Monday, November 29, 2010

Taking the Reins

Okay, remember I promised you more Giveaways? Here, just in time for Christmas giving, is Alison Hart's adorable new book, TAKING THE REINS, perfect for that young horse lover on your list. And you can win it!!

Here's the description straight from the horse's mouth - actually direct from Alison's website:

Alison Hart’s latest book is Taking the Reins, an interactive story from American Girls where readers can select their own endings and imagine themselves as the main character, who rides horses at the Innerstar University™ stable. When she's invited to ride a spirited Quarter Horse in the next event, she has some tough choices to make. Will she find her confidence and climb on? With more than 20 different endings, readers can enjoy this book again and again, making different decisions to change the story. Plus, each book comes with a secret access code to unlock additional endings online!

American Girl: 120 pages
Ages 8 and up

Sounds pretty cool, huh? All you have to do be entered for a chance to win is:

Leave a comment below.

Followers of this blog (new and existing) get a second chance to win.

And repost or retweet this contest and get one more chance to win! (Let us know.)

Contest is open until December 12th, 2010 and book will be sent to U.S. addresses only to winner selected in random drawing.

And don't forget! Giveaway of Ginny Rorby's book HURT GO HAPPY, is still open until December 5th. Click here for details.

Good luck, everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A White Thanksgiving

Nature gave us a little holiday present yesterday, when an early snowstorm blew through and coated everything with white. Schools closed, roads and highways became an icy mess, and holiday travel was disrupted.

Our power went out, and instead of watching the finale of Dancing with the Stars, I finished reading a book with a cool LED headlamp my husband dug out.

This morning, with the storm over, the trees look decorated for the holidays, don't they?

Tonight it's supposed to be 11 degrees. All of the animals are inside, including our semi-wild cat and our very shy barn cat. We are tucked in front of the fireplace, waiting for . . . Thanksgiving.

Happy Turkey Day, Everyone!

Remember, Christmas is just around the bend. And for all you book lovers, our giveaway of two Ginny Rorby books (scroll down to previous post) lasts until December 5th. And more book giveaways will follow soon. Books by Alison Hart, Cynthia Chapman Willis, and well, just keep tuning in here to find out, and win books for Christmas giving, or for just plain reading and enjoying.

Gobble, Gobble.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meet Ginny Rorby

Ginny writes novels for young people about the relationship between humans and animals. I have read two of her books, THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE and HURT GO HAPPY, each of which moved me to tears.

Tell us a little about yourself, Ginny. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get your start?

Becoming a writer had never so much as crossed my mind. English was my worst subject in high school. How I became one is a testimony to how a small act of kindness can change a person’s life.

In 1981, I wrote a letter to the owners of a dog a friend of mine found. The young dog was skin and bones, with maggot-filled sores on her sides, diseased eyes, and the only fur left on her body a single long patch down the back of her neck. I wrote her owners a letter describing how the poor dog ended her life. Of course, I had no one to send it to, so the letter stayed folded in a pocket of my purse a year.

In early August 1982, I was in the offices of the Miami News and, while waiting for the editor, I began cleaning out my purse and found the letter I’d written about the dog. I scrawled, We Found Your Dog, at the top of the page and gave it to the woman who came to review the pictures I’d brought to show her.

The next day, John Hopkins, a copy editor with the News, called my home and left a message with my husband—a single sentence. “Tell her,” he said, “if she can write like that, we’ll publish anything she writes.”

Because of that phone call, on a whim, I signed up for a creative writing class at the University of Miami. Eventually, with the encouragement of Evelyn Wilde Mayerson and Lester Goran, and a pat or two on the head by Isaac Bashevis Singer and James Michener I was, by 1985, committed to becoming a writer and began working on the novel that would eventually become my first book - DOLPHIN SKY.

What made you decide to write for children and young adults?

The first 6 rejects. My agent sent DOLPHIN SKY—per my request—to editors of adult fiction, all of whom sent it back with the same snappy little comment, “This is not adult fiction.” DS is the story of a young girl’s friendship with a pair of dolphins that were kept in a freshwater pond as part of roadside tourist attraction in the Everglades. I rewrote it, taking out the sex scene between her father and a visiting research biologist, and my agent started submitting it to editors of children’s fiction. Eight rejections later it finally sold.

I first became aware of your work through your new book THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE.” I adored this book and blogged about it earlier here and over on Equestrian Ink. Tell us a little about what led you to write it.

In 2007, I’d known for nearly 30 years that people in other countries ate horses. I even knew that during World War II, we ate them in this country, but it wasn’t until I saw a Katie Couric segment on the CBS News on June 8th about the slaughter of racehorses, that it occurred to me to write about horses. The statistics were appalling. In 2006, 100,800 horses were slaughtered to satisfy the appetite for horsemeat, primarily in the countries of France, Japan and Belgium. At the time this program aired, the last U.S. slaughterhouse had just been ordered closed in DeKalb, Illinois, by the now infamous Governor Rod Blagojevich.

