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The Horses and the Story in "Feathers in the Snow"

I'm working on a love story called Feathers in the Snow. Decent title, right?

The last few weeks, I've been spending hours prepping up the novel writing course I've been contracted to teach. Most recently, I've spent my time differentiating between plot and story.

The description I like best for plot is, "The spine of the story." I like that. I can grasp that. I can see value in that. Not every one who writes does see value in plot. Jerry Jenkins, for example. Stephen King. Me, most of the time.

If plot is the spine, then story is the heart. In fact, story is the point. In researching for this section of the course, I found myself reminded that it is a story we are writing and developing, not a plot. A plot is just a tool. The story is the thing.

Feathers in the Snow has a simple plot. A travel writer spends her Christmas holiday at an Equestrian centre where the owner also happens to breed Clydesdale horses. Travel writer falls for horse breeder, and they live happily ever after.

The story, though, is a lot more complicated than that. You see, despite her immediate attraction to the very large, former rodeo cowboy, Isla is on vacation. What happens on the farm stays on the farm. She's not thinking in any other terms. J.T. might be a great holiday diversion, but it's his horses she falls for. If his feelings have gotten out of hand, well, oops, that's his bad.

But his sister-in-law goes unexpectedly into labour, leaving Isla co-running the place with J.T. She's seeing so many sides of this man that her head is spinning. She's also having the time of her life. And as much as she loves writing for a living, the truth is, she can do that anywhere there's a computer and an Internet connection. When she uncovers some details from J.T.'s past and realizes that it is J.T. who is the real story at Aspengrove, that's an invasion of privacy Isla just doesn't want to breach. That's when she realizes she has fallen hard for the cowboy. Things have gotten real, and she has no idea what to do next.

Clydesdales, like the ones in Feathers in the Snow, also have quite the story. The breed originated in Scotland, but declined so much in the 1970's that as a breed they are considered in danger of extinction. In modern times, they are possibly best known as the Budweiser horses of American Super Bowl commercial fame. Those Clydesdales tend to be primarily geldings (altered males), and they tend to be bred at a single stud farm in the United States. In Feathers in the Snow, though, J.T. is hoping to change all of that.

People ask me all the time where I get my story ideas from. Well, we have pictures of me on top of horses when only months old. The love affair began early.

When I was eight, my parents leased me a horse, Rocky, who was considered a Heinz 57 (the mutt of the horse kingdom), but who most closely resembled a Clydesdale in build and colouring. As well, growing up along the coast of British Columbia, our family went to the PNE every summer. I would get a schedule and would sit for hours watching the horse show in the Agriplex.

My favourites were the jumpers, the cutting horses, and the Arabian dress classes, but I would watch anything as long as horses were there. After watching the shows, every summer I would walk through the horse barns. I'd soak up the atmosphere, chose my favourites, and gawk the way only a horse-crazy pre-teen girl can gawk. And every summer, the draught horses would be there filling a section of the stalls. I'd tread through their section caught between awe and fear. (Lies! I fear no horse!) They were beautiful horses. To a ten-year old, they were also intimidating and huge.

I've never forgotten the feeling of walking through the stabled draught breeds at the PNE. They are part of my story. Decades later, the Clydesdales of Feathers in the Snow pay homage to the captivation of my childhood imagination.

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