The fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: Throughout the story, a knowledge of horses and their livelihood is quite apparent; what is your own experience with horses?
Sheila Lamb: This story was inspired during a camping trip to Assateague National Seashore, which was the first time I’d ever seen the horses there. When I started playing around with the story idea, there was a lot of research involved. I did a lot of reading and answering basic questions – are they horses or ponies? Are they wild or feral? I spent some time on the history of Assateague.
On this trip, my friends and I saw people feeding the horses potato chips on the beach. We were furious, especially when it was clearly stated on brochures and signs how bad that was for the animals, not to mention risk of human injury. To be honest, we were kind of hoping one of the guys would get a good kick in the shin.
Otherwise, my horse experience consists of a few pony rides at the local carnival.
RR: Kate is very preoccupied with Tony’s feelings regarding her higher education; is her self-consciousness connected to her relationship with Mark or is it just part of her own deeper issues?
SL: Mark abandoned Kate in the midst of a horrible tragedy. As a result, Kate begins to question everything – including her life’s work, her previous thesis, and her geographic location. She had to get away to find herself again, and find her own strength to deal with what had happened. Tony is the first man she’s been anywhere close to since the end of her marriage and so she is walking on eggshells. She’s in protection mode. She doesn’t want to open herself up to Tony or anyone else. To open up about her dissertation means she would have to talk about Mark, and at some point, Jennie.
RR: We noticed that you have also published two historical fiction novels. What draws you to a particular historical era?
SL: In history, I’m drawn toward those moments of transition, of change. For the Brigid of Ireland series, I was fascinated by the transition from druidism to Christianity, how Patrick was so successful. One bit of research led to another, and I found mentions of Brigid and found how her stories and all of her incarnations were intertwined with Patrick’s. I also love that there is truth in the stories. As I was writing the Brigid series (Once a Goddess, Fiery Arrow), I would say to early readers, “I’m not making this up.” Of course, it’s fiction and there are plenty of details that I did create, but the overall premise of Brigid as a mythical goddess, druid, and saint are true – as far as “true” myths and legends go.
My current novel-in-progress is based on my great-great grandmother’s story and set in rural Virginia during the early 1900’s. The main character struggles to free herself from an abusive marriage during a time when divorce was unacceptable. She pushed for changes that weren’t allowed in order to survive. There’s also plenty of moonshine and murder in the mix – all true – that make this a challenging story to draft.
RR: We noticed that there was a parallel between the horses and Kate’s life, specifically with Chestnut losing a member from his herd in the storm and Kate’s loss of a child. Do you feel like this interaction is something specific to your story, or something that occurs in reality as well? What do you feel is the connection between nature and humanity?
SL: I think connections happen all the time, whether we are aware of them or not. Maybe it’s some sort of Jungian archetype connection. Things happen to all of us, human and animal, that are shared experiences – birth, life, death. In our lives, I think we are drawn to people, subconsciously or not, who have those shared experiences, losses or gains, on some level. It’s a matter of paying attention and noticing those connections as we move through our lives.
In Kate’s situation, she’s been focused solely on the horses for several months. They have been her daily companions, or at least that’s how she sees it. She and Chestnut, on some intuitive level, understand each other.
RR: What advice would you give to writers attempting to cover topics in a natural setting? How much hands-on research did you conduct for this story?
SL: There’s a careful balance between research and story and I think a good fiction writer knows that balance. Our goal as storytellers is to make the fictional story as real as possible and certain facts have to be correct. In Hunger, Not Tame, the setting is important but the story is of a woman struggling to move on from her past. As the story began to form, I began to weave the setting and story together. In my experience, it was the visit, the place itself, which led to the story. If I hadn’t seen the horses in their setting, I don’t know that this story would have happened.