Jared Strickland has been living with loss ever since his father died in a tragic farming accident.
Meg escapes from her grief by changing everything about her life; moving away from home to spend her summer living on an island in the St. Lawrence River, scrubbing toilets and waiting on guests at a B&B.
Once there, she meets Jared; doing his best to keep anything else in his life from changing.
When Jared offers Meg a scruffy appaloosa mare out of a friend’s back field, it’s the beginning of a journey that will change both of them by summer’s end.
Targeted Age Group:: 12 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
There are two answers to this question: the reader answer, and the writer answer.
Ever since I was very young, the reader in me has always looked for books about the things I love: the countryside, horses, some romance. When I can find those books, I’m in heaven. When I can’t, I sit down to write them!
For Appaloosa Summer in particular, I think the writer in me took some of my childhood experiences – having two weeks every summer when I could run wild, and gallop horses bareback across the fields at our cottage – and applied the “what if?” question to them. What if a girl from the city got to spend an entire summer on a rural island? What if she met a great guy? I just let the words flow and this book was the result.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
In Appaloosa Summer we meet Meg Traherne, who is a horse-loving city girl. She’s been happy with her life, but when her horse drops dead underneath her in the show ring she starts to re-evaluate everything, which leads to a big shake-up.
We also meet Meg’s friend, Slate, who I personally really like, and find quite funny, and would love to have as my sister, or best friend.
And then there’s Jared. Jared’s something special. Let’s just say I’m sitting here, smiling, just thinking about him …
There’s also a cast of supporting characters, all of whom I’m really invested in. Most will go forward in the trilogy, and one or two may take a larger role.
Those are some of the specifics about this book, however, during the editing process my editor gave me something to think about that’s changed how I approach and develop my characters forever. This is what she said:
“Most people believe themselves to be doing the right thing most of the time. It’s part of what makes us human. How do your antagonists believe themselves to be doing the right thing?”
We were specifically discussing antagonists, but I now consider this advice for all my characters. We all do things sometimes that make perfect sense to us, but can have bad consequences, or be seen unfavourably by others. It’s that underlying motivation that makes a character believable, and likable.
I try to always consider the above question when writing all my characters.
I’m staring down a line of jumps that should scare my brand-new show breeches right off me.
But it doesn’t. Major and I know our jobs here. His is to read the combination, determine the perfect take-off spot, and adjust his stride accordingly. Mine is to stay out of his way, and let him jump.
We hit the first jump just right. He clears it with an effortless arc, and all I have to do is go through my mental checklist. Heels down. Back straight. Follow his mouth.
“Good boy, Major.” One ear flicks halfway back to acknowledge my comment, but not enough to make him lose focus. A strong, easy stride to jump two, and he’s up, working for both of us, holding me perfectly balanced as we fly through the air.
He lands with extra momentum; normal at the end of a long, straight line. He self-corrects, shifting his weight back over his hocks. Next will come the surge from his muscled hind end; powering us both up, and over, the final tall vertical.
It doesn’t come, though. How can it not? “Come on!” I cluck, scuff my heels along his side. No response from my rock solid jumper.
The rails are right in front of us, but I have no horsepower – nothing – under me. By the time I think of going for my stick, it’s too late. We slam into several closely spaced rails topping a solid gate. Oh God. Oh no. Be ready, be ready, be ready. But how? There’s no good way. There are poles everywhere, and leather tangling, and dirt. In my eyes, in my nose, in my mouth.
There’s no sound from my horse. Is he as winded as me? I can’t speak, or yell, or scream. Major? Is that him on my leg? Is that why it’s numb? People come, kneel around me. I can’t see past them. I can’t sit up. My ears rush and my head spins. I’m going to throw up. “I’m going to …”
I flush the toilet. Swish out my mouth. Avoid looking in the mirror. Light hurts, my reflection hurts, everything hurts at this point in the afternoon, when the headache builds to its peak.
I’ve never lost anybody close to me. My grandpa died before I was born, and my widowed grandma’s still going strong at ninety-four. She has an eighty-nine-year-old boyfriend. They go to the racetrack; play the slots.
If I had to predict who would die first in my life, I would never, in a million years, have guessed it would be my fit, strong, seven-year-old thoroughbred.
But he did.
Thinking about it just sharpens the headache, so I press a towel against my face, blink into the soft fluffiness.
“Are you OK?” Slate’s voice comes through the door. With my mom and dad at work, Slate’s been the one to spend the last three days distracting me when I’m awake, and waking me up whenever I get into a sound sleep. Or that’s what it feels like.
“Fine.” I push the bathroom door open.
I nod. Stupid move. It hurts. Whisper instead. “Yes.”
“Well, that’s a big improvement. Just the once today.”
