You’ve been asking for it — now she’s here. The prequel to the bestselling Alex & Alexander Series is coming in just a few weeks!
Runaway Alex has been my biggest project of 2020, and I’m so excited to bring you the backstory of this horse racing duo. Alex and Alexander have taken me so many places: to Saratoga for horse racing’s first-ever con, Equestricon; to Keeneland for the finalist party of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award; to Pimlico for a signing on Preakness weekend…the list goes on and on. And I can’t even begin to list the amazing people I have met because of this book series.
So it’s my very great pleasure to bring you the story of how they met, what drew them together, and the first days of the Alex and Alexander story.
Horse racing isn’t for nice girls like Alex. She’s been told again and again: stick to horse shows, stick to riding lessons, stick to the relative safety of the suburban equestrian center where she has been a working student since grade school. Even better: go to college!
But Alex can’t shake the conviction that the Thoroughbred life is her destiny.
Can’t wait to get started? Here’s the introduction where we meet Alex for the very first time…
Runaway Alex: Prologue
My feet hit the ground with a little puff of dirt. Grass won’t grow in this spot anymore. My dad, the resident gardener, does everything he can to fix the bare patch outside my window. He doesn’t understand why the thick runners of St. Augustine grass can’t overcome the gray sand. Some day, I won’t have to jump out the window anymore, and then the grass will grow back in a thick, lush, tropical carpet, and he’ll never be able to explain it.
He’ll never know it was because I was running away, every chance I got.
Although at some point, he’ll probably wonder how I got so good at riding horses.
If you want to read on, click here to sign up and I’ll send you a link to read the first three chapters in a special preview ebook!
2020 is going down as the year of constant distraction.
Well, among other things.
For many of us, the difficulty of being stuck home through lockdown and the subsequent months of unending, ongoing “quarantine” has been made so much worse by an inability to pay attention to one thing. Namely, to books! I think in March, a lot of us looked at our TBR pile and thought: “Well, at least I’ll get a lot of reading done.”
(This is also what I think anytime I consider what would happen if I were ever jailed for some reason. And it went down just as successfully as I guess it would if I were ever jailed.)
Not a lot of reading got done.
It was impossible to concentrate long enough to finish a book, or even get halfway through it. I abandoned book after book after just a few chapters, tweeting mournfully that another appealing novel had gone back to the library unread, or that I just couldn’t seem to get into the plot.
It was starting to look like I was going to fail at even reading a lot during a mandatory stay-at-home order.
Sound familiar? I’ve talked to so many people, all year, who have said the same thing. Lots of doomscrolling on social media, but not enough brain power to lurch through a novel.
Then I found a solution…romance!
I had started to write a romance novel as a sort of feel-good escape from reality. I did some reading about the art of romance-writing and was getting familiar with the “beats” and general requirements of the genre. Romance readers are known for being very persnickety about their books following a certain arc, and, having basically spent the past ten years writing character-driven literary fiction, I had never worked within a prebuilt structure before. It was really interesting.
I had looked back at a few historical romances I had really loved over the years (especially My Sweet Folly and Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale) but now I did something (in the name of research) I hadn’t ever really done: I picked up a new contemporary romance and started turning the pages.
The book was No Offense by Meg Cabot and I was intrigued because it was set in the Florida Keys, and I knew it would be light-hearted and fun, and wow was it ever! I read that little book in two days and was hungry for more. My year took an abrupt shift — suddenly, I couldn’t read enough. I was devouring contemporary romance like it was a plate of cinnamon buns with extra icing which were guaranteed to give me energy and shiny hair.
I started hitting my Kindle hard for Prime Reads titles in the genre. I subscribed to Contemporary Romance in BookBub and Freebooksy. My library’s holds section is under constant assault. Place hold, place hold, place hold, I click. Yes, I will go on the waiting list!
And as I’ve started replacing doomscrolling, little by little, with romance reads, my life has gotten better. I don’t have extra energy or shinier hair, but I do have more ideas. And I think less about the things I’m not doing, and more about the things I’m going to do, On The Other Side, When This War Is Over, etc.
