Monday, February 22, 2016

Lee Hope talks about her gripping novel Horsefever, the powerful relationship between horses and their riders, bringing literature to people on parole, writing, and so much more

First, the raves:

 This atmospheric first novel thrusts readers into the intense, often seedy world of competitive horsemanship. Though the concept will certainly appeal to those interested in equine sports, the shifting character dynamics and tense plot will hook fans of suspense as well as horse lovers.–Maggie Reagan, Booklist

Hope has melded a perfect concoction in Horsefever – horses, a murder mystery, a little passion, some suspense, all wrapped around our four-legged friends. Add this one to your 2016 reading list.
–Horse Country Chic

 Lee Hope is editor-in-chief of Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices. Her fiction has received grants from both the Maine and the Pennsylvania Arts Commissions. Her short stories have been published in numerous literary journals, such as: Witness, The North American Review, Epiphany, and Sou’wester. She is currently president of the nonprofit Solstice Institute for Creative Writing and teaches for Changing Lives Through Literature, which brings reading to people on probation.

I'm honored to host Lee. Thank you, Lee!

I always want to know what sparks a book? What did it for you? 
I am fascinated with literary suspense.  With Horsefever, I was drawn to a particular murder case about two imperiled marriages that ends tragically with a killing.  I was also fascinated with horses, and owned a small horse farm. So I changed the protagonists in the original case to be horse people, and the novel took off.   Nikki, one of the four protagonists, wishes to compete in the dangerous sport of cross country horse jumping, but her fears hold her back.  Her landowner, husband, Cliff, hires Gabe, half paralyzed in a jumping accident, as a horse trainer, and an attraction grows between Gabe and Nikki, as do the jealous suspicions of Cliff and Gabe's wife Carla, which eventually lead to violence.  The fates of these marriages are intertwined with the relationships with horses, and with ambition and fear.  

What I so love about your novel is the storyworld--the way you bring  us into a world that is as exotic as it is compelling, and even dangerous. Why do you think this particular world gives rise to both the spiritual and the sensual?
In a high risk sport, or any high risk physical activity, really, you risk your life. Cross country riding, or jumping horses, is that dangerous.  At any moment you could be thrown, your horse could trip, you could break bones, your neck, get a concussion, be brain dead.  And risking death can be spiritual, you must confront your fears, and persist.  It takes a certain irrationality, yes.  One eventer said that cross country riders, eventers, are a little crazy.  But I would say such riding also takes an inner strength.  You use your body, as in any sport, but in riding you also connect with the body of the horse…you sense your body so vividly in its vulnerability and strength each time your horse jumps, or competes…it's a union that brings together, if you're tapped into it, the sensual and the spiritual.  And this union is what Nikki knows, and Gabe, her trainer, knows it, and her husband Cliff, senses it, the power of the body/spirit connection.  So Cliff quickly comes to wish he had never hired a trainer in the first place, but it is too late.  The passion of the sport, of winning, has taken hold and propels all four main characters into spiritual territory, both dark and light.   

Can you talk a bit about the connection between the riders and the horses, how it works, when it doesn’t--and why? 

I love this question because it leads us into the spiritual connections between species, the sensual, emotional communication between humans and nonhumans. 
Horses are creatures of prey that have survived since prehistoric times through fear.  They know fear in its depths, so they sense ours as we touch or ride them.  If we are afraid, then their fears ignite, and
 they can become dangerous.  So to ride well, we must master our own fears, sense fear in our bodies, in ourselves, find a calm center, and then in centering, we can communicate quietly through each touch, each gesture with reins, with our thighs, our heels, our heads, our sight, our tones of voice, our breath.  We can learn to feel into the horse,  to come to where we do not dominate, but to where we relate beyond ourselves,…to where we transcend.  Yet if we cannot center ourselves, as Nikki sometimes cannot, and as Gabe once failed to do, then we can become as Gabe, half paralyzed.  Infirm.  Or, in some cases, dead.  So pay attention to the horse, to the nonhumans outside of us.

What kind of writer are you? Did you carry this story around in your head for years, or dash it out on paper and then revise? Do you have rituals? And can you talk about what you’re working on now?

I find in order to circumvent my logical mind, I must write fast, not a free write, exactly, but to let it flow, to think of it as a draft, which it is, and then, yes, I must revise again and again. 
My ritual is to do what riders must do, to center somehow, in the midst of it all.  To find a meditative space.  To maybe even meditate before I write, which is often easier for me in the mornings.  Now after a few years break, I finally have started a new novel.  No horses in it.  But a crime.  That old fascination of mine returning, or it never went, of those people who live close to the edge and sometimes go over it.   As any of us really can. 

I was so happy to see that you teach for Changing Lives Through Literature--I’ve worked with this program, too, and found it extraordinary. Can you talk about this, please?

You can see how I would be drawn to this program with its use of literature to touch the lives of people on probation, people who were on the edge, and for some reason, could not stop the momentum…and made a wrong choice perhaps, which leads them to the classes in this
terrific national program, which was founded in Massachusetts, where I teach with a judge and a probation officer.  We have seen the effects of this program on some of our students.  Some come to realize how smart they are, come to identify with characters in the stories, characters who also can make wrong choices causing suffering. So some students make other life choices than they once might have.

I have published a few stories by these students in Solstice:  A Magazine of Diverse Voices, of which I am the editor-in-chief.  We publish established writers, including  writers of color and various social classes, as well as writers on the margins.  We promote diversity in literature, as in a different way, Changing Lives Through Literature also does. 
What’s obsessing you now and why?

I'm obsessed with beginning a new novel in the midst of the publicity for Horsefever.
How to handle that balance?  I'm obsessed with trying to promote my own writing after so many years of publishing other writers, and teaching them in conferences, and founding an MFA program in Creative Writing, and how I take such joy and feel satisfaction in promoting other writers, while I find myself feeling awkward and shy asking others for favors about my own work.   And more than all that, I'm obsessed with trying to get back to meditation, and to prayer perhaps, to center myself, because it's in centering oneself, as I said above, that we can take life-affirming risks. 

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

 Your questions are so fine and made me think.  I would say that I'd love for readers to check out our terrific magazine, Solstice:  A Magazine of Diverse Voices,  It's an independent nonprofit that publishes our hybrid mag online, yet we are also publishing print anthologies of our writers as well.  We're so proud to have two Notable Essays cited in The Best American Essays 2015.  And we just received a small grant through the Massachusetts (Needham) Cultural Council, and we are a Best of the Net winner!  We have a mission to promote diversity in literature and photography.

But there I go promoting something other than my book.  You can link to my authorsite, at, or go to my FaceBook author's page to read more and to order Horsefever.

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