Embracing the Courage to Follow Your Dreams…

I’m starting to get a good idea now why people travel. As someone who hasn’t traveled a lot herself, I’d always assumed it was about the journey to see things you’d never seen before. Stained glass in a cathedral in Rome. A Saturn 5 rocket in its entirety. The Hope Diamond. The Greek Isles. A quintessential British fishing village in Cornwall.

I’m beginning to see that it really about the journey itself. Like the poem, Ithaca, which I’ve always loved but never fully appreciated, the story is in the journey.

You might think the title of this blog post is cumbersome. Well, it is. I chose it because while I know many people with the courage to follow their dreams, I don’t know all that many with the courage to *embrace* what that means.  Case in point: I came across this wonderful cartoon illustrating the words of Astronaut Extraordinaire Chris Hadfield (my new personal hero, in case you hadn’t noticed). What a wonderful cartoon about the sacrifices we have to make when we set out on the path of following our dreams. But what amazing rewards are there for us if we do so. I confess, however, when I set on the course to become a writer, I wasn’t prepared for the sacrifices I would willingly make for my passion. Less time riding the horse. Annoyance with the dog when he still wouldn’t lie down and be quiet after a long run. Watching an hour or two of television a week instead of my usual shows nightly. Telling my boyfriend I’d be along to bed in a few minutes as I am typing and when I glance at my watch next, two hours have passed. And the guilt. Oh, the guilt. Sometimes it hurts knowing how much of the brief time I have with my animals that I’ve wasted these past years. I’m conscious of that in general, having made choices that hurt me professionally, personally, and economically because they were the right thing to do at the time. What was less apparent to me was how much I resented the fact that I’d made some of these choices. How much I resented that I’d put my life on hold for so long and now it was taking me a long time to really find my way, what I was meant to do with my life.

I just came back from an amazing weekend at Galaction 3 and ComicPalooza. What an experience! 20 K plus fans from all over the world, gathering together to celebrate their love of their fandoms. One of the important things about fandoms is that they give us permission to think big, dream big, and act out on these fantasies even when the reality is not possible. No, I will never pick up everything and head through a Stargate into the Pegasus galaxy as part of an expedition but I can take the lessons learned from my favorite characters and work hard to follow the dream that is a bit more within my reach. I can emulate the characteristics that make a character a personal favorite–the courage, the toughness, the honor, etc. and use them in my daily life to achieve my goals. That’s what heroes are for, after all.

A Black Widow Fan!

A Black Widow Fan!

One of the things I’ve discovered about traveling is that it takes you out of the hum-drum everyday existence of our lives and puts us in new situations. I try new foods when I’m on vacation. I talk to people I’ve never met before, I have the most interesting conversations. When you are mired in the day-to-day routine of your life, it is difficult to have much to say sometimes. I think social media is a bit to blame for a creeping dissatisfaction that I’ve experienced in my life recently. When I was new to the business of social media, I wrote a post titled Does Facebook Make Us Depressed? While my views have been tempered through the years, I still feel the same about many aspects of social media.

After all, I haven’t lost 50 pounds, won 50 million dollars, or had a number one book on the best seller list for 50 weeks. I rarely go anywhere special. While I love taking pictures with my little point-and-shoot camera, they’re nothing spectacular and there’s a limit to how many pictures of horses, dogs, and flowers people want to see. My day-to-day workday is emotionally draining (and not something I want to relive in a blog post unless I do so to be rid of it). The fact is, my life is pretty boring most days. It’s hard to find something meaningful and worthwhile to blog about on a regular basis. And yet social media is how most of us interact with our friends these days, so we tend to natter on about the minutia of our lives just so we’re there with our friends. I misplaced my phone earlier today and you’d have thought I’d lost a thousand dollars with the way I panicked and began searching the car for it. The relief I felt when I found it was enormous. Not because I found my phone. Because I found my *connection* with my world.

But I learned some interesting things about myself this weekend. I met a lot of people from all walks of life (and I do have more to say about my experiences at Galacticon). And a couple of things struck me. Most of the people I know don’t have it easy. Many of my friends and acquaintances are just squeaking by. For a long time now, I’ve felt bad when I want to whine about the circumstances in my life because I know so many people who have it ten times worse. I also know that just because my problems are comparatively mild, that doesn’t discount the impact it has on my life.

