Now What? (and Other News)

hurry-spring

Now is the winter of my discontent

Okay, maybe I’m being Shakespeare-dramatic. Monochromatic seasons can bring that out in me. Here on the prairie, the only visual break from tan grass stretching to the horizon is when it turns white for a while. I’m grumbling, but the truth is that I can use a break from my hectic pace, every ten months or so, to cozy-in at my farm.

But this winter, I mourned some excruciating good-byes. If you are a woman of a certain age who thinks too much, the changes can add up. Not that it’s good or bad; just that I noticed and needed time to acclimate. I think there’s some rule of diminishing returns that says that with each day I grow older, the world becomes more precious. The beauty in ordinary things has become nearly debilitating. But then, I think too much. No apologies.

I’ve been prodded into action after reading that there is legislative action to make it legal to shoot hibernating bears, along with their cubs. It seems to follow that the dogs and I could be mistaken; we’ve been doing a decent bear impression. Besides, the weather is having mood swings and I’m counting days till the time change. Hurry spring.

BOOK NEWS: My books are now available on two new online sites. Check out the Equine Network Store for a great collection of equine literature, and for international readers, Lavender and White publishers, based in the UK, now carry all three books.

COMING EVENTS: I’ll be at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo March 10-12 in the Author Corner. (Discount tickets here.) I’ll be signing books and meeting new friends. *** I’ll be at my favorite indie bookstore, Covered Treasures, in Monument, CO, on March 18th, 3-5 pm, signing books. Please come by. *** Who’s going to the World Cup in Omaha? Look for my books in the Equine Network Booth and I’ll be there, too. Let me know if you want to meet-up.

I’ll be presenting at the Region 10 PATH conference May 7th. This isn’t open to the public but it’s a reminder that I am available for public speaking engagements, on topics on horse advocacy and training, women’s experience, and writing. Please contact me if you’re interested in having me speak to your group or clinic at your barn. Join with groups in Washington, California, Virginia, and Illinois-Indiana.

NOW WHAT? Well, I have a stack of ideas; I’m investigating doing something on the topic of responsibility and care of therapy horses. *** One of my readers encourages me to consider a children’s book, with Arthur, the goat, as the main character. She found a great illustrator, too. *** Others are encouraging me to compile a book of quotes from my blogs. *** Still others are asking about a book of photos and poems. *** And I have a few book outlines including a sequel to Stable Relation and another book about Love, Men, and Dogs. What do you think?

THEN THIS: I always thought I’d write something, but it wasn’t easy. At first, it was nothing but masochistic. I’d read a fresh paragraph aloud and I’d tried so hard to be clever that I was nearly unintelligible. Adverbs were lost in verbiage. There were runaway pronouns. But I stuck to my keyboard, hoping an intention in my mind would somehow intersect with the right group of words. Then I edited liked a mad dog with a chainsaw.

babybird-3Do you feel the pull to write? If there’s interest, I’m thinking about starting an online group to encourage those of us who are certain there’s a book (or blog or story) in us but we’re having a time squeezing it out. Like an egg. That will hatch into something real. Like a fat-lipped baby bird.

Want to write with us? (Email me at anna@annablake.com)

Again, for those of you who have left reviews for Barn Dance, or the other books, thank you so much. It breathes life into search engines and that is gold for indies like me. I appreciate every single review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads.

HURRY SPRING.

….

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Amazon Recommends My Books. To Me.

15289057_1183443898404722_5143139141458563265_o-2Do you ever have that experience where you tilt your head, squint, and hear a dubious voice in your head say, “No kidding?” 

My life is like that lately. It’s like I’m on a hijacked bus; the destination hasn’t changed, but wow, are we ever taking the scenic route.

This man in the photo is very kind and seemed to genuinely enjoy having his photo taken all night long. I’m always nervous when there isn’t an animal in the photo. We’re in Miami and that’s a gold medal around my neck. Head tilt. No kidding?

(This passes for formal attire. If anyone has held their breath in anticipation of who I wore for the red-carpet event, well, a very old kimono and brand new Crocs.)

I’m like you. I like to dawdle in the barn. I’ve been known to binge-watch Netflix.  I like being on the bottom of a dogpile on the couch. Clearly, ambition is not my middle name.

Then writing starts innocently enough. One day an idea comes along while mucking the barn and you scribble it down. It’s like a crossword puzzle that has an 80,000-word runaway. What used to seem impossible becomes irresistible.

Then there’s a choice. You can put the words in a drawer and feel good about yourself. Done.

