Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Writing Group

                                                                    Milton C. Toby photograph
By Milton C. Toby

The jury is still out on the value of writing  groups: do they help an author turn out polished work ready for submission to a publisher, or do they hinder the process? The answer is not as simple as you might think. For insight about potential pitfalls associated with writing groups, check out Jane Friedman's blog on the topic.

Working with a group of like-minded writers who can evaluate a manuscript with fresh eyes is an opportunity for constructive criticism, inspiration, and support for both novice and veteran authors. Writing is a solitary pursuit after all, and for many of us the camaraderie of a critique group may be the most important aspect of getting together with others to share what we're writing.

For other writers, myself included, a traditional writing group is just not a good fit. Writing, for me, is a generally lonely process that involves varying degrees of the following, none of which are conducive to group activity:
  • substantial research and a lot concurrent thinking,
  • wandering around the house or neighborhood looking lost,
  • jotting down random thoughts on scraps of paper and Post-It notes,
  • making notes on white boards, large sheets of newsprint, and the bathroom mirror,
  • discussing things with my wife, an equine veterinarian who happens to be an excellent editor,
  • and chatting with my own very special writing group, pictured below.

Milt's writing group

Plumpkin taking a break from
work in his reading room

Sherlock (also known as "New Cat") and
Burdock deliberating about the story arc in
a book proposal
Echo handles security,
 toy maintenance,
and idea development

One reason for my lack of interest in traditional writing groups might be the proximity of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. Located in Lexington, Kentucky, a few miles from my home, the Carnegie Center offers a rich menu of classes and support for writers of fiction and non-fiction, at every age and skill level. The Carnegie Center also has a stable of mentors who are available to work with authors on a one-to-one basis. The classes and mentoring sessions are offered for modest fees.

The Carnegie Center also sponsors the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, hosts a "Books in Progress" conference each spring, recently launched a nine-month "Writers Academy," and offers a number of reading and signing opportunities for local authors.

I'm a long-time supporter of the Carnegie Center, both as a student and as an instructor. I teach there on a regular basis on subjects related to business and legal issues associated with writing. My next class, on "Book Contracts," is scheduled for March 5. For more information about the Carnegie Center, click here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Horse Reading Goals

by Christine.

How quickly the year is progressing!  Have you set any resolutions / goals?  How are they going?

I am aiming to read 150 books this year, and although not all will be horsey, many will be!  As with all horse books that I read, they will be reviewed on equus blog and I already have a few reviews up for 2016!

Horse Country by Christine Meunier
I love to read.  I guess in a way that is how I became a writer.  I love to get caught up in a story, learn new things and be entertained.  Of course, a delightful romance doesn’t go astray, either!  In spite of the fact that I now invest time in writing, this doesn’t stop my desire to read and get caught up in a good story by someone else.

As a writer – or aspiring writer – I encourage you to never stop reading!  You can always enjoy more stories; learn from other writers – what works, what doesn’t?  What did you enjoy, what surprised you, what did you really struggle to read?  The more you read, the more you learn about what makes a good story.

If you write horse stories or aspire to write them, consider the value in reading as many of them as you can.  On that note, what horse novel(s) have you read that you felt were really well written?  I’d love to add them to my reading list!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Writing to Music

The other day I found myself listening to Compass by Zella Day on Spotify, my streaming music service of choice, and thought to myself this is perfect for my Finding Daylight playlist. 

I excitedly included it, and then realized somewhat belatedly that Finding Daylight has been published for over a month now. It had its one-month of publication birthday on February 15th. I'm done writing it. There's nothing else that is going to happen there. Literally. Finished. In print. Purged from my brain in all ways.

Although...apparently not so much.

I write to music a lot of the time. Writing in deafening silence is weird to me--just surrounded by the clacking of my fingers on a keyboard is no way to spend all of my creative moments.

The same can be said for my work as an archivist. Put me in a cement basement bunker by myself--which is the case with my job sometimes--and I'm not going to remain in silence for long. Process a collection silently? I think not.

So I write to music. But it can't be any music. Too much of any one genre will drive me utterly crazy, too much of any one artist will start to wear thin. The music has to be curated to fit the story, otherwise the writing will wind up suffering, my characters will wind up suffering, all because I just can't listen to alt-J anymore, okay? I just can't.

For me, curating music for a playlist comes down to characters. I like the interaction of people in songs, the situations they represent, and I like to match that up to my characters as they go through the story I'm fashioning for them. If you listen to the Finding Daylight playlist, you can almost see what the book is about and feel out what's happening as it goes along from beginning to end. The playlist matches the highs and the lows, how each character feels about the situation and about each other.

