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!
Last year I decided a prequel to The Head and Not The Heart was in order. Readers have been asking for one for years, and I kept pushing it away… then suddenly, it felt like the right moment. I had just finished The Hidden Horses of New York, and the bug to continue writing about my horse racing heroines was still strong.
After some false starts, (including one absolutely gorgeous intro paragraph which I re-read to myself, smiling triumphantly, until I realized that it was written in third person and the entire rest of the series is written in first) I finally have an intro chapter I’m ready to share.
Why share now, before the book is even remotely complete? I’ve been loving installment fiction at Patreon for over a year now, and I’ve shared all of my most recent stories there as works in progress since last year’s Forward. Sharing a chapter or three every week of my first draft has been an amazing experience for me – honestly, more writers should try it.
It’s really fun for me to share my ideas as I write them and get feedback right away from my most dedicated readers. And the response from readers tells me it’s fun for you, too!
So if you’re ready to give the introduction to Runaway Alex a read, hop over to my Patreon – no subscription required.
And if you like what you read, you might want to stick around and subscribe to read the complete first drafts of two unpublished novels: the equestrian amateur-owner misadventure Grabbing Mane, and the theme park drama You Must Be This Tall. They’re all available from just $3 per month!
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.
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.)
“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.
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!
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:
The newest Alex and Alexander novel is almost here!
Are you ready for the first chapter of the newest Alex and Alexander novel, Turning For Home? Well, I have it here for you!
Here’s the story:
Every racehorse must one day retire from the track, and for Tiger, that day has arrived.
Alex isn’t ready for Tiger’s racing days to end, but planning his next career is quickly becoming the least of her problems. An animal rights group is accusing her of involvement in a horse-abuse scandal, and with death threats arriving daily, Alexander fears for her safety. Suddenly Tiger’s not the only one heading back to the farm — Alex is stuck at home, too, with strict orders to stay away from the racetrack.
Both horse and rider would rather be racing than hacking around the farm. A Thoroughbred makeover event seems like the perfect distraction, but as the activists ramp up their protests, Alex realizes she’s competing for more than just a blue ribbon. She’s fighting for her own reputation. This horse show could make — or break — her future in horse racing.
Ready for more? Here’s chapter 1. And don’t forget, you can pre-order the Kindle edition of Turning For Home now through March 2nd and have it delivered automatically on March 3rd! It will also be available at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, and other retailers on March 3rd. Watch for a paperback in just about another week, if you prefer hard copies. Here we go! Continue reading →
The newest Alex and Alexander novel is almost here!
The long-awaited update to the Alex and Alexander horse-racing series is almost here!
You can now pre-order the Kindle edition of Turning For Home (Alex and Alexander Book 4) from Amazon, with the digital edition releasing wherever ebooks are sold on March 3rd, 2015. If you’ve been impatient to read what happens next with Alex, Alexander, and the Thoroughbreds of Cotswold Farm, your wait is almost over!
What happens when a racehorse retires? That’s the central question of Turning For Home, as Alex is forced to confront the myriad worries of retiring, retraining, and rehoming racehorses — specifically, her own beloved Tiger.
Alex isn’t ready for Tiger’s racing career to end. Tiger doesn’t seem to be ready, either. Then, she finds herself embroiled in a horse-dumping scandal that makes Tiger seem like the least of her concerns. Stuck on the farm, in exile from the races, Alex is bored and angry and in dire need of a distraction — just like Tiger.
That distraction comes in the form of a Thoroughbred Makeover event, designed for showcasing riding horses fresh off the racetrack. Alexander, busy with Personal Best, Luna Park, and the rest of the Cotswold racing string, urges Alex to give it a shot with Tiger.
In the midst of all this turmoil, the life cycle of the Thoroughbred farm continues on — breeding, foaling, training, racing. It’s a novel jam-packed with all the rich nuances of the equestrian life — another horse book, for horse-people.
Stay tuned here for updates on the release of Turning For Home (including an upcoming paperback edition) or get your pre-order in at Amazon.com today! It’s time to go back to Ocala and Cotswold Farm with Alex and Alexander.
It’s one thing to find inspiration in your daily life. Out fooling around with horses, hanging at the barn listening to gossip, leaning on a fence at a horse show or on the rail at the races — it’s easy to take home a hundred stories from one afternoon around horses and horse-people.
Barn life, after all, is made up of little moments that might not have anything to do with riding or training. Like stumbling upon a cat in the hay and trying to figure out a way to pull out a flake without disturbing his regal slumber — that one happened to me last week.
Adding some horse-time to my life is a tremendous boon after spending two years, while I was writing Ambitionand now Turning For Home, without any horses in my life.I was working off a whole lot of memories, and not much else.
That’s where online inspiration comes in.
Remembering the simple pleasure of grazing a horse until he’s dry.
When you’re searching for just the right turn of phrase to describe the way a horse’s expression lights up as he heads towards a fence.
When you’re trying to find a way to express the feel of your horse’s hot neck beneath your palm.
When you’re just plain thinking what would this horse/this rider do next in this situation I’ve put them in?
Thank goodness for the Internet, my friends.
