Fourteen-year-old Kat lives with her widowed father, Luke, and younger brother, Dave, in their remote country farmhouse. She loves exploring the forest surrounding her house, and taking horseback riding lessons at the stable down the road. Her free-spirited father had taught her to love the natural world, and she considers herself a true outdoor girl.
After making a shocking discovery one morning, Kat struggles to rescue Stormwind, her favorite horse at the stable, from its abusive owner. Then her father brings home an unwelcome visitor with a secret that could destroy the way of life that the family loves. This upsetting change sends Kat and her dog, Hesperus, running away on a month-long camping trip in the wilderness with Stormwind. There, she finds a true friend in Randy, a teenage drifter with a mysterious past. After an accident forces them to return to Kat’s house, she must deal with the family problem she’d left behind, and help Randy overcome the memories of his troubled childhood.
“Stormwind of the North Country” is a story about horses and nature, freedom and self-reliance. It is about going after your dreams, being yourself, and standing up for your beliefs. In her adventures at home and in the Adirondack wilderness, Kat learns that friendship and love will solve her problems.
Targeted Age Group:: 10 – 14
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was first inspired to write “Stormwind of the North Country” by a strange dream that I had as a horse-crazy ten-year-old. I wrote a short story about the dream, in which a girl rescues an abused horse from an angry, screaming woman who had been chasing it. That story became a part of me, and I just couldn’t let it go. The story grew…and grew…until it filled two tattered notebooks. For the next twenty-two years, I continued working on that book off-and-on through several drafts and re-writes. I’d lose interest in it for several months, and then pick it up again.
When I began writing it, my most desperate wish was for a horse of my own. Writing the story allowed me to live vicariously through the main character’s adventures with her rescued Arabian mare. My experiences living in the Adirondacks also inspired the story, as did my first horse that I finally got when I was twelve. I thought that it would be fun to take my horse and run away into the wilderness to live off the land. I never had the nerve to try it. Kat did, though…and the story turned in a direction that I never could have imagined.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Kat, the main character, is a lot like me when I was growing up: she feels misunderstood, prefers walking in the woods with her dog than hanging out with kids her age, and has one hobby that she’s obsessed with: horses. However, she is stronger, braver, more athletic and assertive, and a better horseback rider than I am. It was…freeing, and fun to write about someone so unlike myself in those ways. Many aspects of her personality are based on my own – who I am, and who I wish I was.
I grew up as an only child, and often wished I had a sibling to play with, so that’s why I gave Kat her younger brother, Dave.
In the original story Kat’s best friend, Emily, was a stereotypical girly-girl (unlike tomboy Kat), but she was her ever-present pal. In the book, however, Emily and Kat are growing apart as their lives change over the summer.
At first, I just made up the other characters to fulfill their respective roles in the book: Kat’s mechanic/rock musician father, Luke, his deceitful girlfriend, Lavina, the abusive horse owner, Lorriane Stillwater, the drifter/outdoorsman, Jake, Kat’s male friend, Randy, the violent ex-con villain, Vito, and Judge Brown, who grants Kat possession of her beloved horse, Stormwind. As I wrote and developed the story over the next two decades, however, each character grew and changed in ways that surprised me.
I didn’t know how my dad would react, but now I needed his help. “Luke!” I shouted as Stormwind raced up the driveway, kicking up gravel behind her. “Luke!”
The garage door was closed, the radio silent.
I tied Stormwind to the porch railing and burst into the house. “Dad! Daddy!” I was getting hysterical. “Dad!”
I found him at work redecorating the guestroom, his clothes splattered with fresh paint. “Katherine! What in the -”
“Daddy! It’s Stormwind…and Lorraine, and…she’s got a gun, and…and Commodore’s dead!” I collapsed into a nearby chair and covered my face, shaking, squeezing my eyes shut against the tears that threatened to fall.
He put his hands on my shoulders. “Shhh, Kat…try to calm down, and tell me what happened.”
I took a deep breath and stood up. “Follow me.”
He gasped at the sight of Stormwind, who stood there puffing and trembling with exhaustion, bleeding from the whip wounds across her body. “Oh, my…” He gently touched Stormwind’s sweaty neck as she snorted and danced away.
