Monthly Archives: May 2020

Thoughts on a life with horses

(Mocha in one of her occasional hitching rail test moods)

Some mindful Facebook posts this morning about horses, turnout, and training made me think about my horse life and just how I’ve learned and grown as a horsewoman. One thing in common with teaching and horse life is that the learning never stops. Even if you own the same horse over fifteen years (Mocha and I hit our fifteenth year together in August), you still learn more and more about how that horse works and thinks as the years go by. Especially if you do what I did with Mocha, and put the horse through a dramatic change in management in an attempt to break an injury/illness cycle (from 24/7 stall life in a wet climate to 24/7 pasture life in a herd in a dry climate). I went into her current circumstances well aware that it might not work, and if it didn’t…well, I don’t think she would have lasted more than another year or two of life in a stall. But pasture life agrees with her, even though she is horribly needy and forms tight bonds with pasture companions. She will leave her friends easily, but frets if they are taken away from her. She’s healthy and is in good condition, and we could conceivably have another five to eight active years together if managed correctly. The me of fifty-some years ago would be boggled by the thought of what I’m now doing with a 20-year-old mare. And that is a reflection of how things have changed in that period for horse management.

I’ve never particularly thought that doing everything like I did when I was a kid with horses was particularly a good idea. For one thing, horse management these days, even with rough pasture boarding, is entirely different from what I grew up with. Regular dental work, corrective farriery, deworming products, fly management products are very different from what I had access to in the late 60s-early 70s (not so much vaccination protocols. The biggest changes in vax from then have been the addition of rabies and West Nile to the vax regime. I was an early adopter of the Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis vaccine when it first came out, in addition to the Eastern and Western variants as well as tetanus. Can’t remember if rhinovirus was also part of the mix then–but the point is, vax was something we just plain did and isn’t that different from today). The closest I came to corrective farriery was putting front shoes on a foundered horse to support her feet, and noticing that hey–the stumbling horse stopped stumbling (I suspect that she may have foundered after foaling before we bought her, therefore the stumbling. She grass foundered one spring with me years later and needed careful management after that). Dental work wasn’t in the cards, and deworming product (unless the vet came out and tubed the horse) was a powder added to grain that the Sparkle mare would manage to separate out and leave in a nice neat little pile in the middle of her grain box instead of a paste syringe. Horses were also considered old by their mid-teens in those days, especially for a non-showing, backyard owner. Grass founder was poorly understood in my area, and I dealt with it in a pony and a horse.

On the other hand, there were certain tips and tricks I learned then that I still use. Showmanship practice as a means to get the horse’s focus on me (shades of “playing horse show” with the green Shetland yearling under the supervision of my first horse mentor, plus learning that hey. The old Sparkle bitch mare started listening better to me when I practiced Showmanship with her in 4H). Ground driving/long-line work to condition and school without a rider at all three gaits in something other than a lunging circle. The use of the lunge as a schooling technique, not letting the horse careen wildly as a means to blow off energy. A habit of establishing a personal space bubble and enforcing it when working with horses in the stall or the field. How to assess a horse’s reliability to be ridden on a road, and how to safely train a reliable horse to be calm around cars and other vehicles. Asking a horse to respond to lighter and lighter cues while working in serpentines and circles. The well-trained muscle memory of how to stick on a horse blowing up under you, and the confidence to deal with challenging situations including knowing when and how to bail out safely. I’m an old, reasonably bold rider, but I have a lot of kid falls in my history that contributed to knowing my limits…mostly, in my sixties. But as I’ve discovered, I’m bolder than a lot of amateurs my age (well, excepting those who compete in jumping or eventing, but I don’t do those things).

