Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Review: Paint the Wind, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

One of the real bonuses of WWW membership is meeting and getting to know other author-members. In 2004 at the conference in Albuquerque, YA/Children’s author Pam Muñoz Ryan was our WILLA banquet speaker. I had the pleasure of meeting her and talking with her. Pam, incidentally, is a several-time WILLA winner.

Pam had written a children’s book about Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt — Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride — a story I was familiar with. I wanted an autographed copy for my granddaughter. Pam was interested in my book about women pilots in World War II, THE ORIGINALS, and we agreed to a swap. We have since corresponded off and on via e-mail. At some point, I expressed interest in her next project.

In early June, a package arrived for me containing an advanced reader copy of Paint the Wind. I was thrilled, read it immediately, loved it, and e-mailed Pam that I would love to do a review for WWW. What follows here is that review, along with a Q&A prepared by Pam’s publicist. The Q&A is designed to get you thinking about what you are reading. I would also offer it as a very professional example of a marketing tool from which other WWW authors might learn.

Paint the Wind is due to be released in September 2007. The publisher is Scholastic Press of New York. Here is my review.

Reading WWW member Pam Muñoz Ryan’s latest young adult novel Paint the Wind inevitably took me back to age seven or eight and my discovery of the magic world of horses. I think it was the movie My Friend Flicka that started it all. I know for sure that when I read Walter Farley’s classic The Black Stallion, I was hooked.

I didn’t write stories in my childhood — that would come later — rather I created stories and ran them like movies in my head. I created and dreamed them. I “lived” them in my mind’s eye, in my soul, and sometimes, I think, my body lived them as well.

Like Maya in Paint the Wind, horses changed my life. My desire to ride, to be one with that magnificent animal the horse, led me to attend a Colorado summer camp that specialized in Western riding. It also led me to join a riding club in Denver — these were VERY big in the 1950s — where I learned to ride English style to complement the Western seat I learned at camp. Though I left horses and riding behind when I went to college, the life-blood of the West — horses — had been firmly ingrained in the person I would become.

Talk about life-changing events! That mine spread over ten years just makes it dearer and more vivid.

Paint the Wind is the book I WANTED to read as a young girl. Why? Because it has a HEROINE — a girl protagonist. In all the books I read about horses, a boy was the lead character. I suppose that’s why I had to make up my own stories in order to put the female protagonist — me — into the story. How many of you had similar experiences?
Pam makes the same connection with her own reading as a youngster, but in her author Q&A she adds an element that had not occurred to me.

In those childhood books we both read, the horse in the story wins a race — or some competition — to prove its worth to the owner. Pam’s contention is that she wanted the heroine to bring something to the horse — and thus to all humankind. Thus, her story reaches into that magic realm called universality. It becomes more than just a story of a girl and a horse. It becomes an experience that could be told anytime, anywhere, about anyone, and is understood and meaningful to all people. That’s no easy task, but Pam has achieved it — all in a simple story of a girl and a horse.

What could be better?

Sarah Byrn Rickman is a former WWW president (2005) and author of the forthcoming (March 2008) biography: Nancy Love and the WASP Ferry Pilots of World War II.

Q&A with Author Pam Muñoz Ryan

WWW: Did you ride or spend time around horses when you were a child?
Muñoz Ryan: Only vicariously. As a young girl, I was obsessive about books and I still remember reading Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind, Misty of Chincoteague, and Justin Morgan Had a Horse. Many of my friends collected Breyer horses, which I loved but couldn't afford. One of my friends owned a horse and I can still remember going out to the corral behind her house to pet it. The horse world fascinated me. But it was so far removed from my everyday (and beyond my family’s financial means), that it never occurred to me to ask for riding lessons. But once, when I was in high school, the Lipizzaner Stallions came to my town on tour. A boy I had no interest in dating asked me to attend the performance. I accepted only because I wanted to see the horses! [Laughing] I still feel a bit guilty about that.

WWW: What classic horse stories did you read (or reread) as you prepared to write Paint the Wind?
Muñoz Ryan: I reread dozens of children’s and adult classic horse stories, and contemporary ones as well. I made a list of over thirty titles and to my surprise, discovered that most featured a boy and a horse: The Red Pony, King of the Wind, The Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka, Seabiscuit, the Billy and Blaze series and many others. That fueled my desire to put a girl protagonist in a unique and character-strengthening situation. I also noticed that many horse stories ended with an inevitable race or competition and that the value of the horse was often depicted through its ability to win something for the owner. I wanted more than that. I wanted reciprocity – for the human to "win" something for the horse, too.