Luke sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Oh, honey. You were telling me the truth. I should’ve believed you…and now, that poor animal…” He sighed again. “If only I had-”
“It’s not your fault, Luke…”
Suddenly he straightened up, his voice firm. “And it’s not yours, either. It’s that woman’s. You’re not going back there, Katherine…and neither is the horse. Now, we have to get her out of sight. Let’s take her in the barn. We’ve got to get her cleaned up, if she’s gonna be yours.”
“Mine? But I thought you couldn’t afford a horse -”
“I’ll find a way. Now, I’m going to get her some medicine, and I’ll bring the portable phone out in the barn. We’ve gotta make some calls.”
Far down the road, I heard a car being driven at an insane speed by the madwoman we’d just escaped from. “Stillwater!” I screamed. I led Stormwind at a trot toward the barn, but we didn’t make it. The car was here, after almost overturning when it careened into the driveway. Stillwater flew out and would have reached us if Luke had not turned back and stood before Stormwind and me.
“Leave my property, you!” he shouted. “You’re not welcome here!”
“Your daughter stole my horse! I’m simply here to regain my horse!” Stillwater reached over Luke’s shoulder and slapped Stormwind’s muzzle. “She is mine, and you and that little criminal are not to tell me otherwise!”
Stormwind lunged at Stillwater, almost knocking Luke down, and bit Stillwater’s arm. It started bleeding. “Why you…”
Luke pushed her back to her car. “Looks like the horse doesn’t want to be with you,” he said. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough around here? Stormwind means the world to my daughter. She belongs to her.”
“Get out of here, before I call the police!”
“The police! You bet I’ll call the police! I won’t stop there! I will take you to court!”
Luke laughed. “That’s just what I was planning on doing. That junkyard of yours will be condemned, and you’ll never lay your hands on another animal, again.”
Stillwater gunned her engine, pulled onto the road, and tore away for home.
“You ain’t goin’ anywhere!” We turned and almost bumped into Vito, who towered over us with his tattooed arms folded. He grinned.
“That looks like a nice piece of horseflesh! Must be worth a lot of money. I’d say a horse like that could pay off the damages to my property! Might even have enough left over to move outa this dump.” He bent down and stuck his greasy nose in my face. “Give it to me.”
“Never!” I shouted.
“Give it to me and I won’t call the cops. You punks trespassed on private land, that horse trampled my garden, it’s tearin’ up my turf. Horses are just toys for little rich girls – why don’tcha keep it where it belongs?”
Vinnie shot again and this time it wasn’t in the air. Randy and I screamed and ducked behind a car. “Vinnie, you idiot!”
“But Pa, you told me to shoot…”
As Vito turned and roared curses at his son, I leaped on Stormwind’s back. I barely clung on by her mane as she reared high, sending me sliding back toward her rump. I tightened my grip. The ground under me was covered with broken glass. I heard it crunch under Stormwind’s hooves. I couldn’t fall off, now.
Stormwind came down in a buck that threw me onto her neck. I spun her in a circle with the leadrope, felt her body shuddering under my legs as I reached down for Randy. “Get on!”
“Uh…I don’t think so…”
“Come on!” Vito had stopped shouting at Vinnie and charged toward us. Randy took one look at him, grabbed my hand, and swung up behind me. Stormwind seemed surprised by the extra weight and bucked again. With luck, we stayed on.
She leaped into a gallop as Vito howled at us in fury, jumped on a motorcycle and chased us out of his yard. Stormwind tore down the road out of control, no way to stop or guide her. I knew that if Randy fell off it would pull me off too, and at this speed we’d be killed.
It was chaos. Stormwind carried us through town as panicked drivers veered out of our way. Buildings passed by in a blur, people running out staring and pointing, horns honking all around. Someone yelled at us to get out of the road, but we paid no attention. I still heard Vito’s motorcycle not far behind us.
We soon left town, now calmly cantering down the mountain road that passed the lake. Stormwind’s sweat soaked our jeans. Randy bounced clumsily with every stride and I had to hold on tight to keep us both on. But worst of all was Vito and his motorcycle, which kept pace with us even as cars passed. He shouted things over the revving engine, making menacing faces and swerving at us. Stormwind was tiring now, and this time it was me in a panic. What would he do if Stormwind stopped and we got off, or even worse, if she fell or went into labor? What if he followed us clear back to the lean-to?
