I am thrilled to have fellow Equus contributor, Diana Hurlburt, as a guest here on the blog. Can’t wait to read her story, Eel and Bloom!
Equus launches July 17, 2017 and is available in print or e-format from the vendors below:
My mother taught me to love two things: Florida and horses.
Florida gets a bad rap generally (the zombies! the acid baths!), but any place you grow up is the norm, whether it’s got four traditional seasons or its year is composed of an unending stretch of humidity, mosquitoes, and offensively bright flowering plants. A cold snap capable of freezing your bird bath is big news, hurricanes less so. There’s one thing to be said for living where the rest of the country vacations, and it’s that when the rest of the country comes calling, you get to retreat to those other vacation spots. A little further inland, a little more cloistered, maybe not so well known as Cocoa Beach, Amelia Island, and Key West. A great road-tripper, my mother, in the days before Google Maps, and a serious Sunshine State enthusiast, lover of birds, armadillos, native plants, roadside weird, and of course Florida’s signature, first-magnitude freshwater springs.
My growing-up years were spent in water—probably 60/40 in favor of springs rather than the Atlantic. We drove all over the Ocala National Forest and environs in pursuit of the deep blue bowl of Silver Glen and the canoe run at Wekiwa, the diving platform at Juniper and the inner tubes of Rock Springs. My lips turned purple in the 72 Fahrenheit water long before I wanted to get out. And in between dips and nature hikes, I read. Every Marguerite Henry the library had and classics like National Velvet and Black Beauty; out-of-print fantasy like Horsemaster and proto-YA contemporaries like Pretty Penny Farm, Saddle Club, and the Thoroughbreds series; even the Smithsonian Handbook of Horses and DK’s Encyclopedia of the Horse: if it featured horses, I wanted it in my eyeballs yesterday. We say ‘horse girl’ with a certain amount of wry humor, but there are billion-dollar industries built around the specific, unending obsession that equines stoke in many people. To her credit, my mother didn’t think this obsession was funny, because she loves horses too. It’s easy to remember my childhood as one long summer, trail rides and tubing down Ichetucknee and a big road-trip to the Kentucky Horse Park.
Through that lens, it’s unsurprising that I wrote the story included in Equus, “Eel and Bloom.” Florida’s landscapes lend themselves well to flights of fancy, whether that takes the shape of borderline magical-realism like Their Eyes Were Watching God, apocalyptic science-fantasy such as the Southern Reach series, or surrealist satire like Made for Love. Though not the first “Weird Florida” story I’ve written, “Eel and Bloom” is the first to feature a native horse: the limerunner, a part-amphibious racer born in cypress stands, cold springs, and wetlands. The limestone base of the state is the source of its spring water, and the most lime-rich areas are also a wealth of fossils—some of them prehistoric equines. Having grown up on a fiction diet of equal parts fairy tales and horse stories, the construction (or uncovering) of a fantastic Florida seemed destined to include horses. If I have one overarching goal for my writing, it’s to create fantasy so specifically based in fact that it makes a reader think twice, to wonder whether they’ve stumbled here before, to consider if this story is already part of the human mythos. If limeys feel true to the land and water from which they arise, it’s because Florida itself is a mystical place, and has been since before Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth among our springs.
The next time you visit Disney World or fly into Tampa for a cruise, I invite you to step a little further, into Tosohatchee or up to the Ocklawaha reserve, and look for long-legged shadows among the cypresses.
Diana Hurlburt is a writer and librarian in Florida. Horses, heavy metal, and fantasy paperbacks are a few of her favorite things. Selections of her short fiction can be found at cahoodaloodaling, Body Parts, and The Hanging Garden, and in the anthology Beyond the Pillars. Connect with her on her blog!