Even after months of hanging around race tracks researching The Stars Shine Bright, I didn’t really “get” horses. Mostly they seemed too big and too temperamental and I was too far into the book to stop writing about them.
One day, while driving my forehead into the keyboard, an email arrived. A note from Catherine Madera, aka The Horse Writer.
She wanted to help me with my “horse problem.”
Her note, explaining the wherefore and the why of horses, was filled with stories and insights and so much adoration for equines that I actually started to fall in love with horses. No joke.
Of course, that’s what a good writer does: Alter your heart, change your mind.
From her farm near the Canadian border, Catherine writes an insightful blog (no topic off-limits) and novels—heartfelt stories about “relationships, in all their messy detail, and the things that bond people together.”
Her first novel, Rodeo Dreams was soon followed by Rain Shadow, which contains the only prologue ever to make me cry. Her third novel Rhinestones (check out that gorgeous cover) is garnering rave reviews and climbing the Indie publishing lists.
And yet, I still managed to lasso this busy woman—wife, mom, writer, editor, homeschooler, rider and penpal friend—long enough for a chat.
So come meet Catherine Madera, the Horse Writer:
You wear so many hats—I can’t even count that high—but is there any psychic overlap between your time riding horses and your time writing stories?
I read somewhere that writing is listening and I think that’s true. Writers listen; they know how to observe. They are constantly turning things over to look for detail, connection, truth. Riding is the same way, if you are passionate about the horses themselves (as opposed to using them solely for entertainment). To be a good horseman/woman you must learn to quiet your busy self and notice the details. It’s a very intuitive art. Horses do not use language, but remain powerfully subtle in the way they communicate. As a writer, I find their language fascinating, beautiful, and very truthful. Working with my horses hones my writing ear in that I practice listening. It also helps to fill my creative tank, the quiet companionship of them.
Catherine, I’ve heard you refer to yourself as an “accidental novelist.” What’s up with that?
I never wanted to be a novelist or had it as a goal, even after I began to get published. I got my start writing for Guideposts Magazine—true, short, inspirational stories. I’ve had wonderful opportunities to interview amazing people and thought that was my place as a writer. I focused, quite happily, on magazine writing and various journalism opportunities. Then a few years ago I read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I loved that book! It made me laugh and cry and was just plain fun. I remember thinking, “If I ever wrote a novel I’d want to create something like this.”
Not long afterward, a basic plot about a barrel racing girl and her horse came to me. As a child and teen I devoured animal stories and novels about horses so this felt natural. But I wanted it to be a bit more grown up, not The Black Stallion repeated (though I loved those as a child). A story that dealt with deeper issues and challenges without losing that element of *fun.* One day a scene came to me for Rodeo Dreams so I wrote it down. It was completely intimidating to think of writing a full length novel so I wrote in chunks like this for a long time, stringing scenes together like one might piece a quilt. Eventually, the story was finished. There is now a sequel to that story, as well as a work of horse-related women’s fiction called Rain Shadow.
You write plenty of nonfiction, but what draws you back to fiction?
Fiction, good fiction, is subtle yet powerful. I think you can explore things in fiction that are much harder in nonfiction (without sounding preachy and annoying). I was drawn to the challenge of that. Though my books—especially Rodeo Dreams and Rhinestones—are “horse stories,” they explore deeper subjects like loss, truth, God’s “will” and forgiveness. They are stories about relationships, in all their messy detail, and the things that bond people together. That I also get to create supporting horse characters with personality and wisdom is incredibly fun.
Among the reasons I adore you—aside from saving my bacon while researching The Stars Shine Bright—is your wonderful honesty about your life. Readers must sense that in your fiction, too.
Like most writers, I’m not interested in shallow things or shallow ideas. That drives a certain transparency that I won’t compromise. Life is rich and complicated; I want to share something real with a reader and inspire them somehow. I have gotten wonderful emails and feedback from readers over the years. Rain Shadow has over a 100 reviews on Amazon now and some of them have made me cry. It was a story that touched on very personal emotions and experiences so it is a privilege to know readers were touched, too.
Name some favorites … books, movies, daydreams, horses—whatever you’re thinking about.
It’s hard to pick a favorite book, impossible really. A few of my top picks for fiction are Peace Like a River and Like Water for Elephants. And the Raleigh Harmon series sold me on Christian fiction—dead honest here. I have referred many, many people to the series who would normally not pick up “Christian fiction” because it is entertaining with real depth and excellent writing.
Nonfiction that I love, love, love include: Unbroken, Sea Biscuit, and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Also I love real life drama done well like A Perfect Storm and Into Thin Air.
It wouldn’t be right to not mention my favorite horses that provide so much inspiration. Currently I have a young mustang taken out of the desert in southeast Oregon named Mateo who is intriguing. He provided inspiration for my most recent work, Rhinestones. My horse of a lifetime though is my eleven-year-old Arabian stallion Eli. He is a beautiful introvert with remarkable dignity. He notices everything and is sensitive, proud, and kind. He has spurred me to better my horse language, put my ego away, and just listen. He always tells the truth. When I get overloaded with life and need to find that quiet place in my soul I take him out in the mountains for a ride. The best kind of therapy!