In this 35th Equestrian Author Spotlight, I talk with fellow equine author and authentic cowboy John Egenes. Of course, we discuss the best topics on earth — writing, books and horses! In the interview, horse book lovers will meet his Quarter Horse Gizmo, learn what inspired his memoir Man & Horse: The Long Ride Across America, and how lovingly looking through a box of old photographs helped him research his book. Happy reading!
About Author John Egenes
John Egenes has been a musician, a saddle-maker, a dog catcher, and a hobo, among other things. He only learns by making mistakes and he views his life through a windshield full of squashed bugs. He makes his home in New Zealand.
About Man & Horse: The Long Ride Across America
In 1974 a disenfranchised young man from a broken home set out to do the impossible. With a hundred dollars in his pocket, a beat up cavalry saddle, and a faraway look in his eye, John Egenes saddled his horse Gizmo and started down the trail on an adventure across the North American continent.
Their seven month journey took them across 11 states from California to Virginia, ocean to ocean.. As they left the pressing confinement of the city behind them, the pair experienced the isolation and loneliness of the southwestern deserts, the vastness of the prairie, and the great landscapes that make up America. Across hundreds of miles of empty land they slept with coyotes and wild horses under the stars, and in urban areas they camped alone in graveyards and abandoned shacks.
Along the way John and Gizmo were transformed from inexperienced horse and rider to veterans of the trail. With his young horse as his spiritual guide John slowly began to comprehend his own place in the world and to find peace within himself.
Full of heart and humor, Egenes serves up a tale that’s as big as the America he witnessed, an America that no longer exists. It was a journey that could only have been experienced step by step, mile by mile, from the view between a horse’s ears.
About John Egenes' Horse Gizmo
Gizmo was a registered American Quarter Horse (registered name: The Wayward Note) with a diverse family tree. His dam was My Wayward Lady, a stocky Quarter Horse mare bred on the King Ranch in Texas and descended from the foundation sire, King (P-234). His sire was Palleo’s Note, a racehorse whose sire was the famous Leo, another Quarter Horse foundation sire.
He stood fifteen-one, with a slender build and a handsome, refined head. He was a sorrel — called chestnut by some — with a blaze that ran down from his forehead and widened to cover the entire front of his nose and upper lip. His left front leg had his only white stocking that ran up almost to the knee. Long pasterns with strong slopes down to the hoof enabled him to float freely at the walk and trot. He had a long overstep behind, which meant that each hind foot stepped far in front of the print left by the front foot, and this enabled him to cover ground quickly and smoothly. His front feet were striped with a mixture of dark and light, and his hind ones were all dark. They were small and fit his overall frame. He wore a double-ought shoe (size 00). He would eat most anything that people ate, and especially loved Snickers candy bars.
Gizmo spent his entire life with John. He died in 1992 at the age of 22. He is buried in the high desert of Northern New Mexico, near Santa Fe.
Nice to meet you, John and Gizmo! Now let's lope into the interview.
What is your favorite horse memory?
That's a very tough one to choose. I have so many of them. My horse, Gizmo, was a four year old when we made our ride. I had raised him from a weanling colt, so we were pretty well bonded when we started the ride, and became real brothers during the seven months we spent together.
Afterward, Gizmo was with me all his life, until he was twenty-two. We made several pack trips together after the ride, and for most of his life he lived with me, so I was able to see him pretty much every single day. I would often go out and play the harmonica, the guitar, or an old accordion for him. He loved to stand and listen to music, and when I think back on those times — short times that we'd spend together — well, they were some of the most endearing moments of my life.
What is your involvement with horses?
I've been around horses since I was a kid, working at a stable, then cowboying a bit as a teenager, and generally having horses and mules around for as long as I can remember.
I'm also a professional musician and have always lived a sort of double life, with two separate sets of friends—horse people and music people. Up until the internet took off, each set didn't really know I belonged to the other. Horse people knew me as a horse guy, and my musician friends knew very little about my horse involvement. I used to compose freestyles for Dressage riders. Even wrote the music for a USDF Horse of The Year back in the 1990s. It was the one thing that combined my two loves. Nowadays, everyone is friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, so we're not so isolated, and my two sets of friends often exchange comments there.
I made my living as a musician most of my life, and spent about 18 years as a saddle-maker as well. I'm still in the music world, teaching at a university and playing and recording, but I'm not in the horse world anymore, since I moved down here to New Zealand. I still love to watch a good dressage ride, or reining or cow horse work, but I no longer have horses to feed.
Do you prefer eBooks or physical copies? Why?
That's a great question to ask a writer. I love printed books and will always prefer them. I love the tactile aspect of them, and I like holding them in my hands while I read. I mark my books up—scribble notes all over them—which you can't really do easily on an eReader.
I learned early on that you really haven't read a book unless you've written notes in it (of course, library books are another matter…). I really dislike reading on a screen. That said, I actually read more books on my Kindle these days than I do print books. I love the Kindle. I have an older one that isn't color, doesn't surf the web or anything. It's just a basic black and white reader.
Computers and digital gadgets have a way of diverting our attention, almost constantly. My research is in digital culture, so I'm well versed in computer gadgets, eReaders and such. But personally, I much prefer hardcopy. I won't read a newspaper online. A real paper, with a good cup of coffee in the morning, has always been the way to start my day.
