Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Wide World of Mystery

By Annette Dashofy

We crime writers are always looking for a great world in which to set a story. Often that world is someplace familiar and that makes sense. Lawyers write about the legal system. Doctors write medical thrillers. Not always, mind you. But who better to write about those worlds than someone on the inside?

My life as a yoga instructor doesn’t offer much in that area, though. If it does, I don’t see it. I wrote one short story about a yoga instructor. It has never sold.

However, I have one passion that has offered an abundance of possibilities. Horses. I grew up reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. So when I was looking for a setting for a new novel a couple years ago, the world of Thoroughbred racing intrigued me. The problem was while I had owned many horses over several decades, my behind-the-scenes experience of racing was minimal. Fortunately, I met a trainer from Mountaineer who has become a close friend and I am now a licensed groom.

During the day, I write. In the evening I teach yoga. On the weekend I play with racehorses. I don’t get paid, but I like it that way. I don’t have to show up on time and can come and go as I please. But when I’m there, I’m thrilled to get my hands dirty. My chores vary from cleaning a stall to dumping the wheelbarrow (I didn’t say it was glamorous) to brushing and walking the horses.

During my last trip there I held Crook, who is new to the barn and needed a beauty treatment. My trainer friend Jessi pulled his mane (which is a method of making it straight and even, in case you’re unfamiliar with horsey lingo). Crook didn’t much care for the idea and required some restraint. He made a grand effort to bash me in the face with his head. Failing at that, he succeeded in stomping Jessi’s foot. Bad horse!

Fatty, who’s been in the barn since last summer (in other words, she’s earning her keep), and Charles (AKA Charlie), who is another new face, went to the track for a little exercise. Charles needed it because he’d managed to escape from his stall a few nights earlier and had some puffy legs to show for it. Fatty is a sweetheart, except she needs to nibble on something…ANY thing if you’re just standing and holding her. The end of the lead shank, your hand, it doesn’t matter to her as long as she has something in her mouth.

Another new addition to the barn is Fatty’s pet goat, Dash, a rotund little fellow who also likes to nibble. He and his horse are well-suited. Except she occasionally steps on him and he apparently is too lazy to move, so he lets her. Hopefully he smartens up soon.

I love hanging out at the track. Sure, it’s great fun being around horses, but as a writer of crime fiction I especially appreciate life on the backside, or barn area, of the track. The colorful assortment of owners and trainers, grooms and riders that go about their daily tasks sparks all kinds of inspiration for stories and fictional characters. It’s a close-knit community with a nice mix of transients along with the regulars. The potential plotlines are endless. It’s a world of mystery and intrigue with gambling and the lure of “easy money” as motivation.

What world do you as a writer use in your stories? As a reader, what books are set in a world that interests you?

7 comments:

Joyce said...

Thanks for the glimpse into your world, Annette!

In my books, I use the worlds of police work and taekwondo. The firsst book is set in the Pittsburgh area, but the second one is in Gettysburg. Summer is there helping a friend and right now she is making a general mess of things.

As a reader, I like any world in which I'll learn something new. The setting doesn't have to be glamorous, just interesting. Like your books sound. Anything to take me away from ordinary life.

Joyce said...

Excuse the typos. It's early yet!

Tory said...

Interesting post, Annette. Got me thinking about the "worlds" that make good plot settings and those that don't. When I was in college and spending more time folk dancing than on my studies, there were always discussions about the, "Great Folk Dance novel." Seems like a good idea. But, like yoga, it appears to be something people would rather do than read about. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the importance of the music, which a book just can't do justice to.

I think the best setting for one of my novels is a psychiatric hospital, based on WPIC when I worked there. I do think it's a great setting for a mystery, but I've never felt like I've done it justice. (Sigh.)

kathie said...

Hey Annette, great post and as I'm not familiar with anything horsey, I appreciated the lessons in grooming, etc. You're right, what a great place to find your novels, very mysterious and seductive. Makes me think of one of those A&E City Confidentials about Chicago's horse country...I get my ideas from places and people around me. Sometimes, vacation spots play a role, but whatever the place or person it has to move me somehow then I lock it into my mind.

Judy Schneider said...

Great post, Annette! Like Joyce, I love when an author takes me to any setting that I wouldn't otherwise experience. The other side of the racetrack is fascinating, Annette--rich in hierarchy and conflict, I'm sure!

Annette said...

Judy, my agent and I both think so. Now if we could just find an editor who agrees!

Kristine said...

Writing about something you're passionate about is critical, and it seems you've found it, Annette. I think you have a very fascinating world for your books.

As for me, I write about the club scene because it's interesting to me. I was a big club hopper in my 20s, but not so much anymore. I have a lot of fond memories, though, which I hope to portray in my books.