Writing Horses Part IV

In this final post, I’m going to talk about the different kinds of equines as well as terms for the various sexes, and how each is most commonly utilized.

There are seven or eight living species of Equus, but I’m only going to talk about the more general terms. If you need more detail than this, you need to research the topic. There are horses, donkeys (asses) and zebras. Though occasionally trained, zebras don’t make very good pets or work animals, so I’m not going cover them. Instead, I am going to talk about mules, a horse-donkey hybrid.

First, horses. Everyone is pretty familiar with horses and what they look like. For the sake of comparison, notice that they have smaller ears, and long strands of hair over their entire tail.

Tera and Tanqa horses

Donkeys are generally smaller than horses. They have long ears, and their tail only has the longer strands of hair on the second half. The correct term for donkey is ass, and burros are also donkeys. You can look up the various breeds and their details if you need to know more about that.

donkey tail

 

‘Mule’ is the common term for a horse-donkey hybrid, though technically it is specifically for a male donkey and female horse. If it’s a male horse and female donkey, it’s a hinny. There are few times you should need to get into the lineage of an animal in your fiction, though. If you need it (or are curious) there are some differences between a mule and hinny. For the sake of this post, though, a mule has long ears like a donkey, but a tail more like a horse. They are also typically bigger than donkeys.

bay mule

 

Now when it comes to horses and ponies, there are some differences. Ponies are not baby horses, they are a different class of the species. Generally, ponies are smaller than horses, but there are differences beyond that, and I’ll touch on a few of those, because this is a great example of how using one term in the wrong context can enrage an equestrian reader. Typically, horses are anything over 14.2 hands (the unit of measure for horses), and ponies anything under that hight. There are some breeds, though that are not held to that rule. Differences in confirmation help narrow down what is a pony and what is a horse. There are specifics, but generally, ponies are stockier, and even when they’re taller, their legs are shorter in comparison to their body, than with horses. This is why miniature horses are different from ponies, even though they are usually smaller.
Ponies are typically reserved for children, have a (well earned) reputation as being mischief-makers, and are often more stubborn.
Draft horses are another type of horse, they’re heavier, generally taller (though, again, this isn’t a firm rule), and well suited for pulling work. They are also often not as smooth to ride (some breeds are more suited for riding than others).

black draft Halterstandingshotarabianone

I2E by colour-science.com
I2E by colour-science.com

The black horse is a draft, the bay (the brown with the black mane and tail) is a ‘light’ horse, and the dapple grey is a pony.

horse size comparison

The above image will give you a rough estimate for comparison, but remember there is a lot of overlapping in height.

Now, I’ll explain why the terms ‘stallion’ and ‘gelding’ are not interchangeable.
Here are the basic terms for horse sexes. A mare is an adult female, a stallion is an adult intact male, and a gelding is a male that has been castrated (the term for horses is ‘gelded’). A baby horse of either sex is called a foal. A colt is a male foal, and a filly is a female foal.
There are some differences in appearance between a stallion and gelding, stallions tend to be more muscular, and geldings taller. Their behavior is the important thing, though. Geldings are considered the ideal working and riding horse. They are considered to be mellow, steady, and dependable. Geldings are less particular about stable and travel mates.
Stallions are not horses just anyone hops up on. They require a lot more training to work with than other horses, and they require a much more skilled and confident rider. They cannot be easily mixed with other stallions or with mares. People do ride them, but unless you have a specific reason for someone riding a stallion (and if so, you should learn a bit about that), a gelding is the usual choice.
Mares have a reputation of being moody. Aside from when they’re in heat (about one week a month) an individual mare’s mood doesn’t fluctuate much, but it is harder to generalize mares as a whole. They are more particular about other horses they are around and (because in the wild, mares are the actual herd leaders) they are less tolerant of behavior they don’t like–from both riders and other horses. They are used regularly in travel, but a gelding is preferable in most instances.

I’ve had a few people ask about this, so I’m going to go over the ages of horses. Babies are called foals up until weaning (usually around 6 months). Then they become ‘weanlings’. Yearlings, are one year olds, then they are referred to by the year (two year olds, three year olds, etc) up through four years. Usually, after that there is no reference to age. Most horses are broken to ride at two years old. Some breeds, like Arabians, they prefer to wait until three years.
The most common method for aging a horse is looking at it’s teeth, and I’ll include a chart for those curious on how to do that, but I have seen experts argue over the age of a horse more often than agree by looking at the teeth.

teethage

 

I think this covers all the basics for horses in fiction. I hope some have found it helpful for your works. Generally, these are all things that can be safely left out of a story, but including the correct term here or there can enrich the story. Adding the wrong term, though, can do more harm than good, pulling readers that know out of the story (I wrote about a writer’s responsibility to allow the reader to suspend their disbelief here).
I always enjoy talking about horses, so if anyone has any questions about anything I’ve covered, or anything I haven’t covered, I am more than happy to answer those questions, offer research material, and go into more detail on anything.

