M.J. Evans

Teens, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Author Profile

M.J.  Evans

I am a wife, a mom and a grandmother. I am also a competitive equestrian and award-winning author. I especially love to write about horses, both real or fantasy. In 2016, I released, "In the Heart of a Mustang." This story is not a fantasy but it is all about horses. This coming of age young adult novel has won the 2016 Gold Medal from the Literary Classics Awards in Young Adult General Fiction and the Silver Medal in the Nautilus Awards as well as the Silver Medal from Readers Favorite Awards. My current project is a four-part series titled “The Centaur Chronicles”. I am excited about this new middle-grade fantasy. The first book, “The Stone of Mercy,” was released on Oct. 1, 2016. It has already garnered several awards including the Gold Medal from the Feathered Quill awards. The second, “The Stone of Courage,” was released on April 15, 2017 and has won a Book Excellence Award. Please visit my website: http://www.dancinghorsepress.com

Books

The Stone of Wisdom

Science Fiction & Fantasy

"This is good guys versus bad guys at its finest." Readers' Favorite, "Action-packed, riveting, and steeped in the atmosphere so carefully built in prior books in the series." Midwest Book Reviews, "An impeccable YA fantasy read." Readers' Favorite. "The Stone of Wisdom" is the final book of "The Centaur Chronicles, the epic saga that will captivate YA and adults who love Tolkien-like settings and characters. Carling, the half Fairy/half Human teenager who is to inherit the throne of Crystonia, must complete the Silver Breastplate to be worthy to be the queen. But an evil Wizard named Xanbar has returned to claim the throne for himself and is amassing a vicious army of Centaurs, Ogres and Cyclops to help him do it.

Book Bubbles from The Stone of Wisdom

What is Wisdom?

I have a college degree. Does that make me wise?The answer is a resounding "NO!" Wisdom and Knowledge are two different things. I've observed many people who are well educated by the world's standards but are not wise. Carling learns that wisdom is the application of knowledge to accomplish good and make righteous choices. In this excerpt, Carling is becoming a wise leader by motivating her followers and working with them to prepare for battle.

I'm a Word Nerd!

When I visit schools, I tell the students that I am an artist with words. Yes, that is what an author is! We paint pictures with words. It is so fun picking words that will best describe the images I have in my head. The thesaurus is my best friend. I use it to find both interesting synonyms as well as antonyms to avoid over using the same words.

Solving Riddles

Have you ever been to a "Get Out Room?" Our family went to one. We divided into two teams and went into two identical rooms and tried to beat the other team out. The puzzles that we had to solve were difficult and each one proved to be a new challenge. It was hard but fun! If you ever have a chance to go to one...DO IT! The experience in the "Get Out Room" was my inspiration for Carling's riddles that she needs to solve in her quest to find the white Stone of Wisdom.

Using the Message as your Conclusion

After writing four books in a series, you don't want the last book to be a let-down for your readers. But, all good things must come to an end sometime! So, in the last chapter I summarized the meaning of each of the four books in "The Centaur Chronicles" series. I used Vidente to review the importance of each of the stones and the virtues they empowered Carling with. A summary is another good way to conclude a story.

Subtle Reminders in the Last Book of a Series

A four-book-series represents a thousand pages and hundreds of thousands of words for a reader to remember. By the fourth book, I found it necessary to insert subtle reminders of past events. It is important to not bore the reader with too much repetition so I tried to find unique ways to do this. In this excerpt, you will see one way I did it...mix some review in with some new material.

Using a "Get Out Room" for Inspiration

I am excited to tell you I was just notified that "The Stone of Wisdom" received the silver Medal for Middle Grade Fiction and the Bronze Medal for Fantasy from the Feathered Quill Book Awards. Now I want to tell you about an unusual source of inspiration. My large family divided into two teams and raced each other trying to get out of one of those "Get Out Rooms." It was so much fun! But while I was in the room trying to solve the clues, I kept thinking about Carling trying to find the Stone of Wisdom. I got my ideas for some of the puzzles I used while she was searching for the stone in the Cliffs of Confusion from the Get Out Room we went to. When I am so wrapped up in writing my book, I can get ideas in the most unusual places!

Creating Tension Right from the Start

I am so excited to tell you that "The Stone of Wisdom," released in December, was awarded the Silver Medal for Middle-grade Fiction AND the Bronze Medal for Fantasy by the Feathered Quill Book Awards! I am very honored to have my work recognized. The excerpt I am sharing today is from the very beginning of the book. Creating tension right from the onset is a great way to capture your reader's attention. Conflict, even though I added a touch of humor, is a great way to create tension. Here the reader is also reminded what a bad guy Zarius is!

A Cover is Not the Book So Open It Up and Take A L

You should recognize the title from the new movie: Mary Poppins Returns. That was my favorite song! Designing a cover for a book is a hard process. While working with a graphic artist is fun, you feel a lot of pressure to pick a cover that will interest the reader enough to get them to want to open the book and take a look! All four covers of "The Centaur Chronicles" are the same except for the stone. That ties each book together while defining the difference. You'll notice the picture of Carling riding Tibbals. The cover makes riding a centaur look easy but if you open the book and take a look, you will find that it isn't always as it seems!

Reminding the Reader

HOORAY! "The Stone of Wisdom" is out, completing "The Centaur Chronicles." I hope you like reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. As I mentioned in a bubble for "The Stone of Integrity," when writing a series, the author must include some backstory to remind the readers about the plot and characters that were revealed in previous books. Because Zarius plays a big role, I decided to start the fourth book with him. You will notice that I reminded the reader of his appearance as well as his personality on the very first page of the book. Enjoy!