Three reasons I think contemporary romance is absolutely saving my life in 2020:
The lightheartedness. With some exceptions, I’m reading books that are joyful, humorous, or at least not too bogged down in deep thinking on the human condition. Listen, I love reading deep thinking on the human condition. Just not right now, okay? I need some happiness. And the most essential, happiest part of the human condition is being in love.
The Happy Ever After. I require a guaranteed happy ending right now. I’ve always been pretty naughty about ambiguous endings in my books, because I have always been suspicious about happy endings. But this isn’t strident realism in lit fic. This is a romance. We’re gonna have a wedding, people! Or at least a big ol’ kiss. HEAs are the Official Ending of 2020, in my book.
The predictability. Yes, I’m having fun with this. Not because I know how an author is going to hit each beat, but because I like guessing how the author is going to hit the beat. I like realizing which section belongs to which part of the story arc. It’s a little nerdy, but what part of being a novelist isn’t nerdy?
So, listen. If you’re still having trouble finishing books because of everything (I’m waving my hands in the air for emphasis) consider the romance. Here are a few I absolutely loved so far this year:
No Offense by Meg Cabot. A librarian in the Florida Keys finds a baby in the bathroom, and ends up falling for the town sheriff. The Keys setting is so relaxing! I felt like I was there! Super cute, fun, and light reading. I need to get the entire series set in Lighthouse Key.
Well Met by Jen DeLuca. Holy cow! This adorable romance set in a small Maryland town with an annual renaissance fair was absolutely amazing. No spoilers but the pirate character is definitely Hook from Once Upon a Time and wow, hot. This book is so sweet that the one or two extremely hot sex scenes are kind of surprising. I didn’t mention it above but I don’t really care for sex in novels. I think it’s usually a distraction from the story. I don’t think this needed the sex but honestly? Hot. Can’t wait to read the next book.
Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson. Totally off the beaten path, this book includes an elderly matchmaking witch who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone, a Floridian girl who doesn’t know how to fix her life after a break-up, and a lot of ambiguity about what constitutes a relationship versus SexyTimes. Oh, and falling in love via text, one of my favorite tropes because Words! I mean, this book just goes off the genre rails and does whatever it wants, but the structure is there so you still know you’re getting that HEA.
I adored it and I was so impressed that Dawson followed it up with a Mature Relationship Romance between the main characters, which is tougher both to read and to write, but worth your time as well.
All in all I feel like reading and writing romance this year has been the absolute saving of my mental health, and I really encourage you to give it a try! If you’re afraid it’s going to be cheesy, it’s not, I can assure you. Romance is awesome. Take it from me, an extremely snooty lit fic reader! There is so much to love and learn from in this genre.
My latest novel is a romance, by the way: Sunset at Catoctin Creekis about a sweet, small-town girl who has devoted her life to rescuing horses, and the city boy who is her opposite in every way…and her perfect match. I loved writing it so much, I’m halfway through the follow-up.
So, have you been reading any romance this year? What can you recommend?
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Today is the release day for my newest novel, Sunset at Catoctin Creek, and I’m so excited to take you all there.
I spent all summer in Catoctin Creek, and I truly never want to leave! Every time I started editing this book, I found more reasons to rewrite instead of just letting it go to readers. Because once I’m done, I’m back out in the real world, and I don’t like it here!
But there’s more Catoctin Creek to come, as you’ll definitely realize whilst turning the pages. I hope that readers love this little town, this beautiful corner of Maryland, and these lovely people as much as I do. When you need a small town escape, consider Catoctin Creek. With sweet romance and beautiful vistas, it’s the kind of place that we’re all craving in 2020.
I’m looking forward to writing the follow-up, Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, very soon, and after that, Springtime at Catoctin Creek.
While all of these books will focus more on human relationships than the heavily-equestrian storylines of my other series, horses still play a role, and I’m excited about some of the interesting equine pursuits I have lined up for future volumes.
To read the first three chapters of Sunset at Catoctin Creek right here at my blog,just click here.
This year we’ve been waiting for good things…which makes Linda Shantz’s chosen title all too apropos. Good Things Come could be the feel-good phrase of 2020, because it feels like that’s all we can do: wait.
Wait it out with a good book, at least. Good Things Come is the first novel from talented equestrian artist Linda Shantz, and this experienced horsewoman trots out impeccable details and plenty of racetrack lore as she explores what makes horse-people tick. Plus, that cover!
