Do you grok?

What if I said, "Tha sumbeetch sulled up on me."

Sure. "Tha sumbeetch..." is a colloquialism and should be used with a light hand, but what about "sulled up"? I was surprised to learn that not only is it apparently a recent addition to our language but it's very localized regionally.

What if I said the mesteno sulled up? ...probably not a fair question for anyone who's not old-school southwestern.

I love listening to Red Stegall, not just his music but his poetry as well. It's full of good old western flavor that you can't really find too many places any more, except maybe in some of Marty Robbin's old cowboy ballads.

Does it still mean the same thing it did a few years ago, if you pull out the makins and roll a quirly?

These dialects and flavors be used to define cultural differences and locales in other-world locations? Is there anyone who doesn't know how TANSTAAFL works?

I love the flavor sprinkled in - these are the things that really make it sound like home, but at the same time I know we can't alienate non-local readers. Where do you draw the line?

The Boy and his Mare

I hope readers don't get tired of seeing photos of my kid and the little mare, but I can't help bragging on them when they continue to improve, not just in skill, but in teamwork -- which is so key to so many things in life.

Jared has struggled with a lot in the last couple of years, some troubles at school, homeschooling (learning appropriate study habits, discipline, self-tasking), but the main thing I've seen him overcome is the pass/fail mentality that seems to plague so many kids these days.

So many things, he has tried, didn't do great the first time out and decided it wasn't so much fun.

I attribute a great deal of his progress to the wonderful family atmosphere of the CMSA and especially to the people who have reached out to us in the Texas Smokin' Guns club. It's a tough sport and it's made him a tougher kid.

He always did pretty well endurance riding with me, but in a lot of ways, he started in the sport, basically, riding at a level with most adults. He's a pretty good hand with a horse, in camp and on the trail. He can walk, jog, gallop, cross creeks, and handle about any kind of terrain.

So when he first tried shooting, it was fun, but tough, and all the other kids were a lot better than him - and that's hard for a guy, especially when he'd been doing so well elsewhere. In endurance, I was continually holding him back, his skillset was at or above the level of competition we intended for each day.

In CMSA, he's continually having to learn, practice and refine both his riding and his shooting. It set him back and we've had some false starts and some off days, but over the last year, he's seen his scores consistently improving. And even better than that he can see and feel how much his horsemanship is improving, and how much better he's working with this particular mare and that is the most rewarding thing.

We had a tough weekend at the last event. We were rained out on Saturday and so we camped and competed in the heat and humidity on Sunday. It made for a long weekend, but well worth it for the success we had.

In a way, I wonder if the shooting means more to him because it's harder, because each step and each success is harder earned than endurance ever was for him and it occurs to me I've heard all this before in plotting classes. That we should 'throw rocks' at our heroes, that we should exact costly vengeance on them before they meet their successes; and I think about all the nicey-nice *bleh* books I've tossed aside unfinished.

It makes me realize how important it is for our heroes and heroines not just to have struggle and fight overcome the odds, but I understand now that, in many ways, 'character arc' is more about growth than change. In _Writing to the Point_ Algis Budrys says that characters don't actually change, because that would be false to the consistency of the readers observation of people. But that being under stress (conflict) reveals hitherto concealed facets -that the character reaches deeper into themselves, tries again, tries a little harder, learns a new skill based on existing ones, and uses that to snatch victory from the grasp of the villain. And I have to say, that as I go along, it makes more and more sense to me. Perhaps I'm finally learning to reach a little deeper myself.

Thar's Horses in them thar woods.... or not?

This is a question that comes up surprisingly often.

The answer is .... 'it depends'.

And it depends on a lot of things. Horses are grazers, different than browsers like deer, or even donkeys. In addition to the nutrition (calories and vitamins and stuff), they need the long stemmed grasses in order for their guts to function properly.

Can they live without grass or hay (such as in the woods)? Sure. For while. Some horses will be very picky about what they eat, but most would put a goat to shame before they starved to death. They would start to eat odd plants, anything leafy, bark, sticks, even the old layer of detritus on the forest floor (one of my mares ate a mosquito dunk today (and she is decidedly not starving)) - and if they didn't get impacted, colic and die from that -- they would eventually be dealing with the consequences of long term malnutrition.

But depending on the climate, your woods may have lovely meadows. Easily enough to support a horse or two for a short period of time. And another meadow down the way. But not a herd of horses.

Also consider, if you're writing a horse that's been in the woods for a long time, it's likely to have life-long issues stemming from that experience. Anything from degenerative joint disease, if it was a young foal, if the woods-horse was a mare carrying a foal, or with a very young foal at her side, the foal could lack of integrity in it's soft tissues, ligaments and tendons, poorly laid down cartilage and even some amount of malformation of the delicate bones in the knees and hocks. These things could cause the young horse a lot of pain as he matures, especially when he comes of riding age and is put to work.

An older horse could have internal issues, anything from something as simple as a stick lodged in their mouth that festers, to internal damage that contributes to recurrent colic.

He may have developed a taste for toxic weeds if he managed to eat enough in the woods to keep him alive, but not so much it killed him.

And it's more than just nutrition: A horse's most basic self-preservations instincts are compromised in the woods. They are herd animals who find safety and security in numbers (and remember a real herd can't live in most woodland areas, so they'll be searching for other horses.)

Their eye-sight is designed for the open ranges. They see short distances with their heads down and long distances when their heads are raised. Aside from their keen sense of hearing, their eyes are their early warning system. But you can't see very far in the woods.

Their first line of defense is to run. And they can't run as fast in the woods, not if they're looking for a way through and having to zig-zag, dodging trees. So most horses, simply wouldn't stay in the woods. If they were chased into the woods, or abandoned there, they would travel, snatching what they could along the way, maybe stopping for a few hours at a creek or a meadow, but then they would move along - looking for food, but more dramatically, looking for safety. Although there are always exceptions. We had a local case of a horse that had been abused, rescued and (mostly) rehabilitated, getting loose and running to hide in the woods, and no, he didn't survive.

If a fully tacked horse gets loose from a rider, there is additional danger of the reins, or even the saddle, getting tangled in vines and holding the horse in place until he dies of dehydration. Another main consideration is that the horse may eventually have tack galls that fester.

But one of the main things authors need to remember is that it's not really natural for horses to be in the woods, that there needs to be a good reason for the horse to be there -- the worldbuilding has to be solid enough that the reader sees what the horse is going through trying to find enough forage -- and there needs to be appropriate consequences for the length of time the horse was in there.

Blood Magic by Matthew Cook

I got a couple of recent releases from Juno last week and finished Blood Magic by Matthew Cook last night.

I've been complaining for awhile now that there isn't enough gritty type fantasy, especially with the strong female protag that I like to read, but this is the second of two from Juno that I read cover to cover. (The first was Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell)

Kirin, and that isn't even her name, it's her dead twin sister that lives in her head's name, is the kind of anti-heroine that you're not sure, exactly, why you love her, but you can't help but hope she continues to overcome. She's made bad decisions and done bad stuff, and basically justified most of it one way or another, and the tough part of it is that you can understand why she's doing what she is, even if you don't like it. - and yet she still manages to do good on both the smaller scale and the larger - and YET the good and evil seem inexorably mixed. -- and these are the deeper themes that draw me so deeply into a world.

Kudos to Matthew Cook for writing this and also to Juno for publishing it.