Friday, February 26, 2010

Meet Sandra Alonzo

Sandra is an author after my own heart - she's a fellow horse lover. When I first read her picture book called GALLOP-O-GALLOP, I was genuinely touched. This woman not only knows horses, but her poetry captures that special bond between a human and a horse.

So of course I was thrilled with the news that Sandra's first YA novel, RIDING INVISIBLE will be released from Disney/Hyperion on March 2/2010.

Sandra - tell us a little about yourself. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

My love for writing started at six years old, when I wrote my first poem for a homework assignment. However, it wasn't until my daughter turned thirteen, that I decided to pursue writing as a career. Since I was working full time as a teacher, this new plan of mine didn't always fit into my schedule.

Where did the idea for RIDING INVISIBLE come from?

The idea for RIDING INVISIBLE came from my childhood. I am the oldest of three children, and unfortunately, my middle brother suffers from child-onset schizophrenia. His illness is very different from the conduct disorder I describe in the book, but when I was a child, my brother was scary. Even though I was older, whenever I was around him, I was afraid. Without warning, he could become violent. To escape my fearful home environment, I would ride my horse through the mountains where we lived. Many of the feelings in the book come from my experiences, but unlike Yancy's brother in RIDING INVISIBLE, my brother never threatened to hurt my horse.

How long did it take you to write RIDING INVISIBLE, from original idea to finished product?

RIDING INVISIBLE took about three years to develop. The manuscript went through many transformations to reach its present form. My first draft of the story was not told in journal format. It started as a traditional novel, told in Yancy's voice, in the present tense. After trying to get it published without success, I decided to try writing the story as a novel in verse. The experience was valuable, and it helped me shape the scenes and characters in a succinct manner. Apparently it worked, because I was able to get an agent with this version, wonderful Caryn Wiseman at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Unfortunately, novels in verse reached a peak in the market, and after various rejections, Caryn asked if I'd like to rewrite the story as a traditional novel.

Ugh! Been there, done that. I wanted to move forward; try something new. I decided to attempt a journal, written by Yancy, and also illustrated by him. It was a fun process, deciding where to place Yancy's drawings and illustrated panels, fitting them in with the text and action. Nathan Huang did a great job 'becoming' Yancy, the artist.
The last, perhaps the most difficult part in developing Yancy's story happened because of my fantastic editor, Christian Trimmer, at Disney/Hyperion. Partly because RIDING INVISIBLE is based on events from my past, facing the feelings in the novel, and coming to terms with Yancy's growth, turned out to be a difficult task. It meant I had to grow, too. It was a lot of work, but I made it through the revisions process. The result is a published novel I am proud of.

I love the name - RIDING INVISIBLE - how did you come up with it?

Originally, the story was called Running Shy, because Yancy runs away on his horse, who is named Shy. At some point, the title RIDING INVISIBLE came to me because Yancy sometimes refers to himself as 'invisible' because no one seems to be aware of his issues with his brother.

What is your writing process?

I write a lot, whenever I can. Ideas constantly pop into my head at strange times, like when I'm driving my car or riding my horse. If I don't jot down the idea immediately, it's often lost. Most days, you'll find me on my laptop, typing away. I usually follow the same process I used for RIDING INVISIBLE, which means revising, rewriting, and re-creating the novel two or three times. Even though it doesn't come easy, it's what I love to do.

I know you just received the arcs (advanced reading copies) of RIDING INVISIBLE. How did it feel when you actually held the finished product in your hand?

I am thrilled with the book. The art looks fabulous. The special font Hyperion used to make the print look journal-like is very convincing. Everything fell into place perfectly.

Are you working on anything new? Anything you can share with us about that?

I'm presently working on another YA novel called NAME: INDIANA. It's is a story I'm excited about, written in the voice of a fifteen year old girl who arrives at a hospital and discovers she cannot remember her past. Various clues and small clips of scary scenes tell this teenager that the life she used to live was far from mundane, possibly evil. With the help of Reggie, a cute guy she meets after moving to a foster home in a remote location, Indiana is able to uncover her past, and struggles to save herself in the process.
Sandra, thank you so much for stopping by and telling us about your books. To learn more, go to

Book Giveaway!!