I use Tumblr and Pinterest to gather together photos that I find inspirational. Sometimes, when I can’t eek out another useful description from the sea of black-and-white words, I need something a little more real and concrete. I go through photos, watching horses jump fences, horses jigging towards the starting gate, horses leaning over their stall webbing to get a glimpse of the hay-cart coming down the aisle. And that’s enough to bring back all the sights and sounds and smells and surfaces of the shed-row or the stable, and I can get back to work with a renewed sense of purpose.
My Tumblr is similar, with a different variety of horses — the Tumblr is more about fine art photography most of the time, whereas the Pinterest might contain links to articles or just certain moments that I find evocative. The Tumblr is at ottb.tumblr.com.
Check them out to get a taste of the online inspiration I use every day in my writing! I’ll continue to add images and posts even after Turning For Home is released — it’s the kind of beauty you never want to give up.
For a girl writing about racehorses, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Yesterday, Castleton Lyons, home of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, announced the eight semi-finalists for the 2013 competition. This unique award celebrates one common theme in full-length literary works: the racehorse.
Imagine my delightI was thrilled to see I FREAKED OUT AND NEARLY HAD A HEART ATTACK when I saw my own Other People’s Horses on the list, the lone novel amongst racing histories, memoirs, and biographies.
There are no words for my appreciation for not just the nomination, but all the readers who encouraged me, left me nice reviews at Amazon and GoodReads, sent me emails to let me know they liked the books, and have generally clamored for me to continue writing about horses and the people who love them. I never would have dared enter this competition without you and your support!
Thank you for telling me that Other People’s Horses means something to you!
I promise there is more to come.
If you haven’t read Other People’s Horses, I still love you. Go to my Facebook page for a coupon code for 20% off the paperback at the CreateSpace store, good now through March 31st.
And with that, here is the press release for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Awards semi-finalists. Have you read any of the other books? Tell us about them in the comments!
2013 Dr. Ryan semi-finalists exceptional group
The 2013 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award competition has drawn the strongest slate of semi-finalists in its eight year history to date, an impressive assortment of well-penned histories, fiction, biography, and autobiographies—both human and equine. In the end, the underdog theme ruled the day in this cycle of uniquely award-worthy entries.
Launched in 2006 by the late Dr. Ryan, the award, worth $10,000 to the winner, was the industry’s first to honor full-length literary work focusing on racing. Dr. Ryan loved good writing as much as he loved a good Thoroughbred, and thus placed few parameters on his concept other than skill with the written word.
Three 2013 finalists will be revealed via press release on March 17 (see: http://www.castletonlyons.com/). The winner will be announced during an invitation-only reception at the Ryan family’s historic Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington on April 9.
Book Award Semifinalists:
Battleship: A Daring Heiress, A Teenage Jockey, and America’s Horse
Author: Dorothy Ours
A character-driven work based in the early decades of the 20th century. Battleship centers on enigmatic Marion DuPont of the famed chemical manufacturing family … her battles against the gender limitations of her time, her marriage to a Hollywood movie star, and most importantly, her undying love for horses—most specifically her faith in a pint-sized son of Man o’ War, who, in 1938, packed her colors to victory in the world’s most heart-testing race: England’s Grand National Steeplechase.
Casual Lies: A Triple Crown Adventure
Author: Shelley Lee Riley
The feel-good narrative of a woman trainer who sees potential in a small, nondescript bay colt and runs with it—literally—parlaying a meager $7,500 purchase price into $795,991 in career earnings. Under the name Casual Lies, the colt took Shelley Riley on the ride of a lifetime, winning in graded company and, more importantly, placing in both the 1992 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National’s Biggest Upset
Author: David Owen
Another with the Grand National as a backdrop, this one provides an account of the 1967 renewal, unimaginably upset by the 100-to-1 title character, Foinavon. Owen details how the winner and his companion, a white nanny goat named Susie, thereafter charmed the British masses as they traveled the country on a “victory tour,” while reminding one and all of the true meaning and glory of the Grand National itself.
Jack: From Grit to Glory
Author: Chris Kotulak
The story of a living American legend, told via anecdotal material, interviews of those who know him best, and through memories from the man himself. The down-to-earth Nebraskan is a Hall of Fame horseman and himself the son of a Hall of Fame trainer; and in the course of his nearly 60 years—and counting—on the track, Van Berg has remarkably developed both racehorses and other trainers of Hall of Fame caliber.
Other People’s Horses
Author: Natalie Keller Reinert
The only fiction entry among the finalists, this one brings back a pair of married trainers, Alex and Alexander, from 2012’s Head and Not the Heart. In this one, the husband is abroad on family business, leaving Alex at Saratoga running the stable, battling sexism, dealing with a naïve assistant, and falling hard for a crazy filly she thinks she can fix.
Ride the White Horse: A Checkered Jockey’s Story of Racing, Rage, and Redemption
Author: Eddie Donnally
Gut-wrenching autobiography of a jockey on a road straight to hell, replete with race-fixing schemes, batteries, and squandered dreams. Stalked by alcoholism, drug and sex-addiction, and mental illness, we follow Donnally’s life as it descends from nascent talent into hopelessness, homelessness, and total despair. Donnally’s gritty mea culpa of a life not well lived may be a tough read, but is ultimately, one of hope and redemption.