Episode 41: On Wanderlust, Riding Horses Around the Globe & Character Development with Amy Elizabeth (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 41: Welcome to the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast! In each episode, you’ll hear inspirational stories from horse book authors including writing advice and marketing tips to help you write your own horse book. If you are an author, aspire to be an author, or simply love horse books then you are in the right place!
In this week's episode, you'll meet world traveler and equine author Amy Elizabeth. You'll learn ...
Watch Amy Elizabeth's Interview on YouTube!
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About Author Amy Elizabeth
Amy Elizabeth grew up in south Florida surrounded by beaches, horses, and lots of sunshine. Before becoming a full-time writer, she also worked as a bartender and a massage therapist. She’s lived and traveled all over the world and loves to share her passion for horses and travel through her writing. When she’s not busy writing, you’ll find her hanging out with her husband and planning her next voyage abroad.
Amy Elizabeth Podcast Interview Excerpt
Carly: Tell us how your love affair with horses began.
Amy: I actually can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with horses. Which is ironic, considering no one in my family was into horses (I don’t think my parents had even seen a horse before I came along). But when I look back at even my earliest childhood photos, there I was on a pony ride at the fair or a trail ride on my summer vacation. I think it was something I was just born with.
Anyway, by the time I was 11 I finally convinced my parents to let me take riding lessons. I learned the basics of English riding and a bit of hunter/jumper before signing up for a week-long riding camp the summer after 6th grade. As it turned out, the gray Arabian horse I rode that week just happened to be for sale, and he became my wonderful horse for almost 15 years. He was such a big part of my life that I even rode him in to my wedding!
Carly: Do you have any stories that people would find interesting or entertaining about your writing or your horse background?
Amy: The two became intertwined early on, actually. About a year after I bought my horse, we were involved in a traffic accident with a delivery truck. The truck tried to pass us on a narrow road but there wasn’t enough room, and the collision caused a pretty severe injury to my horse’s rear leg. It sliced the Achilles tendon right above his hock and it took reconstructive surgery and about a years’ worth of rehab before he was healthy again.
The interesting thing was that the surgeon tried a new experimental method to repair the tendon that ended up not being used after that, but for my horse, it worked perfectly. It was such a good recovery story that I wrote into Equus magazine to see if they’d be interested in an article about the procedure, and they said yes!
So it was just a two-page article, but it made me officially a published author before graduating from high school, which I thought was pretty cool.
Carly: Your wanderlust has taken you all over the world! You’ve traveled extensively throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Oceania and you now live abroad. Tell us about your adventures and why you chose this very cool lifestyle.
Amy: Sometimes it feels cool, and sometimes it just feels crazy! I fell in love with Spain during a high school class trip and that sparked a lot of solo travel through Europe in my early 20s, which was great. Then I met my husband who had just as much wanderlust and we figured we’d make the most of our circumstances while we could!
We got married in 2008 and just a year later we left the States. We backpacked through China and Southeast Asia for about 6 months and ended up living in New Zealand for a year, which is where I started Cut and Run (but more on that later). New Zealand was spectacular, we absolutely loved it and we fell in love with the mountain culture, which is how we ended up in Colorado for 4 years after we returned to the US.
But by about 2014 we were getting itchy feet again, and it was easier to get online work to help support our travels. In 2015 my husband took a job offer in Malaysia that ended up falling through, but a different opportunity came up in Thailand so we went there and ended up staying for over 3 years. During that time we did some volunteer work, we taught English, I started blogging and freelance writing, and of course we traveled as much as we could too.
Last year we had to return to the US for a while to help our folks and plan our next venture. And as of January, we are officially living my dream of living in Europe. We moved to Barcelona and we’re able to support our stay solely through remote and online work. It’s amazing what technology is enabling us to do.
And along with all that traveling, I’ve had the chance to ride in some pretty spectacular parts of the world. I’ve ridden horses in New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, Egypt, and Spain. And I hope to add many more awesome rides to the list!
Carly: I absolutely love your Aspen Eyes series and Dead Heat. I couldn’t put down your horse stories. Tell us about your books.
Amy: That’s such a huge compliment. Writing books was always a hobby and I never really had any plans to publish anything, so it’s really cool to hear how much other people like my stories.
So… I started writing Cut and Run back in 2009, when we were living and working at a hotel in New Zealand. I remember working these crazy double shifts at the hotel bar and then staying up all night writing as fast as my fingers could type. I think I barely slept that whole winter.
The original idea for Cut and Run actually came from a nightmare I had, where I was being stalked by someone I didn’t know. It was a very vivid dream and I just remember waking up and thinking, “Wow! That would make a great premise for a book.” And it kind of went from there.
At the time, I had never been to Wyoming, but it seemed like the perfect place to set the story. I got to play on east coast vs western cowboy culture, and also bad girl meets good guy, which was a lot of fun to explore. I can’t really explain how it all came together, but somehow my brain concocted a few strong characters with a healthy dose of mystery, suspense, and romance. And horses, of course.
I was really proud of Cut and Run when I published it, and I love the sequels just as much. I took some common themes and tried to find ways to put a different spin on it. For example, what if an old flame shows up but ends up saving the day instead of trying to steal her man back? Or, rather than a family who’s desperate to save their ranch, what about a rancher who’s desperate to sell his land but can’t get rid of it?
I do have one regret about the series, actually, and that’s ending it too soon. After a solid year of my manic writing process (which I’ll explain more later), I was burned out and needed a break from writing. So I decided to make Showdown the final book in the series, even though I honestly could have kept going with those characters. I just loved them all that much.
And the funniest part was, I think I only put my laptop away for about two weeks before I started working on my next novel, a standalone called Dead Heat. It was fun to create a whole new set of characters and focus more heavily on mystery and travel than day-to-day life on a horse ranch. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course!)
I set Dead Heat between Florida and Thailand and decided to use Thoroughbred racing for my horsey element. It was a very different setting and plot than my series, but I got a lot of positive feedback from readers about that story too.
Carly: It is said that all stories are "partly personal.” Is there a personal connection in your books for you?
Amy: Absolutely. I see a lot of myself in Rebecca’s character – she outwardly appears pretty tough and confident but she definitely struggles with knowing where she belongs.
As far as the villain and a lot of the backstory from Cut and Run, I’ll just say that it was 100% based on a real person and real events from my past. Only the name has been changed.
And as far as my hero, Alec? My husband knows if Alec ever comes walking into my life, it’s pretty much over. Alec is my vision of a perfect man and I will always be hopelessly in love with him.
Then I kind of switched gears in Dead Heat. My main characters in that story are international journalists and photographers, and there’s also a Thoroughbred trainer thrown into the mix. I used that story as a way to explore some professions I’m interested in but will probably never have the chance to do in real life, so that was also a lot of fun to write.
Carly: Your books frequently make other horse book author’s must-read lists. I know they are on mine. How does that make you feel?
Amy: Like I said before, it’s very flattering. Sharing my stories with the world wasn’t really my motivation for writing, but it’s awesome to get feedback from readers who really felt a connection to my characters and their stories.
Carly: Which do you prefer independent or traditional publishing?
Amy: To be honest, I did try the traditional publishing route at first. In 2012 I queried Cut and Run and there was actually some interest from an agent in New York. But she ultimately decided to pass, saying she wasn’t sure how she’d market the story.
So. A little disappointed, but I shrugged it off. I looked into self-publishing paperbacks with a small printer in Colorado, where I lived at the time, but that didn’t feel like the right path either. It was around that same time that e-books were really starting to take off, so I checked out self-publishing options on Amazon and it seemed like the way to go.
In retrospect, I’m so glad I decided to self-publish instead of battle it out for an agent and a publisher and give up a lot of creative control. I didn’t have any plans to turn Cut and Run into a series, but I started to get so many positive reviews and fans asking for sequels, I figured, “Why not?” And I wrote Indian Summer and Showdown and published the whole series in just 11 months.
I never would have been able to move that fast or retain total creative control of my characters if I’d gone with a traditional publisher. I admire the writers who have the patience and the gumption to go that route, but I’m very happy with my decision to go independent.
Carly: What do you wish you had known when you started out?
Amy: I couldn’t think of anything related to writing specifically, but I had an interesting experience related to my series years a few years after writing it.
While we were living in Colorado, I made friends with a couple whose daughter had married into a ranching family in Wyoming. These guys are fifth-generation cattle ranchers with over 10,000 acres. They even breed their own Quarter horses – they’re the real deal.
Well, I got an invite to Wyoming one year and got a taste of what life on a working ranch is actually like. Last year I got invited back at the beginning of the summer, when they move their cattle about 30 miles from their homestead up to their summer pastures in the mountains. It’s a real, honest to goodness cattle drive, just like I depict in Cut and Run.
For a few days, I felt like I was living inside my novel. It was harder than I could have ever imagined. 12-hour days in the saddle, back to back, realizing I knew absolutely NOTHING about cattle, realizing just how precarious the whole ranching lifestyle is in the 21st century.
There are definitely a few parts of my series I would have written differently if I’d had that experience first. But it was so awesome to get a real-life taste of something I’d only experienced in my imagination.
Carly: What advice can you share that might help aspiring authors?
Amy: I think my biggest piece of advice would be to write for yourself, first and foremost. Write a story that you enjoy. Write characters that you’d want to hang out with in real life. They have to be that real to you, or else they’ll fall flat to your readers.
And don’t be afraid to dig deep. I read a lot of books where the characters are cookie-cutter and predictable and kind of boring. And that’s because the author didn’t take the time to really figure out what made each character tick.
That’s the secret, I think, to creating truly believable and interesting characters. They have to have a backstory that’s as developed as the plot moving forward. Even if you don’t include all the details in the finished product, you as the author need to know your characters that intimately. Then you’ll know exactly how they’ll react to each plot twist as it happens. You won’t have to wonder what happens next because your characters will end up taking on a life of their own.
Carly: What's the most common reason for people failing or giving up? Why do writers put their pens down and walk away?