All of these were sharpened by later experience with a well-regarded trainer, but the foundation was laid almost fifty years ago. 18 years with a professional supervising me who would also sit down and talk about training, showing, breeding, and the state of the horse industry put a polish on my understanding of work with horses. Those eighteen years with Gregg Shrake really challenged me, made me think about my process, and built on my early experiences. Before I bought Mocha, I spent a lot of time being one of the ammys who provided a reality check on a training horse’s progress as part of my lessons. I never was the first one up on a greenie, but several times I got in one of said greenie’s first 10 rides. I learned more about the nuances of show horse world, and played with it a little bit. Now I’m at a place where I’m learning about more sophisticated pasture and herd management techniques, as well as rodeo horse training and expectations, and mindful management of a small breeding operation focused on producing good-minded, good-tempered horses.

What I keep on learning with horses is that learning is always happening. And that even old horses and old women can learn how to do new things. My relationship with Mocha is not at all like the one I had with Sparkle–while with both mares we came to a position of mutual trust, Mocha is more standoffish and when we are done with working and attention, she is Done With People, while Sparkle was much more social. I’ve achieved more with Mocha than I ever did or could with Sparkle. Breeding and training counts, and Mocha has both. But both mares have taught me a lot, and the lessons are still coming.

Mocha makes sure of that.



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A little taste of THE RUBY PROJECT

I’ve finished The Ruby Project Book Two: Ascendant, and am brainstorming the next book in the series, Realization, which I expect to get started on this week. I already have a rough concept of the plot but am still working out the motivations of a character who just marched into the last part of Ascendant and announced that she has Major Information About The Plot. This is a little drabble around the opening of Realization which will not be in the book (it’s all from Ruby’s POV). Nonetheless, I realized very quickly that Donna Martiniere (aka Donna-gran, the dowager Martiniere matriarch) has an important role to play…so here she is.


It’s a brilliant blue early autumn day with a cool wind blowing dry leaves across the vast expanse of lawn around the colonial-style house behind the tall iron fence with razor wire top and regular armed security patrols pacing the perimeter. Not that the old woman sitting in a wheelchair in her ground floor office pays any attention to the outdoors. She taps a stylus against her porcelain-coated teeth as she scans the comp projections in front of her. Occasionally she pulls up the loose-fitting and slippery old green and gold silk robe she wears over her blouse and slacks for additional warmth against a stubborn draft. It slides down her arms almost as quickly as she pulls it up, but it’s one of Louis’s last gifts.

At last Donna Martiniere shuts down the comp and spins her wheelchair to stare outside, though that is not where her thoughts are.

I am so, so old. She sighs with exasperation. And this news doesn’t make her feel any younger. She closes her eyes for a moment, exhaling deeply. For a moment this past summer she had hoped to be able to finally lay down her burden and rest. Her grandson Gabriel had reappeared from almost thirty-five years of exile, still desiring to repair the corruption within the family and its associated businesses. More than that, his wife Ruby was the sort of strong woman needed to pick up the threads of family responsibilities that Donna had managed for oh so many years. Her voice fit the tuning of mind control devices that Donna and Louis had created only to see their children abuse their purposes. Ruby—and Gabriel—had been Donna’s hope to steer the Martiniere Group away from the wrong paths that Louis and Donna’s sons Saul and Philip had chosen.

Granted, Gabriel showed a tendency to attack and then run rather than finish the job. Her fault. It was how he had survived Philip’s rages. She should have been the one to take in the boy when his family had been killed in a plane crash. But Donna hadn’t felt sufficiently confident to raise a difficult teenaged boy given her health issues at the time.

My mistake. My very, very great mistake.

If Gabriel had known thirty-five years ago that she shared his distaste for the human trafficking and manipulation of indentured workers that Philip was involved with, would he have gone into hiding?

We will never know.

And past poor choices couldn’t be changed. For better or worse, she had thrown her support quite publically to Gabriel just four weeks ago. Yes, the outbreak of the G9 virus left him disabled. But his reunion with Ruby gave Donna hope that Gabriel could stand up to Philip, with her substantial support. That Gabriel, Ruby, and their son Brandon could wrest the leadership of the family and their business from Philip’s grasp.