WWW: How did you become interested in wild horses?
Muñoz Ryan: I began researching horses in general, reading nonfiction books about the historical and mythical significance of the species to man. Many world cultures revered the horse and measured a man’s worth by how many horses he owned. That led me to stories about the role of the horse in the development of America: how the country flourished after the advent of horses from Spain via Mexico and the introduction of horses from Europe to the East Coast during Colonial times. Then I read America’s Last Wild Horses by Hope Ryden and became fascinated with the social dynamics in wild herds and harem bands. I learned about the stallion’s role as protector and the mare’s role as leader and the alliances made among “sister mares.” I came to appreciate the equine sense of community. Now I understand why people advocate for the protection of wild horses.

WWW: How did your heroine, Maya, develop?
Muñoz Ryan: After researching the wild horses and going on wilderness rides to see them up close, I began to wonder about a young girl who lived a repressed life: one of confinement and loneliness, with no sense of community, which is the opposite of the wild horse world. Then I imagined what it would be like to thrust Maya into a remote and wild setting similar to that of the wild horses. I questioned how she might grow and change under those circumstances. I wanted Maya to discover a sense of community not only with her new family, but with the horse world, and with the land.

WWW: What affected your decision to learn how to ride, especially now as an adult?
Muñoz Ryan: I kept asking myself, "How can I write a book about this character and this horse and not know how to ride?" Besides, here was my chance to live what I thought was a lost dream. I’d been on a horse before, but only a few times. In each of those instances, I sat placidly on a mount that followed a line of horses, nose-to-tail. I needed a different, more hands-on experience. Two years ago, I approached a trainer, Dana Rullo, in Olivenhain, California, and told her what I needed to accomplish in order to research and write this book. I admitted to her that I’d never had one lesson in my life but that I wanted to learn everything the correct way – no shortcuts. And I asked her to be strict with me. She agreed to train me. She was demanding and thorough and exactly the type of teacher I needed. I took hundreds of private riding lessons from her, sometimes riding three days a week to prepare for the two research rides I'd arranged. I still laugh at all the mistakes I made and how many times Dana said the words, "do-over." Often, if I knew I would be learning a new skill at the next lesson, I’d research it at length beforehand. One day, Dana gave simple, clear instructions on how to side-pass. I struggled and then reiterated the myriad of details I’d read about the technique. She shook her head and said, "Stop thinking so hard and start feeling!" Like my character, Maya, I had to learn that good horsemanship is as much about feeling as it is about thinking.

WWW: Paint the Wind is a departure from your other novels—it’s still your signature storytelling, but the epic Western landscape feels like exciting new terrain for you. What kind of research did you do to get to know your setting?
Muñoz Ryan: I needed to go where my story would be set, or somewhere similar, to see the wild horses in their habitat. So I signed up for two research rides. During the first one (in May 2006, in the eastern Sierra Mountains), the weather turned wet and cold, but our group rode anyway, one day for six hours in freezing rain. I will never forget the moment we finally encountered a harem band: That first sighting was awe-inspiring. The horses’ spirits were self-righteous and noble. And I realized how very seldom I have ever seen a large mammal in the wild, living free within its own defined society. That experience also gave me profound respect for the horses’ ability to withstand the elements and the restraints of man.
On the second ride (in August 2006, in southwestern Wyoming, near the Red Desert), we rode for eight days. I slept in a teepee, was caught on horseback in a swarm of "mean bees," bathed in the Sweetwater River, and spent long days in the saddle. In that part of the country, there is much more sky above than there is earth below, and for me, there was something unsettling and settling about the wide open spaces. At night, the stars came slowly, one by one. The Milky Way emerged as a smear – a giant swipe across the speckled blanket of sky. It was peaceful and comforting. But at the same time, against it, I felt belittled and helpless. I wanted to convey that feeling to the reader.

WWW: In alternating chapters throughout much of the novel, you write from the point of view of a wild horse, Artemisia. Did you always know her story would be such a central part of the book?
Muñoz Ryan: As the story developed, I knew that I wanted to incorporate the horse world from a perspective other than Maya’s. As I researched the herd dynamics of horses in the wild, I became intrigued by the nuances of their society and how it is structured, especially the role of the lead mare. When I needed a horse character to fulfill Maya’s unresolved longings about her mother, a lead mare seemed the right choice.

