What it's about

I have this loose baggy monster of a first draft in front of me, with some years of struggle and angst behind. But you figure this is what you were put in the world to do, right? (Please note awkward switching of POV here). So when people ask me what it’s about, I say “horses,” because mostly it is, or about people in the horse community anyway, one of the few environments I know well and love passionately. “Write about what you care about, what you know.”

So yesterday I was idly surfing the net, avoiding Scriv and the rewrite, when I came upon an Amazon review of Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven. (Disclaimer: I have not read this book, but did enjoy Moo and got bogged down half a mile through 1000 Acres). Here is the introduction to the review:

AAAARRRGGHH: :cry: (I have NO, repeat NO, interest in writing porn for 13-year-old girls. :stuck_out_tongue: )

Then I got to thinking, what does it matter about the subject? How many people are keenly interested in Bengali tigers? And yet Life of Pi was one of the best books I’ve ever read. And so many of the books I pick up and leaf through in bookstores on the local library seem to be numbingly and repetitiously centered on supposedly “popular” themes: twenty-first century big city life, the woes of young professional women, authors struggling with their first works, drug use and the entertainment world. I put them down within 3 paragraphs. To my mind, and in terms of what I think works in a book (only one very narrow perspective, I know), what happens to the people involved (or animals) in the story is what counts. I recently read a review of a memoir, whose title and author I cannot remember, by a woman who spent twenty years in a convent, and then left. The book was a runaway best seller. Who would have guessed?

Just curious about others’ take on this. Many many many years ago, decades in fact, I wrote my second unpublished novel about a family embroiled in the “Irish question.” I got a fair bit along with it, rewrote it under the guidance and with the encouragement of a top agent in NY, but then in the end was told there were just too many books on that topic around that year. Fair enough, and it may in fact have been her way of gently letting me know the book was vastly inferior, which in retrospect I think it was. It’s unlikely that if I ever get to that point with this book, anyone is going to complain there are too many books out about the Endurance world.

So what matters in a story, to you? [size=50](And would a book that turned out to be about horses make you put it down instantly? )[/size] :laughing:

Write your book and ignore the critics. No one can predict what will sell, or last forever and be great. Did anyone think To Kill a Mockingbird would become an American classic? Or what about the recent film, Doubt, derived from a play about Catholic school faculty in 1962? Subject matter is far less important than authorial skill, wit, and imagination to tell a story well. Your main objective is to create turning pages, impelling readers to want to know “what happens next.”

Agents and critics who react to content only think of books as sweaters, something to buy for 25 bucks, wear a while and impress others. Of course, that is a market in publishing, whether it’s chicklit or the latest grotesquerie on the Holocaust. If your book is readable, readers will find it. Meanwhile, you should try to enjoy the pleasure of struggling to make it a good read. Yes, contradictory, but that’s what art is all about, a journey far more than a destination.

Now, in the words of an immortal George Booth cartoon:

Zoe! My little dipsomaniac, unless Im mistaken, Black Beauty, wasnt about some gorgeous African damsel and Dick Francis has been writing about horses and horse racing for over 47yrs. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Francis.

Also…I would`ve thought that stories about horses, would have a market all ready and waiting i.e. people who love horses.

Just gerron wiit,n` hush your mithering! :wink:

If all anyone ever produced (in any marketplace) was that which is already acceptable, then there would be no innovation.

For example:
• Scrivener
• BSD (the underpinnings of OS X)
• Apple Computer
• The personal computer
• The transistor
• Pascal’s “computer” (a mechanical calculator)
• Printed books.
• blah blah blah.

I think it is more important to write story that engages the reader in a way that forces them to continue. Dumas, Twain/Clemens, London, Doyal are example authors that come to mind immediately. These guys manage to compel the reader to finish. Write about cars, kites, pirates, kittens or horses. It doesn’t matter as long as the story grabs us by the hair and drags us in.

If that doesn’t work consider liberal amounts of sex. You are guaranteed to keep vic-k interested with that strategy.

Wosssatt!!!? :confused: :open_mouth:

Context, my three-legged-drunken-wonder friend.

Bu` worrrissit??? :confused: :open_mouth:

Only to be used if all else fails.

