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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

Figures. I make a resolution to post often and… my internet network goes down and my laptop crashes. A few stressful days and nights later, I’m back with an interview with Jessica Burkhart, author of Take the Reins, first of Canterwood Crest series.

Jessica isn’t just a friend, but a fellow alumni! We both graduated a few months apart from Florida State University with degrees in English. So I of course jumped at the chance to interview her.

Soon, I’ll have a review of Take the Reins. Be sure to check out Jessica’s website and The Official Canterwood Crest site

As a former equestrian, you’ve drawn from your past experiences with horse back riding, it appears, in crafting “Take the Reins.” Which of your characters do you most identify with? Are there any instances taken from your riding past you’ve used in the novel?

I put more of myself into Sasha than any other character. She’s boy crazy, but kind of awkward around guys. She loves horses, doesn’t mind working hard and is super loyal to her friends. We also, obviously, are obsessed with lip-gloss.

I took many of my past riding lessons with my instructor and put them into the book. In the first few pages of Take the Reins, Charm spooks from a car back fire. I was leading a horse once that spooked from a noise (I don’t remember what it was) and he reared and bolted just like Charm. It was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had with a horse—I was terrified for the horse’s safety. That’s one of my favorite scenes in the book.

Who are some of your writing inspirations?

I love reading (and rereading!) anything by Sara Gruen, Kate Brian and Maureen Johnson.

What’s your favorite horse breed?

I’ve always been obsessed with Thoroughbreds. They have a reputation for only being hot-headed racehorses, but I’ve found that not to be true with many of the Thoroughbreds I’ve met or worked with. They’re a fun, athletic and friendly breed. I’m excited to see many programs popping up to rehabilitate retired racehorses and to transition them into pleasure horses.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give aspiring writers?

Write what YOU want to write and not what you think people (editors, agents, readers) want to read.

Your journey from blogger to published author appears to have been a whirlwind.. what’s been the most amazing and defining moment of your journey so far?

The best part was my recent trip to New York City. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Simon & Schuster! It was amazing to meet all of the people who have worked so hard on Canterwood Crest. The entire experience was surreal and I felt like a rock star.

Describe your writing process – have any lucky talismans? Routines?

I don’t have any lucky objects, but maybe I should get some!

When I start a new book, I always do fast-drafting. I try to finish the first draft within a month. I feel less nervous when I have *something* down on paper even when it’s first draft garbage. At least when the draft is finished, I have something to work on. I’m most panicked when I haven’t started and there are 180+ blank pages to fill.

Since you’re in the big leagues .. I have to ask the quintessential author question, cliche as it may be: Where did you get the idea for Take the Reins (and the subsequent books)

The big leagues, huh? 🙂 Why thank you!

Take the Reins was my fantasy as a kid—a fancy boarding school with horses, cute guys and no parents! I’d always wanted to write a horse novel, but after my spinal surgery I dropped the idea for six years. Thinking about horses and how I couldn’t ride anymore was too painful! In November 2006, the rough idea for Canterwood popped into my head and wouldn’t go away. I could no longer hide from horses. I enjoyed every second of writing that draft and it felt as if I hadn’t spent a second away from the horse world.

For the rest of the books, I keep a running list of ideas. When I have something solid, I call Editor K and ask something like, “Is this the worst idea you’ve ever heard?”

Most of the time, she says, “Yes, whatever your name is, that’s a ridiculous, awful idea! Stop calling me!”* and hangs up. Then, I cry for a couple of days. Once, though, she liked my idea and we talked it through.

* I’m so not kidding!

Now that you’ve tackled intermediate series, what’s next? Do you feel you’ll write for adults as well?

I’m thrilled that I’ll be in the Canterwood Crest world for a while! I have five more Canterwood books to write, so I’m completely focused on them. It’s such a blast to write a series and I feel so lucky that I’m able to spend more time with my characters and their horses.

In the future, I want to write everything! Writing for older teens would be fun, so I’d love to try YA. Since I started my career with magazine articles, I think non-fiction would be great, too.

I haven’t given much thought to writing for adults, but it’s nothing I’d rule out for the future.

We both attended Florida State for our BAs in English where the canon reigned. What are some titles you feel authors must read?

I would suggest writers (and authors, too) read what’s popular in the genre they’re writing. For YA writers, I’d recommend Meg Cabot. For middle-grade, I adore Lauren Myracle’s work. I’d break down those categories more and read a wide range of lit from fantasy to horror to tween or teen chick lit. There aren’t any specific titles that I feel people have to read, but I do think it’s so important to read a variety of authors.

What’s your favorite word(s)?

Sparkly and shiny are my fave words!

Who’s your favorite fictional horse?

I adore Wonder from the Thoroughbred series. I still want a chestnut Thoroughbred mare because of those books!

If you could live inside any children’s book, what title would it be and why?

Oooh. Hmmm. I’d have to say Matilda. She’s the book worm with magic powers! Love her.


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