Brittney Joy on writing, horses, and why she loves being a pony book author
Hello! In my latest author Q&A I put American writer Brittney Joy under the spotlight. Brittney is the author of the Red Rock Ranch series, loved by fans of Canterwood Crest, The Saddle Club and Heartland.
Brittney has been mad about horses ever since her parents signed her up for a summer horse camp at the age of ten. She and her family now live in the Oregon countryside with a menagerie of animals, including two horses, chickens, sheep and a goat. Find out why she started writing, where she gets her inspiration and how she overcomes writers' block.
So, Brittney, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer? When I was in high school. I’ve loved reading since I was in middle school, but my writing really started when my parents got me a journal for my sixteenth birthday. I wrote religiously in my journal throughout high school and college and I learned how wonderful it was to release emotions onto paper. In fact, I even wrote a journal entry in which I made a list of 'lifetime goals'. Writing a novel was on the list. Check! What was the catalyst that made you actually put pen to paper? Wanting to write a novel and actually doing it are two totally different things! Even though I knew I wanted to write, I didn’t start writing my first manuscript (Lucy’s Chance – Red Rock Ranch, book 1) until after my thirtieth birthday. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure if I was any good at writing. I never shared my writing with anyone. I kept it all to myself. So, I decided to see if I was any good at this 'writing thing' and signed up for an online writing course in my late twenties. It took me a year and a half to complete the course, but that course gave me the confidence and necessary feedback to make the first step and start my first manuscript. Furthermore, I quit a corporate sales job just as I finished that online course. While I was searching for a new job, I had a lot of time on my hands and I decided if there was ever a time to start a novel, that was it. The first draft of Lucy’s Chance took me three to four months to write and another year to edit (the editing took much longer because I started a new job before I started the edits).
Why did you decide to write pony books? Because I love to read pony books. In middle school, I devoured The Thoroughbred Series, especially before I had a horse of my own. I loved to read about all the adventures those characters got to have at the barn and with their horses and I dreamed that one day I would have those adventures, too. I’ve been horse-crazy since I can remember and never plan to grow out of the horse-crazy stage. I write pony books now because I love to share my equine experiences with readers. Plus, it’s really, really fun to write about horses! 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! I do! I have two horses – Stella, a sassy bay tobiano Paint mare (pictured with me at the beginning of the Q&A), and Cheli, a big-teddy-bear Friesian/Thoroughbred/Paint gelding. And I’m extremely lucky because I get to have them with me at home. I love taking care of my horses every day and seeing them from my living room window! Growing up, I went on lots of trail rides and competed in western pleasure on a bay Quarter Horse/Saddlebred mare named Austie. Austie (pictured below) wasn’t exactly made for western pleasure. She was a spunky little thing and unbelievably fast! I probably should have done speed events with her, but western pleasure was my thing and she was very kind to oblige. She was also a very sensitive horse and I credit her for teaching me to be very soft with my legs and hands.
Now, I ride in a fantastic discipline called 'Cowboy Dressage' and compete with my big teddy bear, Cheli. I actually bought Cheli and his 'stuff' (halter and blanket) for $160. Yes, you read that correct… $160. He’s fifteen now and I got him when he was nine… and he’s my version of a unicorn. We were made for each other. He just gets me and I LOVE taking him trail riding, competing in Cowboy Dressage, just hopping on him bareback, or giving him loves. My mare, Stella, is retired because of ongoing lameness issues, but I adore her sass and she makes me laugh every day. And she doesn’t get excluded from our excursions. I usually pony Stella (while riding Cheli) whenever I go on a trail ride. And, I take them both to the Pacific Ocean every summer to ride on the beach! They are definitely spoiled (and should be).
What’s your writing routine and where do you write? I have lots of writing spots. I don’t have to write in the same spot, but I do need complete silence. I wish I was one of those writers who can write to music, but I get so easily distracted by words. I need to be completely in my own head to write so you will often find me wearing noise-cancelling headphones.
As far as a particular spot, my favourites include the reclining armchair in my office, the basement couch (where nobody in my house ever goes), or the back deck in the summertime. No matter which spot I’m writing in, you will find my trusty side-kick curled up next to me – my ten-pound terrier-cross pup, Lucy. I usually also have a hot cup of coffee and a myriad of notebooks. If I’m inside, I always light a candle and I usually have a fuzzy blanket.