Gabriel’s first tangle with Philip and his cousin Javier ended in disaster. Infected with a G9 accelerant worse than his initial attack. Gambling on a fringe treatment that would restore him to full pre-G9 ability. Her reports tell her that his recovery progresses nicely. But she knows the price of that treatment. Risky. Dangerous. And when it fades….

Then a booster inoculation to protect Ruby against Gabriel’s future G9 flares backfired, leaving her sick in return, her degree of disability still unknown.

Which now presents Donna with the choices ahead of her. Gabriel and Ruby have set the chain of events into action that could achieve her goal at long last.

But do they have the health and strength to actually do it now?

Donna sighs. Turns back to her desk and unlocks a drawer. Pulls out a stiff leather case that looks like a hunter’s belt bullet carrier. Taps a combination into the lock before opening the flap to study the contents.

Instead of bullets, three vials nestled in the red velvet-lined case. Three remaining doses of the twenty left after Louis’s death. Donna has kept her husband’s secret safe, only sharing it with his brother Arthur when Arthur’s wife Nora fell ill. The serum works—somewhat—for Artie, but does nothing to help Nora any more.

Philip would kill her if he knew the vials existed. Pursuit of an anti-aging serum is but one of his goals. She has done her best over the years to keep the information from him.

The serum is far from perfect. It does not work consistently. The effects only last for five years. It can kill over time. There is a maximum tolerance and a final dose that allows for one last quick return to relative youth in her case, before a steep final decline. The lesson of Nora.

Her next dose will be her final one. Donna has held out resorting to this for many years, especially after experiencing the heart attack that may have been caused by a serum dose wearing off. Philip watches her too closely and she has not been ready to challenge him yet. For her to suddenly appear years younger, even middle-aged, will let him know that the secret was real.

And it is flawed. Dangerous. Expensive. Louis was right to keep it a secret, eliminating all traces of that particular line of research as anything other than dead ends. It hadn’t even been a good beauty treatment.

But it might give Gabriel and Ruby the strength they need to confront Philip successfully. Donna has reviewed all of Louis’s notes as well as everything available about cases like Ruby and Gabriel’s. She’s mostly confident that it will work.

Donna stares at the vials. At last she closes and secures the carrier, carefully placing it on her desk. She turns back and reactivates her comp. Hesitates before calling Justine, Philip’s daughter. How safe is the girl? She has joined Gabriel and Ruby’s side. Is providing logistical support for their work.

But she’s Philip’s daughter. How closely monitored is she?

At last Donna decides. Activates the screen.

“Donna-gran!” Justine smiles at her. “A pleasure to see you. But I’m kind of in the middle of things here—“

“I need one small favor from you,” Donna says. “I need to see Gabriel and Ruby. In person. At their private ranch.”

Caution tightens Justine’s face. “They would probably prefer to meet at Moondance. That is where Gabie prefers to do family business for—reasons.”

Moondance. Gabriel’s ranch, just as the Double R is Ruby’s. A beautiful location, but despite its excellent security, not the place where she wants to do this. No. The Double R, home of Ruby and Gabriel’s best laboratories, is where she needs to be. Where they produce top agricultural biobots. Private, isolated, and secure, in remote Northeastern Oregon’s Skene County. And, coincidentally, with access to excellent human cell studies. There she can safely monitor Gabriel and Ruby’s progress.

“It has to be the Double R,” Donna insists. “I have my own reasons.” Even though she’s handed over the authority of the Martiniere matriarch to Ruby, she still is able to project her own authoritative tones to compel Justine.

Justine chews her lip, worried, clearly torn between loyalties. At last older programming overrules newer programming.

“I’ll set it up, Donna-gran.” She scowls at Donna. “But I know damn good and well that you just used a compulsion on me. I hope whatever it is you want is worth it.”

She doesn’t like to see the anger in Justine’s eyes at being manipulated, the suddenly stiff, tense body that tells Donna that she has violated her granddaughter’s trust.

But necessity is a harsh mistress, and Donna Martiniere has stared necessity in the face too damn many times over her nearly one hundred years.

“I hope it is, too,” she says softly.

As always, it is a choice.