Or, if you enjoy the awkward balance of wearing one flip-flop and one stiletto, then you decide to let the world scrutinize your words. Or worse yet, ignore them. And from that day forward, the line between anxiety and pleasure becomes a floppy, teetering stumble. Weirdly unbelievable things happen without warning. Head tilt. No kidding

So, like I said, I’m like you. I get those same emails from Amazon suggesting books for me–sometimes horse books. Recently, the subject line of the email was “Barn Dance: Nickers, brays, bleats…”  Squinty confusion.

When opened, the email suggested a list of books, like usual, but this time including both Barn Dance and Relaxed & Forward. In one email. To me. It’s unprofessional to say so but I still get such a thrill seeing my covers.

And the best part? This email was not my doing. It was you! Yes. Thank you, in the extreme!

An attempted explanation: I think the way this works is that books get stacked in a remote dark corner of the world-wide-web. Search engines don’t go looking on their own. You have to nag them for a while before they move, and even then, they have a very short retention span.

We indie authors are always trying to not sound too desperate when asking readers to leave a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads. It’s embarrassing; we don’t do it because we’re groveling for compliments.  Getting a marginal review, like one for Stable Relation that gave it three stars and went on to say she didn’t finish the book, is still good news. That silly search engine can’t read! It just wanders out back to look for my book. In that way, every review is good.

If you left a review, thank you so much for keeping my books moving. It makes a huge difference.

And if you have thought about it and have a moment, please consider writing a brief review of Barn Dance or Stable Relation or Relaxed & Forward. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads.)  Self-published books gratefully rely on word-of-mouth support. Thank you.

Last week found me in Elgin, Illinois, working four days at a wonderful therapeutic riding center there, followed by a two-day riding clinic at another barn that shares my blog and books. One of the participants at the second barn was a very serious rider; a man in his seventies who came with his two chestnut mares. He’d managed to ride five lessons in two days. Well done!

At the end of the clinic, he had his horses loaded for the haul home when he came to say goodbye. I stood to shake his hand, but then we hugged instead. I thanked him for riding and he said, “You’re just exactly the person you are in your book. Just the same person.”

There’s no squint in a barn. No head tilt. “Thank you,” I said, “that’s my intention.”

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

One Book Award; Two Bar Incidents

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The 2016 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards were held last weekend, in conjunction with the Miami Book Fair International. Stable Relation won a gold medal, and since I never went to my high school graduation, I decided to attend. As if that passes for logic.

I’d been there before and love south Florida, even during election years. It’s always been culturally diverse with many Spanish-speaking residents, so I did my best. By that, I mean that I made a point of saying hello, smiling when I didn’t understand, and following with gracias. It felt good to make the effort. I can also order a beer in Spanish, but that’s about it.

A convention of introverts. Just think of it.

On Friday night, there was a meet and greet for authors at the hotel. Apparently, no one eats on airplanes anymore, and I’d had a close connection, so by the time I finally got to the hotel, I’d already missed two meals. I went down to the bar early and ordered dinner. As I sipped my wine, I took a keepsake out of my pocket. A client had given it to me years ago; a small stone with a word, or in our case, a name, etched into it: “Spirit”.

Forty-five minutes later there was still no sign of dinner, I’d had a second glass of wine, and tears were flowing. It wasn’t the first or last time that I’ll cry over a good horse. And it wasn’t just my gratitude for thirty years with my Grandfather Horse, who changed my life. It was also the memory of saying a final good-bye to him two months ago.

Yes, I flew to another state to get dressed-up and cry in the dark corner of a bar.

I guess the best thing I can say is that, at my age, most people look right past me. It’s one of those backward age-perks. Dinner never came; then I sat through a series of presentations about book marketing, and among other things, was reminded for the umpteenth time to thank people you might want something from in the future.

Public relations is a quandary for me. Self-promotion is necessary. At the same time, strategizing about it always feels grimy and insincere. Call me a dweeb–maybe even a Labrador–but I’ll take my PR cues from dogs. They seem to get it right most of the time. Then I stumbled off to bed, after a bag of chips from a vending machine. Wrung out. Gracias.

Saturday morning and I did it again. Me, the one who is usually up and writing at 3:30 in the morning, missed breakfast and the bus to the Miami Book Fair. I Ubered (a new verb) there, got some coffee and had a great time. Then I rushed back early, determined to nail down an entire meal and have time to get “formal” for the award presentation, as requested.

The presentation was like I imagined graduation would have been. We walked across the stage, got our medals, and smiled for the camera. Applause, and more kind people. And more photos. I hope I smiled–but not too much. What I didn’t expect, descending the steps on the other side of the stage, was the overwhelm of gratitude I felt for how much words have always meant to me, on so many levels. I felt elated and humbled. All the good words.

