November brings the 8th anniversary of the EQUUS Film & Arts Fest, celebrating cinema and literature with a focus on the horse! This year, The Hidden Horses of New York is part of the festival’s Literary Corral. Since we couldn’t all get together in person, the festival has gone virtual this year.
I did a special video interview to talk about The Hidden Horses of New York just for EQUUS Film & Arts Fest, which you can watch below!
It’s mid-November, time to start thinking about holiday gifts! If you’re shopping for a horse-lover this holiday season, a horse book is the perfect gift. Riding instructors, barn managers, grooms, your barn BFF, that hard-working student who eats, breathes, and sleeps horses: I’ve got the perfect book for all of them.
For the rest of November, I have a limited number of paperbacks available for just $12 each, shipping included! Choose from some of my best-loved titles, including Ambition and Turning for Home, by November 30th, and get a signed copy for your favorite horse-lover… or yourself!
Show Barn Blues
The Head and Not The Heart
Other People’s Horses
Turning for Home
All books can be inscribed to a special someone along with my signature and a short message!
Books will be shipped using Media Mail to the continental U.S. between December 2-4, 2019.
There is an extremely limited number of books available for this sale. If you have your heart set on a certain title, get in touch as soon as possible.
To order: send your request to me at my email address: natalie @ nataliekreinert.com (remove the spaces). Payment via Venmo, PayPal or Cash is accepted. Payments must be processed before shipping.
This can get tiresome for a writer, when you’re trying to follow a plot thread and find that it leads to a dead end, or a “that wouldn’t happen in real life” situation, but it’s the price we pay for writing for the pickiest group of readers in the universe.
(You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Here is an excerpt from an actual review left an Amazon:
“I tried, I really did but I couldn’t get past chapter 3. Chapter one was bad enough where the supposed “expert” horse trainer expresses his concern that the horse has injured its ANKLE (seriously????).”
Now, this was my first book, and I’d slaved over the details, and I was selling it on the virtue of its details, so this review felt like more than just the usual slap in the face sensation I get from your regularly scheduled bad reviews. So I broke a major rule of writing and responded to the bad review with an editorial example of using the word “ankle” in horse-racing circles:
‘The “ankle” issue is a verbiage commonly used in horse racing. For example: “Havre de Grace Retired With Ankle Injury” (The Blood-Horse, April 25, 2012: http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/69168/havre-de-grace-retired-with-ankle-injury). The term “ankle” is generally used when speaking of the fetlocks and lower-leg issues. Again, that’s a horse racing quirk; it might not be true of everyone’s equine experience, however.’
I’ll never know if the reviewer forgave me for using a word she wasn’t familiar with, but I would assume not. And there you have it, an example of writing for equestrians.)
I guess a very real question a potential writer might have right now is, “Why would you do this to yourself?”
We just do.
Authentic settings: this is a decision you have to make before you begin typing your first paragraphs of your book. It’s not just about using the right brush on your horse; it’s also, it’s a a lot, about settings. You have to decide: will your book reflect the real world like a window, or like a mirror?
It’s easier to make your own rules when you’re dealing with show horses, to set up a kind of looking-glass version of reality, with your own divisions and point systems, and avoid wading into the sea of mysteries that is double-A rated shows and Marshall & Sterling points and getting qualifications for entering an Advanced level Three-Day Event, unless you are incredibly comfortable in that environment.
By incredibly comfortable, I mean, you’ve been riding, training, and showing in those divisions for years. You can fill out an entry form with your eyes closed. It’s part of your normal daily life.
The need for this precision is real. Most people might not notice if you get a couple of show-ring details wrong, although if you call a fetlock an ankle, watch out! (…kidding…) But there are people who will, and they will call you out on it. There will be A-circuit kids reading your A-circuit novel, and you’re going to say something that annoys them.
It’s just a question of keeping those annoyances to a minimum.
Everyone comes up with a different solution to the window/looking glass problem. Here are three examples:
Reality for the Setting; Fiction for the Close-Ups:
I use real governing bodies (The Jockey Club, The United States Eventing Association) and real championships/stake races (The American Eventing Championships, the Kentucky Derby) along with fictional competition. My horses run in races of my own invention (The Mizner Stakes) and in made-up events (The Sunshine State Horse Trials). For locations, I only write about racetracks I’m very familiar with, like Saratoga (the setting for Other People’s Horses), or Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream Park, and a few others. I write almost exclusively about Florida and New York because I know those places so well.
I do make sure my timing is right as well. If I’m running a horse in a fictional stakes at Gulfstream, it’s when Gulfstream would actually be open for racing. But I make up the races to avoid A) stealing glory from horses who have actually won those races; and B) to avoid getting caught up in the pesky details of condition books, qualifications, weights, etc., which is just way too much effort to put into a novel, however correct I’d like it to be. I would consider this the middle-road for authentic settings.
