CANYON CITY – Writing under the pen name A.K. Moss, Canyon City author Kathy Moss shares her love of Eastern Oregon, horses and the Western way of life in “Unspoken.”
The book, published in 2014, tells the tale of a struggling ranch family in the Baker City area, and the choices that lead them to overcome obstacles and forge a better future.
At the heart of the tale, the 16-year-old daughter learns lessons about love, loyalty and friendship.
Moss has tackled such subjects before, always with a Western flair, in her cowboy poetry and photography. When not honing her writing, she co-owns Russell’s Meats in Canyon City with her husband, Tracy.
The Eagle asked her about her book for this Q&A.
Q. You’re well known in these parts for your cowboy poetry, but not everyone knows you as a novelist. What made you turn to writing fiction tales, and was it a longtime ambition or recent idea?
A. Words on paper have always been very easy for me. Poetry has been very good to me in that I was able to put stories down and it was almost effortless to do. It gave me an opportunity to travel all over the country stepping out of my comfort zone and doing public speaking at schools and in public, sharing Western lifestyles and living. “Unspoken” came to me about 1996. At that time I was working a couple mustangs, helping a couple of people with troubled horses and helping a few kids learn to ride and understand horses, language and what the horse might be saying. I don’t know how much of this you want to know but I will go as far to say, I had notebook after notebook of “Unspoken,” all long hand. The trouble with writing it long hand is when you change a paragraph, you change the page, when you change the page you change the whole book. So I was constantly rewriting.
I didn’t know how to type, or even have a typewriter, never thought it would serve me, but I knew that I was going to have to get one and “step up” if I was going to do this writing thing. So I took night classes with Janet Hueckman and learned how to type. It changed my whole world. Although I was still more comfortable writing with a pen in my hand, I could at least make the changes more easily when I typed it into my new word processor.
What made me change from poet to a novelist? Well, I don’t think it was a conscious choice. Paige came to me when I realized I was losing my childhood memories, history, struggles and my childhood way of thinking. The poetry never really stopped; it kept coming, but it wasn’t as effortless as before. “Unspoken” came pretty natural, and the story just found a place on my paper.
About half way through “Unspoken” I stopped; the words just quit. I didn’t have a goal in mind and I didn’t know how to get my work out to an editor, so I tucked it away. I didn’t pick it back up for about several years. I played with it for a while until we bought Russell’s. Then once again “Unspoken” sat in silence. With the help of Craige McMillan, I brought her back out and finished what needed finishing. I still write poetry, but right now fiction is where I feel I belong.
Q. “Unspoken” has a family at its heart, with the 16-year-old daughter as the protagonist. What made you choose a teen to put at the center of the action?
A. When I wrote, I never really thought about age, gender or even a plot for “Unspoken.” I wanted the Cason family to be as strong as I thought our family was, but as I think about it, I feel the Western lifestyle creates strong families. There are tough choices and decisions to make and sometimes it is not the right one, but it is made just the same. When I was dealing with so many horses and so many different people, I recognized some people. Well, most people have a goal in mind when they get a horse – me included – and some expect that horse to know what that goal is, without understanding the unspoken language that the horse has to offer.
Such as loading a horse in a trailer. If they have never been in a trailer before, there might be a little hesitation- Now if there is no understanding between person and horse there could be a disagreement or a battle of the wills. This situation brought onto a human level would be like a guy that only speaks Japanese, and with sign language and a rope, attempt to tell me to get into a coffin so he could close the lid. Not going to happen! Not without some sort of understanding.
Sorry about the lesson, now back to: Why Paige? I think that Paige opens up an avenue to youth and curiosity, while releasing the expectation of learning and teaching an adult. It makes it a little easier to understand without judgment of teaching an adult. Such as in the story, when John Greenly is trying to understand Abe’s actions on working with Piper the horse. John really tried to open up his mind, yet his mind was busy on other things that he needed to do. He was looking for results. It took him a while to set aside his judgment, wait, watch and understand.
