The Barn Behind “Show Barn Blues”

I was sorting through some photos on my computer (because I have too many, and it’s destroying my processing speed) when I realized I had a full stash of photos from the equestrian center that inspired Show Barn Blues. Since I went to a lot of trouble to describe the barn and grounds, I thought it might be fun to share them here.

These were taken by a gentleman who wanted to practice using his new camera. I’m not sure he had any horse knowledge, but he got some compelling shots nonetheless. One day a few weeks after I gave him permission to wander the grounds taking photos, he dropped off a CD of the photos, and I’ve had them ever since. There aren’t many exterior shots, but I think this gives you an idea of where it all started.

A Thoroughbred gazes down the aisle

The stalls with grills that opened were very desirable. This was one of the few OTTBs at the barn; I loved him. Forgot his name though. His back window would look out on the grass between the barn and the covered arena; not sure why it was closed here.

Looking down the barn aisle.

One of the aisles. Notice there are two aisles back-to-back, with a center aisle cutting the barn in half. If you squint you can see a high-up window above the stalls – that would be the apartments and Grace’s office. At the end of the aisle are the outdoor arenas. If this pair turns to their left, they’ll be heading to the covered arena. If they turned to the right, they’d pass the wash-stalls before entering the other aisle. The dress code was very formal here; instructors wore boots and breeches every day. This particular instructor had a background much like Kennedy’s – she rode in a now-closed dinner show attraction.

Wash-stalls in the center of the barn

The wash-stalls in the center of the barn, where school horses waited their turn. Someone should have knotted up these reins better!

Determined young rider.

A determined young rider who is probably now an adult riding in the dressage arena (the chains must be down for some reason). Behind is the covered arena with the usual weekend crowd of parents watching lessons.

Owner riding.

An owner out in the jumping arena on her horse. Behind her, a section of the barn not included in my books: the tack shop and lounge. In the books, the barn ends before the arenas, and the second-floor deck looks out over them.

The jumping arena

A riding instructor out in the jumping arena. If you rode out there at night, you could watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks just a little ways beyond those pine trees in the distance. That was typically also where the sky grew dark before approaching storms. The county highway is just beyond the fence but blocked by shrubbery. Across the street is, indeed, luxury homes, although at the time it was a watermelon field.

Horse at equestrian center

I think this is Splash. I used his name in Pride, maybe Show Barn Blues as well. He was a popular school horse for advanced riders. In the background, the covered walkway to the covered arena, and he’s standing in the end barn entrance.

With just a few changes, this is the barn in my mind when I work on book set at Seabreeze Equestrian Center. Does it look anything like you imagined?

We’re Getting Closer to Show Barn Blues!

At last, a reason to blog!

It’s been a long, hot summer, readers — or has it? I’ve been working so much this summer, it went flying by like one of those particularly deranged dragonflies that goes right past your nose and scares you to death and you shriek and wave your hands in your face and everyone turns around and stares at you and you say “did you SEE that thing?” but nobody did…

Oh wait, that was me the other night at work.

I’m telling you, that thing was HUGE.

Anyway, it’s been busy. Working at Walt Disney World by day (well, really, by night) and working at my computer by night (usually by day). It’s a wonderful balance, when it works — working at Disney lets me get out from behind a screen and chatter with people from all around the world, and working at my computer lets my voice (and my brain) recover from eight hours of all that chattering.

It’s great, but summertime can be challenging at one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations… long hours, late nights, and a newly rediscovered penchant for sleeping until 11 AM can all take their toll on one’s writing goals.

However, I set myself a goal of finishing Show Barn Blues by the end of August, and I’m happy to announce that I’ve achieved that goal! Fully edited and ready to go, all we need now is the final cover design and internal formatting, and we will have ourselves a new novel!

One of my favorite characters is Ivor, a sassy gray stallion.  Photo: Serge Melki/flickr

One of my favorite characters is Ivor, a sassy gray stallion.
Photo: Serge Melki/flickr

I’m excited to bring you this story, which has some characters and horses I just love, including Grace Carter (her name might be different in previous blog posts, this has been a long process), who is a been-there-done-that barn owner; her sassy gray stallion, Ivor; a former dinner show/hunter princess named Kennedy; and a cast of grooms, working students, and boarders who keep life interesting.

One challenge that I’m having with Show Barn Blues — how to categorize it on Amazon. You might notice that on Amazon, the books in a series will show up on the same page. Look at Turning For Home’s page and you’ll see the other novels in the Alex and Alexander series right on the page, listed numerically. Nice, right?

Well, Show Barn Blues is technically part of the Eventing Series, which begins with Ambition. The Eventing Series was plotted out as a trilogy, and the next novel, Pride, will follow Ambition. So that’s logically Book 2.

However, we’re going to meet the characters from Show Barn Blues in Pride. They’re important to the story. They just don’t fit into the trilogy. They’re like a bonus novel. Does that make Show Barn Blues “a novel of the Eventing Series,” perhaps?

It’s a shame that Amazon doesn’t allow “1.5” as a volume number, because I would just use that — but I’ve already tried that particular scheme before and it doesn’t work.

Other than that conundrum, the writing life is good. I have all the tools I need for my final draft of Pride. Barring work insanity, I should have the next Jules novel to you by the end of the year. I’m rereading Ambition to make sure I have her snotty voice in my head, although Jules is softening… a little. She’s still prickly, but life with Pete is starting to sand down those rough edges… a little. 

