In this eighteenth Equestrian Author Spotlight, I am honored to talk with equine author Robin Hutton of the New York Times Bestseller Sgt Reckless: America’s War Horse. Of course, we discuss the best topics on earth — writing, books and horses! This interview is FULL of meaningful advice for fellow authors including her tip to "first and foremost remember this: Follow your passion. Follow your bliss. Follow your heart. This is what is going to keep you going when the going gets tough." Happy reading!
About Author Robin Hutton
Robin Hutton is currently the president of Angels Without Wings, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that spearheaded the development and dedication of a national memorial to Sgt. Reckless. The monument was dedicated at the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Friday, July 26, 2013, and an exhibit inside the museum was also opened at that time. A second monument was placed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton on October 26, 2016, where Reckless lived out her days and is buried, and a third will be dedicated on May 12, 2018 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY.
Hutton was recently named “Patriotic Citizen of the Year” by the local chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars and the Military Order of the Purple Heart for her charitable work. She was awarded that honor at the Ronald Reagan Library in June 2014.
Hutton has spent her adult life working in major event productions and the motion picture business. She has been the writing partner of Tom Laughlin (the legend of Billy Jack fame) for the last thirty years, and is co-author of "The 9 Indispensable Ingredients in Every Hit Film, TV Show, Play and Novel". Hutton currently lives in Santa Rosa Valley (Camarillo), CA.
Now that you've met Robin, let's gallop into the interview questions!
Would you share a bit about your background?
I have been incredibly blessed in my life - and I feel most of it is because I have been graced with the love of writing. This love came later in life. It wasn’t something that I dreamed about doing as a child or had aspirations to become a writer. When I was young, I really didn’t like to read that much, which now I find hard to believe. But Life put me on this path - and I thank God every day for I’m so incredibly grateful that It did.
I started off as a personal assistant/bookkeeper to a very creative man and wife film producing team - Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor - the stars and creators of the “Billy Jack” movie franchise. Most of you are too young to remember these films, but when “Billy Jack” came out in 1972, it became one of the most successful independent films of all time. Its sequel, “The Trial of Billy Jack” revolutionized the motion picture distribution business as Tom created the “mega-multiple” method of film distribution. He was the first to open his film in 1200 theaters across the country on the same day, which back in the 70’s stunned the industry. Hollywood thought he was crazy until he showed them it could be done. Today, major franchise films will open in 4,000-6,000 theaters on the same day. That’s all thanks to the genius of Tom Laughlin.
Tom and Delores wrote the screenplays for all of their movies, and this is where my love and appreciation for writing began. They were also heavily involved in the psychological principles of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung - especially dream interpretation and finding out what the unconscious was trying to convey to us through our dreams and emotions. It was here that I really came to know that every one of us is created for a purpose - that God truly does have a plan for us when He created us - and our journey along the path to individuation is to find out what that purpose/plan is and live our lives to the fullest by becoming all that God created us to be.
And so for the last 30+ years, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. To get there, that’s when I started writing - mostly journal writing in the beginning - but then I moved on to working with Tom on his screenplays, and doing research and co-writing with him on his books until that creative demon totally grabbed hold of me so tight and wouldn’t let go. That’s when I discovered that to totally fulfill my destiny, I needed to take my writing seriously and see what stories God wanted me to tell.
And that’s why I am here today.
Why did you choose to write a horse book?
Honestly, it wasn’t a choice - it was my passion for horses that drove me to it. And that passion will keep you going until the very last word is written.
I have had a love of horses all of my life. I’ve never owned a horse, and I haven’t really ridden all that much, but I’ve always been drawn to the horse. And for the last 15 years, stories I would write, or screenplays I would be drawn to, all had a horse in them. It’s their nobility, their heart, their devotion to their herd. They inspire me.
And that leads me to the question ....
Any amusing stories about writing Sgt. Reckless?
I might lose a few readers with this story, but I think it’s pretty amazing.
When I discovered the story of Sgt. Reckless, I truly believe it was a gift from God because it happened as a direct result of working on a dream I had in 2006. As crazy as that sounds, that’s the truth! On July 31, 2006, I had a dream where I rescued an old, sick, dark horse that had been trapped in my high school bedroom closet for 8 years. It had been living in a cave deep in my closet, and it was sick and very weak. I was stunned, to say the least! But luckily I was able to pull the horse out of the closet, call for help and save its life. That’s the end of the dream.