If you'd like to win a copy of RIDING INVISIBLE, you can enter in the following ways:

1) Leave a comment on this post, or

2) Send an email to linda (at) lindabenson (dot) net.

For an extra entry you can also:

3) Become a follower of this blog (also applies to current followers) +2 or

4) Reposting about this giveaway, and linking to it. Let me know! +1

Contest open until March 15th, 2010. Good luck, Everyone!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra

To read more about these two great mares, and to find out why you should circle the date of April 9, 2010 on your calendar (Hint: Race of the Century) -

- hop on over and read my full post at Equestrian Ink:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writing Like My Fingers Are On Fire

Well, as you know I'm a big fan of author Kathi Appelt (see previous post.) So today I took to heart her motto, her advice for writers: Write Like Your Fingers Are On Fire. I wrote five chapters.

Usually I don't write so much in a single day. I often write one chapter, and then spend the rest of the day editing it. Or I wake up the next morning and edit what I previously wrote, then ponder for awhile where I will go from here.

But now, I'm on a roll. I'm coming into the home stretch of my new novel. I feel confident where I'm going with it, and I've been trying to figure out how to fit in all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to tie up all the loose ends, make the events conclude in a believable fashion, and still stay true to my characters.

This novel is a challenge for me. It's told in two separate voices, a thirteen year old girl and a fourteen year old boy. And writing in two voices is definitely like fitting a puzzle together. Each scene must advance the plot, each character must have their own view point and their own story line, and each scene must fit in the right time slot so they do not overlap or backtrack.

I'm getting towards the end of this story now, and I'm totally immersed in it. I forget housework, forget meals, forget what time it is. I wrote some good scenes today- some satisfying, emotional scenes. I wanted to get all this stuff down so that I can write the end - the big climactic finish.

That's what writers live for. The big climactic finish. Of course when all of this gets done, trust me, it's only the end of the first draft, the rough draft, with many more edits and much revisioning to come.

Still, it's very satisfying to finally get to the end of the first draft of a manuscript. It's happening. My fingers are definitely not only on fire, but now sore from all this typing.

Thank you, Kathi, for the words of inspiration. Now, it's time to go soak my fingers, watch some Olympics, sleep on things, and ponder the big finish.

Word Count: 47,253 Probable word count to finish: 55,000 to 60,000

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Books I Await with Bated Breath

So as I begin to write this post, I use the phrase "I await these books with bated breath." And then - because I'm a writer and therefore fascinated with words - I start to wonder if this is correct. What does bated mean? Where did the phrase come from? Am I even using it right?

Which of course, leads to a half hour dictionary and google search. I am easily distracted. If you want the short version of all this research, bated is short for "abated," meaning to lessen or hold back, so "with bated breath" means holding the breath in great awe, excitement, or interest. Got that?

So I await, with bated breath, the following two books:

KEEPER, by Kathi Appelt, due out in May/2010.

Kathi is the award winning author of numerous picture books and non-fiction for children. Last year her first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, (which I absolutely Loved) was a finalist for the National Book award, as well as being a Newbery Honor Book.

I can hardly wait to read Kathi's new novel. Her lyrical use of language, her magical sense of story telling, as well as her views on children's literature, impress me greatly. (Can you tell that I'm a Kathi Appelt Fan Girl?)

Here's a teaser: a ten-year-old girl named Keeper sets out in a small boat in the middle of the night with just a seagull and a small dog named BD (Best Dog) to search for her mother - a mermaid.

So KEEPER comes out in May. And I'll be reading it as soon as I can lay my hands on a copy.

But I have to wait all the way until August!! to read the newest (and last) book in THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy, which is called:

MOCKINGJAY, by Suzanne Collins, due out in August/2010.

THE HUNGER GAMES, and its sequel CHASING FIRE deal with a post-apocalyptic world in which sixteen-year-old Katniss must fight to save her humanity, as well as her own life and the lives of her loved ones.

Reading these books is like eating chocolates. They are so delicious, when you finish one, you just HAVE to have another one.

