Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Hardest Left Turn a Series Ever Took

Long ago, I was a horse crazy kid living in the suburbs, where horses were scarce, but books were abundant. I don't remember the exact moment I met The Black Stallion, but I know that somewhere between the end of the 80s and the first few years of the 90s, I read all 21 books in the collected stallion-related series by one Walter Farley, with help of his son Steven to finish the final installment. And I adored every one of them. 

The first book deals with the titular stallion being stranded on a desert island, along with the only other survivor of a shipwreck, Alec Ramsey. Together they learn to survive, form a lifelong bond of friendship, and are eventually rescued and brought back to live in the suburbs of 1940s era New York, where the horse is discovered by a retired thoroughbred trainer named Henry Daily, trained up as a proper racehorse, and entered in a match race against the fictional racing stars Sun Raider and Cyclone. (Probably a take on the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, which took place just three years before The Black Stallion was published.) Spoilers - The Black Stallions wins. 

It's a fantastic story, later adapted into one of the most beautiful films ever made, staring Kelly Reno as a much younger than the book version, but brilliantly cast Alec, Mickey Rooney as Henry, and Teri Garr, who I absolutely adore. With cinematography by Caleb Deschanel (yep. Zooey and Emily's dad.). Again, a great story, with distinctly fantastical elements. 

The Black Stallion was followed up by 20 more installments in the series, mostly about The Black and a select few of his offspring, his sons Satan and Bonfire, and his daughter Black Minx, all, of course, following in their great sire's hoof prints and becoming world champion race horses. There is some broad artistic license throughout the series, starting with the Black's first son being trained as a racehorse, and entered in the Triple Crown (which he wins, off stage. A bold move for Farley, considering that at the time of writing and publication, thoroughbred racing was in the throes of the second longest dry spell between Triple Crown winners since the 37 years separating Affirmed and this year's American Pharoah.) Black Minx then goes on to win the Kentucky Derby. 

You can't do that in real life. Maybe The Black would be allowed special exception to enter the one off match race, but to enter any of the traditional stakes races, including the Triple Crown, your horse is going to have to be a Jockey Club registered Thoroughbred, which The Black and any of his potential foals would simply never be. Not to mention Bonfire, the who is a harness racer in the series, which is, again, an entirely different breed, with very specific skills and traits. 

But this is all curmudgeonly nit picking of the pickiest of nits. This is a fictional series about racehorses, after all. Readers want to read about champions wining races.  Some smudging of the boundaries of reality makes it all the more fun, even into the sort-of companion series about The Island Stallion. 

In The Island Stallion, Farley reworks the same basic elements of his first novel - boy, horse, hidden island - but instead of leaving, all the action takes place on the island itself. A kid named Steve finds a band of wild horses, descended from abandoned steeds of the Spanish Conquistadors, on a supposedly desolate rock of an island. And that's about it. He names the chestnut stallion on the island Flame, and he tames the horse just enough to ride him around inside the confines of the natural stone fortress that the horses call home. A little bit more fantasy, and 0 horse racing. Fine. Eventually, the reader assumes, Flame is going to become some sort of racing champion as well, and indeed that does happen, because 

- wait for it - 

Yeah. I'm absolutely not kidding. 
In The Island Stallion Races, published in 1955, aliens visit earth. Aliens who are so obsessed with horse racing that they offer to whisk Steve and Flame away to Cuba to participate in an international competition against the best race horses in the world. Aliens who dress like Nathan Detroit from Guys and Dolls, no less. There is a scene where the horse is loaded onto a spaceship, and flown across the ocean to an international race track.  

All the corners cut in the earlier tales of Farley's fictional horse racing dynasty are instantly erased by freaking ALIENS showing up to help some kid take some horse to some race in CUBA. If you're going to take a risk, why not? They'll read it. I did. I bought a copy, which still sits on a shelf above my desk, because I love that series, even with the bizarro  alien horse racing element tossed so casually in. The very best part? If you read the copy on the back of the book, there is absolutely nothing so much as hinting at the insanity within. All that's mentioned on the cover copy is that Flame is going to race, and that's going to be dangerous, with him being an untamed wild stallion and all. The Aliens come screaming out of left field in the first 50 pages of the book. And... that's it. They take Steve and Flame to race. Flame wins race. Flame goes home. Steve shrugs and pouts about his horse being faster than the legendary black stallion, racing up north in the US. Yes, The Black exists in this world, and one day goes on to meet Flame both on his island home, and later on the track in a legitimate race. 

