Saturday, January 31, 2009
I started writing them down and drawing little pictures to go with before I could read.
"Mom, how do you draw D-O-G?"
I was so intent on sharing my stories I didn't care how it was done. I would draw a picture, try to write it down, act them out for my little brother or simply let them rumble through my mind, saving them to tell another day.
I stood tall and proud as I told my first grade class about our family summer vacation in Africa. I told everyone about our camp set up in the middle of the jungle.
My heart pounded and my hands shook as I told of the wild herd of giraffes rampaging through our camp.
My eyes filled and I choked back a sob while I related the shattering experience of my father being run down, in a heroic effort to save his children.
I stared each one of my disbelieving classmates down as I described the giraffe hoof prints that travelled across his back, "...to this very day!"
My closest contact to the African velde was watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom on Sunday morning. But as I watched Marlin Perkins send his good man Jim into one more lion's den I disappeared into the screen. I rode those zebras and wrestled the biggest crocs.
As I stood in front of Sister Mary Francis Brown's class at St. Thomas Apostle telling my tale, I could almost believe it had actually happened.
And so it went. As a second grader, playing in the woods of a suburb outside of Chicago, I became so lost in the forest I threw myself sobbing in a giant pile of leaves. I rolled over on my back, staring at the fading blue of the late afternoon sky, knowing for sure I was going to die alone.
A kind and concerned old woman stopped and tried to console me. I told her of my dark and cold days, how hungry I was, how I was looking for my puppy and lost my way.
She kindly offered me her hand, tears rolling down her cheeks, when my mother called from across the street, "Janet! Dinner time!"
There was no way to convince the old woman I was as shocked as she was, so I simply ran home.
I stood at the top of the stairs, listening to my mother explain to the embarrassed and angry woman how I had only been out for an hour. I was a little different, yes. No, I didn't have a puppy.
Her voice sounded tired. Maybe a little amused.
I wondered if I might be able to have a puppy.
I wrote story after story. As I grew older the horses played a more important role in all of them. I learned to keep my stories on paper. I wrote of wild stallions, magical unicorns, good old cowhorses.
In junior high I wrote of race horses who could never win, cowponies who died pining for their best friend, a good dog.
In high school I wrote a story about an angry girl and her beautiful horse Raphael. They travelled back in time and found the place they really belonged. I worked on it for two years. I drew hundreds of illustrations to go with it. It ended with the girl not knowing what her fate would bring. Her horse died.
As I grew into adulthood I still wrote the occasional story. I had to. The stories still raced across my mind. Sometimes I just scribbled a few notes so I wouldn't forget. Sometimes I would tell the whole story. They weren't about horses anymore.
I learned the difference between the reality of my life and the fiction of my stories. But they still protected me from the parts I didn't want to see.
Then I started this wild blog thing.
I wrote the truth, but only the parts that didn't hurt. Then I went ahead and wrote about some of the hard parts too.
It's funny. When I started to finally write about the real deal, things began to happen. I got a job as a writer. My real stories are what have begun to bring me success. My real life with horses is what has brought me into this new life as a writer.
But I still have these stories.....
Thursday, January 29, 2009
So, I left off last post somewhere in the mid 1990’s. I have (finally) achieved my goal of becoming a published author. Not only that but my books are being published by a major New York publisher (St Martin’s Press). They are coming out in hardcover and paperback. I am getting mostly good reviews. I am invited to do book signings and go on book tours. I get inquiries about films. I make more with each contract. Sounds great doesn’t it? Why don’t we see your books on the bestseller lists, you ask. Yes, indeed. You might well ask that.
Now we get down to the difference between my fantasy vision of what its like to be a published author and real life. In my fantasy, once I’m published, its all gravy. I grow rapidly richer and more famous as my books catch on with all those folks out there who enjoy horse-oriented mysteries. Dick Francis and I are running neck and neck on the bestseller lists. Right.
What actually happened is pretty much typical. Many, many mystery series featuring female protagonists got their start just about when I did. Very few of them are still being published today. I count myself lucky to have a contract for book #11 in my series. But I am by no means rich and famous. I had a great deal to learn about the publishing biz, and not all of it was positive.
The first thing I learned was that these big publishing houses have a “revolving door” approach to employees. Very few people stay in the same position for more than two years. This is almost an axiom in the publishing world. My editor, a mainstay at that house, was there the whole time I was with St Martin’s (or I wouldn’t have lasted for eight books), but every other single person I worked with came and went with great regularity.
Why is this a big deal? Let me give you an example. My first two books came out in hardcover and paperback. (Cutter and Hoofprints). But by the time my third book (Roughstock) was released, the paperback editor had moved on and a new one came on board. He promptly ditched all the midlist (not best sellers) authors in the line and picked out some new midlist authors of his own. My editor lobbied to get my books back in the paperback line. To no avail. By the time my fourth book came out, the company had folded that paperback imprint. Never again did my books appear in paperback (from St Martin’s).
The art directors came and went. Sometimes I got a great cover, sometimes an awful cover (an English saddle on my western cutting horse, for instance). I very rarely had anything to say about it. Just about the time I would achieve a friendly relationship with the current art director and begin to feel we were on the same page regarding the look my covers ought to have, said art director would be gone and a new and often stiff necked critter would take his place. I would have to start over with the explanations of the difference between Western and English horse gear and was often reduced to begging for a cover artist I liked. Sometimes to no avail. It was frustrating.
The publicity people came and went. The assistant editors came and went. Other than my editor, I was unable to form a long standing working relationship with any one in the company, because they were always leaving. It was frustrating. Very little publicity was done for my books. They still got good reviews, but by book #5, Slickrock (which got excellent reviews), it was obvious to me that my series was dropping into the black hole called “midlist”, and that nobody at St Martin’s was going to make any effort to change this situation.
By this point I was getting a little jaded. I no longer had much interest in book tours or book signings. They hadn’t made me rich and famous and I begrudged the time they took from my real life (by which I mean my family, horses, garden…etc). The ego gratification I had imagined I would feel at having this minor version of fame hadn’t turned out quite as I’d pictured it. I was still the same person I had been pre-publication. I was not the somehow better, more glorious creature that I’d envisioned. Yes, I was now a published author. People occasionally recognized me at the grocery store (which is not all that great when you’re wearing horse manure stained jeans and sporting unbrushed hair, I might add). Yes, I could still walk into a bookstore and see my name on the spine of one of those books. I could still do a booksigning and find a crowd of people eager to hear me speak and buy my latest mystery, but somehow this wasn’t the be all and end all that I had imagined it would be.
