For all you horse lovers out there, I’m excited to introduce you to Whitney Sanderson, an author from the Random House Horse Diary series. In addition to the two books she’s written for that series, she has a new release, the first in her Horse Rescue series. Whitney wrote Horse Rescue: Treasure to support Little Brook Farm, a horse rescue center. Whitney will be donating 50% of her royalties to Little Brook Farm. So if you or someone you know is a horse lover, sharing this book will not only make them happy, it will also help save horses. And we’re also offering a chance to win a free copy of Treasure.
Hi, Whitney, and welcome to the Mixed-Up Files. We’re looking forward to learning more about you and about horses.
First of all, what did you dream about becoming when you were young?
Even though I loved horses from a young age, I really wanted to be an FBI agent. I was a big fan of the X-Files. Maybe it’s a sign that there will be a paranormal young adult novel in my future.
When did you start writing?
When I was four or five, I would dictate stories to my older sister, and she would type them for me. I remember the first story was called “Ten Cats” and the second was called “Five Dogs,” so I guess I have been drawn to animal stories from the beginning. I was homeschooled, and when I was around fourteen I took a correspondence course in creative writing designed for high school students.
That was the first time I got feedback from someone other than my friends and parents that I might have potential as a writer. Around that time, I joined an online community called The Young Writer’s Club, which sadly no longer exists. That was hugely influential to my writing—I was able to get feedback on and comment on the work of other aspiring teenage writers across the world. I am still in touch with a few of the friends I made on that site more than a decade ago.
How did you come up with the idea for Treasure?
I spent the summer volunteering at Little Brook Farm in 2009. I wanted to use my profession as a writer to help spread the word about the good work they were doing, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. At the time, I was working on a book for the Random House Horse Diaries series, which are all told from the horse’s point of view. From there, I had the idea to make up a story about the life of one of the Little Brook horses, based on the facts that were known. There were so many interesting horses on the farm that it was hard to pick just one, but I ended up settling on Treasure because she was such a sweet mare
who was so valuable to the farm despite being “just” a mixed-breed pony who had been saved from slaughter. I was also able to work in a lot of the other horses’ tales, because in my story the horses can talk to each other.
Can you tell us why you’re passionate about the charity you’re supporting with this book?
Little Brook Farm is the nation’s oldest horse rescue, established by Lynn Cross in 1977. They have rescued hundreds of horses, ponies, and other animals. People sometimes think that only sick, lame, or behaviorally difficult horses end up homeless or at slaughter auctions, but that is far from true. The farm has a number of rescued horses who have competed in eventing, dressage, and vaulting competitions. Some of these horses do need special care, but still make wonderful horses for pleasure riding or competition. I think it’s so important that people realize rescues are more than throwaway horses.
I also love that Little Brook Farm offers kids from a city environment the chance to experience farm life on class field trips. Lynn showed me some wonderful letters from people who visited the farm as children and wrote years later to say that one trip changed their lives and motivated them to do well in school or seek out careers working with animals. Horses reconnect us to a part of ourselves and our heritage that is easy to forget in a culture where most of our days are spent inside staring at screens or books. In the end, I believe horses help us as much as we help them.
Whitney, you’ve written other horse books. Can you tell us about those and about the research you did for them?
I have written two books for the Random House Horse Diaries chapter book series, which my mother, Ruth Sanderson illustrated. Each book is about a different type of horse at the time when that breed was developed. Golden Sun tells the story of a Native American boy and an Appaloosa horse as they grow up on the western plains together in 1790. My second book in the series, Darcy, is about a Connemara pony working on an Irish farm in 1917.
Even though they are fairly simple stories, they required a lot of historical research. Something as simple as not knowing what the weather would be like at a certain time of year or what kind of tack a horse would be wearing can lead to a lot of frustration—because if you don’t get it right, the copyeditor will call you on it later!
In Golden Sun, I made the mistake of just guessing on some things that ended up not being correct, and then having to do a lot of revisions. With Darcy, I was careful to seek sources for anything I was unsure about. It’s one of the challenges of writing historical fiction. One of the benefits is that you end up learning a lot about topics you’d otherwise know nothing about, like Native American vision quests or farming in rural Ireland.
Can you tell us what you like best about horses? And are any of the books based on horses you’ve owned?
One of my favorite things about horses is how individual their personalities are. My Appaloosa, Thor, has a wise and calm disposition—I like to call him a horse philosopher. Another horse I owned, Gabriel, was kind of an equine Abercrombie model—very cute, a little sulky at times, and loved to be the center of attention. Both Thor and Gabe were actually models for two books in the Horse Diaries series—Golden Sun and Koda.
My mother, Ruth Sanderson, takes really detailed photo reference for each illustration in the books, so she often has to set up scenes with various horses and people in costumes…it can be pretty involved. Thor took it all in stride when a bunch of people dressed in American Indian style clothing showed up at the stable to have their picture taken with him for Golden Sun, but Gabe seemed really excited to be in the quarter horse story, Koda. There was one scene where the girl in the book is sick, lying on the ground, and Koda is trying to get her to wake up. Gabe was really hamming it up, circling around and nuzzling her. I think he missed his calling as a Hollywood star. If they ever make the books into TV episodes, he’d be perfect!
