Monday, December 28, 2015

Getting Ready for 2016



by Christine.

A short post from me to say that Free Rein books 4 and 5, Learning to Fall and A Dollar Goes a Long Way have been on Kindle over 2015 and it has taken me a lot longer than I hoped to get them sorted as paperbacks.  That said, they are now available in paperback form!

In Free Rein news, I am currently working on book 6 of the series and for those interested, updates are posted first over at http://www.freereinseries.com/ - you can also sign up for my author news!

For the adult reader, I am also working on a new novel set in Australia on a trail riding property.  For details on this, stay tuned to http://www.horsecountrybook.com/ - 2016 is planned for the release of two new books from author Christine Meunier.

I am also setting myself the goal of reading 150 books in 2016 and anticipate a lot of these books to be horse related - I can't wait to discover some new horse authors, read from some favourites and learn more about horses along the way!

What are your horse reading / writing plans for 2016?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Resolutions: Short Stories and Sequels

The past couple of weeks I've been thinking about short stories...as I feverishly wrote one of my own.

On Tuesday, I released a story that clocks in around 12,000 words. A novelette, really. I wrote it in about three days, which is about right for every short story I've ever written. They tend to completely override my system until all I can do is write, leaving me wondering where time went and fifty pages of words filling Scrivener. They also leave me wondering why I can't do the same exact thing for novels, but I suppose those are more of a slow burn. One takes time with a novel. At least, I do.

I named the story Saratoga Summers and shipped it off to my editors. Then started working on the sequel novel to Stay the Distance (which has a name now!). Only the short story bug still hadn't been worked out of my system yet.

Before I could stop myself, I gravitated to an old file in my Dropbox. A five-year-old story that, when finished, will reach novella status. It currently sits at 24,000 words, but it lacks an ending because five years ago I wasn't sure what that ending would be. Now? I knew immediately. Five years ago I stalled out on it because I wasn't ready to write the ending it needed (big, brash, probably violent because it's a short story unlike anything I've ever written). All of a sudden I felt ready to write that ending. But could I let it hijack my forward momentum on the newly-named sequel? Especially when this novella-length short story is so incredibly weird?

In short, I think so. Because if I sit down and do it, history says it will take less than three days. The problem is I might just keep writing short stories, because I love them. I'm already envisioning a book of them, all nicely arranged together. Who wouldn't want a big book of horse stories (including that really weird one that I will talk about in the event that I finish it because it's so, so weird)?

I do. I want that book.

So, in the spirit of the upcoming new year, with its resolutions and all of that, I know I want to write more short stories. I also want to write, finish, and publish the sequel to Stay the Distance. 2016 is going to be a big year, so if anyone needs me I'll be over here furiously writing.

Oh...and Saratoga Summers is available on Amazon! Here's the synopsis:

July Carter is the daughter of a racehorse trainer and a jockey, always surrounded by other people’s horses. Beck Delaney is an owner’s son, his name connected to a growing horse farm in need of a trainer. July’s dad fits the bill perfectly. Now summers for July will be spent at beautiful Blackbridge Farm, training Thoroughbreds for the races at Saratoga, a horse racing paradise.

With Beck.

What could possibly go wrong?

Saratoga Summers is a fifty-page short story prequel—and immediate sequel—to Stay the Distance.
 

You can get your copy (or read it on Kindle Unlimited) here.  

***
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, December 20, 2015

Horses, Books, and Sanity

by L. R. Trovillion

I'm only sane because I write and I ride. I see that now.

All last year during a particularly difficult period wherein my horses became unrideable, I swore to anyone who would listen that I had bought my last horse. Friends and family smiled, nodded, and disbelieved me. I was speaking the truth. I'd had my heart broken for the last time. I was done.