The biggest weekend takeaway was how affirming it was meeting people who had done what I had; authors of true crime and young adult and historical nonfiction. Like Cary Allen Stone, and Tyler, and Michelle Rene, and Karen Hoyle and more than I can list here. New friends and word geeks, one and all.

book-awardOn Sunday, I checked out and got the airport early. I was feeling giddy; I’d been recognized for my gold metal… by the metal detector. Wow, it’s changed me already.

I swaggered into the airport bar and pulled out my notebook. The last three weeks, I’ve had a chronic case of blurbitis, and without that measly sink-or-swim paragraph, the next book languishes in limbo forever. No pressure.

But I must have snorted when the men next to me at the bar made a joke. That was all it took. They welcomed me in, telling me they were just back from an amazing trip to Cuba. They were Texans; I know better. But they told me about visiting Hemingway’s house and seeing his pet cemetery. They had a photo of four small headstones; I think three of the names might have been some Spanish variation on “Blackie” and one simply said, “Linda.” Conversation sped on to the Cuban economy, vintage cars, and the professor who was their guide; these two longtime friends had quite a time together. I’m certain we didn’t vote the same ticket. Then they ordered a second round.

Hemingway; the man’s man author; I asked who their favorite woman author was. The dead air didn’t last long. “Barbara Kingsolver. Poisonwood Bible.” And we have a winner!

Eventually, they asked me what I was doing in Miami and I told them. Then I told them they’d heard me right. Heaven forbid getting googled in a bar, but I was there, loud and proud. My life limped and groaned while passing before my eyes. Gracias again, for the statute of limitations. Or maybe it just felt that way.

What could I do? I tossed my suitcase onto the bar stool, like a saddle over a horse, and rummaged through dirty clothes to produce two copies of Stable Relation. At the same time thinking, “Who is this woman?”

UPDATE: Cover image; check. Ebooks formatted; check. Blurb for back cover edited into submission; check. Barn Dance is almost done, just a pile of technicalities left to do. It’s up to Prairie Moon Press now.

Then our flight was announced and we all hugged like old friends, still as different as Americans can be. Standing in my line, I turned and saw one of the men, looking exhausted, half-drunk, and clutching Stable Relation in his arm.

Here’s to you, Spirit. The ride isn’t over yet.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

How I Spent Your Summer Vacation.

companyDo you ever have that feeling that you’re watching a foreign film, only it’s broad daylight and your own life?

I can’t remember a summer when I’ve hugged more strangers who know me intimately.

Start here: Sarah is one of my oldest friends, and a beta reader for me. Beta readers agree to read unfinished manuscripts and give their opinion, before the book is done. Sarah has edited for me in the past, is an avid reader, a lifelong librarian, and knew all the characters in my memoir, Stable Relation. Beyond that, she’s given me what we used to call a “permanent wave” and so I knew she had no qualms about humiliating me. You want that in a beta reader.

When she called me, her first words were, “You make the place sound so bucolic. Anna… I’ve been to your farm.” She spoke with a flat monotone to her voice and a bit of sarcasm salted on top for comic effect. As Sarah gets older, she sounds more like her mother. They both crack me up.

Sarah’s right, of course. Perhaps my greatest feat as a writer is to get everyone to see this ramshackle humble farm through my eyes. Well, Sarah, your words have come home to roost.

The first farm visit last fall was for an newspaper article. I knew the reporter; he’d even been here before. I liked him. And I still changed clothes three times, trying to cross-dress and look like an author.

There has been a trickle of visitors this summer. One reader emailed me that her family was taking a road trip to the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde; would it be possible to drop by and say hello? Of course I was flattered that my tiny farm with mis-matched fence panels would be listed with such famous landmarks.

When they arrived, Marcella jumped out of the car, shouted enthusiastic greetings, promised to not take my whole day, and acted like she wanted to hug me.

Disclaimer: if you’ve read Stable Relation, I think you know my people are not the hugging sort.

So, of course I hugged her, and greeted her husband and daughter. Standing there in the driveway, I wasn’t totally sure what to do next. After all, I’m there because of my ability to sit alone and type. I guessed they’d want to see the animals. In hindsight, you’d call it a walking tour, but I wanted to get to the comfort zone of my barn. We were strolling and talking horses, when Marcella recognized my Grandfather Horse. She recognized him! I’m not sure why that meant so much to me. Except he’s the reason for all of this.

I had more visitors the next week; a man who’d written me not long after Stable Relation was published. Chaz and his wife, Peggy arrived with a bottle of wine. I would have never thought to make such a kind gesture. Again, the walking tour and Peggy was honest to say that she was a bit nervous around horses. It was fair, we were in the gelding pen, where the short horse is 15.2 hands.

