I have been asked why I write. I answered, “Because I have too.” I know that was too simple of an answer, but that’s how I feel. I will explain but let me give you a bit of history.
I probably should have had a clue in third grade when Mrs. Enoch taught us cursive writing. I loved it.
In fourth grade I decided I wanted to be a veterinary. I love animals, especially horses. I’m a bona fied horse-crazy lady. I know, what does that have to do with handwriting and novels? Hang on, I’m getting to that.
My whole school career was focused toward what I needed to do to get into college and then vet school. My first year of college fixed any last thoughts I had of vet school. It didn’t take away my love of horses though and as soon as I found a position, I began working at Owl Hollow, a Morgan horse farm. I still wrote a bit as a hobby, but not as much as before.
When I left Owl Hollow, I had become the barn manager and had a lot more knowledge of the horse industry. I took a position as a trainer and farm manager with an Arabian horse breeding farm. I absolutely loved that job.
The owners of the farm, who were awesome folks by the way, had bought land in Texas and were building new facilities. They didn’t have a trainer or farm manager for the Texas farm so I asked to go with them. I was unmarried and had always wanted to come to Texas so it was a win-win for both parties.
I wasn’t writing at all at this point with the exception of letters home to Virginia. I called home on occasion but back then long distance cost money. Cell phones were not the thing at that time. So I wrote long, descriptive letters.
I met my husband at a vet clinic where he worked when we brought in a mare for an exam. After we were married our two daughters came along so life happened, keeping my writing on the back burner.
But the idea of writing something was always there.
Dungeons and Dragons was a big thing when I was in high school and while I didn’t play myself kids were always talking about it. I got the opportunity to play after my husband and I got married. One of his friends played and we played quite a bit until the kids came along.
I was a big reader too and loved fantasy stories. Tolkien is a favorite. I also like romance, especially fantasy and historical.
When I first moved to Texas, I read a lot in my spare time. I ordered books sometimes and that’s when I discovered Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Now that is a novel that has meat on its bones. It has everything I love to read: history, romance, a dash of fantasy in the time travel aspect, some adventure and suspense.
So ideas were percolating in my head. I thought a lot about writing but never got around to it.
The owners of the Arabian farm were getting out of the horse business. I had been training on a lease basis already because they had sold most of their brood mares. It’s a lot of hard work and you have to take several horses in training to make ends meet, and it’s somewhat seasonal too. Most people won’t have their horses in training in the winter due to uncertain weather. Ritch and I wanted to have kids too and we lived in a tiny apartment in the barn. When the stallion was leased out, I made the decision to take a job in a saddle company.
Since that time I’ve worked at three different saddle and tack companies, in the shipping department, a hot tub factory, and then a wire works where I did welding.
Now we are getting to the writing. While at the wire works I ran a welding machine called a mesh welder. The mesh welder was run in two shifts and I was put on the early shift, 4 am to 2pm.
At this time we didn’t live in the school district that we wanted our girls to be in so we had them as transfer students. My husband took them to school on his way to work and I picked them up. Since I got out of work at 2 and they got out of school at 3:20, I would sit in the parking lot and wait for them.
I tried to read at first, but I kept falling asleep. I really didn’t think it would be cool for all the kids to come out and see me with my head flopped back and drool going down my chin.
Ta da! I wanted to write and now I had a little uninterrupted time to do so. And this character that had been tapping on the inside of my skull tapped a little harder and said, “Me, me. Tell them about me.”
Well Drace is a persistent fellow and he started telling me about this gal he wanted to meet and then a dragon stuck his two cents in and the girl had a brother, etc, etc.
This turned into great fun and l looked forward to each afternoon. The girls would come out to the truck and ask what Drace had done that day. Sometimes they would have to wait a few minutes to head home because I had to finish a paragraph.
Drace became more insistent with his demands and I would write at break time and lunch. My friends at work were curious about what I was so obsessed with and I started letting them read some of the story. And then they started asking for more and Drace got a fan club and I decided that maybe I had something worth reading. And I was having a blast.
The day I finished Drace and Ki’s story I was so sad. But it was also exciting because I really wanted to get it out there to share with others.
