Wild Mustangs Made Me a Writer, a guest post by author Jennifer Adam
Wild mustangs made me a writer.
Okay, that may be a bit of an oversimplification since I was already scribbling stories long before I adopted my first mustang, but it is true to say that I wouldn’t be where I am today if wild horses hadn’t carried me here.
The first was a copper-colored mare terrified of people and fiercely defensive, but once I’d gained what trust she could offer she revealed a sweet spirit and a gentle heart. Working with her taught me nuances of equine expression and subtleties of body language I’d never imagined before, so I adopted two more mustangs a few years later.
These were both bays (bay = brown with black legs) from the same herd in Wyoming, a little mare and a gelding with a perfect white star. The mare – Brisa – was sweet and steady, stubborn and slow… a charmingly round pony who later found her forever home on the west coast.
But the gelding – Ranger – was what we affectionately call a character, which means he was tricky and challenging in the most appealing ways. He was so expressive, so opinionated, that I began writing a blog about him, often in the form of an imagined dialog. I wrote pretend conversations about his obsession with carrots, his habit of jumping out of the pasture (over a six-foot fence!) just to say hi and then jumping back in, his extreme spookiness (this was a horse who would literally panic at the sound of his own farts), and his fascination with birds.
I was writing to entertain myself, but others seemed to enjoy my “Adventures with Ranger” too. When an author read them and asked if she could fact-check some things about horses for one of her books, I was delighted – I am always eager to talk horses! Our conversations led to mention of a writing conference, and since I’d been noodling around with a novel idea I jumped at the chance to go.
For the first time I seriously considered the idea that maybe… just maybe… I could one day be a traditionally published author. It was something I had dreamed of for a long time – ever since my grandmother gave me a gift of office supplies and showed me how to staple folded paper into books – but that wish felt too big, too far away, too impossible to ever come true.
I was afraid. Afraid of failure, afraid of disappointment… afraid of the whole process, really.
And yet I was learning to make friends with fear.
As I gentled my wild horses – teaching them to accept their first human touch, to wear a halter and follow my lead, to yield to pressure and pick up their hooves and carry a saddle on their backs – I started to understand that you can’t conquer fear by avoiding it.
Fear is something that must be faced if you’re ever going to make peace with it.
So I got serious about writing. First I wrote articles and short stories (and more blog posts) about my mustangs. A story about Ranger was published in CRICKET Magazine – my first professional fiction sale. Then I finished a novel for adults and began querying agents.
By this time I had lost two of my mustangs, because such is the cycle of life, and I’d adopted two more. I was pushing my limits of comfort and confidence with them… and a new story seed took root in my mind.
This was a story for younger readers, about magic feathers and a hedgewitch and an apprentice who made too many mistakes, about a herd of wild, mythic horses whose coats were different colors linked to weather elements. Palomino gold for the sun, white for the wind, black for thunder and lightning, blue roan for rain…
Life got messy, as it sometimes does, but I kept writing. I found escape in the words, freedom on the page… and inspiration in the moments I spent with my own herd of wild, magic horses.
When the book was done, it found an agent. And then it found an editor. And then The Last Windwitch found a place on bookstore shelves and in readers’ hands.
But the fear I thought I had made a truce with crept back in when I began to write my second book. Suddenly other people’s imagined whispers were in my head, criticizing every word. Doubt spoke louder than my characters. Plot threads tangled in my hands. I was afraid I’d never finish another book, afraid no one would want to read it even if I did.
I was, once again, terrified of failure.
And I was facing challenges with horses, too. Limits on my time and finances had reduced my herd to one last mustang, a gorgeous buckskin mare I called Trinity. Though I loved her completely, years of patient, gentle handling and professional training hadn’t given her the confidence she needed in order to be consistent under saddle. She remained spooky and unpredictable, wary and resistant.
I felt like a failure.
And the worse I felt, the worse she behaved until we were stuck in a feedback loop of anxiety and tension that neither of us could quite manage to break, even with the help of a wonderful trainer.
Which made me reconsider the nature of fear, failure, and when it’s okay to make a different choice.
Here I found the themes of my second book, Lark and the Wild Hunt.
I finished one draft, and then another. My agent’s insights opened gateways of possibility, and then my editors asked hard questions that forced me to peel back tangled layers of thorns and brambles until moonlight showed through. I wrote another draft, and another. I plastered sticky notes across my office walls as I wandered through the labyrinth of the book…
Until it was (finally!) done.
Letting go of a book is hard. At least it is for me. I wrote pieces of my soul into those pages. Fragments of my dreams.
Broken bits of my own fears.
But sending it in for the last time was also liberating. The process of writing that book reminded me that fear isn’t the same as failure. It gave me the courage to let go of a partnership with my horse that wasn’t working for either of us, and the courage to take a chance on another.
Though wild mustangs carried two of my books into the world, my new horse is a little Arabian mare I call Mystic. She’s black, like the shadowbred horses in my second book, and I love her fiercely.
We have new stories to tell… and this time we’re learning to do it scared.
Meet Jennifer Adam
Jennifer Adam can be found in a barn or in the saddle when she’s not busy writing or researching. She lives on a third-generation working family farm in Missouri with her husband, too many cats, and one very naughty dog. Her house is full of books and forgotten cups of tea, and sometimes she stops in the middle of a conversation to write a thought for a story. She is the author of The Last Windwitch and Lark and the Wild Hunt, and is currently working on several projects at once.
About Lark and the Wild Hunt
The Real Boy meets The Girl Who Drank the Moon in this magical middle grade adventure, which takes readers deep into the world of the fae on one brave young girl’s quest to save her brother.
Never trust a fae.
Lark Mairen knows this. In her village, the border between the fae and human worlds is as thin as a whisper, and fae trickery is nothing new.
But Lark’s brother, Galin, has just disappeared into the fae realm while racing in the deadly Wild Hunt, and Lark’s only lead is a mysterious fae boy called Rook.
To save her brother, she’ll have to trust Rook–even if it takes her into the dangerous fae kingdom, where she’ll untangle riddles, navigate labyrinths, and face the wicked king himself.
From the author of The Last Windwitch, Lark and the Wild Hunt is the perfect blend of classic folklore and new twists, with a protagonist who will show readers that failure is nothing to fear–and resilience, bravery, and friendship can overcome even the most daunting adversaries.
Lark and the Wild Hunt will be released on July 5th by Harper Collins
Filed under: Guest Post
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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