It feels like a natural progression; at least, it does so in my mind. To go from a girl who told stories and pored over horse encyclopedias to a mostly-adult who peddles stories and trains horses. I don't do much training anymore, admittedly, but it's been a huge part of my life. Probably the biggest part. And I think those two vocations go hand-in-hand. After all, all I ever really needed to know about life I learned from horses, and writing isn't so different from life.
How dressage is like novel-writing:
1. It Consumes You
It isn't merely something to pass the time. It goes way beyond hobby. You wake up and you go to sleep envisioning what you need to do next, running through scenarios. It stalks your daydreams and occupies every thought, until conversation about mundane, regular things becomes taxing. You are your craft, and the craft begins to define you. Men think you ought to be concerned with the state of your nails and hair and an impending shopping spree, and your dedication to something outside yourself troubles them, and even repels them. Oh well. You'll worry about that later. Right now, it's all about the next ride, and the next page...
2. The Devil is in the Details
There's a judge sitting at the end of the arena, up at C. And there's a judge in every reader who cracks the cover of your book. The place you stand to lose them is in the details. You can execute the most stunning lengthened trot across the diagonal, and then rush through the corner afterward and ruin the whole thing. You can set up a crazy action sequence, and fail to flesh out your characters with any subtlety. You have to be cognizant of a thousand things at once, juggling every muscle...and every corner of your creative mind. You must make yourself a finely-honed tool, razor-sharp and precise in all things.
3. Flying Solo
You have instructors, clinicians, workshop speakers, and a wealth of books and passed-down tips from true-greats to educate you, but when it comes down to performing, this is a solo act. It's just you and the horse. You and your word processor. And education isn't a guarantor of implementation; it doesn't necessitate success. The magic is in your ability to put your education to use. Those in-the-moment decisions you must make. It's just you on that silent stage, and you hope you've packed your head and trained your muscles properly.
4. White Gloves, Deft Hands
In dressage, we wear white gloves. Black wool coat, black saddle, black reins in our hands, and usually a dark mane beneath our knuckles. But the gloves? Crisp white. So the judge can see how steady they are...or unsteady, if that be the case. The goal of dressage is absolute harmony with the horse, and so a well-executed test should give the appearance that the rider isn't giving the horse any cues. Hands steady, just above the pommel, demonstrating an elasticity to the connection in the reins, a softness of the contact. No tugging, no pulling, no harsh corrections. Just deft tightening and relaxing of curled fingers. It isn't that you are dominating the horse; you are so connected with the horse that it requires only minor direction from your hands.
Likewise, while writing, you don't want the characters to be puppets whose strings you yank and drag. You build them completely, connect with them, and then with light, deft hands you give them scenarios, and you watch them react. The audience should never see your hands move. They should never feel you are carrying them along; nothing but the harmonious, human-like reality of the characters should ever be visible. Subtlety separates the men from the boys.
5. Walking the Walk's What Matters
There's a group of girls standing at the entrance of the barn, in the shade it casts across the asphalt, and they've all got sodas and cellphones in hand, and they're laughing and giggling and snorting uproariously, and aren't they just cool, so cool. Because they wear flip-flops to walk around the barnyard and their phones are always ringing and the boys give them sultry looks and make them giggle some more. They're talking about their horses and the rides they're going to have, loud enough for everyone in this forty-acre radius to hear how awesome and special and talented they are. And, like, ugh, who cares about practicing anyway when their horses are just too awesome for the rest of the barn. And, like, who wants to clean stalls? Ew. No thank you, they've got dates and pep rallies and like, soooo much to say on Facebook.
There are walkers and there are talkers, in every "arena" of life. My arenas have been literal - and literary. The talkers want to talk, and the walkers work. Be a walker - stay late, put in the effort, do your homework, pick up the slack, be the kid everyone else sees busting her butt, and when an opportunity comes down the pipeline, be the one to say, "Yes, I'll take that job, I'll do that work." The talkers won't have any respect for you, because you don't play their games - but be a walker anyway.