I had never liked the endless mystery conventions, or cared for the required shmoozing with other authors, editors and agents. (I’m an introvert. I like being home with my family and critters.) Popularity in the mystery field is judged (somewhat) by winning various awards, and these awards are usually (not always) won by authors who attend the conventions and hang out with “in” people in the mystery field. (Lets face it, panels of these convention-going authors are the ones who nominate the award winners.) I was rapidly becoming an “outsider” in the mystery world, that rare author who doesn’t go on book tours or to conventions, who hopes and expects that her work stands for itself. Unfortunately, the business doesn’t operate that way. Just like showing horses, whether your work is good or lousy is not always the bottom line. Its who you know, how you play the game. I wasn’t playing.
Above and beyond my own idiosyncrasies as an author, the climate in publishing was changing as my sixth book came out. The NY publishing houses were merging and being bought out. Soon half a dozen big entities owned all of the formerly independent publishing companies. St Martin’s was bought by the German company that owned Henry Holt. But my editor was still there and she still liked my mystery series. I continued to get a contract for each new book, while many authors I knew (and who were at least as successful as I was) were dropped.
Things continued to change. The trend was for big, dark, stand-alone thrillers, not amateur sleuth series. I still got a contract, yes, but the last two books I did with St Martin’s, I was offered less money, not more. I took it. I knew good and well that it would be very unlikely that another big house would pick up my series. Such series were no longer the “happening thing”. I could see the writing on the wall.
In the end, I decided to leave while I was still on good terms with St Martin’s. I knew the editor of a small press that specialized in mysteries. She’d been my copyeditor for years and we worked well together. She had said that she’d like to publish my books if ever I wasn't with St Martin's. I decided the time was right to make the move. I thanked my editor at St Martin’s for her long time support and we wished each other well. And Perseverance Press published my ninth and tenth novels in trade paperback.
So, at this point I have been for fifteen years and ten books a published mystery author. I am now published by a small California press as opposed to a big New York house. The differences? I make less money. But I have much more control over my books. Perseverance Press makes a huge effort to turn out beautiful well crafted books. Everyone involved really cares. They are a stable group; it’s the same people from one book to the next. They let me have lots of input on my covers. They work at publicity. They are very happy with my “numbers” (how many of my books they are able to sell). I find the whole process much more enjoyable. Between foreign contracts, large print contracts and royalties, I still make almost as much as I did the last few books with St Martin’s. I'm grateful. I still consider myself lucky. As I said, I know many authors who do not have a contract right now, due to no fault of their own.
The climate in publishing is very different from the mid 90’s, when I “broke in”. Most people would say that the big New York houses are all struggling. Well known authors who have been on the best seller lists are out of a contract. A woman I know who has a very respected New York agent was told recently that there was absolutely no point in submitting a first time author’s work to any New York house right now. They just weren’t buying. Other authors on this site have pointed out that New York currently thinks horses don’t sell. So, I would say that if I were trying to break in today with my mystery series, I’d probably have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting published. At least by a big New York publisher.
What would I do? If I wanted to write a horse related mystery series and get published these days? Look at the small presses, probably. Though its not that easy to break in with some of them either, especially the more traditional ones. Perseverance Press specializes in publishing established mystery authors who are no longer with New York publishers (and there are more and more of us to choose among). Look at internet publishing options. It seems to be the way many authors are going. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do. I offer my story just to give you an idea of some of the ins and outs of publishing. I truly don’t mean to discourage any one. And just as fashions have changed dramatically in the publishing world in the fifteen years that I’ve been involved, it is certain that they will continue to change. In time, perhaps, the climate will once again be favorable for aspiring authors of horse related fiction to “break in”.
Here’s to that change coming soon.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Nothing in my past would ever have hinted at my becoming a published author. Nothing . . .
I didn’t particularly like writing. I still remember a supposedly “spooky-scary” story that I wrote for a ninth grade creative writing class. It had a decent opening—heavy fog moving in off the ocean and a feeling of doom—and, well, that’s as far as I got. My teacher scrawled “Where’s the ending?” on the top of the page. A technical writing class in college further confirmed that writing was not fun and not for me.
When I think about it, I wasn’t even a voracious reader, but I did become a fan of mysteries, and I’m sure that’s where every writer’s journey begins. Somehow, I skipped over Nancy Drew, the Hardy boys, and Agatha Christie. My introduction to mystery came with the incomparable Sherlock Holmes followed by an obscure collection of George Bagby mysteries that I devoured, and finally my discovery of Dick Francis in 1977. Though I had no inkling of the momentous nature of this event—finding my first Francis, a Reader’s Digest edition of IN THE FRAME—I was taking my first step toward becoming an author.
After reading IN THE FRAME, I read every Francis published at the time, quit the government job I was working, and went to work on a horse farm. That job was followed by stints at the track, delivering foals on breeding farms, returning to college to become a vet assistant, and more horse jobs.
Flash forward twenty-some years. I was a stay-at-home mom with three boys, ages three, four, and five. I had two horses of my own and some borders in the barn. Reading was a pleasant release from my daily routine, and of course, I gravitated to mysteries.
On July 22, 1996, I was nearing the end of a mystery, and I was disappointed with the decisions the author made in letting her protagonist do something that I thought was so stupid in an obvious effort to push the story into an exciting climax. I decided I could do better.
So, why did I think I could do it? This sounds kind of weird, but when I would read, especially a Francis novel, I’d wake up with his voice running in my head. I know. Weird, right? But I had full confidence in myself, and when I began writing, I couldn’t turn it off. I was so thrilled. Those early months of discovering a story were the best I’ve ever had in this business. I was infatuated. Enthralled. I was God of the world I was creating, and I was having so much fun.
