The Evolution of Halloween

Welcome to my Howloween Blog Hop post! Anyone leaving a comment here will be in the running to win a signed, print copy of Going For Gold, the M/M Olympic themed anthology from MLR Press, including my sport horse novella, Lightning in a Bottle (if you live in the continental US) or the reader’s choice from my backlist in e-book form (if you live outside the US). Comments for the contest will be considered up until Nov 1, then a winner will be selected randomly from among the commenters.

The contest is now closed and the winner is vitajex! I’ll be contacting you via email–thanks for playing along, guys!

When I was a child, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I didn’t care for the Fourth of July with the fireworks and the cookouts. It took far too long to get to the park where we could see the fireworks display, and even longer getting out at the end of the evening. Ditto with New Year’s. A lot of noise and the making of resolutions no one ever keeps. Valentine’s Day was usually a bust for me too; with me complaining loudly to all who would listen that V-day was a commercial holiday orchestrated by society to force us into buying flowers and dinner out at a fancy restaurant. Thanksgiving seemed like a lot of work for an hour’s worth of good dining (though the days of leftovers helped make up for it!). Christmas Eve, in which everything was still a potential, (and nothing yet had disappointed) was always my favorite over Christmas Day.

But when I was growing up, Halloween had a special kind of magic all its own. For starters, there was the dressing up and going Trick or Treating. I don’t know about you guys, but Trick or Treating was a Big Deal when I was a kid. My grandmother had made me a tiger suit when I was very small–and being a sickly child who didn’t grow much, I was able to wear this outfit year after year. I loved my tiger suit. It fit over my entire body, compete with tail and a hoodie with ears.  My mom would draw whiskers on my face with her eyebrow pencil, and I would drape my tail over my arm as I headed out the door with my pumpkin basket to collect my candy.

Back then, Halloween was the culmination of my favorite time of the year.  I loved going back to school when I was a child. I loved that first day in September when the temperature dropped by 20 degrees and you had to take a sweater with you, ‘just in case’. I loved the crackle of dry leaves underfoot–the scratchy sound they made on the pavement as you walked through them. Even the air was different–smelling of wood smoke and damp earth, cool and crisp as a Red Delicious apple. October was all red and yellow leaves, gorgeous afternoons with bars of light that lay in heavy bands of gold across the path in the woods. November is different. By the time November arrives, the trees are bare, the afternoons are cold and rainy. Halloween is the last, best week of the most glorious time of year.

But on Halloween, everyone would pull out the stops.  People carved pumpkins and placed lighted candles within to indicate they were receptive to Trick or Treaters. We would wait, dressed in our costumes, until dusk, after which we would hit the streets. Back then, people knew their neighbors. My favorite house to visit belonged to Mrs. Hutchins–she made the most incredible gingerbread men–each individually decorated.  Not to be outdone, my mother made popcorn balls and created little airplanes out of Popsicle sticks and Lifesavers–the tube of Lifesavers making the body of the plane, and two Lifesavers were used as wheels.

Somewhere along the way, Halloween changed. Pixie stix were found to be laced with cyanide, and candy was showing up with razor blades inside. My father insisted that our candy be radiographed at the hospital where he worked before we ate it, and my parents refused to to let us eat anything that was homemade anymore. I outgrew my tiger suit, and trick or treating in the neighborhood was replaced by Halloween parties. My parents were not big party throwers, so Halloween became something to set aside, as another part of my childhood that I shelved on growing up.

I noticed the other night that in the upscale neighborhoods near my house, homes are decorated for Halloween now as seriously as some people take Christmas, with colored lights and inflatable displays that go up at the first of October and stay up until Thanksgiving (when the Christmas decorations come out). Some are gorgeously and tastefully decorated with little orange lights and garlands of brightly colored leaves winding around the railings. Some are a little more out there…

Great. One more thing that I can’t keep up with due to lack of time. As it is, I no longer decorate for Christmas. I just can’t do all that work when half the time, I’m not even there. Decorating your house for the holidays is so that you can pull up at night and see the lights glowing in the impending dusk. It sort of dampens the effect if you have to go inside and turn the lights on first, you know?

I never lost my love of dressing up in costume, however. My mother, freed from the pressure of keeping up with the likes of Mrs. Hutchins, refused to acknowledge the day. One year, I’d come home from college for the weekend, only to find my mother heading out to a movie, house darkened, no candy available.

