Monthly Archives: August 2020

Happy 15th Gotcha Day, Miss Mocha

Fifteen years ago, the American Quarter Horse Association registered the transfer of ownership of one five-year-old chestnut mare, Miss Olena Chic, from Gregg Shrake to me. I was preparing to start my second year of teaching, and my spouse had suggested that maybe it was time for me to become a horse owner again, instead of continuing to be a lesson rider and dealing with the frustrations of juggling special education teaching with the riding lessons that kept me sane. I’d been riding with Gregg for eight years by this point, and had learned just how one goes about finding a good horse that had a decent temperament and wasn’t a dangerous and poorly trained puke–i.e., enlist a trainer you trust. I showed Gregg several local prospects I’d found on Dreamhorse. Gregg waved them away.

“How about Mocha?” he suggested.

I boggled. I’d known Mocha from a baby. In utero, no less. She was the daughter of Gregg’s prized reining mare, Annie (Miss Lorena Wood) and a young stallion, Chocolate Chic Olena, who had been in training with Darren Stancik, a friend of Gregg’s. Mocha was intended to be Gregg’s personal horse, but he’d been having some health issues. I knew she was for sale. I’d handled her, brought her in from turnout, and even said to her at one point once I knew she was for sale about a year earlier, “I wonder whose horse you’re supposed to be?”

“Um, well…how much?” I asked. Honestly, I expected the price tag to be out of my budget.

Gregg named a figure within my budget. “Want to try her tomorrow?”


That night I hit the internet, pricing out five-year-old daughters of Chocolate Chic Olena. First of all, I found there weren’t many for sale. Second, I saw a lot higher price tags. But they were in Texas, and a couple were in foal. All the same, this was an opportunity for me to buy a nicely bred mare with a decent temperament.

The trial ride the next day confirmed the deal. I knew Mocha’s half-siblings, by Jac Daniels Neat. I’d lusted after Mocha’s older sister, a dun named Miss Neat Amerika (Erika, after a granddaughter). I’d ridden Mocha’s brother, Tyler. He and I didn’t click because he was the sort of gelding who occasionally needed a clue-by-four applied. Pushy and opinionated, and occasionally bucked. After the Sparkle mare of my youth, I didn’t worry about the possibility of being able to sit any buck, and Tyler’s bucking was nothing like Sparkle’s. But. There had been a day when I watched Tyler in turnout. He’d just come back from reining training. On his own, he went out about 30 feet from the barn wall, ran as hard as he could toward it, then stopped hard. Paused, then jogged back to his starting place and did it all over again. I think I watched him do this for about five minutes.

(What Tyler was doing was copying a reining training technique known as “fencing,” where the trainer uses a fence as visual reinforcement of the whoa cue to get a good, hard stop. He clearly enjoyed it. Over the years, I’ve seen Mocha do the same thing, although her preference is to run hard at the fence, stop hard, then roll back over her haunches and gallop off. When she was turned out to run in Gregg’s arena, she’d gallop around to get up a head of steam, then run on the diagonal as hard as she could to a corner, stop at the last minute, then roll back, sending dirt flying. Tyler loved the hard stop. Mocha loves the rollback.)

But when I got up on Mocha, I could tell the difference between her and Tyler. The first time I breathed a soft “whoa” and Mocha stopped, I was sold. I felt the difference between her stop and Tyler’s stop. Not that I had any money to go show a horse like Mocha, but the ability to own and ride a horse like her? It was everything I’d dreamed about in the eight years that I’d been a lesson rider both at Shrake’s and at Lake Oswego Hunt.

And so the saga began. Mocha was opinionated, like her mother and siblings. Training had its interesting moments. Not because she was mean, or a bucker. But Mocha had firm opinions about what patterns should be. She needed schooling under saddle to soften up a rough trot and canter. She needed to learn flying changes. She had the foundation to be a reiner, but needed more training.

Gregg and I spent the next few years putting that foundation on her. I didn’t have the time or money to show, much less travel to where I could find a reining competition in that era. Nonetheless, in lessons I learned how to make a reiner.

Eventually we showed in a few reining classes.

