Saturday, May 31, 2008

Book Reviews and Dressage Scores

I just received my first two book reviews, a 4 out of 5 and a 5 out of 5. So I found myself fretting. I went immediately into competitive mode. What if I get a 3? What'll that do to my average? That'll really mess me up. Can I throw out a score? Can I only use my top 3 scores? Can I avoid that reviewer in the future since she obviously just doesn't get my voice? What about my "competition?" How are they comparing to me?

Wait a minute.

This isn't dressage. If I get a bad review, I can simply ignore it. It doesn't matter because with a little luck the majority of them will be good, right?


Really? This isn't a big deal? There are no year-end awards that accumulate my points and average them out or compute a median score?

Then I realized that I'd become so indoctrinated into this competition thing that I was automatically transferring it to my writing. This isn't a competition. At least, it shouldn't be. Readers read more than one author's books. If they like a certain type of book, they'll go looking for more; and mine might be similar to another writer's. So now I'm trying to calm down. If I get a bad review, I can simply ignore it. It doesn't have to count for anything. No national organization is keeping track of my points or my book's points.


So now that I'm over that minor freakout, I'm going to ask you to indulge me. Here are my reviews, and thanks for listening. ;)

Fallen Angel Reviews--5 Angels
I really enjoyed Harlee and Jake’s story. They were the perfect match for each other—they definitely had chemistry going for them. Harlee may at times seem ditzy but when she put her mind to something or someone she could be smart about it. Jake was the ultimate ladies man but when it came to Harlee it was like she was back in high school trying to get a first date. I thought Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed was a great and appropriate title for the story. Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed was fun, whimsical, and full of romance. Jami Davenport sure kept my interest going with this story. Every time I found myself starting to take a break I went right back into reading more; before I knew it I was done. I can’t wait to check out more books by Jami Davenport.Reviewed by: Cheryl

Review Your Book, Debra Gaynor--4 Stars
Goldilocks never had it this good…I have always loved fairy tales-- even fractured one. Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed is a delightful read. The characters are superbly written. Romance, suspense, and passion fill this book. I found a lot of humor in the character of Harlee. Fans of romantica will enjoy Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed.

Why Ever Did You Pick That Cover?

By Laura Crum

As the author of ten mysteries featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, I’ve frequently been asked the above question. Believe me, on some of those books I would have asked the question myself, if I had been the reader. The truth is that I didn’t pick that cover(!) In fact, I had virtually nothing to say about it.

My first mystery, Cutter, came out in hardcover from St Martin’s Press in 1994. Needless to say, I waited with great excitement to see what the jacket would look like. (For those unfamiliar with this process, it takes roughly a year from the moment of turning a manuscript in to the publisher until the finished book arrives in the mail…a long wait.) I can still remember my immediate sense of deflation when I finally saw the book. It looks like Nancy Drew, were the words that came to mind.

This was my first experience with a phenomena that I later became very familiar with. For some reason, books with horses on the cover have a tendency to look “YA” (publishing industry slang—means “young adult”), unless the cover artist is quite skillful. Cutter looked very YA from my point of view.

Still, I had no idea how dire things can get in the book cover department. Not until I saw the paperback version of Cutter. Not only did this cover also look very YA, the artist had depicted my western cutting horse with an English saddle (!) You can imagine the comments I got on that one. Unfortunately, most of the world believes that an author personally chooses or designs the cover—I hate to think how many folks may consider me dismally ignorant on the subject of cutting horses, based on this jacket.
As you might imagine, at this juncture I called up the St Martin’s art department, wanting to be sure I could have some input into the cover of my next book. To make a long story short, the answer was “not”. A midlist author (publishing industry slang for anyone who’s not a bestseller but is still getting published by a big publisher), it turns out, has very little control over what cover her book will have. I could whine to the art director about what I wanted and didn’t want, sure, and he would agree to pass this on to the artist, but the net result was that the art director was interested in his/her concept, not mine.

Fortunately Hoofprints, my second novel, had a much more pleasing cover than Cutter. Or at least, I thought so. (Not coincidentally, at least in my opinion, it sold a lot better, too.) When I praised the cover to my agent, however, she sniffed dismissively. I was quite surprised that she didn’t seem to like the jacket. Novice in the publishing business that I was, I had paid no attention to the lettering. My agent was no novice. “I wish they’d done your name a little larger,” was all she said.

Sure enough. Now that I considered this aspect, I saw that my name was printed in such small letters it was hardly legible. Another lesson learned.

Finally, on my third mystery, Roughstock, I hit the jackpot. I loved the cover, and virtually everyone who saw the book did, too. Not to mention my name was nice and big. (Roughstock also sold very well, by the way.) The cover artist, Peter Thorpe, had emailed me in the course of his work (being one of that lovely breed who actually reads the material and tries to make the cover fit), so I was able to thank him for a great job. Naturally I requested him thereafter.

