A big welcome to my guest, Janie Franz.
When I first started doing research for my latest novel, Legacy (Book three of the Ruins series), I never thought I’d have to face a real fear. This book is the story of Megan Forest, an anthropology professor who is married to a man with a dual heritage (Spanish and native from a maverick tribe in Arizona). He also is the spiritual leader of his people. He is taking their son, now ten, to endure not only a vision quest, which is a common manhood ritual, but other trials to determine his calling as the next shaman---and he’s in competition with his cousin, whose mother is quite ruthless. However, the main action of this story takes place around Megan, who has been forbidden to participate directly in these rites because she’s a woman. She has been relegated with three other women on a horse ranch. Her interactions with what is going on with her son will be through her unpredictable psychic abilities.
I believe in writing from experience if it’s at all possible. I have a degree in anthropology so my experiences in that field, I think, add authenticity to the work. However, I knew absolutely zilch about horses. Ask me about dogs or cats or even chickens and I can write something that sounds true and real. But what about horses? Nada.
Sure like most people I did a trail ride or two. That was when my children were young and we got some very gentle mares for them. They were so experienced they went down these foot-wide canyon trails in the badlands of North Dakota more surefooted than I’d be walking them. All I remembered from those two rides were the fact that the horses were big and I needed a box in order to get up into the saddle.
That was twenty years ago. Back then, those horses were transportation and nothing more. I really needed to get into the heart and spirit of working horses and what it meant to be around them every day. I also now lived in New Mexico and thought I’d get a better sense of horsewomen, who are featured prominently in the book, here than any other place, except maybe Texas.
That’s when I started my research. First, I called a couple of people who had mentioned they knew people who owned horses. That led to other people who did reike on horses, others who used horses in therapy, and still others who did various forms of horse training and gentling, including women who’d gentled wild mustangs. I talked to horse owners, ranch hands, and even rodeo riders. I spoke with people in California, Texas, Arizona, and, yes, here in New Mexico. I observed how women sat a horse. I observed how people put on saddles and tack. I observed fast rodeo riding and roping.
This was what we called secondary source material in anthropological research. Yes, these people worked directly with horses and could be called primary sources. But I had no first-hand experience with horse. That’s when I came face to face with a fear I didn’t know I had.
I’d just started doing a bit of pet sitting here when a friend desperately asked me to care for her horse while she made an emergency trip to Colorado. Her horse. A big Great Dane I could care for, but a horse?
A few days before she left, she invited me up to show me how to fill the water trough and where the hay was and how to prepare the mash (yes, horses have a wet food component like dogs and pigs). She also showed me how to take the fly mask off the horse’s eyes and put on her bridle. That was just fine---outside of the corral.
The first day when I was left alone with the horse, I had to get into the corral with her in order to distribute the hay in three places around the paddock. The horse seemed HUGE. I had never bonded with this animal. I had no idea how to even let a horse get to know me like you would a big dog (extend the back of your hand to a dog and speak softly). I was so afraid of getting kicked or stepped on or having the horse go off feed because I made her nervous.
That first day I made sure to enter the corral from the gate that was farthest away from the horse. I dropped the hay in the far end of the paddock. When the horse came toward me, I skittered away and put the hay in the other two places and got out as quickly as I could. Whew! I’d survived. But I had to feed the horse four more times that day.
By the last feeding of the day, I came in the gate with a load of hay under my arm as I fiddled with the latch on the gate. The horse came up to me and snatched a bit of hay from behind me. I nearly jumped a foot. I scurried down to the next place to drop hay and the horse came trotting after me, snatching a bit more hay. That’s when I realized that the horse was playing. I never knew horses played like dogs did. When I dropped the bundle of hay, I reached up and patted the horse’s shoulder. She swung her head against me as if to give me a hug. It was a precious moment.
Since then, I’ve been around a lot more horses. I’ve looked them in the eye and petting their noses. I’ve even been in a paddock of a half dozen of them and wasn’t a bit afraid when they all came to check me out. I learned that the horse handshake was the same as a dog’s (offering the back of the hand). I also learned about how to approach horses in a non-threatening manner, as if all my 5’1” height could be a threat.
Now as I dive deep into the writing of Legacy, I can write with heart and spirit---without fear.
Janie Franz comes from a long line of Southern liars and storytellers. She told other people’s stories as a freelance journalist for many years. With Texas wedding DJ, Bill Cox, she co-wrote The Ultimate Wedding Ceremony Book and The Ultimate Wedding Reception Book, and then self-published a writing manual, Freelance Writing: It’s a Business, Stupid! She also published an online music publication, was an agent/publicist for a groove/funk band, a radio announcer, and a yoga/relaxation instructor.
Currently, she is writing her twelfth novel and a self-help book, Starting Over: Becoming a Woman of Power.
Discovery (book 1 in the Ruins Trilogy)
By Janie Franz
Anthropologist Kate Ferguson stumbles upon desert ruins, ancient rituals, and psychic gifts, awakening a love that could prove deadly.
By Janie Franz
Dark secrets and murder, danger and temptation conspire to prevent Kate and Paul from unraveling another ancient mystery.