5 Questions with Equestrian Author Dawn LeFevre

Backstretch Girls by Dawn LeFevre

It’s time for another five questions! I’m so excited to welcome Dawn LeFevre to my site. Dawn has just published a new equestrian fiction novel, Backstretch Girls. And with her racing creds, I think everyone should know about it! Let’s dig in.

Backstretch Girls by Dawn LeFevre

Dawn, thanks so much for joining me at my blog! You’ve just published a new horse racing novel, and we want to hear all about it. But first, tell us a little bit about your background. You’ve got some first-hand racing experience, right?

I worked at Atlantic City Racecourse every summer from the age of 16 until I graduated from Cook College.  After graduation, I became an assistant trainer for Walter Medio, aka, the King of AC and spent 13 years owning and training racehorses at AC, Garden State Park, Monmouth, Meadowlands, Delaware and Philly Park (now Parx). 

Dawn LeFevre win photo
LeFevre’s racing credentials are rock-solid!

That’s a great resume! Tell us a little about your new book and the inspiration for Backstretch Girls.

Backstretch Girls is about the friendship between a hardheaded ponygirl, Teagan, and Anne, a naïve jockey wannabe and is set in the late 1980’s at Atlantic City Racecourse. Teagan is the black sheep in her Olympic equestrian family; Anne grew up in a trailer park and had to play stable slave to ride, yet they bond over their love of horses.

Dawn LeFevre racehorse Haunting Melody
Haunting Melody, a real-life inspiration for LeFevre’s Backstretch Girls

 

My inspiration for Backstretch Girls is all those wonderful Thoroughbreds I knew and loved. All the racehorse names in my book are cobbled together from real racehorses. Lucky All Over is a tribute to two wonderful fillies – Plain All Over (a stakes winner voted champion New Jersey bred two year old filly in 1989) and Luckey Lipco (a game claimer known for her win streaks at AC).

Haunting Melody is the only actual name I kept, although the real horse was a dark bay filly I owned back in 1999.

I love those names. Getting names right is such an important part of writing equestrian fiction! What’s your writing process like? Did the idea for Backstretch Girls come slowly to you over the years, or all at once?

My writing “process” is just me scribbling incoherently in a notebook then trying to read my handwriting while I edit and type it up. First, I create my main characters and their backgrounds then figure out how I’m going to “ruin their lives”.

While Backstretch Girls is my first published novel, I’ve actually written two others prior to it, one of which was also set on the track. My goal with Backstretch Girls was to provide an unflinching look at the racing industry – the sexism, the unethical veterinary practices, and the owners who put profit ahead of their horse’s welfare. On the flip side, you have those unsung workers who will sacrifice everything for their horses, the grooms, hotwalkers, trainers, ponypeople, etc.

It’s definitely a wild and wooly place, with good and bad people. (And horses honestly!) What’s coming next for you? Are there more racing stories on the horizon?

I’m currently working on my next novel which will also be set in the racing world but is a more personal story – the main character trying to cope with the loss of her mother while training a ragtag stable of claimers.

My mother was the reason I fell in love with horse racing; we’d watch all the major races on TV together as well as the New York racing show every Saturday when I was growing up. For my high school graduation gift, she took me to Kentucky where we visited Claiborne and Spendthrift farm and I had the pleasure of meeting Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. My mother passed away suddenly in 2018 and it devastated me. I stopped writing for over a year. Finally, I decided that this book would be a tribute to her and Garden State Park.

That’s a lovely tribute. Now, I love to know what everyone’s reading, so tell us about some of your favorite reads of 2019. What do we need to get on our reading lists ASAP?

The last horse racing book I read was Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure by Shelley Riley. I always wondered what had happened to her after the 1992 Triple Crown; she’d done an amazing job with this horse and yet, was never given another big horse to train. The book is a double love story – between Shelley and her husband, Jim and then between Shelley and Stanley, aka, Casual Lies. It’s a funny, sad, entertaining read and a must for any woman thinking about becoming a trainer. It saddens and angers me that still no woman trainer or jockey has won the Kentucky Derby and few even are even given the chance to compete.