This system didn’t work all the time. The art director at a big house like St Martin’s has a tendency to be a “revolving door” position. Seldom did I have the same art director from book to book. So, periodically the current inhabitant of the office would decide to replace my favorite artist with someone else, usually not to good effect. For instance my sixth novel, Breakaway, which is one of my favorite books, but also probably the “darkest” of my mysteries and the least suitable for young readers, has a cover that looks more YA than all the rest. Needless to say, I was not thrilled.

So the answer to my title question is that I have mostly had very little control over the covers of my novels, which is unfortunate, as I think many people do judge a book by its cover. I have to admit, I find it easier to buy a book with an appealing cover than one with a repulsive or boring jacket (in my eyes), despite the fact that I may be familiar with the author and able to evaluate the book more fairly on its merits. I’m a big believer in the idea that covers are very important. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that overall, those of my books that have what I would call appealing covers have sold better than the others.

Thus I’m grateful that my last two books have been published by Perseverance Press, who has been willing to use Peter Thorpe as the cover artist (and thank you, Pete, for being willing to do the work). Moonblind and Chasing Cans are two of my favorite jackets—I’d welcome your input.
Laura Crum

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Toby the Pony

By Laura Crum

In my latest mystery novel, Chasing Cans, just out this spring, my protagonist, equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, acquires a pony for her child. Toby, the pony in that story, is based on our own Toby, a pony I bought two and a half years ago, when my son was five. Toby the pony single-handedly taught my little boy to ride.

My son had been horseback since he was six months old, sitting in front of me in the saddle, but still did not like to be on the big horses by himself. Not to mention that none of the horses I had at that time were suitable as a mount for a young child. When a neighbor mentioned that she wanted to sell Toby—her teenage daughter had outgrown him and moved on to a horse—I jumped at the chance.

I’d watched Toby quite a bit over the years. A largish (about thirteen hands) mostly white pinto pony, with blue eyes, Toby was homely and phlegmatic in appearance. I had seen him packing various little neighbor girls around, bareback, double and once triple (!) Nothing seemed to bother him. He looked sturdy, solid, and reliable (and 100% sound), and I figured he was just what I needed.

My neighbor explained that Toby had some health problems (Cushings disease and a run-in with cancer) and he was twenty years old. I bought him anyway, and the very first day I brought him home, my little boy demanded to get on him. Leading my kid around the property on Toby, who never twitched an ear at anything, I knew I’d made a good decision.

In the ensuing years I learned a lot. I’d never owned a pony before, though I’d longed for one as a small child, and Toby was a real education. Ponies are not a smaller version of horses, I found. No, ponies are much smarter and tougher minded than any horse I’d ever owned. At least Toby was. Oh, and did I mention stubborn? But most of all, endearing.

Toby continued to take care of my little boy, who never once fell off of his beloved pony. We did have some minor setbacks, as when Toby tried to convince me he had no idea how to longe, despite the fact that the former owner had assured me she’d longed him often. When I called her for advice, she suggested the whip. “Every pony is a little Napoleon,” she said.

Sure enough, upon one application of said whip, Toby miraculously remembered how to longe. And this testing behavior persisted throughout our relationship, though it certainly lessened as he and I grew to understand one another.

And Toby’s version of taking care of my child wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined. As my little boy progressed from the leadline to the longe line to riding independently, Toby showed us that he had plenty of life. Indeed, at a thump from my kid’s heels, Toby was quite willing to take off at the high lope, as we found out. I still remember my son coming up the hill at a hand gallop on a route chosen not by him but by Toby, which involved leaping a ditch and ducking under a very solid oak tree limb. (After this I proceeded to give Toby a few training rides—fortunately the pony was big enough that I could also ride him. As always, it didn’t take him long to decide it was in his best interests to revert to obedient behavior.)

Still, Toby seemed to have a sixth sense about what a rider could handle; nobody ever came off of him. It didn’t hurt that he had very smooth gaits. My son was eventually able to trot and lope the pony independently, and remain in good control of him (to my kid’s great delight). Through it all, Toby remained sound and apparently healthy; he got his meds for the Cushings, shed out, looked great, bucked and played in his corral…etc. He was ridden four or five days a week on average, rarely hard enough to crack a sweat, and seemed to be enjoying life thoroughly.

We all loved Toby, most of all my son; the pony became a member of our family. He’d be with us today, but unfortunately his cancer reoccurred. We operated on him once to remove a tumor and he recovered nicely to give us another year of companionship. But when the cancer reoccurred yet again, this time in his kidneys, we made the decision to let him go. (Kidney cancer in a horse requires the removal of a kidney, a difficult operation that would put the horse through much suffering. We didn’t think this was appropriate, given Toby’s age and the fact that this was the fourth time his tumor had come back.)