I completed the initial draft of AT RISK in three months. As usual, I threw myself into the project and studied tons of books on writing . . . took classes . . . joined a critique group. Because I was exploring the process and essentially teaching myself to write, the early draft was way too cumbersome. I spent the next two years tightening and revising AT RISK (I’d estimate the manuscript went through twenty complete revisions) before I decided to market it. Even so, I began marketing before the manuscript was ready, but when it was ready, it was picked up by Poisoned Pen Press, the second largest publisher of mysteries in the country. And it went on to be extremely well reviewed, including a review in The New York Times. Visit my AT RISK website page.
Like Laura said, getting published depends on both luck and perseverance . . . and skill. If I hadn’t kept revising and improving the manuscript, if I hadn’t been afraid to make changes and put substantial time and effort into the project, the manuscript never would have been picked up. Luck comes into play in finding a receptive reader, because writing and voice and subject matter and the actual execution of the work are all so subjective. Timing’s important, too. If the publisher had just released an equine mystery, they’d be unlikely to look at another so soon.
The publishing climate was different in the ‘90s, too. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to query agents or editors, so I queried both and found a publisher before I found an agent. Interestingly enough, on the whole, the rejections I received from editors were much nicer than the ones I got from agents. In today’s market, though, more and more publishers are closing their doors to submissions from writers, preferring agents to perform a vetting service first. And it’s getting harder to break in and harder to stay in the game once you are published. Despite the seemingly dire publishing climate, readers still need new books to read. Agents still need to pick up new clients. Editors still need to acquire new manuscripts, so don’t give up.
Next time, I’ll post some specific pointers and ask some hard questions for those looking to get published.
Happy reading and riding!
Monday, January 26, 2009
I wrestled a bit with the title for today's blog. It was between "Wishing They Could Talk," and obviously I settled on "Know Thy Horse." I did so because I realize they're never going to be able to talk to us, but they do communicate with us. The key is being able to translate their specific language, and I believe each one of them has individual ways of communicating with us. Some nicker, some whinny, some kick up their heels and run like hell, etc.
Well, I didn't "listen" to my daughter's pony Mister Monty too well last weekend. Little Monty is a good guy. He takes great care of my little girl. He packs her around, is a good teacher, only gives her enough of a test when he feels she's ready, and he has one of the kindest eyes I have ever seen on a horse. He has an occasional buck in him, but never with the kid on him. He gets ridden six days a week and a turnout on the 7th. We do our best to keep him happy and so far I think it's working.
Last weekend though, my little one got up on him for Pony Club. hHe'd been ridden the evening before by her and the day before that by the trainer. He'd been out everyday, so none of us felt he needed lunging or a turn out.
Walk, trot around the ring was fine. He looked a bit strong but my daughter is a good little rider and none of us were concerned. And, then she had to canter...Mister Monty threw out a little buck and was faster than usual. The kid stayed on. The teacher had her bring him down and start over. This time, the pony let out a few good bucks. The kid still stayed on. I was scratching my head and so was her regular trainer. We were both about ready to tell the pony club instructor to bring Monty and my daughter out so the trainer could work with him, when the little rascal took off around the ring and pulled a full on bucking bronco act. This time the kid came off. We dusted her off, gave her a hug and were all relieved that she was fine. However, I had this feeling in my gut that said something was wrong with Monty. On the flip side of that feeling, I was pretty irritated with him that he dumped my little girl.
The trainer took the pony and my daughter into the round pin and they lunged him for quite some time as he bucked and ran and bucked like crazy. Then the trainer got on him and rode him for a bit. Then my daughter got back on him and by now he was a perfect gentleman. Yeah, well...this is the part I should have listened to my gut, and the pony. We get him cooled down and put away. About thirty minutes later, I go back in to get my horse out (she is stalled next to him), and Monty is panting and sweating. I took a listen on either side of his gut--and you probably know what I heard--nothing. Monty wasn't trying to be a nasty guy in the ring with his kid, he was colicking and trying to run away from his pain. He was trying to tell us that he felt miserable. Let me just say that I felt horrible and so did our trainer--really, really horrible. Thirty minutes later my vet was there oiling him. Thankfully, Monty was much, much better by the next morning, and he's completely back to his sweet self. I am, however, still feeling like a bad mom--and boy, have I learned my lesson: "If you're horse isn't acting like your horse, start asking questions."
I did tell Monty later, "I know you felt bad, but you have to find another way to tell us, rather than dumping your kid."
I'd love to hear from readers about their pet communicating experiences (they don't have to be about horses). I do think animals "talk" to us, but sometimes we don't really listen. I, for one, am going to work on my listening skills.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
I tried the big publisher route and came close with two books, garnering both agent and editor interest. The problem is I'm a deadline person. Give me a deadline, and I'll meet it. Tell me to do something whenever, well, doesn't really work. For about five years, I'd been fiddling around with my writing and not really getting anywhere. I'd been working on The Gift Horse for three years and couldn't seem to build up enough steam to finish it. I needed a deadline. I needed someone telling me that the book had to be done by a certain date.
So about a year and a half ago, I decided to shed my small press snobbery and investigate this option to publishing. A lot of things entered into this decision, but I'll highlight the major ones. I needed a structure and motivation to write. As I mentioned, I needed deadlines. I wanted some real experience with editors in the hope that they'd make my writing better and point out plot holes and character issues that a critique partner didn't see. I wanted experience promoting my book, and I wanted to build a name for myself. I also wanted to write what I wanted to write, not what was selling in New York.
Being the type of person I am, I started researching small presses. Once I narrowed down the list, I contacted authors with those presses. I bought some of their books. I researched what makes a good small press. I wanted a small press that offered both print and ebook formats. I also wanted one that distributed their books to all the major book distributors. And I looked at their covers. Let's face it, covers sell books. Then I submitted to those small presses.
Within 48 hours, I had a contract offer. I poured over the contract, showed it to some author friends, and compared it to other small press contracts (which you can often find on their websites). It seemed reasonable and straight-forward. All the authors with this small press loved the publisher and had nothing but good things to say. I even paid for a business background check to make sure there weren't any credit issues.
I accepted the offer on January 1, 2008. I've now sold three books to this small press and have one more under contract. I never regretted my decision for a minute. Small presses are a very viable alternative to publishing, especially if you're interested in writing equestrian fiction.
