Sunday, March 27, 2016

The "Re-reads" Group

                                                                    Milton C. Toby photograph
By Milton C. Toby

I tend to lump fiction into four very general categories:
  • "Re-reads," the books that I return to from time to time;
  • "One-timers," the books from favorite authors, books that I wait for, devour, and then set aside;
  • "Airport" books, those that I pick up at airport bookstores because I need something to read during a layover and usually leave in a hotel room;
  • And, finally, the "short-stops," those books that I start with great expectation, but give up on because they cannot hold my interest beyond the first few chapters.
Heading the list of my "re-read" authors is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Every two or three years I start with A Study in Scarlet (the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1887) and work my way through the novels and short stories to The Adventure of Shoscombe Place (the last story, published in 1927). For readers unfamiliar with the Holmes canon, horses turn up from time to time, notably in Silver Blaze, in which Holmes and Watson thwart a scheme to kidnap a prominent Thoroughbred and use him as a ringer in an important race.

Author Robert Ludlum
Running a close second to Arthur Conan Doyle is the late Robert Ludlum, whose thrillers have sold millions of copies. Ludlum passed away a few years ago, but his writing franchise is going strong, operating under the byline "Robert Ludlum's  (insert book title here)." I don't return to the franchise books often, but I take one of the Ludlum originals off the shelf whenever I need a dose of international intrigue and conspiracy theories.

A few days ago, by accident, I came across a couple of radio interviews Ludlum did in the mid-1980s with Don Swain. Swain hosted "Book Beat" on CBS Radio for over a decade and his program attracted many of the best writers around in those days.

Ludlum's first book, written after he turned 40, was The Scarlatti Inheritance, an immediate bestseller that made him an international sensation. That first book was easy, Ludlum told Swain, but then things changed: "It's the hardest thing in the world to write the second book. The first one was easy. We've all got a story to tell. But writing the second book, that's the difference between being a professional and not being a professional."

Ludlum had this to say about the necessary elements of good fiction:

  • Theme. He was not talking about a theme for a writer's book in progress, but instead an overarching theme for a writer's work. For Ludlum, that theme was a general distrust of international financiers and a love of conspiracy theories.
  • Characters. Ludlum typically wrote stand-alone thrillers, with a new cast of characters each time. He did not like the idea of a series, because of the risk that an author might get comfortable with a character and not put much effort into development. He acknowledged, though, that his best known character, Jason Bourne, appeared in a three-book series.
  • Plot. Ludlum's books have extremely complex plots. For a good book, he said, the path from Point A to Point B is never a straight line.
  • Pace. Ludlum's early work was in theater, as an actor and not as a writer. He recognized the importance of pacing as a companion to plot, however. You've got to structure the first act so people will stay for the second act, he explained, and the second act so people will stay until the end.    
Bill Straus photograph
Swain's interviews with Ludlum, and a host of other prominent writers, are archived here.

On a personal note, this will be my last post at Horse Crossings. Best of luck to my colleagues in their writing endeavors. It's been fun!


Monday, March 21, 2016

Setting Themes or Morals for Your Horse Story the Free Rein series which is aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, I like to have a theme or moral of the story running throughout each novel.  Alongside this, my focus is to provide educational facts about horses in each story and cover a different area of horse care.

I want the stories to be enjoyable for readers, but to also have a suitable ending, a lesson learned and some facts picked up along the way.  I believe a particular theme or moral to stories for younger readers can be a great thing to focus on.

If you are considering writing for the younger reader, perhaps this is something you would like to consider including, too.  Because the Free Rein series books cover horses and faith, I often try to tie the title in with a horse lesson and a faith lesson.  It can be a nice way to round out the story and to help focus the theme of the book on what it is called.

Do you enjoy children’s stories with morals attached?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Road to Audio

This week I made an announcement: Finding Daylight is coming out in audiobook. Exciting! Currently I'm going through the sound files, which means a detailed listening of the story checked against the text. So far it's been a hilarious adventure in seeing my book through the eyes of someone else--that someone being a voice actor doing all the voices in that delightful way that makes the story vibrant and alive.

But today I'm also going to make a second announcement: Stay the Distance, my first novel, is also coming out in audiobook. It's just audio everywhere this month!

Mock up audio cover for Stay the Distance.
So how did I make this happen? I am just a little indie author, so it's not like my budget can handle the production costs of hiring voice actors. Additionally, I could have bought my own equipment or rented out a studio and sunk time into doing all the voice acting myself--but voice actor I seriously am not. Plus, who would write All Heart while I'm reciting my previous novels into a microphone?

No, I was going to leave that to the voice actors. But where to find them?

Amazon has this covered with ACX. I simply put the books on the platform, upload a couple of sample pages, and wait for auditions to come rolling in. If you don't want to wait, you can contact the voice actors directly in hopes they'll audition. Then you can either pay the producer for their time and expertise, or share royalties on the resulting audiobook sales.

