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#Giveaway: Horse Sense - Lapo Melzi (With Interview & Excerpt)

Lapo Melzi is a poet, writer and filmmaker. He grew up in a little town in the north of Italy and went on to study writing and filmmaking in New York. He received his MFA from renowned NYU Tisch School of the Arts and now spends his time between the United States and Italy.

Check out Lapo at his blog.

1. Please tell readers about your current book.
Horse Sense is a coming of age story about Jamie, a bright eleven year old boy with a mind of his own and his horse Acorn, who is also his best friend. When Jamie speaks out about his abusive teacher at school, he suddenly finds himself the target of violent bullying. His friendship with Acorn becomes a liability in his social life and Jamie has to face the hardest decision of his life: whether to cave in and become what others tell him to be or fight for what he really believes in, for Acorn and for himself. 

2. Who or what inspires your writing?
I always try to say something with what I write. Stories always reinforce or challenge our beliefs, so when I am attracted to and idea for a story—which can come from a title, a scene, or a person I like—I then try to find the underlying theme and make it come to the surface.
If you are asking me what actually get me started writing, then the answer is pretty boring: everything and everybody. Everything I live, every person I meet and talk to, everything I think and imagine is material for my writing. Everything gets recorded one way, mixed and shaken, then served another way.
If you are asking me whether I believe in inspiration, my answer is no. I believe in routine. Writers don’t write books because they are inspired. They write books, because they sit down every day and put a ton of hard work writing a few pages. Inspiration is a product of conditioning. If I waited and wrote only when I am inspired, I couldn’t even jot down my grocery list.

3. When did you know you would be a writer?
The conscious decision to become a fiction author was made about three years ago. I had been writing scripts for about fifteen years by then and was really tired of the limitations imposed by the medium. In particular, I was tired of being obliged to write only what I could produce and I was yearning to delve into the internal emotional and psychological life of my characters. I also had a hunch that I would write better novels than scripts. I wasn't sure I could write narrative though. In fact, I have always had the greatest admiration for books (much more than for movies), but I never thought I could write one. So I did a leap of faith and discovered, thankfully, that I could write.

4. How long did it take you to write your first novel?
It took about nine months from first draft to something like the sixth polished draft. Then, during the months it took to get the book published, I kept on working on it and actually did another quite thorough polish. Total time is more in the range of fourteen/fifteen months. It always amuses me when people say that they write their books in a few months. Nothing could be further from truth. As they said at the once awesome Pixar: writing is rewriting. You can’t really say you finished writing your book, until you really put it down and start the next one.

5. What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Writing is not hard anymore—now it is actually very pleasant. During the years I have learned how to trick, pace and condition myself, so now I can just write. Plus I studied almost all of the dramatic theories around, so it is extremely difficult that I get stuck. A lot of years, a lot of work and now just having fun.

6. Do you have any writing rituals?
As I said I don’t believe in inspiration, but in routine. I try to create a routine for myself, so that when I sit down, I am conditioned like Pavlov’s dog and write without any effort. My favorite routine is in the summer. By nature I am a very active person and my body wasn't made to sit still for hours--I do get in a lot of pain doing it. I also write at my best only in the morning. So, in the summer, I wake up at 7:30, take my tablet, get out of the house with my bike and go to the lake a few kilometers from my house, sit in the park facing the lake and write, taking walking breaks until noon, then I bike back home, eat, sit in the garden and write until 14:30.

7. Have you written any thing else?
Before writing this novel, I have been making shorts, ads and writing screenplays for about fifteen years. You can see my work here: I am also a poet—in fact poetry was the first thing I ever wrote. You can sample and buy my book of poetry on Amazon.

8. Any advice to aspiring writers?
NEVER take criticism literally. You need to listen to people, but not to what they literally say. This means that you need to listen to their reactions, but then you need to think about what it means for your story. Remember that a reader will only read what’s on the page, not what you intend to say in the story. What is really useful about getting critiques is seeing how much of what you meant actually is on the page and how much is still in your head. Listen to the criticism and try to clarify to your reader what you were trying to convey. Often you’ll get the reader to say: “Ohh, I see what you mean. Well, if you want to do that then…” This way the reader will give you a hint of what he/she needs to get the message you are trying to convey. Again, don’t listen literally to them. They are not in your head and they are not the writer—you are the only one who can figure out how to organically tell the story. Also, don’t get more than three people to read your stuff. Only pick a few whose opinion you trust. More than that and you will get mightily confused (been there done that.)

9. Who are your favorite Authors?
J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, H.P. Lovecraft, Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes IS literature to me), Frank Herbert, Laura Hillebrandt (only for Seabiscuit), Edmond Rostand, William Shakespeare.

10. What are your favorite books, or which book has impacted you the most?
The Lord of the Rings, Dune, Seabiscuit and American Legend, Cyrano de Bergerac.

The author that blew my mind was J.R.R. Tolkien. I was fourteen when I read the Lord of the Rings—it was the first book that I chose and bought by myself and it changed my life. I think I should have known that one day I would try to become an author, because to this day, I still have burnt in my memory the image of when I put down the Lord of the Rings in the left shelf of my old wood and glass bookshelf and I thought, “This is what I would like to write.” The thing is, though, that I had never written anything before, nor I was planning to and I didn’t even ever show any aptitude to writing stories at that point. It was just a purely instinctual thought that rose to the surface. Now I know why it surfaced.

11. What are you currently reading?
I am about to finish “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins. Beautiful writing, although exceedingly slow. It is a nice dive into a past that had different pace, customs, and language but remains utterly human in its problems.

