The latest episode of the Spoonie Authors Podcast features author, editor, and book coach Mary Kit Caelsto!
Mary Kit Caelsto never grew out of the phase of being a “horse crazy girl”. Though she’s now over 40, she’s finally fulfilling her dream of writing equestrian books for others who haven’t grown out of being “horse crazy”. She lives in the Ozarks with her four very spoiled and very opinionated horses, as well as a large flock of poultry and enough cats to qualify her as a crazy cat lady. Her husband, though not an equestrian himself, understands and supports all her equestrian dreams.
It was horses that brought her into fantasy through Mercedes Lackey’s Companions. From there, she loves reading all kinds of speculative fiction, though she admits her favorite stories have strong animal characters.
She’s convinced three of the best things in the world are the smell of a sun warmed horse, the smell of leather tack, and making sure to hug her horses every single day.
Dianna Gunn: Hello and welcome to the Spoonie Authors Podcast, a podcast where we discuss the life and stories of a different disabled author every other Friday. I’m your host Dianna Gunn and joining us today is Mary Kit Caelsto. Mary Kit Caelsto never grew out of being a “Crazy Horse Girl,” though she’s now over 40. She’s finally fulfilling her dream of writing equestrian books for others who haven’t grown out of being “horse crazy.” She also runs Epona Author Solutions, acting as both an editor and a book coach. Hello, Mary.
Mary Kit Caelsto:
Dianna Gunn: I’m really excited to have you on the show. You clearly are up to a lot of things. Let’s start with, Epona Author Solutions. How did this start? What exactly do you do?
Mary Kit Caelsto: Well, my goal is to help authors who are frustrated just by everything that is going on in publishing. Find clarity and purpose so they can move forward with confidence. My goal is to cut through the crap. Um, I have been a published author since 2002. So, I have seen the book world evolve, and I’ve seen a lot of changes happen. And I’m hearing a lot of authors say the same things that I used to say. And so, my goal is basically the kind of, kind of be mama horse and mama bear and, you know, help them follow the path that they want to be because everybody’s shouting at us. For, you know, you’re supposed to do this, you need to market this, you need to write to market, and I-my goal is to help people do that, so I help people by doing the technical stuff. I’m an editor. I format books. I love working on websites. I am happy to take all that external stuff off everybody’s plate, but also I do mindset internal coaching resilience. And my goal is actually to bring my horses into that and do equine-guided and equine-facilitated coaching for authors,
Dianna Gunn: How would that work? [soft laugh]
Well, I’m working that out because, as we were discussing prior to the podcast, I live pretty remotely and so it’s not like I can say, you know, “Hey come on out and visit my horses,” especially right now. But also, as somebody who’s worked around horses all of her life, they are conduits for creativity and clarity. Some of my best plot ideas came from cleaning stalls, it’s that kind of mindless physical work that lets your mind go, and horses are really good at telling you when you’re not in tune with yourself and so my-my goal is to, you know, put their mind and my mind together to help authors.
That’s fascinating. I am not quite horse crazy but I do think they’re majestic beasts, so I think that’s an excellent idea. And so I wanted to talk a little bit more about this coaching aspect. What exactly is book coaching, and how-how do you do it, and apparently you’re… you want to add horses next?
Mary Kit Caelsto: Yeah. [laughs]
Dianna Gunn: This is a lot [laughs]. I’m impressed!
Mary Kit Caelsto: It is! So, book coaching…writing a book, even though it’s very solo work, It’s very much a team sport. You know, you think about Serena Williams. She’s a tennis player, she plays by herself, you know, sometimes she does doubles with her sister, but for the most part it’s her on the court, winning the match, kicking people’s butt. And that’s you know, that’s what we are as authors. It is us and the computer, telling our stories. And when you take that very introverted work and start giving it to the world, which has opinions, that becomes very personal. There’s a lot of mindset work that comes along with coaching. So, what I do, is I help authors untangle all of that. Because I’ve had to untangle a lot of it. Some things have changed very much in the 18 years since I’ve been published, and actually, I was around RWA and that in the late 90s, so much longer than that. So, some things have changed, some things have stayed very much the same. And my focus is on the inner author because I find when we can kind of shut off the voices in our head, when we can get to what we really want to do and follow our heart, and for me, writing the equestrian fiction really fell into that, then things kind of open up and get out of our way. We get out of our own way. So, it’s kind of… while I’m going to college and would like to be a clinical psychologist, it’s not therpary, it’s not , you know, it’s not anything medical, but I am your friend, I am your mentor. And I will kick your butt when you need it.
