V. S. Anderson


I was probably about ten years old when a cousin (or perhaps an adult in my extended family?) told me, "You're just a kid. You can't write a book!" I remember planting my fists on my hips (well, metaphorically, anyway), and answering, "I can too!"
And I did.
My books were wilder, crazier, than the Black Stallion books I devoured. I still have the first one, in pencil on lined notebook paper. It was about this wild black mare who would come storming down out of the north Georgia mountains—believe it or not, an exotic never-never-land to an Atlanta schoolgirl—to steal tame horses right out of their stalls and carry them off to her secret hideout in a hidden cove.
In fact, the whole reason I wanted to write books was to capture my dreams of horses. So I wrote and wrote and wrote, drafting, revising, feeling that flush of excitement when you just can't write fast enough to get down the exciting things that are happening. I was hooked on horses, and hooked on writing about horses. Then on writing itself. I had a special Schaeffer cartridge pen, and I loved the way the ink flowed out of it; I loved making the shapes of the beautiful letters on the page.
But I still wanted most to write about horses, and to own one. It was my practical and sensible dad who said, "You can't save enough money to buy a horses." I was sixteen. Fists on hips again. "I can too!"
And I did. For the next twenty-five years, I owned horses, all kinds. I taught riding, broke babies, bought, schooled, and sold Thoroughbreds off the racetrack. I went to work for a trainer on the backside at Tampa Bay Downs. I came to know busy shedrows as the sun rose; the heartbeat throb of galloping horses working in sets down the backstretch; Cuban coffee in the crowded tackroom; the creak of the walking machine after we gave the horses their baths. I knew what it was like, for a short time, to have my own racehorse, to master his wild explosions as he tried to wheel and bolt with me on the track. I knew what it was like to be run away with and learn to like it (almost). I loved it.
And I finally put it in a book.
This one was a lot more plausible than my wild-mare story, but it gave me the same thrill. But that was nothing to thrill of getting it published. King of the Roses (St. Martin’s, 1983, now available on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/547497) is the story of champion jockey Chris Englund: At the end of his career, he’s got one last chance to win a sixth, record-setting Kentucky Derby—until he’s offered $500,000 to throw the race. When he learns that defying the crooks and riding to win will possibly ruin the horse and cost him the woman he’s come to love, he finds that what his reputation demands isn’t what his conscience compels him to do. Into Chris and his world, I threw all the ins and outs, all the hopes and fears, all the people and their language, that had engulfed me on the racetrack. When I was done, I thought, now for something completely different. But my editor said, "I want you to write one about the Thoroughbred breeding industry."
So I did.
In Blood Lies (Bantam, 1989, also available on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/547498), young Ted Whysse comes home to Kentucky to investigate the murder of his best friend. He doesn’t want any part of his inheritance, the fabulous old stud farm, Holyhead; he doesn’t even want the farm’s finest treasure, the champion stallion Kite. What he does want, though in his heart he knows better, is his dying father’s beautiful young wife, Lucky. When he learns that Lucky has a secret that’s likely to kill her, he has to decide how many other lives he’ll put at risk to save her. Will he risk his own?
So I owe a lot to horses--two whole books! But I owe more. It was the process of writing and rewriting, under the guidance of wonderful editors, that prepared me to move beyond my horse stories. After returning to grad school and earning a Ph.D. in teaching college writing, I published articles in most of our major journals. Now retired from teaching, I have as many as four different writing projects going all the time. My two novels-in-progress—no, wait, three—no, four!—proceed apace. I host two blogs, justcanthelpwriting.wordpress.com, about my experiences and observations as a published novelist, and collegecompositionweekly.com, which summarizes current research for college writing professionals.
In all these projects I'm grateful for the gift of writing, which, in the end, I really owe to those darned horses who made me want to write in the first place. I've come to know that what writing teachers tell their students is true. Writing is a means of inquiry and discovery. It's a way of finding out what you know and what you'd like to know. It's a way of making daydreams solid. It's a way of finding out what's beyond those closed doors people sometimes tell you can't be opened. For me, writing has opened many doors.
I used to do my writing sitting in a canoe tucked into a crook in a Florida river. Now I do it looking out at a southern Indiana cornfield, watching the goldfinches and cardinals and hummingbirds mob my feeders. The cats and dogs are sprawled all around me in their favorite places. And down the road, my lovely horse Paddy is no doubt dreaming that I'll come ride him. Or at least give him peppermints. I've got a story about him out there in dreamland, waiting. It's going to be about this girl who wanted more than anything to ride. . . .

Smashwords Interview

What experiences did you draw on for your novels?
For my two previously published novels that are now in ebook editions, King of the Roses and Blood Lies, I drew on a lifetime love of horses. My bio shares a little of that experience. From the age of 12, I paid for riding lessons with my babysitting money, learning "English," or more correctly, "hunt" or "forward seat" horseback riding, in which you ask your horse to jump over things. I never had the kind of money or, as I became well aware, the kind of talent, to compete at the top echelons, but I did pursue my dream and teach horseback riding for nearly twenty years while postponing my college degrees. Also from childhood, I was fascinated by horse racing, especially the Kentucky Derby; I'd grab the new Sports Illustrated off the drugstore magazine rack just to see if there might be a racing article inside. While I was teaching riding, I moonlighted at Tampa Bay Downs and soaked up the backstretch environment. For Chris Englund's introduction to racing in King of the Roses, I drew on my own experience learning to gallop a racehorse I owned for a while. I bought and trained and sold off-the-track Thoroughbreds for many years.

