Thursday, October 5, 2017

Connie Johnson Hambley: Inspired by The Troubles & therapeutic riding

HALLIE EPHRON: Today I'm delighted to welcome Connie Johnson Hambley back to Jungle Red. She's a horsewoman, well versed in thoroughbred racing and steeplechase, and in her books the horses are as real as the people. Her trilogy features world-class equestrian, Jessica Wyeth, entangled by her lover into a world of international crime. The final book, The Wake! was published in September

Connie, catch us up on what you've been up to since you visited us last.

CONNIE JOHNSON HAMBLEY:  My two sons have graduated from college and my “baby” daughter has begun her college years. I’m still waiting for the empty nest blues to hit, but my hubby and I like a quiet house! 

I think that’s because the rooms are always filled with my characters. Our conversation during cocktail hour starts with, “Have you heard from the kids today?” and ends with, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to Jessica Wyeth!” 

I did a lot of soul searching while padding around my empty house thinking of the threads I needed to knit together for a satisfying, gripping, and emotionally true conclusion to the final novel in The Jessica Trilogy.  My characters are real to me. I talk out loud to them, pantomime their movements or reactions, rejoice and cry with them. 


The trilogy follows historical milestones involving riots in Belfast, called the Troubles, but American history shaped the story as well. My character-driven thrillers feature Jessica, a world-class equestrian The characters, born with The Charity and who grew in The Troubles, have their life woes resolved in The Wake

I’ve written them so each book can stand on their own merits as a novel that encapsulates a moment of history involving American involvement in Northern Ireland’s struggle for unification and peace. 

Jessica received the Wyeth family fortune from a couple who had raised her since birth, but died without formally adopting her. As a lawyer, this situation nagged at me because it raised questions of family loyalties, citizenship, and inheritance. As an author, I wondered who would be the most motivated to avenge a wrongful inheritance? 

Ha! Enter “Uncle” William Wyeth, a bankrupt Boston Brahmin adept at Machiavellian plotting. Jessica’s biological family secrets have international political consequences too, and I worried about the men in her life. Were they good people at their core? Could they be corrupted? I fretted that her lover could exploit her secrets for his financial gain. 

I worried about who my characters loved as much as how they were loved. I put all of these threads to good use and made some hard, tough-love decisions to answer the question of whether terrorists are born evil or if circumstance could rot their hearts.

To me, Jessica is a rose. Beautiful, but not without thorns. Some of my character-based decisions were complicated by historical events. Folks who know their Irish history may recall that English law forbade direct references to an independent Ireland, so protests against English rule referred to Ireland in code as the “Black Rose.” 

When The Wake begins, Jessica has returned to the States after a harrowing time in the Irelands. Her arrival places her in the South three weeks prior to the Atlanta-based Summer Olympic Games. Jungle Red readers may recall the horrific bombing that happened in Centennial Park during the Games. Weave into this chaos a desperate uncle and a selfish lover along with the threads of international terrorism, and hey, I’m a thriller author, so my mind goes there.

My first two books bring the reader to thoroughbred racing and steeplechase, but the third bookdemanded a different edge. I use The Wake as a platform to bring attention to an amazing healing tool--therapeutic riding, an equestrian discipline for which I have a tremendous passion. 

I volunteer as a horse handler at Windrush Farm located near my home in Massachusetts. Windrush provides hippotherapy, a horse-based physical and emotional therapy conducted by licensed therapists. I work with clientele with a variety of challenges. Some challenges existed from birth – like Cerebral Palsy or Down Syndrome – and others are the result of a catastrophic injury or event–like stroke, PTSD, or accident.

For physical therapy, riding a horse has a rhythm and engages muscles similar to our natural walking stride. Deep core muscles required for balance may not be triggered by traditional therapies, but riding can speed recovery for certain individuals. Emotional therapies leverage horses’ primal instincts. They are herd and prey animals, meaning they have a keen sense of the emotional state of those around them–horses and humans alike–and react to emotions often before we are aware of feeling them.

I’ve been an equestrian my whole life, and continue to be amazed at the power of healing horses provide to people who are not able-bodied or who carry emotional scars.
  
