For other writerly thoughts today, you
could check out my Mad Genius Club post.
This post is about how a story was killed by research. Or: facts and fiction get muddled easily. I was chatting with a colleague about mustangs, and how I was wondering that the BLM rehomes mustangs in the Tennessee area. She told me that she was pretty sure the wild horses in the East, especially Kentucky and the Carolinas, were herds left over from pit ponies turned out after working the strip mines for coal.
And in the course of a workday I had a pretty little story pop into my head involving a tiny dragon named Inktail, his newfound friend who works all day and dreams of becoming a unicorn at night, and their quest to find the pit pony a princess. Which they do, of course, and she puts a glittery horn on the pit pony with a headband, fulfilling his dreams. It’s a silly story, I will happily admit, and a sappy one. But it would be great fun to write and illustrate.
Only… I started to do the research and discovered that it’s not true. Other than some depictions in popular media, pit ponies were a European and Australian thing, they were not at all common in the US (where mules were more likely to be used). The most likely pit ponies in the US were family owned and highly unlikely to have been numerous enough to form herds. And the wild horses on KY strip mines? They do exist, but they aren’t abandoned mining ponies, they have been turned out for free grazing on the reclaimed ground the mining companies have carefully reseeded. Some of them aren’t wild at all, and their ownership is somewhat controversial.
There are wild ponies in Virginia, and they are adorable. But they were put there by the Park Service forty years ago, and let go feral. I don’t want to use them for my character, as they are caught as foals and auctioned, rather than being retired.
So for now, this story idea is shelved, unless I can re-imagine it in a way that makes it work with the facts. I won’t write a narrative that looks like it’s not fiction, but is utterly based on untruth. Tugging on the heartstrings works, but it feels wrong.