Time to Read For Free with Amazon Prime

Good news for Amazon Prime members! After much consideration (and lots of great feedback from readers), I’ve decided to put my books in the Kindle Select program at Amazon.

This was not an easy decision. Kindle Select requires an exclusivity sales contract that isn’t my favorite thing in the world. As a Nook owner and long time Barnes & Noble devotee, I was happy to have my books in the BN.com fold.

The reality, though, is that BN.com’s search engine is just not good enough. As an indie writer, I need search engines to work with me. I need categories, tags, and metadata to do their thing so that readers can search for “Equestrian Fiction,” or “Horse Books,” and actually get proper results.

What happens when you search BN.com for "Equestrian Fiction." What is this even.
What happens when you search BN.com for “Equestrian Fiction.” What is this even.

Finding my books on BN.com unless you are specifically looking for “Natalie Keller Reinert” is statistically just not happening.

Meanwhile, over at Amazon…

Not just actual fiction - Look at all the categories that you can search within.
Not just actual fiction – Look at all the categories that you can search within.

Not only does Amazon.com provide actual fiction titles under an “Equestrian Fiction” search, it shows you the categories where you can find these titles. Children’s Sports and Outdoors. Equestrian Sports. Horse Riding. Teen and Young Adult Equestrian Fiction. Not adult fiction, yet, but I have my hopes… this is a growing category!

There are a lot of solid marketing reasons to go with Amazon, but the fact that they provide a working search engine, and are willing to create new categories that evolve and specialize as we writers evolve and specialize, is the most compelling reason for me. I want our category to grow and thrive. I want more quality equestrian fiction for children, teens, and adults. I want those “What’s Your Favorite Horse Book?” lists on Goodreads to stop exclusively including things like “The Thoroughbred Series – I loved those when I was a kid!!” and instead, list off current, relevant titles that address the issues that we face today as equestrians.

Oh, sorry, bit of a tangent there.

Anyway, if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can now borrow any of my titles for free with the Kindle Lending Library. Feel free. Read them. Review them. Recommend them (if you so choose), and help raise visibility for all of the writers who are in this together, telling stories that you can relate to, exploring the equestrian world the way that you see it, not the way that the outside world sees it.

As always, you can find all of my titles here: http://www.amazon.com/Natalie-Keller-Reinert/e/B005K98KDK/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

I should note too that my paperbacks are available wherever books are sold, including Barnes & Noble. For the titles that aren’t yet in paperback… they will be.

Introducing new equestrian fiction in “Show Barn Blues”

originally posted at Horse Crossings

Wow! I am really bad at editorial calendars!

You’re supposed to decide what you’re going to write, write it, edit it, and release it, right? Simple. For normal people.

Here’s what I decided to do instead.

Write a novel.

Shelve it.

Write another novel, using characters from the shelved novel.

Decide I still really liked the shelved novel.

Edit the shelved novel to publish first.

Plan on changing second novel to make room for changes based upon the shelved novel.

DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?

Of course it doesn’t.

I’m a writer and I don’t have to make sense. 

I know, I know, excuses, excuses. But this way you get two novels out of it, so I’m not sure what grounds anyone has to complain…

So here’s the deal.

I based my new novel, "Show Barn Blues," on big boarding stables I've worked at over the years.
I based my new novel, “Show Barn Blues,” on big boarding stables I’ve worked at over the years.

I’m working on Pride, the sequel to Ambition, featuring characters and plot lines from Show Barn Blues, a stand-alone novel that I wrote last summer but didn’t publish. The thing was (as I wrote at my blog back in May), there were events and sequences in Show Barn Blues that I simply couldn’t replicate in Pride. The sub-plot of developing farm land into golf courses, and what drives a trainer to continue in the business long after the thrill has gone, were too big to wedge into Pride, which is really about giving up control. Those two things don’t blend at all.

I wanted to release Pride first because so many people have asked for it, and I respect that, but Show Barn Blues really has so much to offer. Grace Carter, a middle-aged hunter/jumper trainer, has given her life to the show business, trying to escape a childhood nightmare that never would have happened if she had stayed in the arena as she’d been told. At the same time, she is preserving her grandfather’s old farm, the scene of her happiest memories. She’s caught in the middle, trying to save the land that she wants nothing to do with. As developers circle her farm, Grace is trying to somehow salvage her future while accepting her past. Meanwhile, a new trail-riding boarder, Kennedy, is determined to change things for Grace and her arena-bound students.

This is a sample of Grace’s point of view:

***

The next day, Colleen cancelled her Sunday evening lesson to take Bailey on a trail ride with Kennedy. I was already furious when Missy Ormond showed up to ride in a pair of jeans, which was strongly discouraged — I liked my students to have a professional appearance at all times — and I nearly spit nails when, while wiping off her tack after her riding lesson, she suggested that we all have a group trail ride in a few weeks.

I had been mulling over a new cancellation fee for all riding lessons. “What’s that?” I snapped, but Missy was so excited, she didn’t notice my tone.

