Sometimes promises hurt more than lies. Cory Iverson has worked hard all year, and this morning she's finally going to get her dream horse. In less than 24 hours, however, everything reliable in her life comes crashing down, destroying her dreams and leaving her resentful of promises. That is, until a special messenger assures her that her true Dream Horse may be still waiting for her...
A car wreck in the middle of the night on a back country road. Every parent's nightmare. A young, inexperienced driver, a drunk driver, a tractor-trailer out of control at the bend of the road. All things we imagine and fear and dread. One night in the pre-dawn hours our phone rang. It was my daughter who was away at college. She told us she had been in an accident. "How bad?" my husband asked. "Are you okay?" She bravely told us that perhaps she was indeed not okay, because they were taking her to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The emergency responders had to cut the roof of the car like a tin can to get them out. They were broadsided by a pick-up truck. The details rolled out, horror after horror. We were dressed and on the road to the neighboring state in a flash, anxious to arrive and dreading what we would find. The happy ending is that she recovered from a broken pelvis and damaged liver, but the terror of the phone call in the night lives on.
Bublish tasked its authors to write about peace in light of the unrest and violence surrounding us lately. Peace is an elusive quality. Peace comes when you can live with what you think, who you are, and the decisions you make in life. This is especially hard when faced with a life and death decision. How do you live with yourself and find peace when you must give permission to "pull the plug" on a DNR loved one? Even making a decision to let a beloved pet go is gut wrenching as we hash over in our mind whether it is time, whether the pet perhaps still has a chance... Usually, we know somewhere deep inside when it is time. That knowing allows us some measure of peace with our decision. It is not without grief and pain, but the parting on some level, allows us to make peace even with death.
Ever notice how troubles seem to heap up, piling on each other, one disaster after another until a whole mountain of trouble is standing in front of you? Cory watches as her mother's life becomes more troubled, causing her to abuse prescription meds, make rash decisions, and drag her two daughters down along with her. The mother's problem marriage and loss of her job prompts her to pull up stakes and move far away with the hope that she's leaving all her troubles behind her. But we all know that never works! The old problems never go away and there are new ones waiting. How does Cory cope? Will she find her Dream Horse?
The week this story, Dream Horse, was published, I am suddenly faced with the possibility of losing my dream horse. My mare, named Dressed for Tea, is the ideal horse for me. She arrived in my life after decades of sick, hurt, crazy, you-name-it horses that did not work out for one reason or another. She gave me back my confidence, she is oh-so-sweet, and I now understand when people say a particular animal is their "heart horse." She's all that. This week, she became quite lame very suddenly from an insidious equine malady called laminitis. It can be mild and treatable, or it can cause permanent crippling lameness and/or require euthanasia. It is so hard to watch her suffer as I treat and manage the symptoms and pray. So ironic, after just writing this story. I can't lose my Dream Horse.
This painful scene illustrates a dad who thinks he is being generous with his wisdom, time, and money and a daughter who instead just wants his love and approval. They talk over and past each other, with Cory eventually withdrawing into the safety of her hurt, but protective shell. Unspoken expectations and broken promises...but with a very hopeful ending. I'm looking forward to release of Dream Horse this on July 29th as the prequel to Cory's adventures in False Gods and a short story that sets the scene for the Maryland Equestrian Novel series.
My main characters are teens, so people assume most of my readers are, too. Not so! Based on reviews and messages from readers, a large majority are women (and men!) in what they call "middle age." You may also assume that you have to be a horse lover or know a lot about riding to enjoy the books. Not so! I get so many readers who preface their comments with, "I've never even ridden a horse, but..." Others tell me that they were afraid they would not understand a story set in the horse world, but they found themselves drawn in and not only understanding, but living through the story and enjoying it. Authors are told to target certain readers, and one would think "horse-crazy teen" for mine, but not even close! Thank you readers who took a chance on my books! I see and appreciate you!
Equestrians have to ride every day no matter the weather in order to become skilled riders, able to train their horses. They owe it to the horses as well to themselves. This past winter I remember tacking up in single digit temperatures and now that it's summer, we're struggling to beat the heat. But that's what it takes if you want to improve. Like riding, there's no "off-season" to writing, either. True, writers need to take time to refresh, maybe attend conferences or training sessions, but the fact of the matter is they have to just keep plugging away at writing in order to improve. Writing and riding--it's the same. I just finished this short novella, Dream Horse, and have started a twisty plot murder mystery, Pale Horse. Stay tuned!
The Indie author movement has become the greatest boost to freedom and creativity in the publishing industry. Writers now can self-publish without having to pass through the former gate keepers. That means more stories are getting into the hands of readers that may not have been deemed "commercially viable novels" in the eyes of literary agents and big publishers, who have to be more concerned with sales and the bottom line. Like Indie music and movies, it means authors do not have to "write to" a proscribed formula and are free to explore new territories, blended genres, and edgy themes. And that means reader have more books, more choice, more freedom in what they can read.
The popularity of the short novel, the quick read, or "novelette" is growing. People want a short, entertaining read that they do not have to invest much time in while waiting for an appointment or a few hours before bedtime. What defines a quick read? Amazon has broken the short reads down by time needed in minutes to complete: 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120. Wow, what does a 15 minute story look like? These "novels" also are offered at a low price encouraging readers to take a chance. I've recently completed an approximately 13,000 word prequel to the Maryland Equestrian Novel series and am wondering this from readers: would you be interested in a quick read prequel? Would you like to see more short in-between quick reads with the same characters from the series? Do you ever purchase Kindle Short Reads or have you heard of them? I'd like to hear from you!
Finding just the right words, just the right body gestures, can bring a scene to life and say so much about the character. Sometimes, fewer words are more powerful. I've always loved searching for the perfect word for a particular character's speech patterns, personality, and background. I enjoy writing dialog and can hear words and even the character's accent in my head. This might come from having been a professional linguist for much of my life. My study of the Russian language began in Middle School, but before that we were required to take French. In college I added Italian and later I learned Persian-Farsi. I love foreign language, spoken language, accents, and words and always listen carefully to catch the subtleties of language. I hope this skill has paid off in my writing as I attempt to capture a character's unique personality.
In the brand new prequel to FALSE GODS coming out soon, Cory has her hopes on leasing her dream horse for the summer. After all, her father promised! Cory plans on spending the entire summer riding her perfect horse, going to shows, improving her skills...but her whole life is turned upside down in less than twenty-four hours. Have you ever had a big plan that was totally upended leaving you to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all? DREAM HORSE looks at the power of hope in the face of adversity and what it takes to keep a dream alive...even if it takes something supernatural! DREAM HORSE, the prequel to the Maryland Equestrian Novel series, should be out July 2019. Watch for it...and keep dreams alive.
How do I set Cory's mood for this scene? She's anxious, nervous, and distracted. I had to think what makes me unsettled (especially before a horse show!) and layer all those triggers on her for this scene at the jumping competition. First of all, she's just received unsettling news on top of a morning that is not going well. Second, her father promised to be there and he hasn't arrived yet. Third, she is not prepared because she did not have a chance to warm up her horse before the competition. Fourth, a lot is riding on how she does, ramping up the pressure to perform well. Fifth, her horse is responding to her nerves and is recycling the energy into bad behavior, causing them both to make mistakes. That's how you set the mood. One thing builds on another and another until...well, you'll have to read it to find out.
Some readers like a lot of backstory. They want to know the character's history, understand motivations, and learn everything there is to know about them. Others, not so much. A writer has to know the character's whole life whether any of it ever comes out in print or not. In this case, I've gone "back in time" to write about Cory Iverson's life before the action starts in the first book, False Gods. If you haven't read any of the books, fear not! Dream Horse is a complete story in itself, but there will be little things in there that will not only compel a reader to find out what happens next, but for anyone who has read False Gods, they will see foreshadowing of what was to come. I'm excited to report that Dream Horse was sent to the editor yesterday and will be out soon!
Readers have asked a lot of questions about what happens after a novel ends, or even before it begins! I'm excited about just finishing the second draft of DREAM HORSE, a short novella prequel to FALSE GODS. The story takes place all in one day when the main character, Cory Iverson, is still living in Massachusetts. In the course of twenty-four hours her live unravels, setting her on a course toward her destiny with a special horse in Maryland. I'm hoping this short read will be available soon and readers will enjoy learning more about the characters in The Maryland Equestrian Novel series.
Have you ever had so many bad things pile on your life you can't help throwing up your hands and asking, "Why me?" You hear that good things can come out of bad situations, but it's nearly impossible to believe it when you're up to your eyeballs in misery, trouble, or heartbreak. The spirit of hope is a theme in the prequel The Dream Horse and I want readers to come away believing that miracles can happen-- but they might not appear according to your time frame. I've never found a satisfactory answer to that impossible question of why bad things happen to good people, but I like to think things can change, things can improve, situations get resolved, trouble passes, and heartbreak fades. If you keep hope alive.
