It’s time for another five questions! I’m so excited to welcome Dawn LeFevre to my site. Dawn has just published a new equestrian fiction novel, Backstretch Girls. And with her racing creds, I think everyone should know about it! Let’s dig in.
Dawn, thanks so much for joining me at my blog! You’ve just published a new horse racing novel, and we want to hear all about it. But first, tell us a little bit about your background. You’ve got some first-hand racing experience, right?
I worked at Atlantic City Racecourse every summer from the age of 16 until I graduated from Cook College. After graduation, I became an assistant trainer for Walter Medio, aka, the King of AC and spent 13 years owning and training racehorses at AC, Garden State Park, Monmouth, Meadowlands, Delaware and Philly Park (now Parx).
That’s a great resume! Tell us a little about your new book and the inspiration for Backstretch Girls.
Backstretch Girls is about the friendship between a hardheaded ponygirl, Teagan, and Anne, a naïve jockey wannabe and is set in the late 1980’s at Atlantic City Racecourse. Teagan is the black sheep in her Olympic equestrian family; Anne grew up in a trailer park and had to play stable slave to ride, yet they bond over their love of horses.
My inspiration for Backstretch Girls is all those wonderful Thoroughbreds I knew and loved. All the racehorse names in my book are cobbled together from real racehorses. Lucky All Over is a tribute to two wonderful fillies – Plain All Over (a stakes winner voted champion New Jersey bred two year old filly in 1989) and Luckey Lipco (a game claimer known for her win streaks at AC).
Haunting Melody is the only actual name I kept, although the real horse was a dark bay filly I owned back in 1999.
I love those names. Getting names right is such an important part of writing equestrian fiction! What’s your writing process like? Did the idea for Backstretch Girls come slowly to you over the years, or all at once?
My writing “process” is just me scribbling incoherently in a notebook then trying to read my handwriting while I edit and type it up. First, I create my main characters and their backgrounds then figure out how I’m going to “ruin their lives”.
While Backstretch Girls is my first published novel, I’ve actually written two others prior to it, one of which was also set on the track. My goal with Backstretch Girls was to provide an unflinching look at the racing industry – the sexism, the unethical veterinary practices, and the owners who put profit ahead of their horse’s welfare. On the flip side, you have those unsung workers who will sacrifice everything for their horses, the grooms, hotwalkers, trainers, ponypeople, etc.
It’s definitely a wild and wooly place, with good and bad people. (And horses honestly!) What’s coming next for you? Are there more racing stories on the horizon?
I’m currently working on my next novel which will also be set in the racing world but is a more personal story – the main character trying to cope with the loss of her mother while training a ragtag stable of claimers.
My mother was the reason I fell in love with horse racing; we’d watch all the major races on TV together as well as the New York racing show every Saturday when I was growing up. For my high school graduation gift, she took me to Kentucky where we visited Claiborne and Spendthrift farm and I had the pleasure of meeting Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. My mother passed away suddenly in 2018 and it devastated me. I stopped writing for over a year. Finally, I decided that this book would be a tribute to her and Garden State Park.
That’s a lovely tribute. Now, I love to know what everyone’s reading, so tell us about some of your favorite reads of 2019. What do we need to get on our reading lists ASAP?
The last horse racing book I read was Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure by Shelley Riley. I always wondered what had happened to her after the 1992 Triple Crown; she’d done an amazing job with this horse and yet, was never given another big horse to train. The book is a double love story – between Shelley and her husband, Jim and then between Shelley and Stanley, aka, Casual Lies. It’s a funny, sad, entertaining read and a must for any woman thinking about becoming a trainer. It saddens and angers me that still no woman trainer or jockey has won the Kentucky Derby and few even are even given the chance to compete.
I just finished reading When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer. I was originally drawn to it because of the ongoing debate of whether animals should be kept in zoos and circuses. Right now a lot of those same animal rights questions tackled by this book are being thrown at the horse racing industry. Activists are quick to cry “Ban it!” without realizing the repercussions, such as what are you going to do with all these animals after you shut down the circus or racetrack? I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the subplot regarding the main character’s struggle with mental illness was handled.
That does sound really interesting. It’s so important to look at both sides of an issue… I wish more people would do that before they just start shouting “animal rights!”