Well, screw that, I thought. After she left, I went to the store and bought some candy. When I got back to the house, I scrounged around until I put together an outfit that could have passed for a woman in Colonial Williamsburg–a floor length skirt, a long sleeved, high-necked blouse.  I piled my hair on top of my head and picked up a camping lantern. I left the lights off in the house, and wandered through the rooms with the lantern, pausing in windows so I could be seen from the street.  I have to admit, more than one car screeched to a stop when passing the house!

I decided that if anyone rang the doorbell, I would liberally hand out candy without speaking.  I did get a few callers, though I suspect the lights being out discouraged most of them. I do remember one small child, leaning in with her basket to receive her candy, saying in a voice filled with awe, “You’re beautiful!”

I didn’t hear that a lot when I was young. It made an impression. 🙂

Somehow, I never let go of Halloween. Even with nowhere to go, I still wanted to dress for the day. There’s something about putting on a costume that is so liberating. I tend to dress as favorite characters from movies or stories, as opposed to the Sexy Witch, or the Sexy Vampire. Dressing as a favorite character imbues you with their strengths, and for a brief period of time, you are your hero.  I’ve written about Walking like Beckett and what I’ve learned from that, but over the years, I’ve been Athena from the original Battlestar Galactica series, and I’ve worn my Star Trek Next Gen (science blue) outfit for years. I’ve purchased the short dress uniform from the Star Trek Reboot, and Starbuck’s uniform from the new Battlestar Galactica, too.

But making my own costume makes me happier than any pre-made one. There’s something about the hunt for all the right components that’s akin to searching the used bookstores for an elusive out-of-print book. Sure, you could probably find it online–but the treasure hunt is part of the fun. This year, I’ve decided to go as Peggy Carter from Captain America. My word, I love the feisty heroine! Take a strong female character (strong, not bitchy!), dress her in a WW II uniform and put lipstick on her, and I am your devoted slave. Peggy Carter is everything I would like to be–tough but feminine, purpose-driven but believing in heroes, and one helluva shot!  I loved how–period not withstanding–Peggy was not simply the love interest in the movie, but out there in the thick of things fighting with everyone else.

So for months now, I’ve been putting together a costume. An authentic uniform (or as close as I can get). Olive military jacket and skirt (wool). A white shirt. An olive tie. Silver wings. Kick-ass shoes.

I mentioned to a friend that I needed to find just the right ‘wartime red’ lipstick to finish the outfit, and she surprised me with a package the other day. She discovered that the favorite lipstick of the day was Victory Red by Elizabeth Arden, and that they still make it! She sent me a tube, along with an era authentic compact (Stratton–what ALL the English women used), and the piece de la resistance, a pendant with the likeness of Captain Steve Rogers embedded in it!

Do you know how much fun it is when your friends get involved in your fandom loves?  It’s magical.  It’s what Halloween is all about.

Be sure to leave your email in your comments so that I can contact you if you are the winner!

Going for Gold is the M/M Olympic themed anthology from MLR Press! Ice skating, diving, equestrian eventing, competitive shooting and more! There’s something for everyone (especially if you like hot athletes in Speedos, or tight breeches and tall boots!)

Coming Soon from Sarah Madison…

Today is rainy and cold, as much of the US is experiencing a cold snap for the first time this fall. My thoughts turn to autumn and how this is my favorite time of the year. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I’ve been much busier than usual, which has really cut into my writing time. I have a little unexpected time off these next few days and I plan to spend it working on Hold the Reins, the expanded version of my novella Lightning in a Bottle, which is part of the Going for Gold Anthology from MLR Press.

I love these characters and the sport horse world, so writing this story should be a snap. right? Not really. I have to make sure I don’t duplicate or reveal too much of what happens in the already printed novella section, as well as try and fix some things that weren’t completely developed there (I re-wrote a huge bit of LIAB on the fly, with the blessing of MLR Press, so that writing this expanded version would even make sense). I am finding this much harder to do than I’d expected, and the demands of work tough as well. Since I’m an inveterate tinkerer when it comes to my WIPs, I simply don’t understand how anyone can post segments of an unfinished work online anywhere! I’m constantly revising. If I see a glimmer of gold on the stream bed, I’m going to sift through that scene until I can determine if it is a vein worth pursuing or not.

