Giveaway, Interview and Excerpt: Horse Sense by Lapo Melzi
Horse Sense by Lapo Melzi
There’s nothing easy about being an eleven year old boy, especially for Jamie. As he takes the unsteady steps into adolescence, his days of knowing who his friends are and trusting the adults in his life are numbered. The only thing Jamie can really count on in this changing world is the love of his best friend, a horse named Acorn. Jamie and Acorn’s friendship has a magic that comes once in a lifetime—but the bullies around them want to rip that to shreds. Can their kindred connection survive as Jamie strives to carve out his identity?
Interview with the Author:
Today I would like to welcome Lapo Melzi to my blog. He has been very gracious to answer some questons…
Where are you from?
I am from a small town near the Italian Alps that sits in a national park with wonderful woods and lakes. My house was a farm full of all sorts of animals when I was little and it later became a horse riding school for many years. I had the luck to grow up surrounded by animals and learned to trust, appreciate and love them. The woods remain the place where I always feel at home and the mountains are still my favorite hiking ground.
When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing poetry when I was in high school. That was my first ever creative endeavor and one that made me aware of my abilities. It wasn’t until my twenties though that I tried my hand at stories. I was attending Film School in Milan then and nobody wanted to write what I wanted to direct. I never thought I could write stories (I had too much respect for books) but I really wanted to tell more imaginative stories than those that were given to me by the screenwriting students at my school. So, I did my best and wrote my first scripts. It was difficult, but scripts are very bare bones and technical, so I didn’t feel daunted as I would if I had tried to write a book. Then I just kept on writing and during the years I discovered that was my real instinct: to sit down and write stories. The conscious decision of being a fiction author came much later, only about three years ago. I had been writing scripts for about fifteen years by then and was really tired of the limitations imposed by the medium. In particular, I was tired of being obliged to write only what I could produce and I was yearning to delve into the internal emotional and psychological life of my characters. I also had a hunch that I would write better novels than scripts by then. But it was just a hunch, because I didn’t have the slightest idea whether I could actually write interesting prose. So I did a leap of faith and discovered, thankfully, that I could write.
How did you come up with the title?
I love titles, so I put some thought into it. I love when a title is able to tell you a lot about a story and yet leave you with a lot of questions you want to be answered. I wanted the title to feature the word horse or something strongly related to it. Jamie relates to Acorn so deeply and so keenly that it made me think the he had a strong “horse sense”. I thought that was great, but I wanted more—I wanted Acorn’s side of the story too in the title. I love words, so started using my best friends the thesaurus and the dictionary and so I found out that horse sense has another meaning. It also means “common sense.” That was perfect, because it represented exactly Acorn’s side, his “sense” of right and wrong that transcends human experience and prejudices. That’s how I came to it.
Who designed the covers?
When I was looking for a cover I found a beautiful picture online of a girl and her horse side by side. I thought it was so perfect and wanted to use it as my cover, but I needed a boy and a bay horse, so I decided to take the pictures myself. I called up an old friend of mine that has a horse riding school and she hooked me up with one of her pupils, Filippo, a boy that had just the perfect look. I was lucky, because my friend also owned a handsome bay stallion, Notturno, with a very expressive face. Next, I needed the bullies, so Vincenzo’s mom put me in the touch with the principal of Filippo’s school. He and the teachers were very nice: they let me choose a group of five students to use for the shot. So, we took several pictures, then I gave everything to a designer friend of mine, Fern, and she put the cover together wonderfully.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Remembering all the awful stuff that happened to me when I was nine and later on when I was thirteen. It’s not simple to write something so personal and use it for dramatic purposes. I wanted to convey the emotions I felt and the insight I gained during the years, because I knew it would resonate with the audience, but it was a pretty painful process. It’s still hard to think that a good eighty percent of what you read in the book actually happened. There are entire pages of dialogue that I put down as I or my mother remembered them. The teacher and main villain of the book actually was my teacher and she DID do and say the things I describe in the book. And my classmates actually did behave as I tell in the book. Seems unreal, but most of it is true.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I wrote this book with the desire to show people that you can defy bullying, that there is hope, that animals are a safe haven when all people around you are hurting you and that a great strength lies inside everyone. Ultimately this is a hopeful coming of age story and a story of a great friendship. I hope young readers will find tools in the book to help them in the struggle against bullying and I hope that parents will find tools that will assist them in understanding what their children are going through and how they can help them without hurting them too.
Now it was time to do justice to his brilliant idea. He reached the edge of the paddock and stopped in front of a trough filled with water and dead leaves that lay in the shade of tall black locust trees.
