Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Conversation with Bryn Fleming

Cassie and Jasper to the Rescue is the first book in the Range Riders series by Bryn Fleming. I am so proud of her!!! She was one of my star students, writing heart-stopping stories about animals. I first met her main character, a feisty cowgirl, in Lesson 2. Bryn revised the story and it made the cover of Cricket magazine. Later, she envisioned a series of books with these characters and I am so happy she found the perfect home for them with Westwind.

From the publisher: Time is short. A horse is in danger. Can cowgirl Cassie and her sidekick Jasper rescue the horse from the owner’s villainous son? Or will the mare go to the local auction and meet a bad end? The ranch kids, raised on rodeos and cattle drives, resurrect the dilapidated corral and barn of an abandoned homestead to house the soon‑to‑be‑rescued mare.

The kids hide, sneak, and spy on the neglectful horse owners. Then, in a desperate night ride, Cassie and Jasper attempt to lead the rescued horse to safety. Danger trails close behind them on a roaring four‑wheeler. Jasper musters his courage and risks all for the horse and his friend. Along the way a new friendship and understanding develops as Cassie and Jasper help the neglected horse’s elderly owner to care for her properly.

At the abandoned ranch, the pursuer reappears, forcing Cassie into a dangerous game of hide‑and‑seek in the old ranch buildings. She’s trapped in the old barn, along with the mare. Will Jasper return in time? Are the kids’ cowboy skills enough to save them all?

I received an ARC several months ago and later received a print copy in the mail. My daughter dreams of a life on a farm with animals and reading a book like this makes her realize the dream can be a reality. Bryn's own life is a huge inspiration. We had a little conversation we'd like to share:

