Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for August: (8/3) Dianne Freeman (8/10) Daryl Wood Gerber (8/17) E. B. Davis's Review of Granite Oath, James M. Jackson's new novel (8/24) Rose Kerr (8/31) V. M. Burns.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Getting it Right

Today author Kate Wyland joins us on Salad Bowl Sunday to talk about one of my favorite bugaboos: getting the facts correct. Oh, and she knows horses inside and out; I know what they are.

~ Jim


A judge in a writing contest I once entered surprised me when she stated that I needed to do a lot more research if I was going to write about horses and dude ranches. According to her, I didn’t know anything about them. I usually send a note to contest judges thanking them for their time and remarks. For the first and only time, I responded to a criticism in my thank you note, commenting that since I had owned and raised horses most of my life, I was curious about the inaccuracies that bothered her so much. I also mentioned that I had stayed at the dude ranch on which I modeled my story ranch.

Obviously, we, as writers, need to get it right—whatever the topic. Mistakes take the reader out of the story and make them doubt the author. I see and read so much silliness concerning horses, I sometimes wonder if the writer or screenwriter has ever even seen an equine. On the one hand, there is the Disney style anthropomorphism that gives horses human feelings and reactions. On the other, is the attitude that they are dumb beasts that don’t think or have feelings. Of course, both of these are incorrect.

Horses definitely do feel and think—like horses. If you’ve ever dealt with an equine Houdini, you know they can think up with the most ingenious ways to escape their paddock and get to the fresh green grass or barrel of grain they shouldn’t have. However, they don’t connect the resulting belly ache (and vet bill) with what they ate. Horses also get quite upset when a buddy leaves and mourn if one dies. A recent article in Time magazine commented on this fact. They definitely have feelings.

credit: rayzee12 via photopin cc
So how do you get the right take on horses or any other topic you’re not familiar with? The best way, of course, is to have some real experience. For horses, that means not just getting on a rent string plug and plodding along in a line, but maybe taking lessons and riding occasionally. Reading and researching online can give you some basics, but actually interacting will demonstrate the uncanny connection between horses and riders. If you write about guns in your mysteries, you’d be well advised to get some experience handling and shooting firearms.

Now most people won’t have the time or inclination to go that far, so the next best option is to talk with people with experience. Again for horses, you will undoubtedly get a variety of opinions. A well-known horsemen’s aphorism goes to the effect that if you get five horse people together, you’ll get six different opinions on how to deal with the wonderful, often challenging animals. I’ve sometimes felt like I was attending a PTA meeting, where all the parents were adamantly spouting contradictory ideas on how best to raise kids. In spite of the differing takes, if you consult experts you should get a feel for how real horses behave.

The internet is a wonderful resource these days, but it doesn’t substitute for hands-on experience. And the lack of real knowledge will show in your writing and distract readers who are familiar with the topic. The old adage “write what you know about” really does hold true.

What’s the most interesting subject you’ve ever researched for a story? How did you do it? Were you able to get a real feel for the material?
Here’s a small excerpt from my romantic suspense novel WYOMING ESCAPE describing the first time a new-born foal tries to stand up. The hero Shawn brings the heroine Mikela, a city girl, to see the new arrival.

     She stepped closer, peering over the half-door and gasped with delight. “How darling.”
     A baby horse lay in the straw near his mother's hooves, his big dark eyes watching his dam as she moved. His brown coat appeared damp and curly and he had a white spot on his forehead.
     “How old is he?” Mikela asked, utterly fascinated.
     “Only about twenty minutes,” Shawn whispered. “Watch.”
     The foal unfolded his spindly front legs and propped them out before him. With a heave, he attempted to stand on trembling legs, but sank back down before achieving his goal. He rested for a few minutes then tried again. He made it part way up before his strength gave out and he plopped in the straw. His mother, a big black, sent him a small whicker of encouragement while he appeared to think about how to get to where he wanted.
     Mikela tensed with anticipation as he tried again. He heaved upward and managed to prop his rear legs under him and balance spraddle-legged for a moment. Gravity claimed him once more and he flopped down on his side. This time he didn't wait before trying again. This time he stayed up and Mikela relaxed her clenched hands. After resting for a few moments, he inched his right front leg forward, then a rear leg. He tried with the left front and managed to get his rear end to follow. At that point his mother sidled close to him and his nose twitched as he smelled her milk. Another shaky step brought him near her teats and he twisted his head up to try to find her milk—and immediately lost his balance.
     Mikela couldn't help smiling at the disgusted expression on his tiny face. With a mighty effort he regained his feet and again searched for a teat. This time he managed to stay upright, but couldn't figure out how to obtain the food he so badly wanted. He butted his head against his mother's big belly and almost fell over. Regaining his equilibrium, he reached under again, his mouth already making sucking motions. Finally he latched on and began to nurse. To Mikela's amusement, everyone, including her, let out a collective sigh of relief.
You can read more about Mikela, Shawn and the foal in WYOMING ESCAPE.
Two dead bodies. One dirty cop. Is she next?
Available from:


Kate Wyland is a life-long horse nut who started riding at three years old. After a varied equestrian career, she now has three semi-retired horses and can’t imagine life without them. A few years ago, she exchanged her tech writing bill cap for a fiction writing Stetson. Suspense, romance, horses and sometimes the paranormal are the themes she likes to explore in her books. And she delights in sharing her love of animals and country living.