The big publishers seem convinced that most equestrian fiction doesn't sell well. Small presses have less of an investment in time and money, so they're more willing to take a chance on books that don't fit the big press mold of what sells. I've read many small press books that are honestly as good or better as what larger presses put out; but because they didn't fit in a marketing niche, New York publishers wouldn't take a chance on the book.
You won't get rich writing for a small press, though I personally know several small press authors who make a good living. The name of the game is to be prolific, especially in the romance genre. The more books you write, the bigger your readership.
Would I like to be published with a large press? You bet. It's my long-term goal. But for now, I'm happy writing what I want to write and knowing there's a market for my stories.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Our new blogger, Janet Huntington, who writes the very popular Mugwump Chronicles blog, has suggested that it would be interesting if we wrote about the various paths we took to publication. This is also a question that comes up at virtually every booksigning and talk I’ve ever done. Many readers are interested in finding out how they can get their own writing published, and who can blame them? Before my first mystery novel was published, this was the thing that I wanted to ask any published author I met. How do I get where you are? I want to walk into my local bookstore and see my own name on the spine of one of those books. What do I have to do?
I wish there were an easy answer I could hand you. Do this and that and you have a good chance of getting published. But it isn’t that clear cut. Unfortunately it’s not the more talented writers who get published, necessarily. Though talent is certainly helpful. I would have to say that luck plays as big a part as talent. By this I mean being in the right place at the right time. To quote a line from a Jerry Jeff Walker song, “And luck is mostly attitude and timing.” Maybe, to some degree, we can make our own luck. But some factors are outside our control.
Anyway, I am happy to tell the story of my own route to publication and to give what insights I have on making your own luck. Jami has already done a good job of describing the various avenues to publication that are available today, so I’ll try not to repeat too much of what she said. Essentially there is traditional publishing, comprised of the big “New York” publishers, and the smaller presses, which are located all over the country. Then there are the various forms of internet publishing, including “print on demand” and “ebooks”..etc. Then there is self publishing, where you pay someone to publish your book. This last is not considered being “published” by anyone involved in traditional publishing. That doesn’t make it wrong. But for those of us involved in the publishing trade, being “published” means that somebody pays you for your work; you are not paying them to publish your book.
Any one can publish a book via self publishing if they have the money to pay for it. So, enough said about that. As for the various versions of internet publishing, I know these are growing in popularity, and Mary and Jami, who are published this way, have explained a lot about it. I truly know nothing about this area of publishing, but understand that more and more authors are turning in this direction, due to the current developments in traditional publishing.
So, on to traditional publishing, which is the only way in which my books have ever been published. First of all, I have to say that my knowledge here is pretty out of date. The time when I was trying to “break in” with my first novel was the early 1990’s, which was a very different climate in the publishing biz. Female protagonist mystery series were just starting to take off and become wildly popular, led by Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. There was great demand for new series of this type. You get where I’m going with this. It was an easy time (relatively) to break in.
As a lifelong fan of Dick Francis, a wanna be author, and a trainer of cutting and team roping horses, I had the bright idea to meld these three passions into a mystery series that featured a female horse vet who operated in a world dominated by western horses, much as Dick Francis’ protagonists operated in a world dominated by the steeple chasing he knew so well. I’ll skip all the convolutions I went through to get to this concept; suffice it to say I’d completed three finished manuscripts over a three year period before I wrote the one about Gail McCarthy, the veterinarian.
In those days there was no such thing as internet publishing and very few small presses that specialized in mysteries. Virtually everyone who got published in the mystery field was published by some New York based house or other. But, in those days there were also a great many more independent New York houses to submit to. They hadn’t all been bought out. Last I heard, today there are half a dozen entities that own all the big publishing houses. But I digress.
In this era no one got published unless he/she acquired a respected literary agent. The New York houses, in general, did not accept submissions from authors. The editors were only interested in submissions from literary agents they trusted. Said agents worked only on commission (things have changed in this area, too, or so I’ve heard). In any case, acquiring a literary agent was possibly the biggest hurdle an aspiring author had to jump. Since the agents worked on commission and didn’t make a dime unless they sold the work, they didn’t take any work that they didn’t truly believe they could sell. This weeded out most of the (excuse my French) crap. Which is why editors only took submissions from literary agents.
So my career as an author really took off when, after plenty of rejections, a literary agent agreed to represent me. How did this happen, you ask, or I imagine that you do. Was I just more talented than all the other aspiring authors submitting manuscripts? I doubt it. I think I had a good and timely concept. I pitched it as a female western spin on Dick Francis. At that time, there was only one other horse oriented female protagonist series out there (as best as I can remember). There were no western horse oriented mystery series at all. The agent liked the concept. I don’t think she was crazy about my writing. She was a former editor (many literary agents are) and it showed. She had me rewrite that ms for an entire year, over and over again, before she would send it out. At one point she told me, “I don’t like the tone, I don’t like the plot, I don’t like the villain and I don’t like the protagonist.”
You can imagine my response. “Uhmmm, what do you like?”
“I like it that its about horses and its set in Santa Cruz.”
Great. Just great. You can see how much rewriting I had to do.
In the end, I managed a version of the book that she found acceptable and she started sending it out. Both she and I conceived of the book as a paperback original and she sent it to all the paperback houses. Imagine our mutual surprise when, a year later, after several rejections, the series was picked up by a woman who was one of the senior (and most respected) editors at St Martin’s Press, one of the big New York hardcover houses. I was thrilled, to say the least. Being published by a big New York house in hardcover is sort of the Holy Grail for most aspiring authors.
My first mystery novel, Cutter, was published by St Martin’s Press in 1994. I could finally walk into my local bookstore and see my name on the spine of one of those books.
Okey dokey. I was now a published author. Things looked very rosy. My books were coming out in hardcover and paperback. I got mostly positive reviews. I was asked to do book signings and book tours. I hung out with other published authors who were much bigger names than I was. Film people made inquiries. I was offered more money with each subsequent contract. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? It was certainly my dream come true. Well…
I’ll skip the long discussion about the difference between the dream version of being an author and the reality. In fact, I really need to get back to work on my 11th novel, so I will continue this story on my next post day. But I’ll leave you with this insight. If you were to ask me why I was able to achieve my goal and become a (relatively) successful published author, when so many others fail, I would have to say that I was lucky. And that my luck was indeed, mostly “attitude and timing”. I pitched a workable concept at the right time. I persevered with my writing through many years of rejections. I would not have succeeded had I not done so. But if I were trying to break in with my mystery series in today’s publishing climate, I wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. At least of being picked up by a big NY publishing house. Why? See Part Two of this post in a couple of weeks. (And feel free to ask any questions you want in the comments.)