Toby’s last days were spent on painkillers which kept him comfortable, and he wandered around our small horse ranch, grazing wherever he wanted, and shutting himself in his own pen every evening. My son and I said good-bye to him and told him we loved him (and if you’ve ever helped a little boy to say goodbye to a beloved animal, you know how sad this was). Nonetheless, in the green grass and sunshine, Toby dozed near us contentedly and rested his head against us; I swear our pony said goodbye and told us he loved us, too.

Toby is buried in his corral, with a stone to mark his grave. That corral is now occupied by Henry, the sorrel Quarter Horse gelding who is my son’s new mount. But Toby will never lose his place in our hearts—the magical little white horse who taught my boy to ride.
Cheers—to Toby

Laura Crum

Monday, May 26, 2008

Letter to Garrett

Last night we had dinner at my sister's house for her birthday. My 21 year old nephew Garrett was there. I want to tell you a bit about Garrett because he is one of the many young men and women now serving in our military. As his aunt this scares me and worries the hell out of me in this day and age, but I am also so very proud of him that every time I see him these days I about burst!

I was seventeen when Garrett was born. He was the most beautiful baby with enormous blue eyes and a cap full of white blonde hair. He was always even tempered and sweet. I never remember him throwing fits, and I adored him. I did quite a bit of babysitting for the first few years of his life when I would come home for the summer from school. I loved taking care of this kid. He was and still is a joy to be around.

Garrett grew as all kids do. My sister wound up moving over an hour away, had her little girl who I also adore and I didn't get to see the kids all that much at that point. I also had my own kids by then. My sister divorced and the three of them moved back closer to home. Sadly my sister had a substance abuse problem and Garrett became a bit of a parent at a young age of his mom. He was extremely protective of her and it was heartbreaking when she lost custody of her kids and they went to live with their dad and step-mom. My sister went through rehab and is a completely healthy, vibrant beautiful being (she always was, but a part of her soul was lying underneath the darkness waiting to be saved--she finally saved herself).

I would see Garrett and my niece Gillian on occasional weekends and holidays. They stayed with us quite a bit during winter and spring breaks when my sister had to work, which my kids loved. Garrett is four years older than my oldest but because of some of the emotional trauma he went through as a kid, I think it took him a bit longer to mature than other kids. Or maybe this is a guy thing, which I am now discovering on my own with my own sons. Garrett and my sons would and could play for hours on the The Nintendo or the Gameboy. When the mid teen years hit with Garrett, I honestly didn't recognize him. He grew a mustache that my dad after a finally made him shave off, he wore all black with the hanging chain thing and he barely spoke a word. We all thought, "Oh no. What has happened to our fair haired boy? Have we lost him for good?"

He loved to sketch during those years and was great at it. I'll have to ask him if he still does it.

We were all shocked to learn that when he turned eighteen he enlisted in the Air Force (for not just 4 years, but 6). I think the entire family was afraid and bewildered. Garrett had always been a very naive kid and sensitive. How would he survive the military? Not only did he simply enlist but for his career path, he chose to become a paratrooper. Those are the guys who jump out of the helicopter, get on the ground with the wounded, treat them as an EMT would and get them safely up into the helicopter. This is the kid who I changed his diapers! I played cars with him! I wiped sweet potatoes off his face! Now he wants to jump out of helicopters and go into combat zones!

The first six months of training were brutal for Garrett. He called home a lot and was very unhappy. He felt he'd made a mistake by enlisting. But as we all know the military won't let you go home just because you're unhappy. So, because he had no other choice he stuck it out. He's now been through basic training, dive school, training where he parachutes out of the planes, and is heading to Savannah soon to be trained as an EMT. During this he's had a set back during dive school where he hurt his knee and had to have knee surgery. Once healed he went back to dive school where most of these guys fail. But not Garrett. He has accomplished this and so much more.

No longer is he a skinny kid who never speaks and hangs his head. He has impeccable manners. Holds his head high. He is responsible and sweet and funny. He is built like a rock and is so gorgeous that I know girls must go crazy for him. I know I sound like a bragging aunt, but come on, this is a young man who is serving our country.

I wanted to tell you about Garrett because he is like every young woman and man serving our country. Each one dead or alive had/has a story. They have families and friends who love them and who they love. They were once little children wo we never thought would grow up because we wanted so badly to hold them in their time of innocence where they were safe. But now they are the ones out there working to keep us safe and protect our freedoms.

I don't agree with the war we're in and I don't like the fact that my nephew is one of the kids (and that is what many of them are--kids) will likely be sent overseas to fight this war, but I am so very proud of him and every one of our military personnel from those who protected us in the past to those who do it today. Today is a day to salute you and remember all that you do for our country!

Thank You and God Bless!