I just finished reading When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer. I was originally drawn to it because of the ongoing debate of whether animals should be kept in zoos and circuses. Right now a lot of those same animal rights questions tackled by this book are being thrown at the horse racing industry. Activists are quick to cry “Ban it!” without realizing the repercussions, such as what are you going to do with all these animals after you shut down the circus or racetrack? I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the subplot regarding the main character’s struggle with mental illness was handled.

That does sound really interesting. It’s so important to look at both sides of an issue… I wish more people would do that before they just start shouting “animal rights!”

***

Backstretch Girls by Dawn LeFevreWell, many thanks to Dawn LeFevre for jumping in and telling us about the inspiration and backstory for Backstretch Girls. 

You can find the Kindle edition of Backstretch Girls at Amazon here. 

Paperbacks are available from BookBaby here.

Add Backstretch Girls at GoodReads!

Ordering Signed Books from Natalie Keller Reinert

signed horse books

As the holiday season approaches, I frequently get requests for signed books. Makes sense! Signed books make amazing Christmas presents. My unique equestrian fiction novels in particular are perfect for riding instructors, barn owners and farm managers, trainers and coaches, horse show moms and basically anyone else who loves horses. Or books. You get the idea.

It’s always hard for me to fulfill late-season signing requests so I’m really excited that this year the amazing Taborton Equine Books are going to handle some of that for me!

Equine Affaire book signing 2018
Signing mountains of books at Equine Affaire 2018!

In conjunction with our Equine Affaire book-signing (in W. Springfield, MA on November 8-9, 2019), signed books are now available to order online, directly from the bookseller. I’ll sign your book at the event — you’ll get the book in the mail afterwards!

So whether you just want a signed copy of Ambition for your bookshelf, or your working student is going to squee when she gets a copy of Horses of Wonderland for Christmas, right now is the perfect time to get your signed book ordered!

As for me, I’ll be icing my hand in between signings at the Equine Affaire table. Between the in-person demand and the online orders, I am going to have a lot of books to sign!

Get your books signed by me (and ten other authors) at Taborton Equine Books’ 2019 Signed Books page.

Here’s everyone who will be attending the Equine Affaire book-signing event, by the way!

equine affaire book signing 2019
Equine Affaire 2019 in W. Springfield, MA!

5 Questions with Equestrian Author L.R. Trovillion

So, here’s the thing. I love social media, because it’s given me a chance to meet wonderful people (like you, probably!) but we have to admit it, there’s a flaw in its design. All of those short sentences and catchy captions don’t give us nearly enough time to really get to know each other!

For that, I think it’s time to get back to blogs. Make a cup of tea, set aside some time to read, and enjoy some stories from people we’d like to get to know better–I think we could all use that once in a while! So without further ado, let’s start with Five Questions for author L.R. Trovillion.

L.R. Trovillion author image
Writer L.R. Trovillion creates compelling Young Adult and Equestrian Fiction

Trovillion is the author of the new Young Adult – Equestrian Fiction novel Horse Godsand previously released False Godsboth set in Maryland’s equestrian community.

Her books get great reviews with readers, who love her fast-paced, tightly-woven plots about teenage girls who find purpose and courage through equestrian life.

If you love coming-of-age stories (and who doesn’t, really) and a well-written story with plenty of horses in it, these books belong on your list.

I asked L.R. Trovillion five questions about her latest novel, her writing life, and her craft. Let’s go!

Hello! Thank you for being my debut subject for Five Questions!

First of all, thank you, Natalie, for giving me this opportunity to speak with you and for hosting me on your blog.

You have a new book! Tell us a little about Horse Gods and your inspiration for this story.

The story grew out of a unique experience. A friend invited me to accompany him and his hawk out hunting. When this bird of prey lifted off his arm to the treetops, I was amazed that it did not just fly away, free. That really got me thinking…

Freya the hawk
Freya, the inspiration for an avian character in Horse Gods

The sequel, Horse Gods, picks up the story of a new main character, Regina Hamilton. Her abusive mother, who we met in the first book, False Gods, is getting out of prison and Regina has only a few months to figure out how she can avoid having to live with her. As a minor, she doesn’t have too many options.

She falls into an opportunity at an elite dressage barn (even though she’s a jumper rider!) to work as a resident working student, if she can prove herself.

But things at this barn are not what they seem, and before long Regina finds herself in a dangerous situation. (No spoilers).

What made you decide to begin writing equestrian fiction?