Writing Horses Part III

Here were are with the next piece on the basics of writing about horses without giving away that you’ve never stepped foot into a barn and have no idea what hay smells like (it smells wonderful, especially mixed in with fresh pine shavings). I was going to conclude the series with this one, but I’m breaking this post into two, so they’re shorter.

Last time I talked about behavior, and the first post was basic anatomy and such. This time I’m going to talk about travel.

First, it helps to understand that horses are herd animals and prey animals. Horses do not do well without another herd animal, preferably another horse, but cows, goats, and other equines work as well. So while horses can get comfortable riding out alone during the day, when they’re not working, it’s harder for them to be alone, and horses that are kept alone will often develop psychological problems.
When travel by horse is the norm, everywhere designed for people to stop included a place for horses. The basics of stabling and feeding horses has not really changed much. Box stalls, hay and some form of feed such as oats. When people camped, horses were often hobbled or picketed (if you’ve read the Little House books, you might remember that). Hobbles are a bit like handcuffs on horses, and they’ve been used since at least the ancient Egyptians. hobbles.jpg

There are a few ways to picket horses. You can have a central post or peg usually on the ground with a long rope tied to the horse (at the face, neck, or even one leg). Or you can have a line strung between two things with a horse or horses tied to it. That line can be at varying levels, if it’s overhead, it’s called a high line. If your work requires more specific information, you should research the pros and cons of each.

SI Exif
SI Exif

picketing w legpicketline

The important thing is that horses eat at rest. And lay down (part of the problem with having a horse alone is that they don’t feel comfortable laying down and while horses will doze standing, they do need a few hours of deeper sleep).

This brings me to the next topic–horses are grazers. They are designed to eat throughout the day and will get sick if they are unable to. When people ride all day, the horses are snagging bites of leaves, bushes and grass that they pass. Riders allow horses 3-5 minutes to graze when they come across open grass if they’re riding all day. This is the time riders stretch, eat, relieve themselves, etc. Horses do not charge ahead or plod along mechanically for hours on end.

And that leads into horse gaits. Horses walk, trot, canter, and gallop (the lope is a slower, more leisurely version of the canter, and the biggest difference is in the riding discipline– canter is english, lope is western–most instances you can use them interchangeably)

The walk is a four-beat gait and I think everyone can distinguish a walk. Horses walk about four miles an hour.

The trot is a two-beat gait, and this is the working gait. Horses can only canter and gallop for short periods, assuming they’re fit, they can trot all day. There is a wide variation in speed, but eight miles an hour is average. Unless it’s very slow, riders will usually do what is called ‘posting’ to the trot where they rise out of the saddle and sit back down (in a controlled manner) to the one-two beat (one-up, two-down). Trying to sit to anything but the very slow trot is incredibly uncomfortable for both horse and rider. I have no personal experience, but I am told it’s even worse if you’re male.

posting-trot

The other option is to raise your bottom out of the saddle completely. It takes a lot of leg strength, but anyone who rides regularly will have that, and it is actually a resting position from hours of posting the trot.

endurance 2 point

The canter is a three-beat gait and can also over a range of speeds, the average, though, is 12 miles per hour. Remember, this is not something they can keep up for a long time.

The gallop is a four-beat gait. It’s the fastest, around 25-30 miles per hour, and is not usually sustained for more than a mile or two. Thoroughbreds are rarely raced further than a mile in a half, though some places race Arabians two and a half miles. At a slower gallop, fit horses can go a bit longer before needing a rest.

There are quite a few un-natural gaits like pacing, the running walk, or the rack. If you want to use something like this, you are going to need to research the breed and how much of that gait is bred into that breed vs trained into it.
Exceptions on speed include horses that harness race at the trot, and American Quarter Horses who can sprint the quarter mile at record-breaking speeds.

The next post, and last post will talk about the differences between mules, donkeys, and horses, and why you cannot refer to a pony as a ‘baby horse’.

Writing Horses, Part II

In my last post, I went over the basics of what horses and their tack looks like. This time, I’m going to talk about behaviors. In most stories, horses aren’t something you need to spend a lot of time on, and trying to incorporate all this information is likely to end up as an info dump, but when you do want to add in a detail here and there, please, make it accurate. There are equestrians everywhere who love to read, and nothing makes our blood  boil like reading about a horse growling (update: horses do not roar in fury, either).

