Travelogue

Blue Suitcase
Ready for anything.

So yesterday was…interesting.

I discovered that

1) the Ohio River had flooded Louisville and Cincinnati and all points in between this past week, which it so rarely does and

2) getting on the plane from Houston to DC for the Pony Club horse management judge training that I rearranged whole chunks of my life to get to was a really bad idea.

My first clue that All Was Not Well was when my flight out of Houston was delayed two hours by weather. The Delta app oh-so-helpfully had a pop-up button that allowed me to rebook myself on a connecting flight out of Atlanta with plenty of time to spare, and I settled in to get a huge amount of work done. (Pats self on back!)

Then they delayed my flight again. No pop up button appeared and there were no later flights available to DC from Atlanta. I crossed my fingers that the gates would be close together.

Then they made me check my carry-on bag. While I might could sprint from plane to plane, the baggage handlers have a ton of other bags to handle, so I quickly repacked my carry on, and wore or carried all the things I had to have for my seminar. So, instead of my nice walking shoes, I then had on paddock boots, a barn coat, and a shoulder bag with about 20 pounds of horse management junk in it. My carry-on/checked bag was almost empty. I took a photo of it, since it had been awhile since I had a record of what this bag looked like, and got on the plane to Atlanta. Texted my husband a funny update about it all. Congratulated myself on how well I’d thought all that through.

Smooth flight. We landed, taxied….and stopped about a hundred feet from the gate. And sat there for 30 minutes while I watched my Delta app for signs that the connecting flight (Only two gates down the terminal!!) was also delayed. Boarding, it kept saying, right up til after I got to the gate to see the jetway door still open — but they had “released” my seat because I wasn’t there, and they put standby folks on the plane instead of me. Texted my husband in frustration. Thank goodness someone listened to me!

Delta baggage handler are stellar because they managed to “expedite” my bag from the Houston plane to the DC-bound plane, so I got to wave goodbye to my almost empty bag and lug my horse stuff down to the long line of folks trying to find a seat out of Atlanta. Two hours later I had learned there were no flights to the northeast part of the country because of a storm but they could get me on an evening flight to Houston Hobby. (My car was parked at Intercontinental on the north side of Houston,but hey, NOT Atlanta.) Texted new flight info back to Houston to husband.

That thing I usually do before packing? Checking the regional weather before I go. Didn’t do. At least I had a way out of Atlanta. Fretted a bit about this expensive round trip ticket to mayhem, but decided to drown my sorrows in more work. (Aren’t I a good little writer!)

Before I got on the plane to Houston three hours later, I called and left a message on the husband’s cell because I hadn’t gotten any return texts. “See you at Hobby at 8?” and watched Justice League all the way back home. (So the day was not all bad. Haven’t sat still long enough to watch a movie in quite awhile.)

Turned my phone on to find a text from my husband in response to my phone call that he’d see me at Hobby on Sunday and thanks for the update!! He had not gotten any of my texts, but assumed the voice mail from me was about my original return date. He too was unaware of the storm on the east coast.

The hour it took for Paul to get to Hobby gave me enough time to discover that 1) Delta employees are really kind. They would bring my bag to my house when it got back 24 hours from when I got back so that I would not have to go to both Houston airports today to collect my car (Intercontinental) and my bag (Hobby). and 2) Check my e-mail to discover that Delta had credited me the entire price of the ticket.

And I now have two entire days I didn’t have before, so I’m headed out to do spring cleaning of the barn and mow the pastures, and brush the horses.

Weather here? Delightful.

Travelogue out.

Julie the traveling fool

Beginnings

I have always been one of those folks who sit down and think, “Where do I want to be in ten years?” It helps me set priorities, to get those bullet lists started, to re-vision myself after making a change in my life.

The first time I did this, I was about ten. I knew that in ten years I would be a grown-up. This was when I began to imagine what I “wanted to be.” Little did I know I would become multiple things — and that not many of them would be on that first list.

