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Interview: April 3, 2017

One of our favorite childhood movies, Spirit: The Stallion of the Cimarron, is the basis of inspiration for both a new animated TV series on Netflix as well as a book series --- we couldn't be more excited! SPIRIT RIDING FREE: The Adventure Begins by Suzanne Selfors is your chance to meet Lucky, an adventurous young girl who is traveling to her new home in the West, and Spirit, the wild stallion she meets along the way. With the Netflix premiere rapidly approaching, we knew we needed to learn more about this amazing series as soon as possible. Luckily, author Suzanne Selfors was more than willing to talk to us about her fantastic characters, what it's like to write as a horse, and, of course, what we can expect from the show. Your book, SPIRIT RIDING FREE, is inspired by DreamWorks Animation Television’s “Spirit Riding Free,” a new series about a spirited young girl who moves to the Wild West and befriends a wild stallion whom she names Spirit. The original character of Spirit first appeared in the film “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” Had you seen the film before you began working on SPIRIT RIDING FREE?  If not, what notes were you given to get started?

Suzanne Selfors: Had I seen the film? Only about a zillion times. It was my daughter’s favorite and we still know most of the songs by heart. I remember singing them when I drove her to school. So when I found out my novels would be based on that movie, I was thrilled.

I’ve long been a huge fan of DreamWorks, so being invited to write a book for them was a dream come true.

Writing for a franchise is a very different process because there are so many people involved. Normally I do not outline my novels --- I prefer to stumble along, making things up as I go. But Spirit’s animated world was created by a team of people, and so for the novel, I had to create an outline first and submit it to DreamWorks, to make sure that my story complimented and didn’t contradict any of the animated stories. It’s a bit more complicated that the regular writing process.

KRC: Lucky’s name may mean “good fortune,” but she seems to have trouble fitting in, both in her fancy girls’ school in Philadelphia and in her new home of Miradero. Throughout it all, however, Lucky always tries to remain true to herself and her values, even when it puts her at odds with other kids her age. What do you hope young readers will learn about bullying, acceptance and being true to yourself from Lucky?

SS: At some point, everyone has trouble fitting in. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel like an outsider --- whether you’ve moved to a new town, or you’re trying to make new friends, or you’re feeling shy.  This is what we all have to realize. We are not alone in feeling this way. At some point we are all outcasts. And hopefully, when you know that others feel the way you do, you will learn to treat everyone with kindness. One of the most powerful things a book can do is to teach us empathy.

KRC: Throughout the book, we are given a few short chapters from Spirit’s point of view as he runs through the prairie and later after he has been stabled. Why did you think it was important for readers to see the world from Spirit’s point of view, too?  How did you go about writing these scenes from a horse’s perspective?

SS: Spirit and Lucky are the two main characters, so in my opinion, Spirit’s point of view is incredibly important. As a writer, I had to be careful not to “humanize” Spirit too much. To write his scenes, I focused on the things I think would be important to him --- his  surroundings, the safety of his herd, his search for food, etc. Obviously, horses have feelings, so there are times in the book when he feels frustration and fear. And there are times when he feels great joy and love. By giving a voice to Spirit, I honor him. His chapters were my favorite chapters to write.

KRC: SPIRIT RIDING FREE is a work of fiction, but you still do a tremendous job of bringing the Wild West to life for young readers. Did you have to do much research to prepare?

SS: Yes, there was research. What did the train stations look like? How long would the journey take? What books were published in 1890? What did people wear? All sorts of stuff. But I do tell readers, at the end of the book, that this is not a true piece of historical fiction. We do take some modern liberties, as with language and attitude.

KRC: Lucky’s mother passed away long before the start of SPIRIT RIDING FREE, but she sounds like a fascinating character. Will we be learning more about her and her special connection to horses in future books?

SS: Yes, you will learn more about her in the animated series. And yes, she does have a special connection to horses but that’s all I’m going to say for now because I don’t want to give away any secrets.

KRC: Although Lucky does not have a mother, her aunt Cora eagerly steps in to help where she feels Lucky’s father is lacking. She might be a bit fancier and stricter than Lucky’s father, but Cora is brave and bold in her own ways, too. Did you base Cora on anyone you know? Can we expect her to loosen up a bit in future books?

SS: Cora is a really fun character to write. She’s a good comical addition to the story. She’s the yin to Lucky’s yang, so to speak. It’s always good to have opposites in a story because that creates tension and intrigue. I’m looking forward to creating more scenes with Cora and Lucky in Book Two. In terms of loosening up, I think she’s already doing that by the end of Book One. But we shall see…

KRC: You’ve written many books for children --- some including beloved pets and animals --- but this is the first time you’ve focused on many a child’s dream pet: horses. What do you think makes horses so exciting for readers?

SS: During my childhood, my best friend owned horses. So I went riding with her. And my parents sent me to horse camp during my middle school years. But I never owned a horse. I have ridden lots, though, including Icelandic ponies. Horses are powerful creatures, and that can be thrilling. But when it comes right down to it, if you love an animal, whether feathery, or furry, or scaly, that bond is incredibly special. That animal is part of your family. Loving a horse, loving a dog, loving a hamster, just makes the world a better place.

KRC: Back in her hometown, Lucky spent a lot of time reading adventure books with her best friend, Emma. Were you also a big reader as a child? What were some of your favorite books?

SS: Perhaps this is something that all writers have in common --- we loved to read as kids. I am no exception. When I was little we didn’t have computers, or video games. We only had four channels on the TV. Yes, I’m that old. Going to the library was something we did every Saturday. My favorite books were usually funny, and often had magic. I loved and still love everything written by Roald Dahl.

KRC: Can you tell us anything about DreamWorks’ series, which will be appearing on Netflix on May 5th? We can’t wait to tune in!

SS: The series is beautiful. It has that classic animated feeling, which I think a lot of viewers will appreciate. The colors are lovely too. They did a great job at making it look like the original movie. You’re gonna love it!