That's what I love about playlists. Even better? It helps keep me on track with a characters' motivations, their feelings, and their arc--where they're going from one section to the next. Could an outline be just as helpful? Sure. And it is, definitely. But hearing it play out as I'm neck deep in writing is another plane of reminders, and that can't be beat.

At least, not for me.

The Finding Daylight playlist keeps growing, even when I'm finished with the story and curating yet another playlist for All Heart. I'm in the middle of writing the story, and the playlist is a little thing yet. It's growing as the story grows, songs added in when I need them. Eventually it will mirror the novel, beginning to end, but it doesn't need to be that right now. It just needs to keep me on the path.


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 second novel (gasp!), Finding Daylight, was released in January 2016. For more information, please visit

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Four Types of Love, Greek Style

by L.R.Trovillion

It's Valentine's Day. What else am I going to write about, but love? No, I'm not a Romance writer and, in fact, have never even read a Romance novel. But does that mean that writers in other genres know nothing about love? Of course not.

Looking for inspiration on the subject of love, I turned to Internet (why not?) I knew the ancient Greeks had several words to describe the different types of love--four in fact. I decided to see if the classical descriptions of love could be found in False Gods, my debut Young Adult novel. I decided to examine the heroine, high schooler Cory Iverson, and see if she experienced all the forms of love in the course of the novel. Here's what I found (without spoilers):

Eros: This is the love we probably think of most often--the physical attraction, the spark of romance, the passionate aspect of love. This is what fuels the Romance Novel machinery. It is the heat between two lovers and all the twists and turns they must go through to find each other that makes for great stories. In False Gods there is certainly Eros. The spark between the main character, Cory, and the outsider boy in school, Kevyn, is kindled from the start. It is Eros in its most purist form--first love, new love been teens.

Storge: This type of love is often described as a dutiful love, the love of family or for one's community. One may not particularly like the other people, but still love them from a sense of loving kinship and obligation. In False Gods, Cory and her sister, Jess, have a strained relationship. They do and say things to hurt one another, but in the end, they have enough love to overcome their differences.  At one point, Cory risks losing her sister's love forever, but takes a step she knows she must in order to help Jess.

Philia: This is a warm, tender, but platonic love, usually between peers or equals. It is committed, chosen love. Cory demonstrates this type of love for her friend, Regina, even though their relationship is plagued by difficulties and is threatened to be torn apart by outside influences. Cory stands by her friend no matter what and neither time nor distance changes how they feel about each other.

Agape: This is the highest form of love--one that is often used to describe God's love for his creation. It is unconditional; it accepts us for who we are and is giving without any expectation of love in return. It is sometimes described as sacrificial. According to Thomas Aquinas it is "to will the good of another" without any self-serving motivation. I thought hard about this type of love as it might appear in False Gods and decided it certainly does in Cory's love for her horse, Epiphany. In the end, Cory must make a decision, a very difficult one, involving Epiphany. When she does, she is not thinking of herself, her dreams, her desires, but instead is thinking only of the good for the horse. She demonstrates sacrificial love without any expectation of it being returned. That's agape love.

So, I found all the types of love. Does that mean I should consider marketing False Gods as a Young Adult Romance? Try this exercise on your novel, or a story you're reading now. It never hurts to think too much about love. 

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Collaboration. We do it all the time, whether we realize it or not. A family might collaborate to get dinner on the table. Co-workers collaborate on projects, and we horse people collaborate with our horses every time we interact with each other. When it comes to writing collaborations, however, the word escalates to a new level.

I live in Nashville, Tennessee, home of Music City. In the thirty-plus years I have lived here I have come to realize that most of the songs that are heard on the radio are written by more than one person. Collaboration. Many books are also a collaborative process. In his later years, my favorite author, Dick Francis, collaborated with his son Felix, to turn out several excellent horse-based mysteries. After Dick's passing, Felix took up the reins and continued on in an almost seamless transition.

I have co-authored several books, one being Front of the Class, the true story of Brad Cohen, an inspiring teacher with Tourette syndrome. We were thrilled when Hallmark picked it up for a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie. Each of my writing collaborations have been unique, especially my most recent one: Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now.

This project features eight writers within the genre of mystery. Some, like me, write fun cozy mysteries, while others write hard-boiled thrillers. The book introduces each writer with a bio, chapter from one of his or her books, a short story, and an interview. I am so proud to be grouped with such incredible authors as Lisa Alber, Jessie Bishop, Kathleen Cosgrove, Michael Guillebeau, Chris Knopf, Larissa Reinhart, and Jaden Terrell. Plus, our foreword was written by none other than bestselling author Hank Phillippi Ryan.