I joined the Writer’s League of Texas and met others with the same malady as myself. I had found my tribe (I wasn’t the only person who had voices in their head either). I began to learn so much about skills and the industry and met so many awesome people. I met my editor Mindy at one such conference and have since been working with her and Danielle, my projects manager.
I had planned Drace and Ki’s story to be a standalone novel. As it came to its end I had characters that started that crazy tapping. “Hey, I have a story too.” I was lost to the obsession.
Lexin’s Quest is due for release Febuary 9th and the third book in the series, Knights of Kismera, is well under way.
Mindy encouraged me to try short stories, which I think has helped my writing skills quite a bit, and won with a western, which has since been included in a compilation of other winners in the contest. It is called Short Stories by Texas Authors. I’m proud of this project because proceeds benefit literacy programs in the Austin area and my story is in with some other very talented writers.
I have been working as a farm manager and trainer for a private owner of Arabian and part bred Arabs for the last 6 years. Hey a gal has to eat.
This job has allowed me to return to working with the horses that I love, but I hope to continue writing. I still have tapping on the inside of my skull and there are voices I recognize and a few new ones whispering in the background.
I will listen and see where they lead.
Author Tamara H. Hartl has published Dark Lord of Kismera, the first book in the Knights of Kismera series and her award winning short story “The Lady’s Profit” is featured in the anthology, Short Stories by Texas Authors.
Tamara was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia. She moved to Texas and began her career as a horse trainer and farm manager for an Arabian horse breeder. She now works for a different owner of Arabians and Arab-cross show horses in the same capacity. Horses figure prominently in her writing.
Q. Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
I am originally from Floyd, Virginia but moved to Moulton, Texas October of 1990.
I would say the area has helped in that it’s horse country and my love of horses shows in my writing.
Q. Tell us your latest news??
Book two in the Knights of Kismera series, Lexin’s Quest is due for release on February 9th. I’m super excited about continuing with these characters. They are a lot of fun.
I also had a winning short story included in an anthology called Short Stories by Texas Authors. This is a special project because proceeds from sales help with literacy programs in and around the Austin area.
Q. When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?
I wrote a lot in high school. I probably spent more time writing than taking notes in class. I was not a model student. Lord of the Rings, Outlander, and being a Dungeons and Dragons gamer really put the ideas in my head for this particular novel.
Q. What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
Again, I have to credit Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for being a big influence on my writing. What I really love about her work is how she combines genres. Tolkien of course wrote amazing fantasy. There are several other romance and fantasy authors that I follow.
Q. Tell us about your characters and how they came to be? Have they been in your head for a long time?
Ki actually was a D&D character that I just loved to play. She was a total bad ass. She had been in my head for years. Drace was the one who popped up when I really had the time to plan. I wanted a strong female lead and a guy who could handle her. Tame is not a word I would use for his relationship with Ki. But he knows how to get her attention, shall we say.
Q. What motivates you to write?
I’m motivated now because I have a fan following that seem to really love the characters and to hear their excitement is really gets me pumped up.
Q. What is the hardest part of writing?
Finding time to sit down uninterrupted. It is very hard when the story is really flowing and I can’t get it down fast enough and I have to stop to go feed horses or take my daughter to band practice or one of any number of life obligations. Sometimes it’s easy to pick up but most of the time it’s very hard to get that exact flow back. I make it work though.
Q. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Patience. You have to have patience and take the time to do the whole process right. Patience. You have to have patience and take the time to do the whole process right.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
I’m a big Tolkien fan so I think that has really fed the fantasy side of my work. I also played D&D when I was young. And I read a lot. As a teenager I read most of my mother’s library. Romances of all subgenres as well as all sorts of other genres. I didn’t care as long as I had something to read.
Q. What does your family think of your writing?
At first they thought I was crazy I believe. I can get extremely focused. My hubby thought I had a very time consuming hobby. But as time has passed and people ask when the next book is coming out they realized I am a writer and it’s okay that I might be a little bit crazy.
Q. What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
Go for it. Write it all down and enjoy the ride. Worry about the edits and cuts later. Just get it down.
Q. What book(s) are you reading now?
I just finished a romance by Linda Lael Miller. She is another favorite of mine. I have read a bunch of her work. I haven’t picked up anything else yet. I might just browse your site for a recommendation. J
Exclusive! Chapter 1 preview!