By the time of this picture, I’d learned not to wear my Western hat in reining competition. The first time we took off in a large fast circle, even though the tan felt was jammed down hard on my head, the brim was flapping as Mocha galloped harder than she ever had in her home arena. I flicked it off as we passed the gate, for ease in picking it up later. Gregg told me that when I did that, he knew I was going for it. We didn’t do all that well due to pilot error–I had problems remembering just how many spins we had done. But there was no question in my mind that Mocha liked those reining classes…along with trail classes as well.

We did show in other classes, but I learned quickly that unless it was a trail class, we were unlikely to place high. Oh, it happened, but it was not common. Classes on the rail favor a slower-moving horse. That’s not Mocha. But she enjoyed the puzzles that trail class presented, and her mental discipline meant that she could easily make the quick transitions of gaits that are part of an arena trail class. We got good enough at it that we ended up finishing second to a professional in a complicated timed trail class, and beat pros. All the same, Mocha was a real pleasure to show. At her first show (a huge one at Mt. Hood Equestrian Center), I parked her where she could watch the other horses. She found it interesting. I worked at making shows feel like fun to her, and she took to the show life–not that we did a lot of showing.

But things happen. One cold January day I showed up at the barn after work to find Mocha lame in her left fore and right hind. Gregg had to take her by the tail to help me guide her out of her stall. She was going to turn fourteen in March, and hubby and I were in the process of buying a retirement home in Wallowa County. I planned to take Mocha there. But what I saw that night left me in tears. I’d had her left unshod for four years. When I picked up her left fore, I saw a huge hole between the sole and the hoof wall.

White line disease. Never did figure out what was wrong with that right hind. She’d already been getting hock injections to ease the pain of joint fusion. But that damned white line disease. Kenny, her farrier at the time, was grim.

“This killed her mother,” he said flatly, before resecting her hoof, putting on a bar shoe, and issuing strict instructions to me about her care. Mocha was stallbound. She was not to leave that stall unless she was attached to a human. She could be ridden at a walk, bareback. No saddle. No excess weight.

That regime went on for six months. And after that, it was like playing whack-a-mole with that damned white line disease. I’d think we’d have it beat, then bam! Back it came again.

And then we moved her to Wallowa County and a drastic life change. From life in the barn she’d been in since birth, she went to living outdoors in a pen. Not just around other horses, including a breeding stallion, but PIGS. That first summer was rough and hard. Mocha lost weight to a scary degree. She was clearly in pain of some sort. She colicked. She developed monster abscesses in both forefeet–which led to x-rays, and the discovery that shoeing her according to her exterior angles (which is common) was not correct for her. She’d lost the tip of the coffin bone in both forefeet, and in her current shoeing angles, that tip was pointed straight down at the ground.

Fortunately, we had access to a good corrective farrier. It took a year, but the angle issue got fixed and in the drier climate of Wallowa County, the white line disease went away. All the same, to keep her sound and pain-free, she has to live in front shoes year-round.

But things got better. Mocha learned to be a road horse and a trail horse–both of which she enjoys. As she regained weight, I realized that she had indeed been underweight for some time, most likely due to the pain. She took to the life of a 24/7 pasture horse, objecting to being stalled (one time when the ranch owner called to suggest we stall her because she was slipping and sliding on the ice, she had other ideas. At Gregg’s, she’d stay politely in her stall even with the door open. Not so at the ranch. While hubby got hay, I got her grain. We left the gate unlatched. She pushed it open and was on her way back to the field. Did I say she had opinions? Oh yeah, she has Opinions).

Now she is twenty years old. She’s in good weight. She still has her quirks–one winter she adopted a yearling elk as her baby (when the ranch owner sent me the video, because it happened when we were doing business in Portland, I groaned because I knew it would be a problem. It was). When the cows are in the pasture with the herd, she’s one of the horses who will occasionally round them up (I heard that the first time the cows were in the field, Mocha rounded them up, then took them down the fence in fine reined cowhorse mode). We’ve had fifteen good years together, and I spoil the heck out of her in hopes that we’ll have many more.

Happy fifteenth Gotcha Day, Miss Olena Chic. Best damned horse I’ve ever owned.

