Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings (um, okay, rants) about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

Archive for the category “writing for children”

Out of the Mouths of Babes

kids and foals2.jpgA couple of months ago, I was tapped to be one of the judges in something called the Youth Literary Derby — a writing contest for kids, meant to encourage their interest in Standardbreds and harness racing.  Yes, I can be flattered.  It’s nice when someone remembers that I write, and edit, and have some peripheral connection to the sport.  I sent back my three top picks, on the poetry and prose sides, this morning, and it was quite possibly one of the hardest bloody things I’ve ever done, editorially speaking.

Reading the submissions, from kids in grades five through eight, I tried to imagine the classroom set-up for this.  Some of the entries were photocopies of handwritten efforts, and I gather at least a few of these were from schools catering to Mennonite kids who will have had some actual contact with horses.  Most, however, would have had no prior experience with horses or racing at all.  Several Ontario Standardbred farms hosted Open Houses for the kids in May, and that experience showed in the essays of the kids who were lucky enough to go.

Others, I think, were just asked to watch the video above, and then wing it — and the results ranged from touching, to a little bit scary, to hilarious.  Many didn’t quite get the difference between Thoroughbred racing and harness racing, and spent a lot of time describing jockeys.  There were a lot of immaculate conceptions, too, with owners suddenly discovering their beloved horse was giving birth right now, apparently with no previous, um, intervention.  And sometimes it seemed like the kids just took whatever plotline had most recently stuck in their heads from a cartoon, and inserted Standardbreds as the characters.  On more than one story, I attached a post-it note to myself which said, “Is this about horses?”

superheroes on horseback

I’m not sure of the legalities of a) outing myself as one of the judges or b) sharing the submissions (which were rendered anonymous before I received them), but I can’t resist at least giving you a few excerpts from some of the ones that most tickled me.   For the actual winners, you’ll have to wait till September 18Apparently there’s $2000 in prizes up for grabs.

Here’s one of the poems (verbatim): 

The Horses of Ancient Times
Baby horses are small,
Smaller than a small wall.
They all live in stalls,
But they grow to be taller than some walls.
They are quite fast,
They will be panting at last.
But not to hard,
After listening to the bard.
And now they are calm
They moved less than my palm.
Because they were sleeping
Because it’s hard to be leaping
But they wake in the morning
But not to be mourning.
But to have fun with their friends,
And this this is where the story ends.

And if that didn’t float your boat, try Little Foal:

I’m a little Standardbred foal,
I like to watch my mother roll,
Or watch her race all day long,
She must be very tough and strong.
I like to lie in the shade,
Which the big, tall trees have made,
While my mother is at work,
Which she never tries to shirk.
I like to watch a magpie,Ping-pong-tongue-animated-frogs-breakfast
Or some late nights a firefly.
They make a very funny glow.
Often times they fly quite low.
In the creek I saw a bass,
The water was as clear as glass,
Near it was a pollywog.
It was not quite yet a frog.
When I’m big I hope to be,
A race horse who earns money.
I’m just a little foal yet,
Who has never seen a jet!

Kudos to that young writer for knowing the difference between “lay” and “lie”, btw.

But this entry, in the prose category, is totally my favourite.  Because, All.  The. Drama!!

A Boy And a Horse
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Jerry.  He had just woken up and was extremely excited because he was going to go see his grandparents from out of town.  Jerry and his mom and dad were taking a train to get there.  Also on that day, there was a horse farmer that lived nearby.  He had 8 colts.  One was just turning 4 and his name was “Flash”.  Flash was being prepared for the big race that was being held later that day.  The colt was very fast and had won two other races before and duck_tales_runaway_trainwanted to win this one.  Later on he was just waiting in his starting gate with the other horses, when he saw a train go by.  Jerry was in it and he ran to the caboose of the train to watch the race.  Flash was in third place on the final turn and Jerry was on top of the rail waiting to see what would happen.  All of a sudden the train started moving, sending Jerry flying off the back of the train.  When Flash saw this, he bounced the driver off his sulky, snapping the reins and once free he ran over to get Jerry.  He hopped the fence and started running and flung Jerry up on his back, following the train.  In 5 minutes the train had reached the station and Flash was not far behind.  He ran as fast as he cold and 2 minutes later he was there.  Sensing Jerry was barely conscious, Flash tried to find his parents.  It did not take him long.  Flash saw two people looking panicked.  Mom and Dad saw Jerry and ran over to get their son.  They rushed him to a hospital and the following day Jerry came back out thanking Flash for saving him.  Flash went back to his ranch and even though he didn’t win, he still felt like he did and Jerry went over to the ranch everyday to see Flash from that day on.  Best friends.