“With a barbecue,” she went on enthusiastically. “We could use that old fire-pit, and roast marshmallows. Or make s’mores.”

“What old fire-pit?” I knew exactly where my grandfather’s fire-pit had been dug and bricked, but nobody else knew about it. Rather, nobody else had known about it. Was Kennedy going to dig out all of my skeletons and parade them around in front of me? I put things deep into closets for a reason.

Missy didn’t notice my sudden tension. She hopped down from Donner and ran up her stirrups. “It’s out by the lake,” she explained. “We could all ride to the lake and maybe the grooms or anyone who doesn’t want to ride can take out supplies and wait for us with the Gator. It’s an easy ride. It’s practically a road. Did you know there’s a road out there?”

“It’s an old Indian trail,” I muttered, and everyone in the tack room started clamoring to see it, unable to believe I had denied them the opportunity to ride on a real live Indian trail. “That lake has gators in it,” I added. “And moccasins.”

“So does all the water in Florida,” Missy said, cocky after a good ride. She’d gotten Donner around a three foot nine course without any dirty stops at all — Donner was known for dropping his shoulder when he did not feel that his rider was paying sufficient attention, sending said rider tumbling into the fence while he went the other way. “I might not have lived here my whole life, but I know that. Have you been to Gatorland Zoo? I held a baby gator there. It had its mouth taped shut.”

I had, but when I was ten or eleven, not when I was forty-four years old and the mother of three. “The gators out at the pond will not have their jaws taped shut,” I reminded her. “And horses don’t like them.”

“Oh, they’ll swim away when we come,” Missy laughed. “Kennedy says they’re afraid of horses.” She turned and led Donner back to the barn, his hooves ringing on the concrete pathway, the one we’d constructed over a perfectly good pathway of sand so that the boarders could keep their boots clean. I’d gone to insane lengths to provide affluent equestrians with a picture-perfect equine utopia, and now they all wanted to do was mess around in the woods and look at alligators. One had to wonder what the point of anything was.

***

This latest equestrian fiction tale is uniquely Floridian, and uniquely equestrian (as I hope that all of my stories have been). Whether you’ve devoted your life to horses or you’ve been an enthusiast, you’ll recognize Grace, Kennedy, and the cast of boarders and students who make up the show barn at Seabreeze Stables. And if you’ve ever seen a “coming soon” sign go up in front of beloved woodlands, you’ll be ready to fight alongside Grace to save the farm and everything that it stands for.

And I promise you, once I’ve finished Show Barn Blues and you’re all distracted reading about Grace and friends, I’ll finish Pride. Grace meets Jules. Oh, the fireworks.

Where Do You Buy Your Books?

As I prepare to launch a new title, I’m arguing with myself about just where I ought to be selling it.

The majority of my readers come from Amazon, which makes sense — Amazon is easy to navigate, has a great search engine, includes useful categories like “equestrian fiction,” and delivers pretty much everywhere in either a few days, or instantaneously if you’re downloading an ebook. And yes, the majority of my readers are downloading an ebook.

Last year at Equine Affaire, I did a booksigning with Taborton Equine Books, who carry my titles at their mobile bookstore. They set up at expos and large horse shows around the country, so it’s a fun way to get my paperbacks in front of equestrians. I mentioned to the owner that I’d love to see my books sold in tack shops, even though, of course, anyone could walk into their local bookstore and order a copy there.

“Well, yes, if they have a bookstore,” she pointed out, “and most people don’t.”

My author profile at Amazon. Is this the best place to reach readers?
My author profile at Amazon. Is this the best place to reach readers?

I didn’t realize this, coming from Brooklyn at the time, but local bookstores really are becoming a thing of the past, especially in rural countryside where my equestrian audience would tend to live. I mean, look at Orlando. I’ve lived in a fairly urban area in Florida for all of six months and already one of the two large bookstores within an easy drive has closed down, which makes me wonder how much longer I’ll have access to a bookstore at all.

So if I can establish that most readers are buying their books online, the question is, where are you buying them from? For me, it looks like my readers go straight to Amazon. Most of my ebook and print sales are from Amazon. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and Scribd trail way in the dust.

Here’s why it matters: I’m thinking about enrolling my new book (and possibly others) in Kindle Select. This means that the books are sold exclusively on Amazon – no B&N, no iTunes, nothing. I don’t love that. But, if it helps more people find my books, and if Amazon members can borrow them at no cost, enjoy them, and tell their friends to read them, then it seems worthwhile.

After all, anyone can download a book from Amazon and read it on the free Kindle app, even if they don’t have a Kindle.

But what do you think, readers? Where do you buy your books? At a bookstore, at the tack shop, from Amazon, from BN.com? I would love to know!

Comment here, @ me on Twitter (@nataliekreinert) or join me on Facebook!

Story Outlines: A Writer’s Training Calendar

This post was originally published at Equestrian Ink.

