Episode 49: On Being a Teacher Turned Author, Writing Groups & Horsehair Jewelry with Janet Wolanin Alexander (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 49: 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 teacher turned author Janet Wolanin Alexander. You'll learn ...
Watch Janet Wolanin Alexander's Interview!
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About Janet Wolanin Alexander
Janet is a retired science teacher who loves nature and lives in Southern Indiana with her husband Jim and their cats and dogs. She boards her horse Highlander at a stable adjacent to state property with extensive riding trails.
Janet was born in big city with the big dream of horse ownership. Achieving it seemed impossible. Alternating bouts of pursuit and denial became incredibly paralyzing. Finally, in middle age and on the verge of abandoning her dream forever, a powerful moment of truth broke the pattern. Suddenly her dream came true in ways she never imagined and it’s still unfolding!
Janet Wolanin Alexander Interview Excerpt
Carly: Tell us how your love affair with horses began.
Janet: A city girl, I was mysteriously born horse crazy. Real horses were not part of my reality except for police mounts. But, being born during the golden age of TV Westerns, TV horses were! I remember Mr. Ed, My Fury, My Friend Flicka, Sky King, Big Valley, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro and still watch reruns on ME-TV! My dream was to have a horse of my own.
Carly: Tell me about your furry friends.
Janet: My parents weren’t into pets, but they were into education, so I told them that I needed some guinea pigs for a high school biology project. It was essentially guinea pig agility. Induced by food, my pigs had to climb a ramp (a towel wrapped piece of plywood) up to a box, jump off it, go through a cardboard oatmeal tube, and make a U-turn to the finish line which adjacent to the starting point.
My parents put me through college stipulating that upon graduation I would have to make my own living because they had two more kids to educate. During my 1st year of teaching I partially leased Geronimo, an Appaloosa/former pacer who liked to run trail riders into trees. My graduation present had been the old family car and I lived in a boarding house so I was able to buy him. I sold him a few years later (a decision which still haunts me) to pursue my master’s degree.
In my mid-40s, I married a man with a cat. Worried about it being home alone all day while we were at work, we adopted a black cat from a rescue organization. It had been found at Churchill Downs where black cats apparently don’t fare well. My husband and I were living in an apartment at the time; when I went to pay the second pet fee, I was told (despite the new people living below us with two dogs) that there was a one-pet allowance and that we would either have to give one cat up or move out. We decided it was time to buy our first house. We’re still live in it and so far have housed 12 cats and 5 dogs.
In the midst of the house pets, I was about to give up my horse dream when a miracle occurred. I found a semi-retired endurance champion, a purebred Arabian who needed exercising and got to ride for free as much as I wanted. It was love at first sight.
Through his owner I met another endurance rider who asked me to help condition a young horse of hers. Highlander is a half-Arabian/half-TW. Our love grew over time and I got him for my 50th birthday. We became trail riders so we could smell the roses and observe nature from the trail. He and I are aging together—I’m 68 now and he just turned 26.
Carly: In your memoir At Home on a Horse in the Woods, you give us a glimpse into your experience getting unstuck, back on your journey, and started living your dream. Tell us about your memoir.
Janets: It starts in my mid-40s. My husband and I are still living in our apartment. A friend had just asked me to buy her well-trained aging horse so she could buy a younger one. I liked him but had to turn down the opportunity. I’m telling a minister about how mad I am at God and this is the last time I’m going to put up with such cruel treatment because I’m giving up my horse dream forever so I can’t be hurt any more. She says something mind-blowing and horses miraculously come into my life in a way I never imagined.
My book continues with stories about Dancer and Highlander, then goes backward in time, with stories about Geronimo and a poem inspired by TV Westerns during my youth. It concludes with two updates about Highlander.
Carly: Why did you choose to write such a personal memoir about your life and experiences?
Janet: I didn’t choose this path! I was mysteriously called to it.
Carly: How did you go about writing a memoir? How did you get started? Talk us through it.
Janet: Off and on throughout my life, I was compelled to write down certain peak horse-related experiences. Over time, my pile of first handwritten, and then typed, and keyboarded stories grew. After retiring from teaching, I joined a writers’ group, and continued writing up my horse tales. I submitted a few to magazines and they were printed. Although I didn’t get paid for them, I loved seeing them in print with my name on them.
One day my pile of tales suddenly seemed high enough to compile into a book. Two senior members of my group had a small publishing business and accepted them for publication. My book first came out in 2017. It was republished by another equally encouraging publisher in 2019.
Carly: Which hurdles did you personally face when writing so openly about your life and how did you overcome them?
Janet: I loved writing my tales. But the thought of sharing them with strangers was terrifying. An introvert, opening myself up to strangers, especially during the present era of cruel social media bullies was terrifying. And so was the image of -psychologists having a heyday analyzing my. So I just figured that the purpose of my book was to entertain myself in old age when I lost my memory.
But many of my friends, teaching colleagues, and member of my writers group had encouraged my writing and seemed to enjoy it. At one meeting when I shared my reservation about letting complete strangers into my private life, a poet encouraged me not to bar strangers out but to invite potential friends in.
That concept was strengthened when I found a geode in my horse’s pasture. Like the geode, I was created with a mystery inside. The beauty of a geode is not its plain outside, it’s the crystals inside and they are only visible when the hard outer shell is cracked open. The metaphor was confirmed when I realized its source: G-E-O-D-E without the two Es!
Carly: Tell us about your experience with how horses can help us heal and satisfy our need for connection.
Janet: I could write a whole ‘nother book on this topic!
Suffice it to say that, to me, horses are physically beautiful and spiritually ethereal. In their presence I often feel like I’m with God, protected and in relationship with a larger-than-myself being capable of injuring me but instead choosing to befriend, unconditionally accept, challenge, and bring out the best in me.