Keep it Real:
Fellow racing writer Mara Dabrishus isn’t afraid to get completely into real-life competition in the Breeders’ Cup and other major stakes races, and she does a great job of depicting American racing without feeling the need to spend a lot of time explaining what the hell she’s talking about. She spends more time on the actual backstretch of actual racetracks than I do. When I have Alex retreat to a rented barn or back to the farm, Mara’s characters are still slugging it out on-site at Belmont or Gulfstream. I have a lot of admiration for her discipline in this regard. I also find that when I’m reading her books, my eye is drawn to the details of places I recognize and know intimately. I’m always testing her descriptions against my memories. Be aware that when you use a real locale, you will have readers who know that place inside-out, possibly better than you do. This style is a gutsy move.
Create a Fictional, but Believable, Setting to Support the Story:
My friend Jessica Burkhart went with entirely fictional lower and collegiate-level organizations for her series Canterwood Crest, which features secondary-school competition. Rather than get wrapped up in different sports, governing bodies, and the intricacies of Young Riders Championships and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, she simply developed a series of district, regional, and national championships which her characters could compete in, with the end-goal being the real United States Equestrian Team. The wisdom of this approach: it gives you so much more time to concentrate on story, and it allows riders (and hey, non-riders) of all disciplines to enjoy the series without needing technical explanations of how the discipline is run. Your story has plenty of room to shine.
What’s Right For You?
I think I can speak for anyone reading this when I say we’re all on a quest for authenticity. That’s what our readers tell us they love, over and over again. Even this one-star review for my first novel contained this caveat: “Writer was good with the horse terms and nailed the references to the life of a rider.” (The first part of the review, of course, was that it was a terrible story.)
So I believe it goes without saying that we’re all going to write the truest thing we know when it comes to our horses and our riding. We will never be allowed to gallop out of the arena after a jumping class without severe consequences; we will never feed our horse a celebratory pizza on his birthday; we will never put our neighbor’s kid on our Grand Prix dressage horse that we adopted from the BLM when we were 12 years old and had in the Olympics by the time we were 15; we will never wear a red coat to a short stirrup class, or a shadbelly to show-jumping class. I don’t have to actually point that out because we all know better. I just do it to point out what we’ve been reading all our lives, and why we’re so excited to change all that.
One good way to decide on your commitment level is to write (or think aloud in the shower, whatever works for you) the general plot-line of your book. And we’ll talk more about that in the future, but in the meantime, think of it like this. You say to yourself, “And then Michelle finds out she has a shot at the Young Riders Championships.”
You pause and think about the Young Riders Championships.
-How much do you know about it?
-How much research will you have to put into accurately portraying the Young Riders Championships?
-Will this present obstacles to your timelime? Maybe you’re writing a story with a big Christmas climax or a new foal is born at some point, but the Young Riders Championships is in July and that would throw everything off. Do you really want to change the entire story because now it needs to end in July instead of January?
-If any of these things feel problematic, consider how easy it be to simply make Young Riders into something else plausible. Why not just make up a championship called the Eventing Youth Nationals? Boom, done, easy. Your problems are solved.
Deciding on the level of authenticity in your story’s setting has much to do with your comfort level with the topics you’re tackling. If you feel at all in over your head, back away and do some serious soul-searching about how important that setting really is to your story. It might be everything. Or it might make more sense to just wave your fiction wand and make a new, more suitable setting come to life.
If you choose this route, you are not giving up your equestrian street cred. You’re actually cementing it by committing to the details you know — the nitty-gritty of equestrian life, the ins and outs of the days we spend with horses — and not compromising the knowledge level you’re presenting to your also-knowledgeable readers by winging it with some of the things they know by heart.
I’ve been writing horse books for the past eight years. It started out as a wish: I wish there were more horse books I wanted to read! It turned into a project: I’m going to write a book I’d like to read. It ended up as a career: in 2019, I decided to write horse books (and some other fiction) full-time.
So You Want to Write a Horse Book is a blog series I started in 2016 to help answer the questions I regularly get from aspiring equestrian fiction writers. Whether you want to write young adult, middle grade, chapter books, or adult fiction for equestrians, there’s a big beautiful publishing world waiting for you!
You’ll find posts in this series on everything from how to ask for criticism (and not die of embarrassment/horror when you get it) to how to choose your book’s cover image. And anytime you have more questions about how to write a horse book, just ask! Leave a comment or send an email, and I’ll try to answer it for you.
Are you ready? Let’s start!
What is a Horse Book?
