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15 June 2009

Dixie Dust Rumours

I am thrilled to welcome Jenny Storm as my guest blogger today. Being a horse lover, I am naturally very intrigued by her Y A book, released last month. Jenny Storm publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction, and her plays are produced all over the world. She has a special fondness for horse-related charities, including New York Horse Rescue (www.nyhr.org), who will receive a portion of royalties from DIXIE DUST RUMORS.

She’s been a fan of thoroughbred racing since she was seven years old, and has written about the sport since 1999, under the Devon Ellington name. She loves and collects YA mystery series from the early 20th century, such as Nancy Drew, Beverly Gray, Judy Bolton, Ruth Fielding, et al.
She says she wanted to grow up to be either Nancy Drew or Beverly Gray, but writing many characters’ adventures is even better.

YA Horse Racing Mystery

The debut YA mystery under the Jenny Storm name, was released from eTreasures Publishing (www.etreasurespublishing.com) earlier this summer.

With an intelligent, inventive heroine determined to save her father’s reputation, this fast-paced mystery set against the fascinating backdrop of thoroughbred racing is a perfect choice for middle-grade readers. Rose and her friends also have to deal with the snobbish kids from school, her younger brother’s repeated trips to the principal’s office, vandalism to the property, vindictive rumors against the family, and worry about whether or not they’ll be invited to the upcoming dance.

Q & A with Jenny Storm about DIXIE DUST RUMORS

Question: What was the inspiration for this book?

JS: Several years ago, an excellent jockey was accused of impropriety in a big race by
a so-called journalist with only two published articles to his name. It was ridiculous and
infuriating, a way for this pseudo-journalist to get attention during a prominent race.

The situation made me angry. I’d wanted to write a YA set against horse racing, and I started playing the “what if?” game. The story came together very quickly, although, as it developed, it unfolded very differently than what inspired it. Which is as it should be -- I’m writing fiction!

Question: Are the characters based on real people?

JS: No. They’re very much their own people. There are certain professional
tendencies I put in, but no one person is the root of a specific character. Even when a
specific person is the inspiration, in some of my other work, when I do my job properly,
they evolve into individuals very different from the inspiration. That’s part of being a
writer -- letting your characters be who they are, not trying to force them into being a
cipher for an idea, or keeping them in the mold of real people. If you want to write about
real people, then write non-fiction.

Question: Do you spend a lot of time at the racetrack?

JS: Not as much as I’d like. I get out there several times a season on normal race days, and I’ve covered the Triple Crown for ten years and the Breeders’ Cup for nine years. At the period I researched this book and several other pieces in which racing appears, I went to the track at least once a week, sometimes more.

Question: Why do you like horse racing?

JS: It’s artistic. It’s poetry in motion. There’s so much beauty involved. These animals
are huge -- over a thousand pounds. And they’re so fragile. No matter how many
horses you encounter, thousands of them, each horse has its distinct personality. Every
horse has to be trained as an individual, and yet conform to industry standards. They’re
pack animals, yet they have to stand out from the pack in order to win.

Question: But there’s so much controversy about the sport. People claim it’s
cruel, the horses are abused, etc., etc.

JS: There are problems in the sport. Every time a horse breaks down, it’s a horrible
loss. Think Eight Belles, who broke down just over the finish line after coming in second
in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Eight Belles’s death sparked the beginning of some real change in the industry. There’s more to be done, as far as regulating and banning medications, making surfaces safer, etc.

And there’s the dark side that most people never see: The foals born because mares
are kept pregnant all the time and their urine collected for hormone replacement
therapy. The mares-in-foal sent to slaughter because they’re not thought to be worth
enough to keep alive. The retired or injured horses sent to slaughter because they no
longer earn their keep. That’s where the network of rescue organizations, such as New
York Horse Rescue come in, and why their work is so important.

I think it’s important not to shy away from the dark side of the industry, especially in
fiction. I deal with it in several pieces (under various names) and will continue so to do.
One can tell a lot of truth in a fictional context, and help people see things in a new way.
Remember, too, it’s not just horses that are subject to abuse and slaughter -- look at all
the dogs and cats dumped at shelters or in parks or tied up and abused each year. It
has to stop.

