Thursday, September 20, 2007

Maria V. Snyder gets Kiki

(Apologies for the bad wordplay. OK, I'm not really sorry--maybe Mel Gibson-sorry, but not Michael Richards-sorry.)

Anyway! Everyone give a big welcome to award-winning fantasy author Maria V. Snyder. Names of all the commenters from here and my MySpace blog will go into a virtual hat, and a week from now I'll draw a winner of an autographed copy of Poison Study.

Don't let those MySpacers show you up. Ask Maria anything, or share your own experiences with research and/or scary animals.


Hello! First off I want to thank Jeri for allowing me to be a guest blogger – Thanks Jeri!

One of my favorite aspects of writing is doing research. In Poison Study, I studied how to taste foods for certain flavors and textures. With Magic Study, I needed to learn how to ride a horse. Having grown up in Philadelphia, I had zero knowledge about horses. My friend Susan offered to teach this city girl how to ride her horse, Kiki.

Kiki, an American Saddlebred, is 16.1 hands tall. While I can’t tell you exactly how high that is, sitting on her for the very first time, I felt I was about ten feet from the hard, hard ground below. I was wearing a helmet, but it seemed inadequate for protection – full body armor would have been more preferable to me. And it didn’t help my nerves when Kiki’s head went straight up, her left ear cocked back, and she gave me the eye without turning around. With almost 360 degree vision, she only needed to move her head a little to keep me in sight. And I knew she was plotting how to dump this stranger on her back into the nearest mud puddle.

Kiki though was a perfect horse for a terrified beginner. At 22 years of age, she had seen it all, and we spent many hours slowly walking around the training ring. It was July, she was hot and I probably could have gotten off and pushed her faster. The pace was soothing for me and soon I was feeling my….well…oats, and wanted more excitement than doing figure 8’s at 1 mph.

Once I felt comfortable, Susan started teaching me how to guide Kiki into a trot. Although Susan insisted that Kiki is a Cadillac of horses, the bone-jarring gait threatened to dump me onto the ground. Susan has an English saddle—the one without the horn, and, in my mind, the one without anything to hold onto—so posting was required. When it comes to posting letters, I’m a pro, but the equestrian posting—where you raise your body with your legs to the movement of the horse so your butt’s not slammed into the saddle with every step—was beyond my abilities.

Eventually Kiki and I graduated from the training yard to the trail, and I was getting rather cocky. We were having fun without Susan reminding me to keep my heels down and straighten my back. Trotting and walking with trees and wildlife all around. Peaceful, idyllic, singing with the birds until Kiki startled and did a 180 on me. She went right, but I went left.

Remember how I said there was no horn on the saddle to hold? Well Susan’s been telling me for weeks to grab Kiki’s mane if I was going to fall (she won’t feel pain – I checked) and she did a great job of training me. I automatically grabbed her mane, and Kiki, a very smart horse, stopped dead while I pulled myself back up from the brink. All my cockiness was gone in a flash. Although, I still think Kiki didn’t really get spooked, she just wanted to stop my singing ;>

It was a scary, fun and interesting time. I learned about horses and I learned about myself. Mainly, that I like to be in complete control. Even though I held the reins, I knew Kiki was in charge.

To see a picture of Kiki go to Maria’s Website and scroll about ½ way down the page.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Poison Study and/or Magic Study, click here: Books

A Lesson in Loyalty - A Master Class in Intrigue.
Yelena is a survivor. Kidnapped as a child, held prisoner as a teen, then released to act as a poison taster, she is now a student of magic. But these magic skills place her in imminent danger, and with an execution order on her head, she has no choice but to escape to Sitia, the land of her birth.
But nothing in Sitia is familiar. As she struggles to understand where she belongs and how to control her powers, a rogue magician emerges--and Yelena catches his eye. Suddenly she is embroiled in a situation not of her making. And once again her magical abilities will either save her life...or be her downfall.
Buy it here:

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Thanks, Maria! What a great description of that first-ride experience.

And WOW, 16.1 hands! A hand is four inches, so that 65 inches (5'5") at the withers (that's horse-talk for top of the shoulders). The ponies I learned to ride as a kid were usually 14 hands or so.