Setting up a training calendar is easy, right? You pick a horse show date and you move backwards, working out a nice hypothesis of where you’ll be in training each week running up to the show. Nothing to it, because predicting how quickly and how competently your horse will pick up your training (to say nothing of staying sound and keeping on his shoes) is just easy-peasy. Right?

Of course we know that’s nonsense. Horses look at calendars and laugh. They observe our ambitious plans and then they go out and look for a nice, innocent stick that they can use to injure themselves in astonishing and previously unbelievable ways.

Getting to a horse show takes planning. Getting to the end of a book is much the same!  Photo: flickr/dj-dwayne
Getting to a horse show takes planning. Getting to the end of a book is much the same!
Photo: flickr/dj-dwayne

In the game of planning for horse shows, the beginning is easy to see, and the end is fun to predict. It’s the middle part that’s hard.

Writing a book can be an awful lot like setting up that oh-so-charming training calendar. I like to outline, because I know my book’s beginning, and I know my book’s intended ending, but the middle part always bogs me down. You know, all that stuff that makes up the story? Moves the plot along? Gets the horse from green-broke to jumping courses? Yeah. That can be challenging.

Every book I’ve written since Other People’s Horses has had an outline, and every subsequent time I write a story outline, I find myself a little more dependent on it. That’s because my desire to wander from the set course never, ever wanes. Like a horse bound and determined to lose his shoe before the schooling show on Saturday, I am absolutely hell-bent on diverting from my intended story with wandering trail rides, unplanned-for barn drama, and completely unpredictable bucking incidents.

And while this sort of convoluted wandering story process seems to work for some writers (George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame comes to mind), I really don’t want to write 500 page door-stops that are meant to be set during one fateful summer in Saratoga, or wherever. That’s why I have to force myself back to the outline. Because every wandering trail ride has to expose a new question in the plot, every unplanned-for barn drama has to be resolved, and every unpredictable bucking incident has to involve sorting out what set off the horse, and how to fix the horse’s problem.

That’s a lot of extra writing for me, and a lot of meandering “what happened to the plot?” for you, the readers.

So funny story, haha, you guys are going to love this, I wrote a masterful outline for Pride, which is the sequel to Ambition.

Sidebar: Originally Ambition was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, but I’ve gotten so many requests for a series that I had to cave to pressure. Readers have power! When you like something, say something! 

Anyway, I wrote this wonderful outline for a book which can stand up as the second novel in a trilogy about Jules, Pete, Lacey, Becky, and of course Dynamo and Mickey, plus a host of new riders and horses. It was here to make my life easier, this outline. To keep me on track and stop me from taking three years and half-a-dozen drafts to write, the way that Ambition did.

And I got midway through Pride, to about 45,000 words, which when you consider Ambition is about 111,000 words, you can see is that all-troublesome Middle Part that confounds both trainers and writers when we are making our plots and plans… and I started to wander. I quickly realized I was inventing some barn drama which was good, but which would need to be resolved or things were going to get way off track. I decided it was time to consult my written outline, since at this point I’d just been writing off memory of what I’d planned.

This was when I realized that I had lost the outline.

Oh jeez.

Well, I stumbled about for a little bit, figuring I could find my way through without the outline, but the thing just started keeping me awake at night. What if I had lost my way? How was I going to fix this? What was the best use of my time? I’m on a tight deadline to get Pride finished and my work schedule outside of house is about to ramp up considerably. If I let this plot wander too much, I was going to be months behind.

Something had to be done.

I knew the ending still (that horse show date that I had selected months before, right?) and although my middle part had changed a little bit, that’s just what horses do. It was time to be agile. I sat down, opened my writing program, and started creating chapters.

In Scrivener, which is the program I use, each folder becomes a chapter. And there’s a little box where you can type out a synopsis. I’d never used it before, but there’s a first time for everything. I typed a synopsis for each chapter I had yet to write, creating a little guide-map to every single folder, so that no matter when I opened up the manuscript to write, there would be no excuse — the next step in the story was right there, ready to be fleshed out.

I created fourteen chapters in all, assuming that each one would balance out at about 2,000 words, and then on the edit/rewrite I would elaborate on them until they had more substance. Then, I started work on the first one.

That chapter stretched out to 5,000 words.

Outlines. The more detailed they are, it would seem, the easier my job gets.

It reminds me again of that training calendar — on a good day, I can look at the calendar, assess where my horse is vs where I thought my horse could be, and then reassess. Once that’s done, I can see what I want to do for the day, then get out there and make it happen… much more successfully than if I’d just mounted up without a plan, wandered out to the arena, and started trotting around waiting to see what would happen next.

That’s good news for me as a writer. It’s good news for everyone waiting for the sequel to Ambition, too. Hold on kids, Jules and Company are coming back for more!

Great Equestrian Books: Keeping The Peace by Hannah Hooton

Part of my Great Equestrian Books review series, this post was originally published at Retired Racehorse in 2013.