Now, I can’t go into all of the details of the dream here, but I have talked about it in a podcast if you are interested (http://www.historyonthenet.com/how-a-horse-became-a-seargant-in-the-korean-war-robin-hutton/), but suffice it to say that at the time of the dream I was working on a novel about horse racing and a young girl who had aspirations of becoming a jockey. I was having horrible writer’s block and I just couldn’t get the story to come together. After I worked on the interpretation of the dream, I was “instructed” though my dream work to go to my bookshelf in my office and pull any book off the shelf, and that book would give me inspiration. I pulled “Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul,” because it was a compilation of short stories and I thought I might get some fun tidbits to add to my story. In there was a story entitled, “Sgt Reckless, A Mighty Marine.” I was mesmerized by this horse! I read three paragraphs of Reckless’s heroics during the Korean War and thought “Who is this horse, and why have I never heard about her?” because, to me, it was - and is - the greatest story about a horse I had ever come across.
I googled her name and only four links came up on the internet. She had vanished from the pages of history. I thought this was a travesty, and I made it my mission to change this situation. It took me seven years to research and write the book because not only did I have a full-time job, but I had to also track down people that knew her and interview them and get their stories. I also started a non-profit to raise money to build monuments in her honor and wrote a screenplay on this incredible story.
When I am through, the world will know about this great hero and the men who served alongside her so valiantly. She - they - will never be lost in the pages of history again.
To say this horse changed my life is an understatement - and that’s why she has been a gift from God. And this is what happens when you open your heart and follow your dreams and your passion where ever they may take you.
Oh, and the “8 years” image in the dream? When my book on Reckless was finally published, it was 8 years to virtually the day that I had the dream and I pulled Reckless out of the closet and saved her life by putting her back onto the pages of history. Pretty cool, huh?
Watch the Sgt Reckless Book Trailer!
What is your favorite horse movie?
I love so many of them - the old 60’s film “Smoky” (based on the book “Smoky the Cowhorse”) starring Fess Parker is one from my childhood; and “Black Stallion” with Mickey Rooney is another great one. But my absolute favorite is the film, “The Man from Snowy River,” based on the great Australian poem. I didn’t like Kirk Douglas in the film, I thought he was over the top at times, but the beauty and the majesty of this movie, and the LOVE STORY on so many levels was just fantastic. And who can forget the most incredible ride on the back of a horse ever filmed? I cry every time I see it. And the music ... it still gives me chills -- and inspiration.
Do you prefer eBooks or physical copies? Why?
Physical copies, hands down -- especially when I’m doing research for my books. And that includes fiction and non-fiction books.
I like the feel of a book. I like to know that if I take it to the pool or to the beach and I drop it, it doesn’t break or get water or sand in it. When I read I highlight - a lot! - especially when I’m doing research. I write notes in the margins and flag pages that are important. A physical book makes it easier for me to access that information when I need it. I’m old school I guess, and that works for me! And because I like writing history, I love the feel and smell of a really old book that was written at the time of my story. Those books generally aren’t available on eBooks.
But if I was totally candid, I LOOK really smart when friends come over and see all the really cool books I have on my shelf. Now, if I READ all of those books on my shelf, I really WOULD be smart - hahahaha!
What is your favorite motivational quote?
I have three, actually, that I try to live by. My absolute favorite is “Dream Big - Work Hard - Have Faith,” that my dear friend and country music singer, Templeton Thompson, turned me onto as to what it takes to be a ‘Hippy Chick Cowgirl.” I just love this sentiment!
The next would be “Be the change you want to see in the world.” - attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, however, these aren’t his exact words.
And the last is one my friend, Tom Laughlin, had above his desk that he attributed to Thomas Merton, “My work is my prayer. The results do not concern me. They are God’s problem.”
The world would be a different place if we all took these to heart.
Oorah Reckless by Templeton Thompson
INSPIRED by two AMAZING ladies, Sergeant Reckless & Robin Hutton. 50% of the proceeds from the download sales of this song will be donated to the Sgt Reckless Memorial Fund & "Operation Reckless." Click the image below for more info!
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?
It depends on the story and type of book I am writing.
For “Sgt Reckless: America’s War Horse” which is a biography and therefore non-fiction, I had a loose outline and a structure that I followed to a degree. I had blocks of material that I knew I needed, and then I let the creative process take over as to how to write each section based on the stories and research that I uncovered.