However, a chance conversation with a woman beside me on the flight home really opened my eyes to this idea of embracing the courage to follow your dreams. At first glance, someone who decided she wanted to compete in dressage on an international level might seem like someone smoking crack. But this woman had a plan. She was giving it her all. She’d committed to it in the way that my favorite quote about persistence had done:

Nothing in the world can take place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. ~Calvin Coolidge~

And she embraced it. She sat there in the seat beside me, saying, “Sure I could have taken the corporate job working 80 hours a week for $40 K a year, but I’m making almost that much now and I’m happy. I have health insurance, I have a Roth IRA. I’m not being stupid about this. Just because it’s not putting me on a fast-track to making more money down the line doesn’t mean that I’m crazy. Well, okay, maybe the riding horses part does.”

She showed me on her iPad the lovely photos of the horses she’d gone to look at that weekend as she shopped for her next FEI prospect. This is not one she looked at, merely an example of what an FEI dressage horse entails.

We talked of sport horses and science-fiction, of corporate America, and of personal happiness. And I realized that while I was very good at comparing myself to others and seeing where I didn’t stack up, I was forgetting some of the most important things.

I made these choices. I chose to make less money working for myself than to stay in a job where I was expected to work 60-70 hours a week for 9.5 vacation days a year that I could not ever take consecutively. I chose to move to a small rural town where I could keep my big horse and my big dog and enjoy having the things I loved around me instead of working in a big city for more money in a job that made me suicidal. I made a choice to stop competing my horse because I wanted her to still be around for me to love more than I wanted another ribbon or trophy on my wall. Yeah, my life can be tough sometimes, but I chose it. I chose to start writing again and I allowed it to consume my life. And you know what? I can also chose how I feel about this. I can either piss and moan about my troubles and the incessant, grinding toil that is my life, or I can embrace it, cracking the bones and sucking out the marrow because it’s mine.

No, it won’t make it possible for me to magically pay the bills if there’s no money in the checking account. No, it won’t erase the weird food intolerances I’ve developed in the last few years or prevent me from getting cancer, or make me look like I did when I was 23. But I do have ultimate control over my attitude and I choose to embrace the choices I’ve made to become a writer.

Oh! Speaking of which, I just found out today that The Boys of Summer has been listed on Goodreads Best M/M Romances Published in 2013! (How’s that for a sneaky segue, but it’s true, I just found out a little while ago!) How astonishing is that? It’s been out only six weeks! I am delighted and terribly flattered too!

The Boys of Summer400x600

 

 

 

 

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I was invited by Angie of Love Romances and More to participate in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop—a sort of pyramidal branching hop where one person sends questions to five people, who post their questions to five people, who select another five people and post the following week, and so on and so on, like that old seventies shampoo commercial. I liked the idea of it—for one thing, I like blog hops. For another, it’s fun to see how different people answer the same questions. The best part I think, though, lies in the fact that your commitment is to only five people a week. I’ve found for me personally, if there are over 200 people participating in a weekend hop, I’m lucky if I get to more than the top 20-30 on the list. So yes, I thought this would be great fun!

The plan was to answer preset questions about your latest release or your WIP. In this case, my answers are for one and the same! If that sounds strange, it’s because I’m currently working on an expanded version of my sport horse story, Lightning in a Bottle, which is part of the Going for Gold Anthology from MLR Press. So, without further ado, the questions!

The Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?

Hold the Reins, which is an allusion to the fact that not only can there only be one person in charge of where the horse goes, but also to the behind-the-scenes manipulations of Jake’s father. Jake and Rich have found their way back together at the end of Lightning in a Bottle, but being together is never simply a case of Happily Ever After, The End. Relationships are hard work, and relationships that have trust issues are even harder. The two men will have to feel their way into their repaired relationship, all the while dealing with the pressures of Olympic competition and living in the spotlight.

Jake will have to decide if he will pursue his tentative relationship with Rich or hang on to all he knows, particularly when that includes the health and well-being of the man that has always been a father figure to him, Jim Banks. There are no easy answers because of his tumultuous relationship with his father, Patrick Stanford, and the lengths Patrick has gone to in order to keep Jake and Rich apart.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Oh, that’s an easy one! I recently had to retire my own sport horse from eventing, a very bittersweet decision on my part. When I read the submission prompt for a short story involving Olympic athletes for the M/M anthology, I confess, my first thought was that I bet there would be a lot of submissions about diving and swimming (and why not? SPEEDOS!) but that I’d probably be the only one to sub a story about eventing—one of those sports that only gets 3 minutes of airtime on the main broadcasting channel and you have to have cable and a TiVo (or a very patient boyfriend with these things!) to see any of the rest of it.

Well… 10 K became 25 K, and the next thing I know, I’m staring at a story that is too big to tell in the allotted space. I didn’t know what to do! Fortunately the terrific people at MLR Press let me make all kinds of last minute revisions so that an expanded version would make sense, and I’ve been working on it ever since. Slower than I would like, but moving forward just the same. I’ve had both heavy work commitments and some pressing family health issues, so writing has taken a bit of a back seat at the moment. I’m about 2/3 of the way done, though, and I hope to have it completed in short order.