Aunt Shelly

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A First Love

My daughter is in the midst of her first love. She’s six and the love of her life is a Quarter Horse gelding named Pete. Pete’s a much older guy. He’s in his late twenties and has cribbed so long he doesn’t have any teeth left! Still, he and my daughter adored each other from first sight. She’s been riding him since she was four—mostly just walking around with someone hanging on to her, but they progressed together to a bit of trotting. She even learned her half seat already and he dutifully trotted through ground poles while she poised in her jumping position with the world’s biggest smile on her face.

We leased Pete for her during the summer, and when it was too hot to ride, Pete was bathed, hosed off with a cool mist, and lovingly fed treats by my little girl. I’m sure Pete was thinking ‘Not a bad way to spend the day, really.’ Since he didn’t have any teeth, my job was to endlessly grate carrots for his enjoyment. Watching my daughter and Pete enjoying each other brought such warmth to my heart I (mostly) didn’t mind making sure freshly grated carrot was always available. I did draw the line at making homemade applesauce, but Pete seemed to appreciate the store bought variety just fine.

Recently, Pete’s arthritis has been worsening and several weeks ago he fell with a rider on him. No one was hurt, thankfully, but it was wisely decided that it was time for Pete to retire. He’s living happily on a farm within a day’s drive of the barn we ride at, and there’s a new horse at the facility that would be perfect for my daughter. She took the news bravely when we told her about Pete having to move away, but the tears were swimming in her eyes. We tried introducing her to the new horse and she dutifully gave him a pat while he nosed through the bars and tried to make friends, but her heart is still with Pete.

She’s had a picture of herself riding Pete in a place of honor on her nightstand for two years now and this morning I found it on a high shelf in her room. Maybe this is her way of starting to let go, or maybe she’s just too sad to look at it. I wish I could fix this for her and I’m not sure what to do. I know in time she’ll ride other horses she’ll love very much, but the first horse my parents leased for me will have a place in my heart all his own for the rest of my life, just as Pete will for her.

For all the joy they give us, there’s sometimes sadness in loving horses, just as there is in the rest of life. If anyone has any pearls of wisdom I can share to ease this transition for her, please send them my way. Growing up sure can be tough sometimes!



Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Barn Cat

We are not cat people. Honest. I mean I like cats, but a nice barn cat that doesn't spread cat hair all over your house. Now, my husband is one of those macho guys (a former Army Ranger and SF Weapons Sergeant) that didn't like cats at all. At least, he "claimed" he didn't.
Two years ago, an orange tabby moved into our barn. Hey, I was fine with that. They're ruthless mousers, and I'm all for a friendly little barn cat.

So we fed him... And we took him in to get shots and to be fixed. In exchange, he would leave us little presents, usually headless, on the front porch. I imagine he has a trophy room somewhere in the woods where he mounts all those heads to display to his other feline friends. Even better, our mole problem is gone. We understand the moles moved to the neighbors’ lawn.

BUT Kat had greater aspirations than mere barn cat. He wanted to be a house cat.
A year ago, my husband injured his back at work and was flat on the couch for a few weeks. Day two on the couch--I came home from work. There was the cat on Dennis' chest, both of them sound asleep.

A year-and-a-half later....

If you have cats, you know the rest. He now sleeps on the couch, the bed, my husband’s chest, or anywhere else he pleases. He harasses the dogs and can send them running for cover with one withering look. He has special prescription cat food. His own little bed. In other words, he owns the place.

So much for the barn cat.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The New Horse

By Laura Crum

You might ask why a woman with ten horses would need a new horse. (My husband certainly did.) The long answer is a bit convoluted, but the short one is simple enough. I needed a new horse for those trails on the ridge across the road. Specifically, I needed a horse to ride those trails with my little boy. (Below you can see my husband's idea of horsepower next to mine.)

Now Plumber, the horse I have used as my main mount for many years, used to be a pretty good trail horse in his youth. And Gail McCarthy, my equine veterinarian protagonist, rides her “Plumber” (who, of course, is very much based on my Plumber) on many trail adventures, particularly in my novels Breakaway and Forged, and these tales were based on rides that Plumber and I did together. However, these rides took place ten years ago, and in the ensuing time Plumber has been used mostly for arena work, primarily team roping, which he enjoys and is very good at. Somehow Plumber has become convinced that trail horse is not his job description, and when I attempted to reintroduce him to this pleasure, he responded with clear dismay.

As a well-broke horse (I broke him myself, so of course I’m going to say this), Plumber knows better than to buck or balk or offer any obvious resistance, and it isn’t that I’m unable to take him on trail rides. It’s just that at nineteen years of age he doesn’t seem to enjoy steep hills any more and prances anxiously if he feels he’s falling behind. Not to mention he’s decided the woods are very scary, why I don’t know (Gail’s fictional Plumber meets a cougar on the trail in Breakaway, but this has never happened to the real Plumber), and he jigs and spooks constantly at his own shadow as we troop through the trees and brush. Oh, and did I mention he hates the beach? From his earliest years he’s detested crossing water, from muddy ditches on up, and the surf is not his favorite thing. Ride after ride, meant to be a pleasant horseback stroll, was rendered a dismal trial by his anxious behavior. Most of all, he was making it difficult for me to concentrate on my son, who was having his first experience of trail riding on his new horse, Henry, a gentle, solid, bomb-proof mount.

