This time I chat with author, freelance writer, and horse enthusiast Susan E. Conley. Susan came to the horse world later in life, and like most of us found horses had a huge impact on not only her creativity but her sanity as well.
Resident in Ireland for twenty one years, Susan E Conley went horse crazy at the tender age of 41 and 11/12ths. In 2006, she finally got up the nerve to get up on an actual horse as opposed to reading and dreaming about them, and it’s been harder and easier than anything she’s ever done yet.
Susan is a graduate of Pratt Institute with BFA in Communication Design. She has worked in the field since the summer between sophomore and junior year and counts The Village Voice, New York Magazine and Entertainment Weekly as past design experiences. She has a Master of Philosophy in Irish Theatre Studies from the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College, an Honours Degree in Psychology, and a diploma in Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning.
She worked as journalist soon after moving to Ireland as theatre critic and as a feature writer on lifestyle topics. Susan is the author of three other books: Drama Queen; The Fidelity Project; and the soon-to-be-rereleased That Magic Mischief. She is at work on her next ‘horse book’ as well as a new paranormal/historical romance series.
Susan was not born in the saddle and didn’t even get near a one until she reached middle age. It never even occurred to her, as a child, to pine for a horse. She doesn’t run a yard, compete at a high level, or even own her own horse (yet.) After fourteen years though, she’s still in love with everything horsey and member of her yard’s riding club; she stands as safety officer and is hoping to compete off-yard in 2020.
What type of books do you write, and how long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for, yikes, over thirty years. The very first thing I wrote was a one act play that got produced as part of a competition Off-Off (Off) Broadway. I made a short film of it and continued to write plays and screenplays while working on independent films and with an independent theatre company — all while working as a magazine designer as the day job. I moved to Ireland from NYC in 1998 and without any contacts in either realm, via journalism, turned to writing books. I’d classify myself as an ambivert and while I like getting out and about, I had the space to find that sitting by myself making up stories is truly my bliss point.
I am the author of three novels, all in the romantic comedy vein, and I’ve recently signed a contract with Sourcebooks for a new romance series, The Shapeshifters of the Beau Monde, a Regency era historical/shapeshifter mashup.
Many Brave Fools: A Story of Addiction, Dysfunction, Codependency…and Horses is my first memoir. I had started blogging about taking up horseback riding in mid-life following my divorce from an active substance misuser, around the time that people were getting blog-to-book deals. I didn’t get one of those! I keep plugging away with it regardless, querying agents, revising, engaging the services of an editor, revising. I was thrilled when my proposal/manuscript was accepted by Trafalgar Square Books.
How did you get started writing?
I think I started writing because I am the poster girl for voracious reading and then became so invested in the power of narrative, as delivered by theatre and film, to fulfill not only the desire for entertainment but also for expressing unifying concepts. In terms of performance, there’s nothing like sitting in the dark with strangers and experiencing catharsis; as regards writing, living a story, for as long as it takes to read it, is so powerful. I wanted to be part of that world, part of providing that for people.
What is your biggest inspiration for writing?
I don’t know if I have an inspiration so much as I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t write. I might try knitting maybe, or do more art… I remember, when I was shopping Many Brave Fools to agents and getting no joy, I was thinking I’d just quit, and that notion lasted, quite literally, all of two heartbeats.
What is the most common comment that you get from your readers?
I think they appreciate the use of humor in my writing. There are aspects of Many Brave Fools that are dark and not funny, but my sense of humour still prevails. Readers find the memoir unexpectedly funny, which is the highest praise to me.
What is the message that you want to convey to readers?
After I finished my masters at Trinity College, I worked as a freelance journalist writing about the arts, and I did many interviews with practitioners in theatre, visual arts, writing, you name it. I always wanted to represent their projects faithfully but I also wanted to be able to give a look-in on their process and why they did what they did. I think that has carried over into my own work: that your intentions for your life and your goals are achievable and the trick, I suppose if you want to call it that, is to be flexible along the way, to readjust yourself continually, to keep your vision intact but to know that the journey is not a straight line from A to B.
Do you have horses? Tell us about the horses in your life.
I don’t have horses, but I do have schoolies that I ride consistently. I seem to have a knack for getting horses who hate going, to go. It may be that my leg is titanium because of having to get horses who won’t go, to go — it’s a chicken and egg scenario! I also am very sweet on whichever horse I’ve got, and as school horses don’t get much loving, I think that makes a difference. My current mount had a long stretch of disengagement but I am happy to report that his mood is elevated since we’ve been working together. Pony nuts may something to do with it…
What role do horses play in your creative process?
They save my sanity! Not gonna lie, but indigenous endorphins are the absolute business.They clear the cache of all the garbage that accumulates from daily life. And that’s not the physical activity of riding, but also the mental relief I experience from simply setting foot on the yard. You can’t think of anything else when you’re around horses, and it’s so freeing and yet so focused,; the knock on effect is that my mind feels free and focused off the horse.