Here’s what the back cover has to say:
Smart horse girls are supposed to go to vet school…but trust a horse to mess with common sense.
If Liv wasn’t such a control freak, it wouldn’t have rubbed her the wrong way when the farm’s new exercise rider stepped in to resuscitate Chique, the first foal out of her father’s favourite mare. But when she drops out of vet school to get her jockey’s license in New York, intent on coming back to Ontario to ride Chique in the Queen’s Plate, he’s the obvious choice to keep an eye on the filly.
Nate’s content to watch Liv go, even though he’s got similar aspirations, when he’s not talked out of them by voices from his past. His growing bond with Chique might earn him Liv’s approval and give him the fresh start he’s looking for, but that’s as involved as he’s getting with the boss’s daughter.
Liv’s determined to keep their relationship professional, no matter how much Chique draws them together. The three of them are going to have to learn to be a team to make it to the Plate.
Set against the backdrop of North America’s greatest racetracks, Good Things Come is a story about the hearts of Thoroughbreds…the people who love them…and the allure of Canada’s most prestigious race.
It’s true, all of it. I had the great pleasure of working on the production side of this gorgeous novel, and I’m here to tell you that if you like racing, horses, or just plain lovely books, you’ll love Good Things Come.
And that’s why Linda Shantz is next up in my very occasional Five Questions!
Five Questions with Linda Shantz
1. Linda, you’re an overachiever! You’re a sensational painter, what made you jump into writing a novel as well?
Well, to be honest, I’ve been writing longer than I’ve been painting, I’ve just been braver about my painting! I started the story that would become Good Things Come when I was eight, because I decided someone needed to write a story about the Queen’s Plate, instead of the Derby. Needless to say, both the story and I have grown up a bit since then!
2. What do you do for fun when you’re not making amazing art?
These days, herding lessons with my young Border Collie. I’ve owned Border Collies my entire adult life, but this is the first dog with whom I’ve done herding. So much fun to see her instinct develop, and a challenging learning curve for me!
3. You write with excellent authority about a number of racetracks, including Woodbine, Gulfstream Park, and Saratoga. How long have you been a horse racing fan?
Oh, probably since my mother started reading The Black Stallion to me when I was about five years old! I went to my first horse race when I was ten, when my dad took me to the Canadian International at Woodbine. The following year I went to my first Queen’s Plate, and have missed very few of them since. Even when I was working on the backstretch, the Plate was always the thing, and if you didn’t have a horse running, you dressed up and went to the front side to be part of it.
4. If you could have one horse from Good Things Come as your own, which horse would you choose?
Claire! I’ve paid my dues with the small, quick, turn-on-a-dime ones like Chique. I don’t get to ride bomb-proof horses, so it would be like a vacation to have an unflappable horse like her to ride!
5. Will there be a follow-up to Good Things Come?
Yes! There is another book with the same characters (and some new ones!), and it follows them through the next year of Chique’s career. It’s been through a couple of drafts and will be out in the spring of 2021. If anyone wants to be kept up to date they can sign up for my mailing list at lindashantz.com/good-things-come-updates
They can also read the first chapter of Good Things Come there.
I’m so excited to join a group of seven other equestrian fiction authors for our first-ever boxset release!
Horses, Hearts & Havoc is a collection of eight full-length novels in one convenient ebook. And the genres! We’ve got thriller, we’ve got mystery, we’ve got romance, we’ve got barn drama: it’s all here.
Best of all, the books are all first in their series. So you could be looking at several new series you want to dig into when you’ve finished the boxset…we’ll keep you busy with horse stories through the rest of this cursed year!
(My entry is Show Barn Blues. Have you read it, or its follow-up Horses in Wonderland, yet?)
I get so many messages telling me that good horse fiction for adults is hard to find — like, shamefully, woefully, ridiculously hard to find — so this collection is going to be such a fantastic helper for so many people searching for equestrian fiction authors they can follow and love.
Check out the authors I’m playing with on this stage:
We’re talking racehorse mystery. We’re talking western intrigue. We’re talking high-stakes horse showing, cowboy romancing, riding academy redemption, show jumping set-ups and bluegrass getaways. This boxset is the stuff horsey dreams are made of.