While we each wrote or provided our own content, the decisions about cover, sales, marketing, and many other things have been a true collaboration. What happens when you throw eight people who don't know each other well, if at all, together to make such decisions? Cooperation, encouragement, excellent ideas, and joy. This unusual grouping of people could easily have turned antagonistic and ego-driven, but that is the definitely not the case.

As authors, we all need to promote our own books, but what a refreshing thrill it has been to also plug other authors and books that I love. If you are searching for new reads, I hope you will consider these authors and their books. Even though most of the stories are non-horsey, they are good. Very good. It also includes a new short adventure from my own protagonist, horse trainer Cat Enright, as she searches for Bubba, a run-away child. Of course Sally Blue, the (possibly) psychic mare chimes in with clues. I hope you enjoy it, as well as all of the stories and chapter samples in the book.

The book is available as a kindle download on, but will be FREE on Feb. 20-21. Happy reading!

Lisa Wysocky is an author, speaker, and clinician who teaches people about the horse. She is a registered PATH instructor who also consults with therapeutic riding programs about their horse herds. Find her at

Monday, February 8, 2016


Two weeks ago, I went on vacation. Four days, five nights – surely the longest trip I’ve been on in years. The friends that I was visiting thought this was the briefest of visits! As if it were no longer than the recess period during grade school. But to me, it felt as long as my four years in college.
For four days and five nights, there was no point in checking my cell phone or the nearest digital clock to see if it was near 6am, noon or 6pm. I didn’t need to carve 2-3 hours out of my day to push my pitch fork through several stalls, fluffing sawdust as I went. I didn’t automatically have any kind of workout, a side effect of tossing hay into stalls, filling water buckets and wheeling a wheel barrow through snow or across ice out to the manure pile. There wasn’t one single demand on my time. I was free.
Lilac Reardon
My host asked what I wanted to do – would I like to visit local watering holes? Tourist attractions? The beach? Twenty four hours in a day is so plentiful when there are no creatures, either the size of your head or half the size of your truck, that are barking, whining, pounding, pawing or whinnying because according to their internal clock, you’re not moving fast enough. You’re never moving fast enough. They want food. They want water. They want to go out. They want to come in. They want to see their mate. They want to know why you’re headed down the hallway. They have to know what you’re up to in the bathroom. They want to know everything. Unless you want them to go outside, or eat, or play. Then they want to nap. Twenty four hours is a very long time when you have no one following you around and literally barking orders at you, no one banging and squealing their displeasure from the barn. Twenty four hours is a very long time.
So I filled it with this wonderful thing called vacation. A societal concept of a controlled escape from reality. A chance to experience new things, see new places, eat different foods. I was beyond blissful once I got into the swing of vacation. It was wild – the choices I made – the things I did – some of them might seem unthinkable, at least in my mind.
I peered out over the ocean at sunset, the decadent fuchsias and golds appearing like something from a Maxfield Parrish painting. I made tiny wishes and sent them out on the waves where dolphins softly crested out of the water, grabbed them and swam them out to sea. As the sound of the ocean filtered over the band playing on the beach, my mind rolled and splashed, easily devoid of responsibility. I enjoyed a cocktail. The next morning, I wrote in my journal, never checking my phone for the time, hoping to cram in just a few more sentences. I stood in the sunshine just before the sky opened up with a warm rain. I ate large, home cooked dinners. I became immersed in a television show, devouring three seasons in four days. I sat on the couch in my pajamas so long my joints became stiff, my lower extremities turning to pins and needles. I enjoyed popcorn and ice cream every night, as if I’d finally hit the lottery that every 9 year old kid dreams of.
In a nutshell, I did nothing.
Nothing but live a life more akin to that of a non-animal owner. Four days, five nights was just long enough. On that final morning, before I hopped on a plane to return to the snowy country, I finally allowed myself to wonder if my dog had been sleeping well, if her internal alarm clock was inching ever earlier like it does every spring. I wondered if my horses had noticed that someone else had been feeding them morning, noon and night, that the feeding order was different, and would they be happy to see me return.

Tightening my seat belt, I would soon hear the soft nickers of my mares at grain time and the slightly offbeat click clack of my geriatric dog tottering through the house. Four days and five nights was just enough to turn my soul the most decadent shades of fuchsia and gold again, rejuvenated and ready to return to my rewarding life of routine.

TC & Breeze, always watching and waiting for me