Horse body language is pretty complex, so I’m going to stay with the very basics (and what I see written about incorrectly most often).
Pinning the ears. Horses only do this when they’re really angry. It’s a warning that people and other horses need to take seriously, it is often a precursor to some kind of unpleasant action. Horses will flick their ears back to listen to a rider, but pinning or flattening the ears is a specific gesture with specific meaning.

ears-angryfocussed-horse.jpg

The bay horse has pinned ears and is preparing to kick something/someone, the grey is just listening or focusing on the rider.

‘Striking’ is the term for when a horse uses their front legs, ‘kicking’ is specifically for the back legs. Striking is a much more aggressive action. Horses will often kick defensively, striking is only offensive.

horse kickhorse striking
Biting is the most aggressive act a horse can do. They will lip, nibble, nip, and chew for obnoxious, curious, and playful reasons, but a teeth-bared bite is not common, and very aggressive. Most often it’s something you see between horses, or when chasing off a predator. People are bitten on occasion, and horses that bite people are dangerous for people to be around. It can be unnerving to see that kind of aggression in an animal like a horse.

muzzle-angry-gaping.jpg
Rearing is also not something horses do often. They’re not very stable on their back legs, and they’re not going to do it without a specific reason. They’re even less stable with a rider on their back, and unless both horse and rider are trained to do this, the horse will often fall backward onto the rider (I have a friend who experienced this and is lucky she wasn’t killed).

black-stallion-horse-rearing-20150709223956-559ef83c66bd0.jpg

Bucking is…a little interesting. The technicalities of it are actually a little disputed in the horse community. For the sake of writing pretty much anything that is not ‘The Technicalities of the Buck’, bucking can be considered any time a horse throws it’s back or back-end into the air. It’s the usual form of rider-removal or attempted rider-removal. A buck might be dropping the head and jumping off all four legs, it may be only throwing up the back legs. Sometimes it is kicking out with back legs while the head is up. If you are looking for some variety in the way you write about this action, smaller bucks, and little kicks are sometimes called ‘crow hopping’ This is more a protest than earnest attempt to unseat the rider, sometimes it’s playful and something horses do when they’re ‘feeling their oats’.

V0048757 A horse rearing and bucking. Photogravure after Eadweard Muy
V0048757 A horse rearing and bucking. Photogravure after Eadweard Muy Credit: Wellcome Library, London.http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The credit says this image is of a horse, it’s mule (but I’ll save that for another post). It’s a great image of all the different movements involved. The last movement on the bottom right is a great example of a little crow-hop.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was vocalizations. Horses whinny, neigh, nicker, squeal, snort, sneeze, and cough. The do not growl. Horses never, NEVER growl–I cannot stress this enough.
Whinny and neigh can be used interchangeably. It’s the loud long sound you hear from them. They do it when they are calling out to other horses and their food if they’re on anything besides pasture. A nicker is a quiet kind of rumbly sound that some also use for feed time when they’re about to get their bucket. They’ll also do it in anticipation of a favorite treat, when talking to their foal/mother, and during the flirting/breeding process. A squeal is usually accompanied by a kick or strike, or it serves as a warning for those actions. It’s usually only used with other horses though, not people.
Coughs and sneezes happen for the same reason they happen with us. A snort is often an alert to something. A horse will pull up and snort when they see something alarming or suspicious that is too far away for them need to decide about flight or fight.
Horses do not vocalize in pain. They don’t vocalize in fear, either. A snort is the only alarm they’ll give, otherwise, as prey animals, horses stay quiet when they’re vulnerable. (The exception to this is if they are alone and calling for their herd.) Mostly, horses talk to each other and to their feed. They also talk to people when that person is feeding them, or they think they’re supposed to be feeding them.

Update: Apparently, there are some horse information blogs that describe a “roaring” sound from angry stallions. No. Horses do not roar. Not only do horses not roar, but the term ‘roaring’ in relation to horses is specifically used to describe the sound of larynx disfunction in tall horses that requires surgery to fix.
The closest thing I could come up with is that someone was attempting to describe the neigh or squeal of a deep-voiced horse. Just like people, horses have different voices. A higher voice is more common, but there are some with a deeper voice, and some with a surprisingly high voice. My dainty grey mare had a surprisingly deep voice, and I’ve seen some huge geldings with comically high voices. But regardless of where an individual horse falls on the vocal range, it’s still a neigh or squeal–given the context, I think they were describing a squeal.

