Thursday, October 29, 2015

Downtime

Taking a journey on the SS This Novel Owns My Soul. (Photo by Derek Finch.)

This week, I finished writing a book that has been with me for a solid 16 months. My goal was to finish Finding Daylight by the end of October, and I beat my goal by several days. Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I compiled it all into a pretty Word document for my editor, wrote a happy note to her that the book was done (OMG!), and pressed send.

Then I sat there and didn’t know what to do with myself.

Does anyone else get that feeling? It’s like a quiet, persistent, unsettling lack. It’s only been two days, and I’m pretty sure there are non-writing things to do. Sure, I could finish the scarf I promised my husband back in January, or attempt to prepare myself for this two-week journey into the Middle East that I’m taking in approximately three days, but it doesn’t exactly feel right. The story isn’t there sitting next to me, pestering me to finish it. I’ve lived so long with it perched on my shoulder that I’m confused without the weight.

Of course, I could just start a new novel, but that’s like launching a cruise liner. You have to get all the characters on board, teach them how to save themselves in an emergency, prepare the ship, plot a course, turn on the engines, push off from the dock, and who knows what else goes into that. What I’m saying here is that starting a new novel is an ordeal. You either commit fully to the journey or you stay docked.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Finding Daylight isn’t totally finished yet? Just because it got shipped off to the editor doesn’t mean I don’t have work ahead. It will come back with red marks and questions, weaknesses pointed out that need to be strengthened. I can’t wait for that moment. I’ll feel at home again, clattering away at the keyboard with my story sitting next to me. But in the meantime?

In the meantime, I know that I have to do all of it. I’m going to go to the Middle East, and while I’m there I’ll finish that godforsaken scarf, will re-read Stay the Distance, and then I’ll write the first chapter of its sequel just to say hi to July again, see what’s up with her. When I get back, I’ll have Finding Daylight sitting in my inbox, ready for a good round of editing.

Then everything will be right with the world.

***
Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her first novel, Stay the Distance, was released in March 2015. For more information, please visit www.maradabrishus.com

Sunday, October 25, 2015

What I learned about Author Branding from the Thoroughbred Makeover

by L. R. Trovillion

On this, the last day of the wildly successful program which takes Thoroughbred ex-racers from the track to various other riding disciplines known as The Thoroughbred Makeover ,  I'm put in mind of all sorts of career changes and opportunities for second chances. The makeover has grown exponentially over the years and I for one hope that it enjoys continued success in its effort to "redeem" the Thoroughbred's image as a versatile show and pleasure horse. Years ago, the American TB dominated the show world in at least hunter/jumper and eventing disciplines and there was sure to be several on every Olympic team. In recent years, however, the TB has been dismissed for the more popular European warmbloods, which are now enjoying their time in the sun in our sometimes fickle, "breed prejudice" world. I good horse is a good horse and if you find a good TB, you can't beat it.

So what does this have to do with writing and author branding? Just this: If an ex-racehorse can be re-trained and happy as a cowpony or a therapeutic riding mount or a competitive trail horse, why can't a writer change as well? What do you mean, you may ask. Authors these days are strongly encouraged to create a brand for themselves, something that is uniquely associated with their books, their genre, their style. This branding goes so far as to lock the writer into the same style book covers, endless serialization, and the same genre. What happens if a writer wants to "break out" into a new genre. Like the ex-racer, what if she starts out successfully as a historical romance writer but in her heart really feels the call of techno-science fiction? Can she take her established name and brand and move into that new territory? Does she need to write in a new genre under a new name? I know some who have done this and have a different pen name for all their different brands.

I would like to believe that a good writer, like a good Thoroughbred, is a winner no matter what he/she choses to pursue. I also believe in trying new things to see what you're good at, hopefully without the crippling fear that a "failure" would tarnish your author brand forever.  I don't want to be locked into one genre, one restrictive type, one career as a runner and then retired forever. Writers and readers, what do you think? Is it worth the risk to sign up for The Makeover?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Side Hobbies

As a side effect of growing up in a remote area, I always had a disproportionate number of hobbies. As a creative type, it took me years to lock down just one (or even a few) artistic mediums. I drew a lot in my younger years, making cards for friends and family and even going so far as to include a hand-drawn comic on the back of each letter my penpal and I exchanged. I also did a lot of singing and songwriting (a pleasant side effect of having all that peace and quiet), but that all fell by the wayside when I realized I really didn't love performing my songs in bars and other venues. I would have enjoyed song writing behind the scenes, but I didn't feel I was dedicated enough to break into the music industry. For better or worse, my creative drive was somewhat tempered by the fact that I didn't have an end goal. As an anxious person, I clearly function better when I feel I am moving forward and not spinning my wheels.