Here’s to all aspiring authors: May you all be as lucky as I was!
Sunday, January 18, 2009
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.
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.”
Saturday, January 17, 2009
But I have operated on my own schedule for the past 15 years or so. I have to admit most who know me would say I have always done so.
I also have spent years working extraordinarily long hours. My routine for years had been to drive the hour long trip to the barn and clean and water my stalls and pens before I began to ride. I averaged six head a day, often went up to ten, sometimes slid down to four. I always had a lesson or two to give during the day. I rarely headed home before dark.
Most horse shows involved getting up at three a.m. to hit the show pens, be it in Denver or Texas it always seemed to involve me getting up at three and going to bed at the same time the next day.
Now I work 30 to 35 hours a week. I sit at a desk. I'm allowed to daydream, cruise the 'net and take breaks. It's called research in my new life. I have enough energy at the end of the day, or early in the morning, to take my dogs for a run, read the comics, cook dinner for my family. Things I'd given up on ever having the time for again.
So what's my problem?
When I was a horse trainer my time was still my own. I could go to the doctor, stop at the store, grab lunch with friends on a cold day.
Suddenly I'm never getting to the bank in time to deposit the check I really needed to deposit. My library books are waaaaay overdue. We're picking over the dried stuff in the back of the fridge before I go to the grocery store.
And what about my horses? I never see them! When do people with jobs ride? It's crazy, dark and cold early in the morning and it's dark when I get off work. I don't have an indoor arena anymore, or a nasty boss to force me to ride in sub-zero weather. My horses are fat, hairy and wild little billy goats. They love it, I hate it.
When I took my new job I truly had a little fantasy of how things would be.
How hard can 35 hours be? I thought.
I'll just knock out my job, ride my in town horses after work and my pasture horses on the weekend. It will be like a vacation. I told myself.
In all my copious spare time I'll bond with my daughter, start pursuing getting some stories published and get up early to start writing that book.
Maybe I'll start baking bread.
Oh my God!!!
What was I thinking?
When you have a job your employers actually expect you to be there! Even when you're all caught up, you still have to be there! Doing other stuff!
Also writing for a newspaper is really hard. I have to think. It's killing me.
I have five horses. I honestly thought that it would be no big deal to keep up with them all. It's only five. Of course now I have five wild little mustangs to rebreak so I guess in a way it's easier than before. I'm afraid to crawl up on them.
So how do you guys balance it all?
If you don't, how do you live with the guilt?
How in the world do you get a book written?
How do you get your horses ridden?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I’ve posted often about my own horses, which I loved dearly, but today I’d like to post about some very special horses and riders I’ve had the honor to be associated with. My husband and I do fundraising whenever possible for an organization called Equine-Assisted Therapy and I volunteer there when possible. They offer therapeutic riding to persons with physical and metal disabilities. The instructors and volunteers are among the most giving, caring people I have ever met and the horses seem to know the importance of their job.
These instructors and horses guide the students through games and activities designed to help muscles relax and muscle tone improve. I’ve seen riders start where they were bent almost parallel with the horse and after a few months they would be sitting almost upright in the saddle. The look of unconcealed joy in the eyes of these students melts my heart. The simple movement of the horse simulates the motion of our own walking. The feeling of freedom they have on the back of the horse is unparalleled for them.
Besides working on fine and gross motor development and core strength, they work on cognitive and psychosocial factors as well. The instructors go through extensive training. They have great kindness and ingenuity in the way they incorporate therapy into fun games. I’ll never forget my first sight of a horse that had been painted by a very happy little girl. He stood with such dignity while painted an amazing array of fluorescent colors!
The instructors use puzzles, rings, reining, scavenger hunts, beanies on shoes, rings on toes, egg n’ spoon, and an almost endless variety of fun activities, all on horseback. For many of the special needs children in this program, being a horseback rider and bonding with the horses is the highlight of their week.
I am always in awe of the consummate courage of these children and their families and the amazing way they achieve great things every day. If anyone is interested in volunteering or making a donation, their web site is http://www.equine-assistedtherapy.org.
My sincerest admiration goes out to the people and horses of Equine-Assisted Therapy and most of all to the riders. You are all heroes to me.
Here’s a video from the barn and a second from a local television interview about the program.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Anyway, my little one and I make the commute everyday after school, except for Tuesday and Thursdays. I let her take those days off to just have play time with school friends or relax at home. I try and make Thursday a kind of day off for me. I teach in the morning and then I go to the horses for the rest of the day and play on my own. I ride my horse and then pop the pony over a few jumps (he's a large pony--Gypsy Vanner). Thursday tends to be my favorite day of the week. I love going out with my daughter, but on Thursdays I don't have to keep a tab on her, so it's a bit more relaxing.
One thing I've noticed about being at a barn is like any place--be it work, home, school, etc--it has its own culture. There are a variety of people out where we ride and they make up this culture. Being a writer, I've kind of studied it and entrenched myself a bit into it. It's almost like there's three or four separate families out there--like a neighborhood. The barn has a mish mash of people and horses. We aren't a hunter jumper barn, or a dressage barn, or a western barn--we are all of it and more. We even have a few people who drive.
There are the pony clubbers (like my kid) who tend to be out there daily after school. The kids range from 8-18 and they are obviously all passionate about the horses. Moms are all involved because we have to be, and within the moms there are only a few of us who are "horsey" people, so even there is a bit of a sub-culture that goes on. I think I'm the only pony club mom at this point that actually rides reguarly.
There are the hunter jumper people (i'm kinda in that group, too). They are a cross-over from older pony clubbers into women of all ages. This group tends to be the more serious group (as far as quiet, reserved). We're all for the most part in the main barn, we all blanket nightly, we all give supplements and we all make sure our horses at least get out for a stretch of the legs daily. The dressage group is like this, too. However, the one thing I notice about those ladies is that some of them never ride their horses. They saddle them up and hand them over to a trainer and that sort of strikes me as odd. I guess they just like to groom and watch. You got me.
