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Today's guest is fellow author Sarah Madison with a touching story about caring for her horse and the impact on her life as a writer.

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Sometimes You Row Against the Current, Sometimes You Drift by Sarah Madison

I almost lost my horse this past Christmas.


For those of you who do not know, Kenya is the mare I raised from a foal to be my competition horse—I compete in the equine sport of eventing.

Or, at least, I used to. When I retired my old gelding (still around, fulfilling his role as a lawn ornament at the ripe old age of twenty-six), I decided to raise my next competition horse from the ground up. I selected her parents, I saved her ultrasound pictures, I was there the long night of her birth. I placed my hands on her within the hour of her delivery, imprinting her to me in a lifelong bond. As she grew from wobbly baby to resemble the Moose that became her nickname, I taught her the basics of groundwork, how to jump, and how to go in a frame. And though, at times, changing her momentum was a bit like turning the Titanic before it hit the iceberg, she learned to read my cues. We can communicate, not with words, but with reins and leg pressure, with ears and a swishing tail.

Somehow, we never really made it to the show ring. First, there was the colic surgery in 2004, in which she torsed her colon and almost died. Few horses survive colic surgery, and at least fifty percent of survivors die within the next year from complications. She beat the odds, and came back into full work, only to have me drop out of sight for nearly five years serving as a caretaker to my father, who had cancer and dementia.

When I finally came back to riding, it was with the intention of bringing Kenya fully into the sport and showing everyone else what a marvelous creature she was. I quit my job and took another for far less pay so I could be closer to her. I worked hard to bring us both back to competition fitness. I even participated in a clinic held by an Olympic coach—the same man whose books I’d used to teach her to jump all those years ago.

Life had its little laugh again and years passed in which we were lucky if we made it to one event a season.

Earlier this year, I made the decision to retire her from showing. This was a big deal in many ways. It had been my goal for over fifteen years and I’d made important life decisions based on it. However, she was no longer staying sound enough for competition and I had a choice: keep trying and burn her up sooner, or quit now and continue to enjoy her for as long as I could.

Though it took several months to come to a decision, in the end, it wasn’t a hard choice. I no longer had the time, energy, or finances for the serious show career. I couldn’t afford to take a day off of work to prep her and the equipment. It was no longer a thrill to get up at 4:30 AM to load her into the rig and drive to the show grounds, or spend the day in the blazing sun, sweating in my black wool jacket. Wondering if I was going to get a quiet, obedient ride or if I was sitting on a powder keg of dynamite and the fuse was burning. It was no longer fun to come home sunburned and with heat exhaustion, only to have to spend the next day cleaning and putting everything way…

It occurred to me I didn’t need to show her to enjoy her. I didn’t need to prove to the world that she could do first level dressage, and jump a four by four foot oxer with ease. I knew she could do these things. It was enough.

Two weeks before Christmas, she choked on her grain. She developed aspiration pneumonia as a result. She didn’t respond to the initial antibiotic chosen, and a week before Christmas, we could see pleural effusion on the ultrasound. She would cough so hard—a deep, bone-jarring cough—that she would stamp her feet afterward in pain. There is nothing so pathetic as a sick horse. There is something so visually wrong in seeing a great, magnificent creature brought to such a level of distress.

We started a combination of two different antibiotics, requiring multiple injections each day. Her fever dropped, her appetite improved, the cough eased. But then she developed severe reactions to one of the antibiotics—her chest swelled up like a basketball and she was so painful she could only shuffle her feet. It was both freaky and heartbreaking.

On Christmas Day, I went out to the barn to give her the final round of antibiotic injections. As I walked out to the paddock with her bucket of grain in hand, she threw herself into the air like an absolute booger, and went floating off across the pasture with a perfect, show quality passage. She was difficult to catch and pissy with the new gelding on the farm, and I was never so happy to see both bad behaviors in my life. Merry Christmas, me!

I had a lot of time to think these past few weeks. Time where I walked over frost-covered fields with a flashlight to catch the big bay mare. Time where I stood beside her, watching her eat, so I could give her the medications she needed when she was done. Time when I stood at the gate, listening to coyotes howl, and staring up at the night sky full of stars.