Astronaut. Yup. I wanted to boldly go to outer space and explore the heck out of it. (That was about the time we landed men on the moon, so perhaps understandable. Star Trek didn’t hurt, although I found Captain Kirk really irritating.)

Doctor. Okay, so once I got older, this morphed to Nurse (Less school, less time at work. I’m all about the life/work balance. This one I achieved. I worked cardiology and pediatrics for awhile before becoming a full-time mother and school volunteer.

Olympic Rider: Hardly likely to happen, considering I was only able to have one year of riding lessons as a child. No money for things like that.

Writer. Flash those neon signs!! I made this one come true. Didn’t start seriously writing until I was 30. (Before that I only wrote chillingly bad murder scenes where people who needed to die, died badly. It was only therapy. I swear.) At the age of 40, my first book came out. It was followed by two more in the series, then came a lull.

A fourteen year lull.

Last year, 2017, BURNED, a middle grade equestrian novel, came out. Kids who read it have e-mailed me photos of themselves burning through the pages. Gotta say that meeting my goal of becoming a writer has given me more pleasure and more heartache that being a nurse, and being an astronaut cannot beat the look on a child’s face when they connect with your characters.

That lull? I spent that time learning. Writing this. Writing that. Trying all kinds of different forms. Writing with different groups of people, all the while soaking up as much as I could from what they knew. When my children were little, partly as a way to stay involved with them as they spread their wings, I began working with kids and horses as a Horse Management Judge at Pony Club Rallies and sewing costumes for the local high school theatre productions.

Those two volunteer jobs were not so much a surprise, as I sewed many of my own clothes in high school, and while I sure missed getting close to riding at the Olympic level, I did manage to get a job mucking stalls in the stable in Cherokee Park in high school; riding wasn’t part of that deal. Just being around the horses was enough for me though.

My children are adults now, and no longer need me on a day-to-day basis. This is liberating in the most lovely way. I miss cuddling with my two cute little bunnies, but am more than happy about the independent, capable adults they have come to be. Plus (Shhhhh! don’t tell the kids!) it’s way fun to be an adult who gets to set their own schedule and do what we’re most interested in.

And surprise! What I am interested in looks a lot like it did when I was ten: Horses, science and space, writing. I have picked up a few interests since childhood: gardening and attending live theater, but really, I still find that my, “What do I want to be doing in ten years?” goals are a lot the same.

Ten Years from now I hope to:

  • Have ridden a rocket to catch the stars. Hurry up Space X! Space travel needs to become safe and affordable right now!
  • Enjoy the the joy and fierce compassionate power a child feels when they are able to get such magnificent creatures to partner with them.
  • Continue to attend live theatre. It touches me in a way that TV and movies cannot do.
  • Improve my writing every day. Because touching children’s hearts with my work is the best goal there is.

Writers’ Family Reunion

photo of welcome table at Writers' Family ReunionI had the opportunity yesterday to participate as a faculty member at Writespace’s   Writers’ Family Reunion. Writers of all stripes from all over Houston (and beyond) gathered at Silver Street Studios to meet, greet, and learn about the writing process — from how to get started, through how to keep going and included the multiple paths now available for publication.

Favorite things?

Meeting a writer new to Writespace, who was warm and wonderful. So glad to know you Hilda Davis!

Writerly foods!

Speed Dating for Writers: I am sorry I did not climb up on something to get an arial view of this activity. Michael put down a masking tape map of Houston on the floor of the warehouse, handed out a survey for everyone to fill out that would help them network. He first grouped writers by their home location to say “Howdy, what do you write? Wanna meet up sometime? Here’s my contact info.” Then he moved them to about five different groupings, including genre, experience level, and several other fun options, leaving them enough time to say again, “Howdy, what do you write? Wanna meet up sometime? Here’s my contact info.” Brilliantly done — and fun to boot.