A few last oddities about horses. Horses are not able to throw up or otherwise regurgitate. Once they swallow something, that’s it. Yawning is a passive-aggressive act, not about being sleepy. They will doze on their feet, but horses do need a few good hours of deeper sleep where they can lay down to really be rested.

After getting such great feedback and interest in the first post, in the final posts I’ll address travel, like what do riders do with their horses when they’ve ridden all day and stopped for the night. Then, why the terms stallion and gelding are no more interchangeable than the uses of each one, and why mules, donkeys, horses, and ponies are not the same thing.

 

Writing Horses When You’re Not an Equestrian, Part I

I’ve been working on horse farms since I was ten, and was riding for years before that. I spent every waking moment I was not at school out at barns. I read about horses, collected shelves of toys and figurines, covered my walls in pictures of them–I was one of those horse-crazy girls people warn parents and boys about.

As my reading branched out from all things horses, one of the my biggest pet peeves was people writing about horses and getting it wrong. I spent a few years guiding trail rides for people that came out from D.C. on the weekends, so I’m used to a lot of strange misconceptions about horses. However, as a writer, I think authors need to be knowledgeable on the things they are going to write about–especially since a lot of the incorrect information I’ve come across could have been left out entirely with no harm. It is always better to leave out information in those instances than include the wrong things.

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First, lets look at horse colors. Color words are fine–with one exception. Horses are rarely white. A white horse is a horse that has white hair over pink skin. That means the skin visible around their eyes and on their muzzle is all pink. It looks a little weird, it’s not very common, and it’s prone to a lot of health issues, particularly sunburn. Usually when you see a horse with white hair, it’s over black skin and that is called a grey. There are many shades of grey, but unless it’s pink skin, it’s grey.
If you’re going to get more specific about a horse’s color, saying ‘dapple grey’ or ‘roan’ or ‘chestnut’ make sure you know what you’re saying.
I’m using the introductory images I use for students, so if you want to delve more into things like paint/pinto/skewbald/piebald, you should research those colorations because they get more complex.

pandori_aura_equine___color_chart_by_carlmoon-d60uz8mBefore you go crazy with all the interesting, exotic looking colors you come across, here is something to give you an idea how common the different colors are. If you’re going to give your horse a specific breed, it’s worth taking a quick look to see what is common for different breeds.

 

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The next part of coloration is markings. Since I am sticking with the basics, this doesn’t go into the various markings on piebald/skewbald horses.

Points_of_a_horseNext, we’ll look at the the basic parts of a horse. Riding students and horse owners have to memorize these, but an author just needs to make sure they aren’t misusing terms. The head, body, and joints are where I see most mistakes. Note the the front leg has a knee and an elbow. The back leg has a stifle and a hock.

 

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Here is a quick look at tack–which is the term for what you put on a horse when you ride it. This is an english saddle. There are some differences with a western saddle and side saddle.

 

 

6abd767611844ec15ec208e3ab6dcddaParts of a Sidesaddle.jpg

 

I’m not suggesting anyone shove info dumps or obscure terms into their stories, just that if you do decide to include details, make sure they’re accurate.

I’ll write next time about basic horse behaviors that are often misrepresented.

If anyone would like more in-depth information, I always love talking horses!

 

 

Writing Between the Lines

One of my responsibilities as someone who writes fantasy (and hopes others will enjoy reading it) is creating a narrative that invites the reader to suspend their disbelief. I want to pull them into the story, willing to accept healers and mages in a world where gods courting celestial bodies affect their abilities.

The most affective way to do this is through research. I have found that an author needs to be a researcher as much as they need to be a writer. I find myself feverishly googling things I never even thought of existing before (the most concerning for my husband will probably always be the searches involving human leather) and losing whole blocks of writing time lost in articles and references. Balancing research and writing is a topic for a future post.

Creating a plausible setting even for a fantastical world is an important foundation for the reader. I had to research climate, geography, weather, and how it all interacts just to make sure the atmosphere matches the land my characters traverse.

One part of the book I’m working on now took months of research to build a culture that makes up less than a quarter of the story. Some of the things I had to learn about for that were the process for tanning leather, life-cycle of moths, nutritional value of various insects, weaponless fighting styles, limits of the human  body under specific conditions, sign languages, pictographs, various minerals and stones, and cave systems. Aside from the fighting styles, it was all for the foundation, and months of research only worked out to be a few paragraphs in the story. I barely got to include the tip of the iceberg of things I learned.