A horse book, in my definition, is a book about equestrian life. It can be a romance, a literary fiction, a mystery novel, or even a steampunk combination of all three of those things. What qualifies the book as a horse book is that it has scenarios and characters recognizable to the equestrian community.
I classify what I write as Equestrian Fiction. That means my books are written specifically for equestrians to understand and enjoy. I don’t spend a lot of time explaining equine terms, trusting that non-equestrian readers can judge what I’m talking about based on context, use Google to learn more, or simply move on and enjoy the story. I also write with an adult audience in mind, although I recognize that in the equestrian world, teens are often living very adult lives, so I consider them my audience, as well.
This genre didn’t always exist, and if you ask a big book retailer, it still doesn’t exist. That’s why Equestrian Fiction dominates non-fiction categories like Horse Care, and Equestrian Sportson Amazon. It’s just one of those things you’ll have to deal with if you write equestrian fiction: this genre boasts the most popular books for equestrians, but no real category.
That’s a gripe for another time.
Equestrian Fiction is growing by the month. Established writers are continuing their series, and new writers are showing up with fantastic reads. If you’re tempted to join the fun, this blog series is for you.
Here’s what you should know, first and foremost: there are a handful of highs and a truckload of lows when you write your first novel (and your second, and your third, and your fourth…) and when we’re marketing our books directly to our readers, we have no choice but to face the criticism head-on.
While some writers with major publishing deals can say lofty (and probably untrue, but whatever) things like, “I never read the reviews,” if you’re a new, independent writer sharing good reviews to try to drum up good press, you’re going to have to read the reviews.
All of them.
And some of them will make you cry.
That’s okay! Your dressage (hunter/jumper/western pleasure/fill-in-the-blank here) trainer has made you cry, but you still ride, right? We’re equestrians, so we’re used to pain equaling gain. We’re used to falling down, dusting ourselves up, and mounting again. Maybe that’s why we’re hanging on, growing, and actually thriving in such a difficult industry.
It’s just really hard to mash down a determined equestrian!
Writing for any audience is tough, but writing for equestrians is exceptionally challenging. In 2012, I interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley for the equestrian lifestyle site, Dappled Grey. Jane Smiley stormed into the equestrian scene with her massive racing/showing novel Horse Heaven, and became as common a barn name as any big name trainer. I remember working at the Ocala, Florida branch of Barnes & Noble when Horse Heaven was at its height. I was selling copies one after another to well-known hunter/jumper riders in town for HITS. I was actually star-struck by some of the luminaries who walked in and asked for the book by name.
But Horse Heaven, for all its popularity with the equestrian community and the wider world, didn’t get a follow-up. Instead, Smiley began a children’s series, beginning with The Georges and the Jewels, which taught excellent horsemanship, but didn’t get into the complicated and very adult lives of modern riders, trainers, and owners in the racing and showing business–something I loved because it reflected the world I lived in so beautifully.
So I asked Smiley, why did she stop writing equestrian novels for adults, when Horse Heaven was such a hit with her own crowd?
Here’s what Jane Smiley told me about writing equestrian fiction:
“The horse audience will toss the book out of the window if the voice isn’t expert. The audience isn’t big, and they’re critical, although they’re enthusiastic when they’ve committed. Sometimes you can make it work and sometimes you can’t. It’s not an easy audience to write for.”
Imagine writing huge multi-generational trilogies, imagine winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and having your novels turned into movies, and then finding equestrians too picky an audience to continue writing for. That’s what you’re up against when you decide to write a horse book.
But that’s okay. There are ways around this. There are ways to find your voice. There are ways to prove yourself to your audience. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in this blog series.
Watch this space for a post each week on writing horse books. Feel free to chime in, comment, and ask questions. Send me an email if you don’t want to go public with your writing aspirations; I promise confidentiality. Let’s talk about writing. Because honestly? I want to read your books. I write for this genre because eight years ago, sitting at my computer, I realized that all I wanted to read was more Horse Heaven. And no one was writing it.
So I wrote the book I wanted to read.
I’ve come a long way since my first novella, The Head and Not The Heart. I’ve made it through bad reviews and good, vicious emails and heart-warming messages, and even found myself in Lexington, Kentucky accepting runner-up at one of America’s richest book prizes before flying to Pimlico for a festival-day book-signing. I’ve spoken about the horse in fiction at Equine Affaire. I’ve been invited to work on conference proposals exploring animals in literature. It’s an exciting adventure, being an equestrian fiction author. I never know what’s going to arrive in my inbox next.
I love my writing life; I’m grateful for my writing life, which readers grant me every day when they choose to read my novels, and I want to encourage, nurture, inspire, and help new writers join the ranks in any way I can.
Let’s talk horse books, and writing them, together. I think this is going to be a good time.