CONNIE JOHNSON HAMBLEY grew up on a dairy farm in New York and had plenty of space to ride one of her six horses. All would have been idyllic if an arsonist hadn’t torched her family’s barn. Bucolic bubble burst, she began to steadfastly plot her revenge against all bad guys, real and imagined. After receiving her law degree, she moved to Boston and wrote for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Nature, and other wonky outlets as she honed her skills of reaching readers at a deep emotional level. Connie embraces the changes in the publishing world by being both traditionally and independently published. Her high-concept thrillers feature remarkable women entangled in modern-day crimes and walk the reader on the razor’s edge between good and evil. Connie delights in creating worlds where the good guys win–eventually. Her short story, Giving Voice, won acceptance in New England’s Best Crime Stories: Windward, published by Level Best Books and will be joined by Black Ice in the 2017 Level Best release of Snowbound. The third book in The Jessica Trilogy, The Wake, joins The Charity and The Troubles, which was the 2016 Best Fiction winner at the EQUUS Film Festival in New York City. She keeps horses in her life by volunteering as a horse handler at a therapeutic riding center. Connie is a board member and Featured Speaker of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime.

65 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your newest book, Connie. “The Wake” sounds particularly interesting with the therapeutic riding story line. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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    2. Connie - I am so happy you are getting a following for your work, which includes me. As a horse lover of Irish descent, your books are right up my alley! Congratulations!!!

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    3. I have a special affinity for book-reading, horse-loving Irish fans! Jessica's story is no less complex and heart aching than that of the Irelands.Thanks for posting Christine!

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  2. Congrats, Connie! I have heard so many great things about hippotherapy - and I applaud you for devoting time to it. Best of luck with the new book, too.

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    1. Thanks Edith! My time spent volunteering makes me a more productive writer. Plus, it's great to get the word out about hippotherapy in a unique way.

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  3. Fascinating Connie. Have all of the patients who come to be helped ridden horses before? (I'd be terrified if I was injured and expected to straddle a huge animal and ride!)

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    1. Oh, Lucy! You are not alone! Most clients have not ridden before, but many have a parent who rode and intuitively knew about the benefits. For riders who cannot ride or for therapies that are more emotionally based, some sessions focus on groundwork only, where the client and the horse interact. Maybe that would be a good start for you!

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  4. Yes, Connie, please do tell us more about hippotherapy. What's the logic behind it?

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    1. Hi Hallie! Thanks again for hosting me!

      Different therapies reach different people. Therapeutic riding can trigger deep core muscles required for balance in ways traditional therapies cannot. The stride of the horse demands a rider to engage the same muscles used for standing upright and walking. Balance, strength, and coordination are major challenges for many clients. On the emotional side, the benefits can be amazing. Horses are extremely aware of human emotions. I've also worked with survivors of human trafficking who use the sessions as an avenue to regain personal power.

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  5. Connie, congratulations on completing your trilogy with The Wake--looks like I have another three books to add to my tower!

    On my daily walk, I pass a horse-therapy mimi-stable--they have two horses and a pony and sometimes I see 'guests' greeting the animals; and I read a great article about a horse therapy program for troubled teens. The young man said he sat on the fence, convinced the whole idea was just another stupid waste of time. Then on the far side of the enclosure, a horse ignored the other horses and people engaged about him and came straight to this kid. Needless to say, a bit of magic and healing began in that moment of connection.

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    1. 'mini-stable', I meant to say.

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    2. Hi Flora! Yup! You get it! Horses provide an oasis for many teens and a stable becomes their safe place. Thanks for sharing that story!

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  6. Congrats on the book, Connie. I'd never heard of hippotherapy before, but it sounds fascinating.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Thanks Mary. I'm definitely happy to tell a wider audience about horse-based therapies, but via a mainstream thriller? Sure! Why not!

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  7. So looking forward to your book. Love your writing.

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  8. Well, you've just inspired me to take riding lessons--and to read your books, of course. Congrats on the release and thanks for the motivation!

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    1. Thanks Sorchia! You'll be glad you did (both take lessons and read the books!)

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  9. Oh! And I want to let readers know the lovely woman I'm pictured with above has been riding for many years, but we have worked together for four. Last year? She wrote her first short story...ever. These riding sessions provide a platform for all kinds of interactions and I'm proud to be a part of her journey.

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  10. Congratulations on your latest launch, Connie! I loved reading how close you are to your characters. I can always tell when authors really care about their characters and it makes the story that much better. Grabbing my copies of the series today!

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  11. Wonderful post, Connie! Look forward to reading The Wake: I need schooling about the world of thoroughbred racing for a biography I am co-writing. Congratulations!

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    1. Thank you, Robin! I'm happy to connect you with some terrific and knowledgeable TB folks. Message me!