I wrote the statistics down, but I still didn’t have an idea of where to go with the information. Then on July 4th, I was still idealess when Couric did a story about the horses that pull the caissons at Arlington National Cemetery. When they are not transporting the caskets of our Iraq and Afghanistan war dead, they are used for physical therapy for soldiers who have lost limbs in the wars. After that program, I had all I needed for the plot of THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE, which is about an Iraq war vet who comes home missing a leg, and his daughter’s fight to bring him back from the abyss through their shared love of horses.

One of the themes that struck me in THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE was the healing power of a human/animal relationship. This has fascinated me for some time. Do your other novels have this same theme? Expand on this a little.

That is my shtick—so far. My new book, LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS (Lerner, March ’11) is a departure of sorts in that there isn’t an animal main character. Two kids go for a joyride in an airboat, sink it, and have to walk out of the Everglades. The Everglades is a main character in the book, which is about the healing power of the natural world. I have never understood the requirement of a roof over one’s head to praise one’s god. Talk about imprisoning the mind and the spirit.

Tell us a little about your background with animals, Ginny, and how that influences your writing.

I always loved animals, and was fascinated by them. As a little kid, I had a collection of animals in jars--dead lizards, snakes and birds found covered with ants that I’d rinse off in the lake, and then put in alcohol. I used to pick the bones out of owl pellets, then paste the reconstructed skeleton to the cardboard inserts that came in my dad’s Arrow shirts.

The mistreatment of animals pushes all my buttons, and I firmly believe that animal abuse and child abuse are linked. If you can mistreat one you can potentially harm the other. My books draw a parallel between these issues.

I recently read HURT GO HAPPY, your second novel, about the relationship between a deaf girl and a chimp who learns sign language. I was quite moved by this story. Did a great deal of research go into this novel?

At least a decade’s worth. I knew nothing about being deaf and less about chimpanzees. From idea to publication took 18 years. Note: Ginny is interviewed here explaining her research for HURT GO HAPPY.

Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you work from an outline, or set your characters on the page and just see what happens?

I really need the whole plot in my head before I start the research, then I let the research, and the stories I pick up in the process inform the story. In THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE, every story in it is either true or based in fact. I just pieced them together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Ginny, you mentioned a new book coming out from Lerner called LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS, and I know you're working on a rewrite of DOLPHIN SKY. Sounds like you are one busy lady. Any other projects you can tell us about?

I’ve just finished a first draft of a book about a kid with Asperger’s syndrome, a ghost and a whale. I have another one written based on the book The Secret Life of Plants, and am working on one about an orphan and a dog. Oh, and there is the fictionalized memoir from my dead-animals-in-jars days.

Okay, final question, from one animal lover to another – what’s your favorite animal?

All of them. For the last six years, I’ve had a bat living in my upstairs bathroom for whom I leave the door ajar so he can come and go. It would be easier to answer which animals I don’t like: Cockroaches and Jerusalem crickets.

Ginny - thank you so much for stopping by! To learn more about Ginny and her books, please visit her website at

Book Giveaway!!

Ginny is giving away two copies of her award-winning book HURT GO HAPPY! Read about the book here. To enter:

* Leave a comment on this blog.

* Follow this blog for another entry (includes current followers)

*Repost or retweet this contest for another chance to win

Contest open through December 5th, 2010, when 2 (two!) winners will be chosen at random, and books will be shipped to U.S. addresses only.

Good luck, everyone!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Getting in the Holiday Mood

Around our neck of the woods. What? Too early for Christmas you say?

Here's a scene I passed on my way into town today.

Christmas trees. Cut and Baled and being loaded into a truck.

The day before, they were lifted out of the field and onto a staging area by helicopter, in a scene similar to the one below.

The Pacific Northwest is prime growing area for Christmas trees, and most of them are shipped out of the area.

Perhaps your tree is in the stack below. You never know. . .

Merry Christmas, Everyone! (a little early)

Time to get in the Holiday Mood!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

By Half a Head

Ah - Horse Racing!

Zenyatta lost her quest to retire at a perfect 20 for 20 yesterday, losing the Breeders' Cup Classic by half a head, to a very good horse named Blame. But even in defeat, she gave us the heart-pumping excitement she is known for. Starting in a mere canter as the other eleven horses sprinted away from her, she was way, way back early on in the race, fifteen lengths behind the leaders, and barely looked as if she was involved.

