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Meet a Young Author: Jessica Burkhart

Allison Griest chats with the author of a new book series.

Do you like writing stories about horses? Imagine getting paid for it!

Jessica Burkhart is only 21, but she’s already a published author with a horsey book series under her belt.
 
In November 2006, Jessica entered the National Novel Writing Month's contest, known as NaNoWriMo. The goal of the annual contest is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, and Jessica entered her story, Take the Reins. In the story Sasha Silver and her horse, Charm, arrive at the Canterwood Crest Academy only to find that proving they fit in with the equestrian team may be harder than it looks.

Jessica was very proud of her work and put a post on her blog about it. An agent who was looking for a horse novel happened to stumble upon Jessica's blog and signed her with the publisher Simon & Schuster!

Take the Reins is set to hit bookstores January 27, 2009. It's the first novel of Jessica's four-part series: Canterwood Crest.

We got a chance to chat with Jessica on the phone and find out what it's like to be a successful, young, horse-crazy author.

Where are you from?
I'm a native of Nashville, Tenn., but now I live in Tallahassee, Fla. I majored in English and graduated from Florida State University in 2007.

Did you grow up around horses?
I've loved horses since I could walk. I spent every moment I could at the stable. My parents didn't know anything about horses but they wanted to learn. They watched me ride, helped me groom, and took out seats in the car to fit hay.

What kind of riding do you do?
I used to ride English for pleasure. When I had spinal surgery in 2000, I couldn't ride after that, so I started writing about horses. I had to put that passion somewhere.

Do you have a favorite horse or pony?
The first horse that I rode in lessons was an Appaloosa named A.J. He was ornery and old, and he gave my hands blisters because he always wanted grass. He was so stubborn and I was so proud when I learned to ride him without being on a lunge line.

Have you always wanted to be a creative writer?
When I was 10, I wrote a funny autobiography about my background with horses. I wrote it in size-24 font, printed it on colored paper, and passed it out to my family and friends. I glued a picture of me with my horse on the front.

When I was 13, I was recovering from severe spinal surgery from scoliosis. I had two steel rods and screws in my spine. I was flat on my back for about a month. I started reading teen magazines like Seventeen, YM and Young Rider and learned how to write a query and a story. I sent out dozens of queries. It took probably 50 queries before I got my first acceptance!

At first I just sent in story ideas, and then editors told me they needed to see my work.

The problem was that my queries weren't stories I was passionate about. I was writing something I thought editors wanted to read. My first acceptance came when I wrote about one of my biggest passions – volunteering at the humane society.

Where do you do most of your writing?
I do it in my kitchen. I have a table that's sort of in a breakfast area. I have windows on both sides where I can see into my backyard and watch the squirrels and birds. It keeps me from getting bored when I write.

What was your inspiration for the novel?
It's what I wanted most as a kid: to go away to boarding school where I could have horses and ride everyday.

What do you want YR readers to know about your book series?
The focus in the books isn't about winning – it's about teamwork. You're not alone when you're riding.

What do you think readers will like the most about the book?
I hope they enjoy the friendship between all the girls and the element that just because we're competitors doesn't mean we can't be friends.

What advice do you have for other aspiring young writers?
Write what you're passionate about.

Where can I go to learn more about you and your books?
www.jessicaburkhart.com and www.canterwoodcrest.com

 

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