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July 03, 2011

What Gets You Over the Hurdles?

Sasscer Hill 

_IJK8744 (1)-1 [Margaret Maron:    Sasscer Hill's first novel, Full Mortality, was published last year and was nominated first for an Agatha and just this past week for a Macavity.  When I read the first page, I was immediately reminded of opening Virgina Lanier's first bloodhound novel.  A fresh new voice rose up off the page and immediately drew me into a fascinating and unfamiliar world.  I was not one of those little girls who loved horses, so it was the writing that hooked me, not the subject.  Although she writes authoritatively about steeplechasing and racing, you never feel as if you're reading an information dump, i.e., "I learned this, this, and this about my subject and now I'm going to pad a few pages with my research."  She'll have a second book in the series out this summer, but do read this one first.  You'll be the richer for it.]





Riding in a steeplechase race can be terrifying. So can writing a novel. FULL MORTALITY COVER-1

In 1986, when I decided to ride a timber race over solid, four-foot jumps, I was afraid I wouldn’t make it to the finish. Afraid my skills, talent, and courage would fail me. Afraid that my pacing between those big hurdles might be off – that these obstacles might prove insurmountable. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever attempted something that frightens you, it probably does.

When I sit down to write, I worry. Will that strange internal energy kick in again and help me create imagery, plot improvements, and new and fitting character traits for the people in my story? Author Sue Grafton calls the unconscious – the more instinctual and irrational side of her psyche – “Shadow.” Sue  believes both she and Shadow write her books. I call mine, “Wild Spirit” and believe it makes perfect sense that it takes two to write a book.

In the 1986 race there were three of us. My normal conscious self, my horse, and my wild spirit.  Was it rational to be both terrified and joyous with a solid wood-fence rocketing toward me at thirty miles an hour? I’m not sure, but I’ve never been so focused. I communicated with the horse on a level I have never experienced before or since. It was like he was reading my thoughts. He took every jump exactly the way I wanted him to, lifting off where I wanted him to. My conscious self couldn’t believe it was happening.                       

ScanConsign2005-1When my writing is going well, it’s the same way. I come up with a memorable image, an intriguing scene, or good dialog and wonder, “Where did that come from?”  

I have to plot my novels first. If I don’t, I’ll go off course and slog into weeds and rocks. The story will spread out and flounder.

When I start the first draft, it’s like a practice run. Prior to riding the race, I envisioned winning it many times. A week before, I spent a day driving my horse, Rascal, to and from Potomac, Maryland so we could take a test gallop over the eleven fences. Schooling Rascal over this course was like a first draft. Not the real thing, but a start.

The actual race was grueling. Two-and-one-half miles, uphill and down, over timber. There were naysayers hanging around before the race. People who said I didn’t know what I was doing, that I didn’t know how to train a horse for a race. Just like the people who said I’d never finish the first novel, that it would never be published, that I was wasting my time.

But I won that race at Potomac (that's me on Rascal sailing over the fence). I wrote the novel and it got published. The book was even nominated for a Best First Agatha.

Still, I worry. Can I do it again? Can I ride the wild spirit that carries me to the end?

What are you afraid of? Do you have a shadow or wild spirit that helps you face that fear? What do you call it?



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Wow, Sasscer! That's so amazing. It's like the force, isn't it? SO mysterious and wonderful..

Congratulations on your wild success!

Thanks, Hank. Right now, the Force is with me. The recent Macavity nomination was like crossing the finish line and having unexpected dignitaries waiting with roses and champagne! Still reeling from the nomination.

Wonderful analogy, Sasscer. I don't ride but had a close friend who did and can see the similarities. I too believe in that second voice when we write--that wonderful novelist Dorothy Johnson called it her muse and said if it wasn't working that day, she might as well go mop floors.

Sasscer, congratulations!
I have no idea what that shadow/wild spirit is in my life, and I'm not sure I can or want to give it a name, but when it shows up is when I take risks, when I'm against the wall, when it is either do or die, succeed or fail.
Also, for better or worse, it shows up when I get riled if someone is saying or doing things that my judgemental self deems 'foolish': whether I actually confront them or react out loud, or not, I can feel that impetuous confidence that says the next move or next words will be powerful. Danger, Will Robbins . . . .

I really like this shadow/wild spirit concept. I don't have one. I want one. How do you recognize it or channel it?

Kudos to you for taking on your writing challenge and seeing it through to publication. So many good writers give up. And congratulations on the nominations!

Thanks, Judy, Laraine, and Ramona! There is something inside us that is strong. Never doubt it.

And now it's confession time. I did not know, exactly, what a Macavity Award was. So today I blogged about the Macavity mystery cat, and even wrote my own stanza in the tradition of the great TS Eliot's poem.

This is another one of those hair rising on the back of the neck coincidences. My favorite quote has always been from Eliot:

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring shall be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

You can read my favorite stanza from Eliot's Macavity poem and my own poetic effort here: http://sasscerhill.blogspot.com/

I'm somewhat familiar with naysayers and I've got two words for them. I'll let you guess what they are. ;)

Congratulations! You showed them, didn't you?

Congratulations and welcome, Sasscer!

I'm afraid of the same things you are: writing and riding. I don't ride anymore, but I remember the feeling of jumping and now I watch my 11-year old daughter do it, so fearless and determined.

Okay, I hate to ask a question you probably get all the time, but please tell me the etymology of your first name (I can guess the meaning of your last name) because it's so beautiful.