WWW: Were there any special challenges in writing from the point of view of an animal?
Muñoz Ryan: The biggest challenge was to avoid giving the horses anthropomorphic characteristics. The book would have been much easier to write if I could have given them human emotions! But that wouldn’t have been true to the animal world. A horse’s sensibility is different from a human’s and I wanted to portray it correctly. I tried very hard to depict appropriate equine responses, but I still left a little room for some creative license.

WWW: The horses in the book are named for famous painters. What was your inspiration for this?
Muñoz Ryan: I tried many different approaches to naming the horses. (At one time, I toyed with the idea of naming them after the towns in Wyoming.) While researching, I visited the Gilcrease Museum: The Museum of the Americas, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was inspired by their collection. There I saw, among others, the works of Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Olaf Seltzer, Charles Banks Wilson, John Singer Sargent, John Audubon, N.C. Wyeth, and Winslow Homer. The artists and their works stayed with me. I realized that many of them were likely unfamiliar to young people, so I saw an opportunity to subtly introduce them. But most importantly, naming the horses after famous painters fit the story. Many are named for painters of the American Southwest because the story is set there. I hoped that if readers searched for their work, they might appreciate the landscape, history, and color of a part of this country that is truly unique. Other horses are named for artists whose personal journeys impressed me, and who had to overcome their family’s or society’s reservations about them becoming artists, such as Mary Cassatt and Artemisia Genteleschi. I also chose a few artists, like N.C. Wyeth, simply because I’m in awe of his work.

WWW: Anything else you’d like to share about your adventures? What was your most surprising discovery?
Muñoz Ryan: The writing of this book was a physical and an emotional challenge. As my character grew in my imagination, I discovered new territories too, away from the safe and familiar. Until I learned how to ride, I had never appreciated a horse’s size and power and how sobering that can feel. Nor could I have imagined how passionately I would fall in love with horses, especially my training horse, Smokey, who knows so much more about riding than I do. The other revelation was how very much I appreciated being in the wilderness. There is something magical in a panoramic landscape. Without the extra-sensory world pressing in, the simplest tasks take on meaning, priorities become clear, relevance is easier to determine. As my character, Aunt Vi, says in the book, "Wide open space does that to people. Slows them down and gives them time and legroom to sort out their thoughts and put them in the right order." It certainly did that for me. Wide open space gave me the chance to slow down so that my story and characters could grow in my imagination.

WWW: The scene in which your main character, Maya, first learns to lope is exhilarating to read. Did you have a similar experience?
Muñoz Ryan: I’ll never forget the time I loped a long distance in Wyoming. We had been out all day for another long ride. Before we headed back to camp, we arrived at a vast grassy plain. We divided into two groups, those who wanted to hold back and those who wanted to move out. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I moved forward in the saddle. I didn’t have to cue my horse because as soon as one horse started, mine immediately picked up the gait. The remuda horses were amazingly adept at loping over the sagebrush and avoiding holes. We loped faster and faster. It was as if the horses were racing each other in a great arching leaps. I have never ridden so fast or so far in my life. It was frightening and thrilling and invigorating, and…well…I can’t wait to do it again someday. I can’t wait to once more paint the wind.

WWW: Thanks for sharing with us, Pam!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August Reading Group

We'll start discussing our Monthly Selection around August 15th so get your copy and start reading now! Best price is through Here is information about the book from Rio Nuevo, the publisher's website:

The Wicked West
Boozers, Cruisers, Gamblers, and More
Sherry Monahan
ISBN-13: 978-1-887896-74-0
ISBN-10: 1-887896-74-0
176 pp, 6 x 9, paper, 60 b&w photos and illustrations

The Wicked West takes readers on a sinful journey back to frontier days. Gallop your horse right into a saloon (that often really happened!). Learn how our forefathers—and foremothers—enjoyed life’s wild little pastimes, such as drinking, smoking, gambling, and of course, prostitution. Your guide for this riotous trip through saloons and bordellos all across the Old West is popular historian, Sherry Monahan. She shows you how to mix a mean whiskey cocktail and gives the rules for the high-rolling game of faro. Best of all, she introduces you to a crowd of rough, tough, real-life men and women who tell their unforgettable stories in their own salty words.
Who would have guessed that absinthe was a popular drink? It's now available again in the United States having been banned since 1912. Go to the reading forum link to learn more about the green fairy!

Sign up and join us at the WWW reading group forum.

Buy the book at our link here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

blog interviews

Today and both have blog interview with me posted. I talk about writing and life and issues of faith as well.
I'm busy working on my quilt and craft book so this will be short. When that book is finished I'm going to figure out how to add photographs to this blog. Then you can see the difference in the landscape from before and after the fire. But for now, I hope your day goes well. Jane