Wednesday, September 22, 2010

GRAFFITI WALL, Anne Severn Williamson author of The Holly King

Happy Hump Day, Alleywalkers!

Here's Part II of my interview with Anne and her amazing horse story. It's a tad long, but please stay with it. She has some amazingly insightful words of wisdom for you. If you missed Part I, click on the horse.

Could you tell us a bit about the real ghost horses?

We have two yearlings, eleven mares, and two stallions. Three of the mares are bred for next summer’s foals. Most of them are white with blue eyes. We also have two buckskins, one palomino, and one sorrel mare. The cremello coloration is due to two cream genes coming from each parent. Many hill-folks thought that cremello horses were blind and could easily sunburn. The truth is that these white, blue-eyed horses see perfectly well and have pale pink skin that does not sunburn. There are no true albinos in the horse world. Horses have a base coloration that is influenced by cream genes and other additions. The Ghost Horses have a natural gait that is as smooth as silk; in other words, the rider never has to post up and down. The horses do not trot. They glide over the ground with what is known as a four-beat lateral gait. We sell very few of our horses. We now have the first buckskin mare for sale that was born here in Montana. She is two years old and named Rock’s Raven Rose, sired by a World Grand Champion.

When the series takes off, readers will someday be able to purchase a Ghost Horse foal out of the original characters. Their bloodlines are quite old. Achelon’s Bay Moon, our bay stallion with four white socks, is the son of the Foundation Stallion for the Mountain Pleasure breed. The Mountain Horses are known for their intelligence, hardiness, endurance, and versatility. The breed developed literally in the hills of eastern Kentucky, by poor farmers, doctors, mailmen, and soldiers. They were treasured mounts in the Civil War cavalry. The gaited horses also helped to settle the Old West. They were known in the Rockies and buffalo country as Single-footers, since only one hoof comes off the ground at a time while the horses are in motion. Curious readers can see them on our site! Six of the mares are named after stars and moons, like Genevieve’s Crystal Moon and her sister Gweneviere’s Sapphire Star. At the end of the first novel, the stars and moons of Ghost Horse Hollow pull The Holly King’s sleigh.

I know you’re interested in raising support for conservation and environmental education. How do you think that will happen? 

There are three or four things from the book concept that I hope will make a difference in our world.  The book series teaches Traditional Ecological Knowledge.  There are many wise characters in the stories that represent balance, such as the Medicine Woman Lyla Morningsky and her younger brother Jonas White Hand. Their perspectives are truly profound and woven into the adventures.

Secondly, I see the series becoming a TV mini-series or Major Motion Picture. I think visual entertainment is the best medium these days to inspire generations to care for our planet. Readers need to see the world of Ghost Horse Hollow and to have an example before them of simple living, homesteading, and organic gardening. I think the series will offer alternatives to modern, wasteful living.

Thirdly, I wish for the Ghost Horse Hollow theme park to be filled with environmental leaders. There should be an apprentice program established for teens and young adults to participate in maintaining the parks and managing the horses for future generations to enjoy. These white and pale gold equines are the closest thing on Earth to unicorns. Their majesty and beauty are inspirational. Long after Jack and I are gone, their genetics deserve to live on in peace. I hope the Ghost Horses will become a symbol of land stewardship on every continent. So far, 100 nations from Greenland to Australia, have visited the Website for the series. A part of this large dream is beginning to really happen.
Finally, I would like for the Nature Center to act as a conference point for world leaders in environmental education and cooperative green economics. Perhaps a curriculum could be designed and available for classrooms, like a short series of teaching videos.

Your book trailer is awesome! Did you set it up or did someone else? How did that all come about? The wonderful song, the girl in the video, and the amazing still photos are beautiful. 

Making the video was an awesome experience, because so many fine people volunteered their time. I designed the concept in order to evoke an emotional response to the need for global  conservation. The song was a melody that came to me while I was grooming horses and cleaning stalls. I hummed the tune to the mares and stallions. They always responded with a sense of peace, so I knew that the melody was soothing and somehow important. After several years, the tune began to take on lyrics and “The Song of the Earth” was born. Movie producer/director David Abbott was filming an elk hunt near our ranch and happened to meet my husband Jack, who told David about our rare Ghost Horses. David came by the next day to photograph our stallion Ellevar’s Ivory Steed.
We all discussed the cinematic potential for the series, although at that point in time, the first book was not in print. A year later David introduced me over the phone to a composer in Nashville, named Jason Morant. I sang “The Song of the Earth” into Jason’s answering machine. He was so gifted, that he orchestrated the theme song to fit a video trailer and worked with a great vocalist named Lindsay Ogle to complete the score. The results were phenomenal. Lindsay, David, and Jason volunteered their professional time to make it happen. Then, my daughter volunteered to play the part of Panther MacKennon in the book trailer. We ordered costumes out of Avon and Pyramid catalogues and put together several outfits for her.

A neighbor helped us to groom and polish the horses for the four days of filming. Vaughn Esper of Western Skies Reality brought his movie camera equipment to the ranch, and we walked the nearby buttes hunting for the best shots and landscapes. Jack worked with the horses to get them to gallop for the camera, while Vaughn set up the scenes from different angles. One frosty morning, a rather large mare almost galloped right over the camera! Meanwhile, I purchased the still shots from to have royalty-free nature photography to match the characters and the book concept. Vaughn asked film editor Doug Orr to put all the material together.  I made a chart or outline of what I wanted to see in the trailer to go along with Jason Morant’s theme song. I then emailed the film editor my ideas, and he gave me an almost perfect cut the first time. I cried. Doug did all the editing as a favor to Vaughn. These things just don’t happen every day. We all believed in the book series, and we all wanted to see it become a success. The whole process was a tribute to our collective love for our planet and our concern for the next generation. I think that is why “The Song of the Earth” came together with so much ease. The Ghost Horses are now galloping for all nations.  I am considering printing the lyrics to that song at the beginning of Book II: The Snow Feast, so everyone can read them.

