48 Hours in The Bluegrass: Part 1

Were we in Kentucky for 48 hours? We stayed three nights, so that isn’t quite right. But we only had two full days to take in the Bluegrass region — and believe me, it wasn’t enough.

We went to Lexington for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award reception, held at Castleton Lyons, a stunning Thoroughbred farm which is home to stallions Gio Ponti and Justin Phillip. (Since we saw Gio Ponti race several times, we were especially excited to meet him in person! Horse star struck!)

Keeneland's Walking Ring from the Phoenix Room

Keeneland’s Walking Ring from the Phoenix Room

My novel Turning For Home was a finalist for the award, along with two other books about horse racing. This was basically an awesome excuse to finally visit Lexington! We had driven through once years before and stopped at Kentucky Horse Park, where I walked on the cross-country course and found Ralph Hill’s name on the huge chalkboard of competitors from the year before (I was his groom at the time), but that was it. Now we had a little time to explore.

First: Keeneland Racecourse. Just driving to this racetrack was amazing, because outside its gates are the fabled white fences and cupolas of Calumet Farm. Drive through the grand old entrance and the grounds are exquisite, green rolling hills dotted with old trees. There’s even a library. A library. At a racetrack. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of my heaven.

Sadly there wasn’t time on this trip to visit the library. We took a quick look around the paddock and walking ring (beautiful, like a palace, which is what racehorses deserve) and watched a race from the apron, and then we hustled upstairs to the Phoenix Room for lunch hosted by Castleton Lyons. The Phoenix Room overlooks the walking ring next to the paddock, which is lovely. There were lots of desserts, which was even more lovely. (I really like desserts.)

After lunch we had time for another race before hustling to get ready for the award reception, which was held above the stallion barn at Castleton Lyons.

 

Castleton Lyons - just another perfect breeding farm in Lexington

Castleton Lyons – just another perfect breeding farm in Lexington

At the award reception I was expected to stand in front of people and speak, something that my introverted little soul can’t quite cope with. Luckily I had two things: a little Jameson for courage, and whole lot of passion for my subject. Once I stood up and started talking about why I had written Turning For Home, everything was fine. I’m not sure what I said — something about retiring racehorses, something about how Thoroughbreds were the greatest athletes in the world, something about how much we love our horses, despite the way certain activists would like to portray Thoroughbred breeders and owners — but people applauded, which was nice.

My face on the wall at the book award reception.

My face on the wall at the book award reception.

The honors of the evening went to John Carter, author of Warriors on Horseback, a non-fiction book about jockeys. It’s impossible to feel any regret over not winning because John was Skyping in from England, and after he won, his wife brought his dachshund on-screen and waved its little paw at all of us in Kentucky. It was adorable. Totally worth letting John win this round!

After the award was announced, there was some more “mingling,” which is when I stood very quietly by a table and tried not to look like I was going to have a panic attack. The second half of the reception was much better than the first, though, because now people knew who I was, and wanted to come up and chat with me about the book, encourage me to write more and try again for the big prize in another year, and talk about off-track Thoroughbreds, and their own retirement stories.

It was really lovely to talk with some of the owners about how deeply they identified with my words. There are good horse-people in racing who are vilified with no warrant at all, simply because there are some bad people in the sport who don’t take care of their horses. It’s akin to painting every single show-jumper, or dressage trainer, or trail horse rider, with the same black brush because a former jumper or dressage horse or trail horse was found starving at an auction–and yet that doesn’t happen. That kind of pointless name-calling and groundless accusation is reserved for the horse racing business, and it’s ridiculous. It’s not just ridiculous, it’s genuinely hurtful for people who love their horses.

Anyway, back to the event.

The Castleton Lyons stallion barn has an amazing entryway with memorabilia devoted to Gio Ponti and Justin Phillips.

Including these beauties:

Eclipse Awards

Gio Ponti’s Eclipse Awards – first ones I’ve seen in person!

 

Absolutely lovely to see. I love the art and science of Thoroughbred breeding, possibly more than anything else in the world of horses. I’m hoping to visit Kentucky in the fall and make the rounds of stallion shows at the various farms — if I don’t make it back this year, I may have to do it in Ocala instead.

