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.

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

Character Couture: Dress the Drama

marie-vertI had the privilege of interviewing five top Texas costume designers for Arts+Culture Magazine. Barry Doss (Huntsville), Susan Branch Townes (Austin), Christina Cook (Dallas), Macy Lyne (Houston) and LA Clevenson(Houston) were filled with enthusiasm for their chosen profession. I was so fortunate to be able to chat with them and tell their story.

 

Read the full article here.

To Run or Not To Run

IMG_0934Do you run? Olympic marathon length or short sprints?

Writing is like running. We have different length pieces we work on. I just finished up what I would consider a 5K: a magazine piece for Arts + Culture Magazine about costume designers working in Texas. I am also on the home stretch for a marathon of a project, my first novel for children.

Naturally this lead to research about words. Specifically the word “run”. This took a lovely amount of time, during which I could feel like I was working, but alas, did not produce actual work. Hence the blog post. Gotta do something with all this not-work.

To Run: (according to dictionary.com)

verb (used without object), ran, run, running.

1. to go quickly by moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk and in such a manner that for an instant in each step all or both feet are off the ground.

2. to move with haste; act quickly: Run upstairs and get the iodine.

3. to depart quickly; take to flight; flee or escape: to run from danger.

4. to have recourse for aid, support, comfort, etc.: He shouldn’t run to his parents with every little problem.

5. to make a quick trip or informal visit for a short stay at a place: to run up to New York; I will run over to see you after dinner.

6. to go around, rove, or ramble without restraint (often followed by about): to run about in the park.

7. to move, roll, or progress from momentum or from being hurled, kicked, or otherwise propelled: The wheel ran over the curb and into the street.

verb (used with object), ran, run, running.

53. to move or run along (a surface, way, path, etc.):

Every morning he ran the dirt path around the reservoir to keep in condition. She ran her fingers over the keyboard.

54. to traverse (a distance) in running: He ran the mile in just over four minutes.

55. to perform, compete in, or accomplish by or as by running: to run a race; to run an errand.

56. to go about freely on or in without supervision: permitting children to run the streets.

57. to ride or cause to gallop: to run a horse across a field.

58. to enter in a race: He ran his best filly in the Florida Derby.

59. to bring into a certain state by running: He ran himself out of breath trying to keep pace.

There was more. Much more. The richness of adjective use and noun definition scrolled down my screen until I had to switch to my manuscript to keep from getting dizzy. Who knew one tiny three-letter word had so much meaning?

All this started because I didn’t want my character to “run” around the outside of the house. I needed a specific word that indicated “to move quickly and with great intent.” “Dashed” was my first attempt, but that seemed old-fashioned. I variously tried “loped”, “bounded”, “rushed”, “raced” before settling on “sprinted”.

This whole ten minutes of fiddling with the word “run” reminded me of an exercise that Darcy Patterson did in her weekend Novel Revision workshop she did for the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) a couple of years ago. (No, my mind was not wandering. I originally wrote this book for that workshop.) She challenged us to demonstrate a variety of ways to get from one side of the room to another. I was in a rare panic when I realized I would be demonstrating word number 25. Fortunately no one else used “skulk”. I excel at skulking. 

 

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What draws readers?

Have you ever wondered what makes people actually read blog posts? Me too. So I thought I’d try a catchy blog title to see if it picks up a hit or two. [The original title, Lose Ten Pounds in Two Days brought my regular readers, and no one else. It has been changed to protect the innocent.]

Of course, I have to stay on topic, so here goes:

If you want to lose Ten Pounds in Two Days, you can go on the starvation diet and hope for the best — or — you can write a book.

Yes! You heard correctly. Writing a book is a guaranteed way to lose weight.

You lose the weight of the hair you tear out in frustration when your characters refuse to go down the dark alley you told them to explore. You lose the weight of the fingernails you chew to the quick because you are ridiculously close to the deadline and still have half the book to write. You lose weight because you have no time for fixing a meal, no time to go to the grocery for frozen dinners, and since you’re still in your pajamas at four in the afternoon, you can’t tear through a drive-through for a food fix.