Dianna Gunn: Excellent. That sounds wonderful, and so you’re doing all of this and figuring out, and going to college? You’re… the list just keeps growing. How do you manage all of this and, you know, you have a day job, too. How do you manage all of that and then also still take care of your health?
Mary Kit Caelsto: Yeah [laughs]. So, I’m doing all this so I can take care of my health. Um, I have fibromyalgia. I also have major depressive disorder and anxiety, although those grow out of because where I live is very rural, and they don’t treat fibromyalgia. So there’s a lot of stuff going on there. The big part is I work from home.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah.
Mary Kit Caelsto: The one blessing of the COVID era has been the fact that I worked for a very small company, and we all looked at each other very early on and said, “Yeah we’re going home.” And so, because I work from home, I have my office cabin that overlooks my chickens and my horses. You know, my coworkers winning at me. And so, in and because I work for such a cool company, I can go out, and if I need five minutes to just hug somebody, I go outside I hug my horse. My horse is like, “Oh god, here she is again.” [Dianna laughs] But basically being able to do what I want to do and manage my time helps me with all of that, like college-school is my happy place, and in fact I just got the official notice I was on the Chancellor’s List for my straight A, you know, average.
Dianna Gunn: Congratulations!
Mary Kit Caelsto: Thank you. That’s because school’s my happy place, so as long as I can do what I want and kind of stay in my happy place, the stresses and the things that make my Fibromyalgia flare, usually stay out of the way.
Dianna Gunn: That’s awesome. I know that I’m working from home makes a huge difference for so many people and, you know, it’s not just disabled authors, sometimes it’s introverts [Mary laughs] And it’s a little different right now because, you know ,we’re all under this added stress, but at the same time I know several people who are really, you know, hoping and pushing to be able to work from home at least some of the time, permanently.
Mary Kit Caelsto: I did. Um, but before we moved here to Missouri, I was able to work from home. They had some remote working situations, driven by space crunch. You know, they were simply running out of space to put people, so they sent us home, and it-that, you know, yeah, I mean, it’s possible. I sincerely hope that companies think about this going forward, because the technology has been there for a long time for people to stay at home and do what they want to do.
Dianna Gunn: And it makes work so much more accessible to disabled people and also saves people a ton of time and stress and rush hour and, you know, gas money. So, bringing things back a little bit to the fiction side of things. So, you started publishing in 2002? So are you a hybrid published author, purely traditionally published? What exactly… where do you stand?
Mary Kit Caelsto: Right, I am fully self-published. I got… I was published by Ellora’s Cave. I used to write very study erotic romance. Yeah, and I still, I am working on the genre. So, I was published with Ellora’s Cave, I was published with 10 digital-first publishers throughout my career, and in 2007, after dealing with exciting flaming publisher implosions because back in that day, man, digital publishers were coming and going. I mean, even worse than they do now. And they did so spectacularly. I started my own publishing company. And so, for 2007 to 2016. I ran my own publishing company and then I realized that in this brave new, new, new world, there was nothing. I couldn’t do for authors that they couldn’t do for themselves. And I didn’t feel right keeping, you know, 40% of their royalties for doing, you know, digital publishing and producing their books. Obviously, I did something, but, you know, I couldn’t market any better than they could. And so I closed my publishing company, and now I’m 100% indie.
Dianna Gunn: That’s a really fascinating journey. tell us more about these horse books.
