Jessica Burkhart Interview

A Conversation with Jessica Burkhart, author of The Canterwood Crest series

Q: In Take the Reins, the first book in the Canterwood Crest series, readers meet Sasha Silver as she transfers to a new exclusive boarding school and equestrian team. Where did you get the idea for the series?
The idea came to me when I tried to figure out something to write for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). NaNoWriMo is an annual November contest where writers are challenged to complete a first draft of a fifty-thousand-word novel in thirty days. It was late October 2006, and while I wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo, I had no ideas! I started thinking about what I’d dreamed about as a kid. I’d always wanted to live at a fancy boarding school and show, train, and ride horses with my friends. I took that idea and started writing. On December 1, I had a (bad!) draft of Take the Reins.

Q: Do you have a background with horses yourself?
JB: I’ve loved horses since I could walk. Around eight or nine, my parents let me take riding lessons. I rode daily, and when I was ten, I started “Jessie’s Tack Cleaning Service” to help pay for lessons. I cleaned saddles and bridles and groomed boarders’ horses. I made my parents so nervous because I was the girl who rode bareback and jumped creeks and fences. I rode until I was thirteen and had to have spinal surgery.

Q: Why did you decide to write for the tween age level?
JB: Take the Reins actually started as a young-adult novel and it shifted to middle-grade during revision. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever wrote it as a YA because the themes about boys, friendship, and competition fit tweens so well. Writing for tweens definitely isn’t easy—I’m always watching the latest Disney Channel flicks, following popular bands, and keeping up on instant messaging to stay current with the age group.

Q: Is Sasha’s character based on your own life experiences?
JB: Sasha and I have similar qualities, but she’s much braver than I am! Sasha and I both love movies, lip gloss, and chocolate. Like Sasha, I was a total dork around boys. Some of Sasha’s riding experiences are based on my own, but I never had mean girls at my stable. Sasha’s unconditional love for Charm and her connection to him are how I’d felt about my own horse.

Q: Is there a website where I can find out more information about all things Canterwood Crest?
JB:Visit for downloadable avatars, Diary of a Debut Author vlogs, giveaways, insider info on the Canterwood Crest girls and their horses, and more! The site is updated often so keep checking back for new additions.

Q: What is your all-time favorite horse book and why?
JB: My favorite horse book, though I love so many, is Ashleigh’s Dream—the fifth book in Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred series. My guidance counselor and former teacher gave me a copy of the book. She knew I was a rider who loved to write, so she wrote a message inside that encouraged me to follow both passions.

Q: You will be celebrating your twenty-second birthday shortly after Take the Reins hits stores. As a young writer yourself, what advice do you have for teens interested in writing?
JB:It’s never too early for a teen to begin writing if he or she is interested in being published. Start small! When I began freelancing at fourteen, I targeted magazines that only published teen writing. After a few acceptances, I focused on magazines that paid in copies. That helped prove to bigger magazines that I could work with editors and be responsible about deadlines. My first freelancing check was for five dollars and it inspired me to keep working my way up to my target—glossy teen mags. Freelancing is a great background to have when a young writer wants to prove to a literary agent or book editor that he or she is serious about writing.

If a teen wants to write but isn’t interested in being published, a good way to share work with family and friends is to post it on a friends-only locked blog. Young writers can get feedback, share work and keep it private.

Whether a teen writes for publication or not, I’d say to read often, write whenever possible and always be open to learning more about the craft.

Q: What is the next Canterwood Crest book called and what is it about?
JB: Chasing Blue, the second Canterwood Crest book, has drama, boy trouble and sabotage from the first chapter. Sasha and Heather are paired as riding partners (ugh!) and it’s every girl for herself as the advanced team practices for the Junior Equestrian Regionals. Sasha can’t stay focused because the Sweetheart Soirée, the supersecret Valentine’s Day party, is drawing near and she can’t stop imagining her sure-to-be wonderful night with her almost-boyfriend Jacob. But the soirée ends in a way no one saw coming.