The whole night wound up with a late dinner. If you can imagine a lot of racing journalists sitting around eating cheesecake and drinking wine while talking Derby prospects, that was pretty much the evening. For a girl who doesn’t go to parties because she might have to talk to someone, listening to the conversation was pretty great.

That was the first half of our 48 hours in the Bluegrass. I’ll write up the second half later — it includes a visit to Three Chimneys, where I met Will Take Charge!

We’re Going to Kentucky!

A few weeks ago I had the good news that my book Turning For Home was a semi-finalist for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, honoring literary works featuring horse racing.

Well, now I have the very good news that my book is a finalist for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, which can only mean one thing: we get to knock Keeneland off our racetrack bucket list.

I’ve been dreaming of visiting Keeneland in spring-time for years, because of photos like this:

4903109204_cd41ddc47b_z

Keeneland Paddock in Spring. Photo: flickr/the-o

Would you look at that tree? The cherry trees in Florida just wrapped up last week. They’re just green now. Flowering trees: expert at making beautiful green leaves completely boring.

Anyway, going to a book award reception is a very good excuse for a few days in horse country! We’ll be visiting Keeneland as well as Castleton Lyons, the farm which sponsors the book award. Castleton Lyons stands Gio Ponti and Justin Phillip at stud, so I’m hoping we’ll get a glimpse of both these lovely horses.

There are two other finalists for the book award, both about jockeys. One is Ride To Win–An Inside Look at the Jockey’s Craft, by Bob Fortus and Gary West. Two journalists, from the Times-Picayune and the Dallas Morning News, respectively, interviewed more than 50 jockeys to get inside their demanding lifestyles.

The other is Warriors on Horseback–The Inside Story of the Professional Jockey, by John Carter. Mr. Carter’s work includes several other racing titles, including First Past the Post: History of Horse Racing. 

Both of these books sound like they’d be great references for anyone interested in writing about racing. I’m looking forward to picking them up and hopefully chatting with the authors!

finding-daylight-coverAnd speaking of jockeys and writing, I just finished Mara Dabrishus‘s tremendous new novel, Finding Daylight, featuring a young lady jock named Georgie getting through her apprentice year and moving onto her journeyman status while trying to push through some very dysfunctional family history with the neighbors across the street. It’s also set in some of my favorite places: quite a lot takes place in Ocala, but the book also visits Belmont, Saratoga, Gulfstream Park, and yes, Kentucky.

Friends, this is a cancel-your-plans, stay-in-and-read-all-weekend kind of book. I’ll write a full review this week, but in the meantime, if you trust me, go and read it.

Finding Daylight starts at $3.99 for the Kindle ebook at Amazon.

Book Award News

Well, for the second year, I have a novel up for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00016]I couldn’t be more proud of Turning For Home, the fourth novel in the Alex and Alexander series. Set in horse racing like the other novels in the series, Turning For Home deals more with retirement issues, including the dangers that rabid animal-rights activists can pose for horse owners, whether they’re guilty of horse abuse or not. The book features some racing, but it looks more at retraining an off-track Thoroughbred, and even features a Most Wanted Thoroughbred-style competition.

Because of these themes, I wasn’t really sure how the award judges would view Turning For Home. Would it be too horse-show oriented for a racing panel? Would they see the animal-rights activists as a little too negative for a prize meant to celebrate horse racing?

I was thrilled to bits to see that I was wrong. Here’s what the press release says about Turning For Home: 

This year’s second novel, Turning for Home touches upon a currently red-hot topic: re-training ex-racehorses. Author Reinert was a semi-finalist in 2014 with Other People’s Horses. In Turning for Home a Thoroughbred once schooled by protagonist Alex is found starving, and though she is faultless, Alex becomes a target of animal rights activists. The story follows her leave of absence from racing to re-school the horse for a new career … and to fight for her own reputation.

So, a semi-finalist once again — I couldn’t ask for more, really. I’m so excited at the way responsible racehorse retirement has become a front-and-central issue being addressed across the equestrian industry, from sport horse trainers to racehorse breeders, and everyone the horse will meet in between. When I started writing Retired Racehorse Blog more than six years ago, this big wave was a little ripple. Well, keep splashing, people!

