Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And the Horse She Wrote in On

Last weekend I volunteered at the annual Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference. Over 300 writers came from all over the U.S. and beyond to attend professional development sessions and to pitch their books to agents and editors. The amazing stories-behind-the-stories of these tenacious authors brimmed with hope and conviction.

At the luncheon where keynote speaker Calvert Morgan, with HarperCollins, shared “The Top Ten Things You Should Know about Publishing,” I sat next to author Lynn Reardon who runs the non-profit organization LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers. LOPE, as it’s called, helps find new homes for retired racehorses.

I probably didn't know ten things about horse racing, but I learned that these animals, like greyhounds, need homes and opportunities to transform their lives – and their new owners’ lives – and build new careers for themselves.

Lynn’s terrific book, Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses, offers inspiring stories of several horses that have lived on their ranch. Her own tale of bounding from an accounting career into a Texas rancher role is a fantastic feat for a woman who didn’t even learn to ride until she was an adult.

It struck me how writing is both an endurance race and one of skill: jumping the obstacles that block the track (e.g., the exploding calendar) and navigating turns and changes of direction. At times we need to trade our sunglasses for blinders to stay focused. Yet every paragraph moves us four hooves closer to the finish line.

Lynn writes of a persistent sense of being an impostor while learning the ranching trade. Many beginning writers feel the same, fleshing out stories and re-tweaking dialogue until the voice is clear and authentic. They slash, tweak, edit, and trim their way into lean story-telling machines. Every deletion is a riding lesson toward perfecting a consistent rhythm and stride.

She shares that the horses constantly teach you life lessons, especially about facing your fears and pushing your limits. Showing up with courage, whether in the stall or at the page is the only option to realize your dreams.

As a young rider, I slid off or was bucked off more horses than I stayed on – to me, all saddles hide an ejection button somewhere in the horn. I never became fearful, always swinging right back on, until the day I climbed into a friend’s pasture, and, without provocation, a mare they were boarding decided she wanted to kill me – not hurt me, kill me. My friend gigged her horse and backed him in between us, and I bolted over the fence to safety. Years later I forced myself to help a friend groom her Arabians, and it took weeks of rhythmic brushing, stroking, and proffers of apple nibbles to break my fears.

Writing is like this: it takes courage to climb atop a bucking 700 pound manuscript and hold on through revisions, critiques, pitches, and rejections. The brave writers and their tenacious desire to tell their stories inspires and teaches us to grip the reins, hunker down, and gig that bronco across the finish line to publication.

When was the last time you flew out of the saddle when working toward a goal? What prompted you to climb back up and keep course? How did you face your fear and conquer it?

I’m planning to visit LOPE this summer to meet some of the characters in Lynn’s book that still live on the ranch. With any luck, I won’t be run out of the corral. Of course, there’ll be a carrot or twenty in my pockets to help make new friends.
Horse Tales blog: