Episode 42: On Believing in Horses, Local Media & Telling Military-Related Stories with Valerie Ormond (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 42: 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 Veteran Writing Services, LLC and Believing in Horses book author Valerie Ormond. You'll learn ...
Watch Valerie Ormond's Interview on YouTube!
Or listen to the audio only version.
About Author Valerie Ormond
Valerie Ormond retired after a 25-year career as a naval intelligence officer and began her second career as a writer. She founded her own business, Veteran Writing Services, LLC, providing companies and organizations professional writing, editing, and consulting services.
Valerie’s novels, Believing In Horses, and Believing In Horses, Too, won Gold Medals in the Military Writers Society of America book awards and five other first place awards in national and international competitions including Best Veteran’s Fiction at the 2019 EQUUS Film and Arts Festival. Her non-fiction stories have been published in seven books, and her articles have appeared worldwide in magazines, newspapers, and blogs.
Valerie has been a horse lover her whole life. She and her husband own and ride their three horses, Lucky, Billy, and Chance, in multiple disciplines. They live in Bowie, Maryland, on their small farmette with their two fun-loving dogs.
Valerie Ormond Podcast Interview Excerpt
Carly: Tell us how your love affair with horses began.
Valerie: I grew up in Maryland, and when I was a toddler, my parents took my brother and I to the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. I looked up and saw a beautiful large bay mounted police horse and pointed to it and said, “horsey, horsey.” Whoever that kind officer was let me pet his horse and pulled me up in the saddle. And that started it all.
Carly: Do you have any stories that people would find interesting or entertaining about your writing or your horse background?
Valerie: I started writing a blog in 2010 when I honestly didn’t even know what a blog was. But I followed the advice of all those who had been writing and marketing more than me. I started with what I thought blogs were at the time – weblogs – here’s my diary of my journey. Then I learned more and followed some advice, and in the end, found what worked for me.
I know I could make a ton of improvements, but I would rather say something than nothing if it might help other writers, even if it isn’t perfect. Now I’ve settled into one blog post a month, which works for me, but maybe not for other bloggers. My blog helps me continue to write and hopefully help a person out there on his or her writing journey. It’s also a good window into where we were at particular time in the past as a good reminder.
Carly: You are a retired naval intelligence officer (thank you for your service!) and now you write books and stories sharing lessons learned. Tell us about your books Believing in Horses and Believing in Horses, too.
Valerie: Both of my books are young adult novels. My first, Believing In Horses, tells the story of a young girl committed to saving unwanted horses. Sadie Navarro moves for the sixth time to a new home, only to find her Navy dad departing to Afghanistan for a year. To ease the transition, Sadie’s parents reward their twelve-year-old daughter with the dream of a lifetime, her own horse.
While getting to know her new horse, Lucky, Sadie discovers ten horses waiting to be sold at auction and commits to saving them from uncertain futures. Sadie faces challenges head-on and demonstrates her belief in what she does. In just a few short months, Sadie meets both good and bad people, and experiences joy, fear, disappointment, self-doubt, empowerment, and a level of responsibility she has never known before.
In my second book, Believing In Horses, Too, finds Sadie facing new challenges. Sadie worries her father will be injured – or worse – in Afghanistan but hides her secret from everyone. Hoping to distract herself from her fears, Sadie sets a goal to show her new horse, Lucky, at the largest horse show of the year to make her father proud when he returns.
While checking on a horse she rescued from an auction last year, Sadie learns about equine-assisted therapy and is drawn to yet another goal. But both competition and therapy work present Sadie even more challenges. In her thirteenth year, Sadie must find courage to achieve her goals and recognize the true meaning of a winner.
Carly: What compelled you to become a writer of horse books?
Valerie: When I retired, I had planned to ride, enjoy life, and do volunteer work for horse organizations. I had some specific interests including the growing unwanted horse problem and horse rescues. Then, when I was buying my real-life horse project “Lucky,” who became the main horse in my books, the previous owner’s daughter was sad because he was leaving their home.
I jokingly told the mother, Aimee, “Oh, tell her not to worry. Lucky will be going to Washington, DC, doing something really important like be a senator.”
Aimee responded saying, “That would make a cute children’s book.”
I must have logged that away in the data banks because not long after that I woke up in the middle of the night and had an idea for a book. It brought together a few things – a young girl, a new horse, and her quest to rescue horses. I outlined it in the wee hours of the morning and realized that by sharing this story with readers I could share a few of my own lessons learned in life, put a spotlight on the unwanted horse issue, and highlight the fantastic work done by horse rescue volunteers.
