Thursday, September 3, 2009

"I Don't Like Horse Stories"

I read quite a bit of fiction in several genres--romance, mystery, fantasy, historical drama--and in each of these are quite a few books and stories in which horses play a significant role. Not the hero or heroine, usually, but horses figure prominently. When I do book signings or speaking events, I'll sometimes suggest a particular book as an example of good writing which happens to include horses. I'm always a little surprised to hear from at least one reader, "Oh, I don't like horse stories."

I'm intrigued, truly. I don't hear that same comment about any other animal--cats, dogs, rabbits, or cows, for instance--but a good number of people have told me that if it's a "horse story", they won't read it. When I started thinking about this, I realized that I had never followed up on the comment properly. I'm not sure what the phrase "horse story" actually describes. Nora Roberts' first book Irish Thoroughbred is a story about a young woman living on a horse farm. Some of us here at the Avalon blog write Westerns. Lots of horses there. Historical romance always features a horse or two, especially if the hero has a favorite. Dick Francis writes mysteries associated with British steeplechasing, but his heroes are the stars. Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart is a favorite romantic suspense of some of our writers here.

So I have two questions today for all you readers out there. In the context I've described, what is a "horse story"? Second, why don't readers like them?


I.J. Parnham said...

I have neigh idea what a horse story is. Perhaps they're thinking of Black Beauty and National Velvet like tales of a young posh woman and her plucky steed winning show-jumping trials despite much teenage angst and the unwanted attentions of a stable boy from the wrong side of the tracks who offers wise wisdom beyond his years while shovelling manure...

Never come across this before. Perhaps I ought to push my next western as being horse-lite just in case.

Carol Hutchens said...

What's wrong with horses? I love John Wayne movies. Are they horse stories?

What's a western without a horse? Aren't cowboys and horses a magic combination?

Good questions, LaVerne. Can't wait for your responses.

Elisabeth Rose said...

When I was a young gel I actively searched for books with horses in them. Horse mad I was. Pony club books --loved them. Anything remotely connected with horses I gobbled up. At 13 I even read Memoirs of A Foxhunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon because it sounded horsey. It wasn't.

Strangely though, I haven't come across horses in anything other than historicals recently and in those they're pulling carriages or being ridden as transport--like a car or a bike.

Kathye Quick said...

It all depends on what you love. In my Camelot tales there are horses, of course, but I wouldn't call it a horse story.

I have to admit, I am not an animal person so I don't use a lot in my writing, but it wouldn't stop me from reading a good book with animals in it.

I did work for an editor once who refused to read anything with a dog in it. I suppose that happens these days too.

I guess real horses stories are those like Black Beauty and Flicka where the main charater is the horse.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

When we were children, my sister was crazy about horse stories--like those Kathye mentioned. As an adult, she bought a horse. I never was as wild about them as she and prefered stories about people--I was glad to see I'm not the only one and neither is my sister.
Interesting post--thanks

Zelda Benjamin said...

I don't know the answer. I love horses - owned one for 10 years. I love the classic horse stories but don't go searching for books with horses.
I don't like cats but that doesn't mean I won't read a book with a cat in it.
I put the question to my horse friends on Facebook and directed them to your blog.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Those people sound like several women who came to one of my booksignings, picked up one of my Westerns and said they didn't read bodice rippers. If you've ever seen the cover of my Westerns or even my Western Romances, you'd wonder what prompted such a comment.

Hey, Ian, I love the horse-lit idead.

Christine Bush said...

People say the "darndest" things, you know? Sometimes it just doesn't make sense. Maybe your reader ONCE read a book she/he didn't care for, and it happened to have a horse in it, and the feeling got generalized? Who knows? But I sure don't want Ian writing "horse lite", or having anyone making "horse ratings" on our western covers (one horse shoe, two horse shoes, etc, you get the idea!). I say "neigh" to this. Horse lovers, write on! Thanks for the blog.

LaVerne St. George said...

Thank you all so much for your perspectives on this. I'm beginning to think that "horse stories" are those about a girl and her horse or a guy and his horse, like Ian described. Next time a reader shares that preference with me, I will definitely ask for further definition. No horse-lite Westerns, if you please. I'd hate to see my favorite cowboys walkin' the range.