What is your biggest struggle as a rider and how do you deal with that struggle?
Not having enough time/money to ride as often as I’d like. I feel like I’d be even better fixed mentally and creatively if I could get four rides a week — I’m only on two at the moment. I’m always in the market for more freelance work but lately it has required going in to work in other people’s offices rather than at home, which prevents me being up at the yard.
As regards my actual riding, it’s always something: my heels had started coming back up over fences last year. That’s sorted, but now my lower leg has got loose again? Eh, so, I’m working on that at the moment. Once that’s solved I’m sure another issue will rear its head. No pun intended.
What is your biggest struggle as a writer and how do you deal with that struggle?
It used to be time, but I’ve gotten good at using how ever much I have. Even if I take a current manuscript out for lunch when I’m day-jobbing, and write a few lines or make a few corrections, I’m moving the story forward.
In the beginning, when I had no notion that I could achieve what I set out to do, so I’d hold on until I could, like, spew it out in one piece — like a whole chapter, or whatever. Now I have more confidence in my process and I trust it, so I can consider a few lines of dialogue work well done.
My recent struggle is a good one, having to write to a contracted date. Up to now, I’ve had a healthy draft done before having it taken up by a publisher. The second novel of my mashup series is due in September and I’m sweating it a bit. The good thing is I’ve got the framework hammered out, I had a great freelance edit on the first novel from which I learned a ton, and I’m trusting my process (as above) and doing whatever amount of writing I can, every day.
What advice would you give a beginning rider?
I was and continue to be so fortunate in my instructors. The level of quality I enjoy is astonishing, and I know this because I’ve been around the mounting block a few times — I’ve experienced only okay teaching as well as very poor. I did some ‘riding around’ to see other places and ride other horses, and wasn’t too impressed. So my advice would be to shop around. Try a bunch of different places and pay attention to ho you feel after a lesson: do you feel like you’ve learned something and feel good, or do you feel bad? No one, at entry level, should ever be made to feel bad. If you’re not having fun and feeling like you are an amazing being, learning how to do something new, then move on.
What advice would you give a beginning writer?
Embrace the notion of a shitty first draft! Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott if you have not already done so; if you have done, read it again. She gives us all permission to write something imperfect, and speaks eloquently about perfection as the oppressor of creativity.
Listen to all the advice that other writers, the internet, and random strangers have about how much you should produce on any given day, when you should write and how often —then throw it all out as you figure out what your own process is. Mine changes from work to work: one novel required that I rise with the lark and write, which I hated with a passion; I wrote the first versions of every chapter of my masters’ thesis in cafes; the framework of the novel that is launching my new series was wrought during lunch hours. Feel free to take this all in and ignore it, too!
Some bullet points: I spent a lot of time giving my stuff to friends to read, and have learned that doesn’t work for me … If you’ve got to a place with your manuscript where you think may want to query agents or publishers, invest in an edit from a professional … Read your work aloud, it makes such a difference! … Time off from writing is as important as writing … and holy moly, put that pad and pen by the bed for when you wake up with ideas, I still have not learned this lesson and lived to regret only last week.
And kind of like the horseback riding advice, adapted: enjoy yourself, love the things you are trying to relate, and remember you are an amazing being doing something new, every day.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged Author, author interview, Author Interviews, Authors, Book, book blog, books, Horse and Rider Books, horses, Ireland, Quiller Publishing, riding, riding lessons, Susan Conley, UK.
My children’s picture book, Pedro’s Problemo will be coming out soon (release target date is black Friday, November 24th!) with Dingbat Publishing. In Pedro’s Problemo, the Itty Bitty Wise Kitty Committee decides a rescued Chihuahua named Don Pedro Sanchez Elll Puppy Dog must ride a horse named Bubba to prove he’s royalty from Mexico since no one believes him.
The artist for Pedro’s Problemo is ten year old Brady Ballard. I thoroughly love what her energy and art has brought to the story, and I enjoyed getting to share the book and process with her. I think you’ll enjoy getting to find out more about this multi-talented young artist. I see big things ahead for her!
Tell us a little bit about where you’re from.
I was born in Cookeville, TN but moved to Lebanon, TN when I was one. Lebanon is a nice and quiet town that has lots of fun things to like bowling, a new art studio, parks, and movie theatres.
What is a day in your life like?
Other than school and some homework, I have after school hobbies – tap, piano, and theatre. In my down time, I like drawing, crafting, and making videos. At the end of the day we watch a show as a family. I also spend a lot of time playing with my dogs, Barker, age 12, and Bonnie, age 1.
What are some of your favorite things to do?