“I need another Henry,” I told my husband. “A horse that will just cruise along the trails and let me keep my focus on my kid.”

And why, I told myself, torture Plumber, who is nineteen years old this spring and has been a great horse, packing me and my child for many years and winning numerous awards. Why not let him do what he’s good at and enjoys?

And this is why, several months ago, I purchased Sunny, my little palomino plug, to ride the trails.

As all you horse folks out there know, a new horse is both a pleasure and a challenge. New talents to enjoy, new quirks to get used to, and always a few suprises. I don’t call Sunny my palomino plug for nothing. He’s more or less a flunked out team roping horse, not athletic enough to be very successful. He was sold to his previous owner to be a trail horse for her teenage daughter and for the last three years he’d been reliably packing this girl down the trails. Now she’d moved on to other things and the horse was for sale once again. While Sunny wasn’t a particularly well-broke horse (which I knew, having ridden him when a friend was using him, or trying to use him, for team roping) he was said by one and all to be an excellent, bomb-proof, anybody-can-ride-him trail horse.

Sounds perfect, right? It did to me, too. It doesn’t hurt that Sunny is cute, a 14.3 hand bright gold palomino with dapples; he looks a bit like an overgrown pony, not fancy, not refined; short, sturdy and somewhat out-of-place among my well-bred Quarter Horses, but definitely cute. He’s very personable, too, happy to meet you at the gate or stand socializing with you over the rail. And he is a good trail horse, solid, steady and reliable. My son and I have been on many rides together since I bought little old Sunshine, cruising the trails on the ridge and down on the beach, and my new horse has been great, vastly improving our enjoyment of these expeditions. The price was right, too.

I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right. There is a catch. I discovered it on day two. Sunny kicks.

This came as a complete surprise to me. I thought I was buying a family horse, something my husband and son could also handle and ride. I thought I was buying a nice, gentle, doggy, dude horse, in effect. A little palomino plug.

When, on the second day I had him, I went out to catch the horse and Sunny turned his butt to me and fired a hind foot in my general direction, I was shocked and dismayed, to put it mildly. The former owner had known I wanted Sunny for a family horse, she had told me he was a bomb-proof trail horse that she used for beginners, and he kicks???

Well, come to find out, he’d kicked her daughter and he’d kicked at several of the beginning trail riders she’d put on him. Yes, he was bomb-proof when you were riding him down the trail. You had to watch him on the ground, though.

Great, just great. I was moments away from hauling the horse right straight back where he came from, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I’d had a couple of great rides with my son already, and, as it turned out, Sunny had never hurt anyone. He’d connected with the woman’s daughter more or less by accident and didn’t even leave a mark. His habit was to kick at people in a defiant gesture, a show of resistance rather than a genuine attempt at injuring anyone.

In any case, I gave Sunny a couple of lessons with the end of the lead rope and he never again kicked at me. Indeed, he was a perfect, well-behaved mount at all times and I grew very fond of him. I soon discovered that his kicking was a form of testing behavior, a way to determine dominance. Though he would no longer kick at me, who he’d accepted as his boss, he would offer to kick anyone else who walked out to catch him. (Needless to say I don’t let my husband or son handle Sunny and I have strict rules concerning the horse.)

Sunny has become my horse and he has many traits I treasure. He has enabled me to take my son on so many wonderful rides on routes I never would have attempted with a little boy were it not for the fact that both Sunny and Henry are such solid, reliable trail horses. Never a spook, a crowhop or a balk is seen, rarely a stumble. Neither horse has any tendency to jig; both walk calmly under all circumstances (both out and back). Neither lunges or scrambles when climbing or descending steep routes full of step ups and step downs. Both wait with endless patience and without so much as batting an ear, on the shoulder of our busy country road (complete with motorcycles, trucks, buses and bicycles) while we wait to cross. Its been a real gift.

And Sunny goes just as quietly and reliably alone, something I’ve also valued, as I do occasionally get out for a solo spin. On the beach my little palomino plug will trudge willingly through the waves, Henry following gamely behind to my son’s delight. In short, so far my sunshine yellow horse has been worth the extra precautions I take in handling him. And he looks so cheerful out there in the corral.

So, at least for the present, my new horse is a keeper. I’ll let you know what the future brings.
Laura Crum

HEX . . .

by Kit Ehrman

My sister and I share a passion for equine mysteries which began way back in 1977, when I discovered Dick Francis’s IN THE FRAME--the fateful book that shoved my life’s path off course. After reading ITF, I read every book that Francis had published at the time, quit my government job, and went to work in the horse industry, where I stayed for 25 years.