Then we have the cowboys and cowgirls. Now I have to admit that this is the fun group. Not to be stereotypical here, but this group tends to swear a little more than the others, have a beer or two (sometimes before noon), and hang out when not on a horse, shooting the breeze. They cut cows, they rein (spins and sliding stops--all that) and they just seem to ahve a goold old time. Plus they have some great stories.
There isn't one group I prefer to hang out with over the other. It is interesting to see how all of these people interact and get along, and they do. Everyone gets along with one another. That's the thing about horse people--no matter what "sub-culture" they're in, the bottom line is that they all have a passion and love for the horse. I believe it's that commonality that keeps peace around the barn. It's knowing that we're all better than those outsiders who don't know anything about how wonderful the animal is. LOL.
Anyway, I'd love to hear about your barn stories or if you have an interesting culture at your barn and how it all works together. Write a comment and let us know how things work where you ride.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
First of all, you need to understand some terminology, such as small press, large press, vanity press, and print on demand. In the interests of saving space, I posted this terminology on my author blog.
We'd all love to sell to a large publisher with a huge advance and be on Good Morning America and Oprah. The chances of that happening are slim to none. So you wrote a book and now you want find a home for it. Let's assume you're not interested in self-publishing. Let's also assume you've tried the large publisher route or truly believe you aren't ready for the big-time yet.
Should you consider a small press or e-publisher and why? Here are some of the pros and cons of small presses to help you make your decision:
Pros (What working with a small press can do for you):
- Provide a viable option for books that don’t fit into a New York niche. (Small pubs can afford to take risks). Equestrian fiction definitely fits into this.
- Gain valuable experience (which can look good to a large publisher).
- Learn to promote your book and yourself.
- Gain experience working with editors and publishers on professional duties such as cover art and edits.
- Prove you can meet deadlines.
- Provide encouragement to finish the book and write more books.
- Build name recognition the publishing business.
- Improve writing and editing skills.
- Reduce the number of discarded and destroyed paperbacks. GO GREEN!
- Make valuable contacts with other authors and the book publishing industry.
- Build confidence in your writing.
- Enjoy less pressure.
- Enjoy more creative freedom.
- May receive more personal attention from publisher and staff.
- Easier to find your books, longer “shelf” life, don’t go out of print.
Cons (What working with a small press can't do):
- Low pay and royalties, in most cases, considering the time investment by the author.
Risky if the small press isn’t stable and established. (But then NY is risky as editors move around and lines close all the time. They may tie up book for a few years and never publish it.
- Time-consuming, as you often perform the tasks that large publishers would do for you, such as promotion, blurbs, cover art suggestions, etc.
- Lower quality of editing in some cases.
- Limited chance for book to be in bookstore.
- Requires extensive research of different companies. (Not all small presses are created equal in royalties, editing, and business practices. Talk to authors, do a background check, search the Internet)
- Limited possibilities for booksignings.
- A smaller market of people to buy your book.
- Limited distribution on your book.
- Lack of respect in many circles.
- Limited reviews—may be harder to get reviews
If you are considering the small publisher route, do your research. Check out that publisher carefully. I actually paid for a business background check on the company and the owners to make sure they were stable. Anyone with an Internet connection can start up and small publishing company, so beware. Make sure they send their books to distributors and don't just sell via their bookstore. Find out if the book will be offered in print. Make sure the contract offers clauses to get your rights back if the company folds. Also, email some of their current authors and make sure you like their covers.
I hope this has helped some of you that are considering taking your writing to the next step. I'll be running a more detailed "workshop" on small pubs on my blog in the next few weeks. So you can check there for more information.
BTW, I had a GREAT ride on my mare yesterday. My trainer is out of town so I had a lesson from the assistant trainer. I enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes, it's good to get a different eye. Anyway, I'm excited to ride again. I haven't felt like this a while.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
First off, I have to say how thrilled I am that Janet Huntington is posting here on Equestrian Ink. She is a wonderful writer, as well as a talented horse trainer, and I have so enjoyed reading her blog, “Mugwump Chronicles”. Her stories will often bring me back to the days when I trained horses, rather than writing equine mysteries. This was awhile ago; the last colt I broke and trained is thirteen years old now. But the memories are still vivid and my mind goes back easily to the many young horses I rode and the particular problems they presented. Not so long ago, reading one of mugwump’s great “Sonita posts”, I was reminded of a horse I trained for my team roping partner, a mostly Thoroughbred gelding named Rebby.
Rebby comes into my mind easily enough, because I am still taking care of him, now that he is a twenty something year old horse and retired. My old team roping partner and I keep our retired pastured horses together and share the chore of feeding them, and several mornings a week Rebby comes charging in to see me, ready for his flake of hay. I can’t forget him.
I had never really trained a Thoroughbred horse before Rebby; all the horses I rode when I was working for reining and cutting trainers were cowhorse bred Quarter Horses. All the colts I trained and rode for my uncle, who raised Quarter Horses, were foundation bred QHs. All the horses I’d ever bought for myself were QHs with cowhorse breeding. Rebby was a 16 hand appendix registered QH, which means for all practical purposes that he was a TB. His mother was a TB and his sire was a running bred QH, which means mostly TB. So there you go.
Initially I saw this as no big deal. Rebby was four years old and had had ninety or so days put on him by a not-all-that-handy cowboy. He was gentle enough to ride, if ignorant, and with a tendency to stick his nose out and prop when you stopped him. My friend and roping partner had got him cheap and wanted me to turn him into a rope horse. I said sure.
My first impression of Reb was positive. I had never in my life ridden a colt who could pick you up and carry you at the lope the way this one could. I felt like I was floating when I rode him. Collection came naturally to him. Maybe all TB horses are like this, I wouldn’t know. Rebby was naturally cowy; I had no problems getting him to hook onto a cow. He was also naturally bold; I had no problem getting him used to the rope, either. He had no tendency to spook sideways; he had no inclination to buck. None at all. There ends the list of things I had no problem with.