L.R. Trovillion on horseback
L.R. Trovillion fits in plenty of real-life riding for her inspiration

Horses are the inspiration. I only started riding as an adult when I had a job that would support boarding and lessons, but I never looked back!

To help defray some costs, I worked as a groom for a hunter/jumper rider, which gave me a unique view into the world of big-time horse shows.

Later, my interests gravitated to dressage. I believe there is a certain magic in the horse-human connection and I hope to capture a little bit of it in my stories.

Horse Gods blends a lot of topics – you’ve got hawking, dressage, Irish mythology, and parents in prison, among other things. Was it hard to keep your plot in order and not lose any threads?

Ha, ha! I’ll have to let my readers answer that question, but I certainly hope I didn’t lose any threads! Yes, there’s a lot going on, but the various topics are all held together by one central theme—trust. The hawk, the wild mare, the Irish myths that surround Regina all symbolize various needs for and levels of trust. You see, Regina has no one to lean on, no one to help her (she thinks), and so has always just relied on herself. As she grapples with one problem after another, she slowly discovers how to trust in others as well. But that trust in people is severely tested in the end.

Can you tell us a little about your writing craft – how you schedule your time, how you plan your stories, that sort of thing?

Horse Gods ebook cover
Horse Gods, L.R. Trovillion’s new YA/Equestrian Fiction release

I would like to say that I am very disciplined and sit down to write for a set period of time every day, but that would be a lie! So often I sit down to write and a million other tasks feel suddenly more pressing—‘Oh, maybe I should clean out the closet instead!’

When I do knuckle down to write, at the beginning of a novel, I get a germ of a story idea and start building the characters around it. I like to take a main character, give her a big problem, strip her of all outside support from family or conventional means, and set her loose to make bad decisions and see what happens. Secondary characters sort of turn up on the pages and some of them become quite interesting and get to be the main character in the next book. (Spoiler: Main character in book 3 is Willow).

Sounds quite haphazard, doesn’t it? I do usually have the beginning and the end destination planned, but that whole messy middle part is sometimes surprising even to me.

What’s on your 2019 reading list? Have you read anything amazing this year?

I am fortunate to belong to a book club, which has been together for about 23 years. In that time, I have been introduced to so many amazing books, often ones I would not have picked out for myself.

Recently, one of my favorites was A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I was a Russian language and literature major in college and this book captured so beautifully the culture, history, and mood of that time in Russia. Plus, I absolutely fell in love with the main character, Count Rostov! As for horse fiction, I’d have to say an all time favorite is Horse Heaven by the master storyteller, Jane Smiley.

I also love to read a lot of Young Adult. I really enjoyed The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon for her brilliant and edgy characters and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for amazing world building. On my list: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. But I’m open to other suggestions!

Really solid choices. I love Amor Towles’ first book Rules of Civility, and A Gentleman in Moscow has been on my list for ages. And of course, Horse Heaven, I’ve been very open about how much I love that one!

***

Thanks to L.R. Trovillion for that excellent look inside her books and writing process. I especially love the idea of taking a character, stripping her of help, and seeing what she’ll do next. My process is generally to take a character, give her an opportunity, then think about all the awful consequences. Either way, you can’t have a story without being well-versed in a certain kind of worst-case scenario thought process!

So, I highly recommend you take a look at L.R. Trovillion’s fantastic equestrian fiction novels. You can find them at Amazon, or visit her website for more information. On Twitter? Follow for updates and new blog posts about equestrian life: @lrtrovillion

Have you read L.R. Trovillion’s work? Do you have a question for her, or a recommendation? Be sure to comment below!

Why Blogging Matters – So You Want to Write a Horse Book: Part Three

When you’re getting ready to write a horse book, it’s important to get one major hurdle out of the way first:

Your thin skin.

Look, we’re all pretty tough. We’re horse-people. We’re used to getting beat up and dragged around — both physically and mentally.