So, as I said I published very, very, very smutty romance, for very many years, and when she had an illness issue, she lived with us, and I became a fulltime caretaker. I kind of thought about what did I want to do. And I’m a “horse-crazy” girl. I grew up on The Saddle Club, the Thoroughbred Series, the books, you know, from the 90s. You know, The Black Stallion… I saw it on TV two weeks ago. Still makes me bawl like a baby. You know, boy and his horse. [Pretends to bawl] I’m furious about the Disney reboot of Black Beauty, but I also bawled through the entire trailer. So, you know, I’m, you know, horses. So, all the horse books that I saw published feature teenagers, maybe 20 somethings, and I’m like, you know, I love horses, and I’ll read about that. But, you know, I’m in my 40s. And I want to read about women trying to juggle their jobs, their families, and maybe they’re trying to be really competitive, you know, in their in their chosen horse-show discipline, and so, I started writing the Noble Dream series, which I affectionately call you know, Horse Crazy Books for Horse Crazy Ladies. And it’s a series of four friends at a barn. And they’re trying to juggle their families, one is reconnecting with her husband, one reconnected with the father of her son, who she didn’t realize went to prison. That’s why he fell off the face of the earth…
Mary Kit Caelsto: You know, 20 years ago. Yeah! You know, the barn owner and her partner… they’re… you know, trying to work through some things and reconnect. I’ve got, you know, a woman with infertility issues, trying to juggle, “Do I want to keep trying to have a baby?” you know, “What do I want to do?” And just them in their horses, and I’ve been very blessed. I’m going to finish up the series and release the book probably before the last one… before the end of the year, and there’s 15 books in the series. And I’ve just loved writing these women’s journeys and sharing them with people and having them resonate with people.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, that’s amazing. I think it’s so true. There are certain genres that are the books that are published for them, certainly by traditional presses, are always just like within this very specific age. It’s like, you know, adults can enjoy that, and it’s so silly, you know. Sure some people grow it or their interests, but I’m still obsessed with most of the same things I was obsessed with as a teenager. I still, you know, love Anime and rock and roll and dragons.
Mary Kit Caelsto: Yeah, and, and even within the equestrian fiction, it’s very it’s very narrow as traditionally published. It’s very young wealthy white girl. I remember The Saddle Club, and I think, and if I get this wrong, you know, please don’t hate-tweet me but I think it was Stevie, it was either Stevie or Carol, who was a character of color. She is African American. And I remember thinking as a kid and I grew up in Iowa, so I mean, you know, that probably says it all. A small town in Iowa, but I remember thinking, you know, you know, wow, this, that was a whole new world back in back in the 80s, and even now there was just a great series that was done by, I want to say the Horse Nation blog, that was tackling issues of diversity within the equestrian community, and that’s an area that I don’t see a lot of traditional authors playing with. And for many reasons, you know, I don’t know you know what’s going on in the publishing houses or anything, and I know it’s an issue I need to work on more. Although I, I do have, you know, a broad diversity of my series, but it’s something that I really want to I want to really explore within the equestrian world, because I, you know, I can’t imagine, writing a story, dealing with like, you know, a male identified person of color, or a transgender person of color trying to navigate this world that can be very insular and very closed. Which is kind of why I’m going, you know, that’s… and that world has been insular and closed for a long time. Now my original dream was to work on a horse farm and write romance novels, and then I figured out that at five bucks an hour, I was probably the highest paid stable hand in America back in the 90s, and that wasn’t getting me out of my parents’ house and crap, you know. And so I went and got the “real job,” and so, you know, there’s a lot of issues dealing with a lot of different things I think with the equestrian world that could be explored through fiction, and I feel like I just rambled there, and I’m sorry.
Dianna Gunn: No that was great. I found that really interesting, I think, too, I mean, I tend to, in my head, assume that the horse community, the equestrian community, I should say, maybe not horse community that makes it sound like a community of horses. The equestrian community who I feel like in my head is fairly homogenous because to me, you have to have money to have access to horses, so you know that’s not necessarily true. I, it’s hard to say how much of that is built on, you know, yes there is a real wealth gap and how much of that is just because I’ve only ever encountered, you know, one or two Black or POC characters that are in any way in contact with horses, really.
Mary Kit Caelsto: It’s… it’s a subject that I don’t feel like I know enough of because I’m kind of in my own little horse world, and I can tell you [laughs] you don’t have to be rich to have horses.
Dianna Gunn: Just live in the middle of nowhere. [laughs]
Yeah. The biggest, the biggest expense would be the land, and we, you know, we have, we have a small acreage, and we have 18 acres and the horses probably take up half of it. The other half are woods where I don’t know Sasquatch lives or something. [Dianna laughs] Um [laughs], you hear weird noises out there. You’re just like, “Okay whatever.” Um, but I also tell people, though, for me and on a, on a health level, my horses are my medicine, and they’re my therapy, and I suspect, no, I know because I, you know, the money that I pay every week to buy horse feed and, you know, to do that that would probably be other people’s co-pays and costs for other medical things. You know, they’re my physical therapy, my occupational therapy, my mental health therapy, you know, they’re… so it’s some of it too is being fortunate to have the space for ’em. But actually on the money issue, there was just a big brouhaha, which I just kind of read, watched from the sidelines and ate popcorn about, because the United States Equestrian Federation, I guess got into a tip with somebody else and about winter shows in Florida, which sounds way highbrow, but the bottom line was everybody’s looking at this governing body going why don’t why are we paying you all this money, we don’t have all this money to show. So I think, I think it’s far more, it’s far more or less homogenous than it appears from the outside, but then you got people like, you know, William Shatner, who has horses and shows and that’s what he does now and, you know, obviously he’s got the money to do it. Course, he’s in the [UNCLEAR], too, so that’s probably a little more money. But now there’s… there’s a lot of… there’s a lot of assumptions on a wide variety of topics—politics and that’s all I’ll say—about people, you know, in the country and horses, and I think a lot of that too is a barrier towards diversity, or even disability. I mean there’s… my mom’s greatest dream, she wanted to do, volunteering for therapy writing. She was a nurse, and she wanted to help you know therapy writing, and there’s this belief that you either have to do that, or, you know, there’s no other space for disabled individuals within this world, and that’s just not the case. And that’s, that’s something I think I want to bring with the equine coaching to that to show you know hey, I am a disability-identified person. And yet, this is how I find healing and health through these animals.
