Monday, November 27, 2006

An Inteview with Kathleen Eagle

Posted by Helen

Kathleen Eagle’s newest release, RIDE A PAINTED PONY, is a tender story of a strong, quiet man protecting, caring for, and, ultimately, falling in love with a woman who gives as good as she gets. Part suspense and all romance, Nick Red Shield and Lauren Davis’s story will undoubtedly satisfy long-time fans and intrigue new ones.

I've asked her a few questions to get the ball rolling.

Helen: Kathy, as I read RAPP, something that kept hitting me is that I could never write this book. I know so little about the key ingredients to your story, and yet I found it so interesting. Was there one particular seed that started it all?

Kathleen: Two years ago we bought a couple of horses from a breeder in Oregon, and we had them trailered to Minnesota by a guy who makes his living hauling horses. What a great sideline for an Indian cowboy, I thought. It would put a character on the road a lot, allow some flexibility, provide involvement with horses and horse people, and give him an income. Now he’s in a position to pursue a dream.

Once I saw him behind the wheel of a dually pickup
hitched to an 8-horse rig, the first scene of RIDE A PAINTED PONY played out in my head. He runs into a woman in jeopardy. I didn’t know who she was or what she was doing on the road when I plunged into that first chapter, and that sense of mystery about her served me well.

So I started with two characters—the Indian cowboy, whom I know at least somewhat, and the mystery woman—a horse-hauling business and a roadside encounter. I didn’t have much of a plot. Recently I went through the proposal and highlighted in red the elements that I eventually ditched. Close to half the proposal is red.

Helen: I’m guessing horses had to be one story element that was there from start to finish, and you obviously know A LOT about one of my aforementioned deficient areas. Tell us about how you came to love horses.

Kathleen: The first time I laid eyes on my husband, he was breaking a horse. It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college, and I had been taking riding lessons since I was a freshman. I was never very good at it, but I was determined. At the end of the summer I bought that horse from Clyde, left it with him in South Dakota, returned to Massachusetts to finish school. It was the classic “I got the horse and you got the saddle.”

We’ve had horses ever since. We have a gorgeous Paint stud (this is JJ on the right) and a few mares pastured with our nephew in South Dakota, exactly where I set the story.

Horses are simply incredible animals, and their relationship to human beings is unique. Inspirational on so many levels.


Helen: So did you have to do much research for this book?

Kathleen: I went “on location” several times early in the writing to refresh my senses on the prairie. I read a couple of memoirs about horse racing, and I did a lot of online research. “Indian Country Today” is a resource I’ve used for years that’s now online. It’s amazing how the Internet helps with those pesky details that pop up all the time, like What’s the racing schedule in SD? Is such-and-such a regulation different in OK?

Helen: RAPP has quite a strong suspense element, but that’s not your usual kind of story. How did that come about?

Kathleen: I’ve done a little suspense—most recently NIGHT FALLS LIKE SILK, the sequel to THE NIGHT REMEMBERS. In both of those books I was drawn to a mystical kind of suspense. RIDE A PAINTED PONY has a more—what?—straightforward suspense thread.

I started with a mystery woman. Figuring out who she was and why she was stranded on a lonely roadside led me to a bad guy, and the bad guy led to illegal activity. Ergo, suspense.

But I always start with characters and an interesting situation and go from there. I sometimes wish I could plot first. It would have been so much easier if I’d known more about Lauren’s nemesis to begin with. The first thing I realized about her was what she’d lost, and therefore what drove her, and that was a powerful foundation for building her story. But I built Nick from back to front, while Lauren was created from front to back, if that makes sense.

Helen: Yeah, that makes total sense. I’m curious, though, was there anything you found different about writing suspense? Did you like writing it?

Kathleen: Once the plot elements start clicking, the way is clear. I was at least 2/3 into the book and still missing something. What I’d had in mind for the root of the problem—the nature of the crime, and therefore the resolution—just wasn’t working. I kept poking around and finally found some news stories that gave me what I needed. I doubt this is the way most suspense writers work. I think they plot first. My stories are primarily about relationships, and RIDE A PAINTED PONY is no exception. I really do like the suspense element, though. It helps with pacing and plotting.