My first succulent arrived, along with some potting soil.
I repotted my umbrella tree, and planted my succulent, which is an Echeveria. I think the pot I have for the Echeveria is wrong – it needs one with a wider opening. Whoops!
I’ve never liked getting my hands into dirt, which is funny because my mother is an avid and very successful gardener. But I enjoyed sitting on my porch and playing with these plants. I think I’m going to buy more and really get into apartment gardening. I mean, why not? I’m home!
I love cold brew. When I lived in Brooklyn, I became an ardent supporter of “iced coffee season.” Basically, on the first warmish day in April, you order an iced coffee, and then that’s it: it’s iced coffee season, even if the next two weeks are cold enough that a warm coffee would feel good on your hands. Iced coffee season is an absolute once you’ve made your commitment.
(I have a theory about coffee and New York City, by the way, which is that the city’s tumult and close quarters are simply easier to take with something in your hands to occupy you. I think having a cup of coffee in your hands is similar to having a cigarette: it’s something to fiddle with, something to do that isn’t meeting people’s eyes or accepting that you are a tiny ant in a vast swarm, something to stop you from having a constant series of existential crises.)
Anyway, it’s hard to imagine a season in Florida which isn’t iced coffee season; plus cold brew is easier on your insides (did you know that? it’s less acidic) and I have always had a tendency towards ulcers and nervous tum. The downside is that it is generally higher in caffeine. I have to drink less of it, or my hands shake. A few years ago I started buying Chameleon Cold Brew’s concentrate and having one every day, usually in the afternoon to keep the after-lunch snoozes away. When I started working late nights at Disney Springs, I’d have a cold brew around five or six PM to keep me going until two AM.
Now I’m home all day, working on my computer, and one day I remembered a pleasure from my old days before I took up iced coffee: the all-day pot of coffee. Back when I had the farm, was writing Retired Racehorse Blog every day, working on The Head and Not The Heart, raising a toddler, and also working at Disney a couple nights per week, I worked my way through a pot of coffee from morning until late. I decided a constant cup of coffee at hand was exactly what my lockdown days needed!
I like my coffee black.
Of course, in those days I was happy with whatever the seasonal roast from Starbucks was. Now I decided it would be fun to get more adventurous. I wanted to try small roasters. It would be great to support small businesses during this economic downturn, for one thing, and for another when it comes to hot coffee I have developed a much more demanding and pretentious palate. (My husband and I used to go around Brooklyn tasting small-batch roasts like other people taste wines. I’m not ashamed.)
I did a lot of research and ended up with a coffee subscription from Trade. There are a lot of coffee subscriptions; Trade was the one that worked out for me. They pull from small roasters all around the country, they match up your flavor profiles and tell you ahead of time what’s coming, and they give you the option to change it out ahead of time if you’re particularly into a certain roast of coffee. Also they don’t charge for shipping. And I have to tell you, when you’re ordering two bags a month, shipping can add up.
The first bag that came was the fabulously named “Darkness” from Gimme Coffee, based in Ithaca, NY. I know there are a couple of Gimme Coffee cafes in NYC but I’ve never been to them, so this was a totally new blend for me. Trade sent me an email when it was roasting and then a few days later my coffee arrived. I ground up some beans and HELLO! Absolutely fantastic. Dark chocolate with a little cherry to finish. Marry me, Darkness.
Darkness by Gimme Coffee. Yum, y’all.
I have something new coming next week, but I know that Darkness will feature in my coffeemaker again really soon. Another reason to like Trade: some subscriptions are always surprises or curator’s choice, but they let you sub in whatever you want.
Having an all-day pot of coffee has been great and I’m so happy to have gone back to it. I don’t tend to finish it in an afternoon, but that just means there’s some cold coffee leftover for the morning! Since I’m a born napper, it’s helping me work through the whole day so that I can actually fall asleep before midnight and get up early enough to go run… basically, rewiring my night owl rhythm to fit in with Florida weather and the realities of lockdown sidewalk traffic.
Well, this was supposed to be a microblog but it’s a solid 800 words. I guess that’s what happens when I write about coffee!
Today was actually really interesting. A big cold front moved through early this morning. This is about as late as cold fronts manage to push through Central Florida – by May, they’re pretty much too weak to make it this far south. This was a particularly strong storm system, creating tornadoes and hail damage throughout the southeast.