I’m over-extended in a serious way and looking gratefully toward the holiday season, when things normally slow down a bit for me. But autumn, that’s my Holy Season. The sunlight slants through the trees in the afternoon, the spectrum of color a rich yellow that lights up the falling leaves from within and highlights their shades of red and gold. In a few short weeks, the trees will be bare, and the now-crisp leaves underfoot will turn to wet mulch. The light will slide from yellow toward the clear, cold white of winter. Autumn is such a brief time of magic and wonder, when the heat and humidity have finally broken and you can see the mountains clearly for the first time since the spring. I have a few days planned off here and there, but nothing like the actual vacation I need to recharge my batteries and get my mind wrapped around writing again. So for now, it’s write when I can, and hope it doesn’t completely tank.

I’ve finished some other writing commitments while others still languish. When I have very little time to work on too many projects, too often I spin in circles when I do get some time, dashing from project to project, envisioning scenes for something I can’t work on right now, frittering away the morning in chats or on Twitter because I can’t seem to settle down to work. Well, I’m going to be a good girl after this post and shut the browser. I’m NOT joining in on a chat, I’m not heading over to Facebook. I’m going to pull out the WIP and see if I can figure out what the problem is with it and whether it is salvageable as written or if I need to scrap the 7 K written and start over.

In other news, I’ve got a blog post up at KMN Books, which is a short scene between Tate and Alex from Crying for the Moon, in which they discuss Halloween and why Alex doesn’t celebrate it. Crying for the Moon was recently awarded 1st runner up in the category of Best Paranormal of 2011 in the Golden Rose Awards. One of the judges stated, “Crying for the Moon is a wonderful paranormal story. Author Sarah
Madison has managed to refresh the vampire/werewolves stories that are
the current fad! Well done! I look forward to more from this author.”

I’m delighted and honored to be among such distinguished authors and their stories! Of course, now I feel guilty that I haven’t been working on those promised sequels…

Anyone who leaves a comment on the KMN post before Oct 10th is eligible to win a signed, print copy of Going for Gold (if you live in the continental US) or reader’s choice from my backlist as an e-book. Hurry before the contest ends!

Speaking of the need to hurry, you should also run over to Dreamspinner Press and check out all their specials this month of October. New discounts are available every few days in honor of specific events this month–so many DSP authors are traveling to conventions and almost every paranormal story will have a discount this month as well. But the days vary and the specials don’t last for long, so check them out before it’s too late!

Also coming up soon, guest blog posts from Cooper West, Nessa L. Warrin, and my dear writing pal, Claire Russett. I’m also doing a blog hop at the end of the month: The Howloween Blog Hop! (I don’t think that link is live yet, though)

Lest you think I’m not planning any fun at all for myself, I’ve almost put together the finishing touches on my Peggy Carter costume for Halloween (yes, I spent FAR too much money on this, but come on, Peggy Carter!! It had to be as close to perfect as possible!) and I’m going to a get-together of fandom friends too.

Or maybe I just like shoes… 🙂

So don’t be surprised if you don’t see much of me around–this means I’m working my tail off writing!

Crying for the Moon 1st Runner Up in the 2011 Golden Rose Awards for Best Paranormal Story!

I just found out that Crying for the Moon was selected as 1st runner up in the 2011 Golden Rose Awards (held by Love Romances and More) in the category of best Paranormal story! I can’t tell you how delighted I am–unlike some of the awards contests out there, this one is determined by a panel of judges, as opposed to popular vote. To come in as 1st runner up is a great honor!

 


Glitterfy.com – Rose Glitter Graphics

I’m also pleased to share with you a short scene with the two characters from that novel, Alex and Tate, as they discuss why Alex doesn’t ‘do’ Halloween. It’s part of KMN Books month long celebration of Haunt-o-Ween, so please, drop by and leave a comment with your email address–someone will be chosen randomly to receive a signed, print copy of Going for Gold, the M/M Olympic themed anthology, in which I have a novella about the sport of equine eventing.

I have some guest authors planned as well in the upcoming months, as well as plans to participate in a few blog hops, so stay tuned: more information will follow!

 

The Quiet Observer

This morning dawned as a perfect September day. I don’t know if I can convey to you just what it feels like after a summer of oppressive humidity, the air so wet that your glasses fog when you step outside, and even when the temperatures drop in the evening to what should be a reasonable level, it is still like trying to breathe underwater.

So when I woke up this morning to temperatures in the fifties (the FIFTIES!) and the air so clear and crisp it was like biting into a Red Delicious, it was a no-brainer as to what I would do this morning. Laundry? Uh, no, despite the fact that if I don’t do some soon that is not dog-related, I will be reduced to wearing my PJs. And I don’t own any PJs. Working on the presentation I’m supposed to give next week? Ugh. No. I need to do that, I know, I know. Working on my expanded version of Lightning in a Bottle, the novella that is part of the Going for Gold Anthology? Yes, definitely, I know I need to do that today. I will find the time somewhere.