Helen: Gotcha. The adventure elements in my stories help too with pacing and plotting. I think it’s harder, in some respects, to write a straight romance. Characters are key, and your characters are so vivid, primary and secondary. Did this story start with Lauren or Nick, or did they both evolve at the same time?

Kathleen: I almost always start with the hero. Just from a practical standpoint, most of my readers are women, and don’t we just love getting into men’s heads? Our readers want to be able to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero. Mind you, this is a justification applied after the fact. The hero generally comes to me first.

Helen: And you write heroes so well, Kathy. I got a big kick out of Nick. Kept expecting to bump into him at the grocery store, or something, he seemed so real to me. Has writing the male POV always been a strong suit of yours or is it something you’ve honed over the years?

Kathleen: This is going to sound sexist, but I think female writers write better male characters than male writers do female characters. I know, it’s nervy to generalize, but I’ve lived long enough to earn the nervy stripes, and that’s my nervy opinion.

Inspiration for Nick. In Indian Country, the term “big Indian” has nothing to do with size. This is the guy who keeps to himself, doesn’t talk much, very stoic or “bucky.” That’s how I saw Nick. He’s the wounded warrior. I love a good tortured hero. The source of Nick’s pain was inspired by one of my former students, who survived a terrible oilrig fire. My characters are always grounded in reality somehow, but the more you write, the more you try to challenge yourself to cover new ground without losing whatever it is you do that appeals to readers. The trick is to figure out just what that is.

Helen: So what’s next?

Kathleen: Dillon Black’s story, and I think the working title is a go. It’s called MYSTIC HORSEMAN.

Helen: Dillon’s a great character. Had you planned on writing his story from the very beginning of RAPP, or did that just happen?

Kathleen: I didn’t. Basically, I planned Dillon as a foil for Nick. Dillon is charming, gregarious, seems very easy-going, fiercely loyal to Nick. The first inkling I had that I might want to follow Dillon into his own book was the revelation that Dillon had burned his own house down. What was that about? Well, I’m finding that out right now. MYSTIC HORSEMAN is more of a relationship book. And, man, these are some interesting relationships.

Helen: RIDE A PAINTED PONY will be on the shelves December 2006. Have more questions for Kathleen? Ask away. She’s all yours.

6 comments:

lois greiman said...

Kathy,

The book sounds fantastically intriguing. You do character like none other. I'm sold.

But more to the point :) I love the markings on the stallion. What a perfect 'Indian Pony'. How tall is he and is he throwing color?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Lois, my horse-lving friend! JJ is homozygous, which means, as Lois knows, that h'e genetically disposed to throw color like 99% (or some such). We won't get our first colts by JJ until this spring, so it'll be interesting.

That picture was taken on our nephew's ranch, which was Clyde's older brother's place, where hubby did much of his growing up. It looks like a painting, doesn't it. It's the setting I had in mind for Nick's ranch. That's Rattlesnake Buttle in the background. Man, could I tell you some stories about that butte.

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, I had this book on my preorder list and now I can't wait to get it!

I am so drawn to horses, though they scare the begeebees out of me. Learning something of the "herd psychology" and their flight-defense tendencies had helped, but I still just have to adore from afar.

Kathy, this book is going to be a zinger-- much luck and many kudos!

:) Betina

anne frasier said...

kathleen, i'm really looking forward to the new book!!

nice interview!

I used to have horses and i rode a lot, but i had a couple of horse accidents and simply can't ride anymore. i start shaking from head to toe. which in turn doesn't make the horse at all happy. i still like horses, but i keep both feet on the ground.
my husband used to break horses too. he had his own personal horse trained so he could stand on its back and shoot a rifle. not sure if that really had a point, but it was a pretty cool trick. :D

anne frasier said...

uh-oh. i think i just said something else that will make lois go WTF? haha!

Debra Dixon said...

Kathleen--

Who wouldn't love a good Indian cowboy story? RAPP sounds great and I'm already sold on any book with the title MYSTIC HORSEMAN.

I have a friend who breeds Labs so the comments about "throwing color" make complete sense. Beautiful horse!