I live on a 7.5-acre horse ranch in the Mojave Desert, about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Our property is in a community where the minimum lot size to build a home on is 2.5 acres so my neighbors really can’t see in our windows. We live at 4,200 ft. above sea level, so we do get some snow in the winters. It generally doesn’t begin snowing until early morning and it stops by 8:00 a.m. and the snow is generally gone from our arena by 10:00 a.m. That being said, we did have one year in 2008 when we got snow all day long and it left us with 32” of snow that we were unprepared for. We were stuck for 3 days until we found a neighbor to plow our driveway so we could get to the market. We were running out of milk and wine! Perish the thought!!  Summers are hot and generally dry. The natural flora here is native juniper trees, Joshua trees, native sages and wild yucca. Everything else is dirt or rocks. I live in the dirt!  Not too bad except for the 5 dogs who love bringing it in on feet and fur. There was not one speck of green on the property when we bought it. That has now changed a little. We have a few trees and a cactus garden.

Our horses get their breakfasts between 7 and 7:15 every day. Tuesdays through Saturdays, they are turned out in the arenas for breakfast and to stretch their legs. They get turned back in for dinner at 4 p.m., either in their outdoor stalls during the Spring and Summer or their winter box stalls when the weather cools off to freezing nights.

For me, I’m generally having my first cup of coffee while checking my email before 7:00 a.m. I have a routine where I check my social media sites, answer emails, make a few comments and get my heart started in the morning. Most of the time I’m still in my PJ’s. Like I said earlier, none of my neighbors can see in my windows and my computer screen doesn’t care. I have one giant white dog (Great Pyrenees) that I must step over to refill my coffee in the morning, my water tumbler later in the day and my wine glass in the evening.  She follows me around the house but seems happiest when she can lay beside my desk and let me step over her for quick errands.

Generally, the house is quiet and I can work undisturbed for several hours each day which I love to take advantage of. My husband takes the early morning hours to water his plantings and his cactus garden. That is where we had a lawn years ago. With the draught, we can’t afford the cost of the water to keep a lawn, and we’d probably be jailed for being so politically incorrect for doing it anyway. We don’t live in an urban community where pools and golf courses abound, where lawns are deep green and lush and flowering plants grow like crazy. We live in dirt. We live in a desert. We’ve adjusted. Fortunately, we have Arabian horses which were bred in the deserts of Arabia for thousands of years. They don’t much care as long as they get fed and watered and their needs are met.

I try to get some writing in every day, if possible.  When our first book was published, we had no website, no social media presence, no anything that would tell anyone we write sweet novels about Arabian horses and the young people who love them. We had to work pretty hard to get that done.  Now, it is just a matter of adding to our Author’s Platform, not completely constructing it from scratch! Heck, we didn’t know what we didn’t know! We knew nothing about the tools we’d need to build a platform, much less what it should look like. And here I am, blogging away today.  Not too bad for a little ol’ lady, huh?

I am married to my second husband, Michael, for the past 18 years. I was a widow and he was a widower when we married. I had the ranch and he had a horse-crazy 16-year-old daughter so they moved in with me and sold his house.  These days we have 5 dogs ( two Great Pyrenees, one Lab mix, one Queensland Heeler that is attached at the hip to Michael, and one Australian Shepherd that was headed for the pound the day we said no and took him home. They are all girls except for the Aussie, Jack).  We also have a twenty-two toed cat named Tiger who is presently asleep on my desk, moving my paperwork around to suit himself. Right now he is laying half on the newest Arabian Life magazine and half on my hand-held calculator butted up against my closed laptop.

Life in our household is generally pretty tranquil until one of the relatives show up with the crisis-du-jour. That would be my family. Mostly drama queens each and every one. I’ve had very few health problems since my original bout with colon cancer. I’ve passed my yearly screenings with flying colors so far. I see my primary doctor once a year for the annual thump and bump and my oncologist once a year for a look over and blood check. I’m just slowing down because……I’m not 21 these days!  Gosh, when did that happen? I look in the mirror and see my own mother. That is scary. But, not bad for someone who gained their high school diploma at the same time as her mother – January 1968 to be precise. Mom went to night school to get hers and I finished mine 6 months early and got a job.