What is your favorite horse movie?
Well, who wouldn't have "National Velvet" right up there at the top of their list? There couldn't have been a better pairing than Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, and of course The Pie, that great Thoroughbred horse who stole the show.
I loved "Lonely Are The Brave", with Kirk Douglas playing the lead in a wonderful film based on an Edward Abbey book, "The Brave Cowboy". And if you haven't seen it, check out a little known film from Ireland called "Into the West". It's one I'm especially fond of. And for the documentary side of things, you can't go wrong with "Buck", the story of the great horse trainer and clinician, Buck Brannaman.
What book(s) are you currently reading?
I just finished "The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O." by Neal Stephenson, and "Walkaway" by Cory Doctorow, and am working on "Life 3.0" by Max Tegmark, and "My Sister From The Black Lagoon" by Laurie Fox.
My reading drifts all over the map. I'm a hardcore Sci Fi fan, and I love good novels. Some of my favorite authors (in no particular order) are writers like Ivan Doig, Tim Winton, Patrick deWitt, Mark Helprin, Lin Enger, Sherry Tepper, David Brin, Annie Proulx, Neil Gaiman, James Morrow, Anthony Doerr, and a long list of others.
I also read a lot of nonfiction—stuff that has to do with digital culture and geek-oriented topics, by authors like Kevin Kelly, Lawrence Lessig, Katherine Hayles, Chris Anderson, William Gibson, Matthew B. Crawford, Naomi Klein, Cass Sunstein, and Farhad Manjoo.
Sorry for the long list of authors, but I truly love each of these writers, and am at odds to attempt to pick any one or two I might like better than the others. I read at least one or two books a week — more than a hundred per year — and have for most of my life.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I tend to do most of my writing late at night, oftentimes at two or three in the morning. But I do write at all different times of the day ... no real schedule, as such.
I'm a songwriter, so I've learned that just sitting down and writing, as many times per week as you can, gets you into that groove and exercises that part of your brain. The more you write, the easier it gets (though it never gets easy). I give my songwriting students permission to write junk—as long as they recognize that it's junk, and don't fool themselves into thinking it's good. Writing bad prose is better than writing no prose. You won't use it, but it still lets your ideas flow.
For the book, and for academic research, blogs, and story writing, I use a computer. For songwriting I still rely upon a pencil and paper. It's still the most elegant method, with no hardware or software to get in the way or distract me.
If your book was made into a movie, who would play your characters?
Ah, let's see ... they'd have to get a good looking sorrel Quarter Horse to play Gizmo — smart, with a lot of character. A real charmer. Since Gizmo and I are the two main characters in the book, I wouldn't hazard a guess as to who would play me. The good thing is, it wouldn't be much of a stretch for them to find someone better looking. I reckon an unknown actor would be my choice, though. You wouldn't want a big-shot celebrity to upstage the horse [grin].
How did you research your memoir?
You wouldn't think I would have had to do research for a memoir, would you? But I did have to dig through lots of photographs, old newspaper and magazine articles and such. I kept a logbook during the ride, so I was able to pull back those memories from 40 years ago, day by day. It was a humbling experience for me, because I have a much better vantage point today than I did back then. Time, age, and distance have all given me a better handle on it all, and I realized just how much sacrifice my young horse made back then. It was a tremendous effort, and I feel so blessed to have had him as my compatriot. I rummaged through boxes of old photos that I hadn't seen in decades, and they helped to bring it all into focus.
What was your favorite chapter to write and why?
Not sure which was my favorite, but I reckon the two chapters that brought up some of the most powerful memories for me were "The Best Jukebox in Town", and "The Blind Mare".
The first is about meeting and spending most of a day in a little diner in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I listened to a wonderful old jukebox full of country music and chatted with a very sweet waitress there.
The other was an encounter that Gizmo and I had with a wild horse out on the Navajo Reservation. She was blind and dying, having eaten loco weed for a long time during the drought that year. I had to shoot her, and it was one of the most gut-wrenching things I've ever had to do.
Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
It's pretty simple, really. Follow your own dream, whatever that might be. And if it happens to involve a horse, all the better. Just be sure to treat your critters right. Same goes for the people around you. It's corny, but love can make things happen.
More about John Egenes and his horse book!
John & Gizmo: www.johnandgizmo.com
Facebook (personal site): www.facebook.com/johnegenes
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/John-Egenes
Tune in! John Egenes hosts a weekly radio show in New Zealand called "The Jukebox Highway". You can tune in on www.oar.org.nz , or listen to past shows there and on iTunes. The Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/JukeboxHighway to find out when it airs.
What a spur jingling author interview!
A BIG thank you to John Egenes for participating in my Equestrian Author Spotlight series. I learn so much from other equine authors and appreciate how unique each of our writing journeys are. I love that all the authors featured in this series are linked through our creativity, passion for writing, and love of horses. I think it is so important to support each other. I appreciate the support of a fellow author. Thanks for giving me the gift of your time, John! #authorsunite
I LOVE HORSE BOOKS! If you are an author who writes about horses and would like to be spotlighted let me know. I’d be happy to include you, too. Sharing about fellow horse book authors makes my spurs jingle! Visit my contact page to fill out a request: https://www.carlykadecreative.com/contact.html
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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!