Then on to browse the sponsor tables and play writerly games.

The neverending story was hilarious. Pull a slip out of a hat and write a sentence  inspired by your slip that builds on the previous line in the story. Try working “fern” into an intergallactic story that includes a squished alien caterpillar.

Poetry building included meg-size magnet words on a sliding metal door. Pretty soon we were scavenging each others’ haiku for enough words to complete our own verse.

First page critiques were a lot of fun. The energy of a new writer is something that fuels my fire for writing. Pam and Richard at our table both had so much going on that I really wanted to read more!  (There was one other woman whose name I didn’t catch who wrote a wonderfully evocative scene!)  K.J. Russell and I combined forces to provide critiques for these three aspiring writers.

Then on to breakout sessions. Over the next two hours, panels of local published writers discussed:

  • My Journey as a Writer: What I Wish I Knew When I Started
  • Writing Your First Novel
  • How to Create (Or Join!) a Great Critique Group
  • Publishing 101: An Overview of Options for New Writers
  • Reading Like a Writer
  • The Benefits of Promiscuous Art-Making: How Exploring New Creative Mediums Can Vitalize Your Writing

Now I can’t wait for Writefest the first weekend in May when I get to gather more fuel for my writing engine.

 

Five Long Years

Image of clock face
Time

It took me a long five years to write BURNED, the Pony Club-based middle grade equestrian mystery now available from ShopPonyClub.org and Amazon.com (Be sure to use the SMILE program and designate Pony Club as the recipient!) Even during the first draft of the book, I knew that capturing Sophie’s voice was going to take a lot of effort.

I have been a twelve-year-old girl, but that was a long time ago. Fortunately, there are a lot of Pony Club members I could use as example of how that age thinks and speaks. Many people think that writing a children’s book is easier than writing for adults. I’ve done both. I can say definitively that writing a child’s point of view is much harder to capture once you’ve gotten to full adulthood. It was discouraging, to write that first draft and find that I had to toss the entire thing. Despite my best effort at the time, Sophie sounded too old for the audience, and not at all like someone I would have liked as a friend. Then there was the story itself.

The original problem I set for Sophie was one that I thought all horse kids would relate to: the possibility of losing her horse, Cricket. She was supposed to figure out how to raise the money for her partial lease, something I know in my heart a Pony Club kid could do. (For one thing, Pony Club families support one another, and I suspect her Club or Center would help her through that financial spot in her life.) But when I pitched that story to editors, many of them said they didn’t believe a 12 year old could raise that kind of cash. Little did they know the support of the horse community, or the resourcefulness of a horse-crazy young woman.

After a Big House editor told me that the problem needed to be world-changing, I faced a choice: toss yet another draft of the book and quit, or try a third time.

Sketch of two children flanking a horse bursting out of a burning barn/
Fire!

I went home and burned down the barn. Not literally of course. I’m rather attached to my barn. But one of the barns in the book caught fire. As much as it hurts me to admit it, that pesky editor was right. It made my pulse race to write that scene. Hard work to write the book from the beginning again, but worth it. BURNED is a much more exciting read with that kind of danger added.

Once I made that change in the plot, instead of raising money being the sole problem, Sophie must also grapple with the question of adults behaving badly. When her mother is accused of wrongdoing, the very real threat to Sophie’s relationship with Cricket becomes secondary to her anxiety about her mom. Fortunately, Sophie has great friends, and the full support of her Uncle Charlie, and her father, even though he lives all the way across the country from Sophie’s home in Maryland.

Sophie is smart, and strong, both outside and in, just like the Pony Club members I work with as a Chief Horse Management Judge. Horsemanship teaches all kinds of mad skills, and I gave Sophie many of the ones I see most: ability to put together facts and come out with a logical answer, resourcefulness, and I also added the loyalty to friends that serves so many of our barn families so very well.