But hands down the winner this morning was taking the dog out for a run in the National Forest. How could I resist? Lately H has lost both of his regular exercise activities, as the move to a new barn meant moving to a no-dogs barn, as well as losing access to a dog-friendly swimming pool that decided to close. When you have a 95 pound German Shepherd that needs to run until his brains come out his nose every day in order for you to live with him (otherwise it is a bit like having a 2 year old racehorse living in your house), finding the time and place to exercise him safely is challenging. Fortunately for us, a friend told me about a little used access road that takes me to a part of the forest that is not as well traveled as some. The paths are still well-marked, but they are more like goat-tracks with long winding climbs up a ridge and ankle busting rocks at every step. Not a favorite for joggers and cyclists, but perfect for me and the dog.

It occurred to me as I was huffing and puffing my way up this trail today that a change in routine might not be such a bad thing. I’d been pretty upset about the no-dogs policy at the new barn and stressing about how I would carve out yet ONE MORE activity in the day, given how I used to combine running the dog in the woods with my barn activity at the old place. When you are as pressed for time as I am on a routine basis, even small adjustments to the schedule are tough. Finding an extra hour and half to take the dog some place safe to run off lead–well, let me tell you–I thought I was looking at a future in which H never got to run off lead again. And I’m sorry, but I simply cannot run enough myself with him trotting alongside me to keep him fit and sane.

What I realized this morning though was I’d gotten complacent. The goat-track was tough; more of a workout than I’ve been doing lately. It was also beautiful, and there was an exhilaration in being in a different place for a change. My senses were on alert, my brain was not simply on autopilot. I gloried in the play of light and shadow on the path before me, the excitement of a happy dog running ahead. I even noticed the tiny little flying bugs that would light up from within when they flew into a sunbeam (and recall how Ridley Scott, a talented director in many ways, got that so very wrong in the little remembered Legend, filling the screen with so many golden gnats no one would have been able to speak in such a forest without eating them).

I am quite the shutterbug. I don’t have any real gift for it, and I have a pretty simple camera, but I love taking pictures. I think part of the reason I like taking pictures is because I have this insatiable need to ‘capture the moment’. I want to remember clearly how it felt to walk the sun-dappled path. To watch my dog come to a halt in front of me, a laughing grin on his face as his breath curls in a vapor around his panting mouth. To look at a picture of this morning six months from now and remember how great it felt to be in the woods on this September morning, the clear blue sky visible through the trees at the top of the ridge ahead of me. I have tons of pictures of my dogs, my cats, my horses in the sunlight. Pictures that are meaningful to no one but me. Pictures of the same scene over and over. Because I want to capture it.

Even as I was walking, I was thinking about writing this blog. I found myself comparing my out-of-shape walking muscles with my out-of-shape writing muscles and telling myself, “Oh, that’s good, you need to write that one down.” I realized that I’m much happier as an observer than a participant in most cases. I love taking pictures–I’d rather be the photographer than the competitor at the horse shows (though sadly, I wish at least ONE person of my acquaintance was any good with a camera because I don’t have a decent picture of me doing anything with any of my animals…)

I write because I want to capture moments with words. I want to put feelings into situations, to work out problems on paper. Even when I am going through some traumatic event in my own life, there’s a part of me in the background, quietly documenting my reactions and thinking, “Oh, this is soooo going in a story some day.”

Sometimes, though, you need to participate rather than observe. How else do you get more grist for the mill?

My latest release, Lightning in a Bottle, part of the Going for Gold Anthology, let me tap into my experiences (albeit on a small scale) into the world of eventing. I’d say more on the subject, but there is a very big horse waiting for me at the barn now, and I’d rather go ride her on this gorgeous day instead. 🙂

The Devil is in the Details

 

I love researching background material for a story. I know some people view it as a necessary evil; still others handwave around it and hope no one will call them out on their lack of factual details. I’m one of those people who really gets into a subject, wanting to know more about it, taking the research well beyond what is necessary to the story.
But there’s a fine line to walk between learning enough about the Battle of Britain in order to lend authenticity to a particular story and getting lost for hours on Wikipedia. And sometimes the obsession with getting the facts exactly right can get in the way of the story telling itself.

