Linda Ballou talks about her New Adult novel:
The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
LB: Absolutely. I was deeply immersed in the riding world when a herniated disc in my lower back forced me to give it up. I had invested not just dollars, but huge blocks of time, my best energies and I loved the sport. The pinnacle of my riding career was doing a cross-country course in Ireland which is detailed in my story Irish Mist. Back home in California I was doing three-day events on an amateur level with my mare. I adored her and loved every moment we shared together on the trail and in the riding arena. Writing this story helped me get through the tremendous loss that I felt when I had to give her to Hearts and Horses a non-profit that helps handicapped children.
How much of the book is realistic?
All of it, I hope! I tried to capture the energy, danger and excitement of the Grand Prix jumping world. The Mariposa equestrian facility in the story is modeled after the facility I visited in the celebrity-owned ranches nestled in Hidden Valley in Southern California. I was a groupie at horse shows trying to absorb the courage of the riders like Susan Hutchison, I so admired. Susie is the protégé of the legendary trainer Jimmy Williams, who I was privileged to interview in 1993, not long before his passing. The character Billy is modeled after this authentic “horse whisperer,” who was a giant in the riding world.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Besides the obvious “To Finish is to Win” message that Gemcie brings home, I hoped that by taking readers to the mountains and seeing that world through Brady’s eyes it would engender a greater love and respect for the natural world. I did a horse pack trip in the John Muir Wilderness that allowed me to know the ethereal beauty in the “Range of Light” that Muir described in My First Summer in the Sierra’s. It was a momentous journey for me. I always wanted to return and ride the Pacific Crest Trail solo as others more capable than I have done. This was my way of getting there on my own and to share the message that not enough is said for solitude. Time alone allows us to absorb, and digest all the external stimulation moderns are bombarded with daily. It enables us to become centered and grounded in nature rather than looking outside of ourselves for endorsement. In addition, to this message there is a very powerful environmental statement about our place in the natural world. I don’t want to share too much of the story, but it is my hope that people will come away with a little different perspective and understanding for all things wild.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
LB: It was physically difficult because I had to write it standing up at my breakfast bar. Sciatic pain in my right leg would not allow me to sit for any length of time. Like a shark I couldn’t rest and had to keep moving. I had to deal with the fact that I would have to leave the riding world behind. Writing the story kept my mind off the constant pain I was experiencing and allowed the deep emotions over the loss of what I cherished wash over me. It was a cathartic and a very important healing process. Still, it wasn’t easy to let go.
What genre do you consider your book?
LB: It is New Adult. I am so happy that this classification has come into being. Horse stories are typically for young adult readers, but this is an adult story with adult themes.
There are a couple of love scenes that culminate into sexual encounters, but they are not graphic. I don’t believe they are offensive to an adult reader, but perhaps not appropriate for readers under 18. The story is filled with action and adventure and is a coming of age story so it is hard to pigeon hole.
What is your favorite theme/genre to write about?
LB: I am an adventure travel writer with a book of travel essays called Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales to my credit. I also published an historical novel titled Wai-nani: A Voice from Old Hawai’i. I have been told that Wai-nani casts a hypnotic spell that transports you to ancient Hawai’i—a place you can’t get to any other way. In The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon I let readers ride solo on the Pacific Crest Trail and to feel the fragile beauty of the lofty realm. Ultimately, all of my books are destination pieces that provide you with a sense of place and could be called travel literature. I use my travel writing skills to enhance my novel writing to engage readers. It seems to be working!
Do you have anything specific you want to say to your readers?
LB: I think there is too much made of being connected electronically. One response I had from a reader is that my story scared her. She said she can’t leave home for an hour without her cell phone. I find this a sad commentary on our society. I intentionally, take Gemcie somewhere that cell phones don’t work. I make certain she has to listen to her own inner river to get answers to her problems. I want her to get her head out of social media and to look, feel, see and smell our beautiful world. I want her to be strong and self-reliant and brave and to fulfill her potential. I think that the comment may have come from a very young reader, but it speaks volumes about where I fear all this need for constant connectivity is leading us.
Do you have any advice for writers?
LB: Writers write. Builders build. Surgeons cut. If you say you are a writer then write. Keep notes of your stay on the planet. Journal about your experiences. Reflect upon what you see and try to capture the essence of it in words as a painter tries to capture it in colors and images. You will not remember the details that make a story vibrant. You have to write your impressions and feelings down as you go along. Then when you have time to organize your thoughts and know what it is you are trying to say you can go back to your notes and extract details that will liven your work. Don’t wait to be a writer. Life go goes by too fast. Simply be a writer and see what happens.
How did you come up with this title?
LB: That’s funny you should ask. A girlfriend gave me a t-shirt with that tag over the picture of a cowgirl jumping over the moon on a starry night. It just stuck with me.
I always loved the image and cut it out when it was time to toss the well-worn gift away. I wrote the first draft of this story many years ago and that little reminder was pressed inside the journal that contained the notes for the story that has it found its way to fruition
What are your current projects?
LB: Reading Lady in the Rockies by Isabella Bird has aroused my wanderlust to a fever pitch. I booked a room at Estes Park the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park in June. The wildflowers should be thick in the meadows and views of snowcapped Long’s Peak sublime. I’m in for a little soul-cleansing while doing research for my next writing effort. I have long been impressed with the stamina and sheer determination of this English woman who rode in the winter of 1873 in the Rockies solo. I want to hike and ride in her hoof prints.
