Today's guest post comes from my colleague Kimberly, who writes about this week's release of Robert Barclay's If Wishes Were Horses, an unforgettable debut novel of love, hope, and second chances, which explores what happens when a grieving man's personal plan for redemption is suddenly and unexpectedly turned upside down.
Wyatt Blaine desperately seeks a reason to continue. Devastated by the senseless deaths of his wife and son at the hands of a drunk driver, he remains unable to forgive, and to love again. Searching for a sense of peace, he decides to revive his late wife's equine therapy program for troubled teens at the Blaine family ranch. By honoring her memory in this way, he hopes to find the sense of closure that has long eluded him.
But then Wyatt's pastor asks for the impossible—for Wyatt to meet with Gabby Powers, the widow of the man responsible for Wyatt's unbearable sorrow. Wyatt knows Gabby is not to blame for the tragedy, so when she begs him to accept her troubled teenage son, Trevor, into the program, he reluctantly agrees. With some help and guidance from Ram, Wyatt's irascible but lovable father, Wyatt does his best to accept Gabby and Trevor's unsettling presence at the ranch. Even so, Wyatt still feels that he is somehow betraying his late wife's memory rather than honoring it.
But to his great surprise, Wyatt also finds himself drawn to Gabby's warmth, tenderness, and surprising ability to soothe his troubled soul. Day after day, their mutual attraction becomes more intense, more impossible to ignore. But to heal completely, Wyatt and Gabby must first overcome the common tragedy that separates them and learn the true nature of forgiveness. And only by conquering these seeming impossibilities might their hearts become free to love each other . . .
From the moment I heard about If Wishes Were Horses two things stuck out in my mind, first was the title—what woman doesn’t love horses or at least the idea of one—and second was the editor’s belief that this story was something special. After reading the first few pages I was hooked! I found myself transported to the ranch and completely absorbed in the lives of these characters. I wanted to know more about the equine therapy program and also how three scarred individuals could possibly find a way to move past all of their pain and learn to forgive not only themselves but each other. Many of the key elements that helped to make Nick Sparks a book club favorite can be found in Robert Barclay’s If Wishes… This book is the perfect antidote to the winter blues—so grab your hot cocoa, a box of tissues, and start reading!
The author, Robert Barclay, was kind enough to sit down with us for a few minutes to discuss how his own life experiences and those closest to him, helped to shape this story. Here’s an excerpt of the interview.
Q: Where did you get the title of the novel? How does the old saying relate to the story and the message you are conveying?
RB: It’s actually an old proverb that dates back to an English book that was published in 1628. It is often interpreted to mean that it is useless to wish, and that better results can be achieved through action—such as when Gabby stops wishing that Trevor’s attitude would change, and she finally takes action and enrolls him in Wyatt’s equine therapy program. Not only was I drawn to the proverb’s meaning, the references to horses also seemed a perfect fit.
Q: Your wife, Joyce, is a practicing psychologist, and she too suffered a tragedy similar to the plot of your novel. Did that make it easier to write—or more difficult?
RB: Both, I would say. Joyce lost her younger son to a drunk driver. Sadly, I witnessed the true pain and sorrow of someone who was actually going through it. That meant I could both write about it with a greater sense of reality, but it also forced me to watch Joyce endure the most difficult period of her life. From that terrible reality came the idea of Wyatt losing his family. I only hope that I conveyed it well.
Q: You revealed that much of the novel is drawn from your own past. Can you share with us one or two examples from the book in which a situation in your own life inspired a part of the story? How do you as an author balance your own experiences with your fictional narrative? Were there ever times that you thought you had to change something because it was too close?
RB: Because Wyatt lost his wife and son on his birthday, he finds it impossible to take the blessings during his weekly church service, which is a celebration of blessings, anniversaries, etc. Instead of participating, he always leaves the church just as the priest commences it. The inspiration for this came about while I was in church one Sunday. As the priest called for people to come and take the blessings, I saw a man of about my age rise from his pew and head for the aisle. Rather than heading for the sanctuary, however, with his head hung low he gave some cash to one of the ushers, and he quietly departed the church. Although I never saw him again, I knew that his tale had to be an interesting one. That became the inspiration for Wyatt’s inability to remain in church during the blessings. Seeing that unknown man leave the church seemed so poignant, and it rang so true, that I knew I wanted to use the occasion in my book.
And yes—novelists must do their best to balance their fictions with their own, true-life experiences. The secret, I think, is letting your life experiences get close to the storyline—but not so close that you are actually recreating them onto the written page. If the writer falls into that trap, he or she will begin telling the story of their lives, rather than those of the characters. Plus, every new tale will smack too loudly of the preceding one. Personal experiences are highly useful. But no matter how enticing they might be, they should be used only as a guideline, and nothing more.