“Hey, look!” Randy pointed out at the lake where the loons had been calling all night. A bizarre, multi-colored glow flickered over the black water. It was really eerie, but fascinating. Supernatural, almost. “The Northern lights.” He spoke in a hushed voice as he stared at the sight. “I’ve never seen ‘em before, but Jake told me about ‘em once…”
“Randy, who is Jake? You keep mentioning him.”
He didn’t answer. He just studied the flickering lights, arms around his legs with his chin on his knees. We were silent as we watched the lights. I forgot all about drawing and knew that I would remember this moment forever. The small flickering fire behind us, the huge flickering fire-like light in the sky, sitting with a boy I realized that I’d met for some reason unknown to both of us. I didn’t protest when Randy hesitated, then put his arm around me.
He looked from the sky out over the dark water. “Have you ever wondered what it would be like if one day, you realize that your whole life was just a dream? You wake up as a baby in a crib, and it’s beginning all over again…”
I shivered. “That’s creepy.”
He got to his feet. “Wait here.” He went behind me into the lean-to and returned with two cans of soda. He handed me a root beer and looked back at the Northern lights, opened his can and raised it toward me. “To us. To this summer. To this place.”
“May the summer last forever.”
“So, you just stand there staring.” Randy sneered. “I shoulda known.” He spun around and pushed past me, stalking back to the lean-to. I trotted after him.
“Randy, I had no idea…”
“Yeah, that’s your whole problem. You have no idea. Nobody does.” He stopped short so we were face-to-face, clenched his fists and glared at me from under his bangs, as if daring me to make fun of him. I noticed the tears in his eyes as he smirked, trying to look tough. “Go ahead, tell me I look gross. Tell me I look like a monster. I know you want to.” Turning away, he wadded up his ruined shirt and dropped it on the ground.
“Oh, Randy…” I put my arm around his shoulders but he ducked away.
“Don’t touch me!” he snarled. “You think you can make me feel better?” He continued to glare at me as we stalked through the woods. “Katherine, you are a spoiled brat. You think that you have real problems with your dad’s girlfriend, but you don’t! You don’t know what real problems are!” He narrowed his eyes. “You don’t know how good you have it!”
Suddenly his shoulders slumped and his voice was gentle again. “Kat, look at you. You have a 15,000 dollar horse that you didn’t have to pay a cent for, you live in a huge house, you even know how to drive a car…and…you have a…family who loves you. You would never understand.”
“I could imagine…”
“No.” Randy shook his head and stared at the ground as we returned to the lean-to. He found the two pictures and slid them in his back pocket, put on a flannel shirt, and looked out over the pond. “I gotta take a walk,” he said softly. “Excuse me.”
What was Lavina planning on doing by late fall? I wondered as I hung her fancy clothes back in her closet. I took the papers and hid them in the secret room just as I heard a car pulling into the driveway. Assuming Lavina had returned from the mall, I ran into the main house and upstairs before she came inside.
I awoke very early the next day. But I doubted Lavina had gotten any sleep, since I had woken up that night to hear her muttering softly, moving furniture in her room and talking on the phone in a hushed voice.
It was a gorgeous morning, the sun streaming through the windows as I got dressed and thought about the hidden papers. They were safe, I knew, but I decided not to tell Randy or Dave about them. This was my project.
I went outside to feed Stormwind. As I walked in the chilly air, I noticed a shadow step around the barn, and I forgot all about the papers. What if Vito had discovered where I lived? Could he be trying to steal Stormwind and Hawk – or burn down the barn like he did in that nightmare? Nonsense, I told myself. He’s in the hospital, or jail! But I was nervous as I jogged to a window and peered inside. Could it be Stillwater? No! Lavina was searching the rows of empty stalls!
As she neared Stormwind and Hawk’s stall, I noticed the bags under her eyes, and that she wore no makeup for once. I silently slipped into an empty stall to see what she was up to.
Lavina’s high heels slowly clacked across the dusty floorboards as Stormwind began pacing and circling in her stall. There the woman stopped, looking at Stormwind’s halter, hanging from its hook. She unclipped the leadrope and slowly opened the door. I saw the tip of Hawk’s nose curiously touching her extended hand…
THUNK! THUNK! Lavina yelped and scuttled away from the horses when Stormwind pinned her ears and kicked the barn walls.
“What are you doing in here?” I asked as I strode down the barn aisle.
Lavina gasped and spun around to face me.
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