5 - Almost Paradise.JPG


I wish everyone could listen to this old Mike Reno song before reading this novel or perhaps while you are reading it. You can listen to the song below! The protagonist is a horse woman hired to help troubled horses; the antagonist is a schizophrenic with a loaded gun who just might have to face the training skills that made the cowgirl excel with broncs! The beauty of the Northeastern Nevada desert has a hand in the story too and always that haunting melody and the words “knockin’ on Heaven’s door.”


I wrote the first chapter of this novel as a short story. The scene becomes a metaphor for this novel and its sequel, Dancing in the Red Snow. A young, female wrangler trained in dressage and round pen horsemanship is hired by Julian Rose to manage his guest ranch horses. She seems to work magic in the round pen, and her boss is drawn to her from the beginning.                 

Unknown to the young woman, Mr. Rose has been involved (still married to, in fact) a schizophrenic who has killed two of his best horses and tried to kill him. He is quiet and distant, rarely warming up to strangers. He takes note, however, that his troubled horses seem to find a measure of safety in the pen with Serena, so he says at the end of that first chapter, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next.” And she replies, “Neither can I.”


So I asked myself what might she do next? Of course, the characters always come through for me and leap into next without much prodding from me! I literally didn’t know what was going to happen as Serena has come from a lesbian relationship but begins to want to heal the horses and the lovely, mysterious Julian. And I had no idea this story would come back to haunt me with ties to my African drama.

I wrote the character of Askay, Julian’s Tanzanian cook and companion, with no thought that he would be the great-grandfather of the African girl, Kivuli Farley. How could I? I was three novels away from having that brainstorm. Askay dies at ninety-one, but his character gets fully developed after that with pieces of his found journal and the memories of the Americans he knew. His writings touch the lives of his African family in Thirst and in What Love Has Done.

Almost Paradise follows the journey of Serena Skye, Julian Rose, their son, Hank, Julian’s finally ex-wife, Miranda, and a seventeen-year-old girl, Liana, who seduces/abuses Hank when he is twelve. Then I guess I kind of throw the whole enchilada at the reader. There are gay characters, Native Americans, Mexicans, Catholics, an African priest, Tanzanians, a mentally ill person, and Nevada wranglers. In the round pen, rank, untrained, and abused horses can find a way to trust, feel safe, and respect the human again through methods variously called “pressure and release,” “reward the slightest change,” “getting the horse to think it’s his idea where you want his feet to go,” “give the horse a job he can do, reward, and build on that,” and “horse whispering.” But Serena must discover how to use these methods on humans, especially the schizophrenic and the child abuser but also her very troubled, distrustful boss, Julian, whom she loves.

In this novel, the “way” with horses works with humans who need it, and new, strong relationships grow out of potentially disastrous ones.

But hold on. I’m not through with you yet! You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?