A: The Horse with the Golden Mane by Russell A Vassallo
2. What inspired the book?
A: I began writing a short story called “Eric” which I intended submitting to a contest. The problem was that it was beyond most word counts for the contests I was considering. I just put it aside and left it to write other, shorter pieces.
One evening, my wife slipped out of bed and went downstairs. I am usually very conscious of her getting up since our auto accident of 1990. Call it the Mother Goose syndrome. I just do not feel comfortable if she is up and I don't reassure myself that she is all right. I don't know whether I dozed off or not but when I started getting up, suddenly she seemed to be right next to me.
It was the seed of an idea of a man who isn't quite sure if he is living with a real woman or one he invented. The title story, The Horse with the Golden Mane,
Began to take form. It was a form full of anger and hatred, not a man in love, but a man desperately jealous of his wife's relationship with her daughter. I wrote the story and left it alone for six or seven months. When I reread it, I realized that I was dealing with myself, a very hateful self, one I didn't like at all.
Before I could change the story I had to change the main character. I had to make him likeable, a man desperately devoted to his wife. So little by little, I added bits and pieces of my own life into the character's life until it fused into a story about a man so much in love he simply could not let go of the woman he loved. I won't tell you whether she was real or invented. The reader will have to buy the book and decided that for himself.
Once I pieced the two stories together, I added two more and it became a full version of The Horse with the Golden Mane.
3. What makes this book special to you?
Like Tears and Tale, The Horse with the Golden Mane s opened a lot of worlds for me, internal worlds. I had anger problems from an abusive childhood; I saw things only from my own perspective; my marriage was in deep trouble; my wife was wearing down from just trying to love me . . . and get me to accept her love. The character in my second book was so despicable, no one could possibly feel sorry for him. But, the man he became, Pierce Bernard, because a romantic, a lover, a devoted husband.
What makes it special to me is that ,like Pierce Bernard, I was able to change my perspective, to become a likeable person, someone who could show his love for his wife and accept her love as well. I still can't put it down when I read it. It fascinates me that I was able to create these characters, give them life, tell their story. And when I finished, I nearly cried because I knew I would miss the man that Grant Bernard had become. So part of Grant Bernard still lives on except his name is Russ Vassallo.
It was also a book wherein I matured as a writer. Instead of writing about a single character, I was able to expand, create other individuals and give them breath and depth.
4. What people NEED to read this book and WHY?
Like most of my work it has general appeal, but I would say that Horse appeals to the adolescent, the adult male and female. It has a little of everything, inspiration, adventure, mystery, romance. Like the commercial, it's the ubiquitous comestible.
5. What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?
God gave Michelangelo the talent to see a figure within a block of marble. I think he gives writers a different block of marble. They see people and real life inside the marble and they chip away at it until it takes form and breathes a life of its own. He gave me two gifts: the ability to see a story in things around me; and the ability to work hard to develop that story.
Before one can spark creativity I think they need to have that special talent that makes them want to write. It like a melody that haunts your mind, a note here, another there, then all the notes begin to flow. Suddenly they become mind images, people moving, speaking, living. Look at someone and imagine him or her involved in a situation. Tell their story or make one up about them. If you have your character set well, he will tell his own story. Just as Pierce Bernard, he told hi own story. How he fixed on the notion that if he trained Red Leader, gained the horses trust, showed the kindness and understanding that was in him, that Maya would return to love him again.
6. What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?
A: I think the biggest stumbling block is the advice of others already in the writing profession. They come up with a lot of general rules that seem sacrosanct. For example, write every day. I cannot write every day. When I do, I can write several things at one time. I write from inspiration, feeling, emotion and when I have something real to say.
I don't want to be a hack writer and I don't want to write what will necessarily sell to editors, magazines and publishers. My writing is me. It's the most personal thing you can do. So when someone tells me I should write every day, it creates a guilt problem when I don't. Or if they tell me that flashbacks should be avoided. Flashbacks work if one well. There are just too many rules that do not apply to the unique writer.
Write for yourself and someone you value. I write for my wife. If she gives me that pat on the head, every word I write is worthwhile. I'll edit, and rewrite again and again.