As with everything, a lot of getting both of my audio projects off the ground had to do with luck and timing. Finding Daylight had just been published and its numbers were beautiful--almost pristine--on Amazon. Consequently it got auditions right away and found a talented producer within a matter of hours. But what of Stay the Distance? My little debut has been out nearly a full year now, and its numbers aren't exactly enjoying that immediate publication boom that Finding Daylight so happily experienced.

This time, it was luck. Publishing a new book gives a previous book a little kick in the pants, and it happened to Stay the Distance at just the right time. Amazon saw sales figures rise out of the blue, determined that an audiobook of Stay the Distance would be good business, and decided to slap a stipend on the title--which was a complete miracle. That meant that any actor who completed the audiobook within 60 days would get a bonus for each finished hour of audio. For an 8-hour audiobook, that's quite an incentive. Auditions rolled in. I was swimming in them. But who could voice July? For a book in the first person, voice is so important. All of the auditions were beautiful, but the voice that really grabbed me belonged to Sarah Mollo-Christensen. I heard only a couple of minutes and knew she was the one before the audition was even finished. Sarah is July, through and through, and I am super excited to have her.

So, obviously I'm kind of freaking out about this development, and I can't wait to get the audio out into the world later this month. Both the Finding Daylight and Stay the Distance audiobooks will be in iTunes, Audible and Amazon soon. So prepare your earbuds!


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, March 13, 2016

I lLove You, I Just Can't Live With You

I took a check and watched as a young woman loaded the mare I raised from a weanling on to her trailer and prepared to drive away. I hurried to my car so I wouldn't have to watch her leave and  because I felt that tell-tale prick behind my eye and my throat clamping shut that signaled I was about to sob. Not a polite wiping away of a stray tear, but a gut wrenching, oxygen gulping bawl. You see, even though the mare was going to a lovely new owner and it was the right decision, I still had a hard time saying good-bye. I loved the mare. She has a unique personality and great talent, but she was not a good fit for me. It only took me about eight years to come to that conclusion. Not unlike a marriage or family, our relationship with a horse can be full of love, but that doesn't necessarily mean we can harmoniously live together. This mare was sensitive and intense, a workaholic and a very strong leader. I, in turn, have become a much more casual rider as a result of a demanding work schedule and just "old age." I wanted to enjoy my time together with an equine partner and not have to work or think so hard. Often times a horse comes into our life because we were meant to learn something only that animal can teach. And learn I did from this red mare. She taught me to be straight, how to let go, to perfect my timing, and to let her carry half the responsibility for the ride because she demanded perfection from her rider. I learned my lessons from her, sometimes the hard way, so now another horse will benefit from my improved skills. And another rider--a more accomplished and younger one--will no doubt benefit from teaming up with this special mare and hopefully together reach their full potential together. People come in and out of one's life and so do horses, but never without leaving something behind. But it's never easy saying good-bye, so instead, I'll just say "thanks" to my dear, red mare.

Friday, March 11, 2016

When It All Comes Together

Endings are notorious for being difficult. Even some notable writers are notorious for lacking good endings in their books. Whether you're a professional or a struggling part-time writer, a good ending is crucial. After all that time spent on your book, you want the ending to do the project justice, and create some sort of resolution.

Funny thing, I've never struggled with endings. Beginnings are the bane of my existence as a writer. In pretty much everything I've ever written, I've fiddled with and scrapped beginnings, reworked them, and completely redone them. Endings have come easily. I've always had a firm idea, fairly early on in the story, of exactly how the ending would go down.

Except for this last project, Take The Man, my long-standing (long-suffering?) WIP and the grand finale of my adult equestrian series that I started when I was 16 years old. Almost 8 years of work has gone into this trilogy, and while it didn't land me a deal with a major publishing house or allow me to quit my day job, it at least pays for my yearly vacations. I owed it to my readers, my characters, and most of all, myself, to give it a fitting end.

My first novel, I flew by the seat of my pants, and every day was a surprise. My subsequent two novels (one of which is a non-horsey stand-alone) were meticulously outlined. And Take The Man? I wrote a blurb, but couldn't outline it. I had only a vague idea of where it was headed. I was back to the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach. I gave up control and let my characters surprise me, and they did, in beautiful and painful ways.

I did not write consistently over the winter, and I wondered if I would even be able to meet my goal of finishing it before spring, but 4 weeks ago, I began to build momentum. Suddenly, I was able to focus, to sit and write for longer periods of time. I was getting work done, and my brain was working. I still wasn't quite sure how it would end, but at least there were possibilities in my head.

More surprises occurred. New characters came to life, and established characters made changes and found happiness. Even heartbreak had a resolution. I was on a roll, and soon I knew how it would end.

I'm glad to have wrapped my series up. I'm at a different place in my life now, and it's time to take a break from writing, and then maybe write something completely different. But these last few weeks of writing reminded me how good it can feel when you're humming along on a project and everything makes sense.

In the end, being tired of this project actually made me a better writer. It made me less controlling, and my characters took over, guiding me to a fitting end.