But you have to be ready to take some heat when you publish your first book. (And all of your other books.) Because even if you write the best book in the world (and I have no doubt you have it in you), you are going to deal with the following:

  1. Reviews from people who hate your book because it doesn’t do what they wanted it to do.
  2. Reviews from people who hate your book because they hate ALL first-person books, third-person books, books with swear words, books with children, books with adults, books with German Shepherds, books with anything at all that they could have figured out your book would contain just by reading the description or by reading the free first page on Amazon, and yet which somehow they decided to read anyway.
  3. Reviews from people who didn’t read your book but just think it sounds awful.
  4. General meanness which was never meant for your eyes, but which you saw anyway because you dutifully set up your Google Alerts and followed them to a message board where you should not be.
White horse in shadows
Life in the (sort-of) spotlight can be a little scary. Step into it a few paces at a time.

Now, with the wonders of blogging, you can experience all the meanness the Internet has to offer AND set up a support system of people you can email/text/snap/maybe even get a coffee with if you actually live in the same region, all before you’ve got a book out. Sounds great, right?

It actually is. Remember, I started out by blogging. In 2008 (?) I was blogging about my farm, and making a lot of blogging friends. In 2010 I started Retired Racehorse Blog with the idea of chronicling the OTTB training experience. I asked a large retirement agency if they would sponsor it or house it on their site and they had to say no, because of the possible backlash if someone didn’t like a training method I used.

Wasn’t that a good warning, friends?

I went after Retired Racehorse Blog anyway, and admittedly, I didn’t receive a lot of criticism for it. I got some, especially when I got away from training and went into more philosophical state-of-the-industry posts. I had some warmblood people gang up on me — one of those situations where you should really read the cover description before you buy the book. But that’s okay. I was learning how to share my writing and my opinions without being afraid (or, at least, being TOO afraid) of negative response.

And while I was building up my courage to publish a work of fiction, I was also making friends. I don’t want to call it an audience, because blogs are free and books are not (usually) which makes them two different animals. It does help, however, to have a thousand blog readers when you publish a book. You might sell ten books in your first month, and this will be good for your self-esteem.

I made friends who regularly read my blog, and I regularly read their blogs. We met up on Facebook. We met up on Twitter. We met up on Instagram. We met up in real life. Some of them are fellow authors with me now, and we support one another. We have someone to email when we see a review so mean or misguided that we’re one whiskey away from clicking “reply” on Amazon and GoodReads (AKA author social suicide, don’t do it).

Blog Topics:

So let’s say you’re going to start a blog. What’s it going be about?

The great thing about blogs, in my opinion, is that they can be about absolutely nothing. I mean this in the most Seinfeld of ways. I watch a lot of Seinfeld. It’s about daily life in New York, which is everything and nothing all at once. The same thing can be said of barn life. If you have a horse, whether at home or at a boarding barn, you have instant blog material. There are probably hundreds of fairly well-read blogs which are just about daily barn life. They’re more fun than training blogs, which have to be written in a fairly clever style to keep them from getting dry.

The other great thing about slice-of-life blog posts is that they teach you to find the story in everything. You start looking at the world through different eyes, picking up on potential for full stories in the scenes around you. A girl walking out to the pasture with a halter over her shoulder — that can so easily inspire a story. A horse leaning on the cross-ties, dozing while a farrier leans over his hoof, gossiping as he grinds away with the hoof file — what’s the story there?

It takes time, but once you start seeing story potential in every little thing, those silly words “writer’s block” simply disappear from your vocabulary.

Later this week I’ll share some examples of popular barn life and training blog posts at Retired Racehorse Blog to give you an idea of what I wrote about in those days. All of these posts still get hits, by the way. So pick a blog title you like and you can stick with. Because throughout the years Retired Racehorse has gone through some changes, such as when I went to Aqueduct and started galloping racehorses, but I was stuck with the name. Thanks to Google and SEO and site rankings, you can’t just change the names of websites whenever you want.

Your most thoughtful blog posts might also get republished, which is a great way to pad your resume if you are going to start looking for published writing work. My intro post, “You Can’t Hug A Thoroughbred,” was actually published in a few newsletters and print magazines around the world, in addition to getting reposted on commercial websites. I’m seeing this quite a lot from some of the more prominent equestrian lifestyle bloggers, like A Yankee In Paris — The Chronicle of the Horse, HorseNation, and Horse Junkies United all like to pick up blog posts going viral and repost them.

But that’s down the road. Don’t worry about going viral just yet. Make some friends. Practice your writing. See what works.

Let’s continue the conversation. Do you blog already? How is it working for you? How do you find topics to blog about?