Awesome. That leads excellently into my next question. So, we’ve talked about representation within the equestrian community and within horse books, can you speak a little bit to how you would like to see representation of disability, not just you know in that community but in general, change in our media over the next few years?
Mary Kit Caelsto: I would really like for the ableism that’s inherent in our day-to-day conversation to just go away. I would really like to see the stigma of mental health, and the stigma of being disabled, and this view that if you identify as disabled, you fit in this neat little box and this is what you are to go away. And I come at this from a personal level, because, as somebody with an invisible disability. I can’t get support from my medical team one because they refuse to treat my illness, with what I know works because of the opioid hysteria. The other is because I am able to do all these things and I present, I present as a very high functional person, and I admit that as a large part of my identity due to, you know, due to stuff that, because I present to my medical team as a high functioning person, they don’t see me as disabled. My employer doesn’t see me as disabled, and so I would like us to just blow that box wide open on what disability looks like, what disability feels like, what, you know, mental health stigma that yes you can have disabling mental health conditions and not fit into some Hollywood vision of what that looks like, and that’s not a good vision. So yeah, I just kind of want to see us reassess everything you know, no, no, no, you know, not, not like I have any big requests or anything [Dianna laughs], but I would like to‚ÄîI would like to see the whole ableism… especially, you know, when we’re talking about this pandemic. And, you know, who’s high risk and what that means and that. I just I kind of just want to see those boxes just blown up. And, you know, send those little smithereens to some black hole to be sucked away. I just… I-I’m so over it. If you can’t tell.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, it’s frankly exhausting. And yeah, I mean, you know we’re all in this for—we’ve all been in this for different periods of time. I suspect I have, you know, been disabled for less time than you have, you know, if only based on the age difference, but it gets exhausting real fast.
Mary Kit Caelsto: It does. And one thing that I have come to realize is, there is trauma right now being inflicted on disabled individuals, because of the debate here in the US, especially the rural US, over something as simple as, you know, wearing my mask. That it’s, like, coming to grips with the fact that 83% of my county where I live, is of a persuasion, that they do not believe that COVID is any worse than the flu, and they don’t believe in masking. So, the knowledge that, you know, here I am, you know, I come into town to do my once-weekly shopping, get my horse feed, get my, you know, get my diet Dr. Pepper, the things that keep us going in life [laughs]. You know, and I tend to walk around Walmart and know that 83% of these people are okay with killing me. I mean, it sounds a little over the top and that but yeah the trauma that’s being inflicted upon the disabled community right now by this, by the COVID conversations that are happening is just maddening and exhausting, and I really, I don’t know how we’re going to have a reckoning with that, because while, while the disabled community… For example, the ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia community have been talking to the COVID long haulers going, “Hi, welcome to our world, you know, here’s what we know here’s how we can help you.” I don’t know outside of the disabled community how we can make this happen, but I feel like it has to for a healing for us, because there’s some serious trauma being inflicted on people this year, and that trauma needs that trauma needs healing, because without that sort of healing, it’s not pretty.
Dianna Gunn: Absolutely, and that’s gonna need to happen on a personal level on the community level and on a global level.
Mary Kit Caelsto: Yeah!