And if you aren’t stirred by that, we can’t be friends.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Backyard Horse Tales: Sox, by Jackie Anton

Backyard Horse Tales: Sox (2nd edition) invites young readers into the high-profile world of competitive reining, and it is there that author and illustrator Jackie Anton finds her comfort zone, describing in vivid detail the challenges that face horse and rider in the show pen.

The hero of the tale is Sox, a Quarter Horse foal who is born with a disfigured leg, and overcomes his disability to excel as a reining horse.  Sox and his mother, Sandy, communicate to each other and to the reader, Black Beauty style, speaking in the first person.  Anton uses this conceit to describe Sox’s equine view of the world, but it’s a little self-conscious, particularly when she uses Sox’s voice to introduce the story’s human characters.

More authentic is the addition of 11-year-old Emma, the proverbial girl next door who is struggling with her own challenges.   When Emma’s mother joins the military and is deployed to Iraq, Emma must relocate to small-town America to live with her grandmother.  Emma’s diary entries give us some poignant insight into her feelings of isolation and her worry about her mother – but here, too, there is some awkwardness when we learn that Emma has been diagnosed with dyslexia.  I’m not dyslexic myself, but I would imagine that a dyslexic character might not find it easy to generate the articulate diary entries we read; she would likely choose to express herself in another fashion.

Sox and Emma come together as they grow and mature, though on the whole, I would have liked to have read more about how they overcame their challenges.  Sox’s contracted-tendon issue appears to resolve more or less on its own, and Emma’s dyslexia doesn’t seem to be much of an issue either.  (Nor does her loneliness last forever, as her mother returns safe and sound from Iraq mid-way through the book.)  Still, it’s clear that each needs the other and learns from the other as they grow from children to adults – and as Emma’s equestrian education at the farm next door progresses, she moves from riding Sox’s experienced and wise mother, to the young and cheeky Sox himself.  (Thumbs up for this valuable message to young readers that green horse + green rider is not a healthy equation.) 

Anton’s background as a rider and horsewoman shines through in the text of “Sox” — her hero is based on her own reining horse, Two Scooten Sox, who was lost to colic in 2009 — and both teens and adults will enjoy being immersed in the precision world of reining competition.  Horse-crazy young readers will love the descriptions of county fairs and horse shows, and kids of all persuasions will find the episode in which a tornado strikes at a horse show, particularly gripping.

At times, the tale of Sox feels like a story in search of an ending … but when the conclusion does come, it’s eminently satisfying.

About the author:
Jackie Anton writes the family friendly series “Backyard Horse Tales” (readers 8 to adult).  Sox 2nd Edition expands Sox and Emma’s story, and has a brand new ending. This version is enjoying excellent early reviews.  #2, “Frosty and the Nightstalker” will be out by fall of 2012. “Prelude: Backyard Horse Tales 3: Don’t Call Me Love” is an e-book available on smashwords.com and amazon.com.
Anton also pens romance books, under the pseudonym J.M. Anton. “Fateful Waters” will be an e-book in April, and in print by late summer 2012.

Backyard Horse Tales:  Sox is self-published and is available in both print and e-book editions.  Purchase Sox 2nd Edition at www.backyardhorsetales.com, or at Back to the Books online store, and enjoy free shipping.  

The first five readers to purchase Sox, second edition before the end of this Blog Tour will receive a free copy of Backyard Horse Tales 2: Frosty and the Nightstalker. Purchases will be verified with resellers Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and a host of online retailers. Purchase an e-book and you will receive an e-book!  Print editions of Frosty’s Tale will be autographed before they are shipped.

More about Jackie Anton here:

Sliding Stop

Sliding Stop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Loathsome Writing Advice

More and more, I’m finding that the mission of this blog has become to be the antithesis to all of those desperately earnest blogs out there spreading Pollyanna advice on How To Be A Writer.

Gawd, they make my teeth hurt.

You know the ones I mean.  The ones compiling lists of handy tips on how to spring, fully formed, into the writing world (see Botticelli’s Venus, above) and Make A Great Living.  (Bubble burst #1:  I have been doing this nearly 25 years and have yet to make a great living.  And I’m probably better at this than some people.)