He cast a quick glance back and his wild, ash-brown hair swung back with him. Seeing Acorn hadn’t spotted him, he sat down on the brim of the trough. He hesitated a second, then he propped himself up and sank his feet into the water. A chilling stream gushed through the holes in his shoes’ soles and soaked his socks almost instantly. Goose bumps ran from his legs all the way up to his arms and he shivered, breathing quickly—it was just May after all and the trough stood all day in the shade. There was no time to waste on second thoughts. Jamie willed himself to withstand the cold and slowly lowered his body into the trough. He winced as the chilly water licked the whole length of his back, shooting prickling shivers up to his ears, but he didn’t make any sudden movement. He didn’t want to spill any water and give away his whereabouts. His heart was beating fast. It was awesome!
He took two big breaths, pinched his nose shut between his fingers and sank his head underwater, then he pressed his feet and hands against the inner walls of the trough to keep himself from floating up. Inside this shell of wood and water, the calm was eerie, even if the cold was so intense that it felt like entombing yourself in ice. Nevertheless, Jamie felt his mind relax—it was cozy in there. He pondered that perhaps that’s how Acorn had felt in his mom’s belly—apart from the cold, of course. Above him, through the settling water, the tree branches swayed dreamily in the breeze. Cast against the bright sky, they looked like giant feelers carefully searching the air.
Jamie stretched his ears, listening for any signs of Acorn approaching. Holding his breath underwater, still as a statue, he looked like a weird submarine stick-bug ready to pounce. His ash-brown hair fanned out around his face like wild thoughts, while his grass-green eyes gleamed with anticipation. His hiding spot was perfect! Acorn would never think of that. He really wanted to burst into an evil chuckle, but kept himself in check—he didn’t want to blow his cover.
A sliver of froth drifted lazily on the surface of the water. Jamie wondered whether it was Acorn’s saliva or the sheep’s and he realized that he was probably lying in a tub of spit. He grinned, thinking himself daring, even though he knew that most kids at school would likely consider him disgusting. Well, who cared what they thought; they didn’t know anything about adventure. Spit you just washed away, but adventure staid for the rest of your life!
A constricting sensation, as of a belt tightening steadily around his chest, made his head lighter. His lungs started screaming for air, but he was resolved to stay put. He fidgeted at the bottom of the trough, worried that Acorn wouldn’t show up. Where the heck was that knucklehead? What if he didn’t turn up and ruined his awesome ambush?
A wave of fretting panic seized him. Maybe he should have left a string of Menthos leading to the trough. Man! That’s exactly what he should have done! Why hadn’t he thought about that before? Why would Acorn come straight into the paddock? He could easily walk into the school instead. He hadn’t planned this thing properly—that was going to be his downfall!
Dark thoughts of failure clouded his brain as the air in his lungs quickly expired. He reckoned he had no more than a dozen seconds left in him, then he’d have to take a breath or die in his watery tomb. Another five seconds elapsed. It was over…
Presently, a shadow draped across the trough. The temperature dropped a couple of degrees. Jamie wondered how on Earth he could feel colder than he already was, but apparently he could. The shadow moved in a little closer. He saw the darkness break up at the fringes, drawing the rough outline of a mane. Excitement fired through his skin—Acorn had come at last! He let go of his supports and kicked hard toward the surface.
He exploded out of the water in a huge splash, flailing his arms like a madman, roaring, “Raaaaugh!!”
Acorn shied back, flaring his nostrils in shock.
“Got you! I got you!” Jamie taunted. “Spoooky!”
Acorn bared his teeth and snapped at him, outraged.
Jamie plunged his hand into the frigid water and splashed him treacherously.
Acorn let out a grunt and bucked away, kicking and neighing. He shook his head around to show his disapproval for the scandalous treatment.
Jamie watched him with satisfaction, overjoyed by the result of his ambush. Best! Prank! Ever! He jumped out of the trough and romped around the paddock.
With his tail high, Acorn trotted about jerkily, wheeling his head in quick bursts, flaring his nostrils noisily at anything he laid his eyes on, as if purposefully looking for something else to get scared by. It seemed like he was actually enjoying the rush of adrenaline running wild in his veins. Jamie ran beside him, roaring and laughing, his sneakers squeaking and sloshing loudly.
At the ruckus, a few sheep poked their heads out of their shed, while the horses in the stables pricked up their ears, wondering what it was all about.
Lapo Melzi is a poet, writer and filmmaker. He grew up in a little town in the north of Italy and went on to study writing and filmmaking in New York. He received his MFA from renowned NYU Tisch School of the Arts and now spends his time between the United States and Italy.
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