I'm having fun writing this novella about Cory Iverson's life before she appears in the novel FALSE GODS. This story goes back to when she lived in Massachusetts and rode at a barn there. So, the question is, what happened to turn her into a quitter, what was it that made her afraid to even try? Why did she give up riding? And most importantly, what was that little ember of hope that kept her belief in a dream horse alive? Read the backstory and find out! Those of you who read False Gods will certainly have a few "ah-ha" moments, and readers who haven't, I hope will read The Dream Horse and carry on with the series! Let me know what you think-- prequels thumbs up or down?
A half-wild horse, a Celtic legend, and a teen trying to escape… Regina Hamilton has three months to prove to the courts she can earn a living on her own and avoid going home to her abusive mother—a tall order for a teen with only her riding skills to rely on. Desperate to prove herself, Regina lands a job at an exclusive dressage barn. But when workers start to mysteriously disappear, she becomes ensnared in a web of lies and deceit. With time running out and unsure who to trust, Regina turns to an unlikely trio: an unusual boy who trains hawks, a reclusive professor of Celtic history, and a half-wild red mare. Together they form a bond that will be tested when a long-held secret exposes a much greater threat—and Regina’s the target. To save her horses and her life Regina may have to trust her enemies and betray her friends.
This has been a long, hot, rainy summer here and I'm ready for Fall. I usually dread the end of summer and the advent of shorter days, bare trees, frost, and cold but this year I welcome the change. At the very least, it will be a break from mowing and weeding! The weather this summer has been wildly extreme, swinging from pouring rain and violent lightening to days of extreme, oppressive heat. The fall will usher in cooler temps along with a forced slow-down of life's tempo due to less daylight. It's nature's way of getting us to wind down, take it easy, and get more rest as the dark and cold settle in by late fall and winter. This year, I really need it!
It is hard to visualize peace, especially the promised "peace that passes all understanding," in a world being torn apart by violence. Just last night, the violence of the police shooting in Philadelphia touched our family in a small way. My daughter was working at Temple Hospital and was caught in a lock-down while police attempted to subdue an individual who had already wounded several officers. I was afraid for my daughter living and working in the area. There was no peace in our house. So how do we experience peace in a time when we are bombarded with horrible news stories 24/7? How do we achieve that promised peace--the freedom from fear, want, and despair? How do we practice in the belief that all will be well with the world? It seems to be a challenge that calls for an act of will combined with a ridiculous faith in the face of everything around us.
Regina is faced not only with moving to a new state, but having to start in a new high school where she doesn't know a soul. Well, almost nobody...the day before she met some mysterious guy with a hawk in the woods. Have you ever had to switch schools? It can be daunting! Regina discovers she is behind in some classes because the curriculum was different in the school she was attending. I remember going to a new school and the entire approach to teaching math was different and I had no idea what the teacher was talking about. I point to that day as the beginning of my life-long fear of numbers. Regina, hopefully, fares much better. Read Horse Gods and find out.
In this excerpt, the main character was forced to move to Texas and stay with an aunt in a totally alien environment. Moves can be stressful! I remember the night my family moved into our new house on a "farm" with a few acres for the horses. We had been living in a townhouse, so the change of lifestyle was daunting. The farm needed so much work: the pastures were overgrown, the barn dirty, the fences all needed to be replaced, but it was my dream to have the horses on my own place. The night we moved, we were all so exhausted and overwhelmed by what we had done. After all, my husband and I still had full time jobs, graduate school, and a 3-year old to care for, in addition to the horses and farm upkeep. That night, my daughter tearfully cried, "Mom, I want to go home!" I almost dissolved into tears beside her, but it worked out in the end. It became our farm, our home.
I loved researching the legend of the horse in all cultures across the globe, but especially those from the British Isles. The horse culture is strong in that area of the world and has therefore generated rich and colorful horse mythology. In creating all the Irish tales and legends that Mr. Kendrick shares throughout Horse Gods, I drew on one much closer to home. I learned that my husband's family, which originated in Wales, had a horse-related legend of their own. It seems during a devastating flood, the progenitor of Trovillion clan was saved from drowning by a silver horse that rose up out of the flood waters and carried him to safety. Sound familiar? You may recognize the bones of this story in a fictionalized version in Horse Gods.
Writing is a solitary pursuit so it is only natural we seek contact with the "outside world" through social media, etc. But when our outside world turns hostile (bad review, submission rejections) it's easy to lose hope. That's when I turn to my readers for encouragement. Since I can't call you up or invite you over for coffee and a chat, I do the next best thing--I read what you've written to me. I have to admit, it's saved me from quitting a few times. One reader identified only as Horse Lover liked that the book made her think. Another identified as a "middle-aged woman" loved the books even though she knew nothing about horses. So many kind, insightful comments, but one stands out from a reader called Mel S. She wrote a review I go to whenever I need a boost. This review from an unknown person touched me and validates my reason for writing. Thanks to all readers, reviewers. Your words mean so much to me.
In this scene, Declan is taking his hawk, Rosie, out to hunt off the line for the first time. She may just fly away but it is a chance he has to take. He explains to Regina that he's going to let the bird go free eventually anyway. Regina has a hard time accepting that Declan could put all the hours of training into the bird, only to just let her go someday. It's funny, but this made me think about being a writer. An author spends an awful lot of time, energy, sweat and tears to create a novel, edit it into shape, only to "set it free" into the world at large. Like the falconer, we hope that the novel, like the bird, will thrive and find ways to make new readers out there in the wild.
On this July 4th Independence Day, there's a lot of talk about freedom. All kinds of freedom, personal liberty, independence, and human rights. Goals all Americans were raised to believe in, and rightly so! In HORSE GODS, the main character, Regina, has her rights and freedoms threatened when she learns her mother with a disturbing and abusive past is being released from prison and Regina is being "forced" to live with her. Since Regina is a minor, she has limited options and resources at her disposal in order to avoid this fate. One possible escape is to declare herself an emancipated minor, which entails many steps including proving one's independence. Regina goes to extreme lengths to prove she can make it on her own, but is soon faced with jeopardizing things she loves in order to gain her personal freedom.
Stories are passed on for generations not just because they are entertaining, but also because they contain truth. This is the real power of stories. In this scene, Regina must convince her boyfriend's reclusive, agoraphobic father that he must conquer his fears and come to the hospital to visit his son. If the red-tailed hawk dies, so will Declan, according to the legends. Regina relies on the power of the father's belief in the truth of stories to motivate him. As a storyteller myself, I love to weave in bits of the supernatural and the miracles of everyday life into novels. I believe there is a good deal of truth in the old legends and therefore have a lot of fun making up some new ones.
The professor in Horse Gods attributes a lot of power to names and certain words. Indeed, words do hold power. They can wound, soothe, convince, encourage, or destroy. People believe in the power of words affecting the mind and behavior of oneself and others--think of chants and spoken affirmations. In this chapter, Regina learns her name means queen and it starts to change the way she looks at herself. She also hears about the Celtic legend of the Fiolair, which is a seventh filly born to a seventh mare, possessing magic powers and protection for true owner and rider. I loved researching the meaning of names and old Irish legends in order to write Horse Gods.
The main character in HORSE GODS, Regina, has no reason to trust anyone or anything in her life. She has not been able to trust even her mother to keep her safe and as a result, Regina relies only on herself. But even that belief starts to erode when she behaves in ways that demonstrate she can't even trust herself to do what's right. At a dangerous turning point in the story, Regina realizes she must take the first step in trusting her fate to others who can help her. I'm an enormous fan of Brene Brown and devoured her books on shame and vulnerability, especially Daring Greatly. Her acronym BRAVING to define the seven elements of trust resonates with truth. I used much of her insights about trust and human nature and made it a theme throughout HORSE GODS--and as Regina learns, there must be trust in oneself first.
In my second book of the Maryland Equestrian series, I tried to "write to the market" more by creating a page-turning suspenseful story. I think I achieved that, but in the process, overarching themes of trust and the power of magical stories crept in and ruined my plan to keep this a straight forward book that would fit neatly into an established genre category. No such luck. Horse Gods went off on its own into a world of Celtic legend, miracles, voices from beyond, and the vulnerability of trusting one another. So, like False Gods, it doesn't fit neatly into "Teen equestrian fiction" or other popular Amazon categories. Authors are told to establish their brand. It's so important, there are even software programs that help writers discover what's in demand based on Amazon searches and keywords. After giving it much thought, I decided my brand is Hope--and providing stories about miracles for those who have the eyes to see them. And if there isn't a category for that, we need to make one. :)
Every horse owner knows the unexpected can happen at any time. A horse can take sick, get hurt, or in the blink of an eye find himself trapped or in trouble. We try to foresee potential dangers and prevent accidents, but it's not always possible. It is also difficult to "get away" when you keep your horses at home. Even in the hands of a trusted "farm sitter," there is some anxiety about being miles away and helpless should something happen. This worry is compounded for me lately because of the age of my horses and one of my dogs. They have special needs for food, medicine, and care. Indeed, I had the chance to participate in the prestigious Book Expo 2019 at the Javits Center in NYC this weekend, but a number of reasons caused me to take a pass. Luckily, it turns out, as my beloved old horse, Paddy, has taken a bad turn suddenly. I'm sure all animal lovers will understand how relieved I am to be home and with him, no matter the outcome.