I feel it’s high time that someone shat upon these pointless platitudes from a great height … or at least lobbed a nice 30 kg IBM Selectric up the sides of the heads of those perpetrating this drivel.  And I’m just the snark to do it.

Herewith my personal parade of the banal, cliched, painfully obvious, staggeringly stupid, and just plain lame writing tips I keep seeing, ad nauseum.

I’m begging you, for the love of all that is sacred, please stop telling me to:

1. Write every day, even if it’s not for publication.  Oh Christ, like I need to practise just for the sheer sake of practising.  While I’m at it, why don’t I get some of those multi-lined sheets and revisit my cursive technique?  I always liked doing j’s and q’s …

2. Write for free, in order to get “exposure” (see previous rant here).  

3. Enter writing contests.  Totally counter productive in a head-spinning number of ways.  Not only are you now writing for the privilege of submitting an entry fee, you’re never going to get paid, your material (whether it’s any good or not) will instantly become someone else’s property, and you’re just going to become totally demoralized when it disappears into a black hole and is never heard from again.  Trust me, hardly anyone in the history of time and space has ever launched a writing career based on a contest.  (And please don’t bother sending me the story of the sister-in-law of your second cousin who won a writing contest and is now J.K. Rowling. I don’t want to know.)

4. Create a business plan and calculate how much you’re worth per hour.  Sure, a great idea on paper.  Think you’re consistently going to get anything remotely near what you’re worth in this business?  If so, you have a way better publicist than I do.

5. Try using ‘bid sites’ or writing for content mills.  A great way to break in, if your plan is to establish that you will work for crumbs and never expect to be treated any better.  Seriously, 1500 words for $5?  Thank you, sir, may I have another?  Plus, honestly, the content on the content mills is such shite that you’re not exactly enhancing your resume in such company.  The bid sites are even more humiliating:  just how much more can you debase yourself than the next guy?

6. Write what you know.  Ugh.  Just shoot me.  Okay, I did begin by focusing on a niche in which I already had good contacts.  But a journo’s job is not to dispense her own wisdom… it’s to dispense the wisdom of others.  I didn’t know anything about shopping for a mid-sized tractor, but I was able to a) locate a few experts and b) ask questions, like, say, “So what’s the deal with mid-sized tractors, then?”, then c) write down their answers.  Voila.  Article.  Write what you DON”T know, and chances are you’ll ask much better questions.

7. Everyone wants to read your autobiography or journal of Deep Thoughts.  Hey, it’s even more fun if you write it in the third person, as if you were interviewing yourself.  It will simply fly off the shelves because you are just so gosh-darn interesting.

8.  Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar.  Oh. My. Fucking.  Gawd.  You need to be told this?

Then there are these constructive lifestyle suggestions:

9. Get lots of sleep.  Sure, as long as deadlines aren’t an issue for you … I’m sure your editor will understand the vital importance of being well-rested.

10. Designate a space for your writing where you can work undisturbed.  I can’t even manage this, living alone with two cats.  They are all over me like hairy white on rice, and that’s to say nothing of my keyboard.  Good luck achieving it if you have a spouse and/or ankle-biters.  Unless you build your very own dungeon, and don’t mind emerging to heaven knows what kind of chaos which has occurred in your bleary-eyed absence.  The thing about working from home is, you’re not really doing anything important, are you, so you are the first victim people call when they need a couch moved or a horse subdued for the vet …

11. Eat healthy snacks.  By all means, make sure your beta-carotene, your psyllium fibre, your spirulina, and your omega-3 intakes are appropriate for the writing life.  Pretend you have unlimited leisure time and no bills to pay.

12. Go for long walks, commune with nature, find your bliss etc.  Because that’s how articles get written.  Certainly not by doing research, interviewing sources, or, um, sitting down and writing.

Let’s not forget these oh-so-helpful tips on the creative process….

13.  Read lots of stuff.  I am absolutely convinced that the bilingual text on my morning box of Cap’n Crunch has made me a better writer.  Seriously, there are people with writing ambitions who never read anything?  Plus, plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery.

14.  You are a “real writer” if you believe you are.  I believe I’m the heiress to the Thomson media empire, too, but my bank balance, tragically, disagrees.  I’m sorry, but if you’ve never had anything published, you are a hobbyist scribbler.  Maybe an ambitious one, maybe just a delusional one, but your writing needs to be able to stand up to professional scrutiny before you can use the appellation.  Just sayin’.