I also introduced Francis’s mysteries to my sister, and thus began a gift-giving tradition between us. Francis’s books are released in October, so every Christmas thereafter, my sister would give me his latest release. I have to admit, it was sometimes tough waiting those two months before I could get my hands on his next mystery, but the wait was always worth it.

Nowadays, when my sister stumbles upon other equine mysteries, she passes them along to me once she’s read them, and HEX by Maggie Estep was one of those books.

HEX is not your typical equine mystery, though. The main character, Ruby Murphy, eventually goes undercover at Belmont Racetrack; although, the equine element is secondary, story-wise, to Ruby Murphy’s unique life and friends. You could even say that the mystery is in third place--HEX not being your typical mystery. In fact, if no one had been murdered in the entire book, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

What HEX is, is beautifully written, fun, and compelling. The lyrical, intelligent writing comes as no surprise since Estep is a poet. The book’s format is different, as well, consisting of possibly five, first-person, point-of-view narratives.

One horsey aspect that I found quite interesting and unique was the description of a horse stable in Harlem (I believe) near the beach. Okay, New York’s geography is totally obscure to me, so I have no idea if this is even remotely possible, but . . . it sounded cool. I wonder if the place truly exists.

HEX is followed by two other Ruby Murphy mysteries: FLAMETHROWER and GARGANTUAN. I’m looking forward to reading both. For more information, visit Maggie’s website:

Happy reading and riding,

Monday, May 12, 2008

Doggie Woes

I know on this blog we talk a lot about horses, but today I think I'll change it up because I need help with a problem and I'm hoping someone out there might have a good suggestion or two. Today I'm writing about dogs. I think many horse people are also dog lovers. It does seem to go hand in hand. I'm not sure why that is, maybe we're all simply animal lovers.

So, we have two dogs. They're wonderful dogs. They keep me company while I write all day. They like to go in the car with me. They wait patiently for breakfast and dinner and they are just good dogs all the way around. One of the dogs is a big, actually HUGE Rhodesian Ridgeback. Ridgebacks were bred in Africa to hunt lions. Basically they're big hound dogs. Our Ridgeback is named Java and his favorite past time is to sleep. I can't ever imagine this dog hunting lions. He's a tad spoiled. He used to sleep in the bed with us until I finally had enough. He weighs as much as another person at 115 pounds. Now he has a dog bed in our room and he gets a blanket put on him every night because he gets cold. This was something my husband started and I used to think he was being ridiculous, but you will now find me every night covering Java up. However, our big lug of a dog is not the problem.

We have another dog and her name is Miley (yes we watch a lot of Hannah Montana around here). We got Miley when she was about 4 months old last year at the pound. We think she is half shephard and half lab. She is the sweetest, smartest dog I think I've ever had. She's playful, good with the kids and is a good listener. But here is the problem--she paces the house all night. She gets a ton of exercise because we run them daily at the dogs' beach, but it doesn't matter. She paces. I know this is likely a guarding thing and I should be grateful that she is on the look out, but we have hard wood floors (not a big house either so I can hear her from the back to the fornt easily) and I am a super light sleeper, so it's a problem. Not only does she pace, she will get in her bed (in our room too), for a bit, then get up and pace, then jump on our bed and lick my face, then get off and it goes on like this all night long. What is she trying to tell me? She's been exercised, fed and watered and given a lot of attention throughout the day. Now we do know she was likely abused before we got her and we have worked through many isssues around shyness that she had. She is still a bit insecure, but she trusts us completely. Do you think she paces because she's anxious? I'm just curious as to what some of you think, because I'm tired. Of course right now she is sound asleep.

We'll get through it and I think eventually she'll learn to sleep when her family sleeps, but if anyone out there has any ideas on what I can try please let me know. I may have to go and take a nap. I think if I tried to write right now it would be a jumbled mess.



Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Sense of Accomplishment and a Big Cheer

Hi everyone,

I am so excited to have finished my novella, Never Steal from a Leprechaun. It centers around a wonderful equestrian facility owned by a charming witch. She has an assortment of delightful, magical friends who help create an unforgettable evening for Susan Mallory and her niece Jennifer. When they’re trapped on the farm by an ice storm on St Patrick’s Day, Jennifer is delighted to spend an evening at her favorite place on the planet—a horse farm.

Susan is not quite as thrilled. Trapped with them is Dr. Brad Conway, the very handsome, brilliant surgeon to whom she’s been afraid even to say hello. By the end of the evening they do much more than say hello while Susan learns there are many kinds of magic in the world.

My magical moment this week was the sense of accomplishment which comes with completing a story that’s been milling around in my head for months. The characters poke and prod at me and I’m forever getting ideas for scenes and running to grab any scrap of paper to write them down on. Since I’m sometimes chasing my two year old twins at the same time, I have all sorts of notes written in crayon on the corner of various coloring books. Since my kids are as horse crazy as I am, sometimes I’m writing on pages from horse coloring books, which at least goes with the theme of my writing!