Dear Bryn, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Congratulations on your debut! And I’m thrilled to bits knowing this is going to be a series. I’ve known Cassie for some time now. Tell me, is Cassie anything like you? I loved that she came from a functional family, and was full of fire and dash. It is a joy to be with her.
Cassie has a lot of the 12-year-old Bryn in her, most especially her deep-felt connection with animals and her independence.
Not only did I love my dogs, cats, hamster, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, horse, etc. more than any other beings in my world, but I loved all animals and felt called to defend them and care for them at every opportunity.
When I read about how modern farm animals are raised in inhumane conditions, I became a vegetarian. When I learned how mink and rabbits and others were raised for their fur, I marched on Fur-Free-Friday. When I found an opossum on the road, I gathered up the scattered babies and carried them home in my sweater.
I didn’t understand how anyone could harm an animal. To me, they were always good and innocent. Like Cassie, I cared more about doing the right thing than about anyone’s opinion of me or about the usual pre-teen concerns of fashion and cliques and popularity. 
Your love and passion for animals is beautiful. I can just imagine you with a clutch of baby possums. I imagine you had very supportive parents, but you still got into trouble. Which brings me to: character and plot are closely intertwined. How do you go about imagining the troubles Cassie will get into and out of?  
Actually, Cassie’s and Jasper’s own character traits determine the plot entanglements they get themselves into. Once the characters had formed sufficiently, they seemed to find their own way. Their compassion and protectiveness for animals lead them to rescue Glory.
Given Cassie’s bond with her own horse, Rowdy, and her strong individuality and courage, she would never have turned her back on a horse in trouble.
In the second book, Jasper’s being the victim of bullying leads him to empathize with a down-and-out shelter dog. He and the dog, Willie, act courageously when a raging wildfire threatens a lost girl because of their compassion and bravery.
I remember you have several rescued animals. Have they inspired some of the stories?
Yes, definitely. I have known several neglected horses and have done what I could for them, whether it was donating hay or reporting their neglectful owners to law enforcement. I think it is part of being a good community member to watch out for the well-being of those who can’t speak for themselves.
The second book features an older dog I adopted from a rescue organization. Willie was a ten-year-old, one-hundred-pound Giant Schnauzer, totally blind from cataracts in both eyes when he was abandoned by his previous family. When I saw his face on PetFinder.com, it was love at first sight. I knew he belonged with me. In fact, I was afraid that someone else would see this amazing dog and get there first!
Since adopting Willie, I’ve “specialized” in making the final years of senior dogs as comfortable and happy as possible. I’ve since shared my home with oldster shelter dogs Harley, Summer and Bandit. Although it is hard to lose them after a few short years, I will probably always have a rescued senior dog in my home.
Bless your heart for taking care of these animals. Please tell us something about the work you nature preservation and how you balance that with your writing.
I write in the morning, before work, usually from 6 A.M. to 7 or 8, depending on when I need to meet my team for my fish job, which depends on the projects we’re working on and the season and weather. I feel fresh and energetic and full of new ideas in the morning.
As a fish biology field technician, I gather data for biologists working on restoring endangered steelhead to the Columbia River Basin.
Three times a year, we spend several weeks netting and micro-chipping fish to track their numbers and migration patterns. We also work cooperatively with beavers to improve fish-spawning habitat in local streams by building “beaver-dam-support-structures.”  The beavers build dams which form ponds and riparian areas that are good for fish.
It is strenuous outdoor work in all weather conditions, but I love that we’re helping to increase steelhead populations. I also love spending most of my time outdoors.  I feel very blessed to have a job where I can see beautiful country filled with bighorn sheep, bears, antelope, elk, bald eagles, coyotes, and wild horses.
It sounds like you have the best of both worlds, Bryn. It is good being so close to the earth and being a good steward of it. Please tell us whether writing different now than when you first began? Do you have free rein over the stories or do you work closely with your editor in the planning stages?
After working on the first book alongside my amazing editor, I feel like I’ve become a much better writer. Crafting a middle-grade adventure novel is a very precise thing. I have a much better handle on how to pace each chapter and the overall plot, how to bring out character traits, set scenes, etc.
I usually have a full story ready before I submit it and begin working with my editor. We work together to shape and hone it.
I do a lot of studying of writing techniques as well as working directly on the books. There are so many really good, detailed fiction-writing books out now that a writer can learn from; books on creating suspense, crafting dialogue, setting scenes.  I’m very disciplined and motivated about learning, so I actually love to edit my work and improve my writing skills.
You were always a good student, Bryn, and now an editor’s dream. How did you find your publisher? It is a great fit.
My agent had professional connections with one of the staff at Graphic Arts Books. She saw the potential for a good fit there with my style and subject matter and got my manuscript read.
What advice would you give writers on writing and publishing?
These days, having an agent present your work seems almost essential. Many publishing companies have pared down their staff and will only accept agented manuscripts for consideration. An agent now does that first line of filtering out potentially publishable works and submitting them. I think the publishers just don’t have time or staff to go through vast piles of manuscripts like they used to.
Yours was the first modern Western I read. Every other book was a historical. Did you purposely choose to set the characters in current time? It has worked beautifully. Kids can get an idea of a life outside cities and suburbia.
I did very purposefully choose the “New-Old- West” as my setting. 
For me, reading has always been a way to “travel” to other places, times and cultures. I wanted to open that door to young readers.
When I moved to Central Oregon six years ago, I was struck by the old west flavor that lingers here. Abandoned  homesteads still stand in sagebrush fields, cowboys still move herds of cattle from summer to winter grazing grounds and back, and kids still spend summers working on the family ranch moving irrigation pipe and baling hay.
The school in my town has just over 60 kids from kindergarten through high-school.  Some of them live here in town (population 120) and some on outlying ranches. It’s a very different world than most of my readers will get to experience in person.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Just that it is a pleasure to share Cassie and Jasper’s world and adventures with young readers across the country. I also hope that the books inspire kids to believe in themselves and their ability to make the world a better, kinder place by helping animals.
I am so thankful our paths crossed at ICL. It was such a pleasure to work with you and to see you grow and succeed in this venture. I do believe you are making a huge difference in children’s lives sharing the natural beauty of the world and inspiring them to protect it. God bless you and all your endeavors, Bryn.


Mirka Breen said...

What a generous showcasing of what looks like a fine novel.

Leandra Wallace said...

Congrats to Bryn(whose name I love btw)! And what an amazing, challenging job she has. Can't believe I sometimes feel 'exhausted' after working my bank job. ;)

Faith E. Hough said...

Lovely interview; the book sounds great. What a success story!

Bish Denham said...

Wow! Wonderful interview. I know you must be proud. Congratulations, Bryn, your book sounds like one I'd enjoy.

Becky Shillington said...

Wonderful interview, Vijaya and Bryn. This sounds like a terrific book--you must be so proud of your protégé, Vijaya! = )

MollyMom103 said...

This is awesome! Congrats to Bryn!

Vijaya said...

I love that Bryn has surpassed me :)