When writing non-fiction, you must find a creative way to present the facts so it becomes an interesting story for the reader and not dull or boring. However, NEVER get creative with the facts themselves! Facts are facts - history is history. I hate it when I‘m reading a non-fiction book and what I think is the truth is really just a clever spin of the truth because the writer wanted to make it a better read to sell more copies. It distorts history, and that’s horrible! Especially in this age of the internet, one wrong word can literally change the course of history if it goes viral. This actually happened with another book written on Reckless recently, and it made me crazy. The author made up so many stories in the book that I wrote 15 pages of inaccuracies to set the record straight and sent that to his publisher! You must stick with the facts - but it’s how you tell the facts that make you a great writer.
However, writing a novel is totally different for me. When I wrote my novel, “Abegail: Ghostly Lover or Guardian Angel”, which was historical fiction, I knew who my main characters were - to a degree - and I had my ending as to where I wanted the story to go. But the wonderful part about writing a novel is the pages in-between take on a life of their own, and what a FANTASTIC ride it becomes! I changed through the course of writing this book because I learned a lot about myself through my characters as they changed and developed. As they grew, so did I.
However, there was quite a bit of structure in the book.
Back in the 90’s I co-wrote a book with Tom Laughlin titled, “The 9 Indispensable Ingredients in Every Hit Film, TV Show, Play or Novel,” and it was based on the ingredients Tom discovered as to what makes a financially successful film. A few of the 9 ingredients include Undeserved Misfortune, Superior Position, a Hero you Identify with, and A Visible Villain You Love to Hate. But most importantly, it had to be a Love Story. These elements are crafted into your story if you want to make it a success, but just as important, you can’t violate these ingredients either or that will work against you as well.
After I had a solid first pass, I took those pages and applied the 9 ingredients to the storyline - where did I need more Undeserved Misfortune? Where did my Villain need his comeuppance (which is a MUST to satisfy the audience)? Where could I add more Conflict? Where could I add Humor to give some relief? How is my Love Story shaping up - and is there more than one? If so, those need to be developed as well. I would do this over and over again after each pass to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
All of these elements helped shape the storyline which then enabled my unconscious to then be free to tell the story it wanted to tell. And because of that - I was taken on one incredible journey.
And that is why I write. Each book I write, every story I tell, I grow a little bit more. And that makes me feel alive - not to mention the fact that each one is a fantastic ride. Seriously, so much fun!
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
“Sgt Reckless” was my first book that was published by an established publishing house. “Abegail,” I wrote in the 90’s and that was published by a very small vanity press. I have never done any marketing on “Abegail,” but “Sgt Reckless” is a different animal (excuse the pun!).
Whether you are self-publishing or publishing through a large publisher, YOU MUST take an active role in the marketing and promotion of your book. The publisher will do some, especially in the beginning, but it really is up to you to get your book out to the masses, if that is what you want to do.
First, start with the demographic you are trying to reach and then branch out from there.
I was very lucky because Reckless appeals to two very large demographics - equine and the military - and I had to find ways to reach both. I reached out to various horse and military publications trying to get stories to run on the book. I also reached out to different bloggers and TV shows to see if I could get interviews with them as well.
I still go to equine related events and set up a booth or a table to sell my books. I’ve reached out to various military organizations and asked them to send an email to their mailing list - the same with equine organizations. If you can get people identified with your story and love your story, they will be eager to help and work with you.
Social media is, of course, key. I have a website, Facebook fan club, and various Facebook pages related to Reckless. Sadly I am a twit at Twitter, but I try. The more of this you can do, the better. I need to become better at this - much better. People can order an autographed copy of my book on my online store, and that makes it more personal.
I have an author website and a Sgt Reckless website. Your author website will have all of your books and writings on it. I get a new domain and website for each book I write because it makes it easier for people to find your book.
Most importantly, you must think outside the box, and it takes a lot of work. Most writers just want to write - they don’t want to have to think about marketing. But marketing is as important as writing your book because if you don’t market it, no one will buy it. And if you are like me and want to make writing your profession, you must find ways to sell your book to make money to support yourself.
I would suggest to every writer to read a few books on getting published and self-publishing, even if you are publishing through a major house. These books really helped me and opened my eyes as to what needs to be done to get one’s book out into the marketplace. There are a lot of great books out there to help you. This is really important as these books contain wonderful information on what you can do to build the brand of your book.
