Saturday, April 16, 2011

Author Interview: Dutch Henry, We'll Have The Summer

Once again, two disclaimers. I met Dutch two years ago, lost track of him, and then discovered we have the same agent. Oh happy days. I asked Dutch if he'd be willing to answer some questions about his debut novel, We'll Have the Summer. He was gracious and provided insight into his background which informed many of his characters. I assume his background, like all of ours, also formed his worldview.

I know you've worked with horses and horse rescue for many years. Can you tell your readers how you got started? I’m an orphan and when I was 8, I was “Farmed out”. That is, placed on a dairy farm to work for my keep. They were nice folks, but there was no love there. My first friends I remember in life were the work horses. I knew they loved me. I felt their spirit. As an adult I met Diane Sept, a wonderful woman who taught me so much about helping horses. It was while under her tutelage that I worked to rehabilitate Tennessee Walking Horses from show ring to trail. The things some of these poor horses are forced to endure is unspeakable. I worked with several who were driven completely out of their minds. (I am talking here of one particular form of showing. Most horse shows are wonderful and fun for both human and horse.) One horse, Zack, took six months to realize I would not hurt him and allow me to lay a saddle blanket on him. In two years time he became a fabulous lesson horse.

Is there any one horse you owned that was memorable? Did that horse become the model for Comanche or Chester? I had a horse, Diablo, a striking black and white Tenn Walker, Diane and I had rehabilitated. As in my novel we had begun to learn musical freestyle performing together. He was one of the most magnificent horses I’ve ever known. Unfortunately the damage done to his feet in the show ring caused him to develop such severe arthritis that at the young age of 10, he had to be euthanized. He was unable to even stand. Still in the three short years I knew him, he taught me much … He is missed.

Chester is my salute to all the remarkable horses out there who teach so many folks the joys of being with and riding horses. It was Winston Churchill who said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

You mentioned in a recent talk that you've rehabilitated many horses, yet other than providing plenty of food for Comanche, I don't see much in the way of rehabilitation with him. Was that in the back of your mind when you wrote about the paint? I worried about weighing the reader down with too many details. I wanted the story to interest non-horse folks, too, and most rescues suffer mostly from malnutrition and neglect so I focused on his rehab along those lines. I tried to imply though that Mary was careful not to overwork Comanche as she rehabbed him, but of course she had a time constraint to deal with.

This is a love story on so many different planes. Did you have real-life inspirations for the story between Mary and Sam, between Mary and Barbara, and between Mary and Comanche? I know the biggest inspiration for the story between Mary and Sam was my own sweet wife, Robin. We are married 35 years, too. I wanted to write a story about an uncommon and enduring love. It seems so many stories today are about quick love affairs and chance meetings. I wanted to share a lifetime.

Mary and Barbara. I had volunteered as a ‘Big Brother’ about 15 years ago. And of course my own childhood had given me sense for a youngster who wished for a tangible connection they could lean on, depend on.

Mary and Comanche’s relationship was a compilation of horses I’ve had the honor of knowing and I had wonderful examples to draw on over the years from friends and their horses.

What, if any, kind of research did you do prior to sitting down to write? I started to write first but when dealing with Mary’s health I spoke to friends, doctors and nurses. Her Reiki experiences, though, are based on my own. With Reiki I am off pain meds for four years now (Is that a plug?). For Comanche, it was from my own experiences. I called the Arizona office of the Bureau of Land Management, and the Mustang Federation. For the fireworks I called a real-life fireworks guy. And yes, they can do daytime shows! And don’t forget I’ve had a lifetime of learning about love with the Ravishin’ Robbie.

I belong to a writers group that you visited a couple of years ago where you read the first chapter of We'll Have The Summer. How long did it take to write the book from first page until your editor said you were "done?" First draft, 90 days. One of the things I enjoyed reading this week as a published book was recognizing the scenes, sentences or paragraphs that survived “in tact” from that first draft. The gestation was pretty long. I started writing that first draft in July of ’09, and here we are in March 2011. I have a friend who helped me tweek that first draft soon after I wrote it. That took about three months. Then it sat for about six or eight months. I was very busy with writing for the American Competitive Trail Horse Association and my novel patiently waited. Then I found Dawn’s card and she edited it. That took a few months. When Camel Press took it on, the edits were light, and it went fast, about a month. I’ve heard writers say they grew tired of their novel by the time it got published, but I must say, I love it as much now as the day I completed the first draft.

I'm probably a 20-draft writer. Some of my friends are up to 30-draft writers. How many drafts did you do before you submitted it to your agent? And how many drafts after your agent and editor read the manuscript and provided feedback? After my first draft, which I do without outlines, I just write, there were edits as I said, but never new drafts. With the help of two friends, I went over it three times before handing it to Dawn Dowdle. Throughout the entire editing process there were only a very few scenes I re-wrote. The edits were really spellings, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation. I had to take out a few overused words like “that.”

Dawn and I went back and forth three times. Camel really only once, then another time for the final proof. The hardest re-write was the first page, that took me a while, but even the middle of that remains original.

Barbara is a troubled teen when she arrives at Sam and Mary's ranch. Her portrait rings true. Have you worked with troubled teens? Only for a brief period with Big Brothers, less than 2 years.

You must have another book in the works. Will it be a sequel or a stand-alone? I have had requests from friends who’ve read it for both a prequel and a sequel. I actually have two stand-alones started, but I don’t have the same feeling for either of them I had for, We’ll Have The Summer.

What are the last three books you read not related to your manuscript? And why did you read them? I read a lot of Tony Hillerman’s books and Wendell Berry and surprise … a few Nora Roberts. I read them to sharpen my writing skills and for fun.

Please feel free to add anything you want here. This is a free-form area and if I've missed any question you want to ask, now's the time. I wanted to write a story of an uncommon love so enduring it could overcome insurmountable obstacles. My passion for horses and the way they can enrich a person's life needed to be part of the story. I believe in the power of love and the spirit of the horse and these two forces came together to tell this story. My only job was to fill in the details.

Join me in enjoying reading Dutch's book, We'll Have The Summer.

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