I could see Edgar Rice Burro waiting for her at the gate on the far side of the next pen. Once we got there, he took over with Peggy, Edgar’s a bit of a lady-killer with his long ears and sweet heart. The other equines in the pen mingled with us. We stood there talking like old friends at the neighborhood bar. Even Lillith, the shy donkey foster, wandered up and nudged Chaz.

As they were leaving, I was signing a book for a friend of theirs, when Chaz showed me his copy of Relaxed & Forward. He’d told me before that he turned page corners at spots he wanted to come back to, but when I actually saw it, it seemed like every other page corner was turned. What a thing. I tried to stay focused on signing the other book, but it knocked me back. The dorky ninth-grader in me fumbled. Why didn’t I ask to sign his book? Why didn’t I thank them for making me feel so special?

Then this week, a group of five visited. They were long time city dwellers, as interested in seeing the pond and re-imagining the distances from the blizzard chapter, as meeting the animals. Then the llamas were a bit rowdy. As they were leaving, one of the women came very close. She said she knew it wasn’t a big deal for me, but for them it was very special. Something they would never forget. She grabbed me for a huge, heartfelt hug. I mumbled whatever I could think of but I fumbled again.

How could she possibly think this wasn’t a big deal to me?

UPDATE: The manuscript for Barn Dance is with my editor. She edits lots of authors; I just like to call her mine. She’ll have it a few weeks, then I’ll incorporate her corrections. It’s grammar and punctuation and sentences that make no sense. In the meantime, I’m in a flop sweat knowing I’ll need a tag line, thinking about the cover image, and that paragraph that perfectly describes 80,000 wandering words. In other words, this is the time that I least trust my judgment. On the high side, I’m getting used to it. Barn Dance is on schedule for the New Year. As always, thank you for your support.

Sometimes it feels to me like I use this blog to apologize; to vent my lack of social skills and try to navigate my way in the human world. I constantly shake my head, marveling at the ways Stable Relation has changed my life. When it was published, I hoped the book would take flight but I didn’t expect this boomerang effect.

We love company here, especially the animals. But since the book, sometimes I don’t recognize myself. So if my eyes seem to go blank, I have only the flimsiest excuse. I’m rudely distracted, watching a foreign film behind my eyes.  It has an embarrassed ninth-grader with gray hair and a slight limp; she needs sub-titles.

And Sarah, I notice I’m not any more “bucolic” than my farm.

Quote-Hoarding as Therapy.

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It was called The Book of Quotes, curated by two guys in my high school. They were skinny/tall, a bit too smart, and not remotely athletic–way before that geek title was claimed with pride. Back when a dork’s best defense was his intelligence. The Book of Quotes was their prized possession; a spiral notebook carried everywhere, poised to immortalize the key words, when the world became bizarre. Entries were made daily, of course.

I was friends with the dark-haired one but definitely not smart/male/cool enough to hang with these guys on a regular basis. We were self-segregated in those days. Okay, that part hasn’t changed much. But one day when we were sitting in the library, they opened the sacred book and read a quote–obscure and out-of-context. It went splat out on the table, followed by snorting, giggling, and faking sophistication while pushing my glasses back up my nose again. We all just wanted to be in on a joke instead of the butt of one.

I had a secret. I kept a book of quotes, too. It wasn’t like theirs; mine was meant to be an oracle for lost girls. Like this:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

You catch my drift. Mine didn’t involve arcane jokes or adolescent innuendos. Mine was literary and heartfelt. The quotes were my battle cry because if a good quote is repeated enough times, it becomes an internal tattoo.

 “Assume a virtue if you have it not.” Shakespeare
The habit stuck; I’ve been a quote-hoarder all these years but never so much as when I was starting to write my memoir, Stable Relation.  My studio was wallpapered with tape, thumb-tacks, and hand-written quotes that I relied on like a professional therapist. Every morning, I rolled out of bed hours before breakfast, let the dogs out, and started writing. I had no idea that birds were up in the dark, too, but they warbled and chirped a soundtrack to my book. I typed on, in the shadow of the quote that was my long-time favorite:
Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark. –Rabindranath Tagor

When an old-friend-quote shows up in real life, take it as an omen.

This blog started out as wishful thinking. I’d just finished my book and I was strangely confident. Sink or swim; Stable Relation was just what I wanted it to be. Every word of it.

The problem was what to do next. How had it not occurred to me that writing the book wasn’t going to be enough? Now what? I had no confidence in the process.  I was still that girl who chanted the magical words from other books. In a world of literary giants, my little book was invisible…unless I spoke up for it. A daunting prospect, so I recycled an extremely well-worn quote for that:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

Or in my case, one blog post. Here’s where I thank you, dear reader, again and again. It’s been a wild hike this last eighteen months.