My first indication that Rebby was a little odd came when I first caught him and led him in to be saddled. Rebby walked right on my heels….I mean right on my heels, breathing down my neck. There was no malice in it; he just wanted to be right on top of me. I backed him off. I did this again, and again, and again. I backed Rebby off the top of me endlessly. I wasn’t gentle and kind about it either. I really seriously did not want Rebby on top of me, stepping on my toes. Rebby never seemed to truly get this. I had to correct him at least once or twice a day. I was puzzled. I didn’t get it why he couldn’t get it.
Then one day I ran into his former owner. She mentioned that she’d rescued the horse from a woman who had run out of money and couldn’t pay the board bill. This woman had raised Rebby herself. His mother had died at birth. You guessed it. My project was a bottle colt. No wonder he wanted to be right on top of me.
This information explained a lot of Rebby’s behaviors to me. He was gentle but pushy; he required to be set down several times a day. But he never had any ill intentions at all. Okey-dokey. Bottle colt.
The next problem I ran into was also a new one for me. Did I mention that Reb was a TB and I had never trained a TB? Reb liked to run. He liked to run hard. Where a cowhorse bred horse is likely to spook sideways when startled, Reb never did this. He bolted forward--his version of a spook. Charge was Rebby’s first response to everything. I could never really get used to this; Reb’s saving grace was that he was both gentle and bold and didn’t “spook” that often. But once we got to chasing steers, the “run factor” assumed a whole different dimension.
Rebby would chase a steer all right. He would charge after a steer with great enthusiasm, and he could really run. But Rebby had no intention of slowing down when he got to the steer. Reb wanted to beat that steer to the finish line. He had every intention of sailing on past and winning the race. I briefly considered telling my team roping partner to sell him as a bulldogging horse.
Instead I worked on teaching Rebby to answer when I checked him, which turned into a very long project. For details on how I did this, and other insights on stopping, see Janet’s post today on her Mugwump Chronicles blog. I’ll cut this short by saying that, eventually, I taught Reb to back off when I pulled on the reins and his career as a team roping horse took off. My partner loved Rebby, once I got him trained: everybody admired him. I was proud of what I’d accomplished with my little TB bottle colt.
The end of the story? Unfortunately Rebby broke down at ten years of age. My partner hauled him to a major equine hospital where they diagnosed him as having a strained sacroiliac joint. Reb didn’t seem to be in pain, but walked, trotted and loped with an odd waddle in his gait. He had always been such a kind and well-intentioned horse that my partner decided to retire him to the pasture to live out his life as long as he was comfortable. I agreed to help take care of him. And Reb has remained stable for well over ten years now; he still has that odd waddle, but can gallop up for his hay with enthusiasm. It makes me happy to see him, knowing he’s had a good life; at the same time it makes me sad that he broke down so young. Its one of the reasons I eventually turned away from team roping, as I once turned away from cutting and reining. I don’t like to see the number of horses that break down in the course of competing (not that these events are any worse for horses in the long run than jumping, western pleasure, or any other competitive event).
These days I don’t train horses, I write books about horses. (Now there’s two lucrative pursuits for you—maybe I’m not too smart.) I still enjoy riding my broke horses in the arena and down the trail, and I am happy to report that I’ve had no breakdowns lately—knock on wood. But every time my partner and I look at Rebby we shake our heads ruefully, and one of us has to say, “Wasn’t he a great horse?” I’m sure all you fellow horse people will understand.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. Mine zoomed past in a maddening blur. Now that we have less kids living at home, we decided to downsize and put our house on the market a couple of days before Christmas. The weeks preceding Christmas day consisted of cleaning, packing, painting, and moving what felt like half of our belongings into storage in an effort to declutter. And you know what? I really like living in a lean, sparse house. With so many belongings in storage, I’m beginning to think we didn’t really need much of that stuff anyway. When the time comes, it will be interesting to see how much of it I want to move into the new house.
If we do sell the current house, this will be my fourteenth move. Lucky for me, I enjoy moving because it forces me to organize my possessions, not to mention the fact that I love change and get bored if I’m in one place too long.
Anyway, while I was packing, I came across my copy of The Crumb, a young adult novel by Jean Slaughter Doty. If you haven’t read her, I recommend you do. She deals with abuse issues in the show jumping world, so her books aren’t light reads, but they are wonderful reads. While looking for a cover photo, I discovered that Doty has published quite a few equine novels, and I’ll be looking for them. To learn more about her, check out this website: http://www.janebadgerbooks.co.uk/usa/doty.html.
Her writing is lovely and I highly recommend her for young adults and adults alike. In my search on the Internet, I was also reminded of a wonderful resource for finding equine reads: Ponydom. Visit them at http://www.ponydom.com/books/index.html.
Here’s to a great year of riding and reading!
Monday, January 5, 2009
As a writer I'm in a limbo state, which isn't the most comfortable state to be in. I am in between contracts on the wine mysteries with Berkley not making any commitment right now (never a good sign), and my horse mysteries have been cancelled (apparently horse stories don't sell, which I think is horse pucky), so what is a writer to do? Well write and pray realy hard. On the flip side of the negative stuff is that during this limbo time I wrote a new book (fingers crossed it will sell), and three new proposals, plus I have another book ready to go. So, now is the hurry up and wait game that writers go through. We get the work done, send it to our agents and then we wait, but while we wait we write and thankfully for this group we also ride.
I'm not sure what I would do during stressful times (and being in writer limbo is stressful) without my horses. For me, as the afternoon winds down and I pick up my youngest and we head out to the barn it is like this sense of relief washes over me. I know once I get there that everything else will be turned off for at least a couple of hours. My focus is on my horse Krissy and Kaitlin and her pony Monty.
There is something so soulful and peaceful in being around the animals. Once I'm riding, my focus can't be taken off my mare because she has been known to act just like a mare and do silly things, and for me that's good. My mind isn't filled with dialogue, narative, sometimes clutter. It's filled with heels down, bend to the right or left, pick up the right diagonal (I am diagonally dyslexic), relax my elbows (i have stiff arms), breathe, counting strides and as my trainer always says, "down squeeze," when I'm posting. There is no time to worry about plot points or if I'll ever get a contract again. Once I'm finished riding and Kaitlin is finished, then it's all about feed and supplements and blanketing and hugs and kisses and little peppermint candies or carrots (yes, the horses are a tad spoiled). Boy do I hate to leave the barn. My husband was wrong the other day when he said that I could spend hours there--I could spend my entire day there. But then I wouldn't write, and I know that it's the writing and riding that are my driving passions (other than my family), so contract or not, I will keep on writing. And you know that I will keep on riding.