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NIWA Spring Blog Tour–Week 6, Suzanne Hagelin, Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Marketing

Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Marketing

This is Suzanne Hagelin’s final post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing.


Behold the secrets to instant success! How to make every marketing dollar count! Rocket to the top of the NYTimes bestseller list and STAY there!

I have no idea how to make any of that happen, but maybe I can save you some wasted money and effort. Marketing is complex and some ‘secrets’ lose their potency by the time they’ve reached you. There probably are expensive courses you can take that would make all the difference, but how will you know which ones are going to work for you and which ones are a waste of money—or worse, a fleecing operation that strips newbie authors of their limited cash?

The best I can do is point you in the right direction and give you some tips on getting started.


How does the news get out for books in your genre?

What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. Mysteries aren’t the same as science fiction. Memoirs and self-help aren’t marketed the same way as fantasy and humor.

One place to start is visiting bookstores in person and online. Look for books in your genre and see which ones catch your eye. Try searches on Amazon, Google, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others. Don’t assume you have to compete with the books that show up on top. Each store has a different feel and clientele. All you’re doing is familiarizing yourself with it.

Mailers. Get on a number of email lists targeting your genre, check them daily, read their blurbs, click on the ones that appeal to you as a reader, and buy some books you are genuinely interested in reading. As you figure out how to pick books you like, watch how they promote them. Look at the covers and the blurbs. Are there words and phrases that consistently engage you? Have you begun to identify ‘red flags’ that mean you won’t like the book? It may take a while, but at some point, you’ll be able to scan through the books for sale quickly and pick out the best ones. You’ll also get a feel for well written blurbs. While this doesn’t automatically lead to writing good blurbs, it’s still valuable.

There are many mailers for readers out there. My current favorites are BookBub and Bargain Booksy. I’m also on the Book Barbarian list and quite a few author newsletter lists. Authors often share sales on their own and other authors’ books as well as giveaways and contests where you can pick up free or discounted books.

Talk to Authors. Author-networking is one of your most valuable resources. As you’re setting up strategies to test, ask some of them for input. They could save you from wasting time or give you hints that will increase the benefit.

Be careful. If you’re considering paying for training or a service to help you promote your book, please look them up first and find out if they are reputable. Talk to other authors in author groups, check out websites like Writer Beware. Don’t buy something blindly.



Not quite ready for ads yet? No problem! Practice writing blurbs and ad copy. No matter where or how you market your book, you need succinct phrasing to spark readers’ interest and help them catch your idea quickly. And it’s not easy to learn.

Ad copy and pitches. Novelists don’t usually have any background in writing ads, but this skill is the most valuable one you can develop in your marketing. No one else is as invested in your book as you are or will take the time to hone a good pitch.

You need more than one pitch. One-liners, two-liners, headline-style, individual words, short descriptions. Look for tropes and catch-words readers will recognize. Keep a file with a number of variations on your ad copy and come back to it periodically to make new attempts. Use it for testing ads and for social media posts. Try them out in person, pitching your book to a friend or acquaintance.

I had the help of some author friends in coming up with my main pitch for selling “Body Suit” in person. I often use it for ads as well. It starts with a twist on a cliched phrase and highlights two key parts of the story: “A riches to rags adventure of a clever woman in a high-tech suit versus a hostile AI”. I had to memorize this and practice giving it multiple times before it came fluidly to my lips—and it continues to sell the book to people who like that kind of thing.

Here are two examples of some delightful pitches:

What happens when the Chosen One dies in chapter 1?Unchosen

It’s about a snarky, sarcastic fortune-teller who hates people. So of course she’s the one who has to get the group together to save the world.” The Fallen

There are lots of resources you can tap to help you learn to write better pitches and ad-copy but in the end, you’re training your mind to think this way and it’s worth the time it takes. This is an important part of your marketing strategy.

Places to Advertise

There are lots of places to advertise your book; here are a few key ones to consider. Remember that expenses can add up rapidly and it’s important to test out ads with small budgets to narrow down that best approach. This can be a time-consuming process.