I have a fabulous horse racing romance to share with you this week! It’s one of the most fun, suspenseful, and horsey romances you’ll ever read.

Keeping the Peace by Hannah Hooton
Keeping the Peace by Hannah Hooton

Keeping The Peace is the first of a series built around a National Hunt racing stable. I’m utterly in love with the main character. I’m just going to say it: this book could be called Bridget Jones Goes to the Races and it wouldn’t be far off the mark. Luckily, I love both Bridget Jones and racing, so this was a match made in heaven for me.

Sweet, lovely, and impressively creative with bad language when she’s pissed off, Pippa Taylor is going through the motions. She’s got a job, she’s got a flat, she’s got a sort-of actor boyfriend who is just bound to get discovered one of these days. She has the requisite bad-girl best friend, she has the requisite lost dream of being an artist — she has everything you need to be a another cog in the machine.

But nothing throws a machine out of whack like a horse. They’re pre-Industrial Age, they defy all logic, and we love them without reason. And while Pippa is no horsey girl, when she inherits a pair of Thoroughbreds from her uncle, she’s struck by not just the inherent promise in a horse, but by the dream that her uncle had for one of them.

That’s Peace Offering, and like every horse, he comes with baggage. His racing history is rubbish, for one thing. His trainer is a bad-tempered Horse Racing Ken Doll, for another. Peace Offering immediately starts changing Pippa’s life in all sorts of crazy fashions, as horses do.

Hooton’s evocative imagery and crisp writing sets this story apart from the competition. Here’s Pippa meeting a yard of racehorses for the first time:

She stopped at the first stable and peeked inside. Suddenly, half a ton of horseflesh came hurtling towards the door, teeth bared, ears pinned back. Pippa gave a startled yelp and jumped out of harm’s way. She yelped again as she collided with a neat cutlery set of pitchforks and spades leaning against the wall.

I loved the National Hunt racing setting. Like most Americans, I know about Cheltenham and the Gold Cup and the King George V in a sort of abstract fashion: they’re steeplechases in England. I know that… that… um… well, they happen. I’ve sat up at odd hours watching the jumps racing and I absolutely love it… riding a steeplechasing course is definitely on my bucket list. (Some might say it ought to be the last item on my bucket list.) I know about Kauto Star. If pressed I would say Haydock is a horse and not a place but I’d have to Google it.

Despite holding an exercise riders’ license, when it comes to jumps racing, I’m kind of a Pippa:

“Who’s Virtuoso?”

Jack shook his head helplessly.

“We won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with him earlier this year. Won eight Grade Ones on the bounce. He’s a bit of a celebrity.”

“I know Cheltenham!” Pippa cried, excited that she knew something to do with horseracing.

The new-to-me setting gave this book a particular charm, especially the very thrilling racing scenes. Thrilling, terrifying, you know — just think how stressful you find it watching your favorite horse (to say nothing of your own) running a six furlong race. Now imagine a three mile race. I wonder if Americans as a society would even survive if we were suddenly forced to watch NH instead of flat racing. Our poor over-taxed hearts would just give out after 2 minutes.

Imagine poor Pippa urging on her horse, only to see a horse fall on the other side of the fence, right in their landing path, that Finn, the jockey can’t possibly know about.

Peace Offering stretched higher and wider to clear the yawning ditch and wall of spruce. Pippa could almost see the surprise register in Finn’s body language when he caught sight of the fallen horse on the landing side.

“Please God, help them.”

They touched down a stride away from Corazon. Peace Offering took half a stride and took off again, hurdling the half-risen faller.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Pippa babbled. She wondered how many other repented sins God would allow her. Another fifteen fences’ worth?

Fifteen fences. At this point I’m sweating and I’m just reading the book.

But that’s one of the many pleasures of Keeping the Peace. With exciting racing scenes, a slow-burning romance, and the delightfully creative swearing (yes, two mentions in one review) that the British have truly mastered, Keeping the Peace is one of my favorite reads this year.

Visit Hannah Hooton Books: http://hannahhootonbooks.blogspot.com/

Writing Process: Novels Within Novels

Last summer I wrote about half, maybe more, of a novel I was calling Show Barn Blues. Then I stopped, because the emails and messages to write more about Jules and Alex were just overwhelming. I decided to take the character I created for Show Barn Blues and make her a central character in the new Jules novel.

Of course, this could have been an easy case of copying and pasting some of my favorite material from Show Barn Blues… If I hadn’t written it in first person. And if Ambition hadn’t been written in first person. Damn me and my lack of respect for omniscient narrator!

What I’m finding is that as I am pulling inspiration from Show Barn Blues, some of the actual writing is going to have to be given an outlet of its own at some point. I love the character, her voice, and her story too much to keep her secondary. Sally is a been-there, done-that dressage trainer running a large equestrian center far from the fields of Ocala. She has to take extraordinary measures to keep her farm running as the suburbs gobble up farm land left and right. Because no one, and I mean no one, is taking Sally’s farm to put a golf course on it.