Dianna Gunn: You know, we’ve all been traumatized, even in places where, you know, they did manage to get a handle on things, there’s… every single person has experienced at least some moment of fear—well, every person that believes in it—has experienced, you know, a moment of fear. Many, many people have lost someone. Many, many, you know, even watching someone you care about lose someone can be incredibly painful, and there’s absolutely going to be a lot of widescale healing that needs to happen, and the scary thing to me is that we already have such shoddy processes and supports in place for, you know, dealing with mental illness and healing from trauma and even just, you know, acknowledging trauma, that really I don’t know how that healing is going to happen. I’m I worry that it simply won’t and that our, you know, the people that live through this are just going to be, you know… It’s like all the stories you hear about people who lived through the Great Depression. And you can tell all of those things, all those weird behaviors, you know, my like extended cousin whose parents or grandparents, you know, when they died there was just like a million dollars in cash like hoarded around the house because they didn’t trust banks because they’ve been through the depression, you know, that kind of stuff that comes out of the healing not happening, and the healing has, you know, traditionally not happened, and I don’t know how we proceed from here.
Mary Kit Caelsto: Yeah, well see, I was just thinking of my grandma’s margarine containers, you know, you clean out the margarine containers to reuse them again [laughs]. But yeah, damn, and I feel like that’s all tied in with disability representation and kind of trying to discuss and reshape that language because we all have been, we all have been touched by sickness, and there’s this fallacy that if you do all the right things that you’re going to be okay you’re not going to get disabled. You know, you won’t fall into the you know the trap of disabledism and that. And the truth of the matter is: 1) we all know that everybody is, you know, one bad step off a curb or, you know, one car accident away from something happening or something internally happening. So I mean, obviously that’s a false hypothesis from the start but also we’ve all now kind of seen this, and we’ve, you know, we’ve seen that even if we do everything you know, right, that you can still get sick. I feel like that in some ways, if people are willing to enter that new scary liminal space, that can actually help us reshape the conversation about disability.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah.
Mary Kit Caelsto: Because, you know, it’s not… if we start taking the blame away from disabled and disability, then, now we’re really left with the fact that well that’s life that happened, and now we can start expanding our conversation about what that means and how that shows up and maybe, you know, that will show up in our fiction and the books we write, the stories we tell beyond the movies, and we start, you know, there’s so many layers to this, and I think I get a little passionate—“haha,” little passionate—but very passionate on Twitter when I talk about that, and I and I feel like I keep telling my story over and over again, but I don’t do that for attention. I want people to know that this exists and this happens. My biggest fear right now is that the people in my county who get COVID and end up as long haulers are going to be walking in my shoes where their doctors go, “Huh? Nothing we can do for you.” Now, and that’s the last thing I want for anybody, but I’m afraid it’s coming.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, that’s definitely a big fear, you know, there’s part of me that really wants to hope that all of these, you know, new people being added to the disability community and all of the, you know, the stuff that people have gone through this year will push people to, you know, change the systems that have been revealed as so clearly broken. Unfortunately, history shows that that’s generally not the case. And, yeah, all I can really do is hope and put work into the world like this and hope somebody is listening and, you know, takes it to heart and tries to push for those changes because otherwise we’re going to down a really scary bad path, very fast.
Mary Kit Caelsto: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s all any of us can hope to do. I, you know, I feel like I kind of got really deep really dark there so you know I apologize to the listeners, but I feel like that’s all any of us can do is kind of put on our lights, tell our story, stand authentically in our stories, and say, “Hey, this is me, this is what’s going on. This is what I’ve experienced.” Believe other people’s lived experiences, and hopefully that will be a catalyst for change.
Dianna Gunn: Absolutely. So it has been wonderful chatting with you we are coming to time now, and I would like to ask the final question I asked everyone: Where can people go to find out more about you and to work with you?
Mary Kit Caelsto: Well, through Epona Authors Solutions, that is, eponaauthorsolutions.com. I do not have my coaching up on the website; just reach out to me if that’s something you’re interested in. I’m still developing that and looking into what shape that is, but, you know, I got my editing my book formatting my technical stuff, you know. If you need website help, holler. Websites are my Zen. So, you know, Epona Author Solutions for my fiction. We didn’t even mention my fantasy, but I also write fantasy featuring disabled characters and horses and music and stuff, but that’s marykitcaelsto.com.
Dianna Gunn: Oh, it’s been wonderful chatting with you. I’m amazed by all that you do, and I would love to have you come on, again sometime to talk more about that fantasy project.
Dianna Gunn: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Spoonie Authors Podcast podcast. The Spoonie Authors Podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors Network, a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are also available on the Spoony Authors Network. To learn more or become a contributor, visit spoonieauthorsnetwork.com and of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure to leave us a five star review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai, edited for clarity by Cait Gordon.