We’ve done Boarding, Breeding, and training at our ranch in the past, but we’re retired these days. That was too much heavy lifting and manual labor. And we never did find Manual. Where is he?

This year we had a pair of Cooper’s Hawks set up housekeeping in the top of the 30 foot Chinese Elm tree beside our gate. They had to fight off the California Ravens on the property for territory even though they are about half their size. Those little buggers are fierce. They managed to hatch four chicks. We’ve lost two of them but the remaining chicks look great and are doing well. Woe be unto the poor mice on the property! They are also fierce hunters and we’ve seen the babies tearing mice apart they caught for dinner. We have enough rodents for all here so we welcome them. I got to watch their first flight attempts and was fearful they’d get taken down by our dogs or their own lack of skill. Now, not so much. Their flights are more purposeful. They are more skilled and growing well.

I watched a pair of California Ravens with their brood the past couple of years. The babies first flights were fun to watch. I saw one adult (you can’t tell mom from dad because they look exactly alike) take three babies up for their first soaring lesson. One of the babies accidentally flipped upside down and was headed straight for the ground but was able to put the brakes on and flip over just in the nick of time. He turned it around and hustled his little butt off to catch up with his parent and siblings. There is such joy is watching them soar for the first time. And they are joyful about it. You can see it and you can feel it and you can hear it. It is a natural wonder city folks never see. We have hummingbirds and quail and small sparrow-like birds that all raise their broods here on the ranch. It’s always a great way to spend a few minutes in the morning watching.  While I’ve been typing this I can hear the Cooper’s Hawk babies. They sound like something between a squeak and a whistle. I wish them well. Megan, a young woman who helps us in the mornings with the chores here, took some pictures of the babies over the weekend. I posted them on my personal Facebook page. Take a look if you get the chance (Mid July 2018).

If you have any questions, please let us know. We’re happy to answer.

Keep Reading!!

Victoria Hardesty

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The way we write our stories is probably a bit unconventional. We talk on the phone mostly. We talk about the human characters and decide the who. Then we talk about the horse and decide whether it will be male or female. Then we begin to talk through the plot. We know where the story starts and where the story ends and then we fill in the middle with all the plot twists and timing. Once we get all that done, I sit down and type out a Story Outline with a line or two for each chapter so we can keep the story straight and on track. We both spend a day or two going over the Story Outline, making suggestions, changes, and finally making the final copy of it.

We did that exact thing this week in a long phone conversation. We talked about how our fourth book opens, who the characters are in the story, and what happens in the story, from beginning to end, and in what order. Since our story begins with a crime, the dumb cowboys who pull that off have to get caught! We can never let the bad guys get away or win. During our conversations we get to know the characters well so when we write about them, they are like friends we always knew.

I sit down and type out a chapter at a time and send it to Nancy by email. She and I get together on the phone or on Skype and read the chapter back and forth to each other so we can hear the flow of the words and see if they hang together well. We make changes to be sure we’re on track with the storyline, adding some things in and changing some things around, replacing words with other words. When we’re happy with the chapter it gets saved so we can go on to the next.  At the end, we sit and read the entire book to ourselves to make sure the story flows well together.

I copy the entire manuscript and hand it off to our Beta-Readers. They have volunteered to read our books and give us their opinion on content. One of our readers will cite grammar law about commas and capitalization. If we get out of hand with that she puts us back in line. They both view the content with our audience in mind and let us know if we have anything inappropriate for the age of our readers. They also help us with content where we may be politically incorrect for today (based on our state of advanced age, of course). We give them hard copies so they can scribble right on the pages. We review their suggestions and correct our manuscript accordingly. We don’t always take their suggestions, but really appreciate them making them. Sometimes we just agree to disagree.