I have quite a few hobbies. I really enjoy making American Girl stop motion videos on you tube. I like tennis, camping, swimming, bowling, and have just started playing golf. I like all sorts of dance like tap and hip-hop. I also play piano, act, and sing. I am in a sewing club and I like making jewelry with my Granna. Crafting is what I like to do during down time. I like to paint, draw, and work with clay.
How long have you been acting, and how did you start?
At age 3, I told my mom that I wanted to be in a play. When I turned 4 she let me do a drama camp. When she asked how I liked it, I said that was great but I wanted to BE in a play not pretend to be in a play. The next summer, when I was 5, I was in Cats, Jr. with Actors Point Theatre in Hendersonville. I even got to sing a duet in “Memory” with Grizabella.
Who are some of your favorite actors that you look up to, and why?
I like Sutton Foster. She portrays Fiona in the Broadway production of Shrek the Musical. I like how she brings realistic behaviors into her acting instead of acting fake. I like how the Fiona character portrays a princess who is not perfect.
I also like Lin Manuel Miranda. I am a huge Hamilton fan!
What are some of your goals with acting?
I enjoy making people laugh. I like to get into the character that I am playing and make them believable.
How long have you been an artist? What made you want to start drawing?
I have been drawing since I was three. I did online projects before I could use a pencil and crayon. I saw someone drawing art projects on you tube with their kid and I wanted to model them. I wanted to try what they were doing.
What is your favorite thing to draw?
My favorite thing to draw is people and their pets. Girls are fun to draw because you can be creative making their hairstyles and outfits.
What was your favorite thing about working on Pedro’s Problemo and why?
I like hearing the background stories on which the characters were based. I love seeing their pictures and videos, too. I really like drawing Bubba, Lucky, Pedro, and Yin the Yang.
What was your biggest challenge working on the art for Pedro’s Problemo? Tell us about that.
The hardest part was trying to make quality pictures without taking too long to do it. The horses were the most difficult character to draw because I had never drawn horses before.
What would you like to be when you grow up?
Maybe an actress or illustrator. I really don’t know yet.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I wish that candy didn’t have bad stuff in it so that I could eat more of it.
What is one thing that a lot of people don’t know about you?
When I was in third grade I was given the opportunity to write, direct, cast, and choreograph a play that was performed in front of my entire third grade class.
Any parting words of wisdom?
I just can’t wait for the Pedro’s Problemo to be published so we enjoy all the hard work we’ve put into it!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged acting, Actors Point Theatre, actress, Authors, black Friday, book blog, book release, books, Brady Ballard, cats, Chihuahua, child actress, child artist, childrens books, diverse books, dogs, horses, interview, Lebanon, Lebanon Tennessee, Lin Manuel Miranda, Mexico, picture book, rescue animals, rescue cats, rescue dogs, rescue horses, Shrek The Musical, Sutton Foster, Tennessee.
This week, my publisher released my short story, Winds On Indian Mound, as a single on Amazon.
Because everything I write has a little real life in it, I thought I’d share the real event that inspired this paranormal short story…
Are there ghosts in Indian Mound?
What really happened in Indian Mound, Tennessee? No one knows for certain, but a paranormal experience I had there years ago most definitely inspired my latest short story, Winds On Indian Mound.
It happened long ago while I was out riding my mare late one night. Of course, that was back when I was young and fearless. However, on that particular night, my bravery quickly evaporated; I was so scared to death, I still remember every detail twenty-five years later.
Just like the story, I had the offer of free board for my two horses in Indian Mound, Tennessee. The pasture my horses stayed in was relatively small, but it sat on about two hundred acres of rough and sometimes steep, rolling sage-filled fields. The property backed up to over seven hundred acres of woods. There were logging roads and any manner of dirt trails that ran through the woods.
Always being a cowgirl that wants to see what’s just around the bend, I looked for a way on to the seven hundred acres. Sure enough, just like in the story, at the top of the hill a large oak tree had fallen and taken the fence down with it. There was a gap just big enough for my horse to walk through.
The curious thing about the gap in the fence was that every time I crossed it, the wind was blowing and the temperature would drop. Even on the hottest of days, I would get a chill as I rode my mare across that fence line.
I rode those wooded trails as much as I could, each trip getting later as I went a little further in and discovered new places to ride. The last few rides, I managed to make it back to the barn shortly after dusk.
However, the last ride I took there ended when the full moon was high up in the sky. Looking back, I estimate it was probably around ten or maybe eleven o’clock at night. I was used to riding that late.
That particular afternoon, I crossed over the fence line, and although there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the wind was blowing the worst it ever had. I remember goosebumps appearing on my arms even though it was late summer and plenty hot.
The little chestnut grade mare that I had, Coco, was solid as they come. She was supposed to have been a Quarter Horse and Fox Trotter cross. I rode her everywhere and she never spooked at anything – probably the only reason I was so brave!
As I rode that evening, I didn’t pay much attention to the time, or the fact that it was getting dark. Then all of a sudden, my mare stopped dead in her tracks and would not move. Her head was raised and she was focused on something deep in the woods. Keep in mind, I had owned that horse about five years at that point and she had never done such a thing so I knew she saw something.
Over in the middle of some brush about twenty feet away, I saw a flash reflection of light. The only way I can explain it, is that it looked like moonlight reflecting off something metal.
I wear glasses now, but at the time I didn’t because quite frankly I didn’t have the money. When you’re young, you have different priorities I guess. At any rate, with it being dark and my eyesight not what it should be, I could see basic objects but I couldn’t see a lot of details.
Right after the flash of light, a medium size bird flew up out of the brush where the light had been. My mare suddenly decided then that she could move on down the trail.
I’ve always had what I call a “knowing”. It’s when you just know things for a fact that you shouldn’t know but you do. That night, I had a “knowing” that something was there in those woods. I felt it as surely as I had felt the wind earlier.
A few yards down the trail, I sensed someone or something was following us. So, I turned around and looked back. Sure enough, I saw something light colored about the same height as I was on my horse. I couldn’t see any details, as mentioned earlier, but I could see that it was a definite object that wasn’t staying still!
I told myself I was just being silly, and bumped my mare up to a trot. When I got around the bend in the trail, I looked back and the object was the same distance behind us. I decided to test what I was seeing, and began to canter my mare thinking surely it would disappear. Yet, every time I looked back, I saw that same object several yards behind us, just far enough back I couldn’t see exactly what it was.
By that point, I panicked and asked my mare for a full out gallop! We galloped all the way to the break in the fence. When we got there, the wind was blowing even more violently than it had before but the temperature didn’t change.
Once through the fence, we headed to the barn as fast as we could. The trail back was hard packed dirt with loose rock on top. It went downhill and to the left. We flew down the hill and took the left hand turn.
About half way to the barn, I stopped, thinking surely I was safe. I cocked my head to listen and heard the faint sound of gravel rolling down that hill. Needless to say, I high-tailed it to the barn!
I’ve always been drawn to otherworldly things. Probably because of my “knowing” as I call it, along with a sensitivity that I can’t quite explain, I have a good balance of curiosity and skepticism. I’ve spent a lifetime studying the supernatural, and have even analyzed several unexplained occurrences that have happened after that. Things like shadows and voices, usually at night, but not always.
Was it a ghost? Who knows, but whatever it was, that supernatural encounter had a huge impact on my life and found its way into a mix of fiction and American Indian culture in Winds On Indian Mound.
This entry was posted in Books, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged Authors, Book, book release, creek indian, ghost, ghost stories, ghosts, horses, Indian, Indian Mound, inspiration, native american, paranormal, riding, short story, Stewart County, supernatural, Tennessee, trail riding, writers.
After the last blog post with female bronc rider Kaila Mussell, author Heidi M. Thomas contacted me about doing an interview. I won’t spoil the surprise, but Heidi’s background is a perfect follow-up to a bronc riding story, especially since the NFR 2015 has just started! Not only an award-winning prolific writer and editor, she’s an author with a strong western heritage that I think all of us horse lovers can relate to.
I loved the sense of freedom of living miles from a town, being able to run and play with no restrictions as a kid. Working with my parents taught me a sense of self-reliance, strong work-ethic and independence. Being around cows, horses, dogs and cats gave me a love for animals. And being without “technical amenities” gave me a love for reading and writing.
You also had a grandmother that rode bucking stock. What was it like growing up with a grandmother that rode roughstock?
I knew she loved riding and being outdoors more than anything in the world and we rode horses together numerous times. But I didn’t know she was a rodeo cowgirl until she passed away when I was 12. My dad and I were going through photo albums and he casually remarked, “Did you know your grandma rode bucking stock in rodeos?” Whoa! How cool was that! I filed that away in my brain until many years later when I was ready to write about her life.
I wish I could’ve asked her questions about that, but through stories my dad told me and my research, I learned that many girls naturally gravitated toward that sport. They, like my grandmother, grew up on ranches, riding with their dads, brothers and later, husbands out of necessity. Then when the men got together and decided to see who could stay on the back of that bucking bronc the longest, the girls said, “We can do that too!” Many started competing around age 14. Their families sometimes were accepting and sometimes not. It was socially unacceptable to wear men’s pants, travel and compete with men, and it was dangerous. The “old-time” cowboys didn’t think “girls” could ride and they didn’t like it when they were outridden by a woman.
What impact has your grandmother, and growing up on a ranch had on your writing?
It’s had a huge impact. From that casual remark by my dad have come four published books! Her life and my growing up on a ranch gave me a love and a first-hand feeling for the setting, which I think is an important part of my writing.
When did you start writing, and what were some of your challenges you faced when you started?