I’ve seen writers never progress off the second page of their story because they spent the last four hours trying to fact-check a minor bit of background detail—something not essential to the story at all, but because it was so important to the writer to get the facts straight, they never finished the story. I have to say, if you can’t find the information quickly and easily, it’s time to ask yourself just how important is it that you verify this fact in the first place? If you can’t find the answer, will the answer matter to anyone else?

I’ve also seen writers suck the life out of their own stories with a pedantic need for verisimilitude. There is such a thing as artistic license, and as long as we don’t use that as an excuse for shoddy research and bending the facts to fit our story needs, sometimes it’s better to go with convention than the actual truth. Take for example, the “murder board” as it is depicted in the average cop drama. I have it on good authority (a former homicide detective, teaching a writing course on murder stories) that the murder board—that white dry erase board where the detectives post pictures of the victims and suspects, draw time lines, and write up important facts—doesn’t exist.

Yep, you heard me. Doesn’t exist. At least, not in the form that we know it.

There are murder books, a case file where all the pertinent information concerning the crime is kept for working access, including crime scene photos, autopsy reports, and witness statements. No doubt with the ability to scan important documents and the push for more and more organizations to go paperless, the murder book will eventually be replaced by other means of record keeping. But that ubiquitous white board that makes its appearance in almost every episode of your favorite weekly police procedural television show is a fabrication.

Why use it then? Because it allows the show’s writers to share important information with the audience in a manner that isn’t information dumping. It puts names to faces and posts them in front of us. It provides a framework around which characters can ask each other questions—again, for the audience’s benefit, sometimes even having a eureka moment when they piece together the final bits of the puzzle. Not to mention creating a focus for dramatic shots of the lead actor staring morosely at the board in a half-lit room, cradling a cup of coffee.

So should we as writers, knowing that this is a convention for story-telling through television and movies, eliminate the murder board? There is one very compelling argument for continuing to use them in our stories. They are used so widely on television and in the movies that the audience expects them. To not use them feels like you haven’t done your homework. That you didn’t research your topic thoroughly enough. Ironic, isn’t it?

Because I love research, if I’m not careful, I’ll spend weeks reading and watching videos in order to get the right background for the story I want to write. If I’m not on a deadline, well, no big deal, I can wallow in my background details to my heart’s content. But I have to watch out and make sure I don’t use ‘research’ as an excuse to avoid the harder task of writing. So I’ve developed some personal guidelines which you may find useful.

1. Resist stopping every five minutes to look something up on Google. If you’re working on a first draft and you know you need to fact-check something, mark it with an asterisk and come back to it. If it is a minor background detail like what sort of weapon your hero would carry or what year penicillin came into widespread use, you don’t need to let it interrupt the flow of your writing. I know, I know! You think it will only take you a second to look it up, but seconds can turn into an incredible time sink when you are in first draft mode and your brain eagerly latches on to any reason not to finish that paragraph you’ve been working on. Focus on the story first and research second. You can do it! Resistance is not futile.

2. Determine how important the background research is to the story and allot the correct amount of time to it. If you are writing a WW2 story that takes place 24 hours before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, you’d best have all your facts straight. Getting that wrong, either with anachronisms, or factual errors, or simply not having good feel for the mindset of the average person of the time—all these things will be woefully obvious if you don’t research the material thoroughly. A good rule of thumb: the more important the background is to the story, the more time you should spend on it. Your character dreams that he’s a rodeo clown and wakes up because a bull slams into his barrel? Yeah, you can probably get everything you need to know through a quick search on Google. You’re writing a story in which the main character suffers a spinal cord injury that completely changes his life? You’d better know what you’re talking about. You’ve chosen a condition that will affect every single aspect of your character’s life now. If you aren’t intimately familiar with your subject, it will show.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The more realistic your setting, the more factual you should be, but if you’ve built a world where magic and the mundane co-exist, you probably don’t have to spend hours determining if your character can or cannot have access to aspirin unless the whole story hinges on this fact. And even then, there’s a place for some handwaving in such a world because you’ve already bent the laws of science and nature by having magic be possible.

4. You’re there to write first and foremost. When you get big and famous, maybe you can pay someone to fact check for you, but for now, you’re doing everything yourself. If you spend too much time on the non-essentials, you’re wasting valuable writing time. Mark it, come back to it in the editing phase. And remember, most people aren’t going to care what kind of shoes your character is wearing unless your story is set in a time before shoes were invented.