I’ve had similar moments of accomplishment on the back of a horse, usually with dint of much effort. My wonderful Topper was a very talented hunter, for example, but really resisted going in a frame. We always cleaned up in jumper classes, but flat classes were a challenge.

The first trainer I had with Topper told me he simply wouldn’t go on the bit and that was that. She was encouraging me to think of Topper as my transition horse and think about selling him. When I moved to a second, more advanced trainer, he took the statement that Topper would never go on the bit as throwing down the gauntlet and we were off and running. I remember he would be schooling Topper, holding him in a perfect frame while I stood enviously by wondering what miracle had just occurred and how I was ever going to replicate it. This talented trainer also had a wicked sense of humor and would chant in mimicry of Topper’s expression ‘I hate my life, I hate my life’ while Topper was having to arch and move correctly. Topper did look awe-inspiring and I was determined to accomplish this task.

Many months of sweat-filled labor followed, and I never achieved the same ease as my trainer, but there were those blissful moments when Topper would come together for me and we had that amazing union of horse and rider that makes all the work in the world worthwhile.

Topper and I had always had that wonderful chemistry over fences, but the hard work it took to achieve a flowing partnership on the flat made the accomplishment all the sweeter.

Never Steal from a Leprechaun started with all these ideas in my head, but pulling it together on paper was a challenge. The work my characters put me through was reminiscent of the hours my trainer spent with Topper and me. Bend and counter-bend was invading my dreams while I learned to put Topper on the bit and recently my dreams have been invaded with cheerful antics by leprechauns and witches that I rose at odd hours to work at bringing to life on the page. The reward is here now with a completed story I hope you will all enjoy. More info to come and in the meantime happy riding!


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Serendipity . . .

by Kit Ehrman

I give a lot of thought to my characters’ names, both human and equine. When I was writing my Kentucky Derby mystery, TRIPLE CROSS, I needed to name several Thoroughbreds who would become characters in the book, and as a necessary component of the mystery, I needed to develop their pedigrees, too. I wanted the pedigrees to sound familiar to the reader, so, I turned to the Jockey Club’s foal registry.

I also wanted to make sure that my story’s equine characters (the ones who lived and breathed in the story and won or lost races, etc.) were not named after horses currently racing. So for those horses, I used the registry to make sure I wasn’t duplicating a real name.

Anyway, Steve’s father was running a racehorse, Gallant Storm, in the Derby. One of his main competitors, and a significant character in the book, was Gone Wild. I liked that name for him because his connections’ wealth came from Kentucky’s oil and gas exploration industry where “wildcat” is a common term. So, once I decided on Gone Wild, I had to find a pedigree to suit him. I decided that his sire would be the very real Gone West.

So, I’m down in Louisville for Derby week, 2005. I stayed Derby weekend at the fabulous 1888 Historic Rocking Horse Manor on 3rd Street. As is tradition, the manor’s guests draw names, and if your horse wins, you win the pot. Well, who should be running that year, but a colt named Going Wild? And whose name did a draw? Yep, you got it. Going Wild.

1888 Historic Rocking Horse Manor in Louisville

Unfortunately, we both lost.

But the names keep cropping up. A couple of weeks ago, I met a dear, elderly woman at a book club event in Cincinnati, the kind of person you feel you’ve known your entire life. She’s eighty-three and only quit riding two years ago! Her current horse is a Thoroughbred who didn’t really care for racing, and guess who his sire is? Gone West! She was so tickled to find a reference to her horse’s stud in the book.

Keeps me wondering what other connections are waiting to be made.

Happy riding and reading,

Sunday, May 4, 2008

My Misadventures with Gayliena, Continued

First of all, a big thanks to our guest blogger, Laurie R. King.

I left off a few weeks ago with Gailey being hauled in a trailer with a wasps nest in the manger--unknown to me. I was at a horse show. When I tried to load her, she was having none of that. Finally I looked in the trailer and found the nest, but it was too late. She'd once again found reason to believe that the trailer wasn't a good place to be. It took me three hours to load her that day.

I'd entered her in another show in Oregon a few weeks later, and she actually loaded in about a 1/2 hour. When it came to time to load her after the show, it took over six hours! She'd try to go in then she'd get scared and throw her head backwards then hit it on the trailer. By the time she loaded, I was in tears.

So it was back to the horse whisperer. For six months she stayed at his farm in eastern Washington. Finally, he called to tell me that her trailering phobia seemed to be insurmountable and dangerous to her and him. He wouldn't work with her anymore, as she was too nice of a horse, and he couldn't live with her possible death on his conscience.