As part of the story, I had to test Sophie. I did that by leaving enough clues about several possible bad guys so that she had to work for the solution to her mom’s problem. When I got to the end of the book, it was a relief to find that she was up for the job.

Young riders reading BURNED.At my recent signing at Championships in Kentucky, several young riders came up to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. They liked Sophie’s resilience and her ability to pick herself up and get back on the horse no matter what happened to her. Just like writing this book three times before I got it right, Pony Club kids try, try, and try again until they succeed.

Julie Herman
MysteryGarden.com

This Blog post originally ran on the Pony Club Pizza, where Pony Club piles on the knowledge.

Bit of This…

Riders grooming their horses
Cooling a horse after a ride.

At Pony Club Rallies, I sometimes work with young riders who come to their safety check not knowing what bit is in their horse’s mouth, or why their trainer has told them to use it. (Just like when flying in an airplane, Pony Club requires a courtesy safety check before any rider gets on the horse. Some of the kids tell me riding feels like flying, so I love that that we too offer a safety check!) 

 

 

Why is it important for the child to know what bit they have in their horse’s mouth? For one thing, it gets them thinking about how the equipment they use affects the horse’s comfort and compliance.

If they have a simple loose ring snaffle in the horse’s mouth, it’s pretty forgiving of young hands that may tug against the bit even when they don’t mean to. That is considerate of the horse’s comfort and will help keep a gentle horse listening to their rider.

 

However, if they are going cross country and the horse has a tendency to run through the rider’s hands, then something with better braking power, such as a kimberwick, may be in order.

 

 

 

 

Below is a puzzle I put together for young horse-lovers to help them learn the names of different bits. Enjoy!

 

BitWordScramble

Cover Release

With just a month to go before my middle grade novel featuring a trio of horse-crazy kids who have to come together to solve a mystery is released, I figured it’s time to release the cover art. I kinda love it and hope kids do too.

Oconee Spirit Press

ISBN: 978-0-9974575-3-7

138 pages            Trade Paper  $9.95           Ebook 3.99

Pub Date: June 2017

  

Sophie would be the happiest girl in the world if she could spend every day with her friends Yasmine and Tanner, riding her beloved horse, Cricket. But she stands to lose all of that and more when her mom is accused of theft and arson. As the evidence piles up, and friends turn away, Sophie scrambles to clear her mother’s name–and soon finds herself in the middle of a hot mess.

 

Julie Herman is the author of the Three Dirty Women mysteries and as a Chief Horse Management Judge for the United States Pony Clubs.

 

“For mystery lovers, horse-mad readers or those who enjoy a good story about friends and family, this is the book for you.”

Sara K Joiner

children’s/teen librarian

author of AFTER THE ASHES

 

“BURNED, Julie Herman’s new middle-grade mystery, is a horse-lover’s dream, with a suspense-filled story that moves faster than a racehorse. Twelve-year-old Sophie is a strong female character who’s determined to uncover an injustice, even though she may lose her favorite horse, Cricket—and possibly her life. Couldn’t put it down!”

Penny Warner

Author of award-winning THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB series.

 

Michelle Ney — Arts & Culture Texas Feature Article

Photograph of a set used in the play Tribes
Tribes, by Nina Raine with scenic design by Michelle Ney at ZACH Theatre, 2016. Photo by Kirk Tuck.

I had the pleasure of talking with talended set and costume designer Michelle Ney about her designs. If you are from the Austin area and have the chance to see one of the shows she’s designed — run get tickets!

Read full article here.

Quick, Quick!

messy desk of Julie wray herman
My desk is only messy because I FINISHED a book!

Thanks to Mary Saums for inviting me to post on the Femmes Fatales blog today. News! I have a middle grade mystery BURNED. Sophie Allen is a horse-crazy girl. When a local fire threatens her family, her barn-friends team up to help her solve the mystery.

Click Here for the direct link to the post.

Can’t wait for 2017.

 

Happy Reading,

Julie