If you love horses and you love a good suspenseful tale, you need to check out Connie Johnson Hambley. Not only did she grow up with horses and is an equine therapy volunteer, Horse Nation has hailed her as one of the most exciting writers of our time. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know this fascinating horse author.
What was it like growing up on a dairy farm in New York? What were some of the horses you rode and what did you do with them?
In a word? Idyllic because I had the best of both worlds. My small hometown is located within an easy drive to New York City. My family enjoyed outings to The Big Apple to go to museums and plays, but we all heaved a communal sigh of relief to return home. I confess that I was not chore-bound on the farm, so any story of me waking up at the crack of dawn to milk cows is <ahem> fiction.
But, riding and caring for my horses was a different matter. I don’t recall the first time I was on a horse, but I do remember my first fall off one! I was about four when our Tennessee Walker, a bay mare named Abigail, shied and dumped me, knocking me breathless and scaring the heck out of me! Maybe that’s why the horses I chose as I became a better rider were chestnut geldings. Bojangles, a Quarter Horse with a sadly low IQ, was the sweetest guy ever and the best schooling horse for perfecting my English Hunter Seat equitation. Foxfire, the horse I’m pictured with when I was sixteen, was a 16.2 Anglo-Arab with a mind of his own and wings.
The best part of learning to ride when living on a dairy farm was after the lessons were over. I would gallop across the fields as fast as the horses could carry me and jump over streams, walls, trees – anything where the horse and I could be one for the intoxicating moments when we were suspended in air. Bo and Foxy loved the freedom. The emotions I felt during those rides are something I try to bring to life in my books.
How do you feel growing up on a farm influenced your writing?
I have vivid memories of how certain days felt. I had all of the other angst kids have growing up – friends, cranky teachers, clueless older brother – but I also had wide-open spaces I could retreat to and figure things out. A hellish day in middle school was made better with a good ride – even in the rain. Any animal owner will tell you that critters don’t know your worries. They just care if you treat them well. Throwing my arms around the neck of my horse, inhaling his sweet scent and letting him soak up my sorrows helped me sort through all of the normal stuff of growing up.
Farm life allowed me the luxury of thinking, and horses were my oasis. I value my memories as I know how unique my experience was. It gave me a strong moral centerpoint where I ground all my characters. My main character, Jessica Wyeth, is a world-class equestrian. Even though the outer world she inhabits is foreign to most of my readers, her inner world is familiar and welcoming. She’s likeable and relatable.
You volunteer at an equine therapy facility – tell us about that. What is your favorite thing about volunteering there and why?
Since I’m currently a horse-lover without a horse, I get my equine fix through volunteering. The focus of being a horse handler is on safety. The clients I work with have a variety of physical and/or emotional challenges that may make a quick response to a horse’s sudden movement difficult. I’m there to let the riders expand their skills as much as possible, but I’m watching the horse at all times to protect against the unexpected.
I can’t state enough how transformative working with certain clients has been for me. Relationships develop. I feel like I receive more than I give. One client has written her first short stories ever – and she’s 50 years old! I’ve also worked alongside survivors of human trafficking and have been honored to watch these women regain a sense of personal power and control through their interactions with horses.
The inspiration for my short story, Giving Voice, published in WINDWARD: Best New England Crime Stories, (Level Best Books, 2016) came from working with these remarkable women.
How long have you been writing, and how did you first get started writing?
I’ve always gravitated to communicating via writing, but I learned how to write in law school. Crafting a persuasive legal brief requires many of the same skills to write a good thriller. Knowing the structure of your story and knowing who your audience is are essential to delivering a tightly woven story to your readers or a judge!
I used my skills when writing articles for Bloomberg BusinessWeek or other periodicals. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, the beginning process is very similar. There is inhaling research and processing information to find out exactly what you want to say. The first time I allowed myself to exhale fiction instead of a brief or journalism piece, I became an addict. My life changed.
What is your favorite book that you’ve written? Why is it your favorite?
Not fair! You can’t ask a mom who her favorite child is, can you? Well, you can ask, but the clever (book) mom will answer, “I love each in their own special way.”
Okay, that said, it’s time for a true confession. As I write, I am constantly learning. Sometimes I’m just learning more about my characters or my story, but most times I’m learning something about the craft of writing I feel makes me a better author.
I’ve written each book of The Jessica Trilogy to stand on its own merits without the reader needing to read a prior book to understand the current book. I’ve been known to nudge people to read The Troubles first, especially if they like family sagas with dark secrets, but if your readers want to jump into a book with a strong story about therapeutic horsemanship, then The Wake is the place to start. The Wake is also timely because it takes place during the Olympics! (Well, the summer Olympics, but still!)
Where did you get the idea behind the books?
The Charity started as a love story, but the worlds surrounding my characters complicated their relationship . . . and that’s an understatement. I live in Boston, where generations of wealth impact politics and society in seen and unseen ways. Money and power drive good people to do bad things and I wanted to create a story where you questioned what characters are good guys?
I didn’t start out thinking I was going to write a trilogy, but each book had one little fuse that, when lit, exploded into another story. The Jessica Trilogy unfolds the story of a woman who uncovers the money behind a Boston-based cell of the Irish Republican Army. Each book encapsulates one distinct stage of her discovery. The Charity shows what happened, The Troubles explores why it happened, and The Wake answers how the characters move forward in a world turned upside down.
Why do you feel horse people enjoy your books so much?
In a nutshell, I write smart, gripping thrillers with an equine touch that both mainstream readers and horse lovers enjoy. The “horse book” genre can be a mixed bag of young adult, romance, coming of age, or mystery with predictable story lines and simplistic writing. That’s great for many readers, but leaves readers who want a meaty read empty handed. A reviewer in Horse Nation magazine said my trilogy reawakened her to the joy reading a great novel can evoke. (horsenation.com/2017/11/30/book-review-the-wake-final-book-in-the-jessica-trilogy/) I respect my readers’ intelligence and weave layered stories populated with complex characters that culminate in dizzying climaxes. Think of a wild steeplechase on paper and that’s how I write my books.
What is your current work in progress?
I’m busy writing short stories, some of which appear in Best New England Crime Stories anthologies published by Level Best Books. I’m digging into a novel with a whole new cast of characters. Find Cally is set in the decaying factory towns of New Hampshire. Dak Turner, a hardscrabble dad, searches for his teen daughter in the labyrinth of human trafficking aided by Sienna, a trafficking survivor who uses the knowledge gained through working with rescued girls at her therapeutic riding center to dismantle trafficking networks. You know, a little light reading.
What words of wisdom to you have for the writers out there?
Just sit down and write. Do it. Don’t give up. Finish one paragraph, then add more. Finish the story. Edit. You have a wonderful and unique story in you. You can do it! Also, find your tribe. Get support. Writing can be isolating.
What are your goals for 2018?
Finish Find Cally and continue reaching readers through a combination of social media outreach and speaking engagements. I am the Vice President of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization of mystery and crime writers. SinC provides wonderful support for aspiring and published authors and I’m thrilled to be a part of them. I have opportunities to speak at literary festivals, writers workshops, libraries, book stores and more because of the reach and reputation of SinC.
Any parting words?
I love connecting with readers, so find me and connect! I do video-chat book groups and love to connect with readers! Time zones aren’t a problem.
WAYS TO STAY CONNECTED….
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