Friday, March 21, 2008


No matter the type of fiction, all writers are asked the same question: "Where do you get your story ideas?" Most of us draw on the potential that arises from real incidents or experiences.

A writer's brain churns with bits and pieces of information, many of which are being processed as potential plot material. My own grey matter often drives me crazy with jostling ideas, each vying for a prominent place in my thoughts. The only way I can deal with the information overload is to jot down each idea or thought so my brain can relax--or fill up with more ideas! At any given time, I'm mulling ideas for horse stories, gardening articles, Miniature horse how-to books or videos, cooking articles, articles on writing, or photography ideas. (I carry a tiny spiral notebook and golf pencil in my pocket at all times so I'll never lose any good stuff.)

Sometimes a news tidbit grabs me and forces my brain to focus solely on that information. A story idea begins, but not without trepidation--believe me.

In 2003, five American Saddlebreds were brutally attacked and maimed in Lexington, Kentucky. Among those horses were Five-Gaited World Champion Wild Eyed & Wicked. The equine community gasped collectively and followed the horrible story for weeks, each of us certain that we'd soon know who could do such a thing. The five horses in question had been injected with a caustic substance that defied identification. Within two weeks, three of the five were euthanized--including Wild Eyed & Wicked. I was stunned, and began to follow the story on a daily basis.

The uproar continued while the investigative powers of the State and the finest veterinarians and equine pathologists struggled with the mystery. In 2005, the Kentucky State Police closed the investigation so that private resources could be used to continue the search for the criminal. My brain screamed, "Write this story!" My heart said, "How? You can't do this to those poor people who lost their horse!" My husband said, "How can you write a story without knowing the ending?"

In early 2006, I couldn't put it off any longer. I needed to write this tragedy into a story line and, by golly, I'd find a reasonable ending, if for no other reason than to give my brain a rest. I spent a lot of time conferring with veterinarians, pathologists, and the good folks at KESMARC Equine Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy center in Lexington (they treated one of the attacked saddlebreds, who later returned to the show ring). I profiled a different breed and set the location in a different state, but the underlying thread remained the same.

Deadly Heritage was released in January of this year and, though my fictitious characters and motives won't bring closure to Wild Eyed & Wicked's owners, or clues to the unsolved crime, at least I can finally file away the 10-inch stack of news articles, pathology reports, court proceedings, and technical information that accumulated over the past five years.

See the beautiful horse that started it all.

'Til next time....

Toni Leland
Women's Fiction with Kick!

Love to garden?
Have Miniature Horses?


Grey Horse Matters said...

I am always astonished by the cruelty people can show towards innocent animals, whoever did this is reprehensible. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I have to check out your book.

Unknown said...

I remember this story. It happened right before the Lexington Junior League horse show that year. I've always wondered if the police didn't have suspects after all but couldn't pull together sufficient evidence for an arrest. Adding to the problem is that they probably viewed it as a property crime. Or, at least, that's how the statutes probably would require it to be charged.

toni leland said...

Many states have harsh laws regarding mutilation of livestock, Oklahoma being one of them: $5,000 in fines and jail time. Cruelty to animals, and animal abuse are misdemeanors of varying degrees in many states, with fines and imprisonment.

All the police documentation on the Saddlebred case read like a homicide investigation and, in fact, one officer said that the files on the case were bigger than any homicide they'd ever had.

Even with a $100,00 reward out there, the case is unsolved.

Jan Scarbrough said...

Toni, a friend just pointed me to your blog. I know Kit and I know the terrible story of Wild Eyed and Wicked. I ride Saddlebreds and am a member of the American Saddlebred Horse Association. In fact, I write romances about horses and can understand your love and desire to put your passion on paper. I'll have to look for your book.

toni leland said...

Hi Jan, welcome to Equestrian Ink! I still have my Google Alerts set to send me anything about Wild Eyed...I so want the real story to have an ending, not just limbo for those involved.

I visited your blog and publisher. Your book sounds interesting, and what a lovely horse farm picture on the cover. I'll have to check it out.