What genre does your book fall under?

Definitely contemporary M/M romance.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This was an incredibly tough question to answer. I don’t have a lot of time to watch television or go to the movies anymore, so I tend to be behind the times on the latest, hottest actors. Also, my characters are a bit older than your average Olympian, as eventing is a sport where people can compete for decades—one of the reasons I love it is because your partner is a horse, and this makes it one of the few sports where men and women compete directly against each other as well.

I ended up having to ask friends who’d read the story for help, and this is what we came up with:

For Rich Evans, I would cast Joshua Jackson (Fringe). It isn’t just about the blue eyes and the boyish good looks—there’s something about his presence and the kinetic energy in his hands that makes him a good fit for Rich.

Jake was much harder. I had a strong mental image of what Jake looked like (being kind of partial to that ‘type’) but I was looking for something a little less scruffy than my usual go-to look. I needed someone who had the smoothness of being raised in wealth and the benefit and polish of a prep-school education, while still retaining that bad-boy toughness about him.

One of my friends suggested Sebastian Stan (Bucky from Captain America) and though I couldn’t see it at first, the more I looked at images of this actor online, the more I did. He has that ageless quality about him that only gets better with time, and that is definitely Jake!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Horse-crazy boys fall in love, are separated by circumstances, and learn to overcome obstacles to find love and trust again.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m hoping MLR Press will pick up the option, but a lot of that will depend on my ability to meet their deadline. If I can’t, then the book will just have to sit on the shelf for a while until the rights for the novella return to me. That’s okay if that happens–I’ve got plenty of other projects to work on! I hope that I can get this finished on time however, and that the end product is something that pleases everyone.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Um, still working…

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s the fun part, I can’t think of any off the top of my head—most of the horse-related stories in the M/M genre that I’ve read have been about cowboys, not event riders! From the standpoint of a contemporary m/m romance set in a realistic sports background, maybe Alan Chin’s Matchmaker? I know that’s presumptuous of me to place my name in the same sentence with Chin, but I’m thinking in terms of the storyline here. 🙂

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Well, I was galloping along madly with the novella for submission to the anthology, when one of my beta readers said, “You realize you have the makings of a really good novel here, right?”

I realized she was right, only I was already committed to the anthology. Fortunately the people at MLR Press have been *very* accommodating!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Let’s see… have you ever seen eventing? It’s the triathlon of horse sports, with a dressage phase (Tall boots! Breeches! Gloves! Riding crops!) that combines elegance, precision, and strength to move your horse through a series of elements. From there, you go on to the cross-country phase where you gallop across miles of challenging terrain, leaping unusual and tricky combinations of fences at speed. A lot of horse and rider teams get eliminated there. The final element is show jumping, where the fences are bigger, the turns are tighter, and the stakes are higher as the remaining competitors go for the gold. What is there not to love about that?

Going for Gold is available now from MLR Press: 8 novellas by your favorite M/M authors featuring Olympians vying for that greatest award of all–love.

My other blog hop contributors will be posting their answers to these same questions next week:

Xanthe Walter

Clare London

Cooper West

Sue Holston

Whitley Gray

Aundrea Singer

You can also follow the rest of The Next Big Thing bloggers on Twitter with the hashtag #NextBigThing

 

 

Going For Gold: the Primer in Olympic Eventing continues!

As promised, here is part two of my primer on the equine sport known as Eventing.  For part one, check out my blog post here.

A quick recap: eventing is the triathlon of the horse sport world, made up of three phases, dressage, cross-country, and stadium (or ‘show’) jumping.

Dressage is often the hardest phase for the observer to understand. Each horse and rider must perform specific elements of a test where they ride a precise pattern. Unlike the straight discipline of dressage, the individual elements are usually a bit less complex, and the scoring is different as well. In straight dressage (also an Olympic event), horses are scored out of a possible 100 points, so a high score is good.

A short excerpt from Lightening in a Bottle to describe the importance and scoring of dressage in eventing:

Having a good dressage score is critical to winning. Each movement in the test is scored on a scale from zero to ten, with the total score depending on number of movements and the difficulty of the test itself. The marks are then added together, converted to penalty points, and subtracted from 100. Because of this convoluted scoring system, the lower your dressage score, the better the rank. After dressage, the only way to move up is by someone else making a mistake.