So the next time you watch the movie, or just see the majestic image of the Black galloping down the beach, just remember that somewhere else in that same world, aliens are traveling to the Caribbean Sea to find Earth's Best Racehorse. 

Actually, this is mildly disappointing, now that I think about it. Why wasn't there an intergalactic horse race for Flame to win? Why stop at racing the Black, when he could be pitted against the fastest horses IN THE GALAXY???

Somewhere out there, is a true match for Flame, the magnificent Island Stallion*.

*this is still a book about horse racing.
So, what about you? Ever read something that was just completely bonkers, based on the cannon of the series up to that point? 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Old Dog, New Tricks, and Titles.

So, Otis is officially the Best Dog Ever. 
He highly recommends you consider adopting an older dog. They come with all Good Dog Software already installed. 
 Housebroken? check. Socialized? check. Gets along with household felines? check. Likes kids? check. Good manners when walking on a leash? check. Knows how to give high fives? check. Seriously, just bring him home and you have an Instant Best Friend, no additional hardware required.
Here he is being all cute and relaxing on his blanket after a visit to the dog park.

"You are not currently petting Otis, or feeding him treats.
Let's try to work on that." 

After a few months with us, he's very settled in. When he first arrived, he had a bit of anxiety during thunderstorms, but now even that seems to be relaxing. A few days ago we had a rather loud afternoon storm, and he just hung out on the couch, instead of trying to cram himself under my desk as he had on previous occasions. 

The one thing he hasn't been very helpful with is picking out a title for my manuscript. 
That is one of the most aggravating parts of writing, I find. 
I walk through the book store reading spine after spine, thinking, "Wow, that's brilliant." and then I get back to my own project. I stare at my list of potential titles. And they are all somehow, in their own ways, completely terrible. 
I was never especially intimidated by queries - condensing my manuscript down into a little less than a page is one thing. Coming up with five words or less that can grab a potential reader and make them want to read the jacket, or better yet, open to page one? Eeek. 

So that's where I am in the writing world, fellow scribes. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Equinox is as Good a Time as Any

Summer is officially over. Dare I say, yay? I am an autumn person. A winter person, even. I'll take spring in a pinch, but summer. Ugh. I don't like heat, I don't like blazing sun. I don't like the sound of lawn care equipment raging through my neighborhood from dawn till dusk seven days a week.

Today summer is officially over.
Now we get to put extra blankets on our beds, snuggle without sticking together, drink hot coffee outdoors, have peace and quiet while the children are off at school. And pumpkin flavored everything. Basically all that's good and right with the world.
This summer was, as always, very eventful and over in a flash.
To condense the accounts to a reasonable size,
I've been hard at work on a top secret project* which will hopefully be revealed to the world very soon.
Mr. Cate worked on almost a dozen films, from short to feature length, that are heading out into the festival circuit, and one television pilot that looks fantastic. Next year looks to be even busier for him.
We lost a dear old friend, Lola the cat. She was with us from the beginning, when it was just me and Mr. Cate and one rascally cat in a little apartment in the city. That was nearly 16 years ago. She had a great run, and was a tough old bird to the end, but we had to see her off onto her next adventure in early August. She will always be missed, and always be remembered as a bright spot in our lives.

We also brought a new friend home to join the family, our very first official Cate family dog.
Meet Otis.

He's an older fellow, a little bit of greyhound, a little bit of lab, and something else probably too, something that loves to track and dig, based on his favorite outdoor activities.
He's spent the last few months with us now, sleeping on our sofas and beds, riding around with us in the car, enjoying snacks and walks in the neighborhood, and basically being the cutest, sweetest dog that ever was.
My apologies for the grainy photo. His propensity to come trotting right up to you whenever you look at him, combined with my inability to frame a shot has made me as good a dog photographer as I am a cat photographer. Which is, terrible. It was sheer luck that he sat still long enough for this picture.
We'll practice. We'll get there.