I hope that I haven't sounded as all-over-the-place as I've felt the last couple of weeks. In either case, I've received some questions about Half My Blood and The Skeleton King, so I decided to talk it out a little here and clear up any of the confusing things I've said up to date. Sometimes, it's a mental relief just to write stuff down.
The Skeleton King is going to be the third Dartmoor novel. It's Walsh's story, and I really want it to focus on Walsh and his love interest. There is of course a whole-club storyline in play. And as for secondary storylines, I want those to involve Aidan and Tango. Mercy, Ava, Michael, and Holly will fade into the background for this installment. Visible, but not carrying much weight.
The Skeleton King will release late summer (no date yet). Afterward, expect books for Aidan and then Tango, in that order.
Half My Blood is expected in June, and rather than a one-couple-centric, full novel, it will be a novella with small stories for multiple characters. It's a way to spend more time with Holly and Michael, and touch on Ava and Mercy, and set some future stories up for Aidan, Tango, and some of the other characters hinted at so far. This will be a club story; a transitional story, filling in some of the time gap between Angels and Skeleton. It's also a way of thanking my dear, sweet readers and giving them some bonus material that doesn't quite fit into the next novel. Whenever I can, I want to share the characters' experiences with you, rather than leave them as vague references of the past. I'm having a blast writing it, and I can't wait to share it.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask :)
It was a book-filled week for me, and not just in the writing sense. Yesterday was the Georgia Romance Writers' annual April workshop, and I was excited to attend as a member this time. I've been to their big annual conference before, but I finally got myself in gear and joined RWA, and then my local chapter.
Yesterday, our workshop speaker was Tami Cowden, and the day was all about heroes and heroines. We talked about hero and heroine master archetypes, and I had a lot of fun thinking about my characters' motivations and figuring out their baseline archetypes. It's interesting - I never think about categorical info when characters are springing to life on the page, but still, my Dartmoor guys and gals can in fact be categorized (loosely) based on their motivations. I enjoyed mapping them out, watching them slide into place in a way that was confirming for me as a writer.
It was a laid-back comfortable discussion, and I would definitely recommend Tami's book The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines. It's a study not in putting characters in a box, or working off clichés, but understanding that there is such room for innovation and unique perspective within each master archetype.
Also, I have to say, if anyone's sitting on the fence about joining a local chapter of RWA - go for it. It's a good place to make connections, and the continuing education opportunities are great.
Had a great time last night at the indie press Spring Fling at the Book Exchange. I had the chance to talk to some very kind local authors and readers, and did manage to pull off a presentation without totally flubbing it. (Y'all, public speaking is not my thing) It's really nice to see some local support for indie authors!
A couple of housekeeping items, while we're at it:
"Green Like the Water" is set for release on May 10th, and is available for pre-order here. It will be longer than the 20 estimated pages listed now, so no worries on my writing anything short for once. :)
Cover reveal for Half My Blood is Saturday May 16th, along with a nice meaty excerpt. I'm shooting for a June 12th release date, but don't quote me on that. It'll be up for pre-order as soon as I know for sure.
I'm working now on some additional Dartmoor swag. Bookmarks, stickers, mugs, possibly T-shirts, and a newsletter. I'll be looking for readers willing to pass out free bookmarks for me, so if you're interested, drop me a line. Official announcements forthcoming on that front.
Hi, guys. It's Wednesday, but I didn't get a workshop post put together for this week. Instead, I wanted to share a snippet of Half My Blood. I appreciate all of you - your readership, your reviews, your sweet words - so very much, and I hope you enjoy this tiny glimpse at the next Dartmoor installment. Happy Wednesday!
“Ooh, those go in the kitchen,” Ava said as she
spied the rum box containing her new yellow dinner dishes come through the open
front door in Tango’s arms. “You can set them on the table. Careful; they’re
breakable.” They’d also cost her three weeks’ worth of income working part time
helping her mom out at the Dartmoor office.