Today I give you an interview I got to do with the very gracious Maggie Dana, author of the Timber Ridge Riders. Rather than putz around trying to write a decent intro, I'll get get right to it. Huzzah!
First, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up on the outskirts of London, and I learned to ride at Pinewood Studios, England’s largest movie complex. Back in the day it was famous for Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; more recently for Superman, Harry Potter, and the James Bond films.
Nowadays, it’s hard to believe, but many years ago there really was a riding stable at Pinewood, complete with a demanding trainer who made us jump without stirrups—and reins, if he was in a really tough mood. Sometimes he made us ride bareback.
Maggie riding Smokey, her New Forest pony … bareback!
Besides horses and ponies, the stable also owned a bad-tempered cow, two evil sheep, a promiscuous pig, and a never-ending flock of chickens, ducks, and turkeys.
The studio would often borrow animals for scenes in whatever film needed them, and us kids had to get them there. My turn came with the cow. I dragged her, reluctantly, onto a sound stage where she promptly pee’d on the concrete floor. I was eleven years old and horribly embarrassed, but everyone else—the stars, technicians, cameraman, and director—thought it was the greatest joke, ever.
Several years later, I got a job at the studio and worried that people would remember the cow incident, but nobody did. After that, I worked in television, became an airline stewardess, and then moved to the U.S. where I got married, raised a family, got divorced, bought a Morgan mare for my horse-crazy daughter, went back to work … and began writing books in my spare time.
Maggie riding Whippoorwill Siskin, her daughter’s Morgan mare
What got you interested in being an author?
In 1979, I was working for a children’s publisher (Weekly Reader) and my boss had very little work to give me which meant that I sat, bored out of my mind, in front of a typewriter all day with nothing to do. When I begged him for work he just told me to “look busy.” He didn’t care what I did.
“Write letters, a shopping list,” he said. “Write a book.”
So I did.
On their time, their typewriter, and their paper. And then, sweet irony, I sold it to them, and my first children’s book, The Golden Horse of Willow Farm, was published by Weekly Reader Books in 1981.
Maggie’s first book with Weekly Reader
(Note horse’s similarity to her daughter’s Morgan mare!)
What was your inspiration for Timber Ridge Riders?
You’ve probably heard of R.L. Stine who wrote Goosebumps, right? Well, back in the middle 1980s, his wife Jane Stine, who runs a children’s book production company, connected with me via my agent and asked if I’d like to write a middle grade series. Jane said I could write whatever I wanted with the caveat that the series be called “Best Friends.” I asked if she was okay with horses. No problem. So we tossed a few ideas around and chose Vermont as the setting so that other sports (skiing, skating, mountain biking) could be featured as well. For inspiration, I pulled on my memories of being in Pony Club as a kid and riding with my friends.
I wrote four books in the Best Friends series and it was published by Troll (now part of Scholastic) in 1987. When the rights reverted to me a few years ago, I decided to rewrite (totally) and republish the books under a different series name, and thus Timber Ridge Riders was born. Those first four books have now grown into eleven . . . with more to come.
There are a lot of horse series out there, how do you keep yours unique?
I don’t know about “unique,” but I think that what sets my books apart from the others is “point-of-view” (POV). Most, if not all, of today’s middle-grade horse series are told from first person POV (the “I” method), which means the reader only gets to experience the story through the main character’s eyes. They don’t get to see it from anyone else’s.
With Timber Ridge Riders (told in third person POV), we get to see the story through two sets of eyes (Kate’s and Holly’s) instead of just one (as in first person POV), which gives us a wider perspective on the story. When Kate’s in a snit about a boy (or something else) and we know why she’s in a snit because she’s told us about it from her POV, I can then switch to Holly’s POV in the next scene and we find out how she feels about Kate’s snit, which is often quite different from the way Kate feels about it!
This makes for some spectacular clashes between the two girls, and because the reader knows both sides of the story (more or less), they will have a better understanding of the girls’ behavior—good and bad and, often, incredibly stupid! But hey … they are teenagers. They’re allowed to be stupid. It’s all a part of growing up.
As with everything in life, there are pros and cons to each POV method and I enjoy writing them both (writing a book in first person POV takes less time, by the way!). I wrote my horsey/time-travel novel, TURNING ON A DIME, in first person POV and had a blast doing it.
Two girls from two different centuries and the horse that brings them together
Writing TURNING ON A DIME was a very different experience from writing the Timber Ridge books. First person POV allows you to dig deeper into a character; it can also be limiting in the whole “big picture” thing. In the end, authors have to choose which POV best suits their story and their characters.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just started working on Timber Ridge Riders book #11, HORSE CAMP, where Kate and Holly come back from Beaumont Park in England, only to discover that Mrs. Dean plans to turn Timber Ridge into a millionaire’s playground. Much mayhem will ensue.
Sneak preview of new cover design for TRR #11
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?
My advice to anyone who wants to write is always the same.
Read, read, and read. Devour all sorts of books—whatever takes your fancy—and then read in the genre you want to write in. Immerse yourself in it. Learn all you can from authors you admire. Educate yourself about voice, character, and pacing. Make sure your grammar and spelling skills are top-notch. If not, take steps to improve them. But most of all, learn to tell a good story. That’s what readers want.
Finally, share some of your favorite horse books, and favorite books in general!
As a kid, I could never get enough of Mary O’Hara’s books: My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming. I also gobbled up anything with a horse on the cover, and being in England, I had a lot to choose from. England has lots of great pony books! Here’s a link to get people started:
Recently, through writing the Timber Ridge books and joining online horse forums, I have discovered some absolutely fabulous horsey writers. Here are my favorites, in no particular order (you can find their books on all e-book retailer sites):
Natalie Keller Reinert (adult fiction about horse racing and three-day eventing)
Barbara Morgenroth (Bittersweet Farm series — YA horse fiction)
Kim Ablon Whitney (middle-grade and YA horse fiction in the hunter/jumper world)
Tudor Robins (YA horse fiction set in Canada)
In general, I enjoy reading non-fiction. History, mostly. But point me at a good horse book, and I’m unable to resist.
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NOTE: Book #1, KEEPING SECRETS, will be available FREE on Amazon from December 24 to December 26, here:
Timber Ridge Riders web site
Timber Ridge Riders Facebook page
Maggie Dana’s web site for Turning on a Dime
Maggie Dana’s Amazon author page
Keeping Secrets (Timber Ridge Riders #1) on Amazon
Turning on a Dime (a horsey time-travel adventure) on Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KBF77ZU
I strongly encourage you all to check out the first volume of Timber Ridge Riders, you can't argue with free! I myself have plans to check out Turning on a Dime in the (hopefully) not so distant future. The first four TRR books have been reviewed by Mara, listed here:
1. Keeping Secrets
2. Racing into Trouble
3. Riding for the Stars
4. Wish Upon a Horse
Huge thanks to Maggie for taking the time to do an interview! We look forward to reading more of your awesome series in the future!