Not all miracles have to be Biblical in proportion like the parting of the Red Sea or an angelic visitation. A lot of miracles happen everyday, if we have the eyes to see them. They can range from big ones--like this scene where Declan recovers after a severe accident--to tiny ones like having someone pull out of an ideal parking space just as you drive by, when it's pouring rain and you're late. The trick with miracles is to acknowledge them when they happen and be grateful. I like to put everyday type miracles into my stories as well as the big ones that make you wonder if something magical is behind them. You see, creating a story is a miracle in itself. I often sit down with no idea what to write, but have faith the magic will happen--and it often does! A terrific idea springs "out of nowhere" and that's my everyday miracle.
You may know that I love to pick real places around Maryland in which to set scenes in my novels. In Horse Gods, some secrets are revealed in a very mysterious and very real setting: Hell House. Yes, that's the name given to St. Mary's College, a seminary founded in 1868 in Ilchester, MD, now in ruins. The locals and media dubbed it Hell House or Creepy College after it fell into ruins in the early 1970's and supposedly attracted vandals and (get this!) satanic worshippers and ghosts. Even the ruins of the college buildings are gone now and only an altar under a stone columned gazebo remains. Check out pictures of it! But don't worry, not all the settings in this book are creepy! I was inspired by some of the most beautiful horse stables in the country, delicious restaurants, breathtaking countryside, and more.
Angela, the mother in Horse Gods, is convinced she still can control everything and everybody around her, even from prison. She withholds any overt signs of affection to her daughter, Regina, even as Regina compromises and begs for her mother's help. Angela has always manipulated, controlled, and even abused those around her for her own gain and Regina was no exception. Their relationship is very complicated--built on the shaky foundation of distrust, resentment, and fear. One reader questioned why the mother behaved in such a way towards Regina and what happens after the end of the action in the novel. In response, I plan to write THE BACKSTORY OF ANGELA, my most complicated and twisted character, in a short read novella. Stay tuned!
I think one reason Ancestry.com and similar family research sites are so popular is because people have an instinctive need to belong, to know who they are, and to understand where they came from. If it's not belonging through family connections, it might be through membership in a club, sorority, athletic team, or professional association. We are all connected in various ways and as human beings need to stay in touch with one another. In this scene, Regina, who has no family history, craves hearing stories of the ancient Celtic warriors and horsemen. She feels the connection on a deeper level. The myths become her family, her story, her identity.
People travel the world for special settings for their novels. I never have to leave my home in Maryland. Since my books often have a tiny dose of the supernatural, I love to set certain scenes in evocative, haunted, or highly spiritual places. And they are all real! In FALSE GODS, the main characters visit an abandoned amusement park devoted to nursery rhymes called The Enchanted Forest. In another scene, they spend the night in a burned out stone church in the woods. In HORSE GODS, there's a critical scene that takes place in the ruins of a seminary, St. Mary's College, at what's left of an altar swallowed up by the woods. I love the haunted places, but I also set lots of other scenes in local restaurants, shops, and show venues that readers familiar with the area love to see in print. There's plenty here at my back door to fire the imagination! Stay tuned, I'm going to Google map all the locations with pics on my website! (So you can visit them, too.)
This week I released HORSE GODS, the second book in the Maryland Equestrian Novel series. It is always exciting for an author to put a new story out there in the world, but also a bit stressful as you wait to hear what readers think. This novel focuses on Regina's story as she faces the upcoming release of her mother, Angela, from prison. Readers first met Angela, the "villain," in FALSE GODS and I enjoyed bringing her back in this book. So, what does the author do when a book is finally finished? Starts the next one! I'm working the third in the series but at the same time going back and writing a short prequel, DREAM HORSE, that tells the backstory before the action starts in book one. I love getting to know the characters better and share that with readers. What else would YOU like to know about Cory, Regina, their horses, and the evil Angela?
Horses, Hope, Healing. That's the promise in a nutshell. My books will feature horses, they will instill hope, and there will be healing by the end. I love a happy ending, but not ones that are easily achieved OR expected. That's what my stories promise. I love a flawed main character who struggles with her outward situation as well as internal demons (which are often far worse). I want to give readers not only an adventurous ride but also at the same time something to think about long after turning the final page. Horses, for me, are so intuitive and sensitive that they are almost magical in their ability to sense what is going on in a relationship with "their human." I love to convey that magic to every reader, whether they've ever known a horse or not. For more, please visit the blog on my website called HORSES HOPE HEALING at www.lrtrovillion.com.
Have you ever been reading a book and developed a good idea of what the character(s) look like and the author goes and spoils it with a description or trait that doesn't match? I hate that. I also hate when they make books into movies and the actor looks NOTHING like how I imagined the character. I just like to keep the character consistent with the way I see him/her in my head. How about you? That's why I use minimal description of a character's physical appearance in novels so the reader can fill in the rest. That being said, I know how I see them and it helps me to write the story if I have pictures of my characters, the places they visit, the horses they ride, the trucks they drive...you get the "picture." (ha ha) So, I collect pictures illustrating my novels and pin them to boards on Pinterest. If curious, check them out via a link on my website or by name. See if they match YOUR imagination!
In this March Madness basketball season when people pick their dream team final four, we were challenged to pick our author "Final Four"--meaning the writers who meant the most to us. It is really impossible to boil it down to only four, but I decided to pick four who had an influence on me as a writer. Here's my list: Neil Gaiman. I love that guy! Anyone who can create a heartwarming and believable story about a child raised in a graveyard by ghosts is a genius; Alice Hoffman--I've always loved her magical realism, love of nature, and lyrical prose; Anne Tyler for the consistent body of work that is breathtakingly honest, real, and holds a magnifying glass up to examine the minutia of real life; lastly Carolyn Keene (yes, the Nancy Drew author) because she was the one who got me to fall in love with books when I was struggling so much with reading as a kid.
Novels don't have to start with a chase scene, discovery of a dead body, or ticking time bomb to hook a reader, but authors do have to put their main character into a situation that ramps up the conflict. Horse Gods starts with this hook: how Regina can avoid having to live with her abusive mother when she is released from prison in a mere three months. Once I set the hook in a novel, I like to amp up the conflict by having my main character, in an attempt to solve her problems, get in deeper. I have her make terrible decisions at every turn, act impulsively without thought, and generally get herself in more trouble instead of out of it! Readers will hopefully keep turning pages to find out how Regina's going to get out of THIS mess, just as she stumbles into a more dangerous one.
My grandparents immigrated to the US from Ireland and although I did not know them well, I think I inherited some of the Irish storytelling DNA. My love of myth and legend was given full rein in Horse Gods. I even imagined the professor in the story to be a type of Joseph Campbell, expert in comparative mythology. Of course horses play a huge role in myths, especially those of the Celtic people. They gave us the Fiolair, a magic horse that protects its true owner and the Kelpie--horses that lured people to their death in the sea. In Horse Gods I often took the bare bones of some legends and embellished them or even made up some of my own! But each one was created with a dash of magic and a connection to the "real life" story. Horse Gods with special pre-order prices available now. Grab a copy and enjoy some Irish magic!
Most main characters in my novels are female. Why? Maybe because I am. It gives me an edge into knowing and portraying them more realistically. But is that a good thing? In honor of International Women's Day, I've been thinking about female characters in novels. How are they portrayed? What kinds of women do we like to read about? Do we want them to be familiar and recognizable? Do we want them to be the super heroes we dream about? Or, do we want them deliciously wicked or outrageously daring? Maybe all of the above. No matter the "type" of female character, they have to have more than one dimension and that's what makes creating them fun! The three women in the opening of Horse Gods may at first strike you as hopelessly weak or totally wicked, but wait. They're going to change! What were some of your most memorable female characters?
I'm excited to return to the horse show world of Cory Iverson and her friend and fellow-competitor, Regina Hamilton. In this next book, the focus shifts to Regina. It's been a little over a year when Regina learns her mother, imprisoned for her crimes committed in the first book (no spoilers), is getting out. Regina must find a way to earn a living to escape her abusive mother. With the help of a friend, she lands a job at a prestigous dressage barn but what at first seems like a golden opportunity, soon turns into a dangerous trap. By writing this story, I thought a lot about the nature of trust. What do you do when those who are supposed to protect you let you down, or worse, turn against you?