A week or so ago I accepted the invitation of a friend to ride a horse at his barn. When I arrived and was shown a very tall, red Thoroughbred ex-racer waiting in the cross ties, I asked myself "What woman of a certain age gets on an OTTB when she hasn't slung a leg over a horse in more than a year?" Well, I'll tell you. A woman who has lost a sense of self preservation or one who is sad over having lost a part of herself. After a short ride (the limit for my out-of-shape muscles) I got off, but wasn't ready to leave. The identity of being a Rider came back to me both barrels and ripped open that plugged up place in my heart which had convinced me that riding was a thing of the past, time to move on, close the book. No. I am a rider--maybe not a great one or even a good one, but that's who I am.

Something inside woke up and took notice. That something got plucked once again this week as I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert's work on creative living, Big Magic. In a passage about persistence I read words that leapt off the page and slapped me in the face. She was talking to me. Gilbert likens the creative mind to a border collie dog. You must give it a job--something to do--or it will find  a job you won't much like, such as tearing up the couch. I laughed, how true! But then she hit home, writing about herself: "...if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind)."  I reflected on this. Think of the "creative temperament" here--the many artists and writers who self-destruct. The creative minds that don't create,  destroy. But Gilbert gives those in pursuit of the creative life hope instead of hopelessness. She goes on to explain how creating something gives us an escape. Creating lets us forget for a while our duties, failures, age, backgrounds, enemies and insecurities. Certainly other things in life can do this as well, but by completely absorbing our attention in the act of creating something, for a short and "magical spell" we temporarily relieve ourselves from the "burden" of everyday being.  (And as writers, with our stories, hopefully we can relieve others as well.)


So, back to the myth of the tortured artist. As Gilbert points out, it is not creativity that turns people crazy, but rather not expressing it that threatens one's sanity; in other words, repressing who and what you are. So despite the difficulty, the discomfort, the heartbreak and the fear, I am going to do what I must to safeguard my sanity by being both a Rider and a Writer.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Nobody Said It Was Easy...

...to pick up a WIP that you set aside for 6+ months due to work and adulting and stuff.

The first step is to go in and read what you wrote prior to setting it down. Not necessarily the whole thing (ain't nobody got time for that) but at least the last section, or the last few chapters. This step is crucial in answering the question on everybody's my mind, which is "what is going on here?". The only way to answer that is to read through the most recent pages from 6 months ago and sort of gently, painfully flail your way back into the story. 

Okay, so when you left off, you were gearing up for a polo match in which your undefeated team was about to lose, crushingly, to their most bitter rivals. Okay, great. Let's do it!

Okay, problem. You have zero ambition to get in there and write the nitty gritty details of playing a complex game on horseback. Okay, no problem! You've done plenty of those scenes, it was getting repetitive anyway. Instead, you can build the scene around the team dynamics (which are all screwed up, which is why they're L-O-S-I-N-G), and the failed romance of two rival players. Plenty to work on there, right?

Okay, yeah, if you say so. I guess. Okay.

You are able to struggle through 2 pages worth of material and then you have obligations and you have to leave.

It takes you 2 weekends just to get through the chapters involving the losing game, something which you would have burned through in a single morning. Your Part 4 is still not quite done. You have 2 stupid chapters to get through before you can move on to Part 5, The Last Part, which is another 50 pages of material. You laugh at your previous estimation that you would get this thing done over the winter. It's already mid-December, ahahahaha crap.

You have another unrelated project you want to get to, but you refuse to leave this one hanging, so you persevere. A couple pages at a time over the course of a weekend. No wonder you can't quit your day job.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

If Horses Could Thank Us

by Lisa Wysocky

Every day I am thankful for horses, but as this year comes to an end, I know our horses are thankful for us. If they could, they would thank us for the food and shelter that we provide, because the reality is that unless a horse is born in the wild, they cannot provide this for themselves.


Our horses would thank us for the companionship of other horses. Since horses are herd animals, the safety and friendship that other horses provide is of utmost importance. They would also thank us for the veterinarian and farrier care that we give through our trusted equine medical professionals, as this is another thing that a horse cannot do for him- or herself.



I am sure our horses would also thank us for the many groomings we give them throughout the year, the care we take to be sure their saddles and other tack fit correctly, and the trail rides we take them on.