*Top secret project hint. A while ago I decided that if I ever sold a book, I would get a dog... to be continued :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

First Ever Book Cover Reveal! (Seriously, check this one out!)

Now this is an exciting day for me! 
Today I have the pleasure and privilege of helping host the cover reveal for Pat Edsen's forthcoming New Adult novel, A Hold On Me. I had a chance to sneak a peak at parts of this manuscript already, and I am so, so ready to read the whole book, as soon as I can get my greedy little hands on it. 
For now, we can all bask in the glory of this absolutely gorgeous cover  -  

That is just ridiculously cool. And now you have to know more, right? 
Here's the pertinents - 

A HOLD ON ME (Dark Heart Book #1) by Pat Esden

Kensington Books
Release date: March 2016

She never wanted to return.
He wants nothing more than for her to leave.
But the fire between them is as strong as the past that haunts them.

Annie Freemont grew up on the road, immersed in the romance of rare things, cultivating an eye for artifacts and a spirit for bargaining. It’s a freewheeling life she loves and plans to continue—until her dad is diagnosed with dementia. His illness forces them to return to Moonhill, their ancestral home on the coast of Maine—and to the family they left behind fifteen years ago, after Annie’s mother died in a suspicious accident.

Once at Moonhill, Annie is shocked when her aunt separates her from her father. The next time Annie sees him, he’s a bizarre, violent shadow of his former self. Confused, she turns to an unlikely ally for support—Chase, the dangerously seductive young groundskeeper. With his dark good looks and powerful presence, Chase has an air of mystery that Annie is irresistibly drawn to. But she also senses that behind his penetrating eyes are secrets she can’t even begin to imagine. Secrets that hold the key to the past, to Annie’s own longings—and to all of their futures. Now, to unlock them, she’ll have to face her greatest fears and embrace her legacy…

Now would be the time to mark your calendars, because this gorgeous adventure will be out in March, which, as we all know, will be here before you know it! 

Click here to add A HOLD ON ME on Goodreads: 

 Or better yet,  go ahead and pre-order from your particular book source of choice 



PAT ESDEN would love to say she spent her childhood in intellectual pursuits. The truth is she was fonder of exploring abandoned houses and old cemeteries. When not out on her own adventures, she can be found in her northern Vermont home writing stories about brave, smart women and the men who capture their hearts. An antique-dealing florist by trade, she’s also a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and the League of Vermont Writers. Her short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, the Mythopoeic Society’s Mythic Circle literary magazine, and George H. Scither’s anthology Cat Tales.


Check out the fantastic giveaway on Pat’s Facebook page. Chances to win an Alex and Ani Path Of Life Heart Charm Bangle, or Amazon gift certificates.  Easy to enter! https://www.facebook.com/PatEsdenAuthor

And here are all the other ways to keep in touch with Pat while we wait for the day we can curl up with A Hold On Me, and then immediately get anxious for book #2 -

TWITTER: @patesden

Congratulations Pat!! I'm so thrilled for you!!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Halfway Point of 2015 - Already

We've reached the halfway point. There are less days left in the year than we've already spent here. The last six months of every year seems to move a little bit faster for me. 
But so far, it's been a tremendous year here. 

Mr. Cate has been working on long list of film projects, some of which are starting to finally wrap up, and adding new ones every day, it seems. Everything looks very promising there, so far. 

I have writing related news which I cannot share yet, but it's been well, well worth the wait on this wandering journey of mine. 

Our 17 year old cat looked like she was getting ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, but somehow, after suffering a stroke, dental surgery, and going partially blind, she is still with us, and looking better than ever. She's become much more sociable and friendly in her golden years, and we'd love to have her around to celebrate the big 18 in six more months. (and 19, 20, 21... she can stick around forever, if she likes) 

We had, for the first time in my lifetime, a Triple Crown winner this past weekend. It was every bit as thrilling to see as I had hoped, every year that I've watched since I could remember. 

I've kept up with my list of films and books so far for the year pretty well. I wanted to have finished a bit more reading by this point, but I've had to prioritize writing time over reading time while my current project demands it. I should have the current revision done by the beginning of July, which means time for a break, and maybe a week of just me and some new books. 