I happen to be a longtime collector of model horses, and I got into model horse painting around 10 years ago. I enjoy recreating different colors and patterns, especially when it comes to the fine detail work. I love taking a blank model and searching for the perfect color that will really do the sculpture justice. 

Work in progress: "Highland Heather" resin sculpture by Hilary Hurley in silver dapple

I recently made it a point to get back to model painting, finishing one model that had been a "work in progress" for far too long and starting on another. I'm happy I resurrected this particular hobby, and I even have plans to attend a model horse show in November. If all goes well, I'll qualify some of my horses for Nationals and start planning another road trip to Kentucky. 

In addition, I've been trying my hand at nature photography. I don't have a fancy camera, but I live in a beautiful area with lots of wilderness areas close at hand, and I like to think I have a decent eye. As a bonus, I like to scope out thrift stores and yard sales for nice wood frames, framing my favorite photos and adding a personal touch to my decor. 


A couple of my favorites

What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of writing?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Writing it Right, by Lisa Wysocky

As equine authors, we all want to get not only the story right, but also the horse part of it right, too. Everyone here is an experienced horse person, and has a broad base of knowledge that we incorporate into our books to share with our readers. However, it is amazing the number of little facts that creep into the story line that need to be researched, not once, but several times. We need to be thorough on our research because, if we get it wrong, at least one reader will step up to call us on it.

I think we’ve all read a book where the author gets a basic fact wrong and it takes us out of the story. That should never happen. Even in fiction, there are facts: a horse is measured in hands, a hand is four inches, there is no palomino color in the Thoroughbred breed. If we as authors get it wrong, we have done our readers a huge disservice.

I showed Appaloosa horses for many years, and the question of their point system came up in my newest Cat Enright cozy mystery, The Fame Equation. I knew how it worked. Or did I? After reviewing the current rulebook and a number of websites, I finally went to the source and called the person at the Appaloosa Horse Club who was in charge of their points system. Yes, I was right. But if I had not been, I would have alienated a lot of readers, and worse, my readers would have lost trust in me.

Quincy is a solid colored registered Appaloosa, but he looks so much like a
Thoroughbred that even his vet and farrier worked with him for
three years without realizing his actual breed.
Authors can never assume.

That is the real concern. If a reader cannot trust an author to get a basic fact correct, what about everything else the author writes? How many other mistakes, factual errors, or misconceptions are there in a given book? I write both equestrian fiction and nonfiction and am sure to find at least two credible sources for every fact I am not 1000 percent sure of. That is maybe a little over the top, but I have written a number of horse books and no reader has yet called me on a fact. I’m sure that day will someday come, and when it does, I will welcome it, for readers are truly the final authority.

• • •

Lisa Wysocky is an author, clinician, and registered PATH instructor who helps people learn about themselves through horses. Find her at LisaWysocky.com.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Freedom & Possibility

There is a certain beauty in that first cup of coffee. A sense of possibility in the silky brown liquid as it slides down my throat (heavily saturated with French vanilla creamer of course). A sense of freedom as the steam reaches my nose and washes over my face.

I need this in the morning. Before I step into the weather and march to the barn in my sparkly paddock mud boots, I need a little freedom and a little possibility. Before I become inundated by hungry, happy nickers that lead to soft and comforting munching – before my mind only moves in routines of feeding, turnout, cleaning – before my neurotic tendencies kick in and I worry about everything from fencing to footing to weather – I need those ten minutes of sipping a cup of caffeinated dreams.

In those ten minutes, I plan out my day. All of my horses go out to their designated pastures and are content with their buddy, instead of giving in to their strong sense of wanderlust and checking out the adjacent pastures and attempting to make new friends. Cleaning stalls goes smoothly and quickly when I have the radio tuned to the country station and can dance around to Jason Aldean. After stalls, I’ll check on the horses on my way in to grab some more coffee and maybe a little breakfast. In a perfect world, that’s when I pull out my laptop and start to pour those robust, half formed dreams into the confines of a page.