If a horse could thank us. This is not a bizarre thought, as the realty is that they thank us every day. Equine body language is subtle and complex, and their vocal tones offer distinctions that most human ears cannot detect, but from the blink of an eye, to a low whicker, to the flick of a tail, yes, they thank us.



 This "laughing horse" is actually relieving stress and tension.

It our job as equine authors to relay these complexities of horse language, thought, and behavior to the reader in an educational, engaging, and entertaining way. It is our job to also do this in a manner that drives the story (whether fiction or nonfiction) forward in words that makes sense to the reader. All of the authors here at Horse Crossings write about horses because we love them. We want our readers to care, too.



I had an editor who once questioned my use of the term “round pen.” “What is that?” she asked. When I explained how a sixty-foot round pen was used to develop leadership in the human side of the horse/human partnership she asked, “Why is it sixty feet?” I then explained that thirty feet was the average outside boundary of a horse’s personal space, so a person standing in the center of the round pen would be roughly thirty feet away from the horse. “That,” she said. “Is fascinating. You need to let your readers know.”



So I did, and with my equestrian mysteries I get just as many positive comments about the details of the equine mind as I do about the story line, or my characters. Subtly, equine authors must educate readers about the horse. If our horses knew, I am sure they would thank us because all of us, horse or human, just want to be understood.

–––––––––––––––––––

Lisa Wysocky is the author of the award-winning Cat Enright equestrian mystery series, which has been optioned for film and television. Find Lisa online at Lisa Wysocky.com, Facebook.com/ThePowerofaWhisper, Twitter.com/LisaWysocky

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Dowager Queens

My barn is being overtaken by mares. But not just any mares – oh no. A very specific sort of mare is invading my stalls, eating my grain and frolicking in my pastures. Out of a field of ten, six of my current equine residents are mares. Although their ages range from 13 to 31, their stories read along the same lines. Their dowry comes in the form of training they’ve received from previous owners. Some of them have show records. Others spent long hours trotting on the road for a living. Perceived as past their working prime perhaps, they’ve gone on to raise multiple babies. And somehow, they’ve found their way to Tantius Farm where they are known as my “dowager queens.”

Tia
This trend started a decade ago when I, a devoted gelding person, purchased my first, down on her luck queen. I didn’t know it at the time, but that one mare would change my perspective on working with horses forever. Tia taught me to take things one step at a time, that baggage wasn’t a four letter word but rather something of a brain teaser – a crossword puzzle, if you will. She could not be trained like a young horse, as she was already 12 and had had some rough handling. There seems to be certain levels of trust with her and each new training step required a different level of trust. I learned to build on what we had until a beautiful web of trust enveloped us both. Most of all, she taught me patience. A concept I’m sure she’s quite familiar with – she was a proud mother of 5 by the time she was 9.


Breeze believes that being silly is very important!



 Next came Breeze. My sweet Anglo-Arab mare was a mother twice over before she was broke to saddle at the age of 11. From the moment I loaded her into our trailer, I was in love. She is my hippy chick. Breeze is 15.2 hands of peace, love and connection. She had a brisk 30 days of training when I got her and she handled everything like a pro. She, like Tia, had a show career with me, except Breeze did crossrails and she loved it. She is my go-to girl for a quick, unscheduled ride as she doesn’t forget anything. Breeze reminds me to relax and take a deep breath, usually because that’s exactly what she’s doing as she’s smelling my face, which she does as often as she can. Having Tia prepared me for Breeze and although they’re two sides of the coin – Tia is quick and purposeful, Breeze is laid back and prone to wandering, hence, tripping – they are a fabulous yin-yang in my heart.