Cory Iverson's junior year is off to a lousy start. Publicly humiliated by the school's hottest guy and terrorized by a bullying band director, Cory flees sports try-outs and just about everything else she begins, earning a reputation as a loser as well as a quitter. But when her wandering dog leads her to the barn of a former Grand Prix rider, she finds a welcome refuge in the familiar world of horses. It's not too long before she starts dreaming of showing in one of the country's most prestigious shows--a totally unrealistic hope--until she rescues a mysterious horse with some unusual talents. But her road to success is littered with roadblocks as events spin out of control: prescription painkillers appear in her mother's purse; her ballerina sister wastes away before her eyes; her boyfriend is keeping secrets; and her normally opinionated trainer becomes strangely evasive. Worst of all, the horse show world is not what she imagined. It isn't long before Cory's winning spree attracts the attention of a brutal trainer with a string of unexplained horse deaths in her wake. When Cory lands in the crosshairs, she has to decide if she'll once again back down and flee or stand up for herself, her horse, and her dreams.
The change of seasons are welcome, because I am often sick of the one I'm in and ready to move on. More so than ever this year, as the summer has brought great changes to Maryland weather and vegetation. On my farm, several trees died or are dying due to root rot and bug infestation. My horses are suffering from clover and weeds infesting the pasture and causing all sorts of maladies. The weather is violent and dramatic--gone are the summer gentle rains to be replaced by violent storms and downpours. Climate change? I believe we are facing profound changes whether we as humans are responsible for them or not. I see it in my little corner of the globe, so I can't image how people who track it worldwide are feeling. I read recently therapists are seeing a new phenomenon dubbed "Climate Grief," which affects individuals anxious or depressed about the Earth's future. We can only hope that anxiety results in action.
I have a hard time making decisions--from the small ones like what to order off a menu to the big ones like which job to accept or house to buy. I get paralyzed by indecision, fearing I will make a horrible mistake or miss out of something better. How do you make decisions with confidence and find peace with whatever you decide? I think you have to believe in yourself and your ability to reverse a decision without consequence. In addition, I find the important decisions are usually accompanied by a sort of "mystical" experience-- that you will sense the right path to take. Call it a gut feeling. It tells you what is right and guides your decision making. Without some measure of assurance that everything will be okay, you will torture yourself going back and forth, being double-minded and second guessing yourself. I think the bottom line is this: peace comes from the absence of fear that you will make an irreversible mistake.
Like Cory, I grew up in Massachusetts where the school year began after Labor Day. Never sooner. By then, the days were getting shorter and much cooler. As a kid, mom marched us into the local department store for new shoes and school clothes--that meant no jeans, no pants even! I remember how cramped my feet felt in new leather shoes after spending most of the last two months barefoot. Labor Day was a Gateway signaling the absolute of summer--no more sandals, no more bright prints, and heavens! don't be caught wearing white. We started the first day of school in scratchy wool skirts, knee hi stockings, and sweaters. It's funny to think back on it now-- how terribly important it all seemed.
Like the main character, Cory, I moved from Massachusetts to Maryland, but not as a teenager. I had just graduated college and landed a job with the Federal Government outside of Baltimore. At the time, I had never left New England. So, I packed a box of a few essentials into a car my grandmother bought me for about $800 (I think it was pulled out of a river since it had rust on the INSIDE) and drove south. These were the days before GPS and smartphones so I had to read my AAA map and drive and hope I didn't get lost! Upon arrival, I rented an apartment and waited for my new roommate--someone I had never even met before! After a few days in a squalid motel counting my dwindling funds, we moved into a total empty apartment. We didn't have beds or a stick of furniture. I look back on it now and wonder how I made it. Turns out, that roommate is my best friend after 40 years. The BIG move was a good move.
In this scene, the two sisters, Cory and Jess, know just how to get under each other's skin. Did you have a sibling who knew all your hot buttons and how to push them? Cory loves belittling ballet because she knows how much dance means to Jess. Readers may not know that my roommate (before marriage) was a devoted ballerina who not only danced in but also choreographed the Nutcracker for several local dance companies for several years. Starting usually by August, the house was filled with Waltz of the Flowers or other signature pieces and talk was centered around the challenges of costume, setting, selecting principal dancers, etc. Each year by the time December rolled around and "normal" people were excitedly purchasing tickets, I was already tired of this ballet. In this scene, I had fun pouring out the snark through Cory's words, maliciously making fun of the lovely Nutcracker Ballet.
Topic: Social Media, good or bad? Like any tool, it can go either way. Social media has been criticized for isolating people, but on other occasions it has the power to bring people together for a good cause. I choose to talk about the positive, so I'll share when I was surprised, touched, and uplifted by a bunch of strangers who reached out to me. I follow a group of "aging horsewomen" who share their struggles and challenges not just with horses, but in life. This group spans across the U.S. and several counties internationally. When I posted about a tough decision to give up on a horse I loved and sell her, I expected some criticism, shaming, maybe some second-guessing as to whether I was giving up too soon. Instead, I received an outpouring of support, encouragement, and thanks from others who were grappling with the same issue. Thousands upon thousands of women took time to sit down and post kind words to me! Me, someone they didn't even know. And I thanked them all. I see you out there, and I'm grateful for you.
After the Women's National Soccer Team took another World Cup victory, many people wondered what makes them so good. Talent? Practice? Good coaching? I'm sure it's all these things, but something more. Staying the distance. Anyone who hopes to excel in any discipline has to put in the time for the long-haul, not just during the competitive season and not just when you feel like it. Often at horse shows we see beautifully turned out riders on gleaming, muscled horses winning class after class. What we don't see is the every day slog of riding in blistering heat or freezing cold and the mental fortitude it takes to get back on after a bad fall. The same could be said for writing as well. A novel is not a sprint, but a marathon, and building a career as a writer can leave one "bruised" and discouraged as well. Like athletes, we have to be disciplined in our craft and have our eyes on the goal ahead at all times.
In this excerpt, Cory begins an essay on how chasing after misplaced desires can imprison and even destroy a life. She describes how it hurt her family but more so, how it paralyzed her with so much self-doubt, she failed to ever even try new things. Fear of failure became her personal version of a prison. There are so many self-help books written on freeing oneself, learning to be yourself, and simplifying life down to what is truly important. Clearly, we all want to achieve and enjoy personal freedom, so why do we find it so hard? Why can't we be authentic and live outside the judgement of others? As we celebrate our country's independence this week, maybe take a few minutes to consider your own personal Declaration of Independence.
What are your fear triggers? For many people, public speaking or any situation that may open them to criticism or ridicule--in other words, that makes them feel vulnerable. What if you really wanted to do something, but failed to face your fear? Would you later hate yourself? In this scene, Cory is faced with jumping a fence combination that earlier resulted in a painful fall. Worse yet, she has learned that her trainer may have broken her neck over the same type fence years ago. Cory's mind scrambles to find an escape where there is none. I like to put my characters in situations that make them face their own worst fears, their vulnerability, and then describe the resulting authentic emotions. To do that, it means looking into my own past and dredging up some painful experiences that stirred similar reactions because I really want to get it right. Make it authentic. My characters are far from brave, suffer from self-criticism, and struggle through life. They're vulnerable, but they're real.
If you don't know what that means, I'll let you know at the end. A creative writing teacher put that word up on the board and challenged her students to guess the meaning. I didn't have to guess, I knew what it meant, because I collect weird, fun words. I love strange sounding words, words that precisely describe the most exotic things, and words that are borrowed into English from other languages because they're so on target. When we can't find the right words in life, we suffer, like in this scene when Cory is experiencing so much shame, she just can't tell anyone what happened and what she's feeling. Words sometimes elude us. As for PLUVIOPHILE, well, it is simple a person who loves the sound of rain. Are you a pluviophile like me?
What will you do this summer? When schools let out when I was a kid, I knew I had two months of totally unscheduled freedom to look forward to. Neighborhood kids banded together to build forts in the woods, ride bikes to the next town, or have marathon days-long street hockey games. Other times, the whole day was spent lounging on the castaway coach on the back porch, reading an entire novel cover to cover. As an adult, I've lost some of that power to lean into unscheduled free time and instead always try to fill it up with something "productive." Indeed, this summer I've already given myself a deadline to get DREAM HORSE, a new novella, published. I have some book signings, some marketing courses, and goals to improve my email list. Phew! But amidst chores on the never ending "to do" list I'll find time and a spot on my back deck overlooking the horse pastures to read and daydream again. Like a kid.
What surprised me most about the publishing world today was the fact that unique stories that don't fit a genre, established niche, or Amazon category, have a harder time getting sold to publishers or hit best seller charts. Everyone says they want something fresh, unique, but in reality the publishers and often times readers themselves want something familiar, safe, that they know it is popular and sells. That is why so many authors now are "writing to the market." Do you as a reader have a hard time finding something that really stands out from the pack? When I started the Maryland Equestrian series, I couldn't find the best fit for marketing it. Yes, it was YA but most readers were older women. Yes, it was contemporary, but it had touches of magic without being fantasy. There was a romantic story line, but the point was not teen romance. The series follows teens grappling with life issues while competing in the gritty horse show world, but as one reviewer said: It's a different kind of horse story. Where does it fit? I think I'm going to have to invent a new Amazon search category. How about "Magical equestrian?"