With horses, there are always more stories to tell than I have time for...  Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
With horses, there are always more stories to tell than I have time for…
Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I don’t know exactly how it’s going to pan out, because obviously my schedule this year includes finishing Pride, the sequel to Ambition, and then working on the next Alex novel for a release late this year. I do have nearly enough material for a novella, though. I just have to work out the timing, but I think it can be a complementary novel to the Eventing Series, sort of in the Jules universe.

Part of my writing process seems to be finding stories that I’ve written before, realizing that I love them, growing utterly confused that I abandoned them, and then reviving them into something completely new and different.

If you only knew how many drafts I went through of completely different stories before I finally stumbled upon the story line for Turning For Home. 

Let’s just say I have material for at least three more Alex books, if I follow my current pattern.

Meanwhile, when it comes to this new idea for a companion novella to Ambition and Pride, I’d love to know what you think. Here’s a little excerpt from the draft of Show Barn Blues:

But that night, flipping out the barn lights, the construction company’s sign invaded my thoughts again. I walked down the paved driveway towards my house, wishing I had a dog to keep me company. It was seven thirty and dark out, the long summer evenings already a thing of the past despite the lingering heat. It would be hot until mid-October, I knew, and then we might get a cold front or two, a cool night or two. It would be a rare thing, brought by wind and storm, and everyone would be just as bad-tempered about the cold as they were about the heat.

I took it all in stride. This was my home. Florida’s weather was unpredictable to some, but for me, the next day’s weather was always written in the clouds the night before. You just had to know what to look for.

Tonight the night sky was clear as spring water, but the stars were more dim than they had been in years past. Light pollution had invaded Chotokee. When I was a kid, begging to go ride at Grampa’s farm, the nearest street lights had been on the interstate, nearly fifteen miles away. That was before the interstate was joined by a toll road. That had been the enabler—the houses, and then the tourists, had come in a flood once the roads were improved.

It had happened so fast. One day I’d been riding with my grandfather, the next day I was installed at a show barn and perfecting my hunter rounds, and then suddenly I had been showing professionally for my entire adult life and students were asking me to start my own barn and settle down in one place.

By the time I’d come back from the show circuit, lean and tanned and twenty years older, the farms had already started to disappear. But the tack shop was still downtown in its dilapidated brick storefront, right next to the Wagon Wheel Restaurant (Family Cooking with a Smile!), and the feed store was still a collection of rotting wood outbuildings sprawled alongside the railroad tracks. Now the feed store had made way for a home design store and nursery, and the tack shop had been renovated and was a clothing boutique in a pretty downtown beloved by day-trippers. I didn’t bother going into town much anymore, though. Chotokee had been reborn, but I had kind of liked it the way it was. The cost for a revitalized downtown was very high, for the farmers who had frequented the old one.

Grampa hadn’t had to see it change. He was gone by then.

I crossed the grass under the live oaks and went up the sagging wooden steps of my little house. A 1920s bungalow, with a half-rotted front porch and flaking paint, it was my favorite place in the world. My grandfather’s house, left for me, the black sheep of the Carter family. The only one who loved horses, the only one who would never give it up.

Interview: Equestrian Author Mara Dabrishus

I recently had the pleasure of reading a new racing novel by equestrian author Mara Dabrishus’s Stay The Distance. This is the story of July Carter, her racing family, and one tough summer in Saratoga.

Stay The Distance - Mara Dabrishus
Stay The Distance – Mara Dabrishus

It’s a coming of age story, but not the one you’re used to. July is in that pivotal summer between high school and college, and she isn’t sure just what’s next. She’s been riding for her father, a successful trainer on the New York circuit, for so long, it’s become the path of least resistance, even while her best friend is encouraging July to move to into the city, go to college, and live a real life for a little while.

But who can turn down a summer in Saratoga, even for a taste of real life? Or even to get away from a pain-in-the-arse two-year-old and his equally pain-in-the-arse (maturity-wise) young owner?

I wouldn’t be able to say no either, July.

Author Mara Dabrishus was lovely enough to answer a few of my questions about the inspiration and writing behind Stay The Distance, along with her own equestrian background. Here’s my interview with Mara:

Stay The Distance is filled with tension, not just at the races, but inside the main character, July’s head. She isn’t quite sure that she wants to devote her life to horses, but it seems like the decision has been made for her. Did you draw on personal experience to create July and her mental crossroads?

Sometimes I think the only thing July and I have in common is hair color. Her life and her personality are so very different from my own, which I think was why it was so much fun to write about her. That said, I think a lot of people go through that What am I doing?! stage, especially after high school. I experienced that after I graduated college. I really still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and ultimately I chose what I knew – libraries, books, writing. For July, the horses are such a constant part of her life that deciding anything other than horses is so huge it’s paralyzing. As for me, I just went to grad school.

You set this book on the New York racing circuit, and the sections set at Belmont Park are particularly detailed. Tell us about your background in racing – did any of it take place in New York?