This is the face Shadow makes when she wants more bananas!
Shadow came to the farm on a cold and snowy evening. She was strapped into a blanket too small for even her bony frame. Shadow was 27 when she moved in with her younger sister. They had been together for 26 years and when we lost her sister, we thought we’d lose Shadow too. But the old queen surprised us all. Instead of withering from the loss, she began to blossom. Her sister had always been dominant but without her, we started to see what Shadow was really like. In the past four years, Shadow has made a new friend – our 13 year old gelding, Rip – and gotten on with her life. Although she was never trained to do anything, she stands perfectly still for kids to brush and is polite about taking cookies from them. She has firm opinions on blankets – she hates them – but she hates the cold even more. She always knows what stall is hers and what paddock she should be in (and will lead you to both in case you don’t know). Every day we say to each other, “I wish she was younger” or “I wish we’d gotten her when she was younger” as we have to come to love her and her grumpy old lady attitude (unless you have bananas, then look out!). She would have been a rock solid trail horse as nothing scares her.

Showy
In 2013, my mother and I won the bid for Forever Morgans on a registered Morgan mare, the foal she was carrying and her 3 month old filly. That mare was called Showy and as fate would have it, she came to live with us. In part because she needed a safe place to foal and we felt at least a little responsible for her since we’d won the bid. Showy went through auction because she has suspensory damage in her right front leg. The foal she was carrying was number 3. It will also be her last. Showy will never be 100% sound. That doesn’t stop her from running with her new mate, Gryff, it just means she needs some extra attention on occasion. The thing is, I’ve never seen that mare in a bad mood. She has more heart than most people. She may walk slower sometimes or run a little less, but she’s always ready for attention, ears up, eyes bright. Her special talent is teaching people about horses. She cuddles with strangers if they stop by her gate, resting her head on their shoulder, eyes closing as they pet her. To add to her resume, she’ll start trick training in the spring. Her perky attitude reminds me on a daily basis that everyone is experiencing some sort of pain. You don’t need to see it or know what it is to be gentle with them.
Sarah in yellow, Dutch in pink
Rounding out my court of royal ladies are the two newest members – Sarah and Dutch. Sarah is 23 and Dutch is 19. Both had show careers as young mares before heading to the breeding shed. They spent the last 5 years raising babies, side by side. They are thick as thieves, relying on each other instead of me for comfort. But that’s changing. Each day that passes finds Dutch a bit more outgoing – nickering at me when I start feeding – and Sarah a bit more tempered – our barn is filled with rules and manners and Sarah enjoys testing them all. Each day I tell them that Tantius is a different kind of farm. We may not have state of the art fencing or perfect white washed stalls, but we do have love. Lots of it. We don’t care that Sarah has a tumor on her throatlatch. It’s benign and surgery is not an option because of its placement. It doesn’t bother her so it doesn’t bother us. And Dutch is as shy as Tia was a decade ago and yet each day, I see a little more of the confident Park horse she must have been in her youth. I tell them that baby time is over, it’s time to get back to work! They nuzzle each other through the stall bars when I say this and then look back at me, ears up, ready for the challenge.


These mares, some with training, some with baggage – all seem to have hope. Hope that they have found someone they can trust and someone who loves them as much as they want to love a person. They shuffle in with dull coats and hooves just a tad shorter than the stories they could tell. Their sprung bellies drag at their top lines, making them appear even thinner, and their teeth too worn to help in putting the weight back on them. But even in their pauper disguises I know who they are. Given enough time, I can help them recover their crowns so they may take their proper place as the dowager queens of Tantius Farm.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

I hate my heroine...

By Carolyn Henderson

When I wrote Beside Me, I loved my heroine, Corinne. She might have been prickly at times, but I never opened up a chapter on my screen without wanting to find out how she was and what she was going to do next.
So how come I’ve just spent two weeks wishing I’d never met her? How come the feisty but vulnerable teenager I had so much empathy with turned into an annoying, argumentative 15-year-old?
The answer is, as all the authors on here will know, that characters take on lives of their own. Writers create them and, of course, control them – we can choose what they look like, how they talk, even whether they live or die.  But if you don’t give them their fair share of freedom, they don’t come to life on the page.
I know Corinne doesn’t really exist, except in my imagination. I also know that parts of her are as alive as I am, because when you “invent” someone you take characteristics from people you’ve met, seen or even just glimpsed and put them together to make someone new. One character in Beside Me was born after I saw a group of teenagers in a cafe; they were clustered round a girl whose body language and tone of voice showed that she was obviously the Queen Bee.
This week, Corinne and I have become friends again. I know why she’s seemed so uncharacteristically arrogant and I’m glad she’s had the courage to admit that she was wrong. What she doesn’t know, of course, is that she’s got some huge challenges ahead of her: I think I know how she’ll cope, but I could be wrong.
That sounds as if I don’t plan. I do, but plans only work if you build in flexibility. Writers work in different ways: I know some who write lengthy back stories for all their characters, some who write detailed chapter by chapter synopses and some who think about ideas for months then write with nothing but that mental framework.
But no matter how detailed your plan, you have to allow for “What if?” moments. What if you took a character down a different route? What if you introduce someone, or something, just to see where that takes you?