THUNDER SOUNDED AS two horses flew toward each other; a high rail, called a list, separated the two combatants in the jousting arena. Lances lowered in readiness, the knights braced in their saddles, anticipating impact. At the last second, the knight dressed all in black ducked under his opponent’s lance and pulled his black horse to a sliding halt at the end of the course. Horse and rider spun around and prepared for a second charge. The Friesian stallion snorted and pawed in eagerness, causing the crimson tassels on his draperies to swing. The knight spurred the horse lightly, and the stallion leapt forward into a full gallop.
Blue-gray eyes sighted his target through the slit in his visor. He aimed carefully, making sure he hit the perfect part of his opponent’s armor. He braced for impact. Pop! His lance splintered on contact. The other knight made an undignified dismount from his horse.
Squires raced out from the edge of the contest area, two to each knight. The Green Knight, who had been unhorsed, was helped to his feet by his squires and checked for injuries. At his nod that he was unhurt, one squire handed him a long sword and retrieved his green shield adorned with a white fleur-de-lis. The other knight caught the bay horse from which he had fallen. The Black Knight’s squires held his horse while he dismounted and then he was similarly outfitted with sword and shield.
The crowd was on its feet now as the squires backed away and the knights moved in, ready defensively. The eager Black Knight lightly rapped the crimson lion painted on his shield with the hilt of his sword.
The knight in the green and tan colors moved in first, sword swinging in a vicious arc. The Black Knight deflected the blow and moved to the side to attack. Crouched and ready, the Black Knight attacked, his sword flashed in the light as he swung fiercely at the other man. The Green Knight dropped his sword low to block the blow to his leg. The Black Knight moved quickly, despite the weight of his armor, and struck again, giving the other knight only time enough to block with his shield. The Black Knight’s sword made a heavy thud against the shield. The Green Knight staggered under the force of the blow, caught his balance, and made a rush at the other man.
He knew his opponent could have used that stumble to his offensive, but was toying with him. He tried a deceptive move toward the Black Knight’s hips, causing the man to sidestep slightly. The Green Knight then spun, his green and tan surcoat belling out around his knees, and his arm flashed around with a punishing blow aimed at his foe’s ribs. The Black Knight was ready for the move and turned to catch the blade with his own shield. His right arm moved in an arc over handed and forced the Green Knight’s sword downward.
Steel rang against steel in the quiet of the arena for a while and an eager crowd held their collective breaths. They heard the grunts and gasps of effort through each man’s helm as the two fought. After several more minutes of ringing steel, the Black Knight caught the other man behind the knees with the flat of his blade, bringing him crashing down.
The Green Knight landed on his back and struggled to rise. The Black Knight quickly brought the tip of his sword to the other knight’s neck, and with his other hand, raised his visor.
The crowd had been cheering on their champion, but hushed to hear his words. “Do you yield?” he asked loudly and clearly.
The other knight nodded, and at that motion, the Black Knight sheathed his sword and helped his opponent to his feet.
The crowd went wild then as one of the Black Knight’s squires returned with his horse and took his shield and helm. He remounted and as he settled back into the saddle, the stallion half-reared. As the crowd began to quiet, a voice boomed into the arena.
“Ladies and gentleman, our victor the Black Knight.
The Normandy Hotel and Casino hopes that you have enjoyed this demonstration of medieval combat. Please give our hero another round of applause as he makes his victory pass!”
DRACE MACKINNON, THE BLACK KNIGHT, current hero and champion of the Las Vegas hotel and casino, The Normandy, spun his big black horse in a tight circle. He galloped the horse around the arena and brought it to a sliding halt in front of an elderly woman of about eighty. Her granddaughter and grandson were seated on either side of her. He removed ribbons with tiny bells from the trapping around the stallion’s neck then sidestepped the horse close to the railing. He extended a gloved hand to her, crimson and black ribbons trailed from his fingertips. As she reached for the ribbons, he caught her hand, leaning over, and raised her hand to his lips; he brushed a kiss over her knuckles.
“My beautiful lady,” he said in a deep voice, and turned her hand, dropping the belled ribbon into her palm. Marion Theile of Dayton, Ohio blushed to the roots of her hair. “I am told today is your birthday,” he continued at her nod. “I wish you the happiest of days.” He gave her a broad smile.