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THE HERITAGE OF MICHAEL MARTINIERE…diving into the world of nonlinear writing

I took a big step today and figured out the basic structure of The Heritage of Michael Martiniere, which at this point is going to be a novella and the last work of any length in The Martiniere Legacy. One of the challenges I’m facing with this book is that I’m doing something new for me–writing in a non-linear fashion, i.e., writing in scenes/chapters that aren’t necessarily in order, then rearranging them later. Part of it is simply due to the nature of the book and the lengthy period it covers in Michael’s life (something like 40 years). I really don’t want to create this work as a straight-line story, simply because to do it justice might mean another trilogy in this world and I don’t think there’s a series-length arc within it. Plus it was one thing to live in Ruby and Gabe’s world. Michael’s is a lot tougher because of various issues around his origins and the long-term impact on his choices.

But the other piece is that these scenes are coming to mind as self-contained snippets. Some are multi-scene, but may get divided up. Additionally, the three major pieces come in and out of focus in Michael’s life, and…I don’t know. My gut just tells me that this is not particularly a linear story but a set of themes that roughly correspond to a linear arc, albeit not entirely. Rather than deal excessively with flashbacks and memory flashes, I think I’m going to deal with the themes in specific and connected vignettes. Think of it as spotlights on particular relationships and events in Michael’s life, sometimes seen with different perspectives as time passes.

I’m vaguebooking a bit because while Heritage is not explicitly part of the core Legacy trilogy, it picks up one character from Realization and goes from there.

Essentially, the themes are Identity (a particular issue for Michael), Advocate (how Michael applies the resolution from the Identity section), and Fulfillment (the resolution of the events put into play in Advocate). And yeah, they could be another trilogy. But there would need to be a lot more worldbuilding etc built in, and I just don’t think the base premises support that…while they would support about 10,000-15,000 words per section.

We shall see. I’m playing with process right now, as a break from the intensity of writing three books one right after the other.

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The Martiniere Legacy: Book One, Inheritance; Book Two, Ascendant; and Book Three, Realization will be released in Fall 2020, along with side stories and sketches. More specific information can be found in my newsletter which comes out toward the end of each month. Sign up for my newsletter at for release dates.

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Writing plagues and pandemics–and Covid-19

I started out 2020 feeling horribly sick.

No exaggeration. About a week after we got back from Portland in December, a few days after Christmas, I came down with an unusual gut bug that knocked me flat. It was annoying because I was working on this exciting new project that I planned to use as a what-the-hell, let’s see if something happens with tradpub big book. Most of these bugs knock me down for a couple of days, but this one kept me tired out for weeks and affected what I could and couldn’t eat for much longer than usual. My brain was fuzzy. I kept looking up norovirus and shaking my head because it wasn’t a match. But it was also clearly something I’d not had before, because my body wasn’t reacting in its typical manner to the usual gastroenteritis flare. New Year’s Eve featured a binge watch of Good Omens with my husband because I figured I needed something fun and positive to bring in 2020, and I was sick of reading books at that point.

At that point Covid-19 was just a whisper on the horizon. When I went back to working on the big project, I incorporated reading I’ve done for years about pandemics into the world I was building for this new book, then called The Ruby Project. The G9 virus was polio-like in that it often left survivors with serious side effect syndromes. I was thinking about polio when I created the G9, but also some accounts of Ebola survivors as well.

It’s not like thinking about pandemics is a new thing for me. I read The Hot Zone back when it came out; the same for Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague. Then, when my son was showing rabbits in 4H and I was a leader as well as a Fair Small Animals Division superintendent, a new-to-the-US virus popped up in rabbits. Calicivirus, otherwise known as Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (as well as some other names). While in a different class of hemorrhagic virus from Ebola (Ebola is a filovirus, RHD a calicivirus), the effect was essentially the same. Rapid onset illness and death. But while Ebola in humans is a body-fluid-borne illness, RHD in rabbits is airborne.

And at the time no one really knew how effectively RHD spread or how quickly it could mutate and jump species.

I looked into writing a pandemic novel based on the spread of a RHD-like virus. The insidiousness of RHD isn’t just that it’s airborne, it’s that it is persistent and, unlike Covid-19, soap and water doesn’t get rid of it. Calicivirus is a damnably persistent virus that does transmit via formites (i.e., particles on shoes, surfaces, etc) as well as being airborne. But I rapidly backed away from it because things were just too damn grim. I couldn’t live in that headspace to write.