Amazon          —Amazon gives good metrics and updates quickly so it’s easy to see how your ads are doing, that is, how many clicks it’s getting. If you’ve uploaded your eBook to KDP, it will show you the conversion into sales.

FaceBook       —Some genres work better than others with FaceBook ads, I’ve heard. I don’t have much experience with them. Nice graphics can make a difference.

BookBub        —BookBub ads reach a lot of readers and are easily targeted toward the kind of readers that would like your book. You can associate it with well-known authors in your genre. If someone wants to find something like “The Lord of the Rings” and searches on “Tolkien”, your ad will show up if you chose his name in the author search. I like this feature a lot.

Book Mailers            —You can apply for ads or featured deals in mailers. This is where your research into mailers will come in handy. Once you’ve identified the ones that fit your genre and preference, check out their requirements for applying for deals and submitting ads. Some of them will be much more affordable than others. The cost is usually linked to exposure and overall success of their ads.

When making your ad plan, you’ll need to consider several things: where to place ads, what to emphasize, whether to offer a free book or a discounted one, how much to spend, and how to measure results. You may have heard a lot about ROI (return of investment) but in the beginning, you need to focus more on learning what is successful than making money.

Investment in your learning curve is worthwhile.


Befriend and support other authors. Read and review books. Follow them on social media and share posts if you like their books. Set up newsletter swaps and blog tours with authors in your genre. Authors are always coming up with new ways to work together to promote books.

I have found the Northwest Independent Writers Association to be a great resource for getting to know other authors in my area, working with them, learning from them, and sharing with them.

Author Reputation

Building your reputation as an author is more than just getting fans who love your writing. Connecting online makes it easier to promote books and maintain a following. There are a number of ways to do this.

Here are a few:

  • Newsletters. Get your own mailer going and build a list of people who are there because they like the books you write and help promote. This is also a great way to work with other authors, promoting each other’s books, and increase your reach.
  • Blogging. Support your reputation and build your online presence by having a place online where people can find free content you’ve shared.
  • Social Media. There are many platforms where you can build a reputation and raise interest in your work through frequent posts. Is there one you prefer? Focus on that one and add it to your marketing strategy. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are very popular with authors for a reason. They’re free, versatile, and a great place to test out your marketing ideas.

Another word of caution. It’s easy to spread yourself too thin. I know authors who are brilliant at balancing posts on multiple social media platforms and I’ve made attempts at learning some of their techniques. But I’m not able to keep it going so it hasn’t been effective in gaining me readers. I’ve decided to address it in the future because it’s an important component in online reputation and sales. For now, I’m juggling enough as it is.

Other Marketing Approaches

Social Media marketing is a whole topic on its own. There’s no end to how you can promote your books in creative ways. An author friend of mine, for example, decided that she wanted to give away 10,000 copies of the first book in her five-book series. Normally, you would pay a well-established book mailing list quite a bit for the privilege of giving away that many copies. She came up with some ideas using social media, swaps, and a couple of smaller mailer ads, and accomplished her goal in a number of weeks. I’m sure it took a lot of hard work and ingenuity. And there’s no question it gave many new readers a chance to discover her popular series, Adaline, (which I love by the way).

Be strategic

Come up with three or four different ways to market your book and plan a trial run for each. Test them one at a time. If they are successful and you are ready to continue with them, make them a part of your marketing plan. If they don’t fit your current limitations, set them aside and check them again at a future time.

It’s better to work on one strategy at a time and build it solidly, than to have many wimpy ones bleeding you of time, creativity, and money.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here but at least this give you a good place to start.


The first post in this series is “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”. You can read the second installment here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Time”, the third here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot”, the fourth here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Publication Process”, and the fifth here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Sales”.

Graphic made with photos by NASA Hubble and by Victor He on Unsplash




USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.


Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.