There is a depth to a cold winter’s sky that you don’t get at any other time of year. The stars themselves are layered, as though someone has cast a fistful of diamonds of all sizes into folds of black velvet. The air is so cold it hurts to breathe, and yet the cleanness of it makes you feel alive. Venus stands out like a brilliant beacon. Star Light, Star Bright. First Star I see tonight. I wish that Kenya might live.

I came to a realization about my writing these past few weeks. I’d been struggling with a bit of writer’s block, and I’d been doing the things people do to work through it. I realized that the things I was being told I needed to do in order to be successful were the things that was hampering my ability to write. This took me back to defining ‘success’, and I thought about my decision to stop competing Kenya.

I am realistic about my writing ability. I never expected it to make me a household name. I am a middle-aged, straight woman extrapolating from life experiences to write M/M erotic romances. Yeah, no Nora Roberts here! I never expected it to allow me to stop working. I did start counting on it to pay the bills, however. Once I began doing that, I put such pressure on it to ‘succeed’ that I stripped all the joy and fun out of it for me. That’s why I’ve been struggling to write recently.

So I have decided to ‘stop competing’. I will write from my heart first, writing the stories that I want to tell. If they get accepted by a publisher, hooray for me. If you as readers buy them, then maybe the quarterly royalty check will pay for a set of Kenya’s shoes. But don’t expect to see me a lot on Twitter, or Facebook, or making the blog rounds any more. I’m meeting my obligations there and then spending my time where I really want to be: riding my horse and writing my stories.

*****


Bio: Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a busy practice, a great boyfriend, a big dog, and an even bigger horse. When she is not talking cats down out of the ceiling or convincing the Rottweiler that he really needs to take his pills, she is writing stories that make her happy. Hopefully they will make you happy too.

Her latest release is Practice Makes Perfect

Blurb: The now-extinct Brill gifted mankind with the technology of space travel, but the implacable Swarm is determined to wipe out all humans from the face of the universe. But the human race won’t give in so easily. On board the spaceship Fearless, a team led by Dr. Rhys Aubrey and Major Jim Tanner is tasked with developing technology for the fight and making new allies for whatever edge they can get.

Every day the Fearless ventures forth to new worlds and faces challenges that forge strong bonds of friendship among the crew—and perhaps something more between Rhys and Jim. In a life filled with danger and trouble around every corner, are Rhys and Jim ready to risk their hearts too?

Her website / Email akasarahmadison@gmail.com / Author Page at Dreamspinner Press.



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From Clare: Like to stretch your writing fingers after Christmas' excesses? Fancy writing something for the visitors this month? It can be anything from a flashfic 3 sentences to a drabble of 100 or so, or even more. Any genre, any theme, any rating, any character(s). Maybe ones you already love, maybe the chance to try on a new character for size.
I'm holding a FREE FICTION DAY on the 28th, so send me new fiction - links to your existing work also welcome! - to clarelondon11 AT yahoo.co.uk and I'll post it all then :).

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FOLLOW the Birthday Blog so far:
Jan 09: Lee Rowan shares her healthy resolution.
Jan 10: Rowena Sudbury and the beauty of a blue moon.
Jan 10: Sandra Lindsay and her WIP characters.
Jan 11: Shelley Munro and a tour of bedrooms through the ages.
Jan 11: Dany Sirene and her love of Goth characters.

Jan 01: luscious_words shares some fabulous icons.
Jan 02: Jordan Castillo Price shares her experience of re-releasing books.
Jan 03: Mara Ismine wonders how important is continuity in fiction?
Jan 04: Jen shares her favourite Rom Com movies.
Jan 05: Karenna Colcroft introduces her unusual werewolf.
Jan 06: Stevie Carroll takes us on a pictorial tour of her favourite locations.
Jan 07: Tinnean quotes Jack Benny on age.
Jan 07: Josie makes a brave leap into a scary sport.
Jan 08: Elin Gregory finds inspiration at every turn.