As a reader, I like books which keep me guessing. As a writer, I like to keep myself guessing – because if I don’t want to turn the page, neither will anyone else.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Moral Question?

                                                                    Milton C. Toby photo
By Milton C. Toby

My plan for this post, until yesterday, was a feel-good piece about the great stories waiting for a writer at Old Friends, a Thoroughbred retirement farm for Thoroughbreds established by Michael Blowen a couple of miles from my home in Georgetown, Kentucky. Inspiration for my award-winning book, Noor: A Champion Thoroughbred's Unlikely Journey from California to Kentucky,was the untiring effort of Charlotte Farmer to locate an unmarked grave in California where Noor was buried and then figure out a way to move the horse's remains across country to Old Friends.

I'd be happy with half the passion Charlotte has for racing, for horses, and for the history of the sport!

More recently, author Laura Hillenbrand agreed to sponsor Genuine Reward, one of only two live foals produced from Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk, at Old Friends. Genuine Reward was standing at stud in Wyoming when he was offered for sale on Craigslist for "$500 or best offer." The 22-year-old horse arrived safe and sound at Old Friends this summer. Here is a link to a Blood-Horse article about Blowen, Hillenbrand, and Genuine Reward.

There are many more great stories at Old Friends, enough to satisfy anyone who writes about horses. But that's not the focus of this post. A National Public Radio report on the relationship between football, concussions, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy ("CTE," traumatic brain injury) is.

The numbers about football and CTE are staggering:
  • 108 concussions reported this year in the National Football League (these are only the concussions included on NFL injury reports; there almost certainly have been more)
  • In one recent study, the brains from 87 of 91 deceased NFL players, including a number of players who died as a result of suicide, showed symptoms of CTE
  • In another similar study, 131 of 165 people who played football at any level--professional, college, high school--suffered from CTE
After years of sidestepping the issue, chronicled in the book League of Denial, the NFL finally acknowledged the connection between concussions and CTE. A feature film based on the book, Concussion, slams NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league for their obfuscation and inexcusable foot dragging. Despite extensive media coverage of the NFL's bad faith efforts to hide the effects of concussions, professional football remains amazingly popular. And that popularity raises a vexing question for fans of football, for fans of horse sports in general, and for those of us who write about horses.

Is it moral, or ethical, to support (or even watch) an activity such as football, where athletes put themselves at an acknowledged risk for our entertainment? Think gladiators in ancient Rome. It's not a new question. I first came across it in a New York Times ethics column several years ago, and I wrote about it in my equine law blog--Horses and the Law--at www.thehorse.com. The question is an important one in a sport where athletes make conscious, and maybe informed, choices about the balance between career, money, and injury.

The question is even more problematic when we consider racing and other horse sports where an essential part of the competitive team, the horse, has no choice about its participation in a dangerous and sometimes corrupt sport. Horse racing has a drug problem, more serious than many in the sport's leadership admit, but does that mean we should boycott the game, stay home from the tracks and switch channels to avoid the Kentucky Derby or Breeders Cup broadcasts?

                    Bill Straus photo
As writers, how do we portray racing, or eventing, or rodeo in our books and articles? Are we doing the equine athletes a disservice by not writing about the problems? Do we have an obligation to educate our audience? Do our readers even care?

There are no easy answers, but that doesn't mean we should avoid the questions.

Starting a discussion is the first step.