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Interview: August 2010

Though best known for her young adult titles like BAR CODE REBELLION, THE CRIMSON THREAD and DISTANT WAVES, Suzanne Weyn’s latest project, Wildwood Stables, is a series for middle-grade readers about a 13-year-old horse lover who finds the perfect home in an unlikely place for two rescued strays.

In this interview with Kidsreads.com’s Donna Volkenannt, Weyn reveals the real-life counterpart of her young protagonist and shares some of her own experiences from both childhood and today that have helped shape the books. She also compares writing with horseback riding, explains the difference in the creative process for books geared towards different age groups, and mentions some of her favorite novels she enjoyed when she was younger.

Kidsreads.com: Taylor Henry, the main character in your Wildwood Stables books, is a 13-year-old girl who loves to ride horses and compete in shows. What was your inspiration for the series?

Suzanne Weyn: That’s very easy for me to answer. Taylor Henry is my daughter Diana. When she was a girl, she loved to go out on rescues with a friend of mine who is an animal rehabilitator. She went to a barn one day and found a horse named Albert and a pony named Penny locked in a stable. They were filthy and underfed. Diana had been riding western style since she was 10, but I never had enough money to get her a horse. Now she was able to have Albert and Penny, but I still could not afford to keep them. (Feeding and boarding a horse is costly.) Diana was determined and struck the same sort of deal with a local stable that Taylor makes with Wildwood Stables. The various characters in Wildwood Stables are based on the people she met there.

Just as Taylor does, Diana wanted to jump, so she got people at the barn to teach her and began competing. At first she only placed, but slowly she got better and better.

Diana went on to be a blue-ribbon winner on the equestrian team at the State University of New York. She just graduated and spent the summer working as a horse specialist at a YMCA in the Rocky Mountains. She led a horseback trip with campers. And she advises me on every aspect of Wildwood Stables, not only all the riding stuff but even the story lines. If you look at the dedications, you’ll see her name.

KRC: You include so many details about horse breeds and riding styles in your series. How do you perform research for your novels?

SW: I have lots of books about horses and breeds in my library. Also I’ve spent a great deal of time around barns and ranches and witnessed the different personalities of various breeds firsthand. Spending time in stables is how I learned to love horses and see how individual each one is. And, of course, Diana and I talk about her experiences.

KRC: Your concern for protecting animals is evident in your writing. Taylor’s favorite horse, Prince Albert, is a black gelding rescued after being abandoned by his owner. Pixie, also a rescued horse, is a cream-colored Shetland pony. What has been the response to your series from rescue organizations or readers whose lives have been touched by this issue?

SW: So far I haven’t heard from them, though I’d welcome it.

KRC: Did you like to ride horses as a child? If so, did you ever own one, and do you still ride?

SW: At age 13, I attended a camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State called Camp Woodsmoke. That’s where I first learned to ride. After that I loved to go on trail rides at local ranches. I was never lucky enough to have my own horse, though. There are many horse ranches where I live now. I still ride at these local ranches when I get the chance.

My house is on a 60-acre former horse ranch. (I live in the former care-takers residence.) The paddocks and former stable are still there.

KRC: How are writing and riding alike?

SW: That’s a great question. They both require determination, persistence and patience. With riding as with writing, it doesn’t come easily at first, but after a while you get the hang of things, you slowly get better and better at it, and then, one day you realize you love doing it so much you just can’t get enough of it. And each thing you write, just like each horse you ride, is a unique experience that brings its own challenges and pleasures.

KRC: In addition to the Wildwood Stables series, you’ve written books for young adults. What are some differences in writing for middle-grade and teen audiences?

SW: The experiences I describe in my Middle Grade novels are about young people in middle grades. They are about events a reader of that age can relate to and find interesting. The same is true for a novel aimed at Young Adults. Older teens have different issues and can read at a level that is nearly adult. I try to remember my feelings and experiences at those ages and write for the girl that I was as well as for a modern reader.

KRC: What is most rewarding about being a writer?

SW: Writing is not always easy. Often it’s difficult to get down to work. But storytelling comes naturally to me, and the idea that the worlds and stories I see in my head can be shared with my readers --- and maybe even touch their lives in some way --- is deeply rewarding.

KRC: Please describe your typical writing day.

SW: I am not a morning person, but having two daughters in school over the years has made me one. After I get my youngest, Rae, off to school, I try to get to the gym or else I kayak or swim in a nearby lake. Then I look at my e-mail and make a few calls. I try to get to my computer by noon. (Though, sometimes, I avoid that by playing the computer card game free-call for a while.) Then I write for the next five or six hours. I generally write 10-15 pages a day from Monday to Friday. Of course, if I’ve gotten late on a novel, I might work straight through the weekend, and often late into the night. It sounds like a lot of writing, but the time goes very fast because I feel as though I’m in the world I’m writing about.

KRC: When you were young, who were some of your favorite authors? Did you have a favorite book as a child?

SW: I loved the book LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott. I read all the follow-up books like JO’S BOYS and LITTLE MEN. I also liked to read books about Abraham Lincoln, who was the president at the time Louisa May Alcott wrote LITTLE WOMEN. In addition, I read biographies of Louisa May Alcott. (My mother thought I was strange and would say, “Another book about Lincoln and Alcott?” I’d reply by saying, “I always find a new fact.” Maybe I was a little odd.) I also read every Sherlock Holmes story. I also loved Beverly Cleary. I still think Ramona is one of the best characters ever.

KRC: What are some of your favorite books about writing?

SW: Stephen King’s ON WRITING is one of the best books on writing I’ve read. It’s great for a person just starting out.

KRC: What advice do you have for young readers who want to become writers?

SW: Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write! Be hungry for reading and writing. Don’t be too self-critical. Keep your eyes sharp and your ears open. Look and listen. There are stories all around you. Keep a journal.

KRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?

SW: I’m about to start the sixth Wildwood Stables book. It will be out around January 2011. I’m very excited to return to Wildwood Stables, “the best place in the world.”