The Stone of Integrity

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Winner of the Silver Medal from Readers' Favorite Awards, the Purple Dragonfly Award and the Award for Outstanding series from the Equus Film Festival.! “A brilliant fantasy read!” K.J. Simmill for Readers’ Favorite. Upon returning from her quest to gather the Stone of Courage, Carling, the future Queen of Crystonia, is summoned by the historian of the Minsheen herd of Centaurs. He entrusts Carling with a rare, ancient map. After a harrowing journey back home to her village, she is visited, once again, by Vidente, the Wizard of Crystonia. He tells her it is time to collect the purple Stone of Integrity for her royal Silver Breastplate. With the map in hand, Carling and her faithful companions set out to discover the mysterious island of Hy-Basilia, an island that no one knows exists. Frightening sea creatures, menacing Centaurs, a handsome young fisherman, a crafty witch, and Fairies who hide behind masks….who can be trusted? Another quest, another stone, and many more invaluable lessons to learn.

Book Bubbles from The Stone of Integrity

Creating Villains

When I did a lot of theater, I learned that it is always more fun to play the part of the villain rather than playing the part of the good, little heroine. As an author, I find myself having lots of fun creating villains and writing about them. Their dialogue is always colorful. I smile while I write it. Here, Hilgalda the Witch becomes a source of assistance for Carling, but she has her motives for doing so which the reader learns later on.

Adding Backstory in the 3rd Book of a Series

I'm excited to tell you that I just returned from the Readers' Favorite Award Ceremony in Miami where "The Stone of Integrity" was given the Silver Medal for Middle-grade Fiction out of hundreds of nominees!!! "The Centaur Chronicles" is a four book series. You never know if your reader has read all of the previous books in the series. Therefore, you need to add a little "Backstory" without getting boring or repetitious. As you read through this excerpt from the first page of the third book of the series, look for the subtle ways I put in information that was introduced in the other books: Adivino's role, Carling's hometown and heritage, a few physical descriptions of Carling.

Stimulus to Character Reaction

I have a sticky note on my computer. On it I wrote the following: A. Motivating Stimulus B. Character Reaction 1. Feeling 2. Action 3. Speech. In this excerpt, you will see that I have followed this pattern. A. Motivating Stimulus-Something awakens Carling. The hinges on her door squeak. B. Character Reaction 1. Feeling - held her breath indicating some degree of fear. 2. Action - Sat up in bed 3. Speech - "Who goes there?" As you are writing, follow this simple formula so that your character's reaction will make sense to the reader.

Fun with Mythology

Dictionary.com defines mythology as: "The body of myths belonging to a culture. Myths are traditional stories about gods and heroes. They often account for the basic aspects of existence — explaining, for instance, how the Earth was created, why people have to die, or why the year is divided into seasons." I absolutely love delving into mythological characters when I want to come up with a fun new creature for my fantasy stories. The Adaro, described in this excerpt, were malevolent merman-like sea spirits found in the mythology of the Solomon Islands. As an author, I can take all the liberties I want with the creatures but they are a great source of inspiration.

Creating Fantasy Characters

I am excited to announce that "The Stone of Integrity" was just awarded second place by the Purple Dragonfly Awards for middle-grade fiction! So, today, I am sharing an excerpt from that book, my newest release! I love writing fantasy simply because you on not constrained by reality! Take the addition of the Adaro in this scene. First, realize that Carling is sailing to an island that no one knows is there as it is hidden behind a curtain of fog. Secondly, the island is protected by monsters that are half human and half fish. I didn't make up the Adaro. They are a fantasy creature found in the mythology of the Solomon Islands. But I had fun imagining how they would look and behave and describing them in the book. This battle scene would not have been nearly as much fun with normal...real...creatures and weapons!

Hiding Our True Selves

The Fairy King was charged with protecting the Stone of Integrity. Instead of guarding it, he hid it. At the same time, he commanded all the Fairies in his kingdom to hide their true selves behind masks. The masks were intended to allow the Fairies to keep their thoughts and feelings secret. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. I used the masks to represent just the opposite. By creating something to hide behind, the Fairies did not have to be honest with others. Great leaders always live with integrity. Others know they can be trusted to say and do the right things under all circumstances.

Adding Real-life Experiences to your Novel

On a trip to Puerto Rico with my husband, we took a night-time tour to Bioluminescent Bay in Kayaks. It was such an amazing adventure that I felt like I was in one of my fantasy stories. So, of course, I had to include it in a book. The incident with the fish jumping in my kayak really did happen except I didn't have Kelfy to scoop it out for me! When we got to the bay, we shook our hands through the water and saw the white lights sparkling around us. Now, with all fantasy, you get to use your imagination and expand on real-life. I had the bio-luminescence change colors! By the time Carling and Kelfy find the purple sparkles, they are right over the Stone of Integrity.

The Meaning of Integrity

As the Wizard of Crystonia tells Carling, Integrity "...is the supreme quality of a great leader." Integrity includes being honest but it is more than that. It is being true to yourself and others at all times. As I tell children, "Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching." For example, I profess to be a Christian. As such, I don't leave my religion at the door of the church each Sunday. I wear it home and never take it off.