The purpose of dressage is to show that you are able to ride in a controlled manner, communicating complex changes of direction and movement with your legs and hands in such a way that it doesn’t look like you are signaling the horse at all. A well executed dressage test is like watching a dance between partners who know each other so well they do not have to speak. Dressage means ‘training’, and it was originally a discipline created around military maneuvers and the ability to riding horses in formation, changing direction at will, while still having hands free to fire a weapon or wield a sword. The upper level movements that some of you may have seen the Royal Lipizzaners perform are called Airs Above the Ground, and all have their origins in defending a rider from attack.

Did you see Colbert’s report on dressage on his show, the Colbert Report? Though it was a hysterical tongue-in-cheek report (full of risqué allusions as well), it does give you an idea of the difficulty involved in the training. The dressage movement in the video, the piaffe, is not performed in evening dressage, that is considered an upper level movement for the pure dressage format. Colbert on Dressage

I include it here because, damn, Colbert cleans up nice. And in his final outfit, he is dressed in the appropriate attire for the show ring, wearing a top hat, a coat known as a shadbelly, white breeches (pronounced ‘britches’ by most people in the US), and tall boots. So when you are picturing Jake preparing to enter the show ring, that’s what he’d be wearing.

The cross country phase is admittedly my favorite. I suspect that had a lot to do with the fact that my very first horse (purchased for eighty-nine cents a pound when I was a freshman in college), enjoyed it too. He would light up when he spied the first fence on course, flattening his body and making for the fence at a hard gallop. When you consider that I normally had to push him into doing anything, it was a surprise and a joy to find my horse’s heart singing with mine as we took the obstacles.

Because that’s what they are: obstacles. The cross country phase has you jumping down off banks, over ditches, into ponds of water, out over stone walls, you name it. You might have to jump through the center of a hedge, or in out of a tricky combination of fences designed to encourage your horse to run out to the side to avoid them. Typically done at a gallop the entire way, the course can be as long as 3-4 miles. There are usually multiple possible approaches to a fence, to allow for an easier jump that might earn you time penalties. The course must be finished clean with no refusals or falls, and under the optimum time to avoid penalties. Due to the challenging nature of the course, elimination at this phase is not unusual. Three refusals, a fall anywhere on the course, failure to wear appropriate medical information in a band on your arm, or the rider’s decision to pull the horse from the course—these are all reasons why a horse might get eliminated in this round. In the 2012 Rolex Event in Kentucky this past April, nearly half the field was eliminated on cross country.

The riders here typically wear ‘colors’ similar to a jockey on a racehorse. Often the colors represent a barn if there are more than one rider/horse combination present. The riders typically wear breeches of any color (though on single day trials, riders often remain in the white breeches from the dressage phase), and a pleasing combination of colors—mine were Kelly green and black, though I have Jake wearing red and black, another combination that I really like. There are no rules on color here—only that you wear the appropriate protective helmet and body protector (which we jokingly call ‘body bags’ around our barn).

The final element is stadium jumping, which is a bit of a combination of the two former phases, in that you are asked to ride your horse through a series of challenging obstacles, but due to the tight turns, tricky combinations, and the precise spacing between the fences, you must have precision riding through the entire course. The fences are laid out in a manner such that if you come into a combination wrong, it will be very difficult for you to get out of it without knocking something down. And unlike cross country, where the fences are large, immovable objects, the stadium fences are designed so that brushing against a rail can bring it down. Competitors are penalized (given ‘faults’) for dropping rails, refusals, and going over time. The winner of the event is the horse and rider with the best score after all three phases.

I look back on this summation and think, “Man, you have to be a little nuts to be an event rider.” It’s true, you do. It’s hours of training no matter the weather or the time of day. Unless you are riding a minimum of four to five days a week, neither you nor the horse will be safe out there. You will ride until every muscle in your body begs for mercy, and you will break bones and your bank account too. Prepping for an event takes a full day of cleaning tack, shampooing and braiding your horse, and loading the van so you can pull out of the stable in the pre-dawn light and drive to the event hours away. It’s sunburn, and heatstroke, and hypoglycemia, and nerves that make you want to throw up. Your day isn’t done until you’ve taken care of your horse, cleaned the van, and stowed your gear so that you can come back the next day and wash everything for use the next time you head out. It’s a brutal way to spend a weekend.

And I miss it very much.

I chose to retire my horse from the sport earlier this year, after having almost lost her twice in the past six months. I don’t need to compete her to know that I have the most marvelous horse in the world, but I miss it just the same.

Which is why I chose to write about this world for my submission to the Going for Gold Anthology soon to be released by MLR Press.  I can’t tell you how excited I am about this story.  This environment and the characters are so real to me, it was as though I was a reporter recording their story as it played out in front of me.  Jake, his determination and fearlessness over fences, but his need to guard his heart.  Rich, who has lost everything and put his life back together from scratch, setting aside his own dreams to help others chase theirs. I can’t wait to share their story with you!  Hear those hoofbeats?  The horses are coming very soon!