The full-circle-crazy part? It happened while scrolling through Facebook. I came upon a quote that I thought about copying for an instant… but then I recognized the attached photo. It was one of mine, and now that I looked closer… I hadn’t recognized the words out-of-context. For all of the editing and word arranging needed to tell a story just right, I’d never once thought of dissecting my writing into a small bite. But umm, now that I think about it, that is how a quote happens, isn’t it? What a world!

Are you a quote collector, too? Words are free magic. We share them like our breath, our experience, our mutual lives. Words come from teenage boys, or ancient texts, or our own imagination, to remind us we are more alike than different.

The magic happens when a printed word takes flight, and carries us along.

We Had a Book Club Before Oprah.

We formed a book club before it was popular. You can tell by our dated name: Women who read too much (and the dogs that love them.) We were an eclectic group of women, of varied backgrounds and status, with jobs that ranged from engineers to doctors to tech queens to research scientists and everything to the left and right. In the beginning we didn’t all know each other but we did have one huge commonality: we loved books. I read the best books of my life with those women.

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The Parliament of Eight Wise Owls book club, with two readers off screen.

Our first book was Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. It set the bar high but I could list another fifty just as good. In the beginning I was a dyed-in-the-wool fiction reader, but being in the club meant reading books that you probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. Every time it was Lauren’s turn, she picked a non-fiction book. I’d silently grumble, then end up wild about the book, until I finally switched sides entirely.

We took turns picking authors from around the world, and then matched our potluck dinner menus to the book theme or nationality. We began each meeting with a glass of wine, but it was the book talk that I valued the most; first reasoning out my opinion, then seeing that book from other perspectives, and then enjoying the routine every month for a few years. There was always a delicious feeling walking up to the door with a covered dish and the latest read, anxious for our particular brand of bookish sisterhood.

And the elephant in my brain the entire time; the un-named what-if was always behind me, leaning against a wall. He whispered, “What if it was your book? What if you ever wrote yours??” It was a dream so precious and improbable that I made up an imaginary sarcastic loner to poke me, rather than share it out loud to my friends.

Life happened; there were weddings and divorces, members transitioned in and out, and eventually I moved away. For a while I commuted back but there were changes in my life that made returning difficult. Some of the other original members fell away that next year as well, but I understand the book club is still reading on. Long live the Women Who Read Too Much; thirteen years later and I’m still curious about what they’re reading.

It’s been a hectic month here, crowded with events I would never have dreamed of in my book club years. I was invited to take part in an event for local authors at the Pikes Peak Library District. Libraries are a sacred place, you know. Then traveling to the Midwest Horse Fair and meeting readers there was amazing, as well as having a day at Main Stay Farm. I gave a webinar I created from a blog post, and I just generally talked with authors and met readers. I’ve been busier with book work lately than my day job. (Which isn’t saying much if your day job is outside work and it’s springtime in the Rockies.)

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-XLThen this week an email informed me that Stable Relation had been selected as a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards. It’s not a well-known as a Pulitzer but it’s special to me and I’m very grateful. It comes with a promotion. Now I’m officially an “award-winning” author. It means I can post this sticker. With a big smile.

But that isn’t the best thing that happened this week. I got another email, this time from someone trying to find examples of my goldsmithing online. I assumed she was an old client and I told her that I was out of the business. Then she told me that her book club, The Parliament of Eight Wise Owls, from Livermore, CA, had chosen my book. They were meeting that night. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of a book club reading Stable Relation, but it was certainly my first invitation to join the conversation! I downloaded Skype, tidied myself up, and sat quietly at my computer. At the appointed time, and by the grace of the internet, I joined them. It started with cheers and laughter on all sides. I asked if they had wine, and my computer screen was instantly filled with glasses. So I lifted mine as well and we started by toasting book clubs.

They each introduced themselves with wit and candor, and I was warmly included in their circle like an old friend. We talked about authors we liked and the value of memoir and Stable Relation might have come up. I spoke as an author part of the time, and a longtime book-clubber the rest of the time. My smile muscles were exhausted by the time I said good-bye, but just before that, I offered to send them bookmarks, if someone would send a list of the names for spelling. Susan sent me that list, with a short paragraph describing each member with such affection. They are a group rich in experience and kindness–the perfect bookish sisterhood.

(The Owls found my book online, largely because of reviews. So thanks to you, if you left a review, and if you’ve meant to leave one, a gentle reminder. It makes all the difference on this side.)

And thank you, Owls, from your honorary member! Here’s to book clubs; sharing books is a great way to build friendships. Books have opened unexpected doors for me, connecting the past and the future, in ways that fiction can’t imagine. Because for me there’s nothing that joins people like a good dose of real life non-fiction.