We could all benefit from a little freedom and possibility, couldn’t we?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The publicity trap


By Carolyn Henderson

I love writing books. I hate trying to publicise them.
When my first book was published – not the first I’d written, but the first to be picked up by a mainstream publisher – that wasn’t a problem. Ebooks didn’t exist, the only form of self-publishing was through vanity presses and legitimate publishers had publicity and marketing departments.
Fast forward and all publishers expect writers to work hard on generating publicity for their books, to the extent that some are said to only consider manuscripts from writers with a minimum number of Facebook or Twitter followers. Most established writers have always accepted that they have to get involved and those who self-publish have no option.
In fact, self-published writers, some of whom follow that path through choice rather than because they can’t find a “traditional” publisher for their work, are often brilliant at it. But where do you draw the line between making potential readers aware of your work and turning them right off it?
I love reading about new titles and about what other authors are working on, but can you blow your own trumpet too loudly?  


There are certainly times when, in my book, authors can be rude. Earlier this year, I ended the fastest Facebook ‘friendship’ in history.
An author I knew vaguely sent me a friend request and as soon as I’d accepted, posted an advert for her book on my page. No ‘Nice to link up, would you mind sharing this?’ – just wham, bam and not even a thank you, ma’am, let alone a request. Instant delete, instant de-friending.
I’d love to know what readers and other writers think about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. For interest, a friend who is a successful mainstream novelist is working on building a “street team”, often billed as a form of guerilla marketing.
I  hope I don’t bore you with too many plugs for what I’ve written and what I’m working on. If I do, feel free to tell me.
One thing I’m happy to share - and I know other writers on here will know how I feel - is that after a horrible few months where my family has been surrounded by death and disaster, I’ve got my fiction mojo back in action.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life Imitating Art . . . Or Not

                                                                     Milton C. Toby photograph
By Milton C. Toby

A few months after European Horse of the Year Shergar was taken from the Aga Khan's Ballymany Stud near the Curragh Race Course in Ireland, an enterprising reporter from the Irish Press asked author Dick Francis about the theft. Francis was in Dublin promoting his 22nd novel, The Danger, which featured a private business that specialized in rescuing the victims of kidnappings. The protagonist of The Danger once worked for Lloyd's of London, the insurance company that held much of the insurance on Shergar, so there was a connection between the real and the fictional--tenuous but sufficient--to pique the newspaper's interest.

The reporter wondered if Francis, whose horse racing novels were best sellers around the world, had any insights about the theft of Shergar, a real-life mystery that would become the sport's most famous cold case.

"This book [The Danger] is about people, rather than horses, being kidnapped," Francis explained. "One of my other books, Blood Sport written in the '60s, was about a classic winner from England who is taken to America and kidnapped over there. I have been accused more than once of giving crooks ideas. I certainly hope I didn't give them the idea for what they have done with Shergar."

It was a brief interview that morphed into a promotional exercise for Francis's then-current book, and also for an older one. No real news there; not a surprise.

I've been a fan of Dick Francis for years. The reminder of a long-forgotten book that might have some bearing on my own research into the theft of Shergar encouraged me to track down and reread Blood Sport. Written in 1967, 16 years before the theft of Shergar, Blood Sport still is a good read--and an interesting lesson in the problem of reliable horse identification in the pre-DNA era.

There is no real question about whether Gene Hawkins will find the stolen stallion, Chrysalis. Hawkins is a Dick Francis hero, after all, and they tend to be very good at what they do. The book turns on the mechanics of the search and how Hawkins will prove that the horse he recovers, a nondescript bay with no distinctive markings, actually is Chrysalis. Hawkins makes his preliminary identification based on the horse's odd appetite for sardines but in the end he must rely on an in-person examination by the stallion's groom ("lad" for Anglophiles), who is flown to the States from England and driven across country to verify the horse's identity.

The Cross of St. Bridget, a patron saint of Ireland, watches over horses and riders at the Curragh Race Course.
A few hundred yards to the north of the Curragh, Shergar was taken from Ballymany Stud.
Copyright 2015 Milton C. Toby
"Sure I'd know him," Sam Kitchens tells Hawkins. "Maybe I couldn't pick him out of a herd, now, but I'd know him close to. The way his hide grows, and little nicks in his skin. I wouldn't have forgotten those." Kitchens makes the identification after Hawkins spirits the stallion away from the ranch where the horse thieves were holding him. Francis doesn't deal with what must be a problem, though, convincing stud book officials in two countries that the horse really is Chrysalis.