For some reason cold fronts love to hit the Orlando area overnight or first thing in the morning. I knew this one was due around dawn, and at 2 AM our NWS weather alarm woke us all up to tell us there was a Tornado Watch for the area. At 6 AM, I woke up suddenly. Nothing seemed to have caused it, but I got up and roamed around the apartment, looked through all of the blinds, glanced around the kitchen. I just had a funny feeling.
I went back into the bedroom and looked at my phone, and saw an extremely strong line of thunderstorms just about thirty miles west. I tried to close my eyes again, reasoning that the weather radio would wake me up if there was a tornado warning, but I noticed lightning flashes coming from behind my closed blinds and thought, no, this is silly.
So I took the dog out.
I know, that sounds crazy, but actually it made perfect sense: the storm front was still an hour away, and the lightning I was seeing was from a secondary line which had set up ahead of the front and was moving away from me. Plus, the dog was going to need to go out right when it would be storming. I was a problemsolver.
The storm front approaches from the northwest. This was after the dogwalk!
It had been a while since I’d gone out and been surrounded by clouds that are just lighting themselves up with lightning. It was still very dark and very still, with just a few sleepy frogs croaking, and I enjoyed that walk very much. By the time I went back upstairs, fed Sally, and went onto the porch to observe the clouds, the storm front was much closer, while the secondary cluster of storms was in full swing to my south.
Half and half, looking east
It didn’t end up being a terribly bad storm front in my neighborhood – cold front-induced storms have an interesting habit of hitting their weakest point from when they first cross over land near Tampa just as they reach my town, and then they tend to pulse back upwards as they move a little farther inland. For me as an observer of clouds and lightning, this actually isn’t a bad thing. It lets me get great shots before and after the storm.
Still before any rain has fallen, the roll cloud pushes through and cuts off the dawn. Looking southeast.
The all-day rain with occasional thunder that has followed is a very rare treat in Florida. We’ve been dealing with a drought since the beginning of the year, and I think all the animals and plants are very grateful for today’s cool temperatures and constant rainfall. I know I am.
Hi friends! I thought microblogging might be a fun experiment to play around with. I’m a solid five and a half weeks into stay-at-home life, and my only record of this weird period of human history is my insane tweets. Why not do some insane blogs, too?
Today I am excited about my tree, which arrived by post yesterday from the idyllic-sounding Hacienda Heights, California. I know it’s in Los Angeles County and probably isn’t idyllic, but what a name, right? I love the breezy romanticism of early southern California Americans. The citrus trees, the terra-cotta tiles, the boundless optimism. Early 20th century Los Angeles is a beehive for me.
Anyway, my tree arrived and she was looking a little worse for wear at first, but now her leaves are uncurling and she seems quite spritely. I haven’t named her — I kind of got out of the habit of naming inanimate objects and I’m not sure if that’s going to come back or not — but I have already initiated pep talks so that she knows I am rooting for her (that’s a plant pun!) and want her to grow up big and strong.
My new tree and her horse friends
She’s an umbrella tree, by the way. I ordered this one from Amazon because the reviews were half-decent, the tree described was a good size, and I liked that it came with a pot, so I didn’t have to buy soil and a pot as well. I’m on a budget here!
I grew up with an umbrella tree in the house. When I was in elementary school we moved to Florida from Maryland, and the umbrella tree was eventually planted outside, by the front door. This happened to be where water poured down from the eaves during Florida rainstorms. Was this on purpose? I have no idea. But this tree grew and grew and grew into an umbrella giant during our time at this house. I was always so proud of it for doing so well outside.
So when it became clear most of my life would be working from home, not from a cafe or from the apartment complex workspace or by the pool (by the way, March and April are THE work-from-the-pool-deck months and I am sad to be missing this), a new corner of the living room was set aside for Natalie’s Office, and I declared the window sill to be Natalie’s Garden, and this is where my lovely little tree lives. There’s a succulent coming this week too, and I’ll show you that plant when it arrives!
Well, I’d better get on with the business of writing fiction now. Think of me and my tree sitting in our corner, enjoying the midday light, and know that new books are happening!
Do you have a plant? What kind, and why do you love it?