For those of you who read my previous posts about Krissy's lameness issues, well, here is the update. She is sound after chiropractic, accupuncture, B-12 shots,hock and a left stifle injections, and a slow regimine back. Thing is I will have to follow a strict maintenance protocol to keep her happy and sound. My vet has determined that she likely cracked her pelvis at one time. Hopefully she stays happy and sound. So far so good as lately she's been really fresh, which tells me she feels pretty darn good. That's all I got for now.
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
One of my fondest, clearest memories is riding my bike down the street, chasing my herd of invisible rabbits. My rabbits ran with the speed of light. When I jumped off my bike and threw myself in the grassy field behind our house my invisible rabbits would swarm around me. I could feel the cool silk of their fur slipping past my ankles, the sharp little points of their toenails scraping across the tops of my bare feet. I would reach down and feel the tickle of their whiskers across my palms. Sometimes my favorite, Blackie, would crawl into my lap and let me pet him. I could feel his hard muscled little body sliding under his fur, his heart fluttering a staccato beat under my hand.
The worst were the nights of terror. Monsters and skeletons, images from the television or stories told late at night in my sister's bed, whirling through the dark,jerking me awake and screaming for my parents. Still seeing the nightmares in every shadowy corner even as my mother soothed me.
These memories are sharp in my mind, much clearer than the endless agony of school, the boring routine of church, the slow crawl of rules and requirements .
I was the little girl who sat in the back of the class, daydreaming out the window. The kid who ran around the playground whinnying, too busy perfecting my gallop to talk to anybody else.
I knew no line of definition between reality and fantasy, I was branded a liar, a teller of tales. My stories got me in endless trouble. I was probably in the third grade before I realized nobody else saw my invisible rabbits. Nobody else knew the horses who came to my window at night and whiffled through my screen. When I talked about the sweet smell of their alfalfa breath on my face I was either talking out of turn or telling another lie.
So I began to draw. I drew my rabbits, the monsters and especially the horses. The older I grew the more I drew horses. I rode my bike as hard and fast as I could over the bumpiest roads I could find, practicing to ride the horse I knew was coming to me someday. I drew him, my fantasy horse, over and over. His name was Raphael. I drew my model horses who came alive and danced in my window sills as I lay sleepless at night. I drew the black horse who pulled me out of the misery of motion sickness, racing our car across the prairie. His coat shone with the sun as he leaped gullies and climbed mountains, always keeping pace with our Vista Cruiser, no matter how long the road trip.
My lies and tall tales became beautiful art hanging from our refrigerator.
My life became grounded in reality when I got my first horse, Mort. For the first time, life was better in real time. It was better to be aware, better to see the world for what it was. Horses made it easy to put away the stories. Horses made it worth my time to begin to see the world around me.
So now, my life with horses has made it time to go back to telling stories. Now I can see the difference. The stories I want to tell come from my reality. My understanding of where to draw the line. Now I choose which side of the line I stand on.
I'm going to be working on what to write and what to do with it. I'll be throwing some ideas around on this blog. Some of you might know me from my blog, http://www.mugwumpchronicles.com/. If so, you know I've recently retired from being a horse trainer for many years. I'm writing for a living now, working for a small rural newspaper. I'm starting to explore the idea of getting published. Being invited to write here seems like the next logical step in my progression. This is going to be cool. Real cool, if you catch my drift. Later.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Happy New Year!
I’ve seen in the comments section of Equestrian Ink that people are interested in how we got started as authors. My path to publication was windy to say the least. I always had a love for writing and music. I was editor in chief of my high school newspaper, worked on the literary magazine, was active in the choral and drama clubs…Well, you get the idea.
By chance I had an opportunity high school to volunteer at our local hospital and a job in the emergency room followed. Fate is funny, right? I abandoned my intrinsic leanings toward all things artistic and decided health care was the career for me. My father, despite the cost of eleven years of music lessons, was determined to be supportive, although I’m sure he had a mental picture of all those dollars spent on my music sprouting little wings and flying out the window.
I did, and still do, love the health care industry. I earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s degree in epidemiology and was working toward my doctorate when fate stepped in again. The research I had been working on for more than two years lost its funding source and I was informed I would have to start over with a new research project for my doctorate.
Disillusioned to say the least, and not sure we would be staying in the United States as my husband had taken a position with a British company, I took a job doing research for a medical communications company. My boss decided I had a flair for writing and nurtured it. (Hmm…seeing something circular here?) I wound up building a career in medical editing and informatics and before I knew it I was running a large editorial division of a medical communications company.
Still, in my heart I had always yearned to write fiction. The next questions was what kind of fiction did I want to write and how do I get started. Since I was on bed rest with a twin pregnancy, I had lots of time on my hands so I started in writing a novel that wouldn’t require a great deal of research (since I was mostly restricted to the four walls of my room) so I came up with the idea for an equestrian novel, since I know the horse world inside out. The next thing I realized was people want something to hold their interest. Well, I figured romance always holds my interest and mystery comes in a close second. Thus, A Dangerous Dream was born.
Having a completed novel in my hand, my next question was ‘Now what?’ Being a researcher by training, I took to the Internet. I discovered Romance Writers of America, became involved with the organization and learned how long the road was between writing your first book and publishing it. There were a number of routes people took. Some started with smaller e-publishers. Others continued to refine their work to aim it at New York. My husband came up with a good solution for me. He pointed out how much I’d learned from A Dangerous Dream. He said if I published it with a small publisher, wouldn’t I continue to learn from it?
I couldn’t argue with the logic of this. I sent off two query letters to reputable e-publishers and got a contract offer! The experience of publishing was invaluable. I learned a great deal about marketing, promotion, and the importance of developing a ‘platform.’ I also had the opportunity to interact with many wonderful professionals in this industry and begin to build a network.
The best surprise of all was the positive reviews I received for A Dangerous Dream! Praise is a marvelous thing and the knowledge that people enjoy reading my books gave me the incentive to keep going. I’m working on my third novel now and can’t imagine ever stopping.
So for anyone out there who is working on a novel or has completed one and is seeking publication, keep going! You’ll get there!