Those few sentences were important. A single word can turn a reader off. Every time something jars the reader out of the story, it’s more work to be pulled back in. Reading through a discussion on readers’ pet peeves, I saw several where one word or phrase was all it took. Some of my own are like that–I can’t stand it when I read that a horse “growled”. Horses do not growl, I know they do not growl and it snaps me back to reality and makes me less trusting as I continue to read.

In a funny way, disrupting that suspension of disbelief is a betrayal to the reader (at least I have certainly felt that way when reading before). So knowing what you’re writing about is important. Research is an investment in your work, and not something to be skipped over. Sometimes, though, there are a lot of common misconceptions on a topic floating around pop culture, and accurate information is what upsets the suspension of disbelief.

The example I’ll use is long swords–specifically medieval European long swords. It was rare to find any over 5 pounds, they’re usually 2.5 – 3.5 pounds (ceremonial swords could be heavier, but I’m focusing on functional swords). But a lot of people believe they weighed 20, 30, even 40 pounds. It seems implausible to readers for certain characters to wield these swords. There is this idea that only big, strong, fully grown men could pick up these things, let alone use them practically. So for Kat, my sword-weilding, 5’4″, 17 yr old, female protagonist to use one would pretty much guarantee a lot of reader skepticism. As a warrior, her swords are an important part of the story, and I risk compromising the suspension of disbelief whenever I mention them.

Fortunately, Kat’s swords are modeled after katanas and people seem more willing to accept that someone her size could handle those. In reality, katanas and European swords weigh about the same.

Now, if Kat were using something modeled after medieval European swords, I would need to navigate through that. I could just charge in with truth on my side and declare it is up to readers to educate themselves, google keeps all things within our grasp, after all. But that doesn’t really help me. Disrupting that suspended disbelief, even with accurate information, risks losing the reader entirely.

A mini history and technical lesson won’t fit neatly into a story, either. Info dumps like that disrupt the flow of the story, too, and anytime that happens, it’s less certain a reader will be pulled back in.

People tend to read my genre to relax and escape, they don’t want to do the work of researching things, and they don’t want boring lessons. It’s my responsibility to respect the role reading plays for most of the people who will pick up my book. Like everything else in the story, if Kat used European swords I would have to weave that information in, in a way that doesn’t break the flow, but makes it plausible.

Because Kat is a warrior, and weapons are something readers expect to read a little about in heroic fantasy, I can spend a sentence or two describing them. When she is given her first sword, I could talk about how it felt to hold it, mention how light it felt to hold, until she considers everything the sword represents (the culmination of years of training, and a way of life for the rest of her life) and then the sword feels heavier. Then she can remember the code she is trained to live by and that balances the weight for her, making it easy to wield. Now, I’ve given the reader information about the weight of the sword and tied it into a theme that will be relevant throughout the entire series.

I can’t guarantee that will combat the pop culture idea of the sword, but it should be enough context to uphold my end of that invitation to suspend disbelief.

Rest It or Break It

I recently wrote about how making myself think creatively helped me to be more creative. It was the single best thing I’ve done to boost my imagination (aside from my daily cup of tea, of course), but it’s not something that stands on its own. Creative burnout is real, and just like muscles need to rest to grow, sometimes the imagination does, too. It’s something I forget.

When I first starting writing Of Fire and Steel, I was adamant about working on it every day. I am a person of habit, and something I still do (six years later) is make myself open Scrivener every day and write something, even if it’s just a sentence. There is a voice in my head that makes me feel guilty when I’m not using free time to write. Often that voice has a point. A current WIP is probably a better use of my time and energy than arguing with someone on Facebook. What I was reminded of this weekend, though, is that sometimes binging on Netflix and cookie dough ice cream is completely appropriate.

Over the last two weeks I’ve had two big ideas start spinning in my mind. Two brand new and entirely unrelated worlds. I’ve been organizing research and inspiration for them, giving them time to flesh out in my mind, working out some of the basic elements, compiling things to look into later. I’ve been constantly thinking about these things, finding further inspiration everywhere, and dreaming about them. Creatively speaking, it’s been a lot of work.

chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-ice-cream-12-600When I sat down to open my WIP, The Forging Legends, I felt exhausted just looking at it. I read a paragraph that needed work and could not come up with the words to rewrite it. It felt like there was just nothing up there. So I turned on Netflix (the first time I wasn’t putting on a kids’ show in weeks) and busted out the ice cream. Usually, I can not sit and watch TV without doing something else, even if that something else is just Facebook or email. But, I sat there for an hour and a half content to be fully absorbed in the TV. All weekend, I was watching the newest season of Longmire when I had free time instead of working on my WIP.