Rivals

The future queen of Crystonia is pure in heart and sees only the best in others. That is why she is so blind to the rivalry for her attention displayed by her long-time friend, Higson, and her new friend, Kelfy, the fisherman she met in Madiera. Rivals come in all shapes and sizes and in all areas of our lives. Here it is a love interest that is causing the rivalry, but in other cases it might be in a sporting competition or theatrical or scholastic endeavors. Rivalry makes the workplace a terrible place to be. Rivalry comes as a result of comparing ourselves to others rather than trying to focus on becoming the best we can be in whatever area of our life we are focusing our energy. That is a tough lesson, but one we all need to learn.

Using the Five Senses in Your Writing

I have a little sticky note placed on my computer. It has five words written on it: Smell, Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste. This reminds me to use all of the senses in my writing to make the story come alive for my readers. In the excerpt included, there is no mistaking this scene with an ocean journey or a sojourn across a desert. You know they are in a jungle even if I hadn't named it. You can feel it, smell it, hear it, not just see it! I also had fun using personification and metaphor in this excerpt. Can you find these two literary techniques?

The Stone of Mercy

Teens

"Be it known throughout the land that the rightful heir to the throne of Crystonia will be the wearer of the Silver Breastplate with its four Stones of Light: The Stone of Mercy, The Stone of Courage, The Stone of Integrity and The Stone of Wisdom." By tradition, the ruler of Crystonia will be the one in possession of the Silver Breastplate. Yet the rightful heir has not appeared and the throne that sits atop Mount Heilodius has stood empty for a century and a half. The kingdom is being torn apart as the biggest and strongest races battle for control. Even the herd of peace-loving Centaurs has splintered into two factions, one awaiting the promised bearer of the breastplate, the other seeking power and control over the land. Unbeknownst to all but a very few, the Silver Breastplate has been created. In due course, it is presented to a sixteen-year-old Duende girl named Carling, one of the tiny descendants of the fairies that once filled the land. But the silver breastplate is not complete. In order for its wearer to have the skills to rule the land righteously, the young Duende needs to find the four stones of light that are needed to finish this magical source of power and authority. This is the riveting story of Carling's quest. She, along with her friends, must risk their lives to save their land and fulfill the assignment given to them to complete the silver breastplate.

Book Bubbles from The Stone of Mercy

Don't Forget Smells

I have been using "The Stone of Mercy" to share some of my favorite writing tips. Earlier, I shared how important it is to use the five senses in your descriptive narrative. It is especially fun to do when writing fantasy. I have noticed that smell is the one sense that writers tend to forget. Here is an example where smell is the central sense used to set this scene. Hopefully it will give you some ideas for your own writing.

Writing Tip-Dialogue

Dialogue is an important part of any fiction story. The words that your characters speak reveal much about their personality. A few tips: Keep dialogue brief, don't go on for pages and pages. Be consistent - Is it believable that a character would say what you are writing? Don't give away the whole story, rather create suspense with the dialogue. And, my last tip: after you write it, read it out loud. See what it sounds like!

Go Light on Dialect

Unless you love Shakespeare and Tom Sawyer, you'll understand what I mean by the title of this author insight. Sometimes, the use of unusual speech patterns or dialect by a character or characters can get irritating and distracting. I sprinkled in just a little dialect in the voice of the Faun to add variety to the dialogue. but, I chose to just use it with the Fauns. They are not main characters but do appear off an on throughout the four-book series. This adds a little color without driving the reader crazy.

Don't Start With The Weather

"It was a dark and stormy night." Several books, including "A Wrinkle in Time," start with that line. It is a line that is now a joke in the writing community, however. Current writing instructors tell us..."Never start with the weather and if you must, make it bad weather that affects the main character in an adverse way." (Think...Wizard of Oz.) I really like Victorian novels but they move too slowly for most of today's readers who want something to happen quickly. So, when you start your novel, start with something happening. This is the first page of "The Stone of Mercy-Book 1 of the Centaur Chronicles." I jump right in by introducing the reader to the character who will create the Silver Breastplate and the Wizard of Crystonia who orders it.

Carling Develops Mercy for Others

When I was thinking about this story, I picked four qualities of leadership that I felt every leader should posses. I think a lot about balancing justice and mercy...a result of raising five children, I suppose! A dictator is only concerned about justice, a true leader possesses mercy. Once Carling finds the Stone of Mercy, it begins to change her immediately. Here is the first example of when she displays mercy to those who have wronged her. She has many more opportunities in this book and the additional books in the series.

Character Changes

In each of the four books in "The Centaur Chronicles" series, Carling, the rightful heir to the throne of Crystonia, finds the sought-after stones in the middle of each book. The reader then sees how the stones change her character. In literature, as in life, external events often cause an internal change in a character. Such is the case here. In "The Stone of Mercy-Book 1 of the Centaur Chronicles, Carling is filled with anger and the desire for revenge when the Heilodious Centaurs kill both her parents. But the Stone of Mercy changes her and she becomes merciful. In this excerpt, you read about the occasion where she is given the stone by the eagle, Baskus. The Wizard of Crystonia had entrusted the eagle with the care of the stone until the rightful heir should come seeking it.

Showing Mercy

In each of the four books of "The Centaur Chronicles," Carling finds the stone, for which she and her friends are searching, in the middle of the book. As the story continues, the reader sees how the stone changes Carling. In "The Stone of Mercy," Carling is initially filled with bitter anger at the loss of her parents at the hands of the Heilodius Centaurs. In this excerpt, you see how she is now willing to not only forgive, but to risk her life to rescue one of those same Centaurs. Mercy is a powerful virtue that will serve her well as the future queen of Crystonia.