Q. Tell us how you developed your story, and when you find the time to write?
A. I started “Unspoken” and even the sequel, “Finding Home,” from beginning to end with no plot or layout in mind. I just wrote what I wrote, because I wrote it. I guess in a way it is my saving grace, a place I can release my imagination and let words flow on paper mixing some of my experiences to create a story that might give insight or inspire someone to do something different or take the next step. When do I find time to write, well, usually about two or three in the morning, I can stay up until five, sleep till six, be to work by eight. But lately I have been taking some mornings, staying home and getting a few more chapters in. That is happening more frequently.
Q. You weave in a lot of scenes about horse training and the “language” of horses – Tell us a little about your own experiences with horses?
A. In growing up, we as a family never really fit into society, if you will; we didn’t have stuff – we had horses. To give you an example that might help make you understand, when I was seven, my two brothers my sister, mom and I, lived under a two-ton truck for a summer. Mom called it vacation, while others might of called it homeless. But whatever it was, we had our horses and we had our freedom. When I went to school, I felt out of place, never fit in anywhere except in the horse corral because the horses didn’t care if my socks matched or not. They never questioned me about my clothes and didn’t care what kind of grades I got. It was just me and the horse trying to get by the best we could with what we had.
Q. Are there trainers who particularly inspired you?
A. My second dad (after the truck) was a horse trader. He would buy troubled horses, bring them home, and we would work them for a month or two. When I would get home from school there would be a new horse in the corral. I couldn’t tell you how many horses we saved from the slaughter house. Papa seldom let me ride them first off; he had me busy in the corrals doing the ground work. If I wasn’t teaching a colt to saddle or a pony to pull, then I was teaching a mustang to lead, or a draft horse colt to harness. In the solace of the corral I learned or began to understand a silent language. “Learned” I think is too strong of a word. I don’t think I could count how many horses I had the opportunity to work, each one taught me something different. I learned by experience but as I grew up I sought out books by Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance and Buck Brannaman, I loved to read about them and their techniques, but when it came down to it, it was the horse that was my teacher.
Q. The story of “Unspoken” should be a hit with young adult readers, but doesn’t it really reach out to a broader audience?
A. “Unspoken” started out to be a young adult book but I found that it has been enjoyed by all ages, even by men. The first man to read it said, “Great ending, tears and everything. A good book!” Several women have came and said their husbands enjoyed reading it. To be categorized with “Bonanza” and “My Friend Flicka” – I am just humbled at the wonderful reviews it has received. It has gone to Australia, Canada, England and all across the United States.
Is it for everyone? Probably not, but if it inspires someone to look at a situation differently, or try a little harder, or offer a helping hand, then it was worth putting the words on paper and offering it for the world to read.
Q. At the end, your book has a sneak preview of the sequel. What’s the status of the next publication? Will there be more books about young Paige Cason?
A. “Unspoken” is a trilogy; the second book is “Finding Home” and will be out middle of July. I am so very happy how the story came together and how my writing has matured. It is an honor to read such kind reviews. I am so pleased with the support I have received for “Finding Home” and I had the opportunity to have Laurie Hueckman do the art work for the cover of the book. What a wonderful blessing to have a little bit of Grant County go around the world. The third in the series will be “From the Heart.” I also have two other books in mind, “Red Roan,” out of a poem that I have written and also “Finding Grace,” a memoir of how I grew up. So I have lots to work on.
Q. Where are the books available?
A. You can order “Unspoken” through Amazon.com, “Unspoken Volume 1.” It will be out in Kindle soon, or visit my web site www.akmossbooks.com, or join me on Facebook at A.K. Moss Books. There you’ll find out a little about what I am doing and where I will be going. Also you can pick up a copy of “Unspoken” at Roan Out West or Bar WB in Prairie City; Chester’s Thriftway in John Day; Betty’s Books in Baker City; Dayville Merc in Dayville; or Russell’s Custom Meats & Deli in Canyon City. If you are interested in stocking my books or booking a reading, email email@example.com.