15.  Do creative cross-training to stimulate the ‘writing  juices’.  Oh, yes.  Make greeting cards out of coloured construction paper and compose a delightful handwritten verse for the innards.  Create bombs from pipecleaners, an old deadbolt, and some glitter glue.  And while you’re at it, sell your crafty creations on Etsy — you might at least make some money that way.

And a few miscellaneous gems:

16. If you’re writing for children, use simple words.  Distressingly conspicuous, wouldn’t you say?

17. Don’t fear what you write.  Huh?  Well, I guess if what you write exposes your secret, festering desire to become a pedophilic serial killer, you might want to be a little afraid.  Or at least surrender yourself to the authorities before things get messy. Trust me, it’s better this way.

18. Come up with catchy titles.  a.k.a., You Can Never Have Too Much Alliteration.

19. I confess, I love, love, love this one:  “If you’re writing fiction, it’s a great idea to have a plot. It will coordinate your thoughts and add consistency to the text.”  (This was actually taken from one of those writing-tips blogs.)  Good Christ on a donkey, why didn’t I think of that?

20.  A writer is someone who needs to write, has to write, is consumed by the passion to write.  Two words:  sheer bollocks.

And I’m spent.

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Felicitations to …

… Thea Bredie, the winner of my first (and very possibly last) giveaway here on WFTRSOTS!  For commenting on Bubba Goes Blogging, Thea wins a downloadable copy of author Jennifer Walker’s short story, Leslie and the Lion.

And here’s a gratuitous link to her blog about learning, Montessori-style!

Thanks for playing, Thea!

Middle Grade Fiction: Is it a Genre?

Young Adult author Jennifer Walker has kindly contributed this, my VERY FIRST GUEST POST, as part of her virtual book tour for Bubba to the Rescue (reviewed here on March 9th).  Does this mean my blog has arrived?

Welcome, Jennifer, and take it away!

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION:  IS IT A GENRE?

By Jennifer Walker

When I was a kid, I think there was basically three main age groups fiction could fall into: children’s, young adult, and adult. Times were simpler then. I read young adult books by the pile, mostly about horses. The stories were pretty simple and wholesome, the characters were morally upright, and the formula was pretty predictable.

Now, life has gotten a little more complicated. Kids have lives that are more complex, they deal with mature issues when they’re younger, and they’re interested in more mature themes. You have vampires falling in love with mortals and getting married and having babies and werewolves falling in love with mortals and getting married and having babies, and wizards falling in love with other wizards and falling in love and making babies and God knows what else. These are definitely aimed at the older teens, but what about the younger teens and tweens?

That’s where I come in. I’m not into writing about vampires and wizards, I like to write about good little girls and horses. My characters do have their flaws, of course, and they deal with some modern issues like dead or absentee parents, parents remarrying, and first loves. However, it’s all on a scale that’s more appropriate and approachable for the younger set. While I have a good deal of readers who are young teens or adult women, there seems to be those few years in between where readers’ tastes want something a little different. I am happy to say, however, that I’ve had some 16- and 17-year-olds who loved it, and that was very gratifying!

So, how best to write for this tween audience? I don’t profess to be an expert, although what I’m doing seems to be resonating pretty well with most of my readers. My main strategy has been to read a lot of books read for this age, but since most of the ones I’ve read (Saddle Club and Thoroughbred) are a bit outdated, I try to update a little by adding in some character flaws (making bad decisions and learning from them) and modern issues (parents remarrying). I try to keep the language simple, although there are certainly a few words in there the kids will have to look up, and focus on what kids aged 10-13 or so might be interested in.

I really enjoy writing for this age group, because I really enjoy wholesome stories with good hearts. Writing them brings me back to my own youth, when life wasn’t so hard and when my biggest problem was whether I’d get to go to the big dance. I like writing characters that are a good influence on my readers, teaching them life lessons — hopefully without them noticing so it just slips into their subconscious and becomes a part of them.

____

Jennifer Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and novelist living in northern California. Her two books, Bubba Goes National and Bubba to the Rescue, are both available in print or digital editions from Twin Trinity Books and other online retailers.