Out now! Going for Gold from MLR Press!

Going for Gold: the new Olympics anthology coming out soon!

I’m pleased to announce that my novella, Lightning in a Bottle, will be part of the new Olympic-themed anthology Going for Gold, soon to be released by MLR Press.

I thought in anticipation of this exciting event, I would offer a short primer about the sport at the center of my story–the equestrian Three Day Event. I got so involved in the ‘short primer’ however, that I’m going to have to break this blog down into sections, so stay tuned for further installments as we get closer to release day!

First, let me preface this post with a disclaimer: although I have competed in this sport myself, it has only been at the baby levels! I am no expert here. The rules of the sport are quite complicated and constantly changing. My summation here is a bit like Cliff Notes: it may help you grasp the general idea of Much Ado About Nothing, but you’d better not use them for the final exam essay in your Shakespeare class.

 

(Hey, don’t look at my form over fences here–it was my first recognized event and I was very, very nervous!)

If you’ve been able to catch a glimpse of eventing during the 2012 Summer Games in London, you might have heard this sport referred to as the ‘triathlon’ of horse sports. I think that’s a fair description. The sport evolved out of testing maneuvers for the cavalry. It can be held as a one day event (often called a Horse Trial) where all three elements are performed on the same day—this is most often done at the lower levels and is the sort of competition that I’ve participated in. The three components of the competition are dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping. I’ve provided a link here for more detailed descriptions of each phase.  At the higher levels, the events are rated by the Concours Complet International, a governing body that ranks the events as one star, two star, and so on, up to four star (or Olympic) level.  These events are typically depicted in writing as as CCI*** for a three star event, but I’ve chosen to write them out in Lightening In A Bottle for better reader comprehension.

At the more advanced levels, the competition is spread over a course of several days. For many years, it was called “three day eventing”, and each day was devoted to a different phase. These days it is more commonly held over four days, with the first two days devoted to dressage (as many riders compete more than one horse, it takes a lot of time to finish all the dressage tests). The cross-country phase used to be called the “Endurance” phase, but more and more venues have adopted the ‘short’ format of the cross-country phase, which eliminates the Roads and Tracks portion, as well as the Steeplechase. The final phase is the stadium jumping. Eventing is one of the few Olympic sports in which men and women compete directly against each other.

Eliminating the long format of the “Endurance” phase has been a pretty controversial decision. Ostensibly, it was made because few venues have the land to hold such extended events, or the capability to run all the phases of the “Endurance” portion in the available space. The change in format now favors the heavier, European warmblood breeds over the lighter, faster Thoroughbreds which used to dominate the sport. The warmbloods tend to prevail in the dressage phase as well, which is crucial to scoring well overall in the event. Perhaps not coincidentally, there is a lot of money to be made in breeding sport horses these days. In the early days when the sport was moving away from cavalry horses, the mount of choice was an ex-racehorse. A nice off-the-track Thoroughbred can be purchased for re-training for around $1500. Contrast to the cost of the average purpose-bred sport horse, which can easily run in the $150,000 range.

There are many people who feel the elimination from the more challenging endurance elements, as well as the drive to breed winners for sale, has created a situation in which riders are bringing horses to competition too young, and pushing them too hard. The sport has taken some heat in recent years for the sharp increase in the number of fatal injuries among both horses and riders. The change in format has been blamed for this by some, who point out that the types of fences and challenges really haven’t changed all that much over the years.

After the recent fatalities, some major safety measure were instituted, including use of more ‘skinny’ and ‘corner’ fences that challenged a rider’s skill to get his mount over it, while still allowing a horse to run out to the side to avoid it. Other changes included automatic elimination after a fall of any sort, regardless if a fence was involved, and changing fence designs so that a horse was less likely to flip over it if striking it mid-chest, causing the horse to crush the rider. Protective gear and medical arm bands are mandatory pieces of equipment and the horses are required to pass a vet test both before and after the event.

By this point, you may be asking yourself what does any of this have to do with a romance between two men in this challenging sport? Well, um, tall boots. Riding crops. Form-fitting breeches. Are you getting the picture? Now add to it the competitive drive and a thirst for a dangerous sport, and you have an inkling of the reason why I was drawn to telling a story about this world.

Next up, part two, where I give you a break down on each phase of the event and a sneak preview of the characters, Jake and Rich, and how they went from being friends to lovers to opposite sides of the rail.

Out now! Going for Gold from MLR Press!