An interview with equestrian author Natalie Keller Reinert

    head and not the heart cover

Where are you based?

My family and I live in Brooklyn, New York. When we first came here, my husband and I were working for a trainer at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens; we fell in love with Brooklyn, which has amazing neighbourhoods with a real small-town vibe. We’re from Florida and the winter weather can really bring us down, but overall Brooklyn is a wonderful city – very hospitable to the writing life.

What kind of horses do you own and why this breed?

We’re Thoroughbred people. My first horse was a Quarter Horse, but when I was thirteen my parents bought me a Thoroughbred who had been neglected after he turned out to be a poor racehorse. Learning to work with his amazing mind and athletic body justified all the romantic ideas I had about horses after growing up reading The Black Stallion novels. I adore Thoroughbreds.

Did you grow up with horses?

I did a bit — my family were not horse-people but my parents recognised my passion and worked really hard to keep me in horses, riding lessons, getting me to horse shows. I spent most of my childhood as a working student in some capacity or another. I worked really, really hard for my horse-time. My school-age social life was the people I saw at the barn every day. I have no regrets!

What do you do with your horses?

I’m not riding right now, but of all the work I’ve done — breeding, racing, eventing, dressage, hunters, mounted police work — I love eventing and galloping racehorses the best. I would do either one again in a heartbeat, but only on a pretty solid horse. I’ve hit the ground enough, thanks!

Describe a normal day for you

I look at Twitter. No, actually, my days are full of work. I try to go for a run, although I can’t always convince myself. I drink a lot of coffee and write or do freelance work all day. In the evenings I listen to National Public Radio and cook. Cooking is just the best! When I was in the horse business, I was always too tired and sore at night to cook. Now it’s my decompression time and I just love it. It turns out that if you can read, you can cook – recipes are out there, just follow them!

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a child. There are boxes in closets full of my pony stories. I made the big leap to writing a novel that other people were actually allowed to read after blogging for a few years and getting a thick enough skin to know I could take the pressure and criticism.

Do you write full time?

I did for a bit, but now I also have a travel business. Writing novels doesn’t pay reliably from month to month, and I’m not an eight-hour-a-day writer at all. I tried  magazine work but I didn’t love it. I am very passionate about travel, so I am a concierge and travel planner with Glass Slipper Concierge, which specialises in Disney destinations. I also do some equestrian travel, like Kentucky Bluegrass tours, but I worked for Disney for many years and it’s a subject I know better than most! I enjoy closing a manuscript to work on someone’s Disney vacation or to write a blog post about cruising… the change is nice and it freshens my mind for the next writing session.

What inspires you to write?

Things that outrage me. Things that amaze me. Memories. Thoughts of the road not taken. Curiosity about people’s choices. Imaginary people in my head. I never expected that the characters in The Head and Not The Heart would take up residence in my head and live their own lives, but I think about them every single day, so I almost have to write about them.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write until you have something can read aloud to an audience without cringing. Or to your significant other. Or to your mother. And your writing is only as good as what you’ve been reading. Take careful stock of your reading choices. Don’t read candy when you’re trying to write caviar.

How do you keep motivated?

I think appreciation from fans and reviewers has a lot to do with it some days. There are so many things I can do with my day that are easier than writing. I really had to quit working at the racetrack to finish The Head and Not The Heart. I had to make myself focus by having nothing else to fall back on.

Is it still easy to come up with stories?

It’s very easy to come up with stories. It’s much harder to turn them into novels. It’s all that middle-bit that’s tricky.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I drink some wine, I do something else, I go to a cafe where I am shamed into working because if I open Facebook everyone else will see that I’m the girl sitting in the cafe looking at Facebook. To be precise I don’t get writer’s block – you can always write something – but I do suffer from everything-I’m-writing-is-awful.

How do you write – ie do you plan a book carefully, or just sit down and let it pour out?

I outline. When I was younger I made a big deal out of how creative and wonderful I was and I couldn’t be hampered by an outline, but when I was younger I never finished anything either. I’ve really learned my lesson with outlines. Anytime I go on a tangent, I tend to cut it out in a subsequent revision.

How do you celebrate when you have finished a book?

I don’t write anything for a day or two, and then I feel tremendously guilty and I start working on another project. I have so many drafts of novels, even if I didn’t have another idea for a story for years, I’d be able to put out a novel a year for the next decade. I have no excuses to not be writing.

Have you won any awards for your writing?

I haven’t, which is probably in part because I’ve never entered any contests. I can never be bothered with the entrance fees. I look and say “You want $75 for the privilege of reading my book and judging it?” Good reviews are good enough for me, and when my readers are kind enough to write me reviews, that’s my award.

Any writing goals you have still yet to achieve?

I don’t think I have any goals, necessarily, unless you consider income goals. I want to write. I write. Other people think it’s good enough to pay for — that’s amazing. What else could you want?

How easy was it to get published?

I went back and forth on self-publishing for a long time before I decided it was the way to go, and I’m very happy with my decision. I knew I wanted to write a horse book for horse-people, which left most mainstream publishing houses out. But most equestrian speciality publishers put out very expensive books, even in paperback. It wasn’t the hardest thing in the world to self-publish — it was much harder to get read. It took more than nine months for The Head and Not The Heart to really start selling. A trade publisher would have given up and remaindered the printing by then.

How many books have you written?

I’ve written nine books, and I’ve published four under Natalie Keller Reinert, including a collection of short stories. The others are either romances I wrote under a pseudonym or still waiting on my hard drive, hoping to be perfected so that they can see the light of day.

How do you promote yourself as a writer?

When I started, it was largely through blogging — I had been writing Retired Racehorse Blog for some time and that was where the original readership came from. Now that I have a visible backlist on Amazon, the books tend to promote themselves. I’m active on Facebook and Twitter and now and then I remind people that I have a new book out, or a new review, but mainly I focus on fostering relationships with my readers. It’s nice because they feel free to give me their input on how my characters are evolving.

What do you think about the rise of e-publishing?

I love it. I love downloading a book and reading it on my Nook right away. Initially I was one of those haters who disdained e-books in favour of “real books,” but I got over it. I have both. No one is becoming illiterate because books are easier to access.

What do you think are the benefits of e-publishing?

The biggest benefit is the rise of the niche market. My books are prime example of that — equestrian-themed novels that aren’t about teenagers or murder mysteries. And if you do want an equestrian teenager or murder story, you can get better ones now, written with more accuracy. Horse books don’t have to be written for the lowest common denominator anymore, which means that we as equestrians can enjoy them more. We don’t have to skip through a paragraph about what longeing is.

Why should authors be looking at e-publishing as the future for their novels?

Besides reaching a tighter and more passionate audience? The end of limited printings. Your ebook won’t be taken off the market because it didn’t become a smash hit in the first month. The shelves are infinite and the store is everywhere. It’s a win for everyone.

Do you think e-publishing works for all types of books or just for fiction?

I have all types of books on my Nook right now. Fiction, cookbooks, histories, memoirs. There aren’t any limitations. It’s the future.