My background in racing has always been that of obsessive spectator. Growing up, the closest major track was Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and getting there required nauseatingly twisty driving out of the Ozark Mountains on a road called the Pig Trail. So that happened exactly once in order to see Behrens win the Oaklawn Handicap. (I’m dating myself. I’m dated now.)

Much later, nothing was going to stop me from getting to Belmont Park to see Curlin narrowly lose to Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes. For someone who grew up with the Thoroughbred Series, it was like living fiction. What I think struck me so much about Belmont is how awesomely huge it is. It takes up so much space where space is at a premium, and you have to love how grandiose that is.

Then there’s Saratoga. Last year I spent a week leading up to the Travers Stakes sitting in a lawn chair by Saratoga’s saddling paddock and was thoroughly thrilled the entire time. It’s such a gem of a track, and one of those places where you can feel totally comfortable asking Jerry Bailey which of his mounts was his favorite when he randomly shows up next to you. (Cigar, of course, is his favorite.) That’s just the sort of thing that routinely happens there.

It’s refreshing to read a racing story that can easily weave horsemanship and post-race training into the narrative. Do you ride now? What discipline? Any OTTBs in your life?

Stay The Distance - Mara Dabrishus
Mara Dabrishus

I’ve been riding dressage when I get the chance, and have been for about seven years. Currently I primarily ride a little Quarter Horse mare who has this adorable, big personality. Coincidentally, we both started to learn dressage at about the same time, so we’ve improved together. (If my riding instructor is reading this, she is probably snickering herself sick right now.)

When I was just starting dressage, I rode this big, black, permanently fluffy OTTB called Diablo. In his earlier days he lived up to his name, scaring the basics into students. By the time I came along, he was the barn’s grand old man. He was such a character. Unfortunately he passed away a few months ago, but he was well-loved.

Books tend to come in threes nowadays. Will we see more of July and Beck?

Stay the Distance was initially designed and written to stand on its own. That said, bringing July and Beck back for more shenanigans with Lighter and Kali is definitely in the cards. If not for a trilogy, then definitely for a sequel. I don’t think Lighter’s character will allow anything less! 

Author Bio:

Aside from her Texas beginning, Mara Dabrishus spent the first two decades of her life in the Arkansas Ozarks. She pined for a horse and never received one, so she settled on writing about them. The Black Stallion, the Thoroughbred Series, every horse book you can imagine was dutifully consumed. For the past several years she’s ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight.

Stay the Distance is her first novel. Its prequel short story, Whirlaway, was published by the Thoroughbred Times.

Contact Mara:

Website: www.maradabrishus.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maradabrishusauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marawrites

Taking Chances: Equestrian Writers Who Collaborate Instead of Competing

The first Timber Ridge Riders novel had me hooked.
The first Timber Ridge Riders novel had me hooked.

This post originally appeared at Retired Racehorse Blog in 2013.

I’m a huge proponent of independent publishing, not least because it has allowed horse books to enter a whole new level. Gone are the days when I could choose between a $5.99 paperback from the Thoroughbred series or a $35.95 hardcover tome on dressage principles if I wanted to have a little horsey reading time. Equestrian writers can write for equestrians of all ages.

(And on a side-note, whoever decided that horse training books should be published on expensive glossy paperstock and with beautiful slipcovers was probably some accountant reading a report about the 35-55 married female with disposable income demo that represents the majority of Dressage Today’s subscribers, not a horse-person who knows a training book is best perused in the rather dirty and disheveled confines of the tack room immediately before or after a training session.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Indie publishing lets horse-people publish horse-books that I actually want to read.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve reviewed Barbara Morgenroth and Maggie Dana books quite often at Retired Racehorse. That’s because they’re not just excellent writers, they’re horsewomen, and they write horse books that make sense. No one is going straight to the Olympics after they went to a summer riding camp, taught an unbroken Mustang to jump logs in the woods by moonlight, and subsequently won the Grand Prix at the National Horse Show. (Any old Grand Prix will do.)

Instead, Maggie writes about tweens who are going about the very difficult business of growing up and working really, really hard to improve their riding because they know nothing else really matters in life.

Bittersweet Farm's 1st novel, Mounted
As did the first Bittersweet Farm novel, Mounted.

Meanwhile, Barbara writes about teens who are going about the very difficult business of growing up (in a much more edgy manner, because teens) and working really, really hard to improve their riding even though they’re not entirely convinced that it’s the best way to spend their time (because teens).

The books lend to one another beautifully: As Barbara said, “Maggie’s books are a gateway to mine.”

And, I’d like to think, Barbara’s books lead to mine, which are written about adults in the horse business.

No more skipping from Thoroughbred to Mary Wanless in one not-so-easy step. Horse books have a progression now.

