Horse Writing

Papa (my grandfather, Robert Hutchison) and his beautiful Mercer Rex

As a freelancer, I’ve done a fair share of ghost writing over the years in order to make ends meet.  Now, with Dream of Night, my new novel for young readers, I’ve turned to horse writing.  In a way, it feels like I’ve come home.

I was born and raised in the Bluegrass, a part of Kentucky known for its rolling meadows and beautiful horses.  They say what makes Kentucky Thoroughbreds the best in the world has to do with the rich limestone found in the soil.  The horses here grow up strong, fast, and spirited.  I think the people here grow up that way too.

Springtime in central Kentucky means that fields everywhere are dotted with mares and colts.  (Most foals are born between January and April.)  Springtime around here also means the Kentucky Derby and big silly hats and mint juleps.

I was not a particularly horsey girl growing up.  I would ride occasionally, but not with the longing and the focus of some of my friends. In the middle of Kentucky farmland, unlikely as it sounds, I was into theater.  My world revolved around acting and plays because that’s what my father did:  he was an actor and producer of a summerstock theater.  (I wrote about a childhood spent on stage in my novel Here’s How I See It/Here’s How It Is, 2009.) But horses were in my blood, at least on my mother’s side.

My maternal grandfather had been a horseman, a breeder and trainer of 3-5 gated saddlebred horses, one of the best trainers around.  A man who knew a lot about horses.  So I grew up hearing stories, seeing photos of my papa’s statuesque prize-winners.  Photos and memories only.  Because the stories always ended with a pounding at his front door in the middle of the night and the cry of “Fire! Fire!” Papa rushed out into the dark to find his main barn already engulfed in flames.  (This was long before modern smoke detectors and sprinkler systems and telephones being commonplace in every home.) Papa – and his farmhands and neighbors – risked their lives to save the horses, but the fire was just too fast.

My aunt Hazel on one of Papa's horses before the barn fire

Papa kept a few pleasure horses after that, but he gave up breeding and training altogether.  I think the horseman in him must have died along with those amazing creatures he had raised and trained and loved so dearly.  He rebuilt the barn, but instead of stalls, there were open rafters for hanging tobacco while it cured.  He turned his acres of grazing land into rows of crops.

I left Kentucky after high school, headed for the big city of New York.  I went to college, became a writer, started a family, lived in Brooklyn before Brooklyn was cool.  And then, suddenly, I wanted to go home.  Papa had died a while back, but his house was still empty.  My husband and I decided to take the plunge, make a go of country living.

Moving back to the family farm I had a vague notion of wanting to own horses – for myself, for my son, for future kids.  So I was happy to discover upon arrival that there were already horses on the farm.  The neighbor down the lane was leasing the land around the house.  So there was a herd of horses, about eight or so mares and one lone black stallion, the leader of the group.  They were nearly wild because the neighbor didn’t have a lot of time to spend with them.  The fields curved around in a horseshoe pattern, with the house in the middle.  So most times of day I could look out any window, or stand in any part of the yard, and see the horses.

They were shy at first.  They ignored our offerings of apples and peppermint.  But slowly, when they realized we weren’t going anywhere, they got used to us.  They would watch us across shorter and shorter distances.  Finally they allowed us to give them treats, sniffing at us, still startling away if we made any sudden moves.

From my window on the second floor where I had set up my writing desk, I often just sat and stared out the window, watching the horses instead of working on the book I was trying to finish.  The horses were all different colors.  Their manes and tails were long and tangly.  They seemed to move as one, stopping to graze together, drinking in one big group from the spring, bolting together in a heartbeat without any obvious (to me, anyway) signal.  Many times a day this startling, graceful explosion into flight, and the gallop of so many big powerful bodies across the field would simply take my breath away.

After a while the lease came up on the land; the neighbor sold some of the horses, took the others back to his side of the lane.  My husband, son and I would walk down the road to visit them.  By this time they knew us.  They’d sidle up to the fence when they saw us approaching, they’d take the apples we offered; they’d allow their faces and necks to be stroked.

We were settling into our new life on the farm with a big garden and chickens and cows – and skunks (uninvited but persistent guests).  The barn was in disrepair.  It would take a lot of money to make it a safe and comfortable place for horses.  So we put off the dream of having horses of our own for a while and kept visiting the neighbor horses.

I went back to sitting at my desk while my son was at school, staring at my computer now, rather then staring out at the horses.  Slowly though something started to happen, something started to click.  It was true that I couldn’t actually see the horses anymore from my window.  But I knew they were there.  I could feel them.  I could write about them, tell their story.  And so that’s exactly what I started to do.

