When you write contemporary fiction, you have to get your facts right. If you mess up some minor detail, it can jolt a knowledgeable reader right out of the story and into an outraged sense that the author is a clueless idiot, so it’s important to live the experiences of your characters, to inhabit their world and understand how it impacts every one of your senses so you can take your readers right there.

You have to do research. You need contacts that will open doors and welcome you into their world-and I found some of those people today. It was the first time I’d taken advantage of my “I’m-a-published-author-doing-research” credentials. My second book for Sourcebooks involves wild horses, so I attended a BLM mustang sale at the East Canon Correctional Complex in Canon City, Colorado.

Here are just a few of the things I learned at Canon City–from small to significant:

  1. White markings are called “chrome.” I’d read this term, but didn’t know if it was a book larnin’ thang or if real horsemen actually used it. They do.
  2. In horse lingo, blonde manes are “flaxen.” Sounds much more romantic and pre-Raphaelite–and helps horses avoid those demeaning blonde jokes.
  3. A “dopey” looking horse can be a good training prospect. Smarts aren’t always an advantage.
  4. A stallion with mojo– or a gelding who vividly remembers stallion-hood and exhibits a convincing imitation of said mojo–inspires a following of mares like a boy band member lures teenyboppers. This is not necessarily a good thing for the horse owner, but it’’s a great thing for the horse, and further fuels his mojo.
  5. Corollary: Flashy horses are a lot like flashy men: not to be trusted, and best admired from a safe distance.
  6. Horses communicate through body language, and wild horses rarely whinny. It’s only once they’re in a stable, where they can’t see each other, that they need to vocalize. Even when stressed in a roundup operation, the horses were remarkably silent.
  7. Even horses that have run wild on the plains are heartbreakingly willing to cooperate with humans.
  8. Wild horses have a magical calm about them, an ability to accept new experiences and overcome fear that is contagious and uniquely healing. Horses are good for people, and we owe it to them to make their experiences with us positive.