I like to say I was born with ink in my veins. I’ve been writing since I could form letters. I did get my degree in journalism from the University of Montana and worked for the newspaper in Missoula, then did several years of freelance writing for other publications. When I started writing fiction seriously, I found that although I had a good foundation through journalism, I had to learn to “show, not tell” and not to write so spare in the “Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity” mode. After I’d written and polished my first manuscript to the best of my ability, I started to send it out and collect rejections. In that process I learned that I needed to study and practice my craft more, so I took a two-year certification course through the University of Washington in fiction writing. Then, it was a matter of finding a publisher once I was ready to submit. It took ten years from the time I started the book until it was published. I now have four published books: Cowgirl Dreams (1920s), Follow the Dream (1930s), Dare to Dream (1940s), and the nonfiction book, Cowgirl Up: A History of Rodeo Women.
What was your first book that was published? What was it like to finally see your work in print?
My first book was Cowgirl Dreams, the first of my “Dreams” trilogy, based on my grandmother. It was such a huge thrill to hold that first book in my hands! I was so excited and felt validated, that my dream was coming to fruition after all the years of hard work.
Are you a full-time writer? (If so, tell us how you got there, if not tell us your writing goals)
Yes, I consider that my vocation (as well as my avocation), along with freelance editing for other authors. I didn’t start writing books until after I had “retired” from a “regular” job, and I had a husband who was extremely supportive in all ways—my number one fan and cheerleader.
When do you do your best writing, and why?
I’m not a morning person, and I don’t have a set schedule, although I keep telling myself I need to! Mid-day and early afternoon are my best times. Also, I think from my journalism background, I find I write best with a deadline! I belong to a critique group that meets once a week, so that gives me my motivation!
You have written several books that have won awards. Tell us about those & the inspiration behind them.
They are a part of my “Cowgirl Dreams” trilogy. Cowgirl Dreams won an EPIC (Electronic Publishing) award and was a finalist in the USA Best Books competition. The sequel, Follow the Dream, won the coveted WILLA (named for Willa Cather) award from Women Writing the West. And of course, both are based on my grandmother’s life.
What is your latest book project?
I’m working on “the next generation” trilogy, based on my mother who came from Germany after WWII.
Any words of wisdom for other writers and those that aspire to write?
From my own experience, I’m glad my first novel did not get published when I first sent it out. Today, it’s become much easier to self-publish and it doesn’t carry the stigma it used to. But don’t be in a big hurry to publish your book. Learn and practice your craft. Take classes, read how-to books, and join or create a critique group. And when you’ve rewritten it for the 50th time and polished it to the best of your ability, hire an editor to go through it. Above all, perseverance is key. Don’t give up!
If you want to keep up with Heidi you can find her on social media –
Facebook: search Heidi M. Thomas, Author
Publisher buy-link: www.rowman.com
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged AQHA, author interview, Authors, books, broncs, cattle, editing, ERA, Heidi M. Thomas, history, horses, interviews, National finals rodeo, NFR, PRCA, ranch, Ranching, rodeo, roughstock, Saddle Bronc, western, westerns, WPRA, writing.
I have to confess, I haven’t kept up the interviews on here as much as I would like – I’ve got a few new ones coming up soon!
In the meantime, I figured I’d give an update on writing & farm news. There’s been quite a bit going on!
Back in the fall, I got asked to be a regular guest blogger on Everybody Needs A Little Romance. The site hosts a good number of well-known romance writers. While they do talk romance and there are book reviews, the neat thing is they talk about every day events as well. It’s neat to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a real romance writer! What’s even better, a few of the guest bloggers are horse gals as well – How cool is that?!
The other news is that I recently launched a website and blog called Cowgirls With Curves. It’s a place where real sized riders can be encouraged and share their struggles and triumphs, and just be recognized and highlighted. Each week I post a new interview so the world can see how many wonderful plus size riders there are out there. The response has been overwhelming, and it’s been fulfilling to see the difference the site has already made. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for CWC!
On the writing front, I’ve been working on a new novella, The Searching Place. Here’s a little hint of what it’s about…
Carter Perkins knows a lot of the local women. What horseshoer doesn’t know a lot of females? But then, Carter knows a bit more about them than what size shoe their horse wears. A bit of a small town player, Carter doesn’t quite know what to think of the fiery red-headed gal from out west. It’s not until he gets himself into a bit of bind that he realizes he needs to change his playboy ways.
I’m also working on a couple of short stories, another novel, and I’m ironing out the plot for the sequel to Lost Betrayal. I frequently share snippets of my latest WIP on my Facebook Page so be sure to visit it often!