And now, back to the manuscript. 
How about your year so far? Going well? Not so much? There's always time to turn it around :) 

Film Count 2015 : 118
Watched this week:
(*not first viewing)

The Words
50 Shades of Grey
Kiss of Death
The Shawshank Redemption*
Big Eyes
Blade Runner
Monsters University
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Him
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Her
Snake Eyes
Before I Disappear
Winter Passing
Kiki's Delivery Service
The Blues Brothers*
The Others*
Welcome to the Punch
Cop Land
Inglorious Basterds*
Spring Breakers

Things that are technically TV shows even though I only watch them streaming on the computer: 18
New this week:


Books of 2015 : 20
New this week:

Books 2,3 & 4 of Catherynne Valente's Fairyland Series

Things I'm Looking Forward to in 2015 

Jurassic World (taking my kiddo to the ginormous screen for that, obvs) 
Yorgos Lanthimos's The Lobster

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Just About Every Parent in Middle Grade Fiction

First, a little tip of the cap to Nathan Bransford, for his post today, which is right on track with how I happen to be looking at and working on my own writing projects right now.

Last week I started really digging into a third draft of one of my WIPs. This round involves heavily paring down a lot of superfluous bits of the first two drafts, from settings to world building to whole characters that aren't going to be strong enough or important enough to the story to leave them all in. I'm a noted panster, and I love working on first drafts, where all the ideas can just pour out into one big bucket of book soup. The real work is in slowly simmering that vat of words down into a tasty, manageable, and most importantly enjoyable treat of a novel.

Sometimes characters leave your book, and you easily forget about them as you revise. And sometimes characters are important, but must stay mostly in the background. For instance, almost all parents in middle grade fiction. Of course there are exceptions, and parents who play a larger role, but in so many children's stories, the parents must be predisposed in order to serve the plot. Which makes perfect sense, as so many tales couldn't happen if anyone's sensible mother or father was paying attention to the children in the first place. The story isn't about the parents, except for the background they provide to the protagonists. Mom and Dad remain largely off stage while the kids get to be the stars of the show, and I have no problem with that. Except that another manuscript of mine includes a set of parents with a really fantastic backstory that has no place in the book itself, and their epic relationship will probably remain just a collection of notes in one of the dozens of books of other notes about the story of another character.

One of my favorite plays is Tom Stoppard's Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead, which explores the perspective of two minor characters from Hamlet as the events of the main story unfold around them, with hilarious results.
Unfortunately, not every character in every story can have their whole tale told in full, or even expounded upon Stoppard-style for a few hours trespass of the boards. But I can say, just as with Hamlet's dear departed schoolmates, my unsung characters' biggest mistake was getting on a boat.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The First Bee of Spring

Forget the robins. It's spring when the first bees return, because bees mean - Flowers!
And the first fat, fuzzy bumblebee of spring appeared this week, as I repainted the front deck railings.
It's time to open windows (yay) and pull weeds (boo).
I know a lot of people love this time of year, but I remain ambivalent. I love seeing the new plants, getting back out in the garden, seeing the world outside again. But something about springtime always makes me feel as if I'm not getting enough done. There's suddenly all this Outside work to do, as well as Inside work that gets put off in the winter doldrums. And these are the last few weeks of school before kids are back for the summer.
I always love having my son home, and I always get a bit down when school starts up again in the fall. Right now, though, I'm in Finish All the Writing mode, because there are only a few more weeks of quiet mornings, and I need to make them all count!

What about you? Does spring somehow awaken that flurry of motivation to Do All The Chores, and Make All the Things?

Film Count 2015 : 97
Watched this week:
(*not first viewing)

The Book of Life*
The Boxtrolls
Avengers : Age of Ultron
The House at the End of Time
The Sad and Lonely Glow
The Lost River
The Judge

Things that are technically TV shows even though I only watch them streaming on the computer: 18
New this week:

Under the Dome

Books of 2015 : 17
New this week:

The Last Wild
The Bone Gap
(Intended to start a re-read of His Dark Materials, then realized that I lent out my copy of The Golden Compass, and whoever has it, well, still has it.)