Which is why I will be waiting in line to get my copy of MOCKINGJAY when it comes out in August.

Oh, and in the Peeta/Gale debate?

Place me firmly in the Gale camp - all the way.

Okay, so there you have a couple of upcoming books to watch for. Tell us what you've been reading, and what books you are waiting for (with or without bated breath.)

And we have another author interview coming up soon, featuring a book give-away of an exciting new release. Right here. Very soon . . .

Sunday, February 14, 2010


A January windstorm produced havoc in our front yard.

The force of the wind blew down some huge trees.

Lying dead in our yard, the fallen trees made me sad.

The branches of pine, spruce and fir
were cut and stacked in a pile.

Early next morning, I noticed something.

A strange and beautiful design.

Lacy and ethereal,
Spiders had spun their webs
around each dead branch,
hoping to catch a meal.

Creating art in their quest for survival.
Beauty is Everywhere.
And even amidst destruction,
Life Prevails.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Lion and the Mouse

Every January, I am curious to see what books the American Library Association has picked to win the Newbery Medal (for excellence in children's literature) and the Caldecott Medal (for most distinguished picture book.) And then of course I try to lay my hands on a copy of each. Because I love good books - don't you?

I want to share with you the winner of the 2010 Randolph Caldecott Medal this year. It's called The Lion and the Mouse, by artist Jerry Pinkney.

An almost wordless retelling of the old Aesop's Fable about how one kindness begets another, the bold and lovely illustrations just knock my socks off.

No one would doubt that Jerry Pinkney richly deserves this award. As a matter of fact, this artist has won the Caldecott Honor Medal (basically a runner-up award) five different times. To see more of his fantastic work, go here: and click on through to get to his main page.

Here's a quote from Jerry Pinkney's Artist's Note at the back of this book: "My curiosity and reverence for animal life has grown over the years . . ."

The Lion and The Mouse is a lovely, lovely book. If you are an animal lover (like me), book lover, have small children to read to, or are a lover of glowing illustrations, pick up a copy at a book store or library near you. It's fabulous.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Equestrian Ink

Hey Everyone - Just wanted to let you know I'm also going to be blogging about horses with some fellow horse authors, over at a site called Equestrian Ink. Here's the link:

My first post will be on February 9th, 2010 and its called (appropriately enough) First Horses.

Come check us out!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Honest Writing

I have an article out in the February 2010 edition of Equus magazine. It's called Back on Top, and I'm excited about it. Excited to break into a national horse magazine, but also excited that this little personal essay that they published is some of my most honest writing.

I wrote this article, about the purchase of a paint horse named Pete, approximately a year and half ago. I originally titled it Riding into Old Age, and I sold it to the magazine last year, and they just now published it.

It has been said (gee, I don't know who originally said it - sportswriter Red Smith? or someone else) that to write the truth you just open a vein and bleed onto the page. And that's what I attempted to do in this article.

You know how we all hold onto fantasies of who we really are? We are cool, we are fit, we are awesome writers, mothers, lovers, or in my case, cowgirls. I always imagined myself a true western cowgirl, although I grew up on a prune ranch and didn't get my first horse until I was fifteen. But from that moment on, I imagined I was tough, and could ride any horse, and I wore tight Wrangler ProRodeos, and a western belt with a silver buckle.

Even through motherhood, and many occupations, and an aging body, this self image of myself as a cowgirl remained. But the reality is that I have changed over the years, although I still love and enjoy my horses.

So this article just published in Equus is a good piece of writing for me, because I opened my vein and let it all hang out: the fact that I'm not so tough anymore and I'm even occasionally chicken (although I didn't actually mention the fact that I don't fit into my tight jeans so well any more). I'll save that for another bout of honesty.

I'm working on finding that honesty in all of my writing, so that my words ring true and say something that matters, and people can read them and say "oh yeah, that's the way is really is". Even if it's "just" a children's novel. Because hey, if we're going to be honest, when you are writing for kids isn't it even more important to write honestly? Age appropriately, yes, but honestly.

So there ya go. Honest Writing. Go find the Feb/2010 issue of Equus and read my article. You'll love it.