She follows me back to my room. She’s not a pillow-plumper or quilt-smoother – I have to struggle into my rumpled bed – but it’s nice to have her around. “I’m glad you’re here, Slatey.” I sniffle, and taste salt in the back of my throat.
I’m close to tears all the time these days. “Normal,” the doctor said. Apparently tears aren’t unreasonable after suffering a knock to the head hard enough to split my helmet in two, with my horse dropping stone cold dead underneath me in the show ring. I’m still sick of crying, though. And puking, too.
“Don’t be stupid, Meg; being here is heaven. My mom and Agate are going completely over the top organizing Aggie’s sweet sixteen. There are party planning boards everywhere, and her dance friends are always over giggling about it too.”
“Just as long as it’s not about me. I don’t want to owe you.”
“’Course not; you’re not that great of a best friend.”
The way I know I’ve fallen asleep again, is that Slate is shaking me awake. Again.
“Huh?” I open one eye. Squinting. The sunlight doesn’t hurt. In fact, it feels kind of nice. I open both eyes.
I struggle to get my elbows under me, and the shot of pain to my head tells me I’ve moved too fast.
She’s nodding, eyes wide.
“Like our Craig?”
First my mom canceled her business trip scheduled for the day after the accident; now our eighty-dollar-an-hour, Level Three riding coach is at my house. “Are you sure I’m not dying, and you just haven’t told me?”
“I was wondering the same thing.”
“What am I wearing?” I blink at cropped yoga pants and a t-shirt I got in a 10K race pack. It doesn’t really matter – I’ve never seen Craig when I’m not wearing breeches and boots; never seen, or even imagined him in the city – changing clothes is hardly going to make a difference.
Slate leads the way down the stairs, through the hallway and into the kitchen, where Craig’s shifting from foot to foot, reading the calendar on the fridge. He must be bored if he wants the details of my dad’s Open Houses, my mom’s travel itinerary.
“Smoking,” Slate whispers just before Craig turns to me. And, technically, she’s right. His eyes are just the right shade of emerald, surrounded by lashes long enough to be appealing, while stopping short of girly. His cheekbones are high and pronounced, just like his jawbone. And his broad, tan shoulders, and the narrow hips holding up his broken-in jeans are the natural trademarks of somebody who works hard – mostly outside – for a living.
But he’s our riding coach. Craig, and our fifty-five year old obese vice-principal (with halitosis), are the two men in the world Slate won’t flirt with. I don’t flirt with him, mostly because I’ve never met a guy I like more than my horse. Major …
“Hey Meg.” Craig’s quiet voice is a first. The gentle hug. He steps back, eyes searching my head. “Do you have a bump?”
I take a deep breath and throw my shoulders back. “Nope.” Knock my knuckles on my temple. “All the damage is internal.”
Craig’s brow furrows. “Meg, you can tell me how you really feel.” No I can’t. Of course I can’t. Even if I could explain the emptiness of losing my three-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week companion, the guilt at “saving” him from the racetrack only to kill him in the jumper ring, and the take-it-or-leave-it feeling I have about showing again, none of that is conversation for a sunny springtime afternoon.
Still, I can offer a bit of show and tell. “I have tonnes of bruises. And I’ve puked every day so far. And, this is weird but, look.” I use my index finger to push my earlobe forward. “My earring caught on something and tore right through.”
The colour drains from Craig’s face, and now I think he might puke.
“Meg!” Slate pokes me in the back. “Sit down with Craig and I’ll make tea.”
Craig pulls something out of his pocket, places it on the table. A brass plate reading “Major”. The one from his stall door. “We have the rest of his things in the tack room. We put them all together for you.”
Yeah, because you wanted to rent out the stall. I can’t blame him. There’s a massive waiting list to train with Craig. And my horse had the consideration to die right at the beginning of the show season. Some new boarder had her summer dream come true.
I reach out; turn the plaque around to face me. Craig’s trained me too well – tears in one of his lessons result in a dismissal from the ring – so now, even with a concussion, I can’t cry in front of him. Deep breath. I rub my thumb over the engraved letters M-A-J-O-R. “There was nothing that horse couldn’t do.”
Craig sighs. “You’re right. He was one in a million. Have you thought about replacing him?”
About the Author:
Tudor Robins loves reading, writing, and horses. Ever since she started devouring books at a very young age, she could never find enough horse books to keep her busy. That’s why she finds it so exciting now, to be able to write the very type of books she’s always wanted to read.
Appaloosa Summer is the first book in Tudor’s Island Trilogy (look for Book Two in the early spring of 2015), and Tudor’s second novel.
When not writing, Tudor horse back rides, runs, skis, and spends as much time as she can with her husband and two sons in Ottawa, Ontario and at their summer home on Wolfe Island on the edge of the St. Lawrence River.
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