Have Fun With Your Characters

I loved creating Tibbals. She is a beautiful female Centaur who is all girl: brave, strong, confident, but loves bubble baths and pretty clothes. She is always concerned about her appearance and worries about how Carling looks as well. Throughout the four book series, (the fourth book, "The Stone of Wisdom," will be released on December 1st,) it is fun Tibbals who tries to get Carling to look like the queen she is becoming. Yet she is right beside her, sword in hand, when strength is needed. Tibbals is awesome!

Letting Your Characters Show Emotion

My last bubble for this book was about creating characters that are likable. One aspect of character development that adds to their likability is the display of emotion. Emotion is displayed not only by what the character says or thinks, but also through their body language and actions. If you are showing emotion through the character whose point of view you are using to tell the story, you can use all of those avenues. If, however, you want to show emotion in a character whose point of view you are not using, you are more limited. Obviously, feelings will have to be displayed through actions or words and not through thoughts. In this excerpt, I am using Higson's actions to illustrate the terrible, overwhelming feelings of sorrow that he is feeling as a result of the death of his parents.

Making Your Characters Likable

A well created character is either loved or detested by the reader. In most cases, the protagonist is the one you want your readers to love. However, there are other characters in your book that can and should be likable as well. This is true of the Wizard of Crystonia who I named Vidente. He pops in and out of the story, initially to send her on missions to gather the Stones of Light but also when Carling needs some back up as in this scene. When you write dialogue intended to make the characters likable, read it out loud to your self or a friend. That will give you a much better idea how it will come across.

Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism means to give human characteristics to an animal. Since Centaurs are half horse, half human, it seems only obvious that I should use this technique when creating my Centaur characters. Tibbals is the Centaur on the cover of each of the four "Centaur Chronicles." She was a fun character to create as she is very much a girly girl who dreams of "hoof polish" and bubble baths. Yet she is also strong and loyal. In this excerpt, you see Tibbals displaying both her horse traits and her human traits.

Doing Your Duty Even When It's Hard

Every mother knows how hard it is to see her child suffer from his own bad choices. We want to rush in and fix everything...to make everything right. Yet, as a mother, it is our duty to teach our children to become responsible, law-abiding citizens and productive members of society. I took this concept to the extreme when Carling is forced to choose between rescuing her best friend's parents and the villagers she is charged to protect. Duty won out, as it should, but Carling, and especially Higson, suffer because of it.

Developing Mercy

In each of the "Centaur Chronicles," finding the stone is NOT the climax of the story. Rather, the important part is seeing how the stone helps Carling, the future Queen, develop that quality. In the excerpt the reader sees Carling develop Mercy toward an enemy. Forgiveness and Mercy tend to go hand in hand and neither one is easy!

Creating Your Fantasy World

The best thing about writing fantasy is that you, as the author, get to create your world. You not only create the landscape and populate it with whatever creatures you want, you also have to decide on the type of government and the technology that is used. In "The Centaur Chronicles," I have created the land of Crystonia that is populated by Centaurs, Ogres, Cyclops and a little race of people that I call the Duende who are half fairy and half human. They live in a pre-industrial land...no computers, no television, no cell phones. You see in this excerpt that the village blacksmith is working iron the old fashioned way...like horseshoes still do today. Fantasy can be set in any time period...just let your imagination run wild!

Imagine what it would be like to be a prisoner

I have read many heart-wrenching accounts written by prisoners in terrible circumstances. Some fictional like "Marco Polo," others true like "The Hiding Place." Many nights I crawl into my soft, warm bed and sigh with a smile on my face. But that smile disappears when I think of those who have suffered in those awful cells. In this scene in the book, Carling, the future Queen of Crystonia is suffering, alone and afraid. She has been thrown into a situation she never imagined nor desired. I hope this bubble shows you how miserable she is.

The Stone of Courage

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is conquering fear for the sake of doing what is right. A young Duende girl named Carling is in possession of the coveted Silver Breastplate, but the breastplate is only partially complete. The green Stone of Mercy, which Carling found on her first quest, is nestled securely in its place on the breastplate. Now, the Wizard of Crystonia sends her on her second mission to find the red Stone of Courage in the foreboding region known as the Northern Reaches. The assignment will be difficult because the stone is under the guardianship of a reclusive Tommy Knocker named Shim, who has no intention of relinquishing it to the young Duende girl or to anyone else. The Stone of Courage is the second tale in the Award-Winning Centaur Chronicles series. This book continues the compelling adventure that began with The Stone of Mercy as Carling attempts to gain another stone on her way to becoming the righteous ruler of Crystonia. In The Stone of Courage, Carling faces her fears in the form of the Tommy Knocker, Ogres and evil Heilodius Centaurs, all of whom attempt to prevent her from fulfilling her destiny to become the Queen of the land.

Book Bubbles from The Stone of Courage

When Nightmares Become Books

When I write a book, I become so focused on the story it consumes my thoughts. I even dream about it! I was working on the chapter where Carling meets Shim in his cave and I had a dream about it that night. However, it wasn't a dream...it was a nightmare and I woke up scared. I guess I need that Stone of Courage!

Changing Moods

I created Shim, the Tommy Knocker (adapted from tommyknockers found in miners' lore.) He is the guardian of the red Stone of Courage in the second book of the Centaur Chronicles. You will see in this excerpt that Shim's moods swing widely and rapidly from suspicious and angry to conciliatory. Mood swings add depth to characters but also keep the reader guessing about true intentions. You don't know which way Shim is going to go in this excerpt. (Spoiler alert: Shim is NOT a good guy!)

