Today I’m shining the Author Spotlight on Kiersi Burkhart and Amber Keyser – the amazing duo behind the QUARTZ CREEK RANCH series.
Title: The QUARTZ CREEK RANCH Series, containing: Shy Girl & Shy Guy, One Brave Summer, At Top Speed, and The Long Trail Home
Age Range: Middle-Grade (ages 9-12)
Launch Date: January 1st, 2017!
Please tell us a little bit about your book?
Kiersi: Hi! Well, we’ve got a couple books in this series… Four, to be exact. They’re all coming out at the same time, and you can even buy them in a box set if you want!
Amber: Every summer, the gates of Quartz Creek Ranch swing open for kids in trouble. Under the watchful eyes of lifelong ranchers Willard and Etty Bridle, these ten to twelve-year-olds put their hands—and hearts—to good use, herding cattle, tending the garden, harvesting hay, and caring for animals.
Kiersi: And all four of the books take place in the same world, on the same ranch, just during different summers. So same ranch owners, horse trainers, even the veterinarian, but different kids each time.
What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?
Amber: I grew up riding horses and have always loved horse books like King of the Wind and Misty of Chincoteague. My agent knew that so when she got a call from a European publisher looking for horse books, she asked me if I had any ideas. I brainstormed a little and sent her list. The one that caught her eye was “therapy horses.” Shortly after that I saw my writer friend, Kiersi, tweeting about a horse she had rehabilitated when she was a kid. It struck me how much fun it would be to work together on my two-word idea for a series.
Kiersi: Oh man, and when Amber brought up the idea, I knew there was no way we wouldn’t do it. We brainstormed it in a day and came up with six or so stories we wanted to tell on the ranch. The two books I was the lead author on (Shy Girl & Shy Guy and At Top Speed) are based on horses I’ve known, or things I’ve been passionate about. Shy Guy is a bit like my old Appaloosa, and a bit like the horse I rehabilitated as a tween. I loved barrel racing as a girl, which inspired me to write At Top Speed. And I struggled with a lot of the same issues Ella struggles with in that novel.
Amber: The horse in One Brave Summer is based on a big red gelding I rode one summer, and The Long Trail Home was inspired by several backcountry pack trips I took as a kid. Rivka’s story in The Long Trail Home is a really personal one for me. I’m Jewish and have been reeling from the rise in anti-semitism in this country. Rivka’s journey from fear to activism in the face of racism is one I’m trying to emulate.
Everyone says writing is a process. Could you share a little about your writing and/or research process?
Kiersi: The very first thing I did when we started working on this project was start taking riding lessons again. I hadn’t taken regular lessons since I was seventeen (and I was twenty-five at the time we started on QCR), so it had been a while for me. I also read one of the most lovely books of my life: The Man Who Listens to Horses, by Monty Roberts. There’s some controversy around him now, but his message about “whispering, not shouting” to earn respect from horses really resonated with me. I also loved the documentary “Buck,” and would recommend it to anyone. It’s all about rehabilitating problem horses and starting horses humanely. I would love to see a world where we stop using the phrase “breaking” a horse, and instead use “starting” a horse. Teaching a young horse to go under the saddle shouldn’t be traumatizing or violent.
Amber: Like Kiersi, I started riding again and reading books on natural horsemanship. YouTube is invaluable resource for writing scenes like the foal birth in The Long Trail Home. We also had a horse expert read each book and offer suggestions during the revision process. In general, we brainstormed each book together. The lead writer would produce a detailed outline, which the other would comment on. Once we agreed on that, the lead writer would get to work on the first draft. The other person was always the first reader offering detailed revision notes. All the books were edited by Anna Cavallo at Darby Creek. She helped make sure all four had the same voice.
We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?
Amber: My first grade teacher, Ms. August, knew I could already read. She let me spend all the reading instructional time in the corner with a novel while everyone else worked on sounding things out. FOREVER GRATEFUL! As for writing, my freshman English teacher, Ms. Milani, taught me the mechanics of writing. If I put together a good sentence now and then, it’s because of her!
Kiersi: I had this one teacher in 4th grade who is unparalleled. I’d always been in bilingual classes growing up, but then the one time I wasn’t, I got the worst teacher possible. We were completely incompatible. So Sr. Gonzalez came and rescued me from my awful teacher and moved me into his class.
I was always getting ahead of the group, so he’d send me to the library to write an extra book report or two. (I know. Serious nerd. I loved writing book reports.) And whenever we went to the computer lab to work on our “stories,” he would poke fun at me because while the other kids were tapping out one or two pages, I was writing a “novel.” Sr. Gonzalez always read my work and gave me gushing compliments, which of course encouraged me to keep writing. I stayed in touch with him all the way through high school. I wish I knew where he is now, so I could tell him I’m an author. I don’t think it would surprise him. Maybe somebody already told him.
What makes your book a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?
Kiersi: All four of our books feature protagonists who are struggling with something—whether it’s strict parent expectations, social anxiety, or anger management. Though the horses are incredibly important to the stories we tell in this series, they really function as vessels for these kids to explore themselves in a safe, encouraging environment, and grow beyond what took them to the ranch.
Amber: I love the social dynamics in these books. Each one has an ensemble cast of both girls and boys. They come together in really surprising ways. I think the series is a great way to talk about listening to one another’s truths and learning to respect the place each of us is coming from. The best books are ones that teach empathy and that’s one of the things Kiersi and I have tried to do with Quartz Creek Ranch.
I’m a little dog obsessed here at www.patriciabaileyauthor.com. Would you tell the readers about your favorite dog (real or imaginary)?
Amber: Gilda! Believe it or not, I got my first dog two years ago from Kiersi’s aunt and uncle. She is a lab-poodle-mystery-mix aka a muppet. My family had been lobbying for a long time for a dog. I didn’t want one. Now Gilda and I are inseparable. We go paddle-boarding, trail-running and cross-country skiing together. I had no idea that I would love her so much!
Kiersi: Two years ago I would have said White Fang, but then last summer, I adopted the most incredible rescue dog. Baby has become my best friend, closest confidant, and life partner. We’ve gone through a lot together this last year and a half and I don’t know if I’d have gotten through it without him. Though he still has some quirks from his former life being homeless, I wouldn’t have him any other way. I’m never alone with Baby in my life. As I always say… Adopt, don’t shop!
Kiersi Burkhart lives and works as a freelance writer and author in Wyoming. While not writing or running her own business, she finds time to advocate for social justice and play Dungeons & Dragons. Kiersi has a deep and abiding love of Pokemon, her partner, and her dog Baby. QUARTZ CREEK RANCH is her debut series. Her first YA novel, HONOR CODE, comes out in Spring 2018. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and at her website.
Amber J. Keyser writes both fiction and non-fiction for tweens and teens. QUARTZ CREEK RANCH is her middle-grade debut. Her young adult novels include POINTE, CLAW and THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN. Her nonfiction titles include THE V-WORD (a New York Public Library Best Book for Teens and Chicago Public Library Best Nonfiction for Teens) and SNEAKER CENTURY: A HISTORY OF ATHLETIC SHOES, among numerous other titles. Find Amber on Facebook, Twitter, and at her website.
You can buy their books anywhere good books are sold, or online at:
Thanks so much, ladies!