LINKS—, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium



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NIWA Spring Blog Tour #5–The TANSTAAFL Press Philosophy of Publishing, by Thomas Gondolfi

This is the fifth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at

The TANSTAAFL Press Philosophy of Publishing – The Golden Rule

by Thomas Gondolfi

Let’s be honest with ourselves – many large publishing houses take advantage of basically everyone in their ecosystem. They use the slush pile to get intellectual property (IP) cheaply. They use their size and segment share to pressure vendors, distributors, and sellers to do as they want. It’s a nasty fact of life. Almost all authors know it but with little other choice are forced to run the gauntlet in hopes of grabbing the brass ring. Smaller publishers don’t have that level of power. They can still be predatory or just dirty using contracts to steal IP, lawyers to threaten litigation, or even take money from unsuspecting authors. I didn’t choose the name of my publishing concern by rolling random numbers. TANSTAAFL Press*, by the very nature of its name, wants to give a fair deal to the authors, vendors, and the customers.

We have all heard of the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As a hybrid publisher, I feel that I need to not only follow this rule but be held up as an exemplar in all facets of the business.

Let’s start with the authors, shall we? I try to give new authors, not established ones, a voice by publishing their exceptional works. It takes a bit of extra effort to find those whose work I love, but it is worth it. Along the way, I can assist other authors who aren’t quite there yet, all in a way that I’d like to see, such as personalized rejection letters that encourage more submissions.

Contracts or publishing deals are made as fair as I possibly with none of this “take it or leave it” BS that many big publishers do. In generating our standard contract, I pulled in as much of the SFWA contract as possible. Then I leavened it with what I would want to see if I were to sign a contract. You can see it at On a simple reading, many things will stand out in my contracts vs. those of other companies. I am proud of several of these. Royalties go up rapidly for sales over a set amount. There is a termination date or sales numbers where the author gets his / her rights to the book back. Most importantly, the contract is only a starting point that I encourage the author to input toward customization. The idea in my mind is a fair deal for everyone.

Education: If someone feels like they want to go down the publishing path themselves, I’m more than happy to provide my experiences and advice – for the most part, gratis. I write books, give seminars, working on a community college course, and just sit down to chew the fat with folks about writing and publishing. My reward for most of that is indirect, kind of like the reward for being a parent. Seeing the recipient of your knowledge avoiding your mistakes is golden.

I try to apply the Golden Rule of fairness to vendors I work with. If I think they are asking too little, I make them accept more (has happened more than once). If they do something exceptional (like help me get something done faster when I’m in a schedule crunch), I’ll throw them a bonus. I always offer the names of my vendors when asked and often publish them in my works. Conversely, when something doesn’t feel fair to me, I move on to a vendor that does. BUT, don’t assume a significant dollar figure means something isn’t reasonable. Factor in how many hours it would take them. What specialized equipment or training did they need to pay for? Then figure out how much per hour it cost. With that knowledge, could you make a living on that much money per hour?

Customers get our works at the same or lower prices than those of a traditional publisher, even if the cost to produce is higher. I can do this primarily because I take a higher risk and my payroll is significantly lower. I often throw in discounts for those who buy multiple books or an entire series. Wins for everyone.

By putting yourself in the shoes of the other party, it becomes easier to decide if any deal is fair. Don’t sell your work short, nor the risks you are taking investing money. At the same time, don’t assume you are someone that deserves a champagne fountain at every luncheon because you can get a book into print. Turn the deal around. What you will get in return for this mental exercise is a group of faithful, long term relationships AND more that would be eager to do business with you.


* – TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Thomas Gondolfi founded TANSTAAFL Press in 2012. He is a book parent of the Toy Wars series, the CorpGov Chronicles, and Wayward School, along with numerous other writing and editing credits, which can be found on He is a father of three (real children), consummate gamer, and loving husband. Tom also claims to be a Renaissance man and a certified flirt.

Raised as a military brat, he spent twenty years of his life moving to a new place every few years, giving him a unique perspective on life and people.

Working as an engineer in high tech for over thirty years, Tom has also worked as a cook, motel manager, most phases of home construction, volunteer firefighter, and the personal caregiver to a quadriplegic.

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