Where do you get your ideas? All over the place... sometimes I get inspiration from real life. For example, in the opening scene of Lucy’s Chance the main character, Lucy, chases down a steer (on foot) and then gets tackled by said steer. I wrote that scene after something similar happened to me in real life. A few years back, my husband and I had a cow that didn’t like to be fenced in and one evening, when I was home by myself, she decided to bull over the fence and run free through our backyard with her calf at her side. I ended up chasing them (on foot and in pyjamas). I didn’t get tackled, but I did rip my pyjama pants on some barbed wire. I’m also inspired by TV shows, the news, movies, and books. When I was outlining Showdown (Red Rock Ranch, book 2), I was on a contemporary romance reading-kick and had just read a few books written in dual point-of-view where each chapter rotated back and forth between the female perspective and the male perspective. I found dual POV fascinating and decided I wanted to try it in Showdown. So, I wrote Showdown in dual POV and each chapter rotates between Lucy’s perspective and Taylor’s perspective. I discovered I LOVE writing in dual POV and continued to do so for my next two manuscripts (The OverRuled Series, my YA fantasy series). Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it? I do get writer’s block and I’ve learned that sometimes I can’t force myself to sit at my computer and 'write-though' a block. When I’m really stuck, I’ve learned that I need to step away from my laptop for a bit. Sometimes that means I need to take an hour and go for a walk or clean stalls or ride my horse. Sometimes that means I need to take a day or two and think about my story. Inspiration will arise at some point and I’ll figure out the 'puzzle piece' of my plot that I was missing. However, I don’t like to go more than a few days without writing. If I go for more than a few days, my story isn’t fresh in my head and then I have to spend too much time re-reading to get back in the mode of writing.
What’s the best thing about being a writer? Sharing my stories with readers... writing a novel is a very solitary act, but once I have the final product, I cannot even wait to share it with a reader who will enjoy my story and my characters! Also, I LOVE to hear from readers! Tell me what characters you love, what made you laugh, if something made you cry. Hearing from readers makes me smile! And the worst? I sometimes get frustrated with the amount of time it takes to finish a manuscript. Mostly, that frustration just comes from the fact that I just want to share my story. If you didn’t write, what other career would you love to have? I do actually have a full-time job outside of writing. I am an account manager for a company that manufactures animal grooming products – which is a pretty fun job to have because I work in the pet and equine industry. However, if I had to pick another job, I would have loved to be a horse trainer. What was your favourite pony book growing up and why? The Thoroughbred Series! My best friend and I read this series together and we devoured it. I couldn’t get enough of it. Also, in high school I discovered The Horse Whisperer and that book is still one of my favourites today. How long, on average, does it take you to write a book? On average, about two years. That includes planning, outlining, writing the first draft, revising, revising, revising, sending it off to beta readers, revising, revising, sending it off to an editor, revising, revising, and then finally sending it off to a formatter. I am a self-published author and I take my work very seriously. I want to provide the best possible book I can to my readers so I pour a lot of time and energy into my stories.
What are you working on at the moment? Currently, I’m working on the first draft of book three of my Red Rock Ranch series. I decided to take part in Nanowrimo this year (National Novel Writing Month) which is a nonprofit that challenges writers to write a first draft in one month (November). On average, it takes me a year to write a first draft so thirty days has always seemed absolutely crazy to me. However, every year I am amazed by how many writers take part in Nanowrimo and I wanted to give it a try this year. What I found is that I’m very motivated by the shared experience (on social media) of Nanowrimo and that I can write a lot faster than I give myself credit for. Throughout the month of November, I woke up at 5:30am during the week and wrote before work. I also put in quite a few hours on the weekends and I managed to write 30,000 words in 30 days! My Red Rock Ranch books are about 45,000 words each, so I’ve made a pretty good dent in the manuscript so far. I’m hoping to finish up the first draft before Christmas. Which book are you most proud of and why? That’s like asking me to pick a favourite child... or a favourite horse. I’m proud of all my books for different reasons, but I’m especially proud of the fact that I write strong female characters. My books feature a range of female characters that are very different from each other, but they are all strong in their own ways. I try my best to write characters that readers can look up to. That doesn’t mean my characters are perfect, but they grow and learn through their experiences and come out stronger on the other side.
Which are your favourite horse and human characters in your own books? In my Red Rock Ranch series, I love both Lucy and Taylor. They are very different from one another, but I see myself in them both. Lucy is shy and reserved. She always tries to do the right thing and she’s a better rider than she thinks she is. Taylor is technically 'the villain' in the first book, but readers get to know her better in the sequel and I love Taylor for her sass, stubbornness, competitive attitude, and her deep love of her mare, Star. I also adore Tiera who is a big part of Showdown (book 2). She’s perky and energetic and always positive! I’ve even thought about giving Tiera her own book. In my OverRuled series, I am particularly connected to Nova because she has a magical power I always wished I had... a telepathic connection to horses. She’s also confident and doesn’t take any gruff from anyone. I love that about her. As for horses, I love all of my horse characters! Chance, for being wild and sensitive, but loyal to Lucy. Star, for being a sassy princess of a mare. Sharkie, for being a pony who thinks he can boss around all the big horses. Rocky, for being a hard-working cow horse that knows his job and is all business. Georgie, for being the most-broke-bomb-proof-babysitter-horse-ever. The horses in my books are real characters – not background or props. I give them each their own personality and enjoy writing their parts in each story. If you were a horse, what breed/colour would you be? I think I’d be a Shetland pony. I’m sweet and lovable, but I’ve got plenty of sass as well. And, I hope I’d be black with not a spot of white on me so I always look clean!
Thank you to Brittney for taking part in my Q&A. I hope you enjoyed our chat as much as I did! To find out more about Brittney and her books visit her website, find her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or Instagram or check out her page on Goodreads.
That's all from me for now. Happy reading! Amanda