From there I venture north to the Laramie River Ranch on the border of Wyoming and Colorado to ride the open range. It is remote, rustic and hopefully a real dose of the old west. That is what I am looking for after reading about the thirty mile a day rides Ms. Bird galloped through with ease. She and Birdie, a sturdy Indian pony, cantered over 800 miles through vast pristine wilderness on tracks buried in snow.
I may get a little sore on this outing, but what the heck. If Izzy can do it in the dead of winter, surly I can ride in the Rockies while the sun is shining high in a blue bird sky.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
LB: While I was writing Cowgirl I was reading On Writing by Steven King, considered by many to be the best book written on the subject. I didn’t realize until I reached the last chapters that he too was writing to distract himself from the tremendous pain he had to endure while his body healed from an accident. I didn’t know that he had been run over by a van and that he had extensive injuries that made my garden variety herniated disc seem like a cakewalk. Feeling connected to this great writer and his suffering helped me through this very difficult time. As for research, I was immersed in the riding world and had read just about every book written on riding technique, horse psychology. My first published article “The Art of Falling” appeared in Horse Illustrated. After that my byline turned up in Equus, and Western Horseman to name a few. I was doing three-day events at the time of my injury and my whole life revolved around the horse world.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
LB: The Mariposa equestrian facility in the story is modeled after what I observed in the celebrity-owned ranches nestled in Hidden Valley in Southern California. I was a groupie at horse shows trying to absorb the courage of the riders like Susan Hutchison, recently inducted into the 2015 National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. I so admired. Susan’s riding skill and bravery that I kept her foremost in my mind while writing the riding scenes in the book. She is the protégé of the legendary trainer Jimmy Williams, who I was privileged to interview in 1993, not long before his passing. The character Billy is modeled after this authentic “horse whisperer,” who was a giant in the riding world.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
LB: I actually have two authors that I admire. Tim Cahill, author of nine adventure travel collections, is my travel-writing hero. I went to his home in Livingston, Montana to interview him. The outcome of that conversation is in my book Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales. Jack London, the master of adventure writing, said that desire incited struggle followed by action creates character arc. He wrote in a crisp, succinct manner that I love. In my piece Jack London and Me I talk about how my personal path and that of one of America’s finest writers have crossed.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
LB: No, but I wrote a story that everyone who read it hated. It was a short story about the controversial use of an anti-rape device. I thought my story leveled the playing field, but apparently it flattened it and offended readers male and female alike. I finally put it back in my drawer and will never share it again. However, in my mind it remains one of my
Do you have any advice for other writers?
LB: Writers write. Builders build. Surgeons cut. If you say you are a writer then write. Keep notes of your stay on the planet. Journal about your experiences. Reflect upon what you see and try to capture the essence of it in words as a painter tries to capture it in colors and images. You will not remember the details that make a story vibrant. You have to write your impressions and feelings down as you go along. Then when you have time to organize your thoughts and know what it is you are trying to say you can go back to your notes and extract details that will enliven your work. Don’t wait to be a writer. Life go goes by too fast. Simply be a writer and see what happens.
Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?
LB: How about twenty years? Writing Cowgirl was a part of my healing process. It allowed me to let go of the riding world that I loved. I had to give up my mare and take a different direction in life. Gemcie does everything I ever wanted to do on the back of a horse. This was my way of moving forward after my injury. Today, I am an adventure travel writer with a penchant for guest ranches. I don’t own a horse anymore, but I can trail ride in gorgeous country and write about my experiences. After, I got my life back in order, I took a look at the manuscript and decided it was worth polishing and publishing. My readers seem to agree!
Have you ever designed your own book cover?
LB: With the help of a graphic artist I created the cover for The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon. We adapted images I found on the net to carry the theme. For my book Lost Angel Walkabout I initially used Amazon’s Createspace option, but the cover was so bland that I had to pay an outside service to create something more exciting. Cowgirl is my third book. I feel confident that I can created an image that is fetching on a thumbnail. I get many compliments on this cover.
Do you think the charm of public libraries has toned down much in the last decade?
LB: Absolutely not! In fact, libraries have become community centers with lots of different activities for all age groups. I love doing talks at libraries where they have projectors and screens and event rooms. All I have to do it turn up with flash drive and my books. It’s fun and much easier than doing book stores with limited space and a sketchy turnout.
What are the non-fiction genres you enjoy reading?
LB: I love travel narratives. I gain a lot of information from others who have taken a trip that I am planning. I can avoid mistakes they made and think about how I can get a different perspective.
Good ones are entertaining, informative and well written. Travel Tales has a vast collection of travel anthologies to choose from. Tim Cahill, is my travel writing hero and he has nine books to his credit.
How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?
LB: Horrible, but I would get over it. It takes a lot of energy to set up a book event. I don’t just do a signing, I do a talk and serve light refreshments. I think you have do more to get people off their couch and into a bookstore. You have to create flyers and share them on social networks and local newspapers. I am doing one today, and I feel very anxious about it. Not just the concern over the turnout, but whether or not people will enjoy my presentation. It is all worth it if people come and enjoy, but very disappointing if no one turns up.