The sky went from gloomy to blackout in an instant, only broken by flashes of lightening. My dog presses against my side and whines. Although she's nearly deaf, the rumble of thunder and pelting rain on the windows sets her into a panting panic. A ping. The phone screen flashes TORNADO warning for the area. Anxiety. There is nothing like weather to have an immediate impact on mood! Thankfully, the storm has passed and the mood here has calmed in the aftermath. In my stories, I often use weather to reflect the dominant mood of the scene or, more often, as a foreshadowing of something to come. A storm can bring comfort or terror. Oppressive heat can set a mood of tension or lethargy. A character may laugh at the rain or become gloomy. In this scene, the gathering storm foretells the violence of the scene to come.
If you've ever seen a horse in a herd spook, setting off all the others into a panic, then you'll know what I mean by crowd mentality. When I was a teen, I tried hard to fit in, or at least not stand out too much in a bad way. It's human nature to want to be accepted by the crowd or at least by your peers. Whenever people gather, you have to decide whether you will go along with the "group think," and if not, whether you dare to express a different opinion. Unfortunately, this desperation to fit in does not end upon graduation from school, but follows you into various arenas in life. That is one reason why I loved creating characters who have a certain out of the ordinary quirkiness about them that they embrace. We all have heard the advice, "Dare to be Different!" but how many of us have the guts to do so? I love a character who can step out of the norm when it may call criticism or rejection down on him.
The Maryland Equestrian series of novels is of course set in Maryland, but did you know that many of the settings are real places? In this scene, the main character and her boyfriend sneak into the abandoned amusement park known as The Enchanted Forest, which delighted visitors since 1955 with nursery rhyme playhouses and rides until it closed around 1989. The structures sat empty and in decay until some were rescued, stored by preservationists, and moved to Clark's Elioak Farm. Readers may recognize many more famous touchstone locations around central Maryland: The Washington International Horse Show, the ruins in the Daniels Area of Patapsco Valley State Park, Columbia Mall, and more.
There are millions of great books that focus on the mother-daughter relationship. Not surprisingly, because it is a powerful relationship--one that can hurt or heal. Humans are hardwired with the expectation that your mother will love you. But this is not always the case. Sometimes two people are thrown together in a family that make that mother-daughter relationship strained, either due to personalities or other reasons. In this scene, Cory's mother has grown up with a sense of inferiority. As a result, she relentlessly criticizes her daughter, thereby passing on all the hurt and humiliation she experienced. Sadly this is often the case in families--destructive habits are passed down the line until someone finally stands up to them. Will Cory?
Everyone loves a winner, especially one who is an underdog or who has overcome incredible odds. It seems the deeper the fall into failure, the more spectacular the win. In FALSE GODS, the once heralded Grand Prix rider and trainer is disgraced. People whisper behind her back that she's lost her nerve--disaster for a show jumper. But is it true, or something much more destructive and sinister? You've got to read it to find out! I recently experienced my own horse show comeback of sorts. After a nearly 12-year absence from the show ring, I competed in a local schooling show. Sure, it was not Grand Prix, it was not the "big time," there was nothing at stake but my pride...but it took some nerve to do it. Although I didn't "win," I sure felt like I did. Do you have a comeback story to share?
I found a stack of my old report cards from elementary school. They are not a testament to academic promise, let me tell you. Each teacher, year after year, complained that I daydreamed in class and did not pay attention. And they were right. I was bored (Dick and Jane, really? How come the boy gets to do all the fun stuff?) By the end of 6th grade I had become a master at mentally escaping any situation into the made up stories running through my head. When I got older, I also escaped into other people's stories--in books. How great it was to be able to spend a whole day reading on the back porch. Somehow, the two streams of my imagination and the creativity of other writers crossed paths and I started writing stories--all kinds, from fan fiction to mysteries to fictionalized biographies. These days, usually a story starts with a character who shows up in my imagination and invades my life. When she moves in to stay, I know I have to write her story. And eventually, she tells me what it is.
We have a lot of fun sometimes in our writing critique group. You must have a sense of humor in order to offer your story up for pot-shots, criticism, and yes, laughter. But it is all in the right spirit--to help each other. Sometimes we burst into laughter when reading a single line of dialog or an exchange between characters. Somehow when writing it, the words rang true, but when you read it out loud...ugh! We have all called each other to task for clunky, formal speech, for words a professor would use in a teenager's mouth, or a line dripping with feminine hallmarks spoken by a strapping male hero. "That's not man-speak!" we hoot. And when the author reads it out loud herself, she starts laughing, too.
I first heard of International Women's Day (IWD) decades ago when I was studying Russian in school. Around 1917, the Soviets commemorated this holiday in conjunction with women's suffrage. Today, many countries around the globe recognize IWD on March 8th. So how do we observe Women's Day? Is it an opportunity to examine equality issues or a chance to honor exceptional women in history? Perhaps both. But in addition, I think it should also be a call for women to help lift up other women, even in simplest ways. Read a female author and write a review for her. Mentor a young woman interested in your career field. Call a friend who is struggling and give her your time. Stop competing and empower each other instead. Happy IWD2019!
Why was Cory so alienated from her friends? Why was she so afraid to try, to compete? Why did she shun everything to do with horses until...well, I won't spoil the moment when that changes. If you've read False Gods and want to know more about Cory before she moved to Maryland, you absolutely have to read The Dream Horse and find out. If you haven't read False Gods, it's a great place to introduce you to the characters. The Dream Horse tells you what happened to crush Cory's dreams and shake her faith, but False Gods tells you how those dreams were restored in a way she could never have imagined. Just like life.
“Worse than the total agony of being in love?” Remember that line from Sam, the little boy in Love Actually? Do you remember your high school crush? Hanging around by his locker, hoping to get a mere glimpse, maybe exchange a few words? For me, romance felt so painful then, mostly because I was unsure of myself as well as clueless. In this scene, our heroine Cory has been plotting to run into crazy Kevyn who is so totally different, so self-assured, he's rocked her world. She's plotted and planned and dressed up for him...only to be met with disappointment. In these last few weeks of the Month of Love, take time to look back at those thrilling, painful, exhilarating, cringe-worthy, and euphoric memories of first loves. Do you recall any "I can't believe I acted like that!" memories?
Have you ever procrastinated over something you wanted to do because you were afraid or filled with self-doubt? Fear is the enemy of creativity, so is it any wonder writers often quit? How do you push through doubt, fear, and negative thoughts? When I feel an attack coming on, I go to my readers for help. I can't tell you the number of times it happened that just when I felt like giving up someone out of the blue tells me how much they enjoyed my book. Or, a marvelous review pops up on my book page. Or other miracles that provide hope, validation, and assurance I'm providing a service: entertaining stories with a message. So to anyone who has written a review, thanks! And to those who haven't, please consider it. Reviews-good or not so good-help authors hone their craft and buoy them up for the next project. What dispels your self-doubt?
When I set out for the barn this morn it was minus one degree. I dressed in layers, scarf wrapped around my face, no exposed skin, and extra coats and gloves on hand. I was in for five or more hours outdoors caring for horses. In the cold, this means battling frozen hoses, heavy filthy blankets to put on or remove, poop frozen to the stall mats, pushing an overflowing wheelbarrow up hill through the snow--both directions. Today I was already tired when I saw a horse had pooped in her heated water bucket, making it into Poo Stew. It all had to dumped and scoured out. Slipping on ice, the wind razoring my cheeks, I headed back inside. On the way, I passed my mare. When she recognized me, a deep throated nicker echoed through the cold and warmed my heart, stopping my feet in their tracks. The reward. That's why we do anything hard--riding or writing or whatever your passion. For the love of it and for the "nicker rewards" -- like when someone writes a nice review of my book. Suddenly the memory of all the hard work melts away.
Like you, I enjoy comfort. Being a horse person, my comforts come less often but are appreciated all the more. When I arrive at the barn on an 8 degree morn, I love the red of the sunrise over the horizon. I enjoy seeing the fuzzy, orange tabby who runs to greet me. I love the nicker of horses when I open the barn door and smell the sweet hay. Despite the freezing cold of winter, the wind that razors the skin off my face, the frozen water buckets, and the struggle of winter, I can find comfort in small things. When I get home after a hard day of physical labor, a strong cup of tea and fleece slippers are comfort. The best comfort of all, however, is the escape into a truly wonderful book that brings me to new places, big adventures, with fascinating characters.
There are so many terrific writers of equestrian fiction out there, especially for YA, so what makes my books different? Sure, there's a girl and a horse and a big problem to overcome... but what makes False Gods, and the soon-to-be-released sequel Horse Gods, different is that although the main character thinks her problems are all "out there," in reality they are within her--and the horse acts as the vehicle to brings about the necessary change. Sometimes that change feels spiritual, sometimes the story tips slightly into magical realism. It's probably no accident the horse in the first book is named Epiphany as Cory overcomes self-doubt and learns to value herself. Stay tuned for book two when a special horse tackles the problem of trust!