The rest of the semi-finalist list is really, really good this year, including a novel called If Wishes Were Horses, a book on jockey craft and a book on jockey heroes, and a documentary-style book collecting stories from racetracks across the country. This is a “I’m just happy to be nominated” moment, for sure. You can see the rest of the list here at Paulick Report.

In other news, I went to the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, March 12. I cried the first time the horses went by the clubhouse. Yes, it’s been a very long time since I went to the races. The next time I pick days off, I’m choosing days that are good for racing at Tampa. Monday/Tuesday are terrible days off if you want to go enjoy some pony-time. Here’s champion Tepin having a moment in the paddock, right before she set a track record in the Hillsborough Stakes:

 

Tepin in paddock, Tampa Bay Downs

Mares will be mares.

We made sure we were at the paddock just where she’d be walking and she did not disappoint. There was an ardent fan a few feet away from us who kept calling her “The Queen.” I read a line in a historical novel once, something like “the English love their queens.” You could say the same of us in horse racing: we love a good colt but man oh man do we love our fillies and mares.

Here’s another typical racing scene I had to capture. The hoses for spraying down the horses after the race are right in front of the clubhouse area at Tampa, so you can listen to the grooms and admire the horses while the winner is being photographed off in the winner’s circle:

Shower at Tampa Bay Downs

Shower before the walk home.

I haven’t been paying much attention to the Triple Crown prep this year, with so much work on my plate, and I can’t even remember who won the Tampa Bay Derby — awful, I know! But I think a lot of us came away thinking more of the commanding style of Tepin winning the Hillsborough more than anything. When you see an Eclipse Award-winning mare come out and pound out a track record, it tends to put three-year-old colts in perspective. You’re still just little boys, my friends. But your time will come!

That’s all for now. Have you read any of the other book award nominees? Which one’s your pick for the big win?

Updates: Book Reviews, Bestsellers, and Tacos

Well, it’s been almost ten days since my last post here — the one where I promised I’d write more, remember that? What happened in the meantime? Well, a little writing, and a whole lotta life…

The goal was to get up every morning and write write every morning before I did anything else. Tea and writing, instead of tea and Twitter, basically. I actually had a really good start! For a few days, I was hammering out a few thousand words on Pride instead of thinking “I should really be working on Pride.” 

Of course, during this time, I was going to work in the afternoons — sometime between noon and five PM. For me, any time I’m working in the evenings, I feel like I have limitless potential to achieve things in the mornings. Writing, reading, errands, you name it, I can accomplish it all and still have a nap before I head to work.

This past week, though, everything changed. I’m training for a new position and my life has turned into morning shifts. Suddenly, I went from a 3 AM bedtime to a 6 AM alarm. I was sleepwalking through the days. It’s probably for the best that I don’t have the strength of character to wake up an hour early to get some writing in. Who knows what nonsense would happen in my dream-state?  I’d probably have Jules riding a chestnut unicorn through the underworld to rescue Pete from a Transformer or something.

Show Barn Blues paperback

Real books, plastic horses.

So, the week has been a little light on word count. Things will shake out in the next week or two, though.

The other fun things happening around Natalie’s world…

-The paperback of Show Barn Blues arrived. It’s gorgeous and looks great with your other horse books! You can now order it through Amazon — I believe Barnes  & Noble and other bookstores will take a few more weeks to add it to their catalogs.

Number 1 Bestseller Equestrian Sports

That’s a ribbon I love seeing

Show Barn Blues has four 5-star reviews on Amazon. It’s made it as high as number 16 on the Amazon Sports Bestseller list, which I think is as high as any of my books have gotten on the Sports list — but much sooner than any of my other books have made it! Horses and Equestrian Sports are the sub-category of Sports where I list my books. The “pages read” reports on borrowed copies is also at record highs for my titles. If you have Amazon Prime, you have access to Kindle Unlimited – that means you can borrow my ebooks for free!