Three days later, I miss my story. It took me about two minutes to rewrite that paragraph and I’m back to my usual pace with The Forging Legends. The two new ideas are still rolling around up there, but now it seems like everything has it’s own space again. I’d been so wrapped up in the excitement and allure of the new creations that I was working my imagination in it’s usual down time and I didn’t realize how essential those breaks could be.

Use It or Lose It

Back in the spring, I wanted to boost my creativity. I’d been working on The Forging Legends for about six years, and while nothing felt like it was getting stale, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t thinking narrowly. So I started doing weekly writing prompts. The first few I would only work on if the prompt was something that grabbed my attention and inspired an immediate reaction. That wasn’t really the way to stir my creativity and I knew that, my imagination was just being lazy.

Once I decided to be serious about it, and to do every prompt, I also decided I wasn’t going to go with the first idea that popped into my mind. I didn’t want a lazy imagination, I wanted to give it a workout.

The first few were hard. They took up a lot more of my time than I was expecting. I would read the prompt, think about it, read it, think about it for several hours. Eventually, I would get a few different ideas rolling around in my head and I had no idea how to tell if one was any better than the others. I had to start all of them and see where I was a few paragraphs into each.

Then I would ask my husband to read them. The first one he said he liked the idea, just not any of the words. It went through some serious revisions until I had something I was willing to show people outside of my kitchen.

Each week, my revisions got shorter until the only thing my husband suggested was correcting a few proofreading errors.

It wasn’t only my ability to tell a story at first pass that improved. I started getting three or four ideas as soon as I read a prompt–and they were all wildly different. Soon, it wasn’t just the prompts that made stories pop into my mind. It was shows, news, studies, photos, a random person–every part of my day seemed to be filling my mind with crazy ideas.

11891092_1006216739425320_6173079694740270934_nI saw this little rubber thing one morning as I stepped over it. From the corner of my eye all I saw was the green and it looked more iridescent. By the time I walked five paces (I counted when I went back to pick it up) I’d imagined it was a tiny portal to another world and three ideas for what that world might be like, two ways I could be trapped there, and what a journey to escape might be like. I realized my imagination was in pretty good shape.

I can’t write every story that pops into my mind, and it can be difficult to know which are the good ones and which are just nonsense as my creativity flexed its muscles. So I try to give everything a few minutes of my time. I’ll think about them, see where they go, start asking those writer questions to flesh it out. That portal story wasn’t going anywhere I was interested in following, but others have.

Reading about a Mongolian girl who hunts with eagles gave me the first solid idea I’ve had for a YA book. And an article from NPR about Chernobyl wildlife has sent me into a frenzy of research in virology and evolution. If I hadn’t put a focus on exercising my creativity, I would have thought these things were interesting, maybe vaguely inspiring and that would be it. Now, I’ve got two new worlds in my mind that I’m having a lot of fun exploring.

I haven’t forgotten The Forging Legends. I am intentional about only writing one large project at a time. I will collect research for others and record notes, but only one story gets fleshed out on paper (aka in Scrivener) until it’s finished. I know some people worry about blending worlds, but so far I haven’t experienced that. If anything, these new places in my mind have helped me look at the lands in The Forging Legends with fresh eyes and to imagine new things.

Creepy House. Flash Fiction.

Prompt: You’ve been lost for days. This is the only house for miles (picture of a creepy house in a clearing in the middle of the trees)

It was so out of place. Shades of green and brown for days broken up with so much white. Dirty white. Grimy white. Those straight lines and angles didn’t belong here, either. I should have been relieved to see this house. I wasn’t. Something about the empty windows struck dread into the pit of my stomach. It was enough to push out the gnawing hunger.

“Ominous.” It was the first word I said aloud since the string of profanity the night before.

The sound of my voice made me chuckle–nervously. It sounded too small and empty here. The trees, at least, muted everything. This opening seemed to expose it. And I had the odd sensation the house heard me. I’d just been out here too long. Too little to eat, too little sleep, that was all.

But I knew that wasn’t all. I could feel it. That wasn’t all, that house heard me. Maybe it wasn’t the house, maybe it was someone inside the house. I’d seen those movies, I knew what kind of person would be in a house like that.

But there wasn’t anyone there. I could feel the emptiness from here. It felt like it was eating into my bones.

How long had this house been out here all alone? Forever? Forever. I was the trespasser here.

The sky was darker now and a rumble rolled over the mountain. With the sound, the house was beckoning. Or taunting. It was daring me to take shelter inside.