In addition, there’s the additional exercise you benefit from pacing the floor, flinging edited pages at the waste paper basket, and plucking the cat off your keyboard when she decides she’s waited long enough for you to notice that her food bowl is empty. (After all, that insistent meow says, she’s not on deadline, you are. She still needs to eat.)

Truth to be told I do lose weight when writing regularly. No time for snacks. Not as much television watching. More walking or gardening to work out plot snags. I drink much more water and far less soda. (The whole no time to go to the grocery store thing.) I will admit that during the editing phase, my manuscript loses more weight than I do. Much of what I write are things that I need to know, but that the audience for the actual book may not need or want to know. I write in a meandering path, so much of the extras have to hit the cutting room floor so to speak before the book is called done.

True confession: I’ve never managed to actually lose ten pounds in two days or even two weeks. Like everything else worth doing, losing weight — and writing books takes a little longer than two weeks.

Sorry — If only it was really this easy.

Squash Me!

squash and cucumbers
How many is too many?

Anyone who has ever grown squash knows you need a way to dispose of this stuff. I’ve heard that you can break a friendship under the weight of gifted zucchini, but my friends are stauncher than that. The fact that they are no longer taking my calls or answering the door when I stop by means nothing — for I know that come September they will be clamoring for the spoils of my early fall harvests. Who would turn down fresh basil, lettuce, swiss chard etc. (Although you’d think they’d take the squash to stay on my good side…)

Until then, I’ve been searching for a way to make squash disappear.

If friends and family stop taking this particular offering, do I really need to eat it myself? I know from my Weight Watcher days that veggies have zero points, but…the squash out of my garden this summer is so sweet that I’m pretty darn sure I can gain weight eating it. I needed more ways to dispose of squash without hurting relationships or myself.

My first thought, prompted by the sight of a rotten summer squash in my refrigerator’s bottom drawer, was to compost all the ones I couldn’t eat right away and move on to eating the other good stuff coming out of the garden. After all, the squirrels, raccoons, and possum would benefit from all this healthy goodness. But then I realized how much effort I would be putting into feeding the local pesky wildlife and put my thinking cap back on.

I called the Food Bank. That’s right. The local food bank will take produce! Eureka!

Squash mashes down to almost nothing in the food processor. You can pulverize it and use it to thicken soups and sauces. Works! Mmm. Pretty creamy too – and less bad for me by far than a cream sauce.

I considered putting it on the next-door neighbor’s porch and run like hell. Unfortunately, they have a gun and know how to use it.

Dried ZucchiniMy favorite by far is this next one. The newest thing in my kitchen is a dehydrator. ($13 from Good Will) A whispering fan sends warm air wafting upward through thinly sliced vegetables, drying them to thin crispy goodness. I sliced up one of my more robust varieties, sprinkled a little sea salt over the pieces, spread them out on the trays and left them whirring away overnight.

Voila! Zucchini Chips. They are so tasty I may have to market them. Oh wait, perhaps I should Google it first to see if it’s Been Done. Oh well, so I’m not the first to think Zucchini would dry well. It’s still a great idea.

If you’ve got any good squash tips you want to share – feel free!

Happy gardening,

Julie

Hurry Up and Wait

How many of us set goals, and then race through our days striving to reach those goals so that we can set newer, better goals toward which we can strive?

I used to be very goal oriented. I truly thought I could accomplish anything, 1 – 2 – 3. Next!
Then life showed me how it really goes. Moved to Texas. Married. Had children. I was 30 before I finished my first book, 40 before I completed my Master Gardner certification, and 50 before I had the time to put in my first honest-to-gosh kitchen garden.
Gardening has taught me a new outlook on life. I have to wait for everything. Wait for the seed catalogs to be posted. Wait to make up my mind what kind of vegetables to plant. Wait for the seed to come in the mail. Wait for the seeds to sprout. Wait for the seedlings to be robust enough to plant outside. Wait for the plant to fruit. Wait for morning to come so I can pick the vegetables and fruit at just the peak of flavor…then wait all day for my husband to get home so that we can cook dinner together. (Getting a few weeds and new pages for the work-in-progress out of the way while I wait…Blogging occasionally when volunteer duties allow.)
Philosophy of the second half of my life: Wait to hurry rather than hurry up and wait.