Creating New Fantasy Characters

The best part about writing fantasy is that I get to let my imagination run wild both in the world I create and the creatures I invent to populate that world. As the horse-lover that I am, I not only used Centaurs, but I also created more horse-based creatures. In "The Stone of Courage," I added the Ice Horses. I imagined what a horse would look like if it was all made out of ice like a snow sculpture. Of course, the Ice Horses are good and help Carling on her quest to find the red stone of courage.

Valuing Friendship

Throughout each of the four "Centaur Chronicles," Carling is surrounded by friends who help and comfort her. As an author, my readers become my friends. I love getting letters from them. It warms my heart of know that my books are of value to my readers. I want to share with you one special reader who is my friend. His name is Brad and he lives in the mid-west. I met Brad seven years ago when he came to the National Western Stock Show with his dad to check out the cattle show. Brad is physically disabled but very bright. He and his dad purchased some of the books in "The Mist Trilogy." Now, every year since, his dad finds me when I'm doing a book signing at the stock show to get another book for Brad. It seems Brad keeps track of my new releases and tells his dad what to bring home. This year he had to get the last of "The Centaur Chronicles" series: "The Stone of Wisdom." Brad has every one of my books! I am so grateful for Brad and hope he'll be able to come to the stock show in person again soon! Keep your friends close and tell them that you love them on Valentines Day! #ReaderLove

Dream Sequences

We all have dreams...some frightening, some comforting. Our characters have dreams, too. By including a dream sequence in your story, you can help the reader relate to the character and understand a little more about the emotions they are experiencing. In this excerpt, you get the feel for the pent-up fears that Carling is carrying around in her little body. An awful lot is being asked of the young girl and she is struggling to deal with it. The Stone of Courage is a great source of strength for her but it can't sooth all her fears. One thing I was taught in a writing class about dreams, however, is to never start you book with one. It tends to send the reader off down the wrong road and they are often disappointed to find out it is only a dream after they became involved in it.

How to Start Your Book

"It was a dark and stormy night..." While several books, including great ones like "A Wrinkle in Time," start with that line, it is now considered a joke in the literary world. So...don't start your novel with "It was a dark and stormy night!" In this excerpt, you can read how I started, "The Stone of Courage-Book 2 of the Centaur Chronicles." You want to create interest right from the beginning so your readers will want to keep reading. Here you see foreshadowing of something to come and it promises to be unpleasant. At the same time, I reminded the reader where we were: in the fantasy land of Crystonia. I reset the scene for both those who have read the first book and for those who have not. I did this as a description of the change of seasons so as not to bore those who read the first book. Then I went back to the foreshadowing of the danger that awaits Carling.

Using Foreshadowing to Build Suspense

Foreshadowing is a warning or indication of a future event. It is a literary technique that works to get the reader's attention and prompt them to keep reading. In this case, it becomes clear that Zarius is bitter about the fact that he wasn't selected to be the new Commander of the Minsheen herd of Centaurs. His reaction tells the reader that something bad is going to happen as a result of his rejection. Zarius becomes a significant character in the rest of the books in the series and this is the beginning of his transformation. Sprinkle foreshadowing in your writing and look for it in the books you read.

Creating New Fantasy Characters

As an author who is passionate about horses, most of my novels, fantasy or not, include horses. There are so many fantasy creatures based upon horses, such as the Centaurs, but in this excerpt I created a creature of my own...Ice Horses! What better creature to live in the wild and rugged mountain region I named "The Northern Reaches." The best part about writing fantasy is that one is not constrained by reality! I can just imagine something and bring it to life in my stories. The Ice Horses are good guys who help Carling find the Stone of Courage. Spoiler: They also show up again in the last book, "The Stone of Wisdom," that I have just finished.

Virtues Give Us Power

I was inspired to write "The Centaur Chronicles" while reading Ephesians 6:14. "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness." I started thinking about the qualities that one would have if they wore the breastplate of righteousness. While there are others, I decided on Mercy, Courage, Integrity and Wisdom. As the Wizard of Crystonia tells Carling, these stones of light will give her great power, just as the very same qualities give us great power. Then he cautions her that power can be used for good or it can corrupt. It all rests in our motivation. Carling is a pure vessel that desires only to fulfill her assignment and serve her country.

The Justice System

My husband and daughter are both lawyers, but I have spent very little time in the courtroom. I did serve as a juror a couple of times. However, I once had the opportunity to sit in on a trial. I was disheartened to observe a man I knew to be guilty of what he was charged convince the judge that he was innocent. I was appalled. Undoubtedly, that happens often. And the reverse happens as well. In this excerpt, Carling is falsely accused, and convicted, of murdering Manti. Unfortunately, the land of Crystonia didn't have DNA testing or other Forensic tools! Today, science can provide the answers to the question of guilt or innocence. I think if I were to start all over, I might like to become a forensic scientist! I could specialize in blood spatter patterns or fibers or even handwriting!

Giving Your Characters Personality

The Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, who lived during the first century BC, once said: "But centaurs never existed; there could never be so to speak a double nature in a single body or a double body composed of incongruous parts with a consequent disparity in the faculties. The stupidest person ought to be convinced of that." Poor Lucretius didn't have much of an imagination, I guess. The best part about writing fiction, and especially fantasy, is allowing your imagination to go wherever it wants. Sometimes I am surprised by where it goes! Imagining what your characters are like is half the fun! In "The Centaur Chronicles," the reader gets to meet Tibbals - a centaur filly. Tibbals is so lovable and such a girly girl. She worries about her hair, what she is wearing and if her hoof polish is chipped. On their journeys to find the Stones of Light, she daydreams of being home in a bubble bath. Yet, she is strong and loyal and willing to fight to protect Carling. I love Tibbals.