My personal policy: if I can't see over their backs, I ain't getting on. So I commend your bravery.

As a reader and a former horsewoman, I appreciate you taking the time to learn the way horses really work. Too many authors treat horses like furry motorcycles.

Question: how did you use this experience in writing Magic Study? Were there elements that you changed because of what you learned, or was it mostly background research?

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 9/21/2007 7:58 AM

Horses can have just as much personality as a person. Thank you for making the effort to include that in your work and making Kiki and actual character and not a plot prop.

Question: What have you been learning to write Fire Study?

Posted by: Blogger Alisha Jordan at 9/21/2007 9:43 AM

Sounds like a great experience!

It's been years since I rode, but I've got a LOT of horses in my current WIP and I've been thinking I need to find someone out here with some horses to let me re-learn some of the tricks...

Will you pop in at the SHU residency in January?

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 9/21/2007 10:58 AM

I love learning from authors about their methods of writing. As Jordon do I...are you playing with fire? I'm waiting patiently for Fire Study...ho hum.
(If, by chance, I win the signed book, please contact Betsy.)

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2007 11:08 AM


Fabulous job on the post. That's the best part about writing, constantly learning something new, pushing yourself out of the comfort zone. And you do that so well!

Jeri, also wanted to wave hello. It was great meeting you in Dallas and I hope we can connect again at a future conference.

Take care,


Posted by: Blogger KJ Howe at 9/21/2007 11:43 AM

Hey, Kim! Great to see you hear. Wow, so many new faces. Where are my regular peeps?

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 9/21/2007 11:58 AM

The only hard part about riding is getting over your fear of falling(or convincing the horse not to dump you lol). I had a few that were more than willing to personally introduce me to the ground. But a little bit of confidence can go a long way! I am glad you put so much effort to get over your fears and shared the experience with us. Hope you get to go faster next time!! It's actually really FUN!!

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2007 12:06 PM

Hello Everyone! Thanks for commenting - I was writing this morning and boy did the time fly :)

Jeri's question: Learning how to ride and about horses helped me with plotting the timeline of the story. I realized horses have physical limits and you need to stop and rest them and feed them and give them a drink - Furry motorcycles (lol!) is the biggest complaint my teacher had about horses in books. And what Yelena feels sitting on Kiki - is my exact experience - the ground just looked so hard and far away. Yikes!

Jordan's - I'm glad Kiki was seen as an actual character - in fact, she is my kids' favorite.
For Fire Study, I learned how to work with molten glass - I made paperweights and also did some glass blowing - resulting in a collection of warped shot glasses :)

Betsy's - I will be at January's residency! I'm teaching a workshop on magic :)

Sarah - I guess you could say I was playing with fire - glass melts at 2100 degrees F and you could see the heat waves emanating from it! It was hot - but no burns....yet.

Kim - thanks - I was really beyond my comfort in the beginning (sweating and nervous). It didn't help that my 7 year-old daughter (at the time) hopped onto Kiki's back without a qualm - ah youth!

Shari - LOL - I don't know about going faster - I think I'll use a furry motorcycle next time - just gas and go without worrying the motorcycle's going to spook over a white mailbox (Kiki was afraid of these creatures - they roam certain suburban areas).

Thanks for all the comments - I'll check back again to see if there are any more questions!

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2007 1:05 PM

I haven't been riding in years, but glad you got the chance to try it. When the horse really gets going it's like flying. It's great you did the research, so many writers just don't bother.

What other new things did you learn in the process or writing this book. Are there things you hope to teach the people who read it?

Sounds like a great story.

Posted by: Blogger Moondancer at 9/21/2007 2:05 PM

I feel really dumb that I didn't know Kiki was a real horse.

Thanks for the entertaining vignette, Maria.

And, thank you for bringing her here, Jeri.


Posted by: Blogger Heidi Ruby Miller at 9/21/2007 2:23 PM

Heidi - you shouldn't feel dumb - Kiki in the book isn't real (no gust of wind gait), but she's based on a real horse.

Here's another little story: My friend Susan moved to NC and had to leave Kiki in PA for a while - so I offered to visit, groom and spoil her :) When Magic Study came out in hardcover last year, Susan asked me to have Kiki sign the book! Let's just say if I had a video camera - it would have made a great comedy on Youtube :D
Eventually, Kiki put her print on the book which Susan has (along with my scrawls - really how can you compete with a hoof print!).

