Author Rachael Eliker on how a personal tragedy was the catalyst for her writing career
Hello! For the fourth in my series of Q&As with pony book authors I am taking a quick trip across the Atlantic to quiz Rachael Eliker. Rachael, who lives with her husband and five children in Indiana, is the author of the Nadia and Winny books, Headed for the Win and Road to the Regalia. I love these books because Rachael has given the modern horse story a brilliant new twist. Horse-mad Nadia and her mare Winny switch places, giving readers a rare chance to understand how horses think. And who doesn't want to know what goes on in the mind of their own four-legged friends?! So without further ado, let's find out what inspires Rachael and how a personal tragedy was the catalyst for her writing career.
So Rachael, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I remember trying to be an author when I was quite young — I started writing a chapter book when I was in elementary school but didn’t have the patience to finish it. So I tucked that ambition away until the time felt right again, in my early thirties. Though I didn’t actively pursue being a published author, I can see how the events of my life have led me to publishing books now, from having several beloved English teachers and professors to having lots of hilarious, frustrating, challenging moments in the saddle with my old gelding, Stoney.
What was the catalyst that made you actually put pen to paper?
It was a bit of a sombre period of my life when I finally decided to take the plunge into writing. I was the mother of three beautiful little girls when I happened to suffer two miscarriages in a row. I needed an escape from the constant reminder that I’d lost two babies, as well as validation that though I loved being a wife and mother, that was not the only thing that gave me a sense of satisfaction and a basis of my worth. In a sense, writing became an infant to nurture.
Why did you decide to write pony books?
I have ALWAYS loved horses — I was the stereotypical horse-mad girl that never grew out of it. I’ve also been incredibly blessed to have a horse since I was in my early teens who has stuck with me from middle school and on through college, being married, moving three states and having children.
Since life right now doesn’t allow for lots of riding, it’s been a joy to relive some of the thrill of being in the saddle by writing about horses and showing.
Do you ride or have horses yourself? If not now, perhaps when you were younger? We’d love to hear about your own horses and ponies!
Yes! When I was fourteen, my parents and grandma invested in a pretty paint named Keystone Special, a.k.a. Stoney. He was originally trained in Western but with my trainer’s help, he was schooled in dressage, jumping, and eventing. We were pretty successful (there aren’t a lot of paints in English disciplines where I showed!) but college, marriage and parenthood has slowed showing dramatically. Still, Stoney has been our companion for nearly twenty years! He now lives in our backyard, and still regularly gives kids their first pony rides and is a great schooling horse for my own children. He’s kept company by a sassy Quarter Horse mare we bought from an auction for cheap. She was a scared, plain-looking six-month old filly that we named Moonlight Dancer (Dancer for short), and she and Stoney have been inseparable ever since! Though she doesn’t have as many hours training as Stoney, she’s pretty good with the kids and is our up-and-coming horse when Stoney retires.
What’s your writing routine and where do you write?
Though I love schedules, it’s hard to stick to one with little kids in the home — they seem to want to do things on their own terms! So, in general, I try to be flexible with my writing, whether it’s a few minutes early in the morning before everyone wakes up, while watching my daughter at gymnastics, or after everyone goes to bed. Usually, I do get a solid hour of work done during afternoon nap time — that is if I don’t decide to go out and ride instead.
My favourite investment as a writer has been my laptop. It keeps me mobile and prevents me from having to be stuck in one spot while writing. I’ve written on camping trips, on road trips, in hotel rooms, on the couch, out in the hammock, on the front porch while waiting for the kids to get off the bus…it truly has given me the freedom to write when and where I can.
Where do you get your ideas?
As Agatha Christie said, 'The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes.' Let me tell you, I do A LOT of dishwashing. A great deal of my days are spent doing menial tasks and my mind will start wandering and all of a sudden, an idea will pop into my head. I allow myself a few moments to whip out my phone to write down a few notes, until I have a chance to work on turning my idea into a fleshed-out story. I honestly believe I could write for twelve hours a day and never have trouble with writer’s block!
As for subject matter, it comes in all forms — from doing farm chores, overhearing the children while they’re playing, riding the horses, wondering what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes…there’s always a story to be told!
Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it?
Nope! I have such limited time to write that when I do finally get to sit down, I’m raring to go. 😉
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
I really enjoy the challenge of completing a book — so many people say they’d love to write a novel but never discipline themselves to do it. I also really appreciate connecting with readers who enjoyed a story I’ve written. It makes me feel validated as an author and gives me motivation to keep going.
And the worst?
Not gonna lie… mean reviews are the WORST. It’s not possible to please everyone but sometimes, it’s awfully difficult when someone tears down something that is so personal, which inevitably leads to self-doubt. On the plus side, I’ve tried to be gentler when giving criticism or feedback to others, having been on the receiving end of a harsh critic.
If you didn’t write what other career would you love to have?
I really think I would have enjoyed (and maybe someday still will) running a boarding and training facility and perhaps, competing professionally. If the right horse comes along at the right time, who knows? Otherwise, I’ll just keep writing about those dreams.
What was your favourite pony book growing up and why?
Something about Black Beauty has always kept it at the top of my list. I love the way Anna Sewell was able to get into a horse’s head and show people at a time when horses were often seen as little more than a means of transportation, that horses were living, breathing creatures that were capable of forming bonds with each other, as well as people. It’s an incredible classic for so many reasons.
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
In the past, I’ve had a goal to get at least one book out per year. As I’ve gotten more experience in writing, editing, and marketing, book releases are becoming more frequent. I’m aiming at having about four books out this year.
What are you working on at the moment?
I write the way I read—I will jump into just about any genre. Currently, I’m working on a romantic comedy series that follows several pop stars in pursuit of fame, fortune, and love. Still, I’m itching to write more horse stories. They have a special place in my heart since they’re what started it all. If only there were more hours in the day!
Which book are you most proud of and why?
Picking a favourite book is like choosing a favourite child! Each has been a unique journey and different readers have responded differently to each book. Having a handful of people connect with a story I’ve written is the sincerest compliment I could receive.
Which are your favourite horse and human characters in your own books?
Nadia and Winny are definitely at the top of the list, though there are horses in other book genres I’ve written. I love their personalities and how their story gives them an insight into each other’s background—more than once I’ve wondered what on earth my horse was thinking. Nadia and Winny get a chance to answer that in a very interesting way!
And finally, if you were a horse, what breed/colour would you be?!
What a great question to go along with Nadia and Winny’s story! There are so many gorgeous horses out there, but I once met a mare who I believe was a Hanoverian/Thoroughbred cross who was the most gorgeous dapple grey I’ve ever seen. I’m talking defined white spots, thick, black mane and tail, dark grey points, gorgeous neckline, and long legs. She was incredible and I wouldn’t mind being her! 😉
I absolutely loved catching up with Rachael and finding out more about her writing life, and I hope you did, too!
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f you fancy following the adventures of Nadia and Winny the great news is that Headed for the Win is free to download until Monday 20 August and Road to the Regalia will be just 99c/99p until Wednesday 22 August. Here are the links to both books:
Anyway, that's all from me for now. I hope you're having a great summer. Speak soon and in the meantime...