As always, if you have any questions, fire away. We’re always willing to answer.

Keep Reading!!

Victoria Hardesty

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When Nancy suggested we write a book together, the subject of horses was never an option for me. I’ve had Arabian horses since the early 1980’s and love them dearly. My husband and I owned a very active training barn years ago. Every Saturday morning was a zoo at the ranch with 20+ kids and their horses. We had a full-time trainer who was actually in her early 20’s that looked about 14 at the time and related well with the kids. They showed at local one-day shows, area 3-day shows, Regional shows and at the Arabian Youth National Championships. Most of the horses on the ranch were Arabian or Half Arabian although we did have the odd Appy, Icelandic horse, draft horse, Thoroughbred and Quarter or Paint horse here. I love a good horse, no matter what breed they are.

Poor Nancy was always thrust into that world because of her association with me. She is a city girl, not a country girl. But she came to understand the love and affection I have for horses, especially when she horse-sat for us so we could get away for a few days. That poor city girl who only ever had one cat at a time had to tolerate multiple dogs, multiple horses and multiple cats over a long weekend. She got her hands dirty!  And loved it!  She also got dragged to horse shows so I could teach her the difference between a Western Jog and a Hunter Trot. She loved the Native Costume Classes and hooted like a native along with the rest of us.

The horses in our first four books are fictional characters we made up. They are actually composites of horses I’ve known over the years. Writing about them means spending time with them and getting to know them well. We’ve come to love each one. I would put any of our horse characters in my barn in a hot second! And I miss them a little when we move to the next book, so we bring them along and put them in that one too if the story allows it.

As always if you have any questions please ask! We’re always there to answer.

Keep Reading!

Victoria Hardesty

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That’s the question many of our friends, and certain members of our family, asked us when we started all this about seven years ago.  Allow me to fill you in.

Nancy and I have been best friends for 55 years now. We met during my first year of high school. I was 13 and the youngest in my class and Nancy was 15, about average for hers in her second year of high school. (For you math freaks, don’t you know you should never ask a lady her true age?) I still have a snapshot of Nancy around somewhere in her party gown for the Junior/Senior Prom that year. She was asked by a Junior. The guy I had my eye on had the most beautiful hair but was a Sophomore and not qualified to go. (He’s now bald. Sweet Karma!)

Nancy wrote in personal journals most of her life. She got caught up in controversy at home because of something she wrote once when her parents found her journal. She trashed her journals ever after.  I picked up the writing bug from my 9th-grade teacher, Miss Juhl. In her class, you had to write or fail. I aced the class.

Fast forward to 2011.  Nancy inherited an autoimmune disorder from her mother which attacked her liver. She spent 2 years on the transplant list while her doctors struggled to stabilize her. They took her off the list when she was no longer getting worse. About six months later I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon cancer.  I’d already been through major surgery and radiation treatments. The chemotherapy was awful, but for those who’ve been through it, you understand that.

Nancy called me up one day and rather than asking how I felt, the answer to which was always “Crappy!”, she suggested we write a book together. That set me back in my recliner. My eyes opened wide and my wheels started spinning. I forgot how awful I really felt and began thinking about something else. She and I began a long series of phone calls. We lived 100 miles apart and travel was not in the cards for either of us. We talked sometimes three hours at a time several days a week for several months. I had another surgery looming. I decided we should get our ideas down on paper before I went under the knife again. We talked about it and decided I would be the one to put things down on paper because I had a bit more time and much faster typing speed.  I had odd hours for sleeping then anyway so I worked in bursts. In 30 days we had a rough manuscript of 98,000 words and I had surgery the very next day.

After a brief recovery, Nancy and I got back at it and began to edit our manuscript. We argued over words sometimes. She won a few and I won a few. We eventually hired a professional Editor to help us. She sent us back to school. Seems we had way too much backstory for a book these days. Think of your favorite crime drama on TV. What’s the first thing that you see?  The dead body. The program spends the next 40 minutes plus commercials solving the crime and you get bits and pieces of backstory.