Has most of your publicity been self-motivated or have you had help from a publisher, publicist, or other agency? (I ask this because in today’s changing publishing world, it seems authors must take the reins of their books success on themselves.)

This is a very important issue in today’s changing world of publishing. As Gandalf once said, “I don’t have any answers.”  Actually, I can at least let readers and curious writers know what I have gone through so far. I self-published The Holly King through Trafford Publishing, which offers several packages for promotional assistance.  I then built my own Web site with a template company called and added Search Engine Optimization. I developed a following on Twitter and Facebook over time and added a Youtube Channel for a series of videos, including the book trailer. Recently, I started a blog on and used an online company called PR Web to release news about the Ghost Horse Hollow series. I also visited the LA Times Festival of Books and personally distributed over 600 bookmarks to readers from around the globe. I have run into many problems concerning self-publishing, however.

Many top reviewers, such as the Los Angeles Times and Library Journal , will not review a self-published work. Without their endorsement, organizations such as the Opra Winfrey Book Club and the NY Public Library will not carry your book. Kirkus will review a self-published work for a $400 fee. Ouch! Self-publishing really boxes a writer into online marketing and conference sales. Barnes & Noble and Borders will not purchase Print-On-Demand titles for display. They will offer the titles online, if a reader selects to order a copy.  Writers must also purchase a yearly buy-back status for their title too, if they want to do a book signing at a major store. This package cost around $700. More Ouch!

In general, I have had to do nearly all my own publicity, which is expensive and very time consuming. I believe in this series so much, that I keep going no matter what. In truth, it has been a tough struggle, especially since we maintain the horses in harsh Montana conditions. We live very simply as caretakers, so I have been limited into putting tiny bits of money into the promotion of Ghost Horse Hollow. I think if this much can be achieved with so few resources, imagine what could happen if a real publisher backed the book series! We are just about to top 150,000 hits on the Website.

What would be your greatest advice for writers out there? In a market so saturated, how can one stay the course and hone their craft without getting discouraged? 

Way important question.  Discouragement and depression block the creative process. My greatest concern is that my stories will not be distributed. I think that issue haunts every writer, until they prosper.  My advice for other artists is to return to their heart. The heart knows why you are attempting to do something in the first place. It is the source of courage. It is the voice of power that each writer eventually calls upon for sustainment.

Writing is not easy, especially when faced with marketing demands and competitive forms of entertainment. What an audience needs and what an audience wants can be two different things. A writer has to take a stand to be outstanding.  If you really get discouraged, take a break and do something that recharges your soul. This is usually a very personal enjoyment. I love swimming and walking, or visiting with our horses. Indigenous cultures would say that you must seek your place of power. Sometimes you just need to hang out with some true friends. They will tell you that it will all work out. It also helps to have a fabulous partner that believes in your dreams. Hugs help.

On a practical note, I would suggest be professional, write professionally, and go for professional representation. If you know your business, publishers and agents will respect that.

Obviously, you’re a horse lover? Can you share with us how that love has influenced this story? Most of us have heard it said that one should write what they know, what’s familiar. What is your take on that philosophy?

The best way to answer that question is with an example:

When we obtained our first Mountain Horse, we named her Epona’s Silver Moon after the Celtic goddess figure. We began rescuing more cremello and perlino horses as time went by. When the fourth rare pony came our way, Jack happened to walk out into the fields one night and whistle for the horses. The mares thundered along towards him. There was a swirling mist on the ground that summer evening, and twinkling stars overhead. In that deep valley in the Appalachian foothills, Jack was inspired to name our little herd the Ghost Horses. You can imagine how their pale, blue eyes looked as the mares galloped out of the fog.  The horses quickly became the heart of the homestead that I was writing about. 

The history of Kentucky, and Tennessee, became intertwined with the adventures too. The more I studied the people that raised Mountain Horses, the more material I had to work with. The series is, consequently, full of moonshiners, haunted school houses, piney woods, crossroads, coyotes, white-tail deer, abandoned coal mines, stone crypts, and hilltop graveyards. Ghost Horse Hollow is a fantasy land that kids long to enter. It’s based on reality too. You can’t make all that up! 

I would have to say that all the familiar things in your life can add up to a wealth of creative inspiration. It certainly has been the case for me. You will find a lot of dance and music in my stories too, because of my background in the performing arts. It is a great idea to use what you are familiar with when writing. Research what you do not know. I purposefully placed my story one hundred years in the future, so that I could be more flexible. Still, American history is in every chapter.

Blessings to All! I truly enjoyed my first online interview with you, Sheri!  I hope everyone will help me visualize the Ghost Horses galloping for our globe!

Member of SCBWI & YAlitchat

Anne, this has been a great pleasure. Thank you for being my first two-part interview and for sharing your professional and personal splats on the GRAFFITI WALL!
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  1. Great interview Sheri! I love the wonderful insight into Anne's world. Those pictures are gorgeous. Thanks!

  2. Great interview. Ouch on the self publishing costs. Love the photographs.

    Really love the photograph. :D

  3. Sounds AMAZING! I really wanna read these, and I love the schooling I just got from reading this interview. The video was beautiful.

    Best of luck to Anne!I'll be sure to support her work. :)

  4. Oh, this was lovely! Words of wisdoms and equine beauty! What more can you ask?

  5. Great interview! Awesome book trailer! =)

  6. We are so delighted to read these supportive comments! We are off to feed the ponies for the evening. Thanks so much for doing such a terrific job. Everyone on the ranch is so grateful. The horses are frisking on the first day of fall.


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