by Laura Crum
I think most of the folks who read this blog ride. But I’m also willing to bet that most/many who read this blog also write. Perhaps you write a blog of your own. Perhaps you are steadily working on a novel you hope will be published some day. Perhaps you keep a training journal of your time with your horse. Perhaps you’re a published author in your own right. Maybe all of the above. But I’m guessing most people who read this blog write—and probably write about horses.
Writing about riding is something I’ve done a lot of. My mystery series features an equine vet who owns horses and there are many riding scenes in the stories. Because the books must have an exciting climactic scene, there are a good many horseback chases in my novels, too. I have spent a fair amount of time dwelling on writing about riding.
Trying to make the reader feel that he/she is there on the horse-- the rhythm of the gait, the mane blowing back, the wind in the face, the landscape flashing by, the trees against the sky and the scent of grass crushed under hooves. This is the stuff I work at.
The truth is I began writing mysteries because I wanted to write about horses. I wanted to write about how it feels to ride. And I wanted to be published. I conceived the notion that I would write mysteries based on my career training and competing on western cowhorses of various sorts, just as Dick Francis had created his immensely popular mysteries founded on his career as a steeple chase jump jockey. And it worked. No, I did not become as popular as Dick Francis—not even close—but a publisher did buy my novels—twelve of them to date.
And here I am going to deviate into self promotion and point out that if you are curious as to whether I was at all successful in writing good stories that convey what it feels like to ride western cowhorses (somewhat in the vein of Dick Francis), you can now buy my first eight mysteries for 99 cents each on Kindle. Here is the link. The order is Cutter, Hoofprints, Roughstock, Roped, Slickrock, Breakaway, Hayburner and Forged. The last four books are also on Kindle, but they are more expensive as they are controlled by my current publisher. But, in order, the last four in the series are Moonblind, Chasing Cans, Going Gone, and Barnstorming.
Anyway, the topic of writing about horses and writing in general has been on my mind since I am currently teaching a class at our local community college called “How To Write and Publish a Mystery”. I taught this class many years ago (like twelve years ago—pre-kid), and was recently asked to teach it again. It was always a lot of fun, though, like most things I have done, it doesn’t pay all that well. To make a long story short, I agreed to teach this class again.
And once again, the class has proven rewarding and fun to teach. I enjoy teaching very much and am constantly surprised at how much the adult students seem to take from the class. We are halfway through and it has been a great experience for me, and, I think, for all the class. The students have each produced a synopsis and an outline of their proposed mystery and are working on the first chapter, and all the concepts have been really interesting and well thought out.
But here’s what intrigued me. These students have shelled out a fair chunk of both change and time to take this class, which is about writing a mystery. Some of them had actually completed manuscripts previously, but had never managed to get published, so wanted to refine their work. Others had “always wanted to write a mystery”, and had an idea of the book they wanted to write. And all this I understood. But there were a few who had never done much writing, had, in fact, “never read a mystery”, and had no idea what they wanted to write about. I was a bit stymied by these individuals. Why in the world would they choose to take a class like this? Some of them actually asked me how I got my ideas.
I am pleased to report that to date all these students have come up with concepts, and all but one have been able to write a synopsis and at least the beginning of an outline and this last guy has now found an idea and is on track to planning his book, so its working out OK. But it still puzzles me. The whole reason I wanted to write books was because I wanted to write about the world of horses—a world I loved with an all-consuming passion. Without that drive to convey the horse world, I don’t think I would have had much interest in becoming an author. I chose to write mysteries because I loved to read mysteries and understood the form. If I had never read a mystery, I really doubt I would ever have tried to write one.
In any case, I encouraged the students to think about their own passions—what did they really understand and love and want to talk about? And I encouraged them to read a few mysteries, so they could see what sort of thing a mystery was. And so far its going just fine. But I’m still a little puzzled.
Do those of you who read this blog and also write yourselves approach your writing the way I do? I’m guessing most of you write about horses, as that is the theme of this blog. (And by the way, I was quite disappointed to find that not one student in my class had the slightest interest in horses—usually there is at least one that is drawn to my books for the horse element.) Even if your subject matter is not usually horses, is it something else you are passionate about? Do the ideas and concepts come to you easily? If you did/do have an interest in writing a book, would it be a mystery? If you have never read mysteries or been interested in them, would you take a class on how to write them? I’m curious. All insights are welcome.