Check up on:
Prior years fun HERE and
The 2012 Guest schedule HERE.


Want to join in but missed the original call? Email me at clarelondon11 AT yahoo.co.uk and I'll happily find you a space ♥

NOTE: most pictures chosen by me and credited where known, others may be used without direct permission, please contact me with any queries/concerns.

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Comments

( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
hilde
Jan. 12th, 2012 12:24 pm (UTC)
You should tell the stories you want and need to, not write because you must meet a deadline, or must sell a certain number of copies. You have written so many wonderful stories already and I'm really glad you have found the inspiration and desire to write more :)

There is a depth to a cold winter’s sky that you don’t get at any other time of year. The stars themselves are layered, as though someone has cast a fistful of diamonds of all sizes into folds of black velvet. The air is so cold it hurts to breathe, and yet the cleanness of it makes you feel alive.

THIS! YES! I can moan and complain about living so far north, but there are perks, too! I love looking up at the night sky, gazing at the stars and wondering what's out there. I want that stargate!

sarah_madison
Jan. 13th, 2012 01:33 am (UTC)
Hee! I want that Stargate too! :-) I love your icon, BTW--you have some of the coolest ones out there that I've seen!

The funny thing is, I used to write just what I wanted. I did it for me, I did it because the story was begging to be told. Then all of the sudden, a little modest success had me thinking, "Wow, this might be my ticket out of debt."

Once it became something I *had* to do, it ceased to be the thing I did as a means of relieving stress, something I did out of love. I became more critical of my work. I murdered my darlings as they slept instead of letting them grow up and be less than perfect. I couldn't even write fanfic because that was a waste of precious time that could be spent on getting another story to market.

I had to let go of all of that. As soon as I did--bam! The dam unstopped and the words began to flow. I'm working on fanfic right now, but I am also pulling out original fic that's lain dormant for a while and seeing what needs to be done to make it a workable story. It may not sell--but the characters are speaking to me again--and that's why I write in the first place.

I think of you and your northern nights sometimes when I am out at the barn after dark. :-)
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sarah_madison
Jan. 13th, 2012 01:46 am (UTC)
Whew-boy! I can only imagine how the economy has impacted you professionally. I had to face the possibility of losing my horse--but also the realization that if she did, I couldn't justify replacing her. I spend the equivalent of a mortgage payment on her each month as it is--there is no question of selling her or 'getting out' as some of my friends say, because she is family.

But the sad, hard truth is that I would have been better off financially if she had died. Talk about your bittersweet epiphanies!

My horse vet mentioned that all of his top 20-30% highest grossing clients were getting out--the hobby llama farmers, and the people with small barns, the big show barns too. He said that social media had replaced Pony Club for the up and coming young riders (to which I said we were obviously not indoctrinating them early enough anymore! ;-)

I submitted my first story on a whim and was startled when it was accepted. Though I told myself that this wouldn't pay the bills, I did start expecting it to supplement them. Add to that the constant chatter about how you must Promote or Die on every list, networking site, chat, etc. and you can see where the pressure to produce became overwhelming. Since I've decided not to play that game anymore, the writing has been effortless and fun again. And that is the whole point for me--to have fun telling my stories.

I must say I am excited to read your books now. :)

Hah! That made me smile--thank you!
jordan_c_price
Jan. 12th, 2012 03:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this touching story! My friend has a horse with a bum leg who's constantly needing TLC so I can really picture all of this. Lately I'm thinking a lot about what success does and doesn't mean to me. I think it's one of those slippery things that will need to be periodically redefined.
sarah_madison
Jan. 13th, 2012 01:50 am (UTC)
Lately I'm thinking a lot about what success does and doesn't mean to me. I think it's one of those slippery things that will need to be periodically redefined.

I think you're right there. Certainly by the standards of my profession (and that of my friends), I'm not what you would call successful. Yet at the last class reunion I attended, everyone told me how fabulous I looked (really??) and how relaxed and happy I seemed. And aside from worrying some days about how to pay the bills, I think that's true.