Check out her website and blog


Warren Bull said...

What a lovely description of the new-born colt. I have written three novels set in the mid 1800s. And I strive to get the details correct. I've done a lot of research on a Sharps rifle called "Beecher's Bibles."

Anonymous said...

I bet you've done a lot of research on the 1800s in general. Did you ever get to actually fire the rifle? That would be neat.
Thanks for stopping by.

Patricia said...

Very nice post, Kate, and I enjoyed the excerpt about the foal. I've never seen a foal's birth.

Anonymous said...

Glad you liked it Patti. They are so funny when they're little.

Jim Jackson said...

I recently read a very good historical fiction, except it had a major fact wrong. Too bad, because as I was reading the rest of the book, all I kept doing was wondering what other facts were wrong instead of enjoying the story.

I remember sending a short story through a critique group and getting blasted by one person who thought I had gotten the female narrator completely wrong – it sounds like a guy trying to sound like a woman. Except the critique was from another guy and all the women who followed his critique said they had no problem with the protagonist.

I assume you never got a response to your request for more information?

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

One of my manuscript's main characters was a hotel detective in Naples, FL. I interviewed the head of security at one of the major hotels there. Turned out he was a retired police chief from a town in Michigan. He said that most of the hotels' security staff had more experience than the town's police force. Police retirees flocked to Florida manning hotel security forces as their retirement career. Good experience/good interview.

Anonymous said...

A wrong fact really bugs, doesn't it Jim?
That's funny about the critique. I've had similar experiences too.

I was surprise to actually get a partial response. She said my dude ranch didn't match the Texas ones she'd researched. Mine is set in Wyoming. :-) Never said a word about her horse comments.

Anonymous said...

Now that's a fascinating bit of information, EB. Did you have fun with that in your story?

E. B. Davis said...

Yes, Kate, I did. It added a conflict in my story and added to the tension of the hotel staff competing against the police to solve the murder. I have to dust that ms off some day and rewrite it. It had so much potential and did get some partial requests from agents--no banana, but it was only my second manuscript so I had some way to go yet on the learning curve.

Marsha said...

Hey, Kate, wonderful post. I'm surprised you heard anything back from the judge. I had that happen with a book about a small town theatre. The judge told me I was flat out wrong and shouldn't write about what I didn't know or didn't research. I'd been a h.s. theatre arts teacher in a former life. More important, I'd based the situation on something my daughter had experienced in a small town theatre. After I got the critique, I went back to check with her, because maybe I'd gotten it wrong. No one is perfect. I was correct. When a fact hits me oddly when I judging, I only comment it surprised me, but I'm sure they checked their facts.
With VERMONT ESCAPE (love how similar our titles are) coming out this summer, I researched the Vermont state government and their gun laws and gambling laws. I've worried that Texas would change its laws before the book comes out. Fingers crossed through this month, then I'll be okay. :)
Kate, you know I love your book and hope everyone here buys it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by Marsha!

It's weird how dogmatic some people can be about something they know little about. And what about things being different in different places? I'm sure my experience with community theater in a large city differs in some ways from yours.

I'll keep my fingers crossed for you re Texas. Can't wait to read Vermont Excape.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Kate: We've all be there. In a book I wrote way back when a judge told me that I was wrong about talking about OSHA in my construction site. I went back to work after that and told my structural engineers the good news... they didn't have to worry about OSHA anymore on the construction site because a contest judge had given us permission.

Another judge told me that the Catholic Church doesn't have pastors. I had to tell the Monsignor at my parish to give up his title.

To make carte blanche statements about research is like taking all the information we receive from Gooogle as gospel.

I think you were warranted in telling the judge he/she was misguided. I probably would have written the contest coordinator. Judges need to be careful in assuming their experience is the only one. Nice blog.

Anonymous said...

No OSHA and no pastors? Wow.
Save us from internet experts!

My thank you note and the response were emails via the category coordinator, so she, at least, was aware of the situation. Nothing could be done about it, of course.

Thanks for stopping by.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

You're welcome, Kate. Yes, I've noticed there's a lot of experts out there and a lot of absolutes. I will say that I'm hardly an expert or absoulte about anything. Safer that way. Have fun!

Nia said...

Great excerpt, Kate. I enjoy your writing style. You make very good points about research!

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Thanks Nia. You do need to do know your topic, so you can put the right amount on the page.

Cher'ley said...

I've had the same thing happen too. I knew I was right, but the person so strongly objected, it made me question my memory. I went to another person who knew about the subject, they agreed I was right. LOL. Enjoyed the excerpt. I'll be reading this fascinating book before long. Cher'ley

Anonymous said...

Glad you found me Cherley and thanks for stopping.
It is frustrating when someone is self-righteously critical. It's one thing to say "I think..." and quite another to state "You're wrong!"