The last bit of news is that I’m fostering a donkey. Yes, you read that correctly! Oscar, as I call him, is a local rescue case that was running loose unattended in the neighborhood. I’m fostering him until we can find him a home with lots of attention. He’s not been gelded and he’s not been handled. Needless to say, he’s been quite the project. He’s made progress though and I’m hoping the work that I’ve been doing with him will help his chances at finding a good home with lots of attention.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged amazon, Author, Author Interviews, Authors, blogger, blogs, cowboy, cowboys, cowgirls, donkey, donkeys, F.J. Thomas, facebook, Fairweather Farm, farm, plus size, poet, poetry, riding, Tennessee, western.
This week we get to spend some time with author Sam Finden. Although he’s young in years, he’s an old soul that’s a true horseman at heart with a gift for telling the best of tales. If you love horses, the rural life, and a good story I think you’ll enjoy reading what he has to say.
What is a day in your life really like and what is your favorite thing to do?
A day in my life is fairly uneventful most of the time. If I’m running around, I’m doing something wrong. Every day, I get up and throw on my muck boots straight away- even if I’m in my pajamas- and head out to the barn I built last summer to feed the horses. Then I’ll sit and plan out my day, drinking coffee and having a little breakfast. On work days, I’ll head into town and put in some hours at an architectural millwork shop (Western Spindle), After work, I’ll feed again and just hang out on the fence, then spend a few hours off my feet answering emails or working on a new story. I’ll wrestle around with the dog, play the guitar, or watch hockey. I’m no gourmet cook, so dinner is nothing fancy. Pretty laid back, mostly.
Do you write full time?
Writing full-time would be fantastic, but it’s not realistic for me right now. I’m not inclined to take on freelance work, to write just for the sake of writing, so it’s not feasible. Eventually I hope to have enough fiction work out there and producing to make a living off of book royalties, but that’s a ways out yet. I’m a newbie, with Saddle My Good Horse being my first foray into authorship. There are so many things to learn about promoting a book, so many strategies out there. Once I’ve made enough mistakes, that’s when I expect to be able to keep my ponies fed through income earned by writing.
How many horses do you have and what is the story behind them?
I’ve got two horses- both of them are quarter horses, and both of them are geldings. Chance, my old steady-eddy bay horse, is 18 years old. He came my way with another horse, a little mare named Ula that was old as the hills. She’s not around any more, unfortunately, and for a while, Chance was the only mount I had. He’s a good boy, but hasn’t been taught much more than go and whoa. I’m working with him whenever I can, trying to break a lot of habits he’s got. One good thing about him is that he’s pretty forgiving- I’ll put dudes on him without having to worry. He’s lazy and very in-your-pocket.
Red, my 11 year-old sorrel gelding, came to me for free. A word of warning: nothing is free. A buddy of mine was seeing this girl who couldn’t afford to feed him anymore- she got him as a project- and I was down to one horse, so I offered to take him. He’s actually pretty good- very quick side-to-side and very responsive off the leg. Someone put some good time on this horse, he had a good start – enough so that, even after being a pasture pet for years, he hasn’t forgotten all of it. The problem with Red, and it’s not so much a problem with him as it is with me, is that he’s been the boss for years. I’m not okay with that, so we’ve had some friction. All in all, though, he’s a pretty good horse. Like most people, I’ve just got to prioritize doing the necessary work to help both my horses improve. No more “Brush, saddle, sit, and spur.” More groundwork, more time together is required to really help my ponies be their best.
What type of stories and blogs do you write? How did you start out writing and what led you to write your book? What’s the story behind it?
I write mostly outdoor and horse-themed stories, though occasionally I’ll post an opinion piece, on my blog, www.samfinden.com. Really, my book was just a short story about ranch kids that got away from me. Writing short, creative fiction about hunting and fishing has been a hobby of mine since high school. When I got back into horses it was like a drug for me, and writing about them was the next best thing to riding. I like to tell descriptive, educational stories, the kind that people, sometimes, have to reread in order to learn something. When it comes to horses, it’s a natural thing- I want to learn new techniques, new theories. Whether it’s horsemanship, shoeing, packing, rodeo, even driving- I love it all. I want to be around it. And I want to bring readers with me, to point out a thumbs-up dally, then explain why by weaving the lesson into a chunk of dialogue or a historical anecdote.
What role do horses play in your life and your writing?
Horses play a key role in not only my writing, but in my life as well. I’m hopelessly addicted. I’ve found no better cheerleader for your newest story idea, no better counselor when you’re feeling defeated by something, than a horse. People scoff at the thought of an animal, who supposedly lacks the ability to reason, being a friend to a person, who often forgets their own ability to reason. I’ve moved around a lot and been lonesome a lot, but so long as there’s a horse in my barn, I’m a happy camper. They’re always there for you- of course they depend on you for feed and care, so that stands to reason- but there’s more to it. It’s a friendly nip across the fence, a nicker when you walk by. An observant, nonjudgmental nature. The ability to follow you, to trust you, and the confidence boost that provides. If I could bottle it, I’d be a billionaire. Horses and dogs are the finest of God’s creatures and I’m lucky to have them in my life every single day.