I had the same tingly feeling I got when I woke up to that coyote watching me. The hairs on my arm prickled at the idea of spending the night here.

The bottom fell out of my stomach like I’d just dropped down the first hill on a roller coaster. Everything inside me yelled for me to run. Every instinct ordering me–begging me– to run. Turn around and run. Chance the elements and dirt and the endless sea of tree trunks.

The rain was soaking through my t-shirt, but all I could think about was the last show I watched. An arctic wolf was chasing a caribou calf. It seemed like I watched the calf run for an eternity. The narrator said the odds were even. If the calf didn’t make a mistake, the wolf would give up the chase after a mile. I don’t know how long it ran, less than a mile, I guess. The wolf closed in and barely grabbed it by the little tail. The calf just lay down. It tucked up its legs and lay down. The odds were never even, that calf never had a chance.

Letting the Characters Drive.

I’ve been advised against writing in first person several times. The general advice seems to be that publishers don’t like it and it’s harder for readers to get into the story. I could never understand that because I’ve alway loved reading first person. It pulls me into the story. When I’m reading first person, I get so absorbed in the story that I forget I’m reading.  It feels like the story is simply in my head. The narration of third person constantly reminds me that I’m reading words on a page. Thinking back, it seems that all the books I would binge read were in first person, while third person was easier for me to put down and function like a normal person (which is important sometimes).

I felt like there was something missing in that advice. I wasn’t going to presume to tackle the entire publishing industry, but there was something that wasn’t getting passed along. Maybe it was lost somewhere in the translation of ideas into cash. Then I read something and a choir of angels burst into song. It said first person point of view, POV, was for character-driven stories, while third was best utilized for plot-driven stories.

What keeps me up all night, eyes twitching from strain and exhaustion, is the characters. What they’re thinking and feeling, the way they relate to each other, how they handle the challenges before them, how they grow, how they crumple, how they overcome, how they fail. There needs to be a plot, of  course, but my interest is in how the characters tackle that plot.

When I’m thinking up the foundations for a story, it always starts with a character, or group of characters. I’ll spend a few days considering and exploring these people. It’s not until I’ve got the characters figured out that I start looking for a world they fit into and a plot for them to work through.

Finding such a simple explanation for how POV drove stories made it feel like my whole life made sense. I like first person so much because I love character-driven stories.

When I first tried to look into the differences between a character-driven story and plot-driven story, there seemed to be as much disagreement about that as every other single part of the whole fiction process. Some places suggested that character-driven stories were reserved for literary fiction, while others said Star Wars was a great example of characters driving the story. Again, I’m not going to take on the entire industry, but it seems to me a good way to tell is what the reader remembers most.

 

Unconventional Ramblings, An Interview

I recently shared the exciting news about having my first book, Of Fire and Steel, picked up by a publisher and wrote about the unusual way that happened. Shortly after that, I sat down with Aaron Hughes, the Managing Director of Rambunctious Ramblings Publishing Incorporated to talk about his unconventional approach and how he plans to turn the publishing world on its head for reader and writer alike.

Q: When first coming up with the idea for RRPI, what was the thought process? If you could pick a few things that you wanted to do differently than the competition, what would you say those are?

A: The thought process behind the creation of RRPI was to end the elitism. I was a real estate agent after I got out of the Marine Corps, as such I provided a service to buy and sell homes. There was no legal requirement behind our position, only the tradition and ease of completion to use an agent. The same is true about the current publishing industry. There is a sense of “You need us”.

Not anymore. Anyone can publish a book through a wide variety of means. So what do you need a publishing company for? What point is there to have one sign you? Exposure? They commonly target authors who have a large social media following. Marketing assistance? Not much. Generally they’ll plop a few shares and that’s it. So this is where I thought of something different.

I want to open the flood gates and mentor authors. I want their bright and wonderful ideas, I want to help mold them into something that can bring merriment to the masses. I want to help them grow into something fantastic. So I thought “How do you do that?” I bounced ideas off of my wife and Ashley, our Branding Director, and came up with a solid concept.

RRPI is a company that goes after the small fry to help them complete their dream of becoming a professional author. We figure out how they work, how they think, and what they need that they can’t easily do themselves. Some people need a boot in the rear end, whereas others need to know that what they’re writing isn’t garbage, while some just need a timeline for completing work.

Every unknown author has been tread upon by society, their friends and family, publishing companies or more. With each submission for a contest, or query, I give them an answer, “Yes” or “No”, but more importantly, why. I detail what I liked and disliked about their story. Where I would go with it and what they should do. Currently there are two people who submitted to me for publishing and I told them to go back and fix things then I’ll sign them. It is a test to see if they can adapt.

