It’s exciting to be back on Jaunty Quills. I am thankful to Kristan Higgins for having me on. But with my new release, JOCKEYING FOR YOU, I owe Kristan so much more. Unfortunately, in some ways I am like my heroine, Ryder Hannon, who lacks the confidence to fulfill deeply-set goals. And that’s where Kristan comes in.
In the Spring of 2015 my Romance Writers of America chapter, CTRWA (Connecticut Romance Writers of America), brought in a terrific speaker, Michael Hauge, for a two day seminar. The first day of the conference ended with a homework assignment. Our task was to come up with a plotline that externally showed our heroine’s internal (a/k/a emotional) journey. Despite wonderful instructions, I was stumped. I vowed to attend the second day of the conference incognito, if not invisible. Hey, if the teacher can’t see you, they can’t call on you, right?
Wrong. Despite hiding, I was called on to present my idea. Since I’m an attorney, I immediately recalled the horrors of law school. Yes, I was back in “1L Civ Pro” where the professor would be sure to call me out if my hand wasn’t up.
Luckily, I had mused enough on Michael Haugue’s assignment to have some semblance of an answer ready to go. I warily presented my plot line of a female jockey who had fallen off her horse during a race, and in a horrific way. Her fear of failing again made her leave behind the sport she loved. Her character arc would be very literally trying to get “back in the saddle.”
I was nervous enough to scan the conference room for reactions. Had anyone felt the need to make their way out the door? Apparently, not. Michael Hauge gave me a “good job,” and promptly called on others. I begged my heart to quit banging around in my chest.
Kristan Higgins, another conference attendee, was sitting behind me. Not wanting to interrupt those who were speaking, she passed me a note. It said that my idea wasn’t crazy, and that I should take confidence in both it, and myself. That note not only did give me confidence, it helped me frame a story about what it takes to face down fear of failure.
My fear is failing as a creative writer. I’ve always taken comfort in the logical; exposing my creative side leaves me vulnerable. As a writer, I constantly worry whether I’m creating storylines that are fresh and new, and characters that are as real as your neighbor next door. With support from wonderful writers like Kristan Higgins, and terrific teachers like Michael Hauge, confidence now comes a little easier for me. With every new book I start to write, I have to endure a little less time psyching myself up to get “back in the saddle.”
I admit, there are not too many horse racing romances out there. There aren’t too many female jockeys, either. Or too many attorneys who sideline as romance writers. There are, however, countless other people who also face their fear of failure. And who choose to rise up against it. If they can do it, I can, too.
I do my best to pass this can-do attitude along. A few weeks ago, I took my husband and kids to the Saratoga Race Course, and to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. I explained to them everything I had learned about horse racing, all the difficult—and dangerous—challenges. I hope that trip transcended into something higher for my boys. I want them to learn that challenges aren’t only physical. True challenges are about doing what it mentally takes to cross the finish line.
I know that being a successful jockey, like a writer, takes years of training. It is the opposite of a sprint, it is a long haul. It requires talent, hard work, determination, strength, but above all, confidence. Everyday I learn more how to achieve these goals. And to be like Ryder Hannon, the female-jockey heroine I created.
I’d love to know what spurs you on, and what challenges you’ve faced along the way.
Jake felt his eyebrow arch up. “Dr. Doolittle, I presume?”
A slow smile spread across her lips.
“How far have you gotten with Handsome?”
“He’ll let me ride him now.”
Jake’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “My God, Ryder, you’re amazing,” he exclaimed. With a shake of his head and a hard cough he corrected himself. “I mean, your results with him are amazing.”
Ryder’s grin was now Cheshire cat sized. “Thanks for both compliments.”
Damn. She couldn’t let my mistake go.
Then it hit him. His comment was a slip, but was it really a mistake? Her beautiful face, which had been beaming with pride now had a shy aspect that was even more endearing. She bore a schoolgirl’s blush and averted her eyes from him as she busied herself petting Handsome’s nose.
If only she could stroke me the same way. Though somewhere lower down than my nose. He tensed at the thought. Focus, Jake, damn it! This is business. “Show me,” he said.
She blinked. “Show you what?”
“Show me Handsome Dancer can be ridden. I want you to ride him for me.”
“Now? He’s already had his exercise for today. I don’t want to tire him out.”
Handsome’s head batted her shoulder with a determination that was comical.
“You know,” Jake quipped, “if he actually understands you then you really are Dr. Doolittle.”
“I’m sure he just wanted me to give him an apple.” She wiped a stray blond bang from her hot forehead and looked the horse in one of his eyes. “What are you saying, babycakes? That you want to go on a short ride with me?”
Yes, yes, I do. Jake cleared his throat and gave her a tight smile. “Go ahead, you two. Impress me.”
A few minutes later, he was outside the training track, his hands casually resting on the guardrail while he waited for the show to begin.
Soon, Ryder and Handsome entered the track. He heard her cluck her tongue at the horse, and then watched her lightly kick Handsome’s rear. The horse took off around the track in a fast gallop. The horse’s flight was fluid and astoundingly fast for what was supposed to be an easy go-around. She was doing more than merely riding Handsome Dancer. She was a part of him. One cohesive whole.
Thinking the demo was about to end, he had almost turned around to head back when something caught the corner of his eye. It was a flash of color, a fast burst of brown. What the . . . ? Whipping his head around to the source, he stared open-mouthed at the sight. Handsome Dancer was bolting down a stretch of training track at a speed unheard of for a newbie horse. Or maybe any horse. In all of Jake’s experiences, he doubted he had seen a horse move that fast when not performing in an actual race.
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