January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. If you think this is a problem only in big cities or near the border or in Third World countries, you are mistaken. Exploitation of vulnerable people, especially underage girls and immigrants for sexual trafficking, happens even in "nice neighborhoods." That is why it is critical to know the signs and take action. I've taken awareness training on this terrible issue at various venues and am still horrified by the scope of the problem--over 20 million victims worldwide. My next book in the series, Horse Gods, touches on the problem of girls being recruited for sex trafficking and how easy it is for a young, desperate girl to fall into and become trapped that dark web. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) is a national assistance center with a hotline and resources to help. Please don't turn a blind eye to slavery and trafficking--Break the Silence.
In this excerpt, Cory successfully navigates her mare over the highest jump she has ever attempted. Feeling a sense of accomplishment is wonderful! It is so important, in fact, that we should take time to look back over the year and note all our triumphs. As a writer, this is especially important, because we tend to focus on what we have NOT done. So, here it goes: In 2018 I signed with Bublish to distribute and promote my book, I consulted with them for improved branding and a new cover to improve marketability, my sales improved, some local libraries purchased it for their collection, my website was totally revamped (visit it at www.lrtrovillion.com) and I finished the next book in the series, Horse Gods, with a gorgeous cover, and it is edited and close to its March launch date. Phew! There's so much more I need to do, but looking back, I accomplished a lot. Thanks readers for your support.
Christmas has such power to rip you out of the present and fling you back to childhood. I vividly remember Christmases in New England when I was very young. We kids were allowed to change the color of the candles in the window each night, taking turns. When it was my turn, I picked all different garish colored bulbs for each one. My poor parents! The manger scene, which took up the entire top of the upright piano, was a battle ground between me and my sister. We fought like tigers over the placement of the figures because I insisted the Wise Men had to be far away since they didn't arrive until later. I can still envision the watery glow of the outdoor lights at night, burning through a layer of snow, and the cold glass window that sent drafts through the house. The smell of bayberry brings me back home in an instant. Food, sights, sounds, traditions. What are your earliest memories?
People who don't own horses--or perhaps have never even sat on one--still recognize the magic and majesty of this special animal. Today, on National Day of the Horse, think about all the ways the horse has contributed throughout history: in work, war, transportation, and sport. For more details, check out Oxford academic Barry Cunliffe's YouTube insights into the horse as a catalyst in human civilization. In WWI alone, over 5M horses and other equines died in service to man. Today, the horse continues to be used in more than just sport. Horses are key contributors in health and therapy organizations, police work, ranching, search and rescue, and more. Think of the powerful image of the Budweiser Clydesdale team and it's no wonder it became one of the most iconic brand symbols in the world. I know I have readers who have never ridden a horse, yet still enjoy a great horse story. Thank you, all horses, for everything you give.
Where do characters come from? The realistic ones are likely shades of people we know or met. The really realistic ones are some aspect of the author. Really, writers may deny this, but it's true. Cory in False Gods, in the words of her sister, is even "worse than a quitter" because she never really tries. If she can't be good at something, she won't take it on. At some point it sunk in that Cory is me. I've shied away from anything I don't think I'll master or be good at. Why? Insecurity, perfectionism...you name it. Everything except riding. Like Cory, my love of horses pushed me through all the self-doubt, the fears, the frustrations, and kept me going, pursuing a nearly unattainable goal of being a competent horsewoman. For the love of horses. In the end, Cory's love is what saves her. Find out how--grab a copy of False Gods for an inspirational holiday story.
Cory is a rider. She thinks her sister's obsession with ballet is dumb. Her sister thinks riding involves too much cold, dirt, and "being outdoors." These two could not be any more different. But are they? When I began my working life, I shared an apartment with a gal who studied ballet, choreographed, and lived and breathed for dance. I lived at a barn. We were so different--she was from out west, I was from New England; she was conservative on issues where I leaned liberal. But, like the characters Jess and Cory, we came to see the strengths in each other's passions and discovered that we had more in common than we thought--even when it came to dance and riding. My friend's devotion to dance inspired me to create the character Jess and to try to capture the magic of ballet in False Gods.
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Leo Tolstoy made this astute observation. I love to create family drama in all its unique permutations in my novels, but in my own family this Thanksgiving I am enormously happy and grateful. My daughter and her boyfriend arrived late last night (straight from Med School clinical rotations) and got up early this morn to run our traditional Thanksgiving Turkey Trot despite the bitter cold. I'm thankful I came home to find my husband had dinner well under control and then some. I spent the down time before guests arrive to clean the barn and prepare treats for the horses and dogs (and write this book bubble!). My heart is full of gratitude. I hope you're having a wonderful holiday, too.
This is the time of year when more reading is undertaken during the long, dark nights and more books are sold leading up to the holidays. What kind of books do you look for? I want to fall in love with the characters so much so that I hate to see the story end. I love twisty-turns in the plot that keep me off balance. And my secret pleasure is a good Cinderella story--think Rocky, think Seabiscuit, think The Pursuit of Happiness. To be a good one, however, the main character has to overcome impossible odds and maintain his/her integrity throughout. There can't be any cheap deus ex machina bail out at the end, either. I look for these stories and love reading them. I also love writing them. What are your favorites? Happy Reading Season!
...like me? Some people are inspired by music, but I get creative by looking at images. I'm a visual learner and I "see" everything in my mind. That's how I survived my college classes, particularly having to learn all the complex grammar rules in Russian, my major. I could "see" the textbook page when I went in to take the test. When writing a scene (if I'm really into it) I see a movie rolling past my eyes and take it down like dictation. Pictures help. I have spent hours falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole, devouring images that illustrate characters, setting, moods. I create boards for each of my books so I can collect ideas, get in the mood, "see" what is going on in the story. Please visit my Pinterest boards to see pictures of Cory, Jess in the Nutcracker, the horses, the Washington International Horse show, the ruins of the Enchanted Forest and more. What's your Pinterest addiction?
On the first day of NANOWRIMO, National Novel Writing Month, I'm thinking about how I became a writer. When did it happen? When I sold my first book? When I got published? When I finished a manuscript? I think it happened when I put pencil to paper in elementary school and plotted out my first story. You're a writer if you write. Period. When people discover I've written a book, they often share how they intend to write one just as soon as they retire, or the kids are older, or when they get a special room set up...insert other excuses here. I doubt they will, because they don't know the secret magic word for becoming a writer: BICHOK. It stands for "Butt in chair, hands on keyboard." You have to write to become a writer and with enough practice, maybe even a good writer! So sign up for NANO, practice BICHOK, your story is calling! BTW, my first "novel" was called The Clue in the Haunted Bridge. Awful, right? I might even still have the notebook somewhere...
Halloween is associated with fear, but what really turns fear into an uncontrollable monster? Your own thoughts. Cory fell jumping a fence and now is afraid it will happen again. Her mind goes over and over the scenario, building up fear and almost guaranteeing she will crash. What you fear, or more precisely, what triggers your fear, causes your mind to turn it into reality--what we horse people call "riding for a fall." But how to stop the cycle? Equestrians are told to "get back on the horse that threw you" right away before the mind gets ahold of paralyzing fear. Not always possible. But some triggers are so insidious and hidden, you don't even know what's causing the fear. I'm so afraid of closed in places that I can not even watch someone in such a situation in a movie or on t.v. Recently I recalled an episode from my childhood that explained a lot. When I was very young, a friend locked me in the trunk of her family's car and ran away. She likely left for about ten minutes, but to me it was hours alone, trapped, in the dark. Fear triggers. What are yours and how do you vanquish the monsters? Happy Halloween!
False Gods is all about having a dream. Coaches, motivational speakers, and parents all encourage us to pursue your dreams. But no one talks about the dark side to desires and dreams. What if, in pursuit of your dream, you take a destructive path toward attaining it? The characters in False Gods have both humble and lofty dreams, but obsession, drive, and the fear of failure perverts their idyllic goals: Jess wants to become a pro ballerina but jeopardizes her health to achieve "the look"; Cory's mom wants to love and be loved so desperately she hooks up with an abusive and dangerous man; Cory's horse trainer sought Grand Prix fame to the extent that she ruined a horse and destroyed her career. By all means strive for your dreams but temper them with acceptance of where you are now, enjoy the process as you reach for the goal, and don't hurt yourself or anyone else along the way.
The opening of this scene suggests some bad weather is going to roll in soon. So are some really bad people and events. In my stories, weather often mimics or predicts the mood and action. As a horse owner, I'm particularly aware of the weather forecast, but I recall once when I was caught totally off guard. A friend and I were out trail riding on a winter day when suddenly a violent snow storm blew in. The sky turned dark and the snow fell so hard we couldn't see more than a foot ahead of us. In an open field, we experienced total white-out and didn't know which way to go in order to get home. At that point, my friend said, "Drop the reins. Let the horses show us the way home." It took a leap of faith, but that's what we did. Frozen, snow covered, and essentially blinded, we were helpless but the horses found their way back to the barn.