If you had to make one very important statement about life what would it be?
One statement or word of advice: Be considerate. Consider your horses. Consider your friends. Consider why you have enemies. Consider the traction on the road and the weight of your words when heard out of context. Consider your options. Consider waiting until cooler heads prevail. Consider God- He considers you every day. Consider spending more time in the present. And consider what you don’t know, then consider learning something useful.
What advice would you give other writers looking to become published?
I’m not necessarily the most qualified voice to recommend avenues toward becoming a published author, as I chose to self-publish. I can, however, tell of things that I’d like to/ will do differently the next time around, whether I self-publish or go the traditional route.
*I will, absolutely, set aside some time and money to farm out my cover design. Some of the templates that Amazon’s Createspace outfit offer are decent- I’d like to think that my second cover is well designed- but a discerning critic or reader may be looking for something much better. Good cover design is worth spending money on.
*Editing is in the same vein- you may think that your work will somehow be diminished by running it through an editor. I disagree. Reading through my book, a few glaring errors jump off the page and smack me upside the head. That alone is reason enough to hire an editor. I’m proud of my story and proud of the book, but I’m not thrilled with the choices I made in a few spots. A qualified editor would have solved that.
*I think an email list, a popular blog, and a sound marketing strategy are absolutely crucial. My book went out with zero fanfare, I just kind of published it and that was that. Had I possessed a list of qualified folks who knew me, wanted to read what I’d written, and were invested in me enough to do reviews, to recommend my work, I’d have been miles ahead. And, when you’re writing horse books, miles are a long way ahead!
What inspires you to write? Any special writing rituals or writing habits?
The main thing that inspires me to write is, typically, an experience I’ve had. It’s not always an exact translation, however. For example: My cousin and I go hunting in the back country for elk. We’ll load up backpacks with enough gear to get us through a few days and proceed to work our tails off until we succeed or give up. Several of these trips will put a lot of blog-post fodder in a guy’s head, and eventually it spills out in a story. Full Curl Optimism is one of those stories- a composite of things learned and experiences had, translated into fiction, then applied with a twist- in this case, I substitute Rocky Mountain Elk for Bighorn Sheep, and I give it an underlying battle against depression.
I like to start a story on paper. Usually, I’ll write a few paragraphs in pencil in a spiral-bound notebook, give it a rest for a day or two, then start typing. This isn’t always the case, though. Sometimes, when I’m really feeling it, I can just hammer away on the keyboard and, when I look up, there’s a rough draft. It’s times like those that I wonder, “Why am I not doing this all day, every day?”
One thing that I’ve been working on, and it’s hard, is that I rest a draft for as long as I can stand. Coming at a story with a new set of eyes, hopefully in less-rose-colored glasses, has kept me from posting some real junk. Sometimes the story can be salvaged and sometimes it can’t, but either is better than putting yourself out there with a lousy piece. So, maybe, that’s something to think on for people who are interested in writing.
What’s your favorite tale from all your travels?
My favorite tale? That’s a tough one- I’ve been all over creation with all sorts of characters. Here are a few, though:
Once, while I was working as a wrangler/bus driver/snowmobile guide/ cook/dishwasher/sleigh driver/superduper cowboy at a day-dude outfit in Steamboat Springs, I slid a shuttle bus off a cliff in front of my guests. It was a real banner day in this guy’s life, that’s for sure.
Another time, I got hollered at by Federal agents for walking along in a restricted area at the Hoover Dam- I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to be there.
In Minnesota, I was training a quarter pony named Twain that started at a lope and went up from there. I never claimed to be a great horse trainer, mind you. Anyway, this pony was all go. The boss picked him up cheap at the sale barn and I can see why. Good little run on him, but no handle. Once, while running flat out across a stubble field, I reached up and put my fingers through the ring on the bit, cranked his head all the way around to my stirrup. He never let up- just kept on running. We should have named that pony Forrest.
Two winters ago, in Montana, where I currently live, my borrowed mare and I somersaulted down a drifted hillside and came to rest facing one another, nose to nose. She was not amused. Later that day, we rode to within 100 yards of a huge herd of elk on three separate occasions- on barren prairie. Pretty cool.
So it’s tough to choose one tale, but suffice it to say that horses are an important part of my life, and every time I head out on horseback there’s the potential for a new story to take shape.
How can people find out about your book and keep up with your work?
Thanks for the opportunity to talk a little bit about what makes me tick. If folks want to learn more about me, they’re welcome to head over to www.samfinden.com and follow along. From there, they can sign up for my email list to be notified whenever I post something new. They can also take a look at a couple of videos I’ve put together, or click on the link to my listing for Saddle My Good Horse. It’s a clean, educational book for young adults on up, and it’s something that those hard-to-buy-for teenage boys will actually enjoy reading (although there are no vampires or werewolves or anything). It’s horses, cattle, mountains, pretty much.
