Lisa Preston turned to writing after careers as a fire department paramedic and a city police officer. Her debut novel, Orchids and Stone, was released by Thomas & Mercer in April 2016, and has been described both as a thriller and as domestic noir. Her psychological suspense novel, The Measure of the Moon, will be released this month (April 2017). Her published work includes non-fiction books and articles on animals, particularly the care and training of dogs and horses. Away from her desk, she spends hours on backcountry trails as a runner and rider, sometimes combining her two outdoor pursuits via the obscure sport of Ride and Tie. She lives with her husband and Malinois on Washington State's vast Olympic Peninsula.
Mercy Me: High School and Horses, from Awful to Aweful
Laura Moriarty once told me that she knew the very last word in her second novel The Rest of Her Life (which explores the fallout for a high school girl and her family when she accidentally kills a classmate through negligent driving) before she finished writing the book.
The word, mercy, carries tremendous emotional strength and depth.
When Janet and I were gabbing at the Left Coast Crime fiction conference in Hawai’i this March, we realized we’d been at Mercy High School around the same time. Me, as a student, and Janet as a teacher. I wondered, how can that be? We’re obviously about the same age, not a generation apart...wait a minute. Compared to her 16- and 17-year-old students, a newly minted 21-year-old teacher is not much older, but those critical years make all the difference.
High school was not my favorite phase of life. The year before, we escaped my abusive father by moving to a new state, dropping ourselves into a congested city. For a girl who loves big, open country stocked with horses, urban life is tough duty. Add all the typical awkwardness and uncertainty implied by the high school years and you feel my pain.
I endured, hating it, but it was only a few critical years before I was in charge of my life. Studying, working and saving paid off. By the time I was 21, I bought a small house on five acres. On my own, I fenced the entire perimeter, bought my first horse, and then my second. (Oh, a horse wants to live with another horse, and this girl wants to live with horses.)
That difference between the challenge of high school and the success of adulthood is an amazing, survivable chasm. If I could change something about my high school self, I’d be more merciful—to others, and especially to myself.
The leap of those few years was beyond fabulous. I rode endlessly through the woods, crossing the Little Susitna river, building jumps, brushing and currying to my girlish heart’s content.
In time, I had to let those two horses go as I sold my house and moved to the big bad city (ok, Anchorage) for work. When I retired from that career (cop) and became a writer, I again fenced a fallow field to create a horsey home, then adopted two ex-racehorses and turned them into trail horses. After spending their eventual, blissful retirements with us, those two boys passed on. Now we have two youngish, golden Akhal Teke mares. It is my mature, merciful heart’s content to ride; solo, with my sweetie, with friends, just ride, then write and read. Here’s to mercy and miles for everyone. May we all get there.
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