Her blush deepened. “Oh my word,” she gasped.
He backed the horse away from the rail, bowed, and then rode another round of the arena to the cheers and applause of the crowd.
One of the squires from the show doubled as a groom and had taken the black stallion back to the stables to unsaddle and rub him down. His other squire, who was new, was currently helping divest him of the armor he wore. It was not the full suit of armor, which was sometimes displayed, but had a breast and back plate over a chain mail shirt made as realistic as possible.A black surcoat with crimson trim and a crimson lion on the front went over it. It was almost impossible to get into or remove by oneself.
Done with the evening’s performance, Drace was in the props room drying his shoulder length hair with a towel. The mahogany brown hair was almost black with sweat after being under his helmet and the hot lights in the arena. While Drace stood ruffling up his hair, the new squire unbuckled the leg guards from his muscular calves. When she stood up, her blond head barely came up to his chest. Violet eyes looked up at him as he automatically raised his arms for her to undo the straps on the sides of the breastplate.
“Thank you, my Lord,” she said in her softly accented voice.
“Hey, I told you only ‘my Lord’ me in the show. I’m just Drace here, ok?”
Vashti was so cute when she blushed that it made her purple violet eyes and long platinum blond hair even more striking. “My apology my Lo… Drace. Please sit down so that I may reach your shoulder straps.”
“Thank you,” she said as he sat on a bench for her.
A damp towel caught Drace in the face when Joe, his red haired rival from the show, threw it across the room.
“How do you rate the new chick?” Joe quipped as his own assistant worked on his armor. “Come on Vashti,” he teased, “when are you going to leave that big lug for me?”
“Hey, I resent that,” the college kid who was divesting Joe of his breastplate grumbled as he fumbled with a stubborn buckle.
Joe lightly shoved his brown-haired, lanky squire. “Man, you know I was just kidding,” he laughed. “You’re the best.”
“Dude, you’re just saying that because my mom bakes you brownies.” He gave a little sound of triumph when the buckle finally came free.
Joe grinned, “Well maybe that’s true Samuel.” He he mussed the kid’s hair. “Doesn’t hurt that she’s a hot number and she always delivers those brownies in person.”
Samuel laughed, finished with Joe’s armor, and set it on a stand behind him.
Drace smiled at their horseplay. Vashti had gotten him out of his chain mail shirt and the heavy linen shirt he wore under it, leaving him in his breeches and boots. She handed him another towel. “I’ll leave you to your bath now, my…Drace,” she whispered.
“Thanks, Vashti. See you tomorrow,” he said as she gathered up the discarded towels. “Hey, where did you say you were from again?” he asked before she left.
Vashti was a puzzle who Drace and Joe had been trying to solve for the last week. Drace’s previous assistant, another college youngster, Kevin Blackwell, had called in sick and no one had heard from him since.
Vashti had shown up at the personnel department later the same day looking for a temporary job. Her exotic voice and striking looks, plus an obvious intelligence, impressed the Human Resource Manager. He introduced her to Drace. He liked her as well, and she was hired on the spot.
Drace and Joe made up a game of ‘Who is Vashti?’ They didn’t even know her last name. Drace’s opinion was she was in a witness relocation program. Joe though she’d killed a boyfriend and was on the run. It was something different every day. Whatever the reason, she remained closed-mouthed. Therefore, it did not surprise Drace when she avoided answering his question.
She paused at the door, gave him a wide, dimpled smile, and said, “I do not believe I did. Have a good night.” With that, she exited the props room.
“That’s going to remain a mystery,” Drace muttered. He stood, gave a back popping stretch, made a mental note to check on Kevin, and then headed for the men’s locker room and the showers.
After his shower, Drace, now in worn jeans, a college team t-shirt and beat up sneakers, checked on the Friesian stallion, Pride.