And indie publishing isn’t just wonderful because it allows us to read books we might never get to enjoy otherwise. Indie publishing also provides for a spirit of collaboration and friendship between authors who realize that by working together, they can provide the best possible reading experience for fans. Recently, they sent me this wonderful article:

How Two Rivals Came Together to Make a Team

How Two Rivals Came Together to Make a Team: YA & Tween horse book authors Barbara Morgenroth and Maggie Dana

The 3rd Bittersweet Farm book from Barbara Morgenroth, Wingspread
The 3rd Bittersweet Farm book from Barbara Morgenroth, Wingspread

In the world of traditional book publishing, Barbara Morgenroth and Maggie Dana would be rival authors, both vying for the same limited space on bookstore shelves devoted to children’s and YA fiction. Very likely they’d be monitoring one another’s sales ranks and rejoicing if the other author dropped a few points.

“Hooray! Let’s break out the whips and spurs!”

But when it comes to indie publishing, all that has gone out the window. Independent authors are totally open about sharing resources and information and helping one another. Some have edited and/or proofed another’s books for free; other indies have provided their fellow authors with professionally designed covers, formatting, and typesetting (again, for free) because they believed in someone else’s book and wanted to help.

Six months ago, Barbara and Maggie only knew each other from their Amazon listings, but thanks to a chance encounter on a well-respected indie publishing industry blog, they connected in real time.

And they are loving it.

After getting to know one another via phone and email, they swapped information: Maggie has taught Barbara how to format her books for ePub and Kindle, and Barbara (whose multiple talents include writing for daytime television) has helped Maggie broaden her writing horizons. They’ve also swapped characters.

The latest Timber Ridge Riders release, Taking Chances, by Maggie Dana
The latest Timber Ridge Riders release, Taking Chances, by Maggie Dana

Lockie Malone, Barbara’s enigmatic horse trainer who stars in her Bittersweet Farm series, makes a guest appearance in Taking Chances, the seventh book in Maggie’s Timber Ridge Riders series for mid-grade/tween readers.

At some point, one of Maggie’s Timber Ridge characters will show up in Barbara’s Bittersweet Farm YA books.

And who knows where this will lead? All bets are off as these two writers set aside any hint of competition and work together to make their genres the best they can be… and they’re having a boatload of fun while doing it.

About these two horse-crazy authors …

Maggie Dana, tween horse book author, shows us how it's done.
Maggie and Smoky show us how it’s done. Photo: Maggie Dana

Maggie Dana

Maggie Dana’s first riding lesson, at the age of five, was less than wonderful. In fact, she hated it so much, she didn’t try again for another three years. But all it took was the right instructor and the right horse and she was hooked for life.

Her new riding stable was slap bang in the middle of Pinewood Studios, home of England’s movie industry. So while learning to groom horses, clean tack, and muck stalls, Maggie also got to see the stars in action. Some even spoke to her.

Born and raised near London, Maggie now makes her home on the Connecticut shoreline where she divides her time between hanging out with the family’s horses and writing her next book in the Timber Ridge Riders series. She also writes women’s fiction and her latest novel, Painting Naked, was published in 2012 by Macmillan/Momentum.

Visit: maggiedana.com

Barbara Morgenroth, every bit as intense as her characters in the saddle. Morgenroth writes edgy YA fiction for horse-lovers.
Barbara Morgenroth, every bit as intense as her characters in the saddle

Barbara Morgenroth

Barbara was born in New York City and but now lives somewhere else. She got her first horse when she was eleven and rode nearly every day for many years, eventually teaching equitation, then getting involved in eventing.

Starting her career by writing tween and YA books, she wound up in daytime television for some years. Barbara then wrote a couple of cookbooks and a nonfiction book on knitting. She returned to fiction and wrote romantic comedies.

When digital publishing became a possibility, Barbara leaped at the opportunity and has never looked back. In addition to the fifteen traditionally published books she wrote, in digital format Barbara has something to appeal to almost every reader—from mature YAs like the Bad Apple series and the Flash series, to contemporary romances like Love in the Air published by Amazon/Montlake, along with Unspeakably Desirable, Nothing Serious, and Almost Breathing.

Visit: barbaramorgenroth.com

Launching the 4th Book: Turning For Home

Turning For Home promo square
My favorite promotion piece for Turning For Home – this Instagram friendly square.

Launching Turning For Home was my most challenging book launch to date. The fourth book in a series — how do you share that with readers who are new to the series? Compared to Ambition, I barely did any promotional work at all. I just plain didn’t know what to do.

After all, I couldn’t exactly send it to equestrian websites and blogs if they hadn’t covered the first few books. A few websites who had declined reading The Head and Not The Heart and Other People’s Horses (because they were racing novels) had been my most enthusiastic reviewers for Ambition — and here I was going back to racing for my newest novel.

And not just racing, but responsible racehorse retirement. Other People’s Horses was about horse racing, and while there were a few bad apples, it was largely positive. Racing people liked it; so much so that it was a semi-finalist for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award in 2014. Turning For Home deals with retirement, animal rights activists, and the fact that some people just are not doing right by their racehorses. Would it hit a chord with racing publications, or just piss everyone off?