-I’m part of a new author’s co-op called Horseback Reads. Our website is at horsebackreads.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’re a group of equestrian writers who hold ourselves and our writing to the highest quality standards, so you’ll always know you’re getting a thoughtfully-crafted, edited, and well-produced book from us. Our social media outlets will be a great way to keep up on new equestrian titles you’ll want to read.

tacos el tenampa

Every time I see them, I want them even more.

-And finally, I had tacos so good they revived my interest in food/travel blogging, so instead of crashing on the couch after dinner, I wrote a blog post about them. If you love tacos, you’re welcome to read my thoughts on them here: http://thatdisfamily.com/2015/09/tacos-el-tenampa-kissimmee/

This is a good thing because any sort of writing inspires more writing. Once you get back in the habit of typing away about your entire life and all your inner thoughts, it’s very addicting. I used to blog daily on multiple sites — in fact, if you’re new to NKR fiction, you might not realize that The Head and Not The Heart was born out of the massive daily readership of my first serious blog, Retired Racehorse.

Well, that’s the news from Celebration. I’m still on the lookout for new reviews for Show Barn Blues, so if you enjoyed the book, my name is Natalie Keller Reinert and I’m on Amazon and GoodReads, and if you didn’t enjoy the book, my name is a secret and you’ve never heard of me. Have a great week!

Writing Habits (That I Don’t Have)

I really, really need a good writing habit.

This summer has not been my best for writing. As I blogged the other day, I’ve been working slightly insane hours, and when I’m not at work, I would really rather go to the pool/go to a theme park/go to sleep/do anything besides think about what the characters inhabiting the recesses of my brain are up to. I would prefer they stay in the recesses of my brain until I have more energy to deal with them.

The Internet is great for finding enabling quotes like this one. See, Anne Tyler is bad at writing habits, too!

The Internet is great for finding enabling quotes like this one. See, Anne Tyler is bad at writing habits, too!

Then I get another urgent email asking me when the sequel to Ambition is coming and I look at a calendar, realize I am six months behind schedule, and start panicking. (I don’t start writing, necessarily. It’s much easier to panic.)

I’m really, really good at panicking.

Somehow this summer I managed to finish Show Barn Blues, and the consequential lift in mood and energy that comes from publishing a book at last, from not having to open that damn file anymore, from having fresh new words to look at, is pushing me to really make a commitment to my writing. I need to do better. I need to do more.

I need to finish Pride.

So, I’m trying to get myself back into the writing habit by opening up my computer and editing a chapter of Pride every morning.

But then Bradbury comes and lays down a truth-bomb.

But then Bradbury comes and lays down a truth-bomb.

Obviously this is not as easy as my current morning routine, which is plopping onto the couch and looking at Twitter for an hour. And, in what is probably a surprising twist only to me, it’s actually more entertaining than looking at Twitter for an hour. I don’t even know what I’m looking at on Twitter most of the time. Theme park news, random pictures of racehorses steaming in the morning sunlight, a funny gif of a dog… seriously, what have I been doing with my life?

It’s more entertaining, writing a novel, but it requires infinitely more effort than the couch/Twitter combo, and sometimes most of the time I just don’t feel like I have the energy or the brain power to write anything of consequence.

Well, if the past two days are any indication, I actually do have both the energy and the brain power, so I have to keep at this morning writing challenge until it stops being a challenge and starts being a habit.

Of course, next week, I work at 8 AM every day, so I’m not sure how this is all going to hold up when I’m leaving the house at 7:30. Do I have any energy and/or brain power at six in the morning? I have to tell you, the outlook is not promising.

The Internet is overrun with motivational blog posts informing me of illustrious writers who set their alarms for 4 AM every morning and write ten thousand words before breakfast, but maybe those illustrious writers are morning people with an extraordinary sense of vision and purpose who also don’t have Twitter? What about the rest of us?

I googled “writing habits” and found a nice list for “making commitments into habits” which I think I’ll be referring to in days to come, as I struggle with this whole actually-write-your-book-like-you’re-a-writer concept. I especially like:

  • Keep your commitment small to avoid anxiety that fuels resistance.

I’m very talented at anxiety.