So, I thought, “Why not?” I had been an English major in college and had written forever in one form or another, so it didn’t seem that far-fetched. And fortunately, I have an incredibly supportive husband who didn’t think I was crazy.
Carly: It is said that all books are "partly personal.” Is there a personal connection in your books for you?
Valerie: There are many personal connections. As I was writing, I’m not sure I even saw them all. By being in the military and having many military friends, I understood what it was like for both children and adults to move time and time again, starting over in new places because that is part of the military life. And it’s not always easy.
I wanted to share things I had learned from people, situations, and horses. For example, I wanted to give people ideas of what it was like to be the new kid in town. I’ve been surprised at the number of people who have told me they never even thought of that when military kids showed up in new schools. I was also able to count on many years of varied experiences to create some scenes that may not appear in many other horse books.
Carly: Is there a message you want readers to take away from your books and stories?
Valerie: The titles of my books, Believing In Horses and Believing In Horses, Too get to the heart of what I hope readers take away. If people believe in themselves, and in something they care about, they can make things happen that may seem impossible.
My stories are so varied from family memories to dog stories to interesting connections or events that it is hard to say there is one theme. But I hope readers take away a positive message and an understanding that everyone has stories to tell.
Both of my books have had an amazing educational connection. An excerpt from my first book was used in in the Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) annual assessment which meant thousands of children read an excerpt of my book and learned something about horses. Following that, three educational organizations across the country have used excerpts, now from both of my books, to help with child literacy.
I would like to give some credit to my brother, Eddy, who has been a career educator, for this to have happened. He helped me create parts of the story that would most appeal to the right age and in their language since he taught fourth and fifth grade. We did presentations to over 200 children at a time in local schools about reading, horses, and books. I think this is a good thing. I believe the more we can expose children to horses, even if only through words, the better.
Watch the Believing in Horses Book Trailer!
Carly: How do you reach your readers?
Valerie: I reach my readers a few ways.
1. Horse-related events like this. This is a tremendous opportunity to reach target audiences. I know, first-hand, since my horse book reading list has grown from watching and listening to your podcasts! So thank you for this and the help in getting the word out for so many horse book authors, each with a different story to tell.
2. Personal connections. I have to say that my husband and my mother are my two best salespeople, and they aren’t even trying. My husband, Jaime, is quite social, and he meets people, talks to people, and talks horses wherever he goes. He enjoys sharing my horse book story, and people have become interested. Then they read the books and tell others, and it goes on and on.
My mother teaches art at local senior centers and reaches an audience of seniors who love to buy their granddaughters personally inscribed horse books. In a kind of neat connection, I had a great relationship with my grandmother who helped get me into lessons at age seven. My books have a cool grandma in them with a special relationship with young Sadie. But most grandmothers don’t know that when they buy the books.
3. Local media. I am fortunate to have supportive local media who run my press releases, write their own stories, and help me reach my readers. I’ve had great exposure which has resulted in local politicians’ support, school invitations, and more readers.
4. Continued marketing. It takes time, but readers have to know about our books before they know to read them. I can say I am not the best at marketing, but I do try to highlight key events such as book awards to let readers know about my books and writing.
For example, I wrote a press release last year about a writing workshop Sgt. Reckless author Robin Hutton and I were doing, and SmartPak’s Horse Nation included it in their Standing Ovation. Horse Nation reaches more than 30,000 readers daily, so that is a nice way to reach potential horse book readers!
Carly: Which do you prefer independent or traditional publishing?
Valerie: My publisher for Believing In Horses and Believing In Horses, Too is a small independent press in Canada, so I don’t have experience with traditional publishing. I will say that as a new author, I appreciated a publisher who navigated the way. I did independently publish a teacher’s guide for my first book, Teacher’s Tack for Believing In Horses, Too. It’s nice to have that independence, but I also realize it takes a lot of time and training to make a published product correct. I have a lot of respect for those who do it all themselves.
Carly: What do you wish you had known when you started out?
Valerie: I wish I had taken my books seriously as a business when I started. I didn’t write my books to make money, but it makes sense to account for everything, including the most precious commodity, time. I also wish I had realized writers receive a lot of conflicting advice. It’s good to listen and learn. But in the end, it’s the author’s voice under the byline.
Carly: What's the most common reason for people failing or giving up? Why do writers put their pens down and walk away?