So if most of what I own is held together with duct tape, well, that's okay by me. :-)
treva2007
Jan. 12th, 2012 03:13 pm (UTC)
Writing is too hard -- never do it unless you enjoy it. And yes, sometimes the universe has had to slap me (SEVERAL times because I'm stubbourn) before I realize what I think I should do isn't necessarily right.
sarah_madison
Jan. 13th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC)
Writing had certainly become hard for me--which was how I knew something was wrong. It didn't used to be so hard. I used to average a novella length story every month.

Then I found myself tabling one WIP after another, and writing crappy fanfic in order to prove to myself that I was still a writer. By taking sales out of the picture, I found the ability to write for the sheer fun of it again. What a relief!

Yeah, it might mean that I only publish one novel a year. Or none at all. But at the rate I was going, I wasn't publishing anything anyway. This way, I'm writing what makes me happy.

I know what you mean about the universe having to slap you hard. Sometimes I'm pretty blind to life-s roadmarks too. I'd spend a lot less time stumbling around in circles if I paid more attention! :-)
jan_irving
Jan. 12th, 2012 03:31 pm (UTC)
I was very moved by your story, Sarah. I'm glad your horse decided to stay with you.

I agree about the writing for yourself. The books of mine that always did the best were ones I wrote for myself and sent in as almost an afterthought. I had been writing a lot of scheduled books over the later part of 2011 and I was feeling very burned out. I took myself off that roster and now I'm going to write what I want, when I feel like it. I also agree about all the twitter and stuff. I prefer to sprinkle it like spice and spend my time writing or practicing my yoga or art.
sarah_madison
Jan. 13th, 2012 02:03 am (UTC)
I'm glad your horse decided to stay with you.

Me too, me too. :-)

I think you've hit the nail on the head here--write for yourself first, a publisher next, an audience third. I also think it is easier to do that in the beginning when you don't "know any better." Now that I'm discovering everything that I am doing wrong as a writer, I find it harder to let myself finish anything.

Or at least, I was. Over Christmas I wrote the fluffiest, rainbows-kittens-and-unicorns fanfic story--and loaded it with every cozy-comfort trope I could think of because I needed that comfort. I had a blast writing AND people seemed to enjoy it. So, lesson learned. At least, for me that is, writing is an escape rather than a job.

So what is your personal favorite of yours? What makes it special to you?
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marasmine
Jan. 12th, 2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
I'm glad that Kenya decided to stick around to torment you.

2011 seems to have been a strange year for many people - most of the authors on my flist (and elsewhere) have had a less productive time and there has been a lot of writers' block around.

I think we are all suffering from the pressure and inhibition of being published. I know my creativity has nosedived since I got published - or at least since the glow wore off - I worry about too many adverbs (like Clare I love my adverbs); commercial things (what subject is fashionable, which has been overdone, will I be able to get this one published?); translation to US English (who knew that having a man in a jumper just doesn't work the way I want in the US?); have I punctuated properly for my US publisher? And so on.

All of that distracts me from the writing and I can't become my characters like I used to. Writing isn't such fun any more because all the things that happen after the writing are assuming black hole proportions and the reward isn't growing with it - I'm not just talking about the royalties, which are nice, but I wrote for a long time just for me or for free and got more enjoyment from it.

And then there is all the promo that I find so difficult. Just keeping up with blogs, review sites and other authors is exhausting without thinking of something to say. I struggle to keep up with LJ and don't want to go near Facebook or Twitter.

I've been trying to get back to writing what I want to write and ignoring all those pesky worries. So far I haven't quite got there, but I'm going to keep trying.