12. How do readers find out more about you?
They can come and say hi on Horse Sense’s official Facebook Page or on my blog. They can also find me on Goodreads and LibraryThing.

13. Is there anything else you would like to let readers know?
I believe Horse Sense is a book for everybody, both young and adult. For all the people who have been bullied at least once in their lifetime, who maybe are been bullied right now, who have been somehow humiliated and ostracized, who have been told they can’t do what they wish or have been made to feel ashamed of who they are. It is also a book for people who love animals or want to learn to love them, who believe in the healing power of friendship, in self determination, in doing what's right despite of the consequences, and who believe that strong is not the one who never falls, but the one who stands up after the fall.

Also, before writing this novel, I have been making shorts, ads and writing screenplays for about fifteen years. You can see my work here. I am also a poet—in fact poetry was the first thing I ever wrote. You can sample and buy my book of poetry on Amazon.

Buying links:
Paperback: Direct
Paperback and ebook: Amazon USUK
Only ebook: Barnes and Noble   Kobo
Merchandise/Gifts: Horse Sense Zazzle Store USUKCA

Now it was time to do justice to his brilliant idea. He reached the edge of the paddock and stopped in front of a trough filled with water and dead leaves that lay in the shade of tall black locust trees.
He cast a quick glance back and his wild, ash-brown hair swung back with him. Seeing Acorn hadn’t spotted him, he sat down on the brim of the trough. He hesitated a second, then he propped himself up and sank his feet into the water. A chilling stream gushed through the holes in his shoes’ soles and soaked his socks almost instantly. Goose bumps ran from his legs all the way up to his arms and he shivered, breathing quickly—it was just May after all and the trough stood all day in the shade. There was no time to waste on second thoughts. Jamie willed himself to withstand the cold and slowly lowered his body into the trough. He winced as the chilly water licked the whole length of his back, shooting prickling shivers up to his ears, but he didn’t make any sudden movement. He didn’t want to spill any water and give away his whereabouts. His heart was beating fast. It was awesome!
He took two big breaths, pinched his nose shut between his fingers and sank his head underwater, then he pressed his feet and hands against the inner walls of the trough to keep himself from floating up. Inside this shell of wood and water, the calm was eerie, even if the cold was so intense that it felt like entombing yourself in ice. Nevertheless, Jamie felt his mind relax—it was cozy in there. He pondered that perhaps that’s how Acorn had felt in his mom’s belly—apart from the cold, of course. Above him, through the settling water, the tree branches swayed dreamily in the breeze. Cast against the bright sky, they looked like giant feelers carefully searching the air.
Jamie stretched his ears, listening for any signs of Acorn approaching. Holding his breath underwater, still as a statue, he looked like a weird submarine stick-bug ready to pounce. His ash-brown hair fanned out around his face like wild thoughts, while his grass-green eyes gleamed with anticipation. His hiding spot was perfect! Acorn would never think of that. He really wanted to burst into an evil chuckle, but kept himself in check—he didn’t want to blow his cover.
A sliver of froth drifted lazily on the surface of the water. Jamie wondered whether it was Acorn’s saliva or the sheep’s and he realized that he was probably lying in a tub of spit. He grinned, thinking himself daring, even though he knew that most kids at school would likely consider him disgusting. Well, who cared what they thought; they didn’t know anything about adventure. Spit you just washed away, but adventure staid for the rest of your life! 
A constricting sensation, as of a belt tightening steadily around his chest, made his head lighter. His lungs started screaming for air, but he was resolved to stay put. He fidgeted at the bottom of the trough, worried that Acorn wouldn’t show up. Where the heck was that knucklehead? What if he didn’t turn up and ruined his awesome ambush? 
A wave of fretting panic seized him. Maybe he should have left a string of Menthos leading to the trough. Man! That’s exactly what he should have done! Why hadn’t he thought about that before? Why would Acorn come straight into the paddock? He could easily walk into the school instead. He hadn’t planned this thing properly—that was going to be his downfall!
Dark thoughts of failure clouded his brain as the air in his lungs quickly expired. He reckoned he had no more than a dozen seconds left in him, then he’d have to take a breath or die in his watery tomb. Another five seconds elapsed. It was over…
Presently, a shadow draped across the trough. The temperature dropped a couple of degrees. Jamie wondered how on Earth he could feel colder than he already was, but apparently he could. The shadow moved in a little closer. He saw the darkness break up at the fringes, drawing the rough outline of a mane. Excitement fired through his skin—Acorn had come at last! He let go of his supports and kicked hard toward the surface. 
He exploded out of the water in a huge splash, flailing his arms like a madman, roaring, “Raaaaugh!!”
 Acorn shied back, flaring his nostrils in shock.
“Got you! I got you!” Jamie taunted. “Spoooky!”
Acorn bared his teeth and snapped at him, outraged.
Jamie plunged his hand into the frigid water and splashed him treacherously.
Acorn let out a grunt and bucked away, kicking and neighing. He shook his head around to show his disapproval for the scandalous treatment.
Jamie watched him with satisfaction, overjoyed by the result of his ambush. Best! Prank! Ever! He jumped out of the trough and romped around the paddock.
With his tail high, Acorn trotted about jerkily, wheeling his head in quick bursts, flaring his nostrils noisily at anything he laid his eyes on, as if purposefully looking for something else to get scared by. It seemed like he was actually enjoying the rush of adrenaline running wild in his veins. Jamie ran beside him, roaring and laughing, his sneakers squeaking and sloshing loudly.
At the ruckus, a few sheep poked their heads out of their shed, while the horses in the stables pricked up their ears, wondering what it was all about.

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