Writing about horses and history is a no-brainer for me. I have been horse crazy since my first Steiff pony and Billy and Blaze picture book by C.W. Anderson. Decades later, my passion is still with me: I ride my Quarter Horse, Relish, read horse books and write about horses.
Under my real name Alice Leonhardt and my pen name Alison Hart, I have written over fifty books about horses. Many are contemporary including Shadow Horse, an Edgar nominated mystery, and its sequel Whirlwind (Random House). I also have combined horses and history to create suspense-filled historical fiction for Peachtree Publishers. The two meld perfectly because human and horses have been intertwined as early as 3500 BC when horses were raised for milk and meat in
the fascinating March 2009 article in National
Horses have been used (and exploited) by humans in all parts of the world. In
horses became extinct about 10,000 years ago and were then reintroduced by 16th
century Spanish Explorers. That gives me
centuries of history to write about. My Racing
to Freedom trilogy (Gabriel’s Horses,
Gabriel’s Triumph and Gabriel’s
Journey) focuses on the 1800’s when horses were necessary for
transportation, farming, commerce—and war.
During the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union armies depended heavily upon horses. The animals were needed to pull wagons, cannons, and ambulances to and from battlegrounds. The horses also carried cavalry soldiers and officers into battle. About 1.5 million horses and mules died during the Civil War.
From “The History behind Gabriel’s Journey” by Alison Hart.
Writing historical fiction means I have to know the facts. The Racing to Freedom trilogy took over two years to research. I have notebooks and file folders of notes and photos from visits to
and , and Camp Nelson, Kentucky ;
magazine articles, old maps, and scrawled notes from over two hundred books and
online sources. I love this photo from the Civil War. The horse is gorgeous--shiny, alert, handsome and well-fed. But the journals and statistics on horses during the war detail starvation and death. Saratoga, New York
In a chapter from Gabriel’s Journey-- which is about an African American cavalry unit that fought at the Battle of Saltville, Virginia-- I create a 'scene' around the number of dead horses:
I lead Sassy and Hero up onto the road. In front of us, a bulky mound lies in the center of the lane. The horse that was shot is dead. Blood oozes from its neck and shoulder. Already someone has stripped it of bridle, saddle, and gear. Soldiers lead their mounts around it or step over it. No one but me pays it any mind.
’s words when we first visited Jackson
and saw the broken-down remounts: Horses don’t choose to fight, and they
sure don’t get no enlistment fee. Camp Nelson
And no glory neither, I see now. The body will be left for vultures and varmints.
My eyes blur. I lead Sassy and Hero around the fallen horse and say a silent prayer.
Whether it’s a pony on the prairie during the Blizzard of 1888 (Anna’s Blizzard) or a slave finding freedom in 1865 (Gabriel’s Horses), each novel I write must be filled with vivid scenes that not only convey our history, but bring it to life for readers.
How do you use research in your own writing? What problems stump you? Let me know!