So let me work up to it.
Long, long ago, when I was a horse-mad thirteen-year-old, we lived stranded in a one-street suburb of Montgomery, Alabama, where the only available equine companionship came in the form of a mare and foal pastured behind our house. The mare was tolerant, not friendly, but not the type to pitch a fit when some kid squeezed through the barbed-wire fence to pamper her baby. It helped that the colt wasn’t a baby anymore, to be sure.
Generally, I would manage to sneak out with an apple, which the young horse would snarf down with relish. Then he would snuffle at my pockets in hopes of seconds. Horses are smarter than non-horsey people give them credit for. Horses know what pockets are for. Pockets are containers for apples, carrots, crunchy horse treats, sometimes even a handful of grain, preferably sweet feed. They do not care about the cries emanating from laundry rooms when mothers find pocket-loads of such goodies swirling in the wash.
One fine February day, I ventured out with only some small treat, nothing as appealing as an apple. It was chilly, so I wore my new(ish) red coat. And my pony friend bit me on the shoulder. Another thing non-horsey people may not know is that a horse can bite hard. They fight with their teeth–stallions even have extra-sharp eye teeth for those battles that make the front covers of old cowboy paperbacks.
That bite hurt. It hurt bad. I was not so horse-crazy that I didn’t run home for help. I was lucky to be wearing that insulated jacket–all my friend gave me was an enormous bruise, as the coat distributed the impact nicely. My mother was angry, scolding me for trespassing in the pasture but also clearly angry that the horse had hurt me. I took his part, explaining–convincingly, I was sure–that he simply mistook the red, rounded curve of my shoulder for a big shiny apple. It was my fault, I told her, for leading him to expect apples all the time and . . . most accurately, for turning my back on him. I loved horses, but I’d been hanging around them since I was six, and I knew better.
Bear with me. I’m getting there.
We were living in Montgomery because my dad was attending the Air War College, an academic-style officer-training program. It’s very like a master’s degree program in strategy, analysis, all that sort of thing. (My copy of Strunk and White is a discard from the library there, one my dad brought home for his aspiring-writer kid.) My mom grew up spending summers on “the farm”–her parent’s country get-away. My dad was a city boy through-and-through. Years later, I learned he was afraid of horses–that the thought of his kid galloping around on top of one of those monsters horrified him.
The War College program is only a year. One spring night, quite late, my parents stumbled into the house after some kind of semi-official party at the AWC. They, or at least Dad, had had a really fun evening. Really, really fun. My dad had received his next posting. As wing commander for a prestigious bomber wing. In North Dakota. We were moving to an air base where there was an on-base stable, in a state where horses were cheap to get and to keep.
“North Dakota is Rough Rider country, cowboy country,” my dad told me that night, his eyes bright and his grin much wider than usual. “So you can have a horse in North Dakota. Won’t that be great?”
When Dad sobered up, the next day, and recovered from his headache, the day after, Mom sat him down and told him what he’d promised me. And she held him to it. She wouldn’t let him back out of it.
So for the next four months, I thought to myself, over and over again, I’m getting a horse, I’m getting a horse, I’m getting a horse.
It’s happening again. I may be ever so much older than twenty now, but I’m having all those same feelings Though it’s not a horse this time. It’s a book. It’s my book. And it’s being published. For reals. For really reals. In four months.
It’s about a couple of strangers who meet up and have some troubles understanding one another.
Cross-species friendships can be complicated.
The book is All That Was Asked. It’s coming out from Paper Angel Press, a publisher based in San Jose, California. And it should be out in January of 2020. In the meantime, check out all the other books that Paper Angel Press has available.