Jeannette Walls
Photo: John Taylor
In her best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle (2005), Jeannette Walls revealed the beyond-Dickensian tale of her hardscrabble childhood. In her new book (and first novel), Half Broke Horses (Scribner), she conjures the life story of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, an iron-willed Arizona cattle rancher who was training horses by age 6.

Walls shares a few life lessons.

1. I'm a big believer in luck—the harder you work, the luckier you become. One of my grandmother's sayings that I love is "Push and pray." Faith in the greater powers is important, but you've gotta bust your rump in the meantime.

2. We're stronger than we realize. Lily was an exceptional woman, but we all have ancestors like her—a grandma or great-uncle, a tough old broad or tough old coot who came to this country to escape the potato famine or flee the Nazis or on a slave ship and did what it took to survive. We all have those same inner resources. It's in our blood.

3. Horses are a mirror of who you are. They're emotionally dependent on you. If you're not confident and in control, they freak out. I came to horses late—I was 42—and they've taught me to trust myself and take charge.

4. Take the hand you're dealt and play it to the hilt. I'm just shy of 5 foot 11'' and wear three-inch heels when I dress up. I've got arches you can drive a truck under. I reached my full height at age 11, and I was clumsy as all get-out—all elbows and knees, couldn't get up a flight of stairs without falling down. I wanted to be a cute, petite blonde, but I'm a big ol' strapping thing, so I just accept it.

5. Secrets are like vampires. A wise friend of mine once said this. They suck the life out of you, but they can only survive in the darkness. Once they're exposed to the light, there's a moment of horror, of recognition, but then poof —they lose their power over you.

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