So we ripped 19 chapters right off the front of our book and began again. We smoothed our writing so there was a flow to the work and we made sure we left a “dangler” at the end of each chapter. What is the “dangler?” That’s the phrase, sentence, or action that makes a reader want to turn the page and read the next chapter. It’s like what happened in 1001 Arabian Nights. The king had a bad habit of only spending one night with one of his wives then he’d have them killed off. One enterprising wife began her night with her husband by telling him a story but leaving a “dangler” at the end. He couldn’t kill her off the next day because he had to hear what happened next. She kept at it. In the end, after 1001 nights he was so in love with her and her stories he couldn’t kill her anyway. Books are like that too.

Our next step was to look into self-publishing which we dumped right away. We didn’t know what we didn’t know and didn’t think that was the way for us to go. Traditional publishing meant writing the infamous “query letter” and sending it off to Agents in an attempt to get them to represent you and market your book to one of the big publishing houses. Knowing that agents get literally hundreds of query letters every day, we studied how to write them and practiced over and over again.

Then we began submitting our query letters and the first chapter, first 10 pages, first 5 pages, or whatever the website said they’d take and crossed our fingers.

Within a couple of months, Nancy and I could have papered our homes in rejection slips and that didn’t count the query letters that just went into a black hole somewhere. It got pretty discouraging for us. Some people would tell us time was on our side but we both knew better than that! We get older by the day!

We remembered that Editor we hired, Rebecca Goodrich, suggested a publisher to us that worked in, of all places, Alaska and worked directly with authors – no agent required.  We went through our manuscript one more time and polished up our query letter until it shined in the dark. We sat on it for a month and finally gave it a try. All he could do was say “No.”  I hit the send key on my keyboard at 11:30 a.m. that day in August 2017. We didn’t expect to hear from him for several weeks so we talked about our second book and began planning that one. I checked my email one last time at 4:00 p.m. that day and found a note from the publisher in my inbox. Being that quick, I expected it to be another “No.” Instead, he asked me to send him our complete manuscript – NOT the first chapter, or the first 10 pages! Nancy and I were over the moon. We were on the phone together when I hit the send button again a few minutes later, launching our manuscript all the way to Alaska.

We really didn’t expect to hear back from him for a week or so, and we planned our work days to finish our second novel in the series while we waited.  I was up early the next morning, watched the local news with my morning coffee and finally checked my email about 7:00 a.m. I was surprised to see another email from our publisher in my inbox and almost didn’t want to open it. Did he hate it that quickly?? No. He was actually sending us a contract!

I am not kidding you when I say the real work began that day. We had no author platform, no social media presence, no website, and we didn’t know what we didn’t know about publishing. We had so much to learn. Thank goodness for Professor Google and our publisher. He walked us through things, helped us every step of the way and we launched our first book, Prince Ali, on December 1, 2017.

Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Actually, with time off for health issues, family issues and family health issues, it took us six years to write the first book. My health was bad when we started and I’ve gotten better. I have radiation damage that creates issues I deal with every day. Nancy was better when we started but has had some setbacks with her health since. We’re praying that the writing and the fun we have doing it will help keep her with us a long time. We have many more stories to write.

La Duquesa, our second book came out in April 2018. After spending six  years writing the first one, that one only took us two weeks and three days to put together. Part of it was done while Nancy and her husband were on a vacation in Spain. We shipped chapters back and forth on the internet and continued working.

Our third book has taken a bit longer simply because we had to do other work to help market our books, like a website, social media presence, and a lot more learning. Desperado should be released the end of July or the first of August 2018. We’re already working on Desert Rose, our fourth book and hope to have that one completed and printed by October/November 2018 in time for Christmas.

If anyone has any questions, we’re always open for them and will answer as quickly as possible. Ask away!

Keep reading!!

Victoria

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