Well, at least I had my core readers, right? RIGHT? But what if I couldn’t get the word out to all the readers that had been clamoring for a new Alex novel for the past two years?

All of a sudden the year’s worth of work I’d thrown at Turning For Home was looking pretty crazy. Maybe, I thought, I should have spent all that time working on the sequel to Ambition, a book that was fresher in people’s memories — and which had a lot of support from traditional equestrian websites and magazines.

Turning For Home FB cover
A Facebook/Twitter banner letting people know Turning For Home was coming.

In the end, I settled for awareness. I designed a few graphics to stick on my various social media pages. I used Amazon’s new pre-order feature for the Kindle edition, so that it could start climbing the rankings in the horse racing category where the other Alex novels already do well. (Happily, Amazon helped out by featuring it in their “Hot New Releases” section for a few weeks.) I tweeted (a little) and Facebooked (a little) and threw out a few notices on Pinterest and Instagram. Just enough to let folks know that the book was happening, and if they wanted to, they could read it!

How’s that working out for me?

Well, so far so good. Turning For Home made its debut in March on Amazon’s top ten horse racing titles, and it’s been up there consistently ever since. It’s also been sitting in the top five on Teen/Young Adult Sports & Outdoors, which is a new category for me, but I’m in good company there with several other equestrian authors, so I’ll take it! (FYI, I added the teen age group to my books based on the enthusiastic teen response to Ambition, but I still write these books in a mature tone as I always have.)

The reviews have been solid, too — all five-star so far, which is definitely too good to last, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts! Things people are saying at Amazon:

“I could not recommend this book more highly for horse lovers!”

“If you love horses, horse racing, showing, or just plan love Thoroughbreds… read Natalie.”

“You can’t go wrong with one of Natalie’s equestrian books.”

You GUYS! Stop it. I’m blushing.

So, all in all, the confusing promotion of a fourth book has turned out okay. I would love to know how much of it was my blog and social media, and how much of it was people clicking on Amazon’s suggested purchase or new release ads, that actually let people know Turning For Home was available. Either way, it’s good to know that I can concentrate on writing, and spend less time worrying about getting the word out about new books.

But if you really want to know… look for my next book, Pride, very soon. Yes, it’s the next book in my Eventing Series, which began with Ambition. Yes, Jules has a lot more growing up to do. It should be a fun ride.

Now Available: Turning For Home Continues “Horse Books for Grown-Ups”

I’m happy to announce that Turning For Home (Alex and Alexander Book 4) is now available for download at a variety of online retailers, with a paperback to follow soon!

Turning For Home promo square
Get a grown-up horse book!

This new installment of these “Horse Books for Grown-ups,” which began back in 2011 with the publication of The Head and Not The Heart, then continued with the 2014 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award semi-finalist, Other People’s Horses and the holiday short Claiming Christmas, returns to the dark bay beauty that Alex fell so hard for at Aqueduct Racetrack, The Tiger Prince.

The charismatic Tiger has run his last race, and it wasn’t pretty. Alex is faced with an agonizing decision: how can she retire a hot-tempered gelding who has no place on a breeding farm, but is such a pet that he can’t be sold or adopted out?

Then, as if life wasn’t complicated enough, another scandal is breaking over the racing industry. Racehorses are found abandoned and starving in the Everglades — and a radical animal rights group pins the blame on Alex. Hate mail and death threats, plus a mysterious new neighbor who is making life downright dangerous, throw Alex’s training career into a tailspin.

Stuck on the farm, exiled from the racetrack, angry and shell-shocked,  Alex and Tiger have more in common than ever. When a Thoroughbred Makeover event is announced for late spring, Alexander and Kerri both encourage Alex to seize the opportunity and show everyone that she’s fully capable of responsible racehorse retirement. It’s a move that could make — or break — her training career.

Turning For Home returns to some of my favorite places: the rolling hills of Ocala, the small-town feel of Tampa Bay Downs.  And it takes on one of my favorite subjects, racehorse retirement. That’s actually what got me started in this whole writing game, you know — writing Retired Racehorse Blog back when I had a little Florida farm, some broodmares and foals, and one wonderful gelding that I’d gotten off the track and was training to be an event horse.

I actually trained that horse, in part, to prove to myself that I still could do it. I guess in that way, I’m a lot like Alex in this story. Is retraining a racehorse like riding a bike? At some point, muscle memory kicks in, right?

It seemed that way for me, when I was out riding Final Call. I used the memory of those rides to write about Alex as she rides Tiger. I hope that helps the story ring true for equestrians — that’s always my number one goal as a writer!

Enjoy Turning For Home, and be sure to let me know what you think! You can read the first chapter right here on the website, or see the previews at the links below:

Kobohttps://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/turning-for-home-5

Scribdhttps://www.scribd.com/book/257419235/Turning-For-Home-Alex-and-Alexander-4

Page Foundryhttp://www.inktera.com/store/title/78ae43dd-3664-4760-9ca1-27babc83c7b0