Good luck with rediscovering your own joy in writing and riding.
sarah_madison
Jan. 13th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
This is the second time K has tried to die in the last 6 months--she almost died of colic in August. In fact, we believed she had a torsion and needed surgery or euthanasia. Since she had already survived (against great odds) a torsion surgery in 2004, the likelihood of her surviving a second surgery was slim--and I didn't have another 12 thousand dollars to do it. :-(

I was seconds away from giving the order to put her down (this after a 7 hour marathon ordeal of medical management and handwalking her) when she suddenly began to look more comfortable and wanted to eat again. So between that miracle and this one, the people are the barn have begun to refer to her as The Mare Who Lived. I jokingly say I'm going to clip a lightening bolt on one hip. :-)

I think we are all suffering from the pressure and inhibition of being published. I know my creativity has nosedived since I got published

I have one more blog post coming out this coming Monday on this subject--I was already committed to writing something for the Savvy Authors site when I decided that these would be the last ones I would do in the name of promotion. In it, I talk about this very thing--how well meaning friends inundated me with "How To" books, and how I began comparing myself to other writers in terms of sales and award recognition. I got bogged down by a few lukewarm reviews, and I sought out good reviews like crack.

And the promo. The chats, the lists, Facebook, Twitter, blogging. Everywhere you turn, you are told that if you aren't promoting hard enough, you are doomed to fail. The experiences of this past holiday are making me stop and ask, "Define failure?"

Because there is absolutely *nothing* that can stop me from posting my stories online for free if no one wants to buy them. Nothing. So if it is no longer about sales, or rankings, or awards, I get to go back to writing what I want when I want. Ironically, this has increased my writing output exponentially. :-)

So go back to writing what you want to write and stop listening to the naysayers in your heart. Write something impossibly ridiculous--something that you can never sell. Write down your ultimate fantasy story--put in every trope, a self-insert Mary Sue, the whole nine yards. Have fun with it. That's what I did!

tangotabby
Jan. 13th, 2012 02:26 am (UTC)
OK, LJ has eaten my last 2 attempts to post, so I'm just going to say "Thank you for sharing your journey!" and try to email you instead. *hugs you*
sarah_madison
Jan. 13th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC)
*kicks LJ*

Email away! I seem to be coming down with some sort of respiratory thing, so I might not be too coherent tonight. I have a feeling I'll have a lot of time on my hands the next few days, though. I don't think I'm going anywhere any time soon... :-(
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chrissymunder
Jan. 13th, 2012 04:20 pm (UTC)
Hi Sarah, thank you for sharing such an emotional story on several fronts. I wish you and Kenya all the best in 2012. I have my own thoughts on the "promote or die" aspect of writing - based solely on my own surfing, blog reading, and Twitter/Facebook reading practices. One of those thoughts is "If I'm only reading x,y, and z - who is really reading my a?".

Congratulations on your re-definition of success and the good results.
sarah_madison
Jan. 13th, 2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
A lot of what we're being told to do in the name of networking feels so false to me. Don't get me wrong, I love getting involved in a good conversation as much as the next person, but this idea that chatting with people online is going to make or break you as an author? Well, sadly, I'd rather join into chats because they interest me, not because I'm hoping it will make someone rush out and read one of my stories.

I found that I was taking things much to heart--the occasional lukewarm review, whether or not a new release made it into the top ten best-sellers list, how I stacked up compared to other authors, were my stories getting nominated for awards, etc. I learned that it was possible for people to leave one-star reviews on books they'd never read, and that popularity of the author had a lot more to do with the success of a story than the merits of the story itself.

Don't get me started on Facebook. Have you noticed that everyone there seems to have an awesomely perfect life? OR they share with you one of those painful moments that are so awkward you don't know how to respond. No in between it would seem. Success or The End of the World as we know it. Facebook depresses me--I try to spend as little time there as possible! Have you noticed that when you do that, Facebook now sends you notices to tell you that you are missing out? Argh! Die, Facebook, Die! *makes sign of the cross*

It occurred to me that this concept of Promote or Die was like high school all over again. Well, I didn't do so great at high school the first time. I kept my head down, got good grades, hung out with my own little circle of friends, and managed to do eleven plays in three years without making a big deal of it.

It's only when I started telling myself I *needed* these sales that things started to fall to pieces for me as a writer. No, I don't *need* sales. I like them, they would make my life easier, they help validate me as a writer. But what I *need* to do is... write. :-)
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )

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