Fratricide

I am the mother of four fabulous boys. They are so much fun to be around. Growing up, they usually got along quite well and my memories are filled with happy play and teasing. The few conflicts that occurred weren't severe and didn't last long. Such is not the case with all brothers. The term "fratricide" means the act of killing one's brother. The Bible recounts the first instance of this terrible sin in the story of Cain and Able. You can find many more instances throughout history and mythology. A recent example in fiction is in "The Lion King" when Scar commits fratricide on Mufasa. The leaders of the two Centaur herds in "The Centaur Chronicles" are brothers. Now you can guess what is going to happen between the Commander and Manti!

Creating Fantasy Characters

The most fun part about writing fantasy is creating fantasy characters. Often I'll take a mythological creature and put my own twist on them. This is true of the Centaurs. However, with Shim, the Tommy Knocker, I created my own version of the tommyknockers miners believed dwelt in caves and created the frightening creaks and bangs they heard behind the stone walls. When creating a character, you first use just your imagination. Then you need to select the right words to paint a picture of what you are seeing in your mind's eye. In the excerpt, you can read the first place I introduce Shim and what he looks like. I give other details later in the book. You also need to create a personality for your character. Shim is a nasty little guy who has become attached to the Stone of Courage and doesn't want to give it up to Carling. Shim reappears in Book 3 and Book 4. His concern is not for Carling, but for his beloved stone.

Handling Disappointment

There isn't a person born who doesn't face disappointments, both large and small. I have had a wonderful life, but I have had my heart broken and setbacks a plenty. The test of our character lies in how we handle those inevitable disappointments. We can allow them to destroy us, or we can use them to become a better, stronger, wiser person. The choice is always ours. In this excerpt, we learn the true character of one of the lead stallions of the Minsheen herd of Centaurs. Unfortunately, he doesn't heed the sage advice of the wise historian and very bad things happen!

Revealing Who You Are

Carling has been keeping the Silver Breastplate and, therefore, her calling as the future queen, a secret from everyone but a very few. This marks the turning point at which she starts revealing not only the Silver Breastplate, but her selection as the one who is to rule the land. She has been struggling with accepting her role. Being a queen is not something she ever aspired to. With each new stone, Carling develops the qualities she needs to rule righteously and the role she must play becomes more real to her...still not more desirable, but more real.

Friends Help One Another

How do you define a friend? To me, a friend is someone who is always willing to step in and offer a helping hand. In "The Centaur Chronicles," Carling makes several new friends while keeping the old ones. These friends help her out of many difficult and dangerous situations.

In the Heart of a Mustang

Teens

A boy is told that his father was a brave and virtuous man, a soldier who traded his life to save the lives of countless others. He was the man that Hunter needed to emulate. The only problem is the whole story is a lie, all of it. The truth, which Hunter discovers as he begins his sophomore year of high school, is that his father has actually spent the boy’s entire life in jail, paying his debt to society, but not mending his ways. A wild mustang mare, is rounded up by the BLM. The spring rains had been sparse, the forage on the plains even more so. The mare and her herd are rescued from certain starvation and placed for adoption. In a sandy corral at Promise Ranch, a home for troubled teenage boys, the boy and the mare meet. A weathered, old cowboy brings them together – a mentor for one, a trainer for the other. The bond that forms between boy and horse becomes one that saves the lives of both.

Book Bubbles from In the Heart of a Mustang

A Little More About Wild Horses

Most humans think horses are herd animals, but they really aren’t. Rather than forming into herds the way cattle and buffalo, and even deer and elk do, they form bands. Bands are small groups of three to a dozen horses, like human families. Sometimes they are related, but not always. That is why horses brought together in a barn will band together and take care of one another. Sure, it takes a little negotiating to establish their hierarchy in the band, but they eventually get it worked out. If there should be a large group of horses, whether wild or domesticated, grazing in a great open field and a threat of danger should present itself, horses rarely stampede as one body. Rather, each band will run off in a different direction like the rays of a star. They wisely find this to be an effective way to get away from danger. NEW BOOK COMING! "PINTO!-Based Upon the True Story of the Longest Horseback Ride in History" will be released on Oct. 15th!!!

Wild Mustang Herds in the West

The Bureau of Land Management is charged with protecting, managing, and controlling wild horses and burros in ten western states, including my own: Colorado. As I was doing research for "In the Heart of a Mustang," I discovered that there is constant conflict between the BLM and those who like what they are doing and those who do not. One thing I do like is their effort to manage the size of the bands (or herds) by rounding up some of the horses and placing them for adoption. My book focuses on the benefits of the training of these wonderful horses as a therapy tool. Here horse training is used with troubled teens but it has also been used successfully with people who are incarcerated. Animals are a gift from God!

Kindness Begins With Me!

Growing up, I was teased for being short, but it was always in an affectionate way. I never took offense and was confident in my own skin. However, good-hearted teasing is not the same as bullying. I witnessed plenty of cruel bullying, always on the kids who lacked the confidence to stand up for themselves as we read in this excerpt. Bullying isn't new, that is for sure. The key is helping kids learn to stand up for themselves and for one another. I took it upon myself to stand beside the picked on kid. All kids need to internalize the motto "Kindness Begins With Me!"