By that time, I'd bought a newer, BIGGER trailer for her, thinking that would help matters. It didn't. I was at my wit's end. I had an expensive show horse that I'd mortgaged my house to buy, and I couldn't haul her to shows. My dream horse had turned into the biggest nightmare.

In desperation I asked if he'd tried to load her backwards. He hadn't thought of it. A week later he called back. The mare was loading backwards without hesitation. That was five years ago. To this day I back her into the trailer and haul her backwards. I haven't had a problem loading her since thanks to the persistence of a that trainer.

So now you know the rest of the story.
(Photo by Showcase Imagery)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Guest Blog by Laurie R. King

I've known Laurie R King for well over ten years now (she writes about our meeting in the guest blog below) and I can't praise her mystery novels too highly. She is an incredibly gifted writer who has won numerous awards and been featured on The NY Times bestseller list, and most of all, her books are great fun. Almost as prolific as she is talented, Laurie writes a mystery series featuring Mary Russell (Sherlock Holmes young wife and partner), a series featuring San Francisco cop Kate Martinelli, and numerous stand-alone thrillers, of which the most recent, just out this last January, is Touchstone (I highly recommend this book-and all of Laurie's books). Laurie visited equestrianink, enjoyed our stories, and volunteered to write a guest blog-I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Be sure to check out her ebsite and blog.
Virtual Book Club:
web site:
web log:

Thanks, Laurie!

Laura Crum
By Laurie R King

I've been friends with Laura Crum since her first manuscript was in copy edit. We were both with St Martins Press then, and shared the same editor as well. I'd been through the process a couple of times, and she, faced with a manuscript bristling with changed commas and snippy remarks, phoned to introduce herself and to get my advice. (Which largely consisted of, It's just the copy editor's opinion, feel free to ignore it if you disagree.) Since then we've picked each others' brains any number of times, I most recently when I needed the name of an old-fashioned rose for a Duke's estate, in Touchstone--Laura's the expert gardener, as well, who actually likes the process.
But mostly, Laura knows horses. Her books' equine vet, Gail McCarthy, works the gamut of the horse world, from dressage to roping to trail-riding to the current barrel-racing setting in "Chasing Cans" (love the title!) I, on the other hand, am more or less required to bring the
occasional horse into my books, because I write a series set in the 'teens and twenties, when horses were still in daily use.

However, I know nothing about horses except that they're really tall and hard to steer. One of the few times I sat on a horse's back, as a teenager, I ended up flapping my arms and legs fruitlessly, causing the thing to turn its head and glare at me. I ended up getting off, leading it where I wanted to go, climbing back on, and riding back-and since we were then headed to the barn, we moved at something alarmingly near a trot.

That's the extent of my horse life.
So it cracks me up when someone writes, as happened recently on the Virtual Book Club discussion of my novel "The Moor": Russell's experience on Red is so realistic, I am sure that either LRK rides or she was given very good input from a rider. Like Russell I have ridden a horse who shied in a distinct side jump leaving me suspended in the air with the horse no longer beneath me, so that I quickly plummeted to the ground.
It so happens that Laura and I were talking about this very passage over our recent lunch. Now, Laura is well aware that I don't know from horses, but either she's even more polite than I had realized, or she actually does think I write about them believably. Which would amaze me except that I also write about cops and I'm not a cop, and I write male rotagonists although I'm never been a boy and lesbian protagonists although I'm not, and I've written about Vietnam from a soldier's point of view and about a woman who has blinding headaches and about the life of an artist and- And every one of those has brought in a remark about how the reader assumed I was a lesbian or I must be someone who has been plagued by headaches or know cops really well or.
Well, you get the idea.
Either I lie very well, or I have a rich imagination. It must be the latter, since (as with most writers) scrambling for a story under pressure leaves me red-faced and stammering, although, boy, afterwards I sure am clever. But how to tell a story about a matter with which you have no
personal experience?

Well, research helps. If I had to write about an injured horse or what to feed a horse, I'd ask Laura about it. But surely a lifetime of reading Walter Farley followed by Dick Francis, while not exactly qualifying you for riding a black stallion in a steeplechase, does at least leave a niche in the mind labeled "Horse Personalities"?

Because what I'm writing about in the books is not a horse with teeth and hooves and hair that needs brushing, but a personality. In the case of "The Moor," Red the shying horse is also misogynistic, saving his worst behavior for when there's a woman in charge. A minor quirk, of no great importance to the plot (although it underscores the attitudes of the various human males in Mary Russell's life at the time,) but adding color and dimension to her ride across Dartmoor. I suppose if Laura had protested that it was unrealistic, that no horse would do that, I might have taken it out, but she didn't, and I didn't. Because whether it's horses, cops, homeless people, or Vietnam vets, when you know them well enough, it's the quirks that define the character. And it's the quirks that build the character on the page, even when the writer is making it all up.

Thank God for that. Otherwise, I'd have to learn to ride.