Writing for Young Adults, you walk a fine line between realism and discretion on the amount of detail included in scenes depicting sex or violence. As a reader, I have never enjoyed explicit scenes detailing either, but rather prefer well timed hints that leave it up to the reader to imagine what is going on. In romantic scenes, less is often more. Take for example the removal of Michelle Pfeiffer's glove in "The Age of Innocence." Sensuality implied in a simple gesture. I hope I have hit a balance in portraying the teen romance between Cory and her boyfriend, Kevyn, but suggesting emotions and leaving it up to the reader to fill in the blanks.
Scent triggers memories. This has been a known fact for some time. Some scents stir up powerful, long forgotten memories the brain has kept hidden. For example, while cleaning up after a home improvement project, I opened a can of turpentine and immediately saw an image of my mother when she was young woman. The smell brought me back to early childhood, watching her oil painting, enveloped in the smell of linseed oil, paint, and mineral spirits. It is a vague memory, but conjures up a sense of contentment. In my writing, I refer to scent, odor, smells both good and bad because they are such strong triggers to memory and therefore emotions. What are some of your favorites?
In this scene, Cory learns the horrific fate of many horses sold at auction--a terrifying ride across the border to slaughter. Like any reasonable person, she questions how this happens. Doesn't anyone want these horses? Can they be saved? Indeed, there are good horses that "fall through the cracks" and land in this terrible place. I wrote this scene to shine a light on the precarious fate of all horses and to give hope to those willing to take on a rescue horse. Please support organizations that help transition ex-racehorses to new homes, such as the Retired Racehorse Project. We are a nation built on the backs of horses. We owe each one a safe home or a dignified end to life.
Back to school, new clothes, a fresh start--that's how I viewed Labor Day each year. New Year was in September, not January. It was a time for making resolutions, riding on the tide of optimism. In New England where I grew up, the school year never started until after Labor Day when the weather was cooling and the evenings grew shorter. It was clearly the end of summer, the end of flip-flops and cook-outs and swimming in the ocean. Back to school traditions vary depending on where you grew up. What are some of your autumn memories? What traditions were associated with the beginning of the school year? I'd love to hear some!
In this scene, at night Cory flees an assault by running to the safety of the barn. A group of feral barn cats appear and comfort her. I have always loved cats (and horses and dogs) and find each one unique. There is nothing more soothing than a purring cat on your lap. Just two weeks ago while I was away, my cat slipped out and disappeared. I've done everything to find her, but no luck. The worst part is not knowing what happened to her. Hoping to adopt another cat in need, I visited a rescue and picked out a Siamese mix that looked a lot like the one in this story, but the adoption coordinator treated me like I was a bad pet owner because my cat escaped (even though I wasn't even home!) I'm missing having a cat, but figure the right one will come along at the right time and find me.
It's exciting to type "The End" after the last words of your novel. But is it really the end? Series are more popular than ever these days and I think it is because readers fall in love with characters, become comfortable with a familiar setting, and just plain old want to know what happens next. I didn't write FALSE GODS with a series in mind originally, but now I find myself putting the finishing edits on the sequel, HORSE GODS. Readers asked for more. They wanted to know what happened to Cory, Vee, and especially their horses! So I'm creating an even more exciting story. The sequel is a surprise and very different from the first book. How? You'll find out on March 17th when HORSE GODS make its debut!
Everyone who loves horses will tell you that they are magic. Indeed, horses seem nearly psychic at times, appearing to read our feelings, energy levels, intensions, and hurts. If you have a good relationship with a horse, that animal becomes an emotional mirror. In this scene, I portrayed a bit of that relationship in a description about a very intuitive mare--a horse so sensitive to the needs of those around her, she appears to heal them by her very presence. It is true horses are healers--indeed, they have proved this in various therapeutic programs from physical therapy to dealing with PTSD, psychological or socialization issues. I am so impressed with the healing power of horses that I wanted to capture a bit of that magic in False Gods.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Every kid has heard this question. By senior year in high school, it's no joke. Kids are making college, job training, and life decisions at a young age. In this scene, the mom is pushing Kevyn to attend Harvard, her vision for his life. Not his. Cory, still a junior, struggles with the concept that she has control over the direction of her life. Do you have a calling? Have you ever felt destined to follow a certain path in life? Anyone who has a child knows they are not born as tabula rasa, but rather are hard-wired in certain directions, talents, interests. Some hear their calling early, others are still searching well into their later years in life. It's okay. Keep listening.
We hear a lot about writer’s block, but what’s the problem? Writers pray for sessions when they sit down at the keyboard and the words flow like dictation from the talented writer gods. Musicians, scientists, athletes all seek this almost 'outside the body’ experience of effortless creative power or being in the zone. So if we can plug into this secret energy source, why don’t we? I think it is because the power, the muse, or whatever you want to call it, requires that you trust it first. Trust it to show up. Trust it not to lead you astray. For the blocked writer, it’s hard to believe that if you just show up and do the work, it will be okay. Usually better than okay. Often the muse comes for a visit, likes that you’re willing to listen, and whispers creative inspirations in your ear. But trusting is hard. It’s much easier to clean the refrigerator or alphabetize the spice rack than face the blank screen or edit the lousy first draft. It is hard to believe that if you just put your fingers on the keyboard, something magical can happen. Trust demands you let go and let it take over. It gets easier, so they say.
My main character knows French well enough to read Candide in the original. Good for her! Foreign language teaching is not emphasized enough, early enough, in schools. Foreign languages have played a large part in my life. I started French in the 3rd grade, switched to Russian in the 9th grade, and ended up majoring in Russian in college and minored in Italian. Later in life, I had an opportunity to learn Persian! I believe foreign language study changes the way we think, how we view the world, and I'm not the only one. Check out NPR's Hidden Brain podcast "Lost in Translation" to learn more about how foreign language learning stretches us to think about concepts like time, agency, and gender in new ways. It also improves cognitive function, boosts brain power, and is fun!
People have asked me if things in the book are real. By that, they mean, did any of the events really happen? Yes and no. I based a lot on similar experiences, but in the case of this excerpt--the birth of twin foals--a good deal of the details are exactly how it happened. I had a beautiful Hanoverian mare that I bred and after many trials, finally she was in foal. Sadly, one winter day she pounded on the barn door to be let in. She was dark with sweat, so I knew something was terribly wrong. The vet was an hour away and he would not have been able to stop the birth anyway. The mare delivered two premature foals, stillborn. I loved the mare, so her grieving broke my heart. I never bred her again.
Remember at the start of each new school year when you vowed "this year will be different!" Cory's junior year in a new school starts out with public humiliation, bullying from the band leader, and discouraging cross-country try-outs. Her year did not start out as expected, but how differently the story ends as Cory learns who she is and what really matters in her life. Beginnings do not necessarily dictate endings in life. There's always the opportunity for a fresh start.
Is it sadness or depression? Family members, like in this scene between a mother and daughter, often don't recognize or accept the signs of depression. It is stigmatized, pushed under the rug, and explained away by others. Until something happens. Depression can't be cured by telling someone to be thankful for what they have or to advise them to get tough and shake it off. Also, depression often spikes during holidays, like in this scene at Christmastime, putting additional stress on family ties. The mother in this scene has suffered a major life change, divorce, but there are clues that she has suffered from depression long before this event: giving up on her artwork that she loved, ignoring her daughter, abuse of drugs or alcohol. Depression has touched my life in destructive ways so I write about it in order to bring the problem into the light. Have you known anyone who suffered from depression? How did you help?
What's a calling, and do you have one? Many people, when they hear the word 'calling' think of a call to religious service, but calling is much larger than that and can encompass all manner of pursuits in life. Your calling is linked to your desires, so it is important to discern what they are and to evaluate them closely. Thus, in this scene, a teacher imparts a valuable message to Cory which she later acts upon. People may say they don't have a calling. That is sad, but what is much worse is to have one and ignore it. Psychologists have proven that people who never felt they had a calling were better off as far as health and satisfaction than those who did feel as if the profession of their desires was out there but they did not go after it. Health and wellness writer Colleen M. Story advises both writers and others that it is imperative to answer the call: "Leaving a calling unanswered is like ignoring a rock in your shoe. You're feeling that rock now. Embrace that feeling. Let it hurt. Let it remind you that this is important." My calling is to write stories. What's yours? Don't ignore it!
Are band geeks sexy now? Remember when the smart kid, the computer nerd, or yes, the band geek took a back seat to the team quarterback or handsome class president as the romantic hero in books? Not any more! Heroes in Young Adult fiction have refreshingly transformed into all sorts of leading young men and women. Think of the struggling young cancer patients in "The Fault in Our Stars" or the painfully shy heroine who lives through her fan fiction in Rainbow Rowell's "Fangirl." I love these characters and hope to add to the pantheon of Young Adult fiction's unexpected and much more interesting love interests.