  • It’s easier to honor your commitment early in the day, before your decision-making capacity is depleted. Do what you say will do as soon as you can; that way, you can enjoy the satisfaction and self-respect for the rest of the day.

That feeling of satisfaction and self-respect goes a long way, especially if I encounter a person later in the day who would like to make me feel like I am less than important. Excuse me, rude person, I wrote part of a novel this morning. What did you do? Move along.

  • Give yourself a small reward when you honor your commitment. At the very least, acknowledge and celebrate the fact that you are honoring the commitment.

I’m going to reward myself with an egg sandwich. It’s very simple positive reinforcement: you write, you get breakfast. Good job, Natalie.

Time to Read For Free with Amazon Prime

Good news for Amazon Prime members! After much consideration (and lots of great feedback from readers), I’ve decided to put my books in the Kindle Select program at Amazon.

This was not an easy decision. Kindle Select requires an exclusivity sales contract that isn’t my favorite thing in the world. As a Nook owner and long time Barnes & Noble devotee, I was happy to have my books in the BN.com fold.

The reality, though, is that BN.com’s search engine is just not good enough. As an indie writer, I need search engines to work with me. I need categories, tags, and metadata to do their thing so that readers can search for “Equestrian Fiction,” or “Horse Books,” and actually get proper results.

What happens when you search BN.com for "Equestrian Fiction." What is this even.

What happens when you search BN.com for “Equestrian Fiction.” What is this even.

Finding my books on BN.com unless you are specifically looking for “Natalie Keller Reinert” is statistically just not happening.

Meanwhile, over at Amazon…

Not just actual fiction - Look at all the categories that you can search within.

Not just actual fiction – Look at all the categories that you can search within.

Not only does Amazon.com provide actual fiction titles under an “Equestrian Fiction” search, it shows you the categories where you can find these titles. Children’s Sports and Outdoors. Equestrian Sports. Horse Riding. Teen and Young Adult Equestrian Fiction. Not adult fiction, yet, but I have my hopes… this is a growing category!

There are a lot of solid marketing reasons to go with Amazon, but the fact that they provide a working search engine, and are willing to create new categories that evolve and specialize as we writers evolve and specialize, is the most compelling reason for me. I want our category to grow and thrive. I want more quality equestrian fiction for children, teens, and adults. I want those “What’s Your Favorite Horse Book?” lists on Goodreads to stop exclusively including things like “The Thoroughbred Series – I loved those when I was a kid!!” and instead, list off current, relevant titles that address the issues that we face today as equestrians.

Oh, sorry, bit of a tangent there.

Anyway, if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can now borrow any of my titles for free with the Kindle Lending Library. Feel free. Read them. Review them. Recommend them (if you so choose), and help raise visibility for all of the writers who are in this together, telling stories that you can relate to, exploring the equestrian world the way that you see it, not the way that the outside world sees it.

As always, you can find all of my titles here: http://www.amazon.com/Natalie-Keller-Reinert/e/B005K98KDK/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

I should note too that my paperbacks are available wherever books are sold, including Barnes & Noble. For the titles that aren’t yet in paperback… they will be.

Introducing new equestrian fiction in “Show Barn Blues”

originally posted at Horse Crossings

Wow! I am really bad at editorial calendars!

You’re supposed to decide what you’re going to write, write it, edit it, and release it, right? Simple. For normal people.

Here’s what I decided to do instead.

Write a novel.

Shelve it.

Write another novel, using characters from the shelved novel.

Decide I still really liked the shelved novel.

Edit the shelved novel to publish first.

Plan on changing second novel to make room for changes based upon the shelved novel.

DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?

Of course it doesn’t.

I’m a writer and I don’t have to make sense. 

I know, I know, excuses, excuses. But this way you get two novels out of it, so I’m not sure what grounds anyone has to complain…

So here’s the deal.

I based my new novel, "Show Barn Blues," on big boarding stables I've worked at over the years.

I based my new novel, “Show Barn Blues,” on big boarding stables I’ve worked at over the years.