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  12. Congratulations on your book launch, I love your cover! My wife is learning to ride at the age of 60 and she loves it, we look at it as therapy for her, she has hard time with a loss in her family and this type of therapy has helped her a great deal.

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    1. Thanks Eddie, and thanks for sharing the story of your wife. Horses provide a bridge to many kinds of healing and a person is never too old to reap the benefits.

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  13. Congrats on the new book. I'm particularly intrigued by the idea of a horse recognizing the rider's emotions before the rider does. I'm trying to think if maybe I've seen references to that before. In the right book, it would be a great way to show what's going on with a character who isn't particularly self-aware.

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    1. Jim! You get it! Humans can be deceived by a slick artifice, but horses will call you out in a second! Yes, they provide a terrific tool for us mystery writers to drop a hint that all is not peachy with a character!

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  14. Connie, thank you for sharing this. I'm not familiar with your books, but will definitely read them now.

    I was 55 before I was ever on a horse, and took lessons so I could ride with my best friend out in Wyoming. It was love at first moment. All the benefits you describe were part of my experience: close contact with core muscles, better balance, self-confidence, a deep sense of well-being, and an unbelievably intense emotional connection with the animals. It surprised me stupid, and started a love affair that will probably never end.

    That was over ten years ago, and I have not ridden in the last couple, but I took lessons for the better part of five years, getting just to the point in dressage where I would logically begin small jumps. In the Western saddle I never got to the point of galloping, but made many amazing trail rides with my friend. She and I spent many happy hours in a local arena, learning to ride in synchronization, one of our very favorite experiences in our long (40-year) friendship.

    Hippotherapy should be available for so many more. Thank you on behalf of those you help, Connie.

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    1. What a wonderful story! I was compelled to use this third book as a way to introduce more people to the power of therapeutic riding and hippotherapy. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  15. Connie,
    The mix of politics, thrills, and hippotherapy sounds like a winning combination to me. Can't wait to read more - I love mixing the first two in my own writing, and I have both a horse-loving child and a challenged child, so you've hooked me.

    Good luck with the new release!
    -Julie

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    1. Horses, guns, and money? A great combination, but add to that the human side of physical and emotional challenges, and recovery from catastrophic injury or illness, and you have a story that entertains as well as informs. (That's what I'm hoping for, at least!) Thanks for posting!

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  16. Hi Connie1 Congratulations on The Wake. I'm now going to look up all three of the Jessica books. I'm fascinated by anything to do with horses. I rode as a child--one of my first childhood photos is of me at about eighteen months old, propped on top of my dad's huge horse. And I am particularly interested in learning more about hippotherapy--along with a good story!

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    1. Thanks Deborah! You know as well as I do that the story comes first and the accoutrements are second. Having a compelling tale surrounding a nugget like hippotherapy makes for happy and engaged readers!

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  17. Connie, Intrigued to read the Wake- who is this new uncle character----Boston Brahmin adept at Machiavellian plotting... thanks for always twisting and plotting and getting me to look at those horse farms on the train in H/W with a whole new interest. Your writing is captivating. Thank you! Regina

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    1. Thank you! I love seeing where my unpredictable characters take the story! Plus, it's great fun to hint at settings familiar to folks in the Hamilton/Wenham area of Massachusetts. One never knows what evil lurks behind those perfectly manicured hedges!

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  18. Wishing you the best with your new release! I’m curious about how you plotted/managed the mechanics of the scene about riding a horse through a residential neighborhood. Did it involve walking and driving the neighborhood or just total imagination?

    And I enjoyed learning about hippotherapy!

    Anne

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    1. Thanks Anne! No spoilers here, but the horseback chase scene that starts at Suffolk Downs racetrack and continues through the adjacent neighborhood was a blast to research and write. I supplemented physical research with a few Google Maps flyovers (and a little Vaseline on the lens, but only a little!)

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  19. Delighted to see you have a new book out, Connie! Ross's family were all extremely horsey people: his mother rode in the '56 Olympic team and his father was the legendary Victor Hugo-Vidal. As a young adult, I had the privilege of seeing the insider view of the American horse world - but as a spectator, not a participant. One thing I know for sure: to write authentically about riding, one has to live the life. It's like a complex blend of social caste, religious cult, sport team and animal rescue society.

    Which is a long way round to say that if you're getting great reviews from CHRONICLE OF THE HORSE and professional horsemen and women, you really know your stuff!

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    1. Whoa, Julia! Talk about having equestrian creed! I couldn't agree with your characterization of the horse world more. As a former (or reformed?) lawyer, I focus on getting my details right. Horsefolks are very opinionated when it comes to the handling and treatment of their four-legged friends.