Maybe it shouldn’t take me two years to bring out the sequel to a book as popular as Ambition, but it really does take me that long to write a book. I found notes the other day for Turning For Home, and they were dated 2013. I released TFH in 2015, so there you have it — that’s just the way I write!

So get ready for Show Barn Blues. I’ll have it out for you soon!

Story Outlines: A Writer’s Training Calendar

This post was originally published at Equestrian Ink.

Setting up a training calendar is easy, right? You pick a horse show date and you move backwards, working out a nice hypothesis of where you’ll be in training each week running up to the show. Nothing to it, because predicting how quickly and how competently your horse will pick up your training (to say nothing of staying sound and keeping on his shoes) is just easy-peasy. Right?

Of course we know that’s nonsense. Horses look at calendars and laugh. They observe our ambitious plans and then they go out and look for a nice, innocent stick that they can use to injure themselves in astonishing and previously unbelievable ways.

Getting to a horse show takes planning. Getting to the end of a book is much the same!  Photo: flickr/dj-dwayne

Getting to a horse show takes planning. Getting to the end of a book is much the same!
Photo: flickr/dj-dwayne

In the game of planning for horse shows, the beginning is easy to see, and the end is fun to predict. It’s the middle part that’s hard.

Writing a book can be an awful lot like setting up that oh-so-charming training calendar. I like to outline, because I know my book’s beginning, and I know my book’s intended ending, but the middle part always bogs me down. You know, all that stuff that makes up the story? Moves the plot along? Gets the horse from green-broke to jumping courses? Yeah. That can be challenging.

Every book I’ve written since Other People’s Horses has had an outline, and every subsequent time I write a story outline, I find myself a little more dependent on it. That’s because my desire to wander from the set course never, ever wanes. Like a horse bound and determined to lose his shoe before the schooling show on Saturday, I am absolutely hell-bent on diverting from my intended story with wandering trail rides, unplanned-for barn drama, and completely unpredictable bucking incidents.

And while this sort of convoluted wandering story process seems to work for some writers (George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame comes to mind), I really don’t want to write 500 page door-stops that are meant to be set during one fateful summer in Saratoga, or wherever. That’s why I have to force myself back to the outline. Because every wandering trail ride has to expose a new question in the plot, every unplanned-for barn drama has to be resolved, and every unpredictable bucking incident has to involve sorting out what set off the horse, and how to fix the horse’s problem.

That’s a lot of extra writing for me, and a lot of meandering “what happened to the plot?” for you, the readers.

So funny story, haha, you guys are going to love this, I wrote a masterful outline for Pride, which is the sequel to Ambition.

Sidebar: Originally Ambition was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, but I’ve gotten so many requests for a series that I had to cave to pressure. Readers have power! When you like something, say something! 

Anyway, I wrote this wonderful outline for a book which can stand up as the second novel in a trilogy about Jules, Pete, Lacey, Becky, and of course Dynamo and Mickey, plus a host of new riders and horses. It was here to make my life easier, this outline. To keep me on track and stop me from taking three years and half-a-dozen drafts to write, the way that Ambition did.

And I got midway through Pride, to about 45,000 words, which when you consider Ambition is about 111,000 words, you can see is that all-troublesome Middle Part that confounds both trainers and writers when we are making our plots and plans… and I started to wander. I quickly realized I was inventing some barn drama which was good, but which would need to be resolved or things were going to get way off track. I decided it was time to consult my written outline, since at this point I’d just been writing off memory of what I’d planned.

This was when I realized that I had lost the outline.

Oh jeez.

Well, I stumbled about for a little bit, figuring I could find my way through without the outline, but the thing just started keeping me awake at night. What if I had lost my way? How was I going to fix this? What was the best use of my time? I’m on a tight deadline to get Pride finished and my work schedule outside of house is about to ramp up considerably. If I let this plot wander too much, I was going to be months behind.

Something had to be done.

I knew the ending still (that horse show date that I had selected months before, right?) and although my middle part had changed a little bit, that’s just what horses do. It was time to be agile. I sat down, opened my writing program, and started creating chapters.

In Scrivener, which is the program I use, each folder becomes a chapter. And there’s a little box where you can type out a synopsis. I’d never used it before, but there’s a first time for everything. I typed a synopsis for each chapter I had yet to write, creating a little guide-map to every single folder, so that no matter when I opened up the manuscript to write, there would be no excuse — the next step in the story was right there, ready to be fleshed out.

I created fourteen chapters in all, assuming that each one would balance out at about 2,000 words, and then on the edit/rewrite I would elaborate on them until they had more substance. Then, I started work on the first one.

That chapter stretched out to 5,000 words.

Outlines. The more detailed they are, it would seem, the easier my job gets.

It reminds me again of that training calendar — on a good day, I can look at the calendar, assess where my horse is vs where I thought my horse could be, and then reassess. Once that’s done, I can see what I want to do for the day, then get out there and make it happen… much more successfully than if I’d just mounted up without a plan, wandered out to the arena, and started trotting around waiting to see what would happen next.

That’s good news for me as a writer. It’s good news for everyone waiting for the sequel to Ambition, too. Hold on kids, Jules and Company are coming back for more!