Press Q&A

Children's Books
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Lisa Moraleda, Publicist
212-261-6793, [email protected]

A Conversation with TERRI FARLEY
On Wild Horses, Today's West and Riding into the Sunset with Books

On America's wild horses . . .

Q: How do wild horses play a part in your actual day-to-day life? And how does living in Nevada, the state with the largest number of wild horses, influence your writing?

A: On any given day, I can drive a half hour from home and see wild horses. Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Center is a short drive north. There, horses are kept after being captured and before-with any luck - they are adopted. Driving south, I am able to visit the Virginia Range, where wild horses wander among the homes in a place called Hidden Valley. Just above that neighborhood, they run free in natural herds.

In addition to visiting these horses, I've watched the Bureau of Land Management gather wild horses near the Calico Mountains, the real setting for the Phantom's fictional band.

I support the Let 'Em Run Foundation's campaign to open a wild horse museum and refuge, and stay alert for wild horse issues which are of interest to environmentalists and ranchers.

"Wild Ones," a documentary I worked on with filmmaker Sunny Minedew and country singer Lacy J. Dalton, provides a balanced look at wild horses' capture and adoption, and acknowledges the wild horse adoption program is, at best, a compromise . . . not a truce.

On kids and real life issues . . .

Q: Tensions are strong between ranchers who use the range for their livestock and wild horse advocates. How do you handle that in your books?

A: It's no accident that I decided to make Samantha's dad a rancher who places the welfare of his cattle above everything else. It's also no accident that I chose Brynna Olson, who works for the Bureau of Land Management (a federal agency charged with overseeing the West's wild horses), to be Sam's stepmother. This creates conflict among members of the family. I think it's important for kids to see opposing ideas coming from sympathetic characters who, in the context of the books, love each other. I hope this forces readers to consider their own values and opinions.

The struggle between ranchers and wild horse advocates is not a black and white issue. My grandfather, a Texan, claimed that "jug headed mustangs," were useless. Still, he often praised the toughness of a mustang cow horse that could "take you anywhere with just a piece of rope around his useless cabeza head."

Q: How do your readers feel about the recent changes in the Wild Horse and Burro Act, which makes it legal, for the first time in 40 years, to sell wild horses for slaughter?

A: I'm lucky to hear from hundreds of readers every week. Their letters and emails definitely clue me in to what really attracts kids to my books. And the overall attraction, I think, is the freedom embodied in wild horses.

We restrict our children to keep them safe. But in books about horses they can imagine freedom and a real sense of power. They can ride away-even if it's only in their imaginations.

Children's love for wild horses goes beyond that symbolism, though. They care about the animals themselves and they would never want them hurt. How else are they to look at their horses being "rubber stamped" for slaughter than with anger and a sense of betrayal?

Q: Your main character Samantha is very aware that her family is not financially secure due to the hazards of ranch life. Do you think most kids worry about such "adult" issues?

A: My books are honest. I've taught 7-12 grades for half my life and I know children are aware of conflict and unfairness. Children worry about things perhaps even more than adults do. Though Sam and Jake come out ahead emotionally in every book (because caring adults provide them with guidance), they have disappointments, too.

I loved one reviewer's comment that my books take place in a world "where carelessness counts, responsibilities are real and the choice between the two is often a matter of life or death." That reader definitely gets it.

One consistent theme in my work is that there's no safety on the edge of the frontier. That frontier takes different forms for different people. One girl's frontier can be the first time she rides alone. For another, it can be her first day in high school. She can always stumble into trouble that is not of her making. How she deals with that trouble is the real story.

On reading . . .

Q: In a marketplace filled with video games, cartoons and action figures, how do your books compete for kids' attention?

A: There's something about holding a book that's very personal. You are the one doing the creating-seeing the characters in your mind, hearing the thunder of galloping hooves, imagining the dust and chaos of a stampede. While you're reading, you don't have to worry about where you'd keep your dream horse, how much it would cost to feed him, or the fact that you've never put your foot in a stirrup. When you read, you own that dream.

Q: Why do children connect with Sam and the Phantom?

A: Taming a wild horse is a mythic and wide-spread fantasy-even before Pegasus, I'm sure. Having a friendship with one is even better, especially if it's your secret and you're a kid! In my books, the weakest and least likely characters ultimately win through intelligence, intuition and kindness.

On writing . . .

Q: What made you want to write?

A: I've loved reading as long as I can remember and I'm sure my writing grew from that. When I was eight, my mother gave me her old electric typewriter and I immediately started writing.

Q: Where did the idea for the PHANTOM STALLION series originate?

A: Part of it was born in that old Selectric. According to my parents, my first story told the tale of a wild pinto stallion and the girl who loved him. I remember trying to "fix" the fact that most adventure stories I'd read had boys as the main characters. The idea fully came to fruition, however, in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Working as a magazine reporter specializing in gritty stories, I rode along on a ten day cattle drive. I lagged behind the herd, daydreaming. One day, after a storm, I thought I saw a white horse in a canyon, but then it vanished. It must have been a low-lying cloud or mist, but my imagination just took off. It was only later that I discovered many cultures-as far-flung as Native American tribes and villagers in Japan's river valleys-tell stories about wild white horses with mystical speed.

Q: What do you like best about writing?

A: Writing fulfills my wildest dreams.

I get to go anywhere I want and do what I want. When I hear from readers who can't put the book down or who talk about my characters (human and equine) as if they're real, it's the perfect intersection of all my goals as a writer, teacher and mother

Q: Young readers aren't reluctant to give their favorite authors advice. What do you think of your readers' online skirmishes over the relationship between Jake and Samantha?

A: Most of all, I'm delighted that my characters are real to my readers, and it's true that some readers are clamoring for a romance. I blame this on Jake. He's quiet, cool, and a Native American natural with horses. Given Sam's volatile nature and his calm one, they drive each other crazy, but Jake will remain a solid male friend Sam can trust.

Q: What advice would you give to would-be children's writers?

A: Write what you would have loved as a child and don't try to fit into a niche. I was lucky that HarperCollins wanted to publish what I wanted to write, but that "luck" took ten years o happen. My first agent read the beginning of WILD ONE and sent it back to me, but I loved the idea and kept writing and making notes.

It was a good thing, too, because my new agent loved the book, sold it, and when my publisher wanted more, I was prepared.

Write what you love, because if you don't, the kids will know you're faking it.

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© Terri Farley