Sunday, April 12, 2020


~Post Includes:  Book Excerpt, 
Review & Unique Author Interview~


Except for the dreary February weather, life was perfect. Absolutely, fantastically, completely—perfect. Today, my dreams could come true.

Today, Selah would show Sweet Dream in the biggest horse show in Texas.

And today might be the day she signed the movie contract for her and Dream to make a movie about their life. “You’re going to be a star,” she said to her reflection as she finger-combed her blonde hair and fixed a basic ponytail. “And Dream will be a famous horse star.” She imagined people wanting her autograph. She’d have to guard the horse so no one snipped a wisp of her pink mane.

It all started when her instructor, Jordan, made that training DVD of her riding lessons on Sweet Dream. When they posted it on social media, people quickly labeled it Cuteness Overload, and soon, it went viral. Then, after the wife of a movie producer watched Selah and Dream at an exposition, everything got supercharged. “Me—famous. Doesn’t feel real. Pinch me.”

On a day like today, she needed the perfect socks. It was a long- standing family conviction that mismatched socks were lucky. She hummed a happy tune as she tugged on one sock embellished with white unicorns and the other stamped with black horse heads. Balancing on the edge of the window seat, she admired her socks. “Sweet.” She tapped her toes, flipped them outward and together again.

Out her second-story window, two horses slept in the dormant Texas Bermuda grass with their legs tucked near their bellies, and Sweet Dream’s nose rested on the ground. The morning vapor shrouded the trees in wet mist while the sun gently lifted the night’s shade. When a sure sign of spring, a robin, dropped to the ground near Dream, she jerked awake. The glossy black mare threw her head high and lunged to her feet. A snort accompanied her panic.

Dream’s pasture mate, Buddy, rolled to his side and stretched out flat. The brown and white Paint was Grandpa’s old show horse. Less than a year ago, Selah tracked down the gelding and brought him home. She’d hoped Grandpa would ride with her, but he’d gotten remarried instead. It worked out. Selah’s family moved to the farm, and Grandpa and Grandma Katie lived on the farm next door.

Selah smiled at the rumble her two little brothers made scrambling down the stairs to breakfast. Living at the farm ballooned her heart with joy. She blew a kiss through the window to her equine pasture treasures.

The aroma of bacon drew her downstairs. The kitchen had gotten a fresh coat of paint, and, thank goodness, Mom had replaced Grandpa’s ancient, three-tiered puffed curtains. Eight- year-old Davy and five-year-old Michael crowded together on one chair. Their heads tilted back, they dangled a piece of bacon and chomped like alligators. When Dad frowned at them, they turned into little gentlemen. Mom slid eggs from a frying pan with her back to the comedy.

Dad gathered his coat and his keys. “We’ll drive in on Saturday and Sunday to see you show. Have fun, but stay close to Jordan. And please, take it easy on your grandpa.” When the phone rang, he gestured to Selah. “Pick that up, would you?”

“Bye, Daddy. Love you.” She waved at him. “Who would call so early?”

When she heard the movie producer’s voice, her grin widened, and she wiggled her toes in her lucky socks. She held her hand over the mouthpiece and whispered to Mom. “Miss Cindy.” She air-tapped at the phone like a woodpecker going after a beetle. Her mouth stretched wide in a silent scream.

Mom lifted Selah’s chin to close her gaping mouth. “Boys, go find something to watch on TV,” Mom whispered.

“For real?” Davy didn’t wait for her to change her mind. Michael grabbed a piece of bacon for each hand before he raced after his brother. Selah punched the button to put Miss Cindy on speaker so Mom could hear. “Contract! Today!” Selah’s fists pumped the air. Without breath, she could hardly push out her words. “It’s so exciting. We’ll be movie stars.”

“Are your parents available?”

“Yes, ma’am. Mom’s here. She can hear you.”

“Very good. When the contract arrives, your parents need to take it to a lawyer.”

Selah fanned her hand, imagining a movie star about to faint. “So exciting.”

“How did you get along with the script exploratory team?”

“We had tons of fun. They were crazy nice. They followed me and Sweet Dream around everywhere. Asked a million questions.” She managed to breathe so she could continue. “Interviewed Grandpa too. He doesn’t want to be in a movie but thought I was a natural. They thought Grandpa was a hoot and told me they got some great ideas.”

“You completely charmed them. They said your grandpa was quite the character, but they were enormously leery of the horse.” Cindy’s contagious laugh had a charm of its own.

“Sweet Dream and I understand each other. The team wants the movie to open with a scene about how I found Dream tangled in wire with the buzzards after her. I don’t see how that can work because Dream freaks at even the shadow of any bird—even a robin.” Selah rattled on while wishing her voice didn’t sound squeaky. She was a mature thirteen, but she sounded like a five- year-old shopping at the Breyer Model Horse Fest.