Here are a few that I read to gain as much information as I could to figure out my strategy: "Self-Publishing for Dummies" by Jason Rich; "The Well-Fed Sel-Publisher" by Peter Bowerman; "The Everything Get Published Book" by Peter Rubie; "The Fine Print of Self-Publishing" by Mark Levine; two books by Dan Poynter: "The Self-Publishing Manual Vol I and II", and "How to Get Happily Published" by Judith Appelbaum. You can't learn enough!
What’s next? Future goals for your writing?
I’m working on my next book right now. I can’t go into detail on the subject matter yet, but I’ve just finished the research and I’m ready to hunker down and start writing. I’m excited about it!
Doing research is my favorite part of the process because that’s when I’m learning so much new stuff - and that’s what I love! Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.” But honestly, for me, I don’t agree with that premise. I prefer “Write what you’ve learned,” because it is in learning something new that gets the juices flowing, and that comes out in the writing. You get excited to tell something new - even though some people already know your subject, it’s new to you. And that keeps it fresh.
Even if you are writing a novel, there is research involved. For “Abegail,” there were three time periods in the book - Civil War (1861), Kennedy era (1961) and present day. I had to do research on the Civil War to make sure I had my facts right because there are a lot of Civil War buffs out there. Same with the Kennedy era. If you have your facts wrong, even though you are writing fiction, it will hurt the story, because people who do know the facts will call you out on it.
Any final comments?
I have met some wonderful and gifted writers along this path, and I am truly grateful to call them my friends. My life is richer because of them. I have also met some absolute jerks as well - but that’s the nature of the beast.You can’t let them intimidate or get you down. It’s the Ying and the Yang.
I would say this to anyone who wants to write: We all have a story to tell, just sit down and start telling it. But first and foremost remember this: Follow your passion. Follow your bliss. Follow your heart. This is what is going to keep you going when the going gets tough.
Writing is hard work - though people on the outside might not see it that way. But we know how hard it is, don’t we? Especially on those days when we just sit there and stare at a blank screen or page for hours and nothing comes. Or when we reread something we thought was absolutely brilliant in the wee hours of the morning only to discover that it actually sucks. Ugh! Back to the drawing board! Hahaha!
But we are also the lucky ones that get to do this, and that’s awesome. And when the manuscript is finally finished, and all the editing is done, there is absolutely no greater feeling than to hold the finished book in your hand and realize, “I did this.” For me, that moment was almost surreal. It still is, actually.
And just be sure to ride that incredible wave for as long as you can, and milk it for everything it has to offer, because before you know it someone is going to ask you, “So what is your NEXT book about?”
Above all else, you must resist the urge to punch them. HAPPY WRITING!
Discover more about Sgt. Reckless by Robin Hutton!
Sgt Reckless Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 1125 / Moorpark, CA 93020
(805) 603-2174 (cell)
BOOK: Sgt Reckless: America's War Horse NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!
She wasn't a horse - She was a Marine!
Sgt. Reckless website: http://www.sgtreckless.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/SgtReckless/
Fan club: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sgtreckless/
Robin & I met at the Equus Film Festival in NYC!
I met such fabulous horse people at the EQUUS Film Festival but most of all I loved meeting fellow equestrian authors who I can now call friends. It jingled my spurs to hang out with Cate Folsom, author of Smoke The Donkey, Robin Hutton, New York Times Best Selling Author of horse book Sgt. Reckless and Debbie Roberts-Loucks, daughter of famous horse whisperer Monty Roberts and co-author of Horse Sense for Leaders. We had fun galloping around New York City together and exchanging writing/publishing/marketing tips for horse books during the fest!
We ran into each other again at Breyer Fest, too!
I was so happy to reconnect w/ my fellow equine author friend during Breyerfest.
What a spur jingling interview!
A BIG thank you to Robin Hutton for participating in my Equestrian Author Spotlight series. I really enjoy these interviews. I learn so much from other authors and appreciate how unique each of our writing journeys is. 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. Thank you for giving me the gift of your time, Robin! #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.
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VIDEO: Behind the Scenes at the EQUUS Film Fest
Experience our spur jingling author journey in this the behind the scenes mini-movie from the EQUUS Film Festival in NYC. Good luck to all of this year's literary entries!
VIDEO: BreyerFest at the Kentucky Horse Park
My spurs are still jingling from attending my very FIRST BreyerFest at the Kentucky Horse Park! I loved meeting readers, fellow authors and all the Breyer Model Horse enthusiasts who attended this awesome event for horse lovers! Go behind the scenes at the festival in this fun little video from my cowgirlious adventures in Lexington, Kentucky. Happy viewing!
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!