Advice to writers is always "write what you know" but this can be too limiting. This scene describes a jump off at a high level show jumping competition. Have I ever competed at that level? Heck, no! So what business do I have writing this scene? Instead, I tapped into my more modest experiences jumping horses and applied all the fear, exhilaration, indecision, physical strain, and hopeful prayers one experiences when you partner with an equine athlete which has a mind of its own. Then I amped up the adrenaline for the main character's experience jumping with a whole lot more at stake. I think the advice to writers should be changed from "what you know" to "what you've felt" instead. In the end, all stories are driven by the emotions they generate.
Jess, a driven teenager with the goal of becoming a professional ballet dancer, is on the threshold of developing an eating disorder, bulimia. She tells herself that she must look a certain way in order to be competitive in the dance world, and that is certainly true (due primarily to Balanchine's legacy). Jess, however, may be tipping over the brink from "maintaining weight" to a full blown disorder, due in part to other personal issues. I became concerned about the problem of eating disorders when I heard tales from a young dancer about her peers who had started doing unspeakable damage to their young bodies in the name of achieving a sylphlike appearance. Dancers, along with models, jockeys, and other performers, are particularly vulnerable and fall victim to eating disorders with disastrous long-term effects. Treatment, likewise, must be long-term with a lot of support. I wanted to shine a spotlight on this problem in the hope that the medical community would find effective treatment and preventative measures. In the meantime, let's stop making thin, thinner, thinnest the ideal body image.
Every writer knows you must grab the reader's interest in the first few pages. Since not all stories can open with a death-defying chase scene, how does the writer instead take the reader gently by the hand, whispering "Come with me. I have a story you'll like." She has to put these words in the mouth of her main character. Come. Journey through my life for a while, experience my pain and challenges, care about me, and share my triumph. Such is the opening chapter of Cory's story. She has ditched cross country try-outs for fear of failing and now she finds herself talking with the school's hottest guy. But once again instead of standing up for herself she becomes the a target for a humiliating stunt. The reader will want to know: Does she change? How? Will she gain self-confidence? Will she get back at that jerk, David? Come along with Cory and find out!
Bullying in school has escalated to epidemic proportions with the introduction of social media. But what if the biggest school bully is one of the teachers? In this scene, the band director, nicknamed The Hawk, has been terrorizing students all year. He intimidates and picks on the timid and the talentless ones especially and no one has had the courage to stand up to him. He presides over the band room like a Roman emperor in the arena, until one day he goes too far. When Cory stands up to challenge him for pushing a student, all eyes turn to see what will happen. She doesn't know what will happen. Will anyone back her up? Will she become The Hawk's new target for persecution? Will she be thrown out of band, or worse yet...? I wrote this scene to show Cory finally standing up against her fears and to illustrate that bullying, no matter who is doing it, should be confronted and stopped. Read on to find out what happens!
Ever felt like a quitter? Does the fear of not being good enough paralyze you into not even trying? Cory has struggled with perfectionism and fear of failure to such an extent that she now runs away from every challenge--even the things she really wants to do or become. Her deepest desires are squashed by fear and she justifies this fear by pointing out examples of the hurts experienced by people around her. In a essay she is forced to write entitled "Desire," Cory expresses her secret fear that if she wants something too much and doesn't get it, the desire will destroy her. Life and circumstances have caused her to lose confidence, trust, and hope. To quote the great writer Anne Lamott, "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor; the enemy of the people. It will keep you insane your whole life." Have you ever let your need for perfection or fear of failure keep you from your dreams?
In this scene, the main character, Cory, is at her first big-time horse show and she's nervous. She allows the expensive horses, big name trainers, and glittering atmosphere to intimidate her. It isn't long before she starts comparing herself to everyone she sees. Suddenly she notices the rust on their horse trailer she never saw before; the fact that her show coat might be out of style worries her; and worst of all she feels ashamed of her beloved horse, Epiphany, because she was bought from an auction. Cory's imagination runs away with her, convincing her that everyone is laughing at and looking down on them. As a result, she loses confidence in herself and her horse--and that leads to trouble. Have you ever fallen into the comparison trap? What did you do to climb out?
People have asked me why I named a YA novel False Gods. The title may be confusing so I hope this excerpt helps to explain. It is an exchange between a school counselor and the teenaged main character, Cory, on the topic of desire or achieving happiness. How many of you remember the painful teenaged years when you suspected everyone else had their life figured out but you? It seemed that if you could just be more talented, more intelligent, more outgoing, more like someone else, someone you were not, then you'd be happy. Then everything would be great! But those desires, those dreams are just false gods, because once one is achieved, you need a bigger or better one. Cory, in danger of losing her sense of self, does avoid the pitfalls of envy and false promises in a very surprising and unique way. But you'll have to read False Gods to learn how she finds out what's really, truly important to her. Hint: it involves horses.
In this scene, Cory's sister announces that she is giving up her passion--dance. Cory, who is a chronic quitter, attempts to talk her out of it, but instead is stung by her sister's harsh words: "Doing nothing is the same as quitting. Maybe worse." Have you wanted to do something but didn't out of fear? Fear of failure, fear of not being good at it, fear it's a mistake, or fear of looking stupid in front of others? These fears can cripple us into a life of dull safety, passionless existence, or lifelong regret. Cory starts out in the novel abandoning try-outs for band and a cross-country team only because she is afraid she won't make the cut--without even trying! Only her passion for riding keeps her from running away from that dream as well. We are meant to enjoy our lives. The Bible tells us "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of calm..." We will always have fear, indecision, insecurity. What's the solution in order to live a full life? Don't cheat yourself. Do it, even if you have to do it afraid.
In this excerpt, a woman faces the heartbreak of losing the foal her beloved mare is carrying as well as her dream for that promising little horse's future. Much of our lives are built on dreams, imagined futures, and longing for something great. When it is suddenly and brutally swept away from us, it is a shock. But that shock forces us to look more closely at our dreams and evaluate what we already have with fresh eyes-- with vision tinged with gratitude. I've been in this woman's place and watched a beloved mare give birth to premature and still born twins. I had high hopes for what this amazing mare could produce for me, but in the end, gave up the dream because the mare's health meant more to me. It is likely we have all lost a beloved pet, given up on a cherished dream, or had disappointment dog our path. How do you keep on, look forward to the future, and dream again?
Winter is my enemy, I've decided. It's out to get me. If you hate the cold like I do, you're in good company. Seasons and the weather often act almost as characters in my stories because they are such a big part of my life as a horse owner. In the winter, we battle frozen water buckets, heavy, dirty horse blankets, having to remove gloves to work buckles and clasps... In the spring, it's mud, in the summer, flies. You get the idea. But Winter! It wins the prize. The other day I tossed a water bucket onto the ground to break the ice out. It flipped, then crashed to the ground, spraying chunks of ice and frigid water all over the front of my jacket, down my pants, into my boots. But I had to finish the chores in the 5 degree temps. When I went in the house, I couldn't get out of my coat--the zipper was frozen! Like I said, Winter is my enemy.
Cory encounters her mother the day after she narrowly escapes sexual assault at the hands of her mother's drunk boyfriend. Cory, searching for compassion and protection, is only met with disbelief, scoffing, and dismissal. How many women or teen girls have gone to their most trusted family members, teachers, coaches or clergy with their stories only to be told they were imagining it, they were making too big a deal out of it, or, worst of all, they were to blame. This excerpt captures one teen's stark realization that she cannot even rely on her own mother, another woman, to combat sexual harassment.
FALSE GODS, first in the Maryland Rider Series, is free today (4 December) only. Pick up a copy for the holidays and get a ring-side seat to the gritty world of show jumping. Can three underdogs--a washed-up trainer, a rescued horse, and a loser teen--take on the Grand Prix circuit? It isn't long before their winning spree attracts the attention of a competition who will stop at nothing to win. Will Cory give up her dream to save her horse? The next book in the series--The Horse Gods--is due out in 2018.
Cory was always jealous of her perfect ballerina sister, Jess, and thought ballet was stupid. Until tonight. The fantasy of the ballet along with the hope and love of Christmas finally work their magic on Cory. I received a lot of help and inspiration for the ballet scenes in False Gods from my long time friend who is a dancer/choreographer and her daughter, a pro at a company performing at the Kennedy Center this month!
I'm sure we've all felt them at one time or another but it seems there's nothing like the holidays to bring out family strife and festering past hurts. In this scene, when "the knives come out" it is not just for carving the turkey! Sibling rivalry is nothing new, as the teen heroine, Cory, discovers while observing her mother and aunt in a verbal battle. It is then, however, that Cory comes to the realization that her mother's constant criticism of her may have come from of lifetime of unhappiness and feeling she was not measuring up. Have you ever had a tense Thanksgiving with family?
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