“They wouldn’t do anything to scare or injure her. They have their ways of getting the scenes they need. A stunt horse, trained to do specific things, will handle many of the scenes, anyway.”

She nodded along. “That makes sense.”

“They are working hard on final edits and expect to be ready to roll soon. I’m setting up the screen tests for an actress to play you. Especially excited about two young actresses who are excellent riders. Once this last of winter blows through, I’ll bring them to meet Dream before we finalize the selection.”

“To play me?” Selah’s spirit crumbled like burnt bacon bits. Her head itched right over her ear. “I thought—I would be me.” Once she started scratching, other spots needed the same treatment. “Not just anybody can ride Dream.” She sounded whiny now—worse than squeaky. 

“We’re buying your story, but I’ll hire a professional actress for your character. Besides, didn’t you tell me when you made the horse training DVD, your nerves were so bad the camera crew had to keep stopping?”

She sagged against the wall. “Well, yeah, but Mr. Cooper scared me before I got to know him. I don’t throw up during filming anymore.” I know I can do it. 

June: You have written four books in this ‘Dream Horse Adventure Series’. Are there any other age groups for whom you’d like to write? If yes, please tell us a little bitabout what genre(s) you would like to write. Have you ever considered writing a non-fiction book about horseback riding or equine care? Do you have any works in progress that you can share about here?

Susan: I didn’t decide to write for middle grade and go. I wrote the first story in my natural voice and then figured out it was most suited to middle-grade. Selah’s Stolen Dream, however, is for older kids because it has a stranger danger scene. I wouldn’t read it to an eight-year-old.

I don’t talk down to kids. Some vocabulary is a little beyond some younger readers. I had to define words for my granddaughter, who was seven or so when I first read her Mary’s Song. There’s a fine balance, I tried to strike between teaching new vocabulary words and not frustrating the child with too many that are beyond them.

For Mary Song, I created an audiobook because many children will struggle with the written word, but when they hear the word, they know what it is. This makes having a companion audiobook fabulous for young readers. But they are expensive and time consuming to create. If there appears to be a demand for the format, I will do the rest of the series.

I’ve tried writing picture books because they’re charming, but those are exceptionally difficult. I dabbled in writing chapter books and cannot seem to bring along a cohesive story in the highly simplistic language that’s required.

I’ve considered writing a non-fiction book for my ten-year-old granddaughter on groundwork. Something fun and at her level. But while I’ve studied horses, ridden horses, and am a slave to three, I am not a horse expert. Nor do I have any credentials to write a book like that. I leave that to the clinicians that earn their living riding, teaching, and training.

June: Tell us about some of the awards your books have won.

Susan: Even though Mary Song is technically number one in the series, the first book I actually wrote was Selah’s Sweet Dream. Agents and editors had rejected it. But I so loved the book, I proceeded with independently publishing it. I still had doubts about whether it was worthy because of its previous rejections.

So, I submitted it to a small review awards group called the Feather Quill and was quite surprised when it won first place. Then I submitted it to the American Horse Media Publication. I got a phone call saying I needed to come to Florida to their conference. Oh my gosh, the book won first place in fiction!

June: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of being an indie author?

Susan: The advantages of being an indie author are many. I write for my granddaughter and didn’t figure out until later that if I had sold it to a publishing house, all I would’ve been left with was the copyright. Everything about the development of the book would have been their choice, not mine.

The disadvantages are also many. I knew absolutely nothing about the industry. All I had was a burning desire to write this book. What do you do with a book you think is wonderful, but has been rejected by traditional publishing—you publish it, of course.

But the challenges of independently publishing are overwhelming. Every decision is on the author. I took off my author hat and put on the publisher hat. I contracted out things I’m not capable of doing—like professional editing, artwork for the cover, professional formatting, and cover design. When I survived that process, I proceeded to the masses of decisions required to launch the book—like book blurbs, product description pages.

Have I mentioned that each one of these hats is a full-time job? And the next hat is the most intimidating hat of all. Selling your book. Did you know that you can put your book up on Amazon and hear only crickets? There are 32.8 million books on Amazon. I’m delighted to say that Mary’s Song paperback sports an orange Best Seller badge. That didn’t come by magic, but by lots of hard work.

June: All of the book covers for the books in this series are beautiful! Please tell us a little bitabout the artwork for the series. How do you connect with an illustrator to collaborate on producing a quality cover and inside illustrations?

