Interview: Ami Hendrickson

I’ll say it again: I love the writers I get to meet as a result of this blog. Ami Hendrickson is a versatile writer who is sure to inspire you. My favorite quote from her? “I consider the successful writer the craftsperson who is always looking for more tools to put into his or her toolbox.” Very well said!

Enjoy this interview.

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You’ve written Clinton Anderson’s Downunder Horsemanship, Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation: Develop a Winning Style, and The Rider’s Pain-Free Back. How did you begin working with horsemen and when did you decide to write about the horseback riding experience?

I didn’t plan to write non-fiction books about horses. Fiction has always been the magnet that pulls my muse. I love the process of creating new worlds and peopling them with characters who only exist in my imagination – then working to make both worlds and characters real in the reader’s mind.

Horses have been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, however. I was one of those horse-obsessed kids. For nine years, until I went to college, I worked and rode at a farm in Western Pennsylvania that bred, trained, and competed on various show circuits. I have been extremely fortunate to indulge my life-long interest in horses while working with some of the top experts in the horse industry.

I met Clinton Anderson at a clinic he conducted in 1999, just before he exploded onto the horse training scene. The gelding I took to the clinic was an absolute pig — Clinton’s words, not mine — that had a nasty habit of flinging himself down on the ground while cantering. (It was an avoidance technique that worked well for him, until Clinton came along.)

Trafalgar Square Books, one of the leading equine book publishers in the world, had approached Clinton about writing a book on his training techniques. When he learned that I was a writer, he hired me to do some smaller projects while he worked on building his business.

At the end of 2003, when he was ready to write his book, he called me. I was 9 months’ pregnant with my daughter at the time, but leaped at the chance to work on the project. I will be eternally grateful to Clinton for the opportunity he gave me. The book I wrote with him was my first published book. It was the catalyst that led to my involvement in many other projects.

How exciting that your song “Carol of the Horse” was nominated for Song of the Year by the United States Association of Gospel Entertainers and Musicians (USAGEM). You’ve got quite a varied writing background, from nonfiction to screenplays to fiction. Which type are you most drawn to? Is there an area you enjoying writing for the most?

The year that “Carol of the Horse” was nominated, my friend Sharie Conard, who performed and recorded the song, won the USAGEM award for Female Vocalist of the Year. We were very pleased and honored.

“Carol of the Horse” tells the story of a warhorse in a Bethlehem stable on the night of the first Christmas. Sharie and I worked with the talented Danielle Stephen who illustrated the song and turned it into a beautiful children’s book. We self-published and it has gone through several printings. We still hope to find a traditional publisher who loves it as much as we do.

I enjoy writing in a variety of mediums, genres, and formats. Each art form comes complete with its own unique combination of demands and issues that must be addressed.

A screenplay, for instance, can only include things that are either seen or heard, and it has less than 110 pages to tell the story.

A novel affords the luxury of exploring a character’s internal thought processes while using only words on a page to fire the reader’s imagination.

A non-fiction book depends heavily upon order, method, and structure.

Whenever I work on a project, I look for ways to strengthen my craft and streamline the process. I often find that the tools honed working in one medium will readily come to my aid when I’m engrossed in a different project. For example, ghostwriting and co-authoring forces me to develop my ear for dialogue and speech mannerisms as I construct sentences to make readers feel as if the Expert (and not me) is speaking to them. Those tools then help me create much more believable characters when I do any kind of creative writing on my own.

I used to joke that my favorite kind of writing was “whatever paid the bills,” but I’m no longer quite so flippant. I really don’t prefer one medium to another, although I feel most indulgent when working on a novel or screenplay. The writing I enjoy most is when the words pile up on top of each other in a rush to get to the page. When that happens, I’m on a creative high, regardless of the art form I’m tackling at the moment.

Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

I recently finished Beyond a Whisper for horse trainer Ryan Gingerich, which will be released this coming Spring. Now that that’s done, l have three projects that I’m juggling at the moment.

Over Labor Day, I competed in the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest (which I heartily recommend to all serious writers looking to kick-start their creativity). “Jobe’s Pride,” the novel that resulted – a dark comedy about what happens when a too-hot-to-handle A-list star finds himself at the mercy of two fans — is in the editing phase and I am developing an ultra-low-budget screenplay from the story.

