Meet Jessica Burkhart!

When putting together a list of awesome authors and other fantastic book people to interview on MacLeanSpace...how could I not include uber-amazing, wunderkind Jessica Burkhart, author of the Canterwood Crest series? Leaving aside that we are agent sisters (both represented by the incredible Alyssa Eisner Henkin), we're talking about a woman who has sold 8 -- count them -- 8 books to Simon and Schuster! (Of course, when they include horses, drama, boys, and secrets...is there really any question that you want to read as many of those as you can get your hands on?) The first of the books, Take the Reins, is out this month!

Who says teammates have to be friends?

When Sasha Silver and her horse, Charm, arrive on the campus of the elite Canterwood Crest Academy, Sasha knows that she's in trouble. She's not exactly welcomed with open arms. One group of girls in particular is used to being the best, the brightest, and the prettiest on the team, and when Sasha shows her skills in the arena, the girls' claws come out.

Sasha is determined to prove that she belongs at Canterwood. Will she rise to the occasion and make the advanced riding team by the end of her first semester? Or will the pressure send Sasha packing?

Jess is on the craziest pub schedule I've ever heard of...with one book due every 10 or so weeks (OMG.)...So, needless to say, I was really excited to hear that she was willing to spend some time answering some questions for me! She'll be lurking in comments this week to answer any questions or respond to any comments that you have in comments! So...ask away!

Meet Jessica Burkhart


For those who don't know...you finished your first novel during 2006 NaNoWriMo. Was it a whim that you participated? Or had you always had the idea for CC and just used NaNoWriMo to execute it? What did the manuscript look like on December 1, 2006?

I heard about NaNoWriMo in October 2006 and thought it would be the perfect time to take the chance and see if I could write a novel. I’d freelanced for five years and felt ready for a new challenge. I played around with novel ideas up until a few days before NaNo, but none of them felt right.

The idea that kept coming back to me was a horse novel, but I was afraid to let myself go there. I’d been a serious equestrian for most of my life until back surgery stopped me from riding. I worried that writing about horses would make me miss riding. But I decided to go for it! Writing about horses brought me back to the horse world and I loved it!

On December 1, the manuscript was a Big. Awful. Mess. The timeline was a disaster, too many characters had names that started with K or C and the plot was a jumbled mess. I reminded myself that at least I had a draft and now I could edit. And edit! And edit! :)

A few weeks ago, I pulled out the first draft of Take the Reins and forced myself to look at it. I almost died of embarrassment! :)

Canterwood Crest features a trio of snarky girls who aren't exactly the picture of niceness. Did you grow up with Heather, Alison and Julia? Or are they truly figments of your imagination? If you had to hang out with one of them for an afternoon, who would it be, and why?

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t grow up around a Heather, Julia or Alison. There were always the super-popular girls, but never girls this mean. I got lucky! If Heather, Julia or Alison had been at my school, they would have made fun of me for wearing paddock boots to school. They also would have hated my favorite sweater—one with a giant horse head on it. :) There’s a photo of that somewhere…

I’d love to hang out with Heather. We’d sip hot chocolate, she’d refuse to tell me any juicy Canterwood Crest gossip and I’d hate her but secretly want to be her friend. She’s one of those love-to-hate girls, which makes her envy-worthy.

You're working on an incredibly grueling pub schedule for the Canterwood Crest books (almost a bimonthly release, right?) ...what's the secret to keeping the ideas coming...and quickly?

The pub schedule can be tough and the most important thing for me is emotional support from my close friends. When I’m feeling confident, I’m able to come up with my best ideas. With this schedule, you have to be “on” most of the time. There’s no room to sit back and say, “Well, I just don’t feel like writing today.” I get my best ideas when I stay in work-mode and am absorbed in the Canterwood Crest world. The support from people involved with Canterwood is important because it boosts my morale and helps cut down on the panicked moments when I’m sure I’m the Worse Writer Ever.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give another author looking to get into the middle grade market?

I’d say to be savvy about what kids and tweens like. Spend a little time reading books that are popular with tweens, listen to music that kids and tweens enjoy, flip through Girls’ Life and watch a few new tween-friendly movies. You may never incorporate any of the trends into a novel, but I still think it’s important to know what your audience enjoys.

So many girls (including me) are drawn to horses. What do you think it is that is so attractive about them?

I think many girls love horses because of the unconditional love they offer. Horses are thousand-pound animals that choose to be gentle with us. How amazing is that? Plus, they’re sooo much fun. I loved the adrenaline rush of racing a horse through a field and leaping every obstacle in sight.

And, finally, Jessica Burkhart on...

Fictional Horses:
Black Beauty or Mr. Ed?

Gotta be Black Beauty. Has anyone else seen at least four different movie versions of the book?

Lip Balm:
Cherry Chapstick or Burt's Bees?

Cherry Chapstick! (It WAS popular before Katy Perry…)

Famous Equestrians:
Paul Revere or the Headless Horseman?

Headless Horseman. So. Scary.

Teen Magazines:
Seventeen or Teen Vogue?

Love ‘em both, but I’d have to go with Teen Vogue. The fashion—sigh.

The Triple Crown:
Preakness or Belmont?

Preakness! Big Brown’s win last year was amazing.

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Thanks so much for coming over to play, Jess!

For everyone else...find Jessica at her website, on Goodreads, on Twitter, and on Facebook. I also think she'd appreciate you pre-ordering Take the Reins on Amazon. That last part is just a hunch, though.

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