D. L. Parkhurst was a horse owner/rider for decades before deciding to share her adventures in a memoir. Her debut release, Heart Horses: A Woman’s Journey (2021), is described as “a warm and gentle story of a woman discovering herself through the horses she raises and loves.” You’ll find Debra on Facebook and on her website DLParkhurstWrites.com.
What is your elevator pitch for Heart Horses?
A woman realizes her childhood dream of owning a horse, then finds herself challenged not only in equestrian sports, but in navigating life’s losses, surprises, and unexpected turns.
When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
I hope they’ve been entertained while gaining an understanding of some of the challenges and rewards of owning a horse, along with the tremendous responsibility it entails.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This was my first published book. Trying to organize over sixty years of memories into a story was something I’d never tried before. It took determination to get everything down and go through the editing process. It also took a while for me to find my “voice” and I’m still developing it. I’m also an artist. Although I wanted to provide illustrations for the book, I felt very nervous about it, thinking my art wasn’t good enough. A friend helped give me the courage when she said, “This isn’t a book about your art. You’re using your art to help tell the story.” So I hope that my art conveys even more to the reader about my beloved horses.”
When did you know you wanted to write your memoir?
In addition to SouthWest Writers, I belong to a local Tulsa writing group and had been writing some short stories and scenes for them centered on my horses. Their feedback encouraged me to create this memoir. I had previously written a copious amount of sci-fi fan fiction but had not thought about publishing anything. The memoir seemed a simpler task — I found out that was not the case — than reinventing my fan fic world, which would be required since the main characters were not mine.
How did the book come together?
Between writing and painting, the memoir took about a year to complete. My terrific editor assisted me with development, as well as giving loads of encouragement. I chose to self-publish as an e-book and paperback on Amazon via KDP which was quite the learning experience. I felt like Thomas Edison discovering the five-hundredth way not to light a bulb by the time it was conquered.
The art was photographed and inserted fairly easily within the book, although how it appears in an e-book is dependent on whatever device the reader is using. The cover art was brilliantly done by a graphic artist friend of mine. She used photos of my horses to create silhouettes and then arranged them into the outline of a heart. The burnt sienna cover was created from a sampling of the youngest horse’s coat color.
Any “Oh, wow!” moments while doing research for the book?
It was very gratifying that my test audience enjoyed the story and gave useful feedback. My biggest shock was when I searched my fledgling manuscript for exclamation points and saw where I had unconsciously used five of them in one chapter. There were also several “Oh, ####!” moments when blotting up some watercolor paint that had traveled where I didn’t want it to go.
What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
Bringing my three horses, Hannah, Legacy, and Hy, into the present and sharing them with everyone who reads this book. Even now I can recall Hannah’s wonderful smell. I hope everyone who reads this will stop and sniff a horse’s neck the next time they have an opportunity.
What makes Heart Horses unique in the memoir market?
Not many people back in my day (before fire, you know) would have attempted horse sports with a Standardbred, which is a breed created for harness racing not riding. But as the world is learning, Standardbreds are multi-talented. Today, I see them performing in dressage, jumping, trail riding, and even as cow horses. People constantly comment on how these horses are willing-to-please. The other unique item in my book is that not many people have their third horse dropped on them in such a surprising way.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I got my first negative reader comments about my fan fiction. Some people were unhappy with what a character had done. I was thrilled because it meant they cared. My characters were real enough to them to allow them to care.
What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I often find myself writing late at night or awakening early when a thought forces me to the keyboard. My tortoise-shell cat, Mystique, is a great comfort as she rubs against my arm or plops on the keyboard when I have paused to contemplate something. For her loyal companionship, I have given her credit in my book’s acknowledgement section.
You’re working on a science fiction novel. How did your experience writing nonfiction affect/benefit your fiction writing? Now that you’ve written fiction and nonfiction, do you have a preference?
They both have their interesting challenges. The memoir events actually happened, so there was little contriving a plot, only figuring out how best to piece it together, as well as what to include and what to leave out. The characters are all real, so I only reveal, not create, portions of their personalities.
The science fiction, although derived from many influences, comes from my imagination and often seems to tell itself as I write. But all the characters must be fashioned and built from scratch. I must ensure that the plot hooks together and that the characters remain true to themselves, among myriad other things.
I don’t know yet that I have a preference. Each is an exciting and sometimes even aggravating adventure. Writing the memoir was a learning experience that has informed some of the process of writing my science fiction novel and revealed things inherent in my writing style that I need to be on guard for when editing.
What writing projects are you working on now?
In addition to the sci-fi novel, I’ve also been thinking about writing a memoir of my adventures living in the country. There are many stories my husband and I lived through besides the ones involving horses including tornadoes, prairie fires, and a steak-stealing chicken.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.