Bottom line: do your homework, but be smart about it. It is secondary to the story, not the story itself.

My latest story, Lightning in a Bottle, is part of the Olympic-themed M/M anthology from MLR Press, Going for Gold. I wrote about my own sport, eventing, which meant short of a few facts to check, I didn’t have to do a ton of research. Now I’m looking at writing a sequel, which means I have to learn a whole lot more about competing at the Olympic level—something I will never do myself. Which means, gosh darn, I have to do some additional research. I’ve already bought the eventing DVDs from the Games, and a book on training for the sport from my favorite eventing coach, and…

What’s the subject that you enjoyed researching the most and how did you end up using that information? Inquiring minds want to know!

Going for Gold now available on Amazon!

I can’t help it–I always get a thrill out of seeing my name on a book that is offered for sale on Amazon! This time I get the joint pleasure of seeing my name along with some really wonderful authors in this Olympic themed anthology full of smokin’ hot male/male romance.

 

Going for Gold is now available on Amazon!

I’ve been without internet, so I missed out on the fact that Going for Gold was jessewaves free read the other day, so I want to make sure I get the word out on this now! Of course, you can get it direct from MLR Press too!

What are you waiting for? Last night I took up a friend’s offer of staying at her cabin with my dog while I was in town. No internet, but a secluded cabin in the woods where I could just open the door and let my dog run. After a long walk with the rumble of thunder in the background, I settled in for an evening of writing (I’m working on a sequel to my entry in the anthology, Lightning in a Bottle) and began reading reading Going for Gold myself. I was immediately drawn in to the storytelling and characterization of my fellow authors and I had to force myself to slow down so I wouldn’t whip through the series! These stories are too good–they need to be savored. 🙂

Going for Gold–available August 31, 2012!

Is it Friday, yet?

I ask because I am so excited about the release of Going for Gold, the Olympic-themed M/M anthology from MLR Press. I can’t remember when I was this excited about a new release! Maybe it’s because the subject matter in my story is one dear to my heart–the horse sport known as Eventing. Maybe it’s because there are six other great stories in this anthology and I can’t wait to read them! Maybe it’s because I barely got a chance to watch the London Games this year and already I am in serious Olympics withdrawal.

I did get to see some of the Beach Volleyball, the swimming, and the platform diving. Matthew Mitcham is my new hero, let me tell you. 🙂 Oh, the drama of the women’s gymnastics! Or how about GB ending a sixty year drought by winning gold in the show jumping?

I still have the equestrian events on TiVo because I have plans for the characters in my anthology story, Lightning in a Bottle. *rubs hands together evilly* I had eyes on the ground, too, as my good friend and fellow author Claire Russett was on hand to watch the dressage portion of the eventing competition (and report back to me).

So what does the lineup for Going for Gold look like? Here’s a list of authors and titles:

Michael P. Thomas – “Hot Shots”
Kelly Rand – “The Quad”
K-lee Klein – “An Olympic Goal”
Sarah Madison – “Lightning in a Bottle”
Kaje Harper – “Tumbling Dreams”
Nico Jaye – “Into the Deep”
Whitley Gray – “Shoot For the Gold”
Annabeth Albert – “Swimming the Distance”

So, do you need an Olympic fix? Jonesing for some swimming or maybe some ice hockey (don’t forget, the Olympics aren’t just about the summer Games!)

Here’s some blog posts where the authors share a little about their stories and the inspiration behind them:
Michael P. Thomas talks about how he deals with his own Olympic withdrawal symptoms here. His video clip of Matthew Mitcham is a must-see for everyone!
Annabeth Albert finds inspiration in Speedo’s over at Cup of Porn today.  And I have to say, I hail the return of the Speedo as well.  Provided the right person is wearing them…
Nico Jaye gives us a sweet teaser about her diving story on her blog, and an excerpt here. Oh, I want more, now, darn it! *presses refresh button again*

I’m off to a horse trial this weekend (sadly, not as a competitor this time) so be prepared to be inundated with horse pictures on my return.  Gotta love a profession where everything can be written off to research, eh?

There will be more author links as blog posts go live, so be sure to check them out!

THE BUY LINK IS UP!  Going for Gold

So what’s your favorite Olympic sport?  Is it the diving (one of mine!)?  Do you love seeing how happy the swim teams are? What’s the draw for you?  The competition? Watching top athletes at peak performance? All that lean muscle and exquisite display of the human form?  What do you wish they’d show more of–or less? Inquiring minds want to know.  Share!

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!