Geeking Out About Horses and Making Childhood Dreams Come True

Today we welcome young adult fantasy author Lila Bowen to GeekMom’s Geek Speaks…Fiction! You might know her as Delilah S. Dawson: writer, artist, horse-lover, and geek extraordinaire. Here she is, talking about her childhood obsession, and how it inspired her fiction!

Before geeking out was cool, I was geeking out about horses. I was that kid doodling unicorns on homework papers and crying over Artax as he sank into the Swamp of Sadness. I had an ongoing fantasy that on my birthday, I would wake up to find a horse tied to a tree in my backyard or stashed in my closet–which never happened. I collected My Little Ponies, Fashion Star Fillies, and Breyer horses. I was so horse-crazy that bullies called me Horse as an insult in my yearbook, the implication being that I was big and buck-toothed and dumb, at least according to the accompanying drawings.

And I was so obsessed that I took it as a compliment.

Real, live horses weren’t a regular part of my life. I lived in the suburbs with decidedly unhorsey parents, and I got to ride a pony at a parade once a year. Those were the best moments of my life… at least until I was twenty-three and bought my own horse. Now I’m 38, and I live in the mountains and go trail riding on my mare, Polly, once or twice a week, and I promise you that this is one dream come true that’s even more rewarding than starry-eyed little Horse imagined when she was little.

Image: Orbit Books
Image: Orbit Books

And that’s why I’m so geeked out over writing Wake Of Vutures. The thing I loved as a kid, the thing that refills my well as an adult, and the thing I was relentlessly bullied for loving is a natural part of my story.

But Wake Of Vultures isn’t just about horses. It’s got chupacabras, werewolves, sirens, skinwalkers, and harpies. It’s got a half black, half Native American heroine who dresses like a man and is attracted to both men and women. It’s got adventure, terror, humor, and soul-searching. When I set out to write a book billed as Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Lonesome Dove, I had the unique pleasure of creating a world in which horses are entirely unavoidable and are often characters themselves.

And, yeah, it’s even got a few unicorns, but not the sparkly kind.

The thing about horses is that they have personalities, just like people do. Some are skittish, some are pushy, some are jokesters, but all begin as wild prey animals that must be convinced to carry predators on their backs. They’re not just mindless conveyances.

When you consider what life was like before cars, the only way to get anywhere with any speed was on horseback, and that meant that you were trusting this 1000-pound animal with your life. And the horse must likewise trust his rider. Horses look to us when they are unsure, and the rider’s job is to remain attentive but relaxed and responsive to the horse’s needs and to the environment. It’s a beautiful partnership that takes constant work and learning on both sides. When I was writing Nettie Lonesome, I imbued her with the same love, awe, and kinship with horses that I feel. At the beginning of the book, her greatest hope is that she’ll one day be a cowpoke, training horses at a ranch to earn her freedom. When destiny knocks on her door, her world becomes much wider than she’d ever dreamed possible.

When Nettie goes into the herd to choose her horse, we learn that she’s the kind of person who’s not looking for the biggest or most beautiful horse. She wants a horse who can brave the unpredictable weather of the llano, who has hard hooves and good teeth and tenacity that will keep them going even when all hope is lost. Nettie has been told all her life that she’s ugly, and she picks an ugly horse with a good heart.

My first horse was ugly, too, but that didn’t matter. She was a great partner who once jumped between me and a bigger horse who charged me. I still remember the sound of flesh hitting flesh and her squeal of warning. That horse, Chantilly, was the inspiration behind Nettie’s horse, Ragdoll. Ragdoll is willing to jump between Nettie and danger, too, but only because Nettie has kept up her end of the partnership, again and again.

Every horse in Wake Of Vultures is based on a horse I’ve known–or dreamed about. And that’s what I get so geeked out about. When I was a little kid, all I wanted was to ride horses, but they were idealized. They were fantasies cobbled together from toys and movies, sanitized models frozen in time. But once I actually had experience with horses, I learned that they were so much better than I’d imagined them because they are complex creatures in their own right. To be honest, it’s kind of like having a crush and then falling in love with a real person. It’s even better than you ever imagined, for all its complication and messiness.

Whether or not you ever dreamed of horses, I hope you’ll check out Wake Of Vultures. The horses are just the sprinkles on a pretty delicious cupcake of adventure and heart. Would these faces lie to you?

Photo: Delilah S. Dawson, used with permission
Photo: Delilah S. Dawson, used with permission

Lila Bowen is a pseudonym for Delilah S. Dawson, who writes the Blud series, Servants Of The Storm, HIT, Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon, and a variety of short stories and comics. Wake Of Vultures, written as Lila Bowen, is her most recent book and the first in a new Fantasy series from Orbit Books. She teaches writing classes at LitReactor and can be found online at www.whimsydark.com and on Twitter, @DelilahSDawson.

Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available April 12, 2016.