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This week we are chatting with Pendleton Petticoats romance series author Shanna Hatfield. She’s quite an entertaining author to interview and one that I think many rural folks can relate to.
From Nov. 7-Dec. 24, Shanna will be donating 10% of the net proceeds from all her book sales to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund which is a fund to help injured cowboys. Shanna is also hosting a Facebook Party with prizes this week. I’ve listed the details at the end of the interview along with ways to in
What is it like to live in your boots for a day?
Day to day, I treat my writing like a career, even though I work from home. I get up early, respond to emails, post to my blog and social media outlets then try to get in some exercise before I get ready for the day. After that, I generally spend the rest of the day in my office writing or editing. Some days I put in as many as twelve hours if I’m in the writing “mode.” My husband, Captain Cavedweller, refers to the mode as the times when I’m so involved in a story I forget about everything else like fixing dinner and making sure he has clean socks. On days when I’m editing or working on promotions, I like to cook and often experiment with recipes (you can find my latest and greatest culinary adventures at savvyentertaining.com) I’ve also gotten into western photography recently. My niece kindly provides much of my subject matter with her horses and cattle.
Are you a full time writer?
A little more than a year ago, I quit my job in the corporate world to pursue writing full time. My comfortable boots replaced the high heels I wore every day and I love every minute of my new life. I know I am very blessed and fortunate to be able to get up every morning excited to work at something I love so much. I don’t regret a minute spent pursuing my dreams.
What role do horses play in your life and your books? Any good horse stories?
I grew up on a farm with cattle, horses, and an older brother who worked on remote ranches next door to nowhere. Between the stories he’d bring home when he’d come to visit and the fact I always had a horse to ride, horses and cowboys play a big role in both my historical and contemporary sweet western romances.
I’ve got many horse stories, but one my family feels compelled to tell everyone happened when I was four with a red pony named Dynamite. I wanted to spend every waking moment with the pony. One afternoon, while I was supposed to be taking a nap, I snuck outside and around to the room where we kept the tack. I couldn’t carry my little saddle, but I managed to get the bareback pad and drag it out to Dynamite’s pasture. I slid it on his back and tightened the cinch then led him by the halter over to a stump so I could climb on. Things went along fine for the first few minutes as he walked around then he let out a big breath and the pad started to slide. By the time my mother realized I was missing and made a beeline out to the pasture, I was clinging upside down to the pad with my head dangling beneath Dynamite’s belly. After that, Mom put quite a damper on my horse-riding adventures.
What made you decide to donate a portion of your proceeds to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund?
When I was researching details for the first book in the Rodeo Romance series, The Christmas Cowboy, I learned about the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund through Rick Foster, program director of the Justin Sports Medicine Team. In the book, my hero, Tate Morgan, is a saddle bronc rider who gets hurt at the national finals rodeo. Trying to get all the details right is what led me to JCCF. It’s such a great organization. JCCF is a non-profit organization that assists rodeo athletes who sustain catastrophic injuries and are unable to compete for an extended period. I’m on a blog tour all this week with the Cowboys and Christmas tour to kick off a promotion I’m doing with the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. Now through Dec. 24, I’ll donate ten percent of the net proceeds from all my book sales to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.
What inspires you to write the stories that you write? What is your muse?
I find inspiration everywhere – even standing in line at the grocery store. My over-active imagination rarely shuts down. Captain Cavedweller is a great sounding board and I most always come up with story ideas when we go for a drive. There’s something about forcing him to be a captive audience, trapped in a vehicle with no escape, that gets the ol’ creative juices flowing.
Do you have any particular writing rituals?
As a visual person, before I start writing a new story, I gather photos of people who are my ideal of the characters. If the characters have pets (dogs, horses, cats), I try to find photos of those along with landscapes, house plans, anything that helps me visualize the story and my characters.
Any parting words of wisdom for those looking to be published writers?
Never give up on your dreams! You can do it!
If you’d like to find out more about Shanna’s books see below — you’ll notice she has a Facebook Party coming up soon with prizes!
You’re Invited to a PARTY!
You’re invited to join in the online Cowboys & Christmas Facebook Party Thursday, Nov. 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (PST). Drop in anytime during those four hours to enter to win great prizes, chat with guest authors, and more! Here’s the link to the party: http://tinyurl.com/cowboychristmasparty
Enter to Win Prizes!
As part of the blog tour, I’m giving away some exciting prizes. To enter the drawing for an Amazon gift card, autographed books, chocolates, original western artwork, and more fun goodies, fill out this form. http://tinyurl.com/cowboychristmasprizes
Find Shanna’s books at:
Follow Shanna online:
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/shanna-hatfield
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