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2007 2:50 PM

Forgot to answer Moondancer's question. For Magic Study, I also learned about perfumes and scents. Especially interesting was how certain smells will help you recall certain memories faster.

I did research on rain forests and all the medicines and animals that are found there. Esau's charater was based on a native living in the rain forest, discovering new medicines and scents for Perl, who distilled perfume.

And snakes...I read all about snakes. When my daughter dragged me to this petting zoo and wanted a picture with the boa constrictor - I dutifully posed with this 20 foot snake - the photographer draped the snake around MY neck for the photo op - daughter being too small to hold the weight - right there the idea came to me for my Necklace Snakes.

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2007 3:00 PM

Horses? Scary! It's a good thing I'll never have to do that kind of research or I would break something.

When do I get to see you again Maria? Are you avoiding me?

Posted by: Blogger Chun at 9/21/2007 3:19 PM

Hi Chun! LOL - if I didn't know you so well - I'd think your question was very stalker scary!

I'm at Capclave in D.C. in October with my roomie, Jeri and I'll be at Seton Hill in January.

Where will you be? Hanging out with your NEW Ph.D buddies ;>

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2007 4:14 PM

Hello from Susan-who-owns-the-real-Kiki!

Maria emailed me that she was guestblogging today and I couldn't resist surfing over to see what was going on here.

Some more information on Maria and Kiki: Kiki had a show career but by the time Maria met up with her, she had long been retired to pleasure riding and small-town parades on the 4th of July (hey when your horse is sorrel red, with white legs and blue eyes, what's more appropriate?). The old girl taught both my nieces to ride and a few other adults along the way. Learning to do anything as an adult is different than learning it as a child. Children just do it and enjoy the whole experience; adults know they can be hurt and have some extra baggage to overcome. Kiki's great virtue is that she understands her rider and adapts to the rider's level of experience and anxiety. She isn't above testing you, Maria found out...but she has never willingly harmed or scared anyone. I have ridden with small children (Maria's daughter included) in front of me on the saddle and Kiki has never mis-stepped, wavered, spooked or otherwise offered a moment's excitement.

My mother rode Kiki when she was 77, after recovering from surgery for ovarian cancer. I am proud to say the mare took as much care of my mom as a nurse would have.

Sadly, Kiki has developed an eye disease which limits her vision severely. She is now 26 and hasn't been ridden for at least 2 years. She has adapted to her new environment so well, however, that I am considering riding again. We both need to get back into shape, though.

Best wishes to all!

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2007 4:33 PM

Thanks for sharing Maria! It was really interesting to hear about the process of bringing your life/research to your writing.

I'll be looking forward to your module on Magic in January.

How did you get into glass blowing?

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2007 8:16 PM

I'm glad so many people came and commented!

Susan - Thanks for stopping by and not mentioning anything too embarrassing ;>

Cravinski - I needed to learn about glass blowing for two books. Fire Study, which is coming out Feb. 26, 2008 - has a minor character who is a glass artist. Then in my next book, Storm Glass (due out Sept. 08) the main character is the glass artist from Fire Study. So I really needed to know how to work with glass! And I hope you can take my SHU module and I'm not opposite some core module that's only offered every leap year or something ;>

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/22/2007 5:31 PM

Great post!

Now that you're a pro, you can teach me sometime.


Posted by: Blogger Mike Mehalek at 9/22/2007 10:47 PM

Just tonight I checked Google (well actually, iGoogle). I have a HowTo on there, and I noticed an article "How to Avoid Injury when Falling off a Horse." Then minutes later I'm reading your newsletter & follow the link here where you're talking about falling off a horse.
Yelena doesn't do too badly on a horse, but has other advantages. I don't imagine you talked with Kiki the way she does!
Also just read your Sept installment: now if it would suddenly become October.

Posted by: Blogger John88 at 9/23/2007 8:16 PM

The last time I tried to ride a horse it bit me. Sigh. I LOVE horses. I'll be reading your books from now on.


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 9/26/2007 8:19 AM

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