Daniel (age 3) and me getting to know the neighbor's horses after moving home to KY.
Me and Daniel (age 3) visiting horses after moving back home.

The Blue Marble Bookstore, a rare gem

The Blue Marble Bookstore in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, is about fifteen minutes  south of Cinci, OH.  It’s the kind of place, tiny though it may seem at first, where you just might get lost.  Lost in books — the very best kind of disorientation.  From picture books to novels for young (and not so young) readers, from signed first editions to signed paperbacks, it’s the kind of bookstore that is becoming more and more rare in this day and age of everything-at-the-click-of-a-button.

First of all, it’s in a house, a lovely little old house on a bustling but quiet street in a friendly northern Kentucky neighborhood.  The downstairs room is lined with shelves full of books.  A door to the backyard leads into a Secret Garden.  A staircase hidden behind the counter leads upstairs to the Great Green Room (yes, with everything from Goodnight Moon including the mouse).  Upstairs is also where the kitchen is found.  Because when you come to an event at the Blue Marble — a booksigning for a local or national author; a discussion of new books among librarians, teachers, children’s lit professors from local universities; a mock Newbery/Caldecott event — you will be fed.  The whole staff, so knowledgeable about what’s going on in the world of children’s books, chips in and makes a dish, and everyone sits down together to good food and good talk about books and writers.

I wish the Blue Marble was just around the corner from me (instead of 3 hours away), because I would pop in all the time if I could.  I would buy all my books from the Blue Marble.  Because when you go to the Blue Marble to purchase a book, you’re not just getting that one book.  You’re getting information about other books you might want for yourself or for your young reader or for your classroom or for your book club.  You’re supporting the kind of community bookstore that is sadly slipping away.  Because, yes, it’s easier to go on line and click a button, and often times it’s cheaper too.  But you simply don’t get the kind of personal attention and knowledge and expertise that comes with stopping into a store like the Blue Marble, talking to teachers, librarians, writers — people who work part-time selling children’s books because children’s books isn’t just a job, it’s  their passion.

Many, many thanks to Tina, Peter, Dave, and Tish for your hospitality, for your time and dedication and support!  I appreciate all that you do!

Here are some pix from the Blue Marble signing and feast and from my school visit earlier in the day at St. Pius X….

I started my day with kids at St. Pius X in Northern KY.
Welcome to the Blue Marble!
Signing my books in the Great Green Room
I feel so at home at the Blue Marble!
Blue Marble founder & owner, Tina, makes a mean steak!
Tish & Dave are pretty handy in the kitchen too!
Linda Sanders, new friend and author of Maggie's Monkeys, came out for the event.
Tish was one of the first to email me to say she loved Dream of Night after she'd read the ARC.
Buy your books at the Blue Marble Bookstore!

A great night at Joseph-Beth

New fan Keye'lle at Joseph-Beth

Thanks to all the folks who showed up at Joseph-Beth Booksellers last night!  And thanks to Brooke Raby, who always makes my visit there so special.  It was a terrific event.  I was so happy to see Keye’lle there.  I’d met her earlier that day at Sandersville Elementary School in Lexington, where I talked to the 4th and 5th graders about Dream of Night and about what inspires me as a writer.  Keye’lle brought her mom to the event at JB, and she had some really great questions to ask after my reading, like “How many books do you want to write before you die?”  My answer:  a hundred!  Thanks for coming Keye’lle, and keep reading and asking questions!

Some of my good friends were there at the reading to support me.  Here’s a picture of some of my crazy crew of gals…one of which is my oldest friend, Fe.  We’ve known each other since second grade when I walked up to her at the playground and asked her to play.  We’ve never lost touch through many moves and many different phases of life, and now we’re back in the same state, nearly the same town we grew up in.

My crazy gals come out to support me
Wow! A stack of my books!

Joseph-Beth has always been so supportive, and like I said, Brooke Raby is just the best.  Thanks, Brooke for coming to the schools in Lex to sell books, and for making sure everything was just right at the reading!

Brooke Raby is always working!
Brooke is the best!

Again, many many thanks to all of you who came to the reading, especially my friends, Keye’lle, and the woman who loves horses (I’m sorry I didn’t get a photo of you!) and who said that she demanded that they sell my book to her the day before it came out!  I hope you enjoy reading about Night, Shiloh, and Jess!  And please keep in touch with me via my blog!

Trying to tell jokes at the mike like my stand up comedian sister...I'm not that funny.