I suppose fear of rejection is the biggest stumbling block. I choose to write and market my own work. If something doesn't work, I have no one to contend with but myself. That may not work for everyone. Others may need to find acceptance in earning a living at what they do ,but what good does it do if you sell one article and spend double on psychologist because you can't contend with the other rejections you receive?
7. What do you think motivate people to become authors? What motivated you to get into this unusual industry?
A: I think every author needs something. Most call it approval, the need to be recognized. What affects me the most is when my own writing touches me. If it touches me, it will touch others. I think inwardly I need to make every person I meet a friend. A friend will not taunt me because I am short of height. A friend will not comment on my sagging paunch. No, a friend will see much beyond that. He will see the loving, compassionate and sensitive man within. He will see me because the “me” will be my characters.
I write so others will see that man, will know him, will not hurt him by calling him names. They will not goad him into impossible fights or against impossible odds. They will not play on his generosity because he needs to be loved. If they need a kind word or a helping hand, they will know that there is at least one man who will make the offer.
I do not think I was motivated to get into an industry that is so calloused and indifferent. I think that is why I don't submit articles to most magazines or publishers. I prefer selling fewer books but reaching the people whose emotional can truly be touched, people who respond to inspiration, kindness, love. So I did not start writing to be part of an industry. On the contrary, I was motivated to write to become an individuals. Because we self publish, I feel I have achieved that.
8. Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your books?
A: Because my first book, Tears and Tales was an animal-related book, I teamed up with a local animal shelter fund-raiser and donated a portion of the proceeds to their organization. I've also sold a number of books to waiters and waitresses, most of whom want to be authors.
1. Why are you the BEST person to write this book? What is your background or in your research makes you qualified to do justice to this topic?
A: I either know or have met the characters in my book The Horse with the Golden Mane. Not only that but I am the foster parent of Red Leader so it was only natural that he would be on the front cover and the star of the entire book. Horse also permitted me to be myself and to write what I knew best. Most of the book is really based on non-fictional events, but some fiction was added to dramatize.
2 If a potential reader thinks that your book wouldn't interest them, what would you say to convince them to buy?
A: If I am selling The Horse with the Golden Mane , I use an actual photograph of Red Leader. He's a truly handsome animal and an eight-by-ten photograph of him just seems to catch people's eye. As soon as I give them a moment to view his picture, I tell them that Red Leader is a rescued animal and I reveal some personal facts about him. By then, I have their interest and their attention. I can then tell a just enough about the stories in my book that will intrigue them and I show them the award certificate for Horse.
3. Why does the topic of your book interest you? Why would it interest potential readers?
The best example I can offer to answer this question is a quote from one of my newest stories going into a future book. The story is called “The Unloved.”
We meet at the bottom of the stairs, but her eyes avert from mine.
She will not face me when she is perturbed. She is smoting her
own anger because I am blind and do not see. I can be
perplexing to everyone except my animals. With them, I am different.
I feel their love and I sense their emotions. Conversations flows easily
with them and I do not feel unloved. I am comfortable with my
animals. They expect nothing from me. They hold me to no standard.
With them, I do not have to do better and better each time
I attempt something. I know they love me because their love
is simplistic and demonstrative. They are not the feelingless
mother who raised me on criticism and derision.
I also write about two-legged animals since I grew up in a city where mobsters proliferated. I can recall talking to a mob boss, pleading for the life of a friend who was on the hit list. I guess he liked me or I would still be here. Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs is due out in August (I hope.)
4. If there's anything else you would like to share, this is the time and the place.
A: Before you begin writing for publication, take a long hard look at how much of yourself you are willing to give to the industry. Are you willing to learn the industry standards? Are you willing to give up part of your personal life to pursue it? Are you willing to sometimes spend more money selling your books than you earn? Will you accept the criticism of a professional editor? How will you react to being scammed by the thousands out there who want the money your dreams are built on? Are you determined to succeed in spite of them? Do you know where to go to find the right answers?
One things keeps me going when everything else seems to be falling apart?
The professionals are the ones who didn't quit. With me, it's a more personal reason. My mother wanted me to become a lawyer and a judge. She didn't think I could write well enough to earn a living at it. Maybe she was right. But I am driven by the thought I have to prove her wrong.
So, select something that drives you . . . and never let it go.