The tall black stallion’s ancient breed originated from Friesland in Northern Holland. They had been used as warhorses in the middle ages. Pride’s mane and tail were long and wavy, his mane coming halfway to his knees. Drace kept it loosely braided during their days off from the show. The hair around Pride’s fetlocks, or ankles, was long and called feathers, almost completely hiding his large hoofs. Pride, an intelligent horse with expressive eyes and small ears, always seemed to be listening to Drace when he spoke. Pride was listening now as Drace approached the stallion’s stall, talking softly to the horse, just as he would a human friend. In the quiet of the stable Drace removed a few small tangles from Pride’s long mane, while contemplating their schedule and long-awaited hiatus.
Drace went to a royal blue, late model, crew-cab Chevy Silverado pickup, in the performers’ lot, and pulled out onto the Las Vegas strip. There was a lot of late night traffic. He enjoyed the lights and sounds, but sometimes missed the quiet of his former home in Virginia.
He had grown up among several horse farms, his parents’ included. They had raised and shown Swedish Warm Bloods and Oldenburgs, breeds of horses commonly used in Three Day Eventing. Drace had been a top competitor in those events, making an Olympic alternate at age nineteen; his father had been one of his instructors.
As he drove, the window down and the radio tuned to a rock station, the volume low, he reminisced of those days. The Three Day Eventing, or combined training, is a grueling test of endurance, speed, strength and courage for both horse and rider. Over a three-day period, the horse and rider team perform three tests. One is Dressage, a highly schooled test of all the horse’s gaits in complex maneuvers, the rider’s commands barely visible. The second is Eventing or Cross Country, derived from cavalry training. The challenging outdoor courses are highly technical. They have large obstacles to jump and various distances in between to gallop, certainly not for the meek. Drace had fallen hard several times competing in Eventing, including one fall that had resulted in a broken arm and collarbone, and a concussion. The third test is stadium jumping where horse and rider jump high or wide jumps within a designated time. Knocking a rail down or going over the time count against the score.
His reminiscence was abruptly cut short by memories of his parents’ deaths. His father had been killed six years ago in a car accident; then his mother six months later had succumbed to cancer. Drace now owned the farm and was leasing it to a friend from college and her husband; they trained show jumpers. Drace’s goal was to return someday and breed horses like his parents. He was toying with the idea of adding Friesian horses to the farm. He was saving his extra cash with hopes of purchasing Pride in a year. Pride’s owners were talking of retiring him from the show, then possibly selling the horse afterwards. Drace had already talked to them about being first in line to purchase the twelve-year-old stallion. For three years, Drace and Pride had been performing at the theater. The first year doing a dressage demonstration, then the medieval tournament was added. To Drace, all that time together made them family; parting company would be difficult.
As he drove, he thought about his college friend in Virginia. She probably wouldn’t recognize him now. He hair was still dark brown and his eyes a blue-gray hue. His hair was longer now and his body had filled out from lanky athletic to muscular. The equipment and weapons were heavy—and while the performance itself was a workout, Drace still lifted weights and ran five days a week.
He stopped at a drive-thru and ordered a bacon cheeseburger combo; then he headed to his small apartment.
He pulled into the parking lot of the neat, modest complex, found his covered parking spot, killed the engine, gathered his gym bag and supper from the passenger seat, and exited. He locked the door with the clicker, strolled across the lot, passed the pool, to the side stairs, and went up to his second level apartment. Once he entered, an orange cat, which he’d found as a kitten in the alley behind the casino, greeted him.
“Hey, Thomas. Did you do anything interesting today?” Drace addressed the cat.
Thomas meowed in reply and walked proudly into the kitchen. Drace got his answer when he flipped on the light and found a new roll of paper towels shredded all over the mat in front of the kitchen sink.
Drace frowned at the cat as he cleaned up the paper, and instantly forgave him as the cat rubbed against his legs, purring loudly. Drace picked up the cat and looked into its eyes. “Do in another roll, buddy, and I’m trading you for a dog,” he threatened. He set the cat back on the floor, fed him some dry food, and then stood by the sink eating his supper.
Once he was done with his burger, he slipped Thomas a French fry from his own meal, and moved into the living room, a cold beer in hand. He put his bare feet on the coffee table and clicked on ESPN. He watched game highlights for a couple of minutes but felt himself nodding off. He got up and cleaned the kitchen quickly, brushed his teeth, and stripped down to his boxers. Exhausted, he fell into bed. There was a small thud on the bed as Thomas joined him, lying by Drace’s feet, purring like a motorboat.
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