And Sasscer's next book is a sure winner, too! (There are advantages to being in the same writers critique group!) So proud of you, gal.

Harley, my full legal name on my driver's license is Lynda Sasscer Hill. I've been married for 30 years, but kept my maiden name. Sasscer is an old Maryland family name. The origin is believed to anglo-saxon. But who knows?

Every single day I write, I ask my husband, kids, whoever's around to wish me lucking jumping off the cliff. Will the lofty winds be there to bear me up?

Congratulations on having sailed off the cliff and been borne up.

My shadow/wild spirit is called Deadline. But I do know what you mean.

Congratulations on the nominations, Agatha and now Macavity!

(And Margaret, hello there.)

Yes, the wild spirit is so much more charming than the crazy voices in my head. I think Ramona's onto something--how to recognize and channel. Of course, a full understanding of your muse may kill her off!

Thanks for being our guest today, Sasscer. And especially for that fabulous photo of you and Rascal. Wow!

Thanks, guys! We, at one time or another, are all wild winged writers. Especially you, Jenny M.!

My usual get-me-over-the-hurdle is answering honestly "What's the worst that can happen if you do?" and "How much will you regret it if you don't?" Usually the risks don't involve breaking my neck as was the case with your jumping horses, Sasscer.

Until now, I'd never thought of a companion "spirit" writing alongside me. If I can conjure one up, perhaps the process will be smoother. Thanks for the advice, Sasscer.

You asked if you could do it again. I know you can, because I've read Racing from Death, the second Nikki Latrelle book. Yeah, you can do it. You did it.

Margaret, love your question, "how much will you regret it if you don't?" You will always wonder what might have been. For me living with a little risk is better than regretting a lost opportunity. Brave talk, but then I just had my nightly before dinner cocktail . . .

Though my horse-riding days came to an end years ago when I moved off the farm, this post really made me nostalgic. Beautiful shot of that powerful horse (and rider). Just gorgeous!

Sasscer, I'm 100% certain you can do it again, though it probably won't get any easier! If it does, please tell me how you made that happen. I love your cover, your title and your name! I'm sure I'll love the book as well and look forward to reading it.

Hi Sasscer,

I used to love riding. When I was a kid I spent a summer with a family in Vermont and learned how to jump. I had no idea how dangerous it was, especially since I was totally trusting of my teacher, another kid. Mm.

I think of my "other" as my inner spirit, the me who is really me, the one I continue to learn about and aspire to discover fully.

Hi Sasscer. "Wild spirit"--what a wonderful term. I guess for me it's a still small voice or a Higher Power--something that comes through me that I can't force or fake. It's me and it's not me. It also has something to do with being completely in the moment. Love the picture of you with horse, as always. :)

Brenda, Diane, Reine, and my dearest Liz Zelvin, you guys are so great! How neat that we all have that "something" that can lead us through the woods.

Reine, I don't ride anymore either. But God, how I loved it when I did. Diane, I know it won't get any easier, because I'm on my fourth novel and I think it's gotten harder!

And now, I say good night to all, and to all a good night! Sasscer

Sasscer, congratulations on your award nominations! You definitely deserve them. What a great decision to go with Wildside Press when you did. Kudos, my friend!

I love your analogy about writing and jumping. I was totally afraid of flying in the air with a horse, afraid I'd fall off, and my first jump was over one log. Pitiful. I really never did become comfortable with riding, just like I'm still uncomfortable with writing at times.

I guess my personal analogy with writing is how I felt about snow skiing. Whenever I'd get off the chair lift, my heart would start pounding. I'd freak out looking at the other mountain tops and wonder how in the hell I was going to make it down the slope in one piece. Even though I was really nervous, I loved the feeling of gliding down the mountain. At the bottom of the run, I was so relieved I was still alive and actually skied upright, that I got on the lift and did it all again.

That's how I feel about writing too. I get my ideas and decide it's time to put finger to keyboard, and then I look around and see all the other wonderful, top-notch writers and wonder how in the hell I'm going to accomplish what they did. I start writing anyway and then become engrossed in the story. When I'm finished I'm totally amazed, relieved and excited, then I go through the whole process again.

Thanks for posting today, Sasscer. And BTW, that's a beautiful picture of you at the top of the post. It captures just how you look in person.

Wonderful analogy, Sasscer. Bravo to you for choosing risk over fear. See, it paid off. Congratulations to you present and future!

I have two writing fears: fear of failing, and fear of never getting started. Luckily, I know from experience that the only way to beat both is to apply ass to chair and fingers to keyboard. Cheers to you, Sasscer, for knowing yourself so well, and for those nominations!

Lovely article, Sasscer. I'm so glad your courage and skill didn't fail you on the ride or the book. Looking forward to the next book!

Nice blog! Reminded me of my own youth. I loved horses, and showed my own pony, Dicky. Miss those times!

Hi, Sasscer, you know I love your first book, and I like hearing how you think about writing, your wild spirit I call the Muse, that deeper voice that knows how to write better than we do. I look forward to the second book. So happy for all the good attention you're getting, and,like Margaret Maron, I see you as an important new voice. Hurray.

Wow, the post that wouldn't die!

Becky, you certainly described the fear, and so did Mary Kay.

Sometimes I get involved in marketing, or blogging, or whatever and I don't work on the WIP for a few days. I immediately panic and think I won't ever get back to it. But I always do. Still, we can be or own worst "fear consultants!"

Bet on your dreams! Sasscer

So interesting it is, I like it !

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