I’m working on Pride, the sequel to Ambition, featuring characters and plot lines from Show Barn Blues, a stand-alone novel that I wrote last summer but didn’t publish. The thing was (as I wrote at my blog back in May), there were events and sequences in Show Barn Blues that I simply couldn’t replicate in Pride. The sub-plot of developing farm land into golf courses, and what drives a trainer to continue in the business long after the thrill has gone, were too big to wedge into Pride, which is really about giving up control. Those two things don’t blend at all.

I wanted to release Pride first because so many people have asked for it, and I respect that, but Show Barn Blues really has so much to offer. Grace Carter, a middle-aged hunter/jumper trainer, has given her life to the show business, trying to escape a childhood nightmare that never would have happened if she had stayed in the arena as she’d been told. At the same time, she is preserving her grandfather’s old farm, the scene of her happiest memories. She’s caught in the middle, trying to save the land that she wants nothing to do with. As developers circle her farm, Grace is trying to somehow salvage her future while accepting her past. Meanwhile, a new trail-riding boarder, Kennedy, is determined to change things for Grace and her arena-bound students.

This is a sample of Grace’s point of view:

***

The next day, Colleen cancelled her Sunday evening lesson to take Bailey on a trail ride with Kennedy. I was already furious when Missy Ormond showed up to ride in a pair of jeans, which was strongly discouraged — I liked my students to have a professional appearance at all times — and I nearly spit nails when, while wiping off her tack after her riding lesson, she suggested that we all have a group trail ride in a few weeks.

I had been mulling over a new cancellation fee for all riding lessons. “What’s that?” I snapped, but Missy was so excited, she didn’t notice my tone.

“With a barbecue,” she went on enthusiastically. “We could use that old fire-pit, and roast marshmallows. Or make s’mores.”

“What old fire-pit?” I knew exactly where my grandfather’s fire-pit had been dug and bricked, but nobody else knew about it. Rather, nobody else had known about it. Was Kennedy going to dig out all of my skeletons and parade them around in front of me? I put things deep into closets for a reason.

Missy didn’t notice my sudden tension. She hopped down from Donner and ran up her stirrups. “It’s out by the lake,” she explained. “We could all ride to the lake and maybe the grooms or anyone who doesn’t want to ride can take out supplies and wait for us with the Gator. It’s an easy ride. It’s practically a road. Did you know there’s a road out there?”

“It’s an old Indian trail,” I muttered, and everyone in the tack room started clamoring to see it, unable to believe I had denied them the opportunity to ride on a real live Indian trail. “That lake has gators in it,” I added. “And moccasins.”

“So does all the water in Florida,” Missy said, cocky after a good ride. She’d gotten Donner around a three foot nine course without any dirty stops at all — Donner was known for dropping his shoulder when he did not feel that his rider was paying sufficient attention, sending said rider tumbling into the fence while he went the other way. “I might not have lived here my whole life, but I know that. Have you been to Gatorland Zoo? I held a baby gator there. It had its mouth taped shut.”

I had, but when I was ten or eleven, not when I was forty-four years old and the mother of three. “The gators out at the pond will not have their jaws taped shut,” I reminded her. “And horses don’t like them.”

“Oh, they’ll swim away when we come,” Missy laughed. “Kennedy says they’re afraid of horses.” She turned and led Donner back to the barn, his hooves ringing on the concrete pathway, the one we’d constructed over a perfectly good pathway of sand so that the boarders could keep their boots clean. I’d gone to insane lengths to provide affluent equestrians with a picture-perfect equine utopia, and now they all wanted to do was mess around in the woods and look at alligators. One had to wonder what the point of anything was.

***

This latest equestrian fiction tale is uniquely Floridian, and uniquely equestrian (as I hope that all of my stories have been). Whether you’ve devoted your life to horses or you’ve been an enthusiast, you’ll recognize Grace, Kennedy, and the cast of boarders and students who make up the show barn at Seabreeze Stables. And if you’ve ever seen a “coming soon” sign go up in front of beloved woodlands, you’ll be ready to fight alongside Grace to save the farm and everything that it stands for.

And I promise you, once I’ve finished Show Barn Blues and you’re all distracted reading about Grace and friends, I’ll finish Pride. Grace meets Jules. Oh, the fireworks.