Donkey Skills for the Recovering Introvert

Critically acclaimedThey say you always remember your first. Back then you were worthless for anything but daydreaming. Tossing in damp sheets at night, waking to a full moon, and playing it out in your head, over and over again. Then up in the wee hours, clutching a cup of tea, and worrying about how it would all work out in the end. I’m talking about book writing, of course.

“There is a romantic notion to writing a novel, especially when you are starting it. […] A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. Well, what it takes at that point is discipline […] It’s largely an act of perseverance […] The story really wants to defeat you, and you just have to be more mulish than the story.”— Khaled Hosseini

Stubborn? Being more “mulish” than the story? Ha! We totally own that; us donkeys are the stuff that inspired mules in the first place. Let the writing romance continue!

If you ask me, writing is the easy and fun part. The challenging part–the Big Girl Panties part–came later. Yes, I created this blog to whine about my dysfunctional relationship with the scary bits–the publishing and promotional aspects.

Silly me. It ends up that experience really is the best teacher, and to my surprise, even the business parts are wild fun. I’ve become absolutely chatty. Maybe I’m channeling Edgar Rice Burro.

Here are my upcoming events. Come and introduce yourself…

  • Rocky Mountain Horse Expo, Denver, March 11-13, NE corner of the Expo Hall. I’ll be in the Author’s Co-op booth, signing both my books and talking about horses.
  • Mile High Mustang Club, Elizabeth, CO, March 22, 6:30pm: Speaking on Relationship Advice from Your Horse: Leadership that builds confidence in both partners.
  • Midwest Horse Fair, Madison, WI, April 15-17, with the Horse’n Around Magazine (booth 2304 in the main hall of EXPO building) signing book and still talking about horses.
  • Mainstay Farm Clinic. Richmond, IL, April 18th, private clinic.
  • Mountain of Authors, Pikes Peak Library District. Colorado Springs, CO, Saturday, April 23.
  • Webinar for Windrush Farm, May 10th, Calming Signals: Are You Listening? (info here: http://wp.me/p2G3Wf-66 ) Anyone can join us; proceeds benefit their therapeutic riding program!
  • Horse Symposium, Oslo, Norway, October 29-30. Presenter, more details to follow.

If you belong to a group that might enjoy a presentation or clinic, contact me through the link at the top of the page. I’d be happy to talk about any ideas you have.

And please, the usual heartfelt request to please take a moment and post a review–Stable Relation if you haven’t already, or Relaxed & Forward, when you’ve finished it–to Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. Indie books only stay afloat by word of mouth, so I count on you. Reviews keep the title alive on the search engines and that means that my books come up on other pages as a recommendation. It’s incredibly valuable in getting them in front of brand new eyes. In this way, Amazon and Barnes and Noble actually advertise for me, and in case it isn’t obvious, my advertising budget could use the help.

Whether you leave a review or not, most of all know that I appreciate each of you taking the risk on my books. Reading time is a precious commodity and sharing that means so much. Thank you for letting me be on your nightstand.

At the beginning of this adventure, I was waving a white flag and whining about being an introvert. Shame on me. I was mulish enough to write the books in the first place; I just needed to adjust my ears a bit. I’ve got some old time donkey traits that serve me well. I’ll bray it out just like Edgar, with confidence, honesty, and when required, stubbornness. Why, it’s a compliment when you look at it in the right light.

Is there some dream that your past is keeping you shy about? Because I’m pretty sure we all have an inner donkey if we look. I’d bet my ass on it.

Happy New Year: It’s Still About the Tortoise and the Hare.

spirit arthur ReinventIt seems to me that we sometimes approach this whole New Year resolution thing like school-yard bullies.

We start by nitpicking one bit of self-loathing: maybe it’s a bad hair day but usually it’s our thighs. And then we multiply it to a wide rant about fat bellies, lazy exercise, old muscles, clothes that don’t fit, sore feet, and ugly hands. Then, not to be accused of lacking vision, we add on hating our lousy job, never having enough money, and being under appreciated in our relationships. Did we leave anything out?

Next we make a strict plan that starting January first we will change everything.

Don’t even try. Focusing on what’s wrong never works. The reason New Year resolutions fail is that we cut our throats right before we start. Short of being incarcerated in a prison cell, totally changing an entire life in a day is pretty unreasonable. Sure, who wouldn’t want to be young, thin, smart, and rich in the time it takes to eat a bag of chips, but we inevitably fail. Life gets demoted to the chronic dieter’s dilemma: Losing weight fast, and then gaining it right back with an extra five pounds.