With the Churchill Downs dirt flying in her face on a chilly November evening, Zenyatta rallied and began to catch up. When she set herself down to open up her long stride, here she came, picking off the pack one at a time. With just a quarter of a mile left, her jockey Mike Smith threaded her between horses and she ran like we've seen her do it before, flat out, running her huge heart out to catch the horses in front of her. Impossibly, it looked like she would do it again. And she almost did. She passed everyone, and caught up to Blame, only to lose the race by mere inches.

The crowd of over 72,000 was stunned. Her jockey broke down in tears at an interview shortly thereafter. How could the Queen lose? Impossible.

But Zenyatta, even in defeat, lost no fans. If any, she gained more in this race, proving that at six years old she is every bit as much a racing machine as she was at age three, and a crowd pleaser and people lover as well.

No matter what the future holds for this great mare, I say "Long Live the Queen." She has brought more new fans to the sport of horse racing then any horse, movie, or book I can remember in a long, long time.

In a year or two, few will remember the name of the one horse that beat her. But Zenyatta's legacy - her heart stopping performances, her physical presence and charisma, her record of 19 wins and 1 second, will live on.

Did you watch the race? Will you remember it? I know I will.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Horse Racing for (Complete) Dummies

Horse racing is one of my passions (obsessions.) A few people recently expressed interest in knowing a bit more about this sport, so I am writing this post from a complete beginner's angle. Bear with me if some of this information seems old hat to you, but if you stick with it, you might learn something of value.

Let's start with the very basics: the breeds of horses that run today on tracks in the United States. While there may be a few races on smaller tracks for Arabians, Paints, Appaloosas, and even mules - most of the Big Races, and the Horse Racing you see on television are for three breeds of registered horses:

Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Standardbreds.

Standardbreds race in Harness Racing. They are not ridden; they pull a sulky and have a driver behind them, and they either trot or pace.

Quarter Horses run over shorter distances, from 220 yards to 870 yards, and they race in a blister of speed, with the races often over in a matter of seconds.

Thoroughbreds are the horses that race over longer distances, usually from 5/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles. The well-known names Seabiscuit, Secretariat, and the undefeated mare Zenyatta are all Thoroughbreds, and the horses that race in the Kentucky Derby (as well as the other two races in the Triple Crown) are all Thoroughbreds, too.

All of these horses are registered in their respective breed organizations (Thoroughbreds being The Jockey Club) so that even though you've read Walter Farley's THE BLACK STALLION series, and dreamed of being shipwrecked with a fantastic horse on a tropical island, and then bringing it back to the states and racing it in a famous race, well, without a set of papers to prove the horse's lineage, it's not gonna happen. (Although I have to say that the movie scenes of Alec and The Black on the island are probably my favorite bits from any movie, anywhere.)

So, how many of you can name all three races in the Triple Crown?

That's right, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. These races are run over a period of five weeks, starting with the first Saturday in May. Entrants must be three-year-old Thoroughbreds, and although they are usually colts, a filly can enter, and in fact, fillies have won the Kentucky Derby three times.

The reason it is so difficult to win the Triple Crown (must win all three races) is that the three races are run in three different states, over a short period of time, and they are over three different distances, with the Belmont, at 1 1/2 miles being the longest and most grueling. It takes a super horse to do it, and we haven't had a winner now since Affirmed in 1978 (32 years.)

What other types of races do Thoroughbreds run in? You might have heard of maiden races, claiming races, allowance races, and stakes races. For a good discussion on the differences in these types of races, click here:

Many of the televised races are the Grade 1 Stakes races. At the end of the year, there is a two-day series of races known as the Breeders' Cup, which showcases the best horses of the year, including from Europe, with races at various lengths and on both the dirt and the turf. This year the Breeders' Cup will be held at Churchill Downs on November 5-6, 2010, and will be televised on several channels. For a complete television schedule, click on my post right here at Equestrian Ink about the undefeated mare Zenyatta (who will be running in the Breeder's Cup Classic, against males, trying for her 2oth win.)

If you'd like to become more familiar with horse racing, check to see if you get the television channels TVG or HRTV. Both of these carry not only the big races, but lots of smaller races, lots of live commentary, and after watching for a bit, soon you, too, will feel like an expert.

Or, to see what it's like to go to a real track and experience the races live, check out my post here about a day at Santa Anita Racetrack.

If you have any other questions you'd like answered (like - what's a furlong? one eighth of a mile) please post them in the comments, and I'll try and answer them for you (or find someone who can.)

Between the new movie Secretariat and all the hoopla around the fantastic mare Zenyatta, horse racing suddenly has a lot of new fans. I hope you'll tune in for some great horse racing this weekend, and whatever you do - don't miss the race called the Breeder's Cup Classic this Saturday, November 6th to watch Zenyatta run.

Enjoy those thunderous hooves down the track!!