Valerie: I think it’s a lack of people believing in themselves. People tend to think we all have to be perfect. We are not perfect. We are humans. I wish more people would follow Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: “just write.”
Carly: You hold memberships in a variety of writing organizations including American Horse Publications, the Military Writers Society of America, and the Accokeek Women Writers Group. Tell us about the value of being a member of writing organizations provides.
Valerie: Okay, let me talk about them one at a time, since they are each so different.
American Horse Publications, or AHP, is one of the best organizations I’ve ever belonged to, period, not just as a writing organization, but as an organization overall. The people are open and welcoming, and it’s enjoyable to come together with people who have horses, media, and business in common. I’ve learned so much at their annual seminars by high-quality presenters and through people I’ve met.
Due to a pitch session at an AHP Conference, I published a story with the beautiful Sidelines magazine. I’ve also had nice success with AHP’s Newsfeed getting the word out about my books and writing, and they have resulted in storied in numerous publications and horse magazine book reviews.
The Military Writers Society of America is a second kind of niche group and a place I feel at home. We are a group of writers, not just military folks, but family members and those who write about the military. The value of being a member of this organization has been learning and giving back. I’ve learned from other writers but also learned from being a book awards judge for the past several years. I try to give back by helping others and helping lead our free veterans writing workshops to encourage veterans and their families to tell their stories.
The Accokeek Women Writers Group is a local group I was fortunate to find. There is something about in person meetings that can’t be duplicated in online settings. This group has been supportive, provided valuable input, and has helped me meet my writing goals. The exercises and writing prompts have also helped me spread my writing wings and have some fun.
Carly: What is the hardest part about being an author?
Valerie: To me, the hardest part is the marketing. I’m not exactly shy, but it feels unnatural for me to be out there telling people how great I am and why they should read my books. I think it’s hard to put yourself out there, and in writing we do just that. Every book and story, we are taking a chance.
Carly: What is the best part about being an author?
Valerie: When a reader tells you they enjoyed a book or story.
Carly: In 2014, you founded Veteran Writing Services, LLC, to provide writing services to business clients and encourage other veterans to write. Tell us about your business and the services you provide.
Valerie: Interestingly, the horse books started my business. I had a former boss, a Navy admiral, who was working for a large defense contractor. His company was writing a proposal to bid on some work, and he knew I had just written a children’s book. He called me and said he needed someone who could help put together what they were working on in much simpler terms, the kind of thing he thought someone who had written a children’s book could do. I worked on the project, and it eventually led to me starting my business.
Today, I primarily work for defense contractors writing proposals. Many times figuring out how to respond to proposals can be like working puzzles. I believe my intelligence background helps with that. I also assist individual veteran writing clients with their manuscripts when I can. I include my Believing In Horses books as part of my business, and I hope that veterans can see if I can make it happen, then they can, too.
Carly: What might a reader be surprised to learn about you?
Valerie: You mentioned my naval career, and I joined at a time when the recruiting slogan was, “It’s not just a job; it’s an adventure.” And it really was. I had a chance to travel all over the world to places I never imagined I’d be and live in places coast to coast and overseas. I had some unbelievable mentors and met people who are still friends for life. Probably one of my most memorable times was being assigned as one of the first women to deploy on a U.S. combatant aircraft carrier.
And more horse related is that I am a huge horse racing fan. I have been going to the racetrack since I was a kid. Most of the kid barn rats in Bowie rode off-the-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) before that became a frequent horse term. Back then, local horse barns had them, and they needed to be ridden.
I worked at Bowie Race Track on the backstretch as a hot walker and learned how hard the backstretch worked and appreciate it to this day. I rescued an OTTB and rehomed him; co-owned a Thoroughbred racehorse; and my husband’s horse, Billy Walkabout, is a former American Quarter Horse racing horse. Jaime and I have been to all three legs of the Triple Crown and frequent Maryland tracks. I’m proud to have grown up in Belair Bowie, the cradle of American racing.
Carly: What are you curious about right now?
Valerie: Because this interview is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I think most people are curious about that, like I am, I’ll venture to another subject.
I am curious about when I am going to start my next book. My first two have been set in Maryland and an English riding theme, but I think it’s time for Sadie to go west. I’m curious what is going to happen there.
Connect with Valerie Ormond
Read Valerie's article in Sidelines Magazine about the young woman who inspired Believing in Horses: https://sidelinesmagazine.com/sidelines-feature/jessica-groen-a-lucky-call-to-serve.html
Books by Valerie Ormond
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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!