So in short, RRPI is about the author bringing their best, adapting their best to give the reader the easiest path into their mind. A path to see the worlds and characters that are hidden away. A path to bring joy and love, adventure and intrigue, and so much more to the world.

Q: When you say you accept all submissions, that means you’re giving everything a fair chance, right?

A: Correct. We accept submissions for consideration to publish from any genre and experience level. We also do not limit submission times to certain dates like other companies. We believe this hinders the possibility to have creative people come to us. Creativity doesn’t know timetables.

Q: So would you say you focus more on creativity than the average company?

A: We focus on the author and their creative process. We take time to understand their abilities and limitations and work with them to bring out their best for the reader.

Q: My understanding of traditional publishing is limited, but it seems like authors have more input with RRPI than the average publisher. How intentional is that?

A: One-hundred-percent intentional. When I created RRPI, I wanted authors to work with us through the process and learn what needs to be done. Not sit in the dark and wait for orders. If they know what it takes, they build trust with RRPI and it becomes easier with each book that comes through the mill.

Q: You don’t have genre limitations and you have said you don’t go after an established author. Is there something particular you’re trying to offer readers that you feel like they aren’t currently being offered by the industry?

A: Open creativity. With genres and established authors you get preconceived notions. With a mix of genres or new authors you get surprises. It’s a way to bring new things to the world of literature and show that not everything needs to be put neatly into a box. The real world is messy and so are the worlds that our authors create. RRPI wants to bring a whirlwind through the literary community and we want every reader to be caught up in the flow.

Q: With that in mind, what is your process for deciding if an author and work would be a good fit with RRPI? What kind of issues are you willing to help an author work through that more traditional publishers would move past?

A: I don’t look at the word count or the genre. I don’t care about that. A good story is something that speaks to you. If I get that feeling of hunger to read more while reading someone’s submission, I love it. If I don’t realize how long it took me to read it, I dive after the author to get them to sign with me. I will work through most any issue with an author. We have a few authors that have severe anxiety issues, others with families that take precedence, not to mention day jobs. Our job as a publishing house should be to make sure that our authors are happy; happy authors equal productive authors. Authors who feel included, who feel communicated to, who feel that their needs are important to the publishing house will work harder than anyone else out there. Its how I’ve always treated people I work with and people in my personal life. It’s how I got my wife to marry me, well that and constant pestering until she said yes.

Q: How does RRPI balance the unforgiving business world with the creative process? Those two things usually seem at odds with each other.

A: They very much are. We work with the author to establish what real life requirements they have and set dates, goals, deadlines, etc. based off that. It’s like balancing a truck on a toothpick, but it is possible. The key is to be as aggressive as your life allows you to. To plan far ahead of time so that you have plenty room for error and adaptation.

Q: You mentioned being a real estate agent and there is definitely an undertone of the Marine Corps in some of your answers. Are there things from these other fields that you think offer an edge?

A: I think that one must experience life before they move into what they want and are meant to be. As a real estate agent I had to field my own business opportunities by finding clients out of the blue. It allowed me to work independently and develop my own style of business management and leadership. As a Marine, of course it lends a lot to my perspective. Everything in business needs to be looked at coldly and my training taught me how to look at a problem from an outside perspective.

Q: Awesome. That leads directly into my next question. How do you plan to do that? We’ve talked a good bit about what you’re offering authors, but what about the competition? Do you view other publishing venues–traditional, indie, self–as competition?

A: I don’t believe that they are competition. They have different talent, different books, and different perspectives. RRPI is unique just as every other publishing house or self-publisher is unique. We bring our own sense of flare and style to the scene just as they do. I plan to revolutionize the publishing scene by producing quality books while shoving against the stigma that you must define your own niche in publishing in order to develop credibility. I believe consistency and customer service creates credibility. That is what I plan to offer and plan to execute by our daily existence as a company.

Q: What advice do you have for people who are still trying to get to the point of being ready to publish and maybe feeling overwhelmed by the whole process?

A: The answer is always “no” unless you ask. Just stop, breathe for a moment, and move on. If you get rejected, it’s all right. Everyone has been rejected, they know how you feel. You aren’t alone. I’ve fought just like you have to find my place in the world. I’ve fought to accomplish my dreams, to come back from nothing. I and many others are right there beside you. You may not see us, but you’re on the same trail as we are. Remember this and persist. I want to see what story you have to tell, and so does the rest of the world. Keep writing, things will get better.