Episode 72: On Writing About Animals, Cozy Mysteries & Meeting Publisher Deadlines with Eileen Watkins (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 72: 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 author Eileen Watkins. You'll learn ...
Listen to Eileen Watkins' Interview on YouTube!
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About Author Eileen Watkins
Eileen Watkins has ridden at lesson stables all her life, and briefly owned a mare who inspired the character of Valentine in Reboot Ranch. After placing her chronically ill horse with a rescue farm in 2001, she decided to write Reboot Ranch to highlight the important work done by such organizations.
Eileen also authors the Cat Groomer Mysteries for Kensington Publishing, including The Persian Always Meows Twice, The Bengal Identity, Feral Attraction, and Gone, Kitty, Gone. All four have received Certificates of Excellence from the Cat Writers’ Association. She also belongs to Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
Eileen Watkins Interview Excerpt
Carly: Tell us how horses touched your life.
Eileen: I grew up in a New Jersey suburb and started with the occasional pony ride. During grade school I took group lessons at the county stable. I got away from riding during my high school and college years, but went back to lessons after college. I’m now past retirement age, and in all of those years I probably rode at more than a dozen different stables, on many different horses.
I still take weekly lessons at a farm close to my present home. I worked at my first (of two) newspaper job for 25 years, and when I left in the late ‘90s to freelance, I had an opportunity to share a horse with my instructor. Unfortunately, our mare Brenda had chronic health problems that got worse in spite of our best efforts. I eventually found a rescue in Pennsylvania that would “retire” Brenda safely, Bright Futures Farm, and that was how I got the inspiration for Reboot Ranch.
Carly: Tell us about your book, Reboot Ranch.
Eileen: (Synopsis) Two years ago, Anna Loehmeyer’s comfortable life fell apart when her husband was arrested for fraud. The experience devastated her, but Anna found a new purpose when she rescued a mare bound for slaughter. After acquiring two more hard-luck equines and a small farm in western New Jersey, she decides to start a horse-rescue operation.
The only person eager to help is her teenaged niece MJ, who is recovering from her own heartbreak—the untimely death of her beloved father. She persuades her mother to let her spend the summer living and working at the farm, because her Aunt Anna is “the only adult I know who’s doing anything meaningful.”
Soon the two women bond over their mutual love of horses and desire to save them from abusive situations. Their best hope for an adoption success story, though, could also be their greatest challenge—an ex-racehorse named Murphy. Almost put down for seriously injuring a jockey, the big gray loves to jump, even without a rider. But is he too dangerous for Anna and MJ to even handle, much less to retrain?
For the sake of their shared goal, both independent women may have to learn when to ask for help.
Carly: What inspired you to write about horses?
Eileen: I was bitten by the horse bug at an early age, even though my only exposure was through TV series like Fury and Flicka and those occasional pony rides.
The first “book” I ever tried to write was about a girl and her Pinto pony having adventures and foiling bad guys. I started writing novels seriously after college, but it still took me decades to start getting published. With my first publisher, I wrote mainly paranormal thrillers and mysteries, but I did one romantic mystery, Ride a Dancing Horse, that was set on an Andalusian breeding farm.
In general, though, there didn’t seem to be much of a market for horse novels for adults. What finally spurred me (excuse the expression) to write Reboot Ranch were the true stories Bevelee Dee told me about her experiences in starting Bright Futures. I had been concerned that a book on the subject would be seen as a “downer,” but after hearing her anecdotes I could imagine ways of making it dramatic, suspenseful, moving and even inspiring.
I’ve mentioned that Beverlee’s stories about her experiences inspired me, and your listeners might be interested to know that some of the most dramatic and surprising incidents in Reboot Ranch took place in real life.
Murphy’s extreme antics were based on two different Thoroughbreds she dealt with—one who had flipped over on jockeys at the racetrack, and one who broke loose from a trailer, galloped across a barnyard and leaped a full-sized tractor. (I saw the chance to merge these into one very challenging horse.)
The backstory of Patches, the Shetland pony, was based on a pony Beverlee got from an auction. The chestnut mare Valentine pays tribute to my horse Brenda, who “loved everybody, and everybody loved her.” And without giving away too much, the scene in the paddock between her and the frail horse Starbuck also was based on reality, except the roles were reversed.
So while the human characters are totally fictionalized, the horses’ stories stick pretty close to the truth.
Carly: You are also the author of the Cat Groomer Mystery series. Tell us about the series.
Eileen: It’s interesting that I seem to have developed a specialty of writing about animals! In the fall of 2005, my first, “indie” publisher went out of business, and by sheer coincidence I was approached by an agent who had read one of my mysteries. He asked if I would like to do a series for Kensington Publishing, and offered three possible themes.
I picked “a cat groomer who solves murders” because I also love cats (though I’ve never had more than two at once!) and because I felt I could get into the mindset of a woman who worked with animals for a living. It was a little challenging, at first, to realistically get someone with such a job involved in solving homicides, but I guess I pulled it off!
Finding pretexts for Cassie McGlone to go sleuthing around has actually become easier over time — I’m currently finishing the manuscript for Book #6 — because by now she’s gotten a rep for it and has even befriended the town’s police detective. Cassie generally gets dragged into a case through one of her customers, human or feline.
The cats in my book do not read human minds or solve the crimes for her, but as in Reboot Ranch, I try to share some information about cat behavior and care in every book. Like horses, cats also are rather misunderstood animals!
Carly: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Eileen: With Amber Quill, I gave them a book about every 1-2 years. When I started with Kensington, we did a new Cat Groomer Mystery every six months. That was tight, but being used to newspaper deadlines, I managed it. Now that we’ve got five books out in that series, I’m doing a book a year, which is comfortable for me.
Carly: How do you reach your readers?
Eileen: I am on Facebook, and of course I have a website and a blog. I do not use Twitter or any other platforms, because frankly I have a love/hate relationship with technology and don’t want to be staring at a screen every waking moment.
I belong to Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America, and sometimes take part in promotions through them. But my favorite way to deal with readers is face-to-face at conferences, conventions, and even smaller events like street and holiday fairs. I not only sell more books that way, but I get great feedback from people about what they like to read. Of course, COVID has put in a major crimp in all of those activities, but I’m hoping sometime in 2021 they can be revived.
Carly: What is the best part about being an author?
Eileen: Probably getting you first bound copies of a book in the mail, and feeling you and the publisher have made it as good as it could be. I struggled so hard for so long that when my first novel came out, in 2003, I could hardly believe it when I finally held a copy in my hands.
Carly: What is the hardest part of being an author?
Eileen: Trying to promote a novel in today’s highly competitive market, when fewer people are reading book-length fiction to begin with!
Carly: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time before you published your first book?
Eileen: To persist, because it would eventually happen! But the rise of electronic publishing, which I did not foresee, was a big break for me. A smaller, POD publisher like Amber Quill was much more open to the cross-genre material I was writing at that time.
Connect with Eileen Watkins
Books by Eileen Watkins
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About Host & Author 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 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!