There's a new book about wild horses in the West and the young people who try to protect them. Non-fiction is a different experience for Verdi writer Terri Farley, known up to now as a novelist and children's book author. Signed copies of Wild at Heart are available at Sundance Books.
How many titles do you have?
This is my first book of non-fiction, but I have 36 fiction books.
How was writing it different?
Way different. I have a background in journalism. I have a master’s in journalism. I know how to interview. What I’m not used to is, when I’m writing a book, usually I just put my butt in a chair, and I write. When you have to wait for people to call you back or they missed your email, or something like that, that’s really a lot harder.
[Laughs] Yes. I forgot about that part. You know, I was just on my own schedule and if I took half a day off, I’d pay back a night. But it was really different, but I loved it, and the thing that I liked the most was the science of doing this book. I worked with top level paleontologists and DNA specialists, and they are so eager for people to get non-politicized science that they just gave me their time. My book was vetted by the head of mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History. He’s also a field scientist. He’s sort of Indiana Jones. He let me into the museum before it opened one day, and we strolled around. Oh, my gosh, it was, like, wonderful. … There were a lot of [scientific] changes while I was writing the book, because if there’s an upside to global warming, it’s that some of the permafrost is giving up treasures. And the time that we thought horses were gone from this continent shrank by 3,000 years while I was writing the book. Some Native American tribes say the horses never left. They said the grass remembers the horses. That window of time keeps shrinking. So who knows? And it is the same species. That was another interesting thing. We always hear, “Well, the Spanish introduced the horses. They’re not native. Blah, blah.” None of the scientists questioned that horses are native. They said that’s a myth, and it’s based on dollar signs, because if something’s feral—like feral cat or a feral dog—you can kill it. If it’s a feral horse …
Did you have contact with the Great Basin tribes?
I did. Actually, I was asked to be a sort of liaison. The Paiute Shoshone tribe had some horses that BLM [Bureau of Land Management] and the Forest Service—no, there were no witnesses, but all of sudden, tribal lands had a ton of horses on their land that they didn’t have before. So probably [the horses] came in from those other lands either on their own or not. And, of course, since [the tribes] are a sovereign nation, they can do anything they want with those horses. So I was there as a sort of a liaison to help identify the horses that were tribal horses, if we could. And so I did that, and I ended up running interference with the … livestock sales auctioneer, who did not like me there, and was really—you know, he just wanted to sell the horses. And there were kill buyers there, and it was pretty—it was a tense situation. It was also during horrible wildfires, so everything was thick, thick smoke, which added to it. But I’ve been pretty successful talking to the tribal leader, and it seems to be—I won’t even say which guys I worked with—but it seemed to be the administration that was hot to sell the horses to slaughter. There were people there, native people, who were trying to find their horses which had been rounded up. There was an old gentleman who was looking for an Appaloosa stallion he’d raised from a foal. And it was gone, because they turn the horses free. They don’t keep them in little pens behind their house. And his daughter and granddaughter were there with him looking for the horse in all these pens. So yes, I worked with the tribes.
It is a book with a point of view. Expecting any backlash?
Well, considering that BLM for 13 months refused to go on the record, I don’t think they have a lot of room for that.