Amy: I think it gets back to writing for yourself and not someone else. If your only goal is to make your publisher happy, or to get a million likes on Facebook, or to win a certain writing contest, you’re kind of setting yourself up for disappointment.
We all write because we LOVE to write, so why should that change when you’re creating a story you hope to publish someday? You need to be fully invested in your characters. You need to believe in them and in their journey. If you don’t feel that connection, then you haven’t dug deep enough.
Once you do, you’ll be compelled to finish their story. You’ll owe it to them to finish their story. There wasn’t a chance in the world I wasn’t going to finish Rebecca and Alec’s story. I was too emotionally invested in it. Get to that level with your characters, and you’ll never put down your pen and walk away.
Carly: What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
Amy: Good reviews are awesome, obviously. We all love to hear positive feedback about the stories we spent so much time crafting.
Bad reviews sting. There’s no way around it. The worst for me is if the reader didn’t understand one of my characters – I always take that kind of personally. But in general, I try to let those bad reviews roll off.
Writing is like anything else in life. You can’t make everybody happy all the time. There’s no single character or single story that everybody in the world is guaranteed to love, so why beat yourself up over one person who wasn’t wild about your book? Write deep characters with strong stories and it will resonate with the right fan base – those are the fans you want anyway!
Carly: What is the hardest part about being an author?
Amy: Of course, some days are better than others. Writer’s block is a real hurdle, and sometimes the inspiration just isn’t there. But for me, the hardest part is actually my creative process. I wish I was one of those authors who could set a schedule and write for a few hours in the morning and then go about the rest of my life, but that’s not me.
My process is fairly manic – if you ask my husband, VERY manic. When I get really deep into a story, I will go days at a time without eating or sleeping. I will call in sick to my day job, I will ignore my phone, I won’t leave the house or even the couch – basically, the rest of the world disappears.
I guess, in retrospect, that’s how I was able to write 4 novels in a year and a half, but the process itself made me look like a crazy person. If I end up writing more novels in the future, I’d like to think I could get a better grip on the “manic” phase and continue to lead a normal life during the writing process.
Carly: What is the best part about being an author?
Amy: It sounds silly, but I love it when you tell people you’re a writer and they’re like, “WOW!” Like you’re a mystical unicorn that popped out of a rainbow or something.
There’s such a romantic notion surrounding writers and their lifestyle which, in my case anyway, couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I think people hear the word “author” and envision us holed up in some secluded villa in Tuscany where we drink wine all day and crank out one bestseller after the next. I figure I could tell them about the tiny apartment and the sagging couch and the frozen dinners, but I don’t have the heart to spoil their vision. I’ll let them keep imagining the Tuscan villa.
Carly: What might a reader be surprised to learn about you?
Amy: Well, it kind of surprised me too, but after that insane burst of novel writing in 2013 and 2014, I kind of haven’t had a great idea since.
I did start another series a few years ago, but it hasn’t really gone anywhere. And I haven’t felt that “tug” to finish the characters’ stories, so maybe I’m not emotionally invested enough. And maybe that will change down the road, we’ll see!
For the past few years, I’ve kind of shifted my focus to online content writing and blogging. I started my own travel story blog a few years ago and this year I’m hoping to launch another website offering advice to novice travelers, but that’s still in the works.
Writing for websites obviously isn’t as much fun as writing novels, but it pays the bills. And like I said earlier, I really don’t miss that manic phase of my novel writing process. I’d like to think I’ll have another creative burst at some point, but we’ll just have to see what the future holds.
Carly: What are you curious about right now?
Amy: A lot of things, but this isn’t the time to dive into all the crazy things happening in the world. For now, I’m curious to see how my rusty high school Spanish is going to hold up while we’re living in Barcelona.
I’m also curious to see if there’s a way my love for travel and horses and writing can combine again. I dream about someday getting paid to go on an epic riding trek someplace like Morocco or Mongolia and write all about it, so that would be pretty awesome if that happened. We’ll see!
Connect with Amy Elizabeth
Blog: http://gypsygiraffe.com/ and https://myfirsttripabroad.com/
Books by Amy Elizabeth
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Thank you for joining us this week on the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast I hope you enjoy these Q&A sessions with wonderful equine authors who love all things horses and writing just like me.
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About Your Host Carly Kade
Carly Kade is a creativity coach, award-winning independent author, horse owner, and the host of the Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast. She helps fellow equine authors build, grow, and expand their author careers. Creative writing makes her spurs jingle!
In the Reins, the first in Carly's series of novels inspired by the equestrian lifestyle, has been an Amazon best seller for more than 10 weeks, is an EQUUS Film Festival Literary Award Winner for Best Western Fiction and has earned two Feathered Quill Book Awards in the Romance and Adult Book featuring Animals categories.
The In the Reins book series was written with horse lovers in mind, no matter which discipline they ride, and the horses are as vital to moving the story forward as the human characters are. The books are perfect for poolside reading or taking to the beach.
Books by Carly Kade
Carly Kade writes for anyone who loves horses, handsome cowboys and a great romance. Creative writing about horses makes her spurs jingle!