Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Writing About Riding

                                               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.


Belea T. Keeney said...

Like you, I'm a bit perplexed by writing students who don't read in their genre and don't have a driving need to tell a story. I usually end up asking them a key question: do you want to tell *this* story and that's it, or do you want to "be a writer"? Because those are two different horses to lead, ya know?

And it's perfectly okay to have just one story to tell; memoir writers are often of this stripe, and it's fine. But if you want to "be a writer" then you probably have some work to do, some studying to do, and a lot of writing to do.

Laura Crum said...

Yes, good point. I was most puzzled by those who had no idea what story they wanted to tell. But I do realize we all come from different places as we embrace the "writer" role.

Anonymous said...

I've never written anything long-form, if you don't count all the things I've written in college or for work over time. I love mysteries, but don't know that I'd have the imagination for it. I'm more attracted to non-fiction, and my horse blog is very satisfying to write. I partly write just to clarify my own thinking, and hope that others find it interesting as well although you never know what a reader will make of it.

I've often been intrigued by science writing - John McPhee comes to mind - and if I were to ever write fiction it would probably be science fiction, which I like perhaps even more than mysteries.

Francesca Prescott said...

I'd love to write a book involving horses; so far I've not come up with a storyline that has "taken on a life of it's own" the way "Mucho Caliente" did, or (to a lesser extent) the way my other unpublished manuscript did. I think about writing a lot, but for now I'm happy writing blogs for Equestrian Ink, taking care of my house, garden and family, and riding my horse. I'm pretty sure the full-time writing bug will, at some point, bite me again. I'm waiting!

However, if were in your position, teaching a class, I'd also be surprised by students who claim to want to write a novel not being more specific on what they want to write about. Then again, maybe they're intimidated, not necessarily by you, but by the formidable task of actually jumping in and writing something so "big". Maybe they signed up for the class hoping to lessen their intimidation, but haven't as yet managed to do that. Just trying to "feel it out", and put myself in their shoes...

Grey Horse Matters said...

Having read a lot of mysteries I would love to take your class, I'm sure it's interesting and chock full of information. As for the students who signed up and haven't read a mystery or don't know which way they want to go with their story telling, maybe they just wanted to take a writing class. I think some people just like to gather information about writing and see if it interests them or if they think they have a talent for it. I've taken a few college courses in writing with the same teacher. She had us read P.D. James and some other books too. Mostly for the writing style I would think.

Of course, I'd love to write a book about horses and other scenarios. I do have a few ideas floating around in my brain. Unfortunately, they'll have to stay there for now until I have more free time to dedicate myself and energies to full time writing. I have a hard enough time trying to find time to keep posting on my blog.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I like writing blog posts, too. Perhaps more than I like writing fiction. And I really enjoy reading your posts.

Cesca--I, too, feel busy enough without trying to write yet another novel, which is why "Barnstorming" will probably be the last in my series. And I do understand how overwhelming it can seem to emark on a book-length manuscript. I certainly felt that way myself when I started out writing mysteries.

Grey Horse--Funder said that to me yesterday (we got to meet and have lunch). Some people just like taking classes. This is certainly NOT me, so it was interesting for me to realize that maybe my students were coming from that "exploring" point of view. Thanks for the insight.

Val said...

I think that sometimes people sign up for a class like that because they are hoping to be inspired, even if they do not know much about the topic of the class. It sounds like you were able to deliver for those students. Consider that a success for yourself as their teacher!

I love to write about my horse and horses in general. I completely understand how your passion for horses fueled your mysteries. Writing about what you know and what you love makes it a pleasure.

Laura Crum said...

Val--That is a really good insight. And its true, those particular students have expressed quite a bit of gratitude and also excitement that they now know what they want to do. Thanks for the comment.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

It took a while before I realised that one writes creatively from a place deep within. The Shadow, some would call it. A repository of stored away aspiration, fantasy and other peculiar material repressed by the conscious mind. In writing I bare a part of my soul. Perhaps for some people the idea of writing appears, however what comes out - if truly and authentically personal - isn't quite what they would like to share with the world. There are times when, having written something deep, I feel naked and exposed. At that point one has to both care and not care. The repressed stuff, of course, has the potential to fascinate readers. It gives them a foil to project onto.

I guess that I started off wanting to write about horses and riding, however what emerged was quite different. Horses figured, however gender and identity were the issues that really got explored.

Laura Crum said...

WHP--I think you have done a great deal of work on both what you want to do with writing and also personal exploration--what you want to do with your life. What sort of surprised me about some of my students was the fact that they seemed to have done NO work of this sort. Many of them seemed (to me) to be a bit confused about what they wanted to do--period. It was as if they were hoping that writing might fill a gap in their lives--even though they'd never tried it and were unsure what they wanted to do with it. Since this is very different from the place that I came from when I started writing mystery novels, I had to think a bit when it came to how to inspire these students and get them going.

Thanks for the insights--very interesting, as always.

Kramer's Mom said...

Sir Dick Francis! How I loved his wonderful and exciting stories. I really miss him. It's great that your books can be purchased & downloaded on Kindle. My husband has a Kindle & I'm going to ask him to purchase the first book you wrote. Looking forward to reading it and many more.
Debbie Prset
my blog: Life with Kramer

Christine said...

I love writing in general - I'm most passionate about equine related topics, but tend to adore putting pen to paper (or keys to keyboard) and watching characters and a story form.

One day I hope to get published and am currently working on three different ideas - come to think of it although they're quite different, they do all feature horses!

Like you, I'd be stumped by someone who wants to write without having a love of reading a particular genre...