Susan: Thank you for your kind comments on the covers. Selah’s Sweet Dream was done by an old dear friend and artist—Melissa Gates. Mary Song was acquired from an artist I’d long admired–––Ruth Sanderson. She also does princesses, which are amazing and well worth a side trip to her website. The water color cover for Selah’s Painted Dream was done by an artist in Russia. I stalked Elena Shved for months, trying to get in touch with her. Her artwork is available on Etsy. I found the artist for Selah’s Stolen Dream in a Facebook group. Lori Sanford was kind enough to take on the challenge when she already had a full-time life.

June: If you could choose anywhere in the world to travel, are there any new places you would like to go horseback riding? What puts those places on your bucket list?

Susan: I wouldn’t say I have a travel itinerary bucket list. I am very content where I am in life and don’t need to go in search of a better place or a more interesting place. When I travel, it is to enjoy quality time with family. Going to the beach in Florida with my grandchildren and watching their delight in creation is my greatest joy.

I’d planned to be packed right now to travel to horse country in Spain with my daughter and grand to work on the plot and setting for a new equine novel series. Since that can’t happen, I may have to make it all up. Oh wait. That’s exactly what I do anyway.

June: Are there any hobbies or new adventures you would like to tryin the future?

Susan: I would like to ride an Icelandic pony.

 * * *
My Thoughts:
'Selah's Stolen Dream' is a well-written novel targeting upper middle-grade readers due to higher-level vocabulary and some of the content.

The story features two storylines involving the same horse, Sweet Dream. Thirteen-year-old Selah is the owner of this exceptional horse which has been chosen to be the star of a feature film. Selah learns early in the story that she will not be in the film.

The second storyline involves a ten-year-old girl, Emma, who is deaf. Emma desperately wants to own a horse of her own and works very hard to make her dream come true.

Sweet Dream is stolen at a horse show along with two other horses. Understandably, Selah reacts by becoming sullen, angry, and disrespectful.  At one point in the story, Selah's father gives her this advice:  
"There are a lot of hurting people, so aim to be kind to everyone. It might be the only good thing that happens to them in their day." (page 233)

Selah posts pictures and details about the theft of Sweet Dream on social media. A young man contacts her to tell her he may have some information about the horse, and they set up a time to meet to discuss the matter. When Selah meets 'the guy', he is an older man who wants to take Selah to see a new horse movie. Fortunately, Selah's friend Caroline and Caroline's mother save the day and rescue Selah from this predator. 

This is a tough lesson for a child or teen to learn, but it is something that must be taught. I appreciated the parenting style Selah's parents exhibited when their daughter was going through this tough time.
Meanwhile, Emma is at a horse auction and sees a black mare that she wants. She bids on the horse even though her father tells her they are not going to buy a horse on that day. Emma loses the bid, but a nice man withdraws his winning bid so Emma can purchase the horse. She names the horse Black Velvet and calls the mare, Velvet.

The last few chapters of the book are filled with action and drama. I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised by the ending of the story. I believe older readers, perhaps ages 11 to 14, will enjoy this story very much. 
I learned a lot about equine training, equine behaviors, and equine care from this story. The author has done a fine job of creating a memorable plot and memorable characters, human and equine, in this fourth installment in this series.

Disclosure: I was given a digital copy of this book by JustRead Publicity. I received no compensation of any kind for posting this review here or on any other site. The opinions expressed in this review are only my own.


Find the links to read more great Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts from middle-grade authors and bloggers at Greg Pattridge's 'Always in the Middle' Blog.

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  1. I am always pulled in by horses. I have loved them since I was a little girl. This book sounds excellent and I really enjoyed the interview too! I like the quote about being kind to people because there are a lot of people who are hurting. So true. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Awesome that you started writing for your grandchild. And awesome that you're making your stories in audio version too for kids who like to ead that way. Congrats on your books!

  3. The excerpt really gives readers a very clear picture of what this story is about. Thanks for sharing. And I enjoyed the author interview about writing/publishing your own story. It is a full time job, but you have creative control over your work and do own the rights. My great granddaughter would enjoy this story -- she's rides and owns her own horse.

  4. Ahd, that cover is gorgeous. (Sorry I may have posted more than once, as I accidentally signed out and was sent to google. You can delete one of my comments.)

  5. This was a really interesting interview! I enjoyed reading about Susan's journey to becoming an indie author, and I loved what she said about being content just watching her grandchildren play.

  6. You really covered all the bases with this new book. I enjoyed reading the longer excerpt as usually all that is offered is a line or two. The interview was honest and great look at her publishing journey. I love a good horse story and you made this one sound irresistible. Thanks for featuring on MMGM

  7. That cover alone will get a lot of young girls to pick up this book. Thanks for an interesting interview. I'm sure this will be a popular book with the middle-grade set. It sounds like it has all the right pieces.


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