Domestic?

Every spring, for Kentuckians at home and in exile (like me), Kentucky Derby Day is a combination of the Super Bowl and Christmas.

Thanks to various TV networks, we can watch all the action at Churchill Downs, almost all day long. The action starts early, too, as the gates open at 6 am while the horses are just wrapping up their morning workouts.

For nearly the entire day, we can watch commentaries, races, stories about the horses and their connections, as well as playful features about the action. Plus, the colorful characters at the track can inspire characters for the page.

But it’s also bittersweet for me. Watching Derby Day festivities on TV can feel like torture by homesickness. The breeding farm commercials showing foals romping in fields make me cry. When I lived in Lexington, the location of many breeding farms, I used to drive past such scenes every day on my way to work. And, when the University of Lousiville band strikes up those first few chords of “My Old Kentucky Home,” it gets worse.

A few years ago, I revised my Derby tradition and went to Kentucky instead. A horse show in the circuit in which my not-a-horse mystery is based happens on Derby weekend. Every other year, I go down there for a week, visit the farms and re-connect with my sources.

(Ringside at the Derby Classic Horse Show in Harrodsburg, KY. Photo by Rhonda Lane)

On the big day itself, I watch the race on the TV in the hotel lobby with other guests. Or I stay alone in the room if I’m feeling vulnerable. If I haven’t been watching it all day in my living room in New England, I can tough out the ritual playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” in more of a public setting.

Meanwhile, in a suburb of Washington, DC, on the same weekend, is the mystery convention Malice Domestic. For months before the weekend, questions fly around the various writers groups. Who’s going? Who’s on panels? Who’s up for an Agatha? Where are we meeting for a meal?

Aspiring authors network, meet agents and make connections at Malice. Friendships are forged and maintained. Or so I hear.

Because I’m either at home on the couch watching the race. Or I’m in Kentucky roaming the barns. On the few years that Malice hasn’t landed on the first weekend in May, my travel budget for that year is already set for my trip to Kentucky. Besides, I am not happy if I’m not attending some kind of equestrian event on Derby Day

So, for good or ill, in my case, Kentucky always wins, whether it’s a trip to the Bluegrass or a day on the couch. Whenever I do manage to go to Malice some day in the future, I hope I’m in a position to slip off to watch the Derby, if only just at post time. Maybe a few of you will go with me and won’t snicker at me when I sniffle?

Massachusetts Equine Affaire or New England Crime Bake?

Fast forward to late fall. I live in central Connecticut, about an hour away from the Eastern States Exposition, the fairgrounds for the combined state fair for the New England states. The “Big E” in West Springfield, MA, is also the setting in November for the huge equine trade show Equine Affaire.

Part convention, part expo, part trade show, Equine Affaire almost defies description. The show takes over the entire fairgrounds except for the midway and the Halls of the States. Famous clinicians show up for demos in multiple program tracks that run for four days. Event organizers say that about 95,600 people attended the last one, despite the uncertain economy.

(Friesians sharing secrets at Equine Affaire/Photo by Rhonda Lane)

Three exhibit halls are packed with booths offering expert information or goodies to sell.
Every thing “horse” is available, from trailers and tack to artwork and boots. It’s like a giant horse mall.

Equine Affaire always features three major equestrian booksellers with crowded booths and multiple author signings each day. Plus, each tack shop with a booth has a shelf of books for sale, with some of them fiction.

For story research, representatives from The Tufts Veterinary School, as well as other disciplines, are stationed at booths and are ready to have their brains picked. Want to try a sidesaddle without worrying about climbing up on a horse? There’s usually one on a nice bombproof sawhorse just a few feet off the ground.

One thing to keep in mind about Equine Affaire, though, is that often some people are only available for certain days, usually on the weekend when most of the crowds come.

Meanwhile, on that same weekend, about an hour and a half away in the suburbs of Boston is the New England Crime Bake.

Like Malice, about 300 friendly writers fill the hotel meeting rooms. Lectures and panels teach us both fiction craft and police craft. Your writer peers are there, as are published mystery authors there to share their experiences and information. You can get your current manuscript evaluated and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a lousy review from which you can learn much. Agents and editor are eager to meet new talent, even just to chat in the hall. Cops and other enforcers of law are there to share their secrets.

I have done both in the same weekend. Equine Affaire runs from Thursday through Sunday. Crime Bake is from Friday night through Sunday. I have spent Thursday in a mad rush through Equine Affaire so that I can drive up to the Boston area on Friday. The smartest way to do it is to drive up to Springfield for the trade show on Thursday, spend the night there and then drive across the state down the Mass Pike toward Crime Bake.

Still, attending both makes for a busy, exhausting, exhilarating weekend that leaves one drained for days afterward.

The wild card

Then, there’s the unanticipated event. This last year, I attended neither Equine Affaire nor Crime Bake in November.

My husband and I watched the space shuttle Endeavor launch from the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center in what was said to be the last night shuttle launch. Soon, in 2010, the space shuttles will be retired. It was sort of a now-or-never deal.

After all, Crime Bake and Equine Affaire happen every year.

Bio – Rhonda Lane is a former newspaper reporter who lives in central Connecticut with her husband and three cats. She’s working on a mystery novel and her blog “The Horsey Set Net.”


Anonymous said...

please be a part of my beautiful world: ******
It is a place where thousands of active and unrestrained horse people meet, date, become friends and more in the pursuit of the same dream as you have.

Anonymous said...

Your horse is so handsome

ezra_pandora said...

I LOVE Equine Affair. Even more than All American Quarter Horse Congress. I live in northern Ohio, and both are at the same Fairgrounds at different times through the year. I like EA much better.

RhondaL said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sall and Ezra.

Sall -- I'm already married (30 years this fall), but I can understand how horsey folk should meet up. Good luck with your endeavor.

Ezra - There's something for everyone at Equine Affaire. Shopping, learning, friendly noses - and clam chowder in a bread bowl.

cyberisak said...

Rhonda - I live in Big Sky country -- Butte, Montana -- where I'm a wannabe mystery writer. Can you imagine that the local college holds graduation on the first Saturday in May? They just don't understand my dismay.You see, I'm from Derbytown, USA too. And yes, I tear up when the first few chords of 'our song' are played as well. I can't ever seem to make it back either as my husband teaches at said college above. There's no justice -except in my mystery novel series...

RhondaL said...

cyberisak - I feel your pain. At least I have the luxury of blowing off conflicting dates with Derby.

Few understand this. After these posts, I received a rather stuffy private email from a contact who's a published author who said that, when I'm published, I'll have to re-examine my priorities.

We'll just see about that. };->

Thanks for stopping by, cyberisak. I'll send good thoughts your way on The Big Day.

RhondaL said...

Thank you, Equestrian Ink authors, for granting me permission to post here.

Of course, I'll see y'all around here in the Comments section. :)

Thanks again. Y'all rock.