Horses are so generous. I am fascinated by their contribution to humanity. Not only have they spread civilization across the globe and played a crucial part in human communities for millennia, they are incredible athletes.
Perhaps most fascinating to me is their role as therapist to folks challenged or traumatized physically, emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally, and spiritually. I even know of programs that employ horses to help kids learn their reading and math skills and doctors to improve their bedside manner with human patients.
Carly: What does the title of your book mean to you and how does it capture the heart of your memoir?
Janet: The title At Home on a Horse in the Woods conveys that the woods is not only the lovely, earthly place where I ride my horse, my favorite activity; it also feels like my heavenly home because it’s where I feel happiest, my best self, and closest to God. It’s more churchy than church.
My book’s 2017 subtitle was A Memoir. In 2019 I changed it to A Journey into Living Your Ultimate Dream because: 1) who would want to read a book about someone they’ve never heard of? and 2) I wanted to extend my readership—not everyone wants a horse, but everyone has a dream.
Carly: Is there a message in your memoir that you hope readers will grasp?
Janet: No matter what your dream is, take it seriously and work towards it. Never give up. And don’t envision the exact way it has to come true for God may have a better surprise in store for you.
Carly: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors who want to write a memoir?
Janet: Yes, figure out how it will help/encourage others and then do it. If you think it would help, read a few memoirs written by other authors.
Carly: Which do you prefer, independent or traditional publishing?
Janet: I don’t have the talents, technological skills, or interest in self-publishing and I want to be published by someone I who “gets” me, so I first went with a small local publisher owned by friends.
Carly: What do you wish you had known when you started out?
Janet: 1. That being an author is one thing and being a paid author is another. Money wasn’t going to automatically roll in once I was published. I was going to have to learn how to publicize and market my book and work hard at it even though I had two more books in mind that I wanted to write. And publicizing, marketing, and selling would require learning new computer, social media, and business skills. However, in retrospect, perhaps my ignorance of all this protected me from giving up my book dream!
2. That there is third way of publishing. I stumbled upon it after my book was first published. My first company required no money before or during the publishing process, just a percentage of my sales afterwards. I pretty much handed in a manuscript received a published book. The new company required an considerable up-front investment. But it teaches the whole publishing process and allows me to own my book and retain all my sales (minus the printing cost and bookstore’s cut) and I wanted to learn.
The new publisher, a former church minister and an author who both self-published and traditionally published, had started his own company -- not only to publish his new books, but also to encourage others to write and publish their stories.
3. That I, like all authors, need help and have to ask for it, especially introverts.
Carly: How do you reach your readers?
Janet: This is what I’m learning now. Thank you for your support via this podcast!
I have a Facebook business page (Swishtails and a FB author page (Woods of Wisdom). I have added a swishTALES component to my swishTAILS business page (for my horsehair jewelry). I have started author profiles on LinkedIn, and author pages on Amazon and Good Reads. All of these need improvement, but I’ve learned that progress is more important than perfection and that the world won’t come to an end if I make mistakes.
I also advertise on my personal Facebook page and have applied for a library event and to several book fairs. I am certainly open to your advice!
Carly: What is the hardest part about being an author?
Janet: Writing is the most enjoyable part for me. I especially love the editing process, polishing my rough-hewn writing into a smooth sculpture, and the cover design process.
It’s all the other requirements that can get overwhelming – improving my computer and social media skills, building my base, researching and applying to and preparing for potential advertising and sales opportunities, and then preparing for them upon acceptance.
Right now dealing with COVID-19 is another challenge. My library launch party and a bookstore signing were cancelled. I’ve applied to four book fairs and wonder if they’ll be cancelled too.
One good thing about the age of technology is that the cancelled bookstore signing became a webinar featuring all four of the invited guests -- another horse author, a children’s horse book illustrator, a bookstore administrator, and me. Interacting with them was fun and good preparation for becoming the sole guest.
Carly: What is the best part about being an author?
Janet: Learning new things and meeting new people, especially other horse authors, and authors of all genres who, like you, are willing to help newbies.
The sense of accomplishment you feel every time you complete a step along the way.
Talking to readers and potential readers at live events and getting good reviews on Amazon and Good Reads, etc. They are so encouraging.
Learning about good new books to read.
Carly: In addition to writing, you also braid horsehair jewelry to help horse lovers celebrate the special bonds they've developed with their equines. Tell us about Swishtails and your jewelry.
Janet: I am a horse lover and owner who enjoys braiding custom jewelry for fellow owners from the hair of their horse(s) — living or deceased, one horse or many.
I make 4, 6, 8, 9, and 12-ply braids and use sterling silver findings (clasps, end caps, charms, and rings). The 4 ply is round, the 6-ply is half round (picture a capital D or a loaf of bread); the 9-ply is flat, the 12-ply is square; and the 8-plies are round or square.
I braid single color braids or patterned braids. For example, if you provide black and white hair, I can mix the two colors and make a gray braid or I can keep the colors separate and braid a pattern.
I primarily make bracelets, necklaces, and bookmarks, but have made earrings, key chains, and cords too.
Connect with Janet Wolanin Alexander
(and the associated page Woods of Wisdom)
About At Home on a Horse in the Woods
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About Your Podcast Host Carly Kade
Carly Kade is an award-winning independent author, horse owner, creativity coach, and the host of the Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast. She helps fellow writers start, grow, and expand their author careers. Creative writing makes her spurs jingle!
Carly's award-winning In the Reins equestrian romance book series was written with horse lovers in mind, no matter which discipline they ride. The horses are as vital to moving the story forward as the human characters are.
These books are perfect for poolside reading, taking to the beach, or settling down with after a day of horseback riding.
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!