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Bubba Goes Blogging: A Book Review

Oh, gentle reader, you have arrived on an auspicious day indeed.  Not only is this my very first book review (on this blog, anyway), but my very first giveaway, too!  You have to read to the end for the freebie part, no cheating.  

Featured author Jennifer Walker is the author of Bubba Goes National and Bubba to the Rescue.  Her stories have also appeared in the anthologies Elements of the Soul and The Ultimate Horse Lover. A full-time freelance writer and editor, her work has appeared in numerous magazines and websites including the Yahoo! Contributor Network. She resides in northern California with her husband, cat, dog, and Arabian stallion. 

There’s more about Jennifer and her YA novels here , or visit her Facebook fan page for the Green Meadow series.

This post is part of Jennifer’s very cool two-week Virtual Book Tour.  Jennifer will also be contributing a guest post right here on March 13th on writing for the Young Adult market, so mark your calendars, peeps!

BOOK REVIEW:  BUBBA TO THE RESCUE

As Young Adult fiction for horse-crazy girls goes, Jennifer Walker’s Bubba to the Rescue, the second in her Green Meadow series, has a lot going for it:  beautiful Arabians, an adrenaline-pumping forest fire, an intriguing mystery … and two perfect guys who love horses and horse-crazy girls so much that they never complain about all the time spent in the barn!

The latter two – one, teen protagonist Leslie Clark’s father Dan, the other her devoted (and maybe just a wee bit two-dimensional) boyfriend Alex – may be the most fictional elements of Bubba to the Rescue.  Where the story really comes alive is in Walker’s depictions of Green Meadow Stable and its equine residents, which is absolutely as her tween and teen readers would want it.

From her heart-wrenching description of Leslie’s Arabian gelding, Lucky (aka Bubba) suffering a potentially career-ending injury in the forest fire, to the ethereal appearance of the mystery horse, Spark, who materializes out of the flames to gallop home safely with Leslie, Alex, and their horses, Walker provides vivid portrayals of her equine characters, the routine of barn life and horse shows, and authentic details of stable management that reveal her extensive background in that world.  When a friend’s horse suffers a bout of colic, Leslie’s anguish is palpable, as is her pride when her mystery horse excels at his first show.

Leslie also wrestles with some typical teen challenges:  adjusting to a blended family when her father (widowed in the first in the series, Bubba Goes National) remarries, testing the murky waters of dating and formal dances, peer rivalry from a mean-spirited classmate, and feeling helpless when a friend comes under the influence of a controlling boyfriend. In the saddle, however, she is skilled and her horses perform perfectly; if I were to quibble, I would say I would have liked to have seen her struggle with her blossoming horsemanship skills just a smidge!

There also seems to be little focus on Lucky once his veterinarian declares that his recovery will be slow (as realistic a part of the horse industry as that circumstance might be).  The horse who was the heart of the first Green Meadow book gets turned out in a field and seldom mentioned afterwards; I kept waiting for his re-entry to the story, though I suspect Walker is planning Lucky’s triumphant return in the in-progress book three!

In an age where dark forces seem to be almost obligatory in teen novels, Bubba to the Rescue is refreshingly free of supernatural influences, R-rated themes, and bad behaviour.  Leslie and her cohorts are normal, modern teens, the adults in their lives provide gentle moral guidance, and there are subtle life lessons taught without hitting the reader over the head.

Although this is the second book in the Green Meadow series and builds on characters introduced in Bubba Goes National, it does well as a stand-alone volume. The pacing is brisk and never bogs down, making Bubba to the Rescue not only a page-turner, but quite an incentive to pick up its sequel just as soon as it becomes available.

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Published by Twin Trinity Media, Bubba to the Rescue (and Bubba Goes National) can be purchased here.

Digital versions for Kindle, Nook, and more can be found at Smashwords and Amazon.  And an audio version is now available here.

$1 from the every sale of Bubba Goes National and Bubba to the Rescue, between now and July 1, 2012, will go towards a fund to send a deserving young lady, Zoe Deaton, to the Arabian Youth Nationals in Albuquerque, in the last year she is eligible.  Purchase a copy today and not only will you get to read a great story, but you’ll help this young rider fulfill her dream!

BREAKING NEWS!  Comment on this post for your chance to WIN a FREE download of Jennifer Walker’s short story from the Green Meadows series, Leslie and the Lion.  Just make sure you comment, with your e-mail address, by midnight (Eastern Daylight Time) on  March 16, 2012!  One commenter will be chosen at random.

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