You’ve always loved horses–that’s clear. Did you also read horse stories growing up?
Yes, many of them. I read the Black Stallion books, the Thoroughbred series, and all of the Marguerite Henry books. But by far my favorite was The Saddle Club series by Bonnie Bryant. Until pretty recently you could throw out a random number between one and a hundred, and I could tell you the title of that book in the series and describe the plot. When I was around nine, I wrote to Bonnie Bryant and was so excited when she wrote back—I kept the letter on my bulletin board for years. Now I sometimes get letters from readers of Horse Diaries, and it’s so cool to realize that kids are enjoying my books the way I once looked forward to the latest Saddle Club.
It’s awesome to think that maybe someday the fans of your books might end up as authors themselves. I hope you don’t mind answering a few more questions as I’m sure those eager readers would love to know more about their favorite author.
Where have you lived (or visited) and how has that influenced your work?
I grew up in Ware, Massachusetts, which is a pretty rural town. My family had a Victorian house with an old barn, and when I was about eight years old, my parents fixed it up so we could have horses on the property. It was wonderful to be able to go out and see the horses any time I wanted—although I was homeschooled, so it also probably contributed to my rushing through my work so I could get out to the barn faster. The English lessons mostly stuck because I liked reading and writing, but don’t try to quiz me on algebra!
As far as places I have traveled, I was able to visit Ireland with my mom and sister while I was researching Darcy. Being able to see the landscape and culture where the book was set made it so much easier to come up with authentic descriptions. I met a woman who owned Connemara ponies and ran the local pony club for decades, and we got to take a wonderful ride along the windswept coast of Ireland. The internet can tell you a lot, but there is no substitute for visiting the place you are writing about.
Do you have any advice for anyone who dreams of becoming an author?
If you want to be an author, I would say become comfortable with the whole writing process that comes before publication. I tend to start a lot more projects than I finish, but I always feel a sense of pride when I have a completed manuscript that I have sent out to an agent or publisher, regardless of whether I ultimately sell it. Even if that particular work isn’t accepted, the rejections can teach you a lot about the process, and about what not to do. Even if you don’t sell your first story, or your second, just getting practice with carrying through a project from start to finish will serve you well when you finally hit on something that an editor thinks is gold.
What project(s) are you working on now?
I’m currently working on another Horse Rescue book, this time set at Blue Star Equiculture, a draft horse rescue in Palmer, MA. Another project I have in mind is a young adult series about a group of teenage girls who get into the sport of three-day eventing.
What super power do you wish you had?
The power to overcome writer’s block! Or to really be able to talk to horses instead of just imagining what they might say.
Do you have a funny story about when you were young?
Well, it’s funny in retrospect…Once, when I was about fourteen, I was riding on a trail with my friend on her 12-hand pony, Widget. There was a small tree fallen across the path, about 3 feet high. I jumped it with Thor, but Widget had second thoughts and ended up only half jumping it. So she was literally balanced on the tree on her stomach with her legs dangling above the ground. She couldn’t seem to get the leverage to move either way, and although she was surprisingly calm about it, we were worried she would panic and really injure herself.
I rode back to the barn for help, but my parents weren’t home and no one was around, so I left some incoherent note about Widget being stuck in a tree on the trail. Then I found a hand saw and a container of jellybeans and rode back into the park. People that I passed on the road gave me very strange looks. Fortunately, the hand saw turned out to be unnecessary, since Widget scrambled over the log as soon as she heard the container of jellybeans rattle. My friend and I decided the moral of that story was “always carry jellybeans in your pocket, because you never know when you might need to get a pony out of a tree.”
Thinking about your parents reading your note about a pony being stuck in a tree makes me laugh — now that I know you got her out safely. I’ll have to remember the jellybean trick. I never realized horses liked jellybeans.
What’s one thing you’ve always dreamed of doing?
Someday I’d like to be able to adopt a rescue horse—and I’ll know where to find one when that day comes!
About Whitney Sanderson:
Whitney Sanderson is the author of Horse Rescue: Treasure. 50% of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Little Brook Farm. Whitney is also the author of Horse Diaries: Golden Sun and Horse Diaries: Darcy, both from Random House. You can find out more about Whitney on her website and about how the various horses were photographed and painted on the Horse Diaries blog.
About the Interviewer:
A lifelong horse-lover, Laurie J. Edwards has an MA from Vermont College and is completing an MFA in Children’s Writing and Illustrating at Hollins University. With more than 2200 articles and a dozen books in print, she is the author of the young adult Western, Grace and the Guiltless (Capstone, 2014), about an orphaned teen whose only friend is her horse. Laurie would love to connect with readers on Facebook and Twitter, or visit her blog.
To win a copy of Horse Rescue: Treasure, leave a comment below. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter and let us know for extra chances to win. Winner will be chosen on January 3, 2014.
Congratulations to Debbie McLeod, the winner of the free copy of Treasure!