Unlike Chrysalis, Shergar never was recovered. The best evidence suggests that the horse was killed shortly after he was taken from Ballymany and the question of a positive identification never became an issue. In any case, just about anyone in Ireland would have recognized Shergar on sight and there was DNA analysis if needed. Bits of bone purported to be the remains of the horse still turn up at the Irish Equine Centre from time to time. So far, though, researchers there have been able to dismiss the claims without utilizing a DNA reference sample kept under lock and key.

Conventional wisdom points to members of the Irish Republican Army as masterminds for the theft of Shergar. No individual or organization has claimed responsibility, however, and the Irish police have not charged anyone. The disappearance of Shergar is a mystery worthy of Dick Francis.





 

 






Monday, October 5, 2015

Around the World with Horses




One thing I love about horse novels – and indeed fictional works – is that you can travel around the world with horses and learn different cultures and hemispheres way of doing things.  There is so much to learn about horses!  Books can greatly increase your knowledge of them.

Me (far left) on a trail in South Africa
I thought I would focus this post on taking part in a blog hop titled Horse Travels over at Equus Education.  So I thought I’d focus on how we get to travel with horses in books.

In my debut novel Horse Country – A World of Horses, I explored four different women working in the horse industry or studying horses and their travels about the world.  Although the story was based in Australia (as I am), one character (Wes) travelled to Ireland to study horses and another (Maddison) travelled to England for awhile to work.

Because I have studied horses at the Irish National Stud in County Kildare, it was easier to write about the differences from Australia as I had experienced them.  Likewise, I had experienced working in a racing stable and was able to bring this into the novel.

In the Free Rein series I write for pre-teens, I explore running an agistment (boarding) property in Victoria as this is an area of interest and knowledge for me, too.  Currently I am also working on a new adult novel that explores running a trail riding business in the high country of Australia.  Updates on this novel are available through my Horse Country website.

The question of the blog hop is:
“If you could travel anywhere in the world for something horse related, where would it be and what would you do?”

I choose to travel to different parts of Australia that enable me to explore some of my favourite aspects of the horse world.  So in light of the question, perhaps you’d like to answer it?  Where would you travel and why?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What If

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration. It’s a common question that pops up in interviews, which I’ve been doing a lot of lately, and I just stare at it on the page for a while before writing up something that feels sort of like the truth.

Inspiration! It’s a thing!

Are word counts inspiring?
Okay, seriously. What keeps us all glued to our laptops, pattering away at the keys? Why do we write and rewrite, edit and re-edit? Are we all secretly control freaks, exerting our influence on our characters like little gods eagerly telling people what to do? Are we just obsessive? Maybe just overwhelmed with the need to create?

See, I have a lot of questions about this. Writing isn’t an easy job by any means. I’ve been working on a book for fifteen months now, which is actually not that long in terms of books that have taken up all of my time. I sat with Stay the Distance for a year, threw it in a drawer for three years, and then spent another year with it, because that is just the kind of crazy work process authors go through. I’ve written something only to tear it apart and rewrite it only to tear that apart and rewrite that.

Sometimes it’s crazy making. You’d have to have a really good reason to do this…right? I think, for me, it’s all about the what if. Everything starts with a what if. What if this happens, what if that happens. Ohmigod, what if this then happens? And then I run over to the laptop and start to patter away at a Word document so my idea doesn’t get lost in the jumble that is my brain.

The thing is, I have no idea where these thoughts come from. I’m just merrily wandering around the internet, stumble across a story about acquired savant syndrome, and I’ve opened that Word document and am typing before I can even stop to think. It’s just a flood. A flood of, in this instance, all of the amazing things that could happen if you had acquired savant syndrome. (I mean, it is pretty amazing. You just fall down, hit your head, and become a master pianist a week later.)

Then there’s the inspiration that keeps you going. I like imaging my characters doing their thing, just full on acting it out in my head, picturing their reactions and their dialogue like I’m a fly on the wall. A fly that can manipulate everything that they do. So I guess, deep down, it is a little like playing god.

So, what inspires us? Let me know in the comments!

***
Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her first novel, Stay the Distance, was released in March 2015. For more information, please visit www.maradabrishus.com