A Modern Day Parable

This excerpt is taken from chapter 21 titled "Training the Boy." The old cowboy, Smokey, shares with Hunter an experience from his youth. Forgiveness is a major theme of "In the Heart of a Mustang," and Smokey uses this example to illustrate how he was forgiven. All of us have need to be forgiven and to forgive others. Parables are a great way to teach important life lessons.

Using the Senses to Set the Scene

I have a sticky note on my computer with the words: "Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, Taste" written on it. This is to remind me to use as many of the senses as I can when setting a scene. In this short paragraph, you should be able to find three. Being an author is to be an artist with words. I pick words that, combined, paint a picture in the reader's mind. The senses not only help the reader see what I am seeing, but experience it as well.

What is Your Passion?

I have always been told to write about that which I am passionate! That is not hard to do as horses are so fun the write about. Most of my books are about horses, either real or fantasy. People send me letters in which they say they can feel my passion on every page. That is a good thing! In this excerpt, you will feel the love Hunter (and therefore me!) has for his horse. If you want to write, consider what you love and write about that!

Training a Horse

To prepare to write this book, I attended two clinics offered by the horse trainer, Clinton Anderson. Anyone who has attended one of his clinics will recognize the method. I took careful notes of everything Clinton Anderson and the horses he was working with did. You can learn a lot by reading fiction books! You can learn how to train a wild horse by reading "In the Heart of a Mustang!

The Love of a Horse

It is almost Valentines Day, the day to celebrate love. So, it is only appropriate that we also celebrate the love of animals. I truly believe that animals are a gift from God. And horses are his finest creation! From "Behind the Mist," in which I create a scene where Jazz rescues Nick from a mountain lion to my Picture book "Percy - The Racehorse Who Didn't Like to Run," where Percy becomes the legs for children who can't walk, I love to depict horses as our saviors. Even if you have never been rescued from a dangerous situation by a horse, I'm sure they have rescued you from spiritual or emotional danger. I know they have been my saviors many times.

The Fun of Mounted Drill Teams

The National Western Stock Show is about to start in Denver. It is quite a big event, drawing exhibitors and visitors from all over the country. I love the rodeo the most. One feature of the rodeo is the performance by the Westernaires. The Westernaires are a mounted drill team from Jefferson County, Colorado. They are a large group of teenagers who learn not only teamwork but responsibility and hard work as well as they learn to ride and take care of horses. Because there is so much to learn to be a responsible horse-owner as well as being a member of a team, I decided to include a drill team at Promise Ranch. Can't wait to see the Westernaires next week!

Light the World by Serving Others

Christmas time is the best time of year because we are reminded that the most important things in life are not things at all! People, both in our families as well as complete strangers, are the most important things. In this excerpt, we read about the kindness of one man who not only fed the hungry but helped turn a life around by helping Julius's mother get a job so that she could take care of herself and her son. There may be a time in your life when you can be of such great service to someone. But, until then, look for the little things you can do each day. Our family's goal for this year is: "HOPE." It stands for "Help Other People Everyday."

We All Know What It Feels Like to Hurt

Hunter is suffering both physically and emotionally. The pain causes him to respond with anger. That's normal. Dr. Collins immediately uses Hunter's connection to Mustang Sally, and all the things he has learned about horses, to teach a lesson. Horses, and all animals, actually, help us understand ourselves better. That's why horses are such wonderful healers.

Building Tension

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 25 which is titled "Danger in the Desert." Even the title tells the reader to beware...something awful is going to happen. It is fun to use your imagination to create a scene that is nightmarish in nature. Who hasn't dreamed of wild animals chasing them? The glowing eyes, the snarling beasts, the glistening fangs wet with saliva...the perfect setting for a nightmare and a scene filled with tension. This chapter becomes a turning point for Hunter. I don't want to tell you how it unfolds...that would spoil it. You'll just have to read this award-winning novel yourself!

Understanding Horses

In order to train a horse, you have to understand what makes them tick. First, you must realize that they are prey animals and their instincts are there to help them survive in the wild. Smokey does a great job explaining this in the excerpt. A trained horse is one who usually thinks before he reacts, although I have learned from a life-time of working with horses, that no horse is completely "Bomb Proof" unless he's nearly dead!

Horses and Humans-A Lot Alike

New to Promise ranch, alone and afraid, Hunter and Sally have a lot in common. Hunter senses this and that common understanding is much of what brings them together. All of us have been in a situation that is new and strange, so we can relate to what both the horse and the human are feeling. If we want to build a bond with others, two-legged or four-legged, we need to remember that all God's creatures are much more alike than they are different.

Anger is a Choice

Did you realize that you choose to respond to a bad situation with anger. Anger is a choice. If you don't believe me just pretend that someone you don't know just backed into your car. Imagine the anger bubbling up inside you as you get out of your car and start to shout at the driver. "What's the matter with you? Are you blind?" Now imagine it was one of your good friends, or even your boss at work who backed into you. Your response would be much different. "Oh that's okay. It was just an accident." Same damage to your car...much different response on your part. In this excerpt Smokey teaches Hunter about anger and forgiveness as choices by comparing it to training a horse. A horse has two sides of the brain, the thinking side and the reacting side. A wild horse has a highly developed reacting side. A well trained horse has a highly developed thinking side. We can train our own brains to think rather than just react by the choices we make.

The Power of Music

Music has a great affect on us, whether positive or negative. It is as though our ears take it in and send its message to every cell in our body. As I'm sure you know, many studies have been done on the affect of music on the brain, our moods, our emotions, as well as its ability to heal us. Here is an example of the healing power of music on Hunter during one of his darkest moments.

