Natalie released The Head and Not the Heart in 2011, beginning the three-book Alex and Alexander series. The second book of the series, Other People’s Horses, was released in 2013 and was named a semi-finalist for the 2014 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award (an annual award for full-length fiction about horse racing). These successful publications were followed by the release of Reinert’s historical romance novels in 2014, and her newest novel, Ambition, which follows the career of up-and-coming event rider Jules Thornton, was just published May 18th.
Natalie was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for The Equine Insider.
What did you find most challenging in writing Other People’s Horses?
It was probably staying on top of all the horses! I have been considering different ways to keep track of who is racing at what level, who has what weaknesses and strengths, etc. I need a virtual stable just for the Cotswold horses, so that I can glance a training chart and see if it is Shearwater or Virtue and Vice who is gearing up for an allowance on the turf. These are the details that make my books ring true to horsepeople, so I have to keep on top of them.
How did you first become involved in writing about horses?
I've been writing horse stories since I was in elementary school - maybe sooner, but I don't remember that far back! In fourth grade I filled a 3-subject notebook with a three-part sequel to Black Beauty, told by Black Beauty's relatives. I guess I figured equine memoir-writing was in his bloodline. And I wrote many, many horse racing stories. I'm basically incapable of writing a story that doesn't involve horses.
How do you go about performing research for your novels?
I always knew I wanted to write something very true-to-life, because nothing is more annoying than the horse story where the heroine rescues a 16.4 hand high palomino filly and wins the Kentucky Derby with her three weeks later. So when I decided to write a horse racing novel (what would eventually be "The Head and Not The Heart,") I went to visit some friends I'd met through Retired Racehorse Blog -- trainers at Aqueduct. And before we knew it, we lived in New York and we were all working at Aqueduct -- I was an exercise rider, my husband was a groom. We stayed in the afternoons and ran horses, we mixed grain and bathed horses, we did it all. And with that, I was able to write a horse racing novel that rang true not just to horse-people, but to the folks actually in the racing business.
Maybe not every novel has to involve such immersive research, but I definitely believe in writing what you know, and getting the details right as often as possible. Every now and then, there might be a shortcut for the sake of story. But I really try hard to keep it true-to-life.
What is the best advice that you’ve ever received (regarding horses, writing, or anything else)?
This is a tough one to answer. I think that means I don't take advice well!
But I think the most valuable thing anyone ever told me about horses was that a horse's training is like a string of pearls. Just… not a very good string of pearls. You add two pearls to the string, one falls off, and you have to pick it up and put it back on. You put three more pearls on -- there go two on the floor. Essentially: horses remember most things some of the time, and they remember all of the things none of the time.
This is probably true of humans as well.
What would your advice be to an aspiring writer?
Write an outline. Know where you're going to go and how you can get there. Then you can go back and edit it and rewrite it and change it however you like. But the single hardest thing to do with a book is just to finish it, especially when you're new. So why not do yourself a favor and have a road-map to get you to the end? It doesn't make you less creative. It does make you more efficient and leaves you feeling more accomplished when you have a first draft ready to play with.
And the second is to embrace all those rewrites. It's not wasting time to rewrite a draft -- not the first time or the second time or the fifth time. Every draft you've written before is getting you to the next, better one. AMBITION took me three years and at least three complete rewrites. It went from present-tense to past-tense, which was just a brutal rewrite. But there are sentences from the first draft that have made it to the final book. Not one word, deleted or not, was a waste of time. My rewrites are thorough, but I am refining and perfecting -- my idea of perfection. I'm not going to achieve that, or even my vision for the story, the first time around.
You can learn more about Natalie at her website or Facebook page. Think Ambition sounds like an interesting read? Check out our review of it here!
Photo courtesy of Natalie Keller Reinert.