King of the Roses was the proverbial labor of this love. I always told people, truthfully, that it took ten years to write. It began as a fascination with the character of Chris Englund; I had to consciously learn to move beyond character to novel, to plot. By the time I found agents brave enough to take on my manuscript, it came in at 700 pages! My editor at St. Martin's said 200 of those precious pages had to go. I count learning how to tighten my prose and seeing what a wonderful difference doing so made in my book one of my most compelling experiences as a learning writer.

I wrote Blood Lies because my St. Martin's editor wanted a book about the Thoroughbred breeding industry, which seems to have qualified as a sexy topic. I knew less about breeding, never having had a farm of my own, but I had collected exposure and I am a good researcher. It was fun imagining Holyhead, finding its history and Ted's past, as well as Kite's glamour, in a world I created. St. Martin's ultimately didn't offer enough for Blood Lies to please my agents, so they sent me and the book on to Bantam.

I've tinkered with a mystery/suspense story set at big horse shows. So far, it hasn't defined itself, but I have every confidence that it will. More, perhaps, than the racing novels, it will focus on the incredible patience and generosity of horses, their personalities and perks. For that, I'll be able to draw on my experiences since returning to riding after a hiatus to finish college and go to graduate school. My sweet Paddy will be my star.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
All kinds. As much nonfiction, especially history, as fiction, though I'm currently in a "catch up with fiction" mindset. I pick books by reading reviews, getting recommendations from friends, and by reading first pages and blurbs. I'm not actually one of those people who have to read the "next book" by a particular author, except, actually, Carl Hiaasen.

I like mysteries, which has tended to be what I write, but not "puzzle" mysteries. I need interesting, well-developed characters with intriguing issues. Did not enjoy Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen, but loved Nero Wolfe. Loved Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey. I like Dennis Lehane's Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro mysteries enough to have read most of them, and I have enjoyed several by Tana French. I'm always looking for mysteries with these elements of characterization and strong, evocative writing.

I also don't like (well, it is the same question as what DO I like, isn't it?) mysteries where the "detective," whether professional or accidental, gets told the solution. I got turned off during an early exposure to Sue Grafton by a scene where whatever-her-name-is just asked a cop friend what she needed to know and he told her (though I did enjoy several others in her series and admired her ability to create that particular turn in mystery fiction). Also got turned off my first exposure to Harlan Coben for the same reason: pages of "what happened" from the perpetrator at the end. So I do like mysteries where the detective has to piece together the clues and arrive at the solution by herself. I don't care if I can outguess her. The puzzle does matter, but it's only a piece of what I read for.

I also like historical fiction, if the writing is strong. I've tried some very popular series where the voice was pedestrian; action alone doesn't hold me. Character and evocative language do. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are recent favorites. I love the detail and characterization, which are what bring a plot to life. But my very, very, very favorite historical novels so far are the Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian. If I read them once, I read them twenty times, from Master and Commander all the way to the twentieth, despite O'Brian's having lost his touch in the final book or two as he aged. If you try them, don't be put off by the technicalities of sea life in the early 1800s. You don't need to understand it all to find yourself totally immersed. I learned more history from these books than I ever did in school. I even went out and bought an atlas!

And I like deep, rich books about people's lives. I'm currently finishing up Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah. I admire her ability to make what might seem ordinary events in her characters' lives so engrossing. And then, too, there's the chance to learn about the narrator's culture and see my own through her eyes. I also admire Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. Again: ordinary life made revealing. Other authors I've deeply enjoyed for their ability to lead me into other possible lives: Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Ann Patchett. My academic life made it hard, though, to read as widely as I wanted, so now I'm exploring every fictional byway.

Reading history has been my other passion. We learned so little in school. This last year I read two trilogies about World War II: Richard J. Evans's series on the rise and fall of the Third Reich (not to be confused with the epic work by William L. Shirer, but majorly informative all the same); and Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy, beginning with the North African campaign, moving on to Italy, and then to Europe. My father was in north Africa and Europe, but never talked about his experiences, so this reading has been a bit like vicariously following in his footsteps. I highly recommend both series for filling in gaps in one's knowledge of these eras.
Read more of this interview.

Where to find V. S. Anderson online


Blood Lies
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 125,980. Language: English. Published: July 1, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
Young Ted Whysse comes home to his family's fabulous breeding farm to investigate his best friend's death. He wants no part of his inheritance, nor of the magnificent stallion Kite. What he wants, though his heart knows better, is his dying father's beautiful young wife. But when he learns she has a deadly secret, he must risk other lives to save her—including his own. "A real winner!" --LA Times
King of the Roses: A Horse Racing Mystery
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 110,800. Language: English. Published: July 1, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
Jockey Chris Englund has won five Kentucky Derbies, horse racing's jewel. But his uncompromising honesty has stalled his career. Out of the blue, he gets the leg up on the odds-on Derby favorite. But Derby week turns to ashes when he's offered half a million dollars to throw the race. But if he rides to win, he will destroy a great horse and lose the woman he loves. (horse racing mystery)