Sometimes they just know best.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Moving. Does anyone actually look forward to it? I have spent the last month moving a therapeutic riding center forty miles. It seemed, at times, like 400 miles. Volunteers and I packed up girths, saddles, hay, horses, poles, barrels, storage sheds, water troughs, desks, filing cabinets, tires, grain, supplements, bits, polo wraps, longe lines, and much more. Then we had to unpack, inventory, put up fencing, and organize it all. Whew.

We are still a long way from being finished, but we are functional. Well, almost. We need a mounting block and a wheelbarrow, an electrician and a few more volunteers. I have no doubt that they will all eventually arrive. The best part is that we are now in a large, 54-acre facility with three creeks, a waterfall, riding and hiking trails––even a stage and dance floor.

While the move was exhausting, I also found the new location caused my creative juices to stir. As a mystery author, I always look for fun ways to involve horses, interesting people, and unique settings into my stories. This location has all that and more. I began to have so many story ideas, that I started to jot them down into the notes section of my phone. Now I am intrigued to find out which of these ideas will turn into a book or a short story. Pieces of other ideas, I am sure, will wend their way into a chapter or two, as well. 

Oddly enough, the farm is just a stone's throw away from where Cat Enright, the protagonist in my equestrian mysteries lives. When I started the series a number of years ago, I never dreamed I'd be involved with a therapeutic riding center that was so close to her fictional home.

As a writer, sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to kick start a project, or get a book to the finish line. As you can see, I now have scenery galore! Feel free to follow the progress of the new farm on Facebook. I think we have a lifetime of projects, and ideas, waiting.

If you are ever in Ashland City, Tennessee, stop by Colby's Army for a visit.  I will probably be in a shady spot near the creek, writing.


Lisa Wysocky is an award-winning author, clinician, trainer, and riding instructor.
Find her online at

Monday, March 7, 2016

Pre-Birthday Jitters

One month from now, I will be frantically running around my barn sweeping, putting things away, restacking hay, removing cobwebs, brushing horses and sweeping again. There won’t be enough time to scrub the stall walls or paint them like I’ve been saying I’m going to do for over a decade. Or repaint the gates. Or trim the trees. Or rake all of the branches that have come down over the course of this winter. The fences should be painted and restrung with electric tape, yet I fear that it won’t be warm enough to do anything about it. And I will probably be a stressball of constant motion for a week before the big event, because the mental picture that I have of my farm sometimes blurs my view of what it actually looks like. When I take a moment to see it for what it is, as a stranger would see it, through negative lenses, I cringe.

Regardless, I will do what I can between caring for my geriatric equine crew and tending to my older dog who has been having health issues. And no matter how stressed I become, the event will happen. Because it’s important. Because it was my idea. And because you need to seize the moment as you never know if you’ll have the opportunity again. So, next month around this time, my farm will celebrate the 35th birthday of our oldest resident, E B Top Cat, a stoic and stubborn Morgan gelding that fatefully landed in my life 8 years ago. He’s had several occupations and at least 9 lives – I’ve heard a few of the tales from previous owners. In fact, I invited as many previous owners as I could. I’m sure some people would think it slightly crazy to get an invite from a stranger about a horse you once owned but if it were me, I would be running to the nearest tack store for a present.
TC says birthdays are cake!
The stress comes from preparing the barn for a massive influx of people, both equine inclined and otherwise. And I’m a routine person so anytime my routine is disrupted, there better be a good reason for it. But this is a great reason. Once people arrive and filter into the barn, I will relax, mostly because my horses take over. Each horse is social in his or her own way and the more introverted ones can be coaxed into affection for food. This will definitely be a day of food, both human and equine alike. My cousin makes the most delicious cakes, so I know that the guests will be happy. We’re also planning on fashioning a cake out of TC’s grain and hay stretcher, which is already mushy to accommodate his lack of teeth. I’m excited for the many pictures I hope to get of him stuffing his muzzle into his cake and covering his face with grain, my version of a toddler with frosting.
This week, I sent out invitations, which means next week I should start seeing RSVP’s. The weeks will fly by and before I know it, TC will be teetering on the edge of his biggest birthday celebration yet. As stressed as I become, I’m equally excited to share my farm with my friends and family. I always have been. The horses love all of the activity, the guests love the horses and their friendly, sometimes overfriendly nature, and I love being able to share the peace and solace that my farm holds. It’s magic, honestly. In the end, magic doesn’t come from painting a fence board or making sure the floor is clean enough to eat off of. Magic comes from celebrating the 35th birthday of a gelding because it’s whimsical and random. It takes us back to our childhood days where birthday parties were all about cake. It’s about my non-horse friends falling in love with this horse or that. But if you look deeper – it’s the celebration of the crazy life of an old horse who’s found his forever home and the many lives he’s touched. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky as to be “forever home”? That feels like magic to me. 

**Stay tuned for next month’s installment – The Party!**