Molly’s Mum: Write it. Horses or no, tell your story. To my mind, the story and the way it is told are more important than the context. I loved the ‘Silver Brumby’ by Elyne Mitchell as a kid, so horse stories are fine by me. Note: I have never been a 13 y/o girl. :wink:

Besides, the topic of horses didn’t stop The Horse Whisperer. Go for it.


Apparently it’s how the mummy & daddy horses tell the stork they want baby horsies. Or something.

:open_mouth: :blush: :blush:

Presumably the people who do get it are your target audience? You can’t please everybody anyway, so cater to people who share your taste.

It didnt hurt Stephanie Meyer’s career (teehee). 8)

I agree with much of the above. Just a few things to add:

  1. Very glad to see Vic back

  2. Love druid’s cartoon

  3. Don’t think that The Horse Whisperer is really about horses. (Nor is Black Beauty for that matter, or Marley and Me really about dogs - although I acknowledge those cases are harder to argue.) I think THW is really about very human issues, such as love, boldness, communication, risk, redemption, healing the soul and the right way to live, and it has been those issues and their expression in the story, more than the ostensible subject matter, that have chiefly accounted for the book’s achievement.

Which, along with other thoughts, leads me to a more general conclusion that for success outside a narrow niche readership, which Zoe says she doesn’t want, such human themes are what a book “about” horses (or indeed, kittens, motorcycles, spies, a global conspiracy, the planet Zorg, or any other apparent subject) really ought to be about.


To avoid angst, recrimination and heartbreak, it’s smart to make sure you have surveyed the previous literature of horse fictions. Smiley, yes, Sewall, yes; what about K.M. Peyton? A lovely writer, even though usually relegated to the YA ghetto. Or Jilly Cooper’s early Rutshire chronicles: very horsy. (Try her masterpiece, Rivals.) Just avoid the telepathic-horse genre, a la Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series. And when in doubt, cut, then cut some more.

I like True Crime myself. You could do a murder and write about it. Do they let you take your computer to prison?

Okay, seriously, I like stories that peak out any kind of human emotion. I’m always intrigued by how ‘aware’ we are of life, and live on the brink each day of some disaster, and yet keep living happily. I like books about good and evil with good winning out. I remember back in the late 60’s or early 70’s when the movies (Easy Rider?) didn’t have an ending. That was in vogue at the time and it bored and disappointed me terribly. I think that’s when I lost all interest in movies.

It’s fun to try to define just what makes any particular book a page-turner. I think if you can figure that out, you’ll do just fine. I didn’t get interested in reading until I was in my 30’s. I started with Autobiographies and after I read them all (haha) I thought nothing else was probaby worth reading. Of course I was wrong, and I sure do appreciate all the people who take the time and effort to write books just for me to read. :smiley:

You are all wonderful, and I (and my ponies) thank you for the much appreciated encouragement. Sorry to have dropped off the face of the earth, but I made a last-ditch leap at actually finishing this revision and managed to do so, wasted and out of breath, yesterday.

I never want to see a horse again. :laughing:

Actually, it is less about horses–which are basically only instruments for carrying us forward in our lives–and more about people. (I put in dogs, and sex, liberally, but only one thirteen-year-old girl, who doesn’t last long when the rank pinto flies off the trailer backwards.)

All in all, Daddy always told me to just concentrate on “a good story, well told.” By the end of the weekend my husband should be able to tell me whether I succeeded on that one, and he is an utterly non-horse person. (Though he does like dogs and other things… : :wink: )

Again, many thanks to all for keeping me from jumping off the George Washington bridge and making me laugh in the process.


Oh, and p.s. Druid, I LOVE that booth cartoon and have set is as my desktop. Thank you. :smiley:

I think the book you are referencing is The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong. I was fascinated by it (and I have no interest in Catholicism); Armstrong’s fever of idealism and subsequent disillusion is a process we all go through from time to time. Of course, it helps that she is an wonderful writer, and she has gone on to write several books on religion. The only one I remember is Buddha, which was an excellent history of the Gangetic plain, as well as a bio.

Not to hijack the thread, but I thought someone might want to read the book…