I come from a very artistic family.  My oldest brother is an artist/graphic design artist; my other brother is a filmmaker, and my sister is a stand-up comedian.  In our home town, people are always getting me and my sister confused.  So we’re always trying to explain that I write books and she writes jokes.  (Actually it’s pretty easy to tell the difference — I’m not the funny one! 🙂

Keye'lle getting her book signed.

More Blue Marble

Here’s what the Blue Marble has to say on their events calendar…..

One of our favorite Kentucky authors of books for children and young adults will be returning to our store! Heather Henson will be talking about and signing her newest novel entitled Dream of Night [Atheneum, $15.99], a deeply moving story for middle-school students. We’ll also have her previously-published novel and picture books on hand for her visit.

Please contact us for line numbers and book reservations. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear Ms. Henson discuss what we believe is one of the best novels of the year!

The Blue Marble

I will be at Joseph-Beth in Lexington tonight (May 4) at 7:00 p.m.. Love the folks at JB! They have always been so supportive.

And then I will be heading on to Northern Kentucky to do some school visits and to go to one of my favorite bookstores, The Blue Marble.

For those of you who have never been to the Blue Marble in Fort Thomas: GO!!!! It is a wonderful place, full of good books and good people who care passionately about good books. My event is on Thursday, May 6, from 4-6pm. It’s a ritual that after a book discussion and signing, the folks at the store actually prepare a feast for those who want to stay and continue to talk about books! It’s amazing. The Blue Marble makes me wish I lived in Northern KY so I could just pop over there all the time!

Here’s a link to their calendar, in which they have some pretty nice things to say about Dream of Night. Thanks, guys! Can’t wait to see ya’ll!

Feature in Danville Advocate Messenger

Danville author writes book for middle-graders
By JENNIFER BRUMMETT
jenb@amnews.com
May 2, 2010

An angry child in the foster care system. An angry horse, abused and sick. A tired caregiver, unsure of whether she can care for the two.

This is the trio of characters around whom “Dream of Night,” local author Heather Henson’s new novel for middle-graders, is spun.

Henson decided to take riding lessons when she moved back to Kentucky after living elsewhere for many years. She wanted to have horses and hadn’t ridden much when she was a kid.

She started taking lessons with Susanna Thomas, equine director at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Henson called Thomas an amazing horsewoman from whom she learned a lot.

Thomas’ organization, Henson explained, is to “find homes for Thoroughbreds who have been in the racing industry and maybe had an injury or haven’t been money winners.” If suitable candidates can’t adopt a horse, she added, they can foster a horse, if they can’t keep one long term. They even can sponsor a horse if they can’t afford to keep one. “I think what they do is really amazing,” Henson said.

She said riding lessons taught her how little she knows about horses. “It would take a lifetime to learn to be a good rider or horsewoman,” Henson noted, “but I love horses. Through the lessons I came to really admire horses and respect them in a way I never had. Growing up in Kentucky, I’d seen them in fields … but I’d never really had a chance to be with a horse.”

With Thomas’ help, she started spending more time with horses and now is interested in adopting equines when her farm is ready for them. Henson said many people don’t realize how many horses are out there who need to be adopted. She said 35,000 thoroughbreds are registered with the Jockey Club each year, yet only one wins the Kentucky Derby.

The Jockey Club is the breed registry for Thoroughbred horses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The organization is dedicated to the improvement of Thoroughbred breeding and racing, and it fulfills that mandate by serving many segments of the industry through its subsidiary companies and by providing support to a wide range of industry initiatives.

Learning that led her to wonder what happens to the rest of the horses — the ones who don’t win the Derby, or maybe don’t win at all, who don’t win big purses for their owners.

“That where my story began,” Henson said of her inspiration for “Dream of Night,” which will be for sale Tuesday. “What does happen to all these horses? They are registered Thoroughbreds but not money winners. They get sold or go from owner to owner.

“The story idea for the book came from riding lessons, and I also, through riding lessons, through the books and Web sites Susanna suggested … started to realize there are a lot of programs across the country that use horses to reach kids with a wide range of disabilities, both physical and emotional. Horses are used for kids with physical disabilities, with autism, with emotional disabilities.”

Working with a horse gives in individual, whether adult or child, empathy for another living creature.

“So when kids work with horses they begin to build trust where there are trust issues. They care for them, feeding them and grooming them. They are taking care of another creature and it helps them understand how to reach out. … Horses speak to people in a way that’s really special,” Henson explained.

Answering the question of why racehorses need rescuing is what led to “Dream of Night.”

“As I sat down to write, as often happens (for me), the characters started speaking,” Henson noted. “The character of the horse started talking to me, so I started writing from the perspective of an abused ex-racehorse.