Nonetheless, I started slipping plague and pandemic elements into the backstories of what I wrote. In my short story Slow Dancing in 3/4 Zombie Time, (available here), the story isn’t so much about zombies as it is about a post-pandemic, post-apocalyptic scenario where a father has to make choices about his family’s survival. If you look closely, the backstory of The Netwalk Sequence series includes plagues caused by war machines and alien artifacts. The backstory of the Goddess’s Honor series postulates that a magical curse created at an Empress’s funeral as part of a leadership battle between siblings ends up causing a virulent world-wide plague that decimates the population of one continent. When the losing sibling flees to that continent, the surviving peoples welcome their presence For Reasons, primarily to fill a political vacuum in one of the hardest-hit peoples. It almost happens again in a later generation when the feud is reawakened.

And then there’s The Martiniere Legacy, formerly known as The Ruby Project. My initial use of the plague/pandemic theme was not at all based on Covid-19, but on that regular reading I’ve done about pandemics. I knew that sooner or later we’d be hit by a Big Nasty, and that would cause hardships. Heck, when I look back to my earliest Netwalk Sequence notes, I was postulating that it would be happening (along with civil disorder) right about….now.

(I do wish I could find the notes I wrote in 1992 where I break things out based on the two possible outcomes of the general election. My vague recall of those projections was rather grim, no matter who got elected. Now I’m regretting that I didn’t find a means to become a more visible pundit, because based on what I was writing in the 90s, my projections ended up playing out in a reasonably accurate manner)

So I had a couple of mysterious plague/pandemic issues hit in the backstory.

And then, when I was close to finishing Inheritance and realizing that I was working on a trilogy, in late February and early March, Covid-19 exploded.

I got sick again, this time with something flu-like.

This time I wasn’t looking for comparisons to norovirus and gastroenteritis in my moments when I felt well enough to look things up online, but between Covid-19 (such as we knew then) and flu. At the time there was a minor mention that perhaps this bug had a gut component. But my late-December/early January illness didn’t fit what we knew then about the spread of Covid-19.

Unlike the earlier bug, this one behaved pretty much like what I would expect from flu. A nasty, godawful flu, but flu nonetheless. Except that it really hit me hard.

I kept writing. As Covid-19 exploded and we went into lockdown, I completed Ascendant. As resistance to lockdown soared and the Black Lives Matter protests happened, I completed Realization.

At this point, I’m in an editing phase with The Martiniere Legacy, all three books. I’ve considered incorporating more references to Covid-19 in the books. Eventually I decided that no, I wasn’t going to do that, for three reasons.

1.) The setting is 2055. We still don’t know what an accurate reflection of the impact of Covid-19 will be several years out on peoples’ behavior, but going by the responses to the 1918 flu and polio, there may not be much in the way of behavioral changes. Economic and political–oh hell yes, this is a major disruptor.

2.) I have to go back and create different mindsets for behavioral impacts related to disease transmission. To do it right means some pretty intensive rewrites, and writing projections. No. I’d much rather write that from scratch.

3.) I’m not a writer who does well trying to chase current trends in long form writing, and I’m hit or miss in short form. Some people are very good at coming up with these topical ideas quickly for both long form and short form work. I need more time to process the impact of these trends. Part of this is just due to the way I think when extrapolating from current events. I need time to read, think, scribble notes, and then start shaping characters and stories. If anthology calls appear that match something I’m already processing, I can jump on a trend in short form. More often than not, though, I just can’t do it. The work is superficial (to my reading), and I don’t work well that way.

My near-future science fiction work after this will include Covid-19 behavioral and societal impacts, because then I’ll be building stuff from the ground up and I can see trends better. But outside of a very few points in The Martiniere Legacy, Covid-19 is not the bad bug du jour. The unnamed flu that triggers Gabe’s panicked separation and divorce from Ruby–yes. The G9 that cripples Gabe–yes. And my two bugs that I experienced during the writing of the Legacy are mildly reflected in the work.

More than that–no. Not this go-round.

The Martiniere Legacy: Book One, Inheritance; Book Two, Ascendant; and Book Three, Realization will be released in Fall 2020, along with side stories and sketches. More specific information can be found in my newsletter which comes out toward the end of each month. Sign up for my newsletter at for release dates.

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