That’s when our evil twin, the part of us that’s the mean girl in school, puts her hand on her hip, flips her hair, and shakes her index finger to inform us we’re still the same loser we used to be, and a year older. In other words, we get cynical.

But I’m still a sucker for New Years. I love the idea of getting a fresh start; a do-over with a breath of optimism. The secret is to plan to under-achieve. Like three years ago when I decided I could write a book–just one page at a time.

I think there’s a reason that the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare has endured so long with its message of patience and kindness.

And so my wish for each of you in the New Year is tiny turtle-like change, small enough to accomplish with ease and self-love. Let gratitude be the cherry on top. What if real personal success comes from lowering our expectations enough that every breath is a joy? That every breeze is a spark of inspiration, until every step becomes an affirmation of the next step, until we pause from praising the path, and notice we’re at the destination. Less suffering, more gratitude.

THIS WEEK: It’s been my habit here to include an update, but in light of this holiday that I love… I’ll just say it’s crazy: I’m working on three books, writing two blogs, a smattering of articles, and doing book promotion, along with my usual occupation–boarding and training horses. And my dogs still like me. If you had told me this was even possible three years ago as I stared at page one of Stable Relation, I’d still be slumped in a paralyzed flop sweat, squinting at a blank page.

Happy New Year! Look in the mirror and thank your best friend. Then find an itty-bitty, tiny corner of a dream and sink your teeth into it like a ten-pound terrier.

It’s Not Exactly Like Seeing Dead People

L'AmourClaraMy father came to my last book talk. For those of you squinting, tilting your heads, and doing the math… Yes, he departed this world twenty-four years ago, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t enjoy a good haunt. We’re family, after all.

This book talk was at the local library and the program director introduced me to a man before the talk started. He was a generation older than me, sitting in the back row wearing a ball cap. His faded eyes narrowed as he stood up. The first thing he told me was that people usually got really mad at him when he came to things like this. He didn’t smile.

That was when I recognized something familiar in this contrary old man. Lots of us have complicated relationships with our fathers. It’s a love so humorless and fierce that it can feel like hate. I’ve tried to make peace with that dark love forever, but I’ve settled for getting better at recognizing it dressed up like someone who knows what buttons to push. Not that my father would have gone to a book talk during his life. Unless it was Louis L’Amour at the local pancake house.

The book talk started by playing my book trailer on a projector. I am so sweet on that trailer; the music makes me mushy. Then I read a couple of passages and answered a few questions. After we adjourned, the old man came to me and announced that he disagreed with me on a few things. He said he was against five acre horse properties. I nodded; it would be fine with me if we all had more land. He said all he ever rode where rescue horses; that he retrained them. So I thanked him for helping the horses.

See how good I’ve gotten at this? I used to be more defensive but I’m the one who thinks you can improve family relationships post-death. It wasn’t obvious at first; I’d get aggravated by someone, or even just uncomfortable. It would stick in my brain until it dawned on me that it wasn’t them at all, but a splinter of memory, still festering. And I had one more chance to get it right.

Then the big finale… he told me that all my horses were therapy horses and that was fine for me. He was dismissive of my training methods. His horses needed to earn their feed and not just stand around, he said, and this positive training thing didn’t work. He’d seen Parelli, he said. He gestured with both hands, wet his teeth, preparing to tell me the biggest, filthy-worst thing–that he’d seen Parelli hit a horse. I wish that was news but he’s nowhere near the first person to make that claim. He was looking at me hard, waiting for a response. First, I did the thing horses taught me. I took a breath and exhaled, to slow things down. My shoulders dropped and I smiled. I told him that I grew up just like him; riding the bad horses until they were good horses. He’s like lots of horsemen who think women are too soft to train horses, so I assure him that I’m not the one who baby talks and carries treats in my pocket; I like a good working horse as much as he does. And I thanked him for coming.

Just as he turned to go, he leaned close again and whispered, “I liked that you did what you had to do. And that you said how it felt.” and he was gone. Was that a compliment? It’s crazy what you think you hear when the blood isn’t pounding in your ears.

THIS WEEK: If you’d like a signed book, there’s a link above. This Saturday, the 19th from 2-4pm, I’ll be at The Tack Collection, 104 N Harrison Ave, Unit A, in Lafayette, Colorado. (303-666-5364) It’s my first stop in Northern Colorado and I hope to see you there.

And there is a bit of finger drumming, as I wait for the new year. The second book, Relaxed & Forward, Relationship Advice from Your Horse is ready for the final proof process, but rather than letting it get lost in the holiday rush, I’m waiting for 2016. Impatiently.

BTW: If you’ve already left a review on Amazon, thank you, and if it isn’t too much, please consider asking your friends to do the same. It takes a village for an indie book to float–a boisterous, insistent village who calls all the neighbors in to help. As always, I’m in your debt. Thank you for supporting Stable Relation.