“I felt strongly — I felt like I knew their story: the 60-year-old woman, the younger girl who had been abused, and the horse. All three came to me.”

A lot of Thoroughbreds wind up with a happy ending. But, because there are so many, a lot of them end up on farms with people who can’t afford to keep them, Henson noted.

“You see a lot of articles in the newspaper about rescue operations where they’ve found horses and they’re basically starving,” she said. “Or they’ve been mistreated or abused.

“Another thing about Thoroughbreds is they are bred to be fast, which makes them temperamental and difficult to handle. They are trained to be aggressive … and sometimes people mistreat them because they are afraid of them.”

Thomas works with the horses to rehabilitate them, Henson said. She tries to gentle them before introducing them to an adoptive family. Some of these rehabilitated horses become eventor horses that participate in dressage events. They can have a second life, Henson noted, if they have a person who knows how to retrain them.

The author said she hopes, first and foremost, that the children who read it enjoy and connect with it.

“I want them to think about the bigger world — to get involved with an animal shelter, helping with dogs and cats, or getting active with the community. I hope it gives them inspiration to do that.

“And also, I’d like kids to think about maybe there’s a kid in their class who seems a little shy or inside a shell and maybe this book will make a kid empathize with someone else.”

SO YOU KNOW

“Dream of Night,” Heather Henson’s new novel for middle-graders, is available wherever books are sold beginning Tuesday. Henson will be signing books beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington. She also will be signing books 4-6 p.m. Thursday at The Blue Marble in Cincinnati. Other events will be planned in the future to celebrate the publication of the book.

Copyright: AMNews.com 2010

here’s the link:
http://www.amnews.com/stories/2010/05/02/fea.655115.sto

Back in Kentucky!

A friend of mine pointed out that I’m not blogging the way I said I would. I have gotten off to a sluggish start, and I’m sorry about that. Sadly, it has to do with a death in the family. My husband Tim’s father died last week at the age of 86. It was not completely unexpected, but still it’s always a shock when a loved one dies. As soon as we heard the news we piled the kids in the car and took off for Minneapolis (an 800 mile drive). The kids were great (for the most part) and it was a lovely funeral, lots of good friends and distant relatives telling stories. Jerry Ungs was a unique character and he will be missed.

So we arrived back in Kentucky last night to torrential rains and flash flooding. The rain was truly biblical. Many roads were washed out and we had to take a few detours just to make it home. Our front fields had turned into lakes. Luckily no drowned cows or chickens. Today is sunny and clear — a perfect day, the calm after the storm. We were missing our beloved Kit Kat, but found her high and dry in the barn, with 5 kittens hidden in the corn crib! Wow, what a great present to come home to!

So now I’m gearing up for my mini tour to celebrate Dream of Night coming out tomorrow! Yay! I heard there’s a nice feature in the Danville Advocate Messenger, so I’m going to check that out in a minute and post the link.

If you’ve been checking this and not seeing any new posts, I’m sorry. I promise this time I’m going to blog for real. Lots coming up this week, and so I will keep you posted as I travel to Lexington, Cincinnati, and Columbus in the coming days.

Regional book events — please check back for details…

The wonderful folks at Joseph Beth in Lexington, KY are hosting a signing for Dream of Night on May 4, publication day!  Two days later, I get to visit the Blue Marble Bookstore (in northern KY, near Cincinnati), one of my favorite places, and talk about Dream of Night.  Also, we’re working on planning an event at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s showcase adoption facility located at the KY Horse Park in Lexington, both to celebrate the book and to raise awareness about Thoroughbred adoption.  Please check back for specifics in the next coupla days…Thanks!

It’s a book! A real book!

Okay, picture this:  the package arrives, I glimpse the return address, I know it just might be first copies of my new book, hot off the presses, sent by my wonderful and thoughtful editor.  So, I rip the big padded envelope open…and….

IT’S

A

BOOK!!!!!!

Galloping into bookstores May 4, 2010!!!

I can’t believe it!

Dream of Night is a book.

Okay, I’m a mom.  I’ve held my newly born babies in my arms for the very first time, and of course holding a newly born book isn’t as mind and heart-blowing, but it’s heaven just the same.

More later….

Right now I have to just sit here and gaze silently for a moment at my little creation (which of course isn’t my creation alone at all but the final beautiful product of so many amazing talented people, including my lovely and hardworking editor and her terrific team of book superheroes at Atheneum.)

Dream of Night publishes officially May 4, 2010.

Award-winning author of books for young people