As far as racing itself being abusive, I disagree. These horses are bred to run. That’s
their purpose in life. A horse who’s not allowed to run gets extremely neurotic, because
it can’t fulfill its purpose. The majority of trainers and grooms and track workers and
many of the owners truly love the horses in their care.

Question: You mention in your bio that you collect YA mystery fiction from the
early 20th century. Tell us a little about that.

JS: Most of us are familiar with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. But there were
dozens of series books for YA readers in the early 20th century, and they are amazing.

I love the Beverly Gray mysteries, although they are very politically incorrect at this point, as far as racist remarks and wartime propaganda embedded in the books. And yet, it gives a snapshot of the social mores of the time in which is was written and published. The books are fascinating exercises in writing fast and for a specific market. Kids were smart and funny and inventive, outmaneuvering the grown-ups most of the time, but they could still be kids. It seems like people are expected to be mini-adults now by about age seven. These books really fall into social history, in my opinion.

Question: What else are you working on?

JS: For children and young adults? Plenty! I’m nearly done with another YA,
stylistically similar to DIXIE DUST RUMORS, but with the backdrop of ice hockey, and
I’m playing with some characters who are interested in sailing, rowing, archery, fencing.
I tend to prefer sports that are a little more uncommon than baseball, etc. I’ve got a
couple of ghost stories in the works, and some mysteries as a nod to the fiction
mentioned above -- spooky houses, dark woods, scary lakes - that kind of thing, and
some pieces that are more fantasy-based.

Question: Will be see more of Rose Olen and her friends?

JS: The book was conceived as a stand-alone, but if there’s enough enthusiasm, I bet I
could come up with a few more adventures for Rose and friends! I’d love to take them
to Saratoga or Scotland, or one of the other locations mentioned in the book and keep
the racing backdrop.
Question: How about Justin? Will we see more of Justin?

JS: (with a grin): If you ask nicely!

Here's a 'sneak preview':


Who could be luckier than a young girl whose father trains racehorses? That is, until false accusations could cause the loss of not only their livelihood and the horses they love, but their dreams. Due to the belief that horse racing is a crooked sport, even unsubstantiated rumors can be fatal to a trainer’s career. Twelve-year-old Rose Olen is determined to find out why a journalist printed innuendos that make her father’s
business practices sound unethical without checking facts. Aided by her friends Maya Sanchez and Libby Kim, and her younger brother Simon, they investigate the charges and come up with a scheme to foil the reporter. They juggle responsibilities at school,
the contempt and ridicule from other students, and responsibilities at the track as they
search for the truth behind the Dixie Dust Rumors.

“So, is your Dad, like, going to jail?”

I turned around. The school hallway seemed both noisy and quiet simultaneously. I faced Sue Allen, probably my least favorite person in the school, and her giggling posse of Ellie Katz and Tracey Vitella. The only reason I was even polite to Sue was because my dad trained horses for her dad. “Why would my Dad be going to jail?”

“You don’t know?”

“Why would I ask if I knew?”

“Unless she thinks it’s okay, what he did.” Ellie began tittering again. Boys liked
it, but that high-pitched cackle made me want to slap her.

“Like, where have you been all day?” Sue rolled her eyes.

“Science class. And before that, a math test.” I glared at her. “Why do you want
to know my schedule?”

“You are so lame, so out of it,” Tracey sniffed. “Brian heard it on the radio in shop

“Heard what?”

“That your dad’s under investigation.”

“For what?”

“For fixing a race or something. I don’t know.” Sue shrugged. “All I know is that
your dad’s a crook.”

Ooh, that' so tantalisng. What a great excerpt. I can't wait to find out more!

Thank you so much Jenny, it's been wonderful finding out more about you and your connection with horse racing.

For more information on the book visit the Jenny Storm
webpage: http://www.devonellingtonwork.com/jennystorm.html or “friend” Jenny on
MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/jennystormya

Contact Jenny Storm directly at: jennystorm@devonellingtonwork.com or through Luna
Jensen at lunajensen@fearlessink.com