I’m in the process of finishing the first draft of a novel I began for National Novel Writing Month. The story is one that has fascinated me for years. It lends itself to a trilogy – so, my long-term “for me” project for 2010 is to finish the project, edit it, and find an agent or manager who shares my love for it.

I’m also working on a non-fiction book with American marathon legend Dick Beardsley. This past year, I co-authored “Against the Wind,” a script about the challenges Dick overcame in his life and plan to work with him on his book while the film is in development.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

The Bible – It’s got everything: mystery, intrigue, history, poetry, memoir, love, loss… It’s all there. It’s like a 66 book mini-library of everything a writer could ever need to study. It lends itself to countless differences of opinion, continually yields new insights, and is simultaneously accessible and difficult. My favorite book is Esther. In my opinion, in terms of plot, structure, and character, it is “the” perfect story.

Favorite authors?

John Irving and Tom Robbins are some of the best craftsmen I’ve read. My favorite Irving book is A Prayer for Owen Meany. My favorite of Robbins’ work is Skinny Legs and All.

I adore Douglas Adams – his books are eminently quotable and they never fail to make me laugh.

C.S. Lewis is brilliant on so many levels. I am in awe of both his fiction and his non-fiction.

I love the scripts that British screenwriter Paul Abbott writes. His facility with creating compelling character-driven plots is superb.

I also greatly admire the screenwriting storytelling prowess of both Andrew Niccol and John August.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my “classic” favorites. His voice is so lyrical; it’s almost like reading poetry.

(Can I mention Judy Schachner, too? Her “Skippyjon Jones” books are a pure delight, as both my 6-year old daughter and I can attest…)

Book you’re currently reading?

I’m in the middle of reading three books right now. I’m reading the just-released Gallop to Freedom, a horse-training book by the incomparable Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado, the husband-and-wife riding / training team that made the liberty work in Cavalia look so easy.

I’m also reading Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, the anecdotal memoir of the Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, which a writing student recommended.

And I’m thoroughly enjoying Ingrid D. Rowland’s book Giordano Bruno: Philosopher / Heretic. It’s as engrossing as a novel – more so, perhaps, because it is true.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

“Success” is a tricky thing. Of course, most would agree that a person who makes a living with words is a successful writer. However, because writing is so personal, I believe that sudden successes early in one’s career can sometimes stunt a writer’s growth.

I have written for people who I felt did not deserve a book because of their cavalier attitude toward the project. I have no tolerance for writers who “phone it in” and who don’t respect their readers. Regardless of the money that may come their way, I do not believe that such writers are successful.

In my opinion, the most successful writer is the one who realizes that he or she will never master it all – but that knowledge does not dissuade the writer from trying. I consider the successful writer the craftsperson who is always looking for more tools to put into his or her toolbox. (John Grisham recently released a book of short stories. I consider that very brave. That is the hallmark of a successful writer.)

Finally, I believe that successful writers will do their best to teach others. A writer who refuses to share what he or she has learned about mastering the craft does a disservice to both writers and to readers.

Where can we learn more about you?

My personal website, with information about my books and other projects is: www.amihendrickson.com.

Muse Ink, a website of writer’s resources, relevant articles, and information on my coaching and writer’s workshops is at: www.museink.com.

I blog regularly about the writing life on “Museinks” (http://museinks.blogspot.com)

And though I have not yet begun to Tweet, I regularly post on my Facebook Fan page with writing-related resources and project updates.

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5 Comments on "Interview: Ami Hendrickson"

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this interview! I have the pleasure of working with Ami regularly in my role at Trafalgar Square Books and now I feel I know her better. Thanks!

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  2. Thanks, Martha! Ami has worked on so many different successful projects and is truly an inspiration.

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  3. Ami is an amazing teacher, approachable in ways that cause me to scratch my head in wonder. Through honesty and advice for improvement, she lays the responsibility to succeed squarely at the feet of the writer.

    If I do nothing more than learn to mirror her “get to it and don’t look back” attitude, I will become a better writer.

    [Reply]

  4. Janet,

    I liked that attitude too. Bravo! Thanks for sharing your personal experience with her as well.

    [Reply]

  5. Cherie,
    It was an honor to be featured on your blog. Working with professionals like Martha and meeting other writers like Janet are just two of the things I love about my job. Every day brings new opportunities and lays them at our feet.

    All the best to you.

    Ami

    [Reply]

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