Getting Expert Help With Your Book

An author can't be an expert in everything he/she might decide to include in a book. I'm quite knowledgeable about horses but, even I don't know everything there is to know about every riding discipline, every horse illness, every breed and on and on. Go beyond horses, and my knowledge starts to decline drastically. Promise Ranch is a home for troubled teens. I interviewed a man who attended a ranch like that when he was young. He told me about their routine, their schedule, the staffing, and so forth. One staff member they had was a counselor. So, Dr. Collins joined the staff at Promise Ranch. However, even though I majored in Child Development in college, I am not a trained counselor or psychiatrist. To make sure my work was not only believable but accurate as well, I sent each chapter that included Dr. Collins to a real counselor. He read through them and told me if I was on track or not. It was so helpful!

Building Trust

Building trust with a horse (or any animal for that matter,) is much like building trust with humans. It takes time and consistent reliability on your part. In this excerpt, Smokey is training a wild horse by starting at the very beginning...trust. If that trust is broken by cruel or inconsistent treatment, the trainer must start all over again and it will take even longer. Gaining trust with people is much the same. If we live with integrity, people will know they can rely on us...that our word is our bond...that we are who and what we profess to be. If we break that trust, it takes a very long time to rebuild.

How do you handle problems?

We all face problems in our lives...some big, some small, some of our own creation, others are thrust upon us do to no fault of our own. The question always remains--how do I handle this? Sometimes we are tempted to just ignore the problem and hope it goes away on its own. Other times, we react without thinking (the topic of a future bubble.) Hunter, in this excerpt, has reacted. He has decided that revenge is what he seeks so he puts his own life in danger in order to meet that end. Action, no matter how stupid, makes us feel in control, even if we aren't. That's why it beats just curling up in a ball under our bed covers. But, with maturity, we realize that action needs to be preceded by a carefully thought out plan. The Pros and Cons need to be identified and evaluated. All this comes with a level of maturity that Hunter has not yet achieved. And so...he runs!

Finding a New Horse

On February 2, 2018, I lost my wonderful dressage partner, Jazz, the horse in my author picture. I loved that horse so much and my heart is still aching these many months later. For a while, I thought I would just give up on my dressage dreams. A few weeks ago, however, I started looking for a new horse to be my dancing partner. I have been riding numerous horses that are for sale. I thought I had found the perfect one but he didn't pass the vet's pre-purchase exam. I was heart broken as I drove away from the stable with an empty trailer behind me. As I read this excerpt from "In the Heart of a Mustang," I sighed with discouragement. How I wish that my future horse would just pick me the way Sally picked Hunter. It would be a lot easier that way.

Doing Research for a Fiction Book

Even fiction books require research to make them believable. "In the Heart of a Mustang" required a lot of research. I did research on therapeutic horsemanship, the wild mustang herd in the west, counseling techniques, ranches for troubled teens and...the most fun...training a wild horse. For the latter, I attended two 3-day Clinton Anderson training clinics, and took careful notes of everything he said and did. Research can take many forms...it doesn't always have to be from a book. With the internet, authors have the whole world at their fingertips. Most of the information on the wild mustang bands in the west was acquired by going to the BLM website. Attending a live clinic on horse training and sitting at my computer were not the only types of research that I did. I also interviewed a man who went to a ranch like Promise Ranch in the book. The chapters with Dr. Collins were sent to a real counselor for his feedback. As you can see, research can take many forms and it gives your book a stamp of authenticity it wouldn't otherwise have.

I believe in Miracles

Julius is Hunter's cabin mate at Promise ranch. The boy is both kind and wise, and with enough patience to be able to put up with, and help, Hunter. In this excerpt, Julius tells Hunter his own story, a story of a miracle in his life and that of his mother. I took the saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime," and applied it to Julius's life. Clearly a miracle took place, and God's hand was guiding both Julius and his mother and the kind man who saw a need and helped them.

Standing Up to Bullies

None of us get through life without having our fortitude and self esteem challenged to some degree. Some people get stronger when they are challenged. Some buckle under the pressure. In this excerpt, the theme of bullying is first introduced in the book. Julius is the confident one who has no problem standing up to a bully and defending the underdog. Hunter's strength comes from his love for and defensiveness of his horse.

Told from the Point of View of the Horse

The first four chapters of "In the Heart of a Mustang" are written from Hunter's point of view. Hunter is a fifteen year old boy. But, in Chapter 5, I changed point of view. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a wild mustang being rounded up in one of the BLM's controversial helicopter round-ups. The critics say it is so frightening to the horses that injuries often result from their running away. The BLM says they need to use helicopters to cover the vast mountains and prairies and find the bands of horses. Restrictions regarding how close the helicopters can come to the horses have been put in place to minimize the risk of injuries. I used the technique of writing from the horse's point of view in a few other places in the book. It was fun and I'm planning to write an entire book from a horse's point of view as soon as I finish "The Centaur Chronicles."

Facing New Challenges

Every one of us faces challenges that test us and stretch us. Some of these challenges we embrace with enthusiasm. Others we resist, hating that they are being thrust upon us. Hunter is in the latter category. He made bad choices and is resentful that he has to face the consequences. When I was a teacher of high school and junior high students, I was much like Smokey. I had some students that were struggling with their own problems and thought they didn't really want to be helped. With patience and understanding, they would eventually open up...but only after they developed a degree of trust. In another bubble, I will talk more about developing trust.

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