      Blending international crime with world-class equestrian events, like the '96 Olympics I use in this book, isn't such a hard job. The gear required for the horses' care offers the perfect blind for nefarious goods, and the people? Well, to say that horse people are colorful is a bit of an understatement.

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    2. Julia, I had to look up Victor. I can't believe I didn't know this! What a handsome guy he was, and you can see Ross's joyousness so clearly in Victor's photos.

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  20. Welcome, Connie! "The Wake" sounds fascinating. I grew up taking Eastern-style horseback riding lessons, but also did some Western since my dad was raised on a ranch in Montana. I was always struck by horses' ability to pick up on the riders' anxieties. If you were stressed, it could really stress out your horse. That was a pretty compelling reason to stay calm given the size and strength difference between horse and rider!

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    1. You've got the connection between horse and rider exactly right, Ingrid. A rider on a misbehaving horse is forced to ask him/herself, "Am I doing anything that's causing this?" I this book, I show horses reacting positively to a person that the reader might initially react against. I also use the innate dangerousness of riding to heighten suspense. I hope to share a trail ride with you sometime and talk more!

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  21. Running in..hurray, Connie! And congratulations on the final book in the trilogy. WOw. Does it feel like a finish line?

    I grew up with horses..we lived in hunt country ,and though my two younger sisters were more involved that I was (i was already more into boys), I recognize the caste system of the horse world. I also know how freeing and beautiful it is, just horse and rider. It's marvelous that you can share that.

    Julia. Victor Hugo-Vidal? Instant book.

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  22. On that's me, Hank. Signed in as Jungle Red. xox

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    1. Hi Hank! One thing I love about therapeutic riding is that it tips the caste system on its head. It's not the most privileged who benefit, but some of the neediest. Using it as a seasoning in the third book stew is another way I hoped to have woven surprise and intrigue into my story. Oh, and Julia's V. H-V? Oh, yeah. She needs to bring it!

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  23. Unbeatable combination Connie - therapeutic horse riding and the political drama of the Troubles! Heartiest congratulations on finishing the Jessica trilogy. Well done!

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  24. Like Ingrid, I grew up riding English style but shifted to Western when I moved to AZ. I still remember my first attempt at a jump. I bounced right off the back of the horse, Cocoa Bar, and landed in a puddle. My instructor had me get right back on the saddle and try again until I mastered the jump. It was very much a life lesson to try and try again. I have a six your old autistic cousin who participates in hippotherapy - it has been amazing to watch her bloom with the horses. I still love horses as much as I did as a child and am really looking forward to reading your books, Connie. Thank you for visiting today!

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    1. Ah, the meeting of the non-verbal world of horse and autistic child can be life changing, Jenn! My second book, "The Troubles," had a character on the autism spectrum. Horses loved him. Humans not so much! It's great to have this conversation with Jungle Red. It's a two-fer for me. Getting the word out on my new book AND hippotherapy? A definite win/win. Thanks for having me.

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  25. The Wake is loaded onto my Kindle. With the hippotherapy element, I can almost guarantee that this will be my favorite book of the trilogy! Congratulations on this third release.

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  26. The Wake is packed for our cross-country trip; can't wait to read it! I didn't know about the code word "Black Rose." Is it still in use, not as a code reference, but perhaps just in general conversation? It's amazing how language reflects societal and political circumstances. Congratulations on completing the trilogy, Connie.

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    1. Thank you, Andrea! Ireland is referred to as a rose in many songs and poems, although I'm not sure of its most recent uses. The symbolism was too perfect for this book! Thank you for your support and kind words!

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  27. Looks like this next book the series is gaining a following, well done Connie! I've enjoyed the others in this trilogy :)

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    1. Thank you for your support Christine! It's fans like you who keep me writing!

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  28. Best of luck with the latest book! Lots of good stuff.

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  29. Connie, This latest book sounds like a doozy! I will add it to my pile. Looking forward to seeing you at Crime Bake! Congrats.

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    1. Crime Bake? Yay! Looking forward to seeing you, too!

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  30. Connie, you make a very good point. Humans and horses have the potential to become attuned to one another. Probably have had since they were first domesticated! By the way, I enjoyed "The Troubles" and look forward to "The Wake." Best of luck! —Cyd

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  31. I'm so glad you enjoyed "The Troubles" and you're right about the relationship between horses and humans! Thanks for posting!

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