 When I moved to my farm, I wanted to tell my father. Even after he passed, seeking his disapproval was a habit hard to break. At the same time, there’s a peace that comes with realistic expectations. So I don’t wonder what my father would have thought of my book. He would never have read it. We both know I’m no Louis L’Amour.

Social Media , Consequences, and Strange Birds

loveandfearSocial media is a bit like a snake pit. There are some snakes that are beautiful and peaceful. Some of them do jobs we appreciate like keeping an eye on rodent populations. And some are venomous; they are poison.

Social media is great. It’s an opportunity to experience the world in a larger way; to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise. I live on a small farm on the prairie and don’t get out much. With the help of the internet, I have managed to have a voice past the end of the driveway.

I never underestimate the importance of free speech or take it for granted. Even when I want to scream against bullies, haters, and fear-mongers whose voices rant for selfish reasons; to hear their own rage amplified as if disrespect and deception was a sign of intelligence. Social media is where an idea can explode out of control in a moment when readers get on a “like” button bandwagon–free speech was never easier.

Free speech on public media has consequences. This week I saw a meme saying that posting political beliefs was a good way to make the Christmas list shorter. It’s a bittersweet joke with an edge of truth; Facebook rants change how I think of my friends. I unfriend unfriendlies. Every time there’s a shooting somewhere, you can be guaranteed that the NRA gun lovers will have pulled the trigger on Second Amendment rants before the bodies are in the ground. There is no cease fire for funerals. Even children’s funerals. The meanness wears me down.

Are you concerned about the content you’re adding to the world conversation? As much as I enjoy creative profanity–and I do enjoy it–I don’t use it publicly. And since it’s always easy to find a compliment or a kernel of humor, I go with that. Let the haters hate; it’s the easy path. Naturally, I learned that in the barn too. My mentor always said it was the cheapest easiest thing to judge what was wrong with a horse or rider. It took no real talent or skill to recognize, but in the end, you judge horses or humans on a sliding scale of the least-bad thing. She required me to lift my vision, see what I liked, and reward that. Ends up it good advice for social media, too.

It isn’t a denial of what’s wrong so much as an affirmation of what we want to see. A vote that things can be better in the future. It takes more courage to lift up out of the muck and be kind than to point fingers and complain. Because the problem with gossip is that if something gets repeated often enough, it doesn’t have to be true. That damages our integrity as individuals and as a country.

I wonder if Gandhi’s words apply to Facebook:

The “Seven Social Sins”: Knowledge without character, Science without humanity, Wealth without work, Commerce without morality, Politics without principles, Pleasure without conscience, Worship without self-sacrifice.  –-Mahatma Gandhi

One of my favorite parts of this new author experience of mine is hearing from readers. I got an email from Eeva telling me that she heard me mentioned in some blogs and got my book, Stable Relation, by coincidence. She complimented the book, saying she had gone so far that… “When reading about birds, I even googled for pictures as I’m not familiar with those species you have over there.” She lives in Finland. And that’s what I love about social media; it has the ability to join us together to share our lives. We are all more alike than different. Now I’ll go google the birds on her pond.

THIS WEEK: I had a great time at the book talk at Bingo’s, our local tack store. The crowd was fun and I get a bit more comfortable each time. I’m enjoying the reading part, finally escaping grade school memories, and we all laughed like old friends. At the end, while I was signing, a wonderful woman with a winning smile asked to have her picture taken with me. I’m sure I made a face. No one has ever asked before and it wigged me out. Don’t even try to comfort me by telling me the Kardashian sisters started this way. (I hope I apologized myself out of that awkward moment… I’m pretty sure I was rude.)

A reminder: Now is a good time for that review you’ve been meaning to write on Amazon. Just a word or two, and it keeps us alive in the search world. Thank you. And this bit of news: Book two, coming in a month or so, will have just a few photos in it!

Saturday, November 28th, I’ll be signing books at Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument, Colorado from 12 to 2pm. They’re located in the Chapala Building, at 105 Second Street. (719-481-BOOK) This indie bookstore is a wonderful stop for holiday shopping. I hope to see you there.

Join us December 5th, Saturday, at High Prairie Library here in Falcon, Colorado between 1-3pm. I’ll be reading, taking questions and signing books. The library has also purchased books that will be available for lend soon. Libraries are the place dreams are born, come and say hello!

I am so grateful for all the kind words and support that has lifted this little book. Wishing you a Thanksgiving that gives pause to laugh and see the best in the world. And in this season, where social media memes remind us that we are all refugees, I will cast my one tiny vote for love to be just one inch bigger than fear.