|Milton C. Toby photograph|
By Milton C. Toby
Writing nonfiction is, for me at any rate, a very research-intensive pursuit. I learned the ropes from Kent Hollingsworth and Ed Bowen, my editors during a dozen years at Blood-Horse magazine, and they both were sticklers for accuracy in reporting. I took their lessons to heart, to the point that I typically spend at least as much time researching a topic as I do writing about it. Sometimes the ratio of research-to-writing is skewed heavily toward fact-finding.
When the research goes well, the writing usually moves along at a relatively smooth and comfortable pace. When the writing bogs down, on the other hand, the reason often is that I don't have enough information. This is when I stare blankly at my computer screen and envy my fiction author friends who have the luxury of making something up to write themselves out of a corner.
The story of Dancer's Image and his controversial disqualification for a drug positive in the 1968 Kentucky Derby focused on the proceedings at a lengthy hearing before the state racing commission. Without the transcript of the hearing--some 400-plus pages--there were serious gaps in the story and how I could tell it. The problem was that, more than 40 years after the fact, none of the usual sources had a complete copy of the transcript-- not the attorneys involved, not the appellate court, not the state racing commission, not the court reporters.
Working at the Keeneland Library with a deadline looming for my book about Dancer's Image, I found myself trying to write around the gaps in what I knew about happened at the racing commission hearing. The Keeneland Library is a wonderful treasure trove of information about Thoroughbred racing. Director Becky Ryder and Librarian Cathy Schenck are among the most knowledgeable and helpful people on the planet. A few months ago, Cathy was named winner of the prestigious National Turf Writers and Broadcasters 2015 Joe Palmer Award for meritorious service to racing. Way to go, Cathy!
|Winner of the Dr. Tony Ryan Award for|
the best book about Thoroughbred racing and an
American Horse Publications Editorial Award
for the best equine book of the year.
Inside was the complete transcript of the hearing. I was flabbergasted. I had given up on ever seeing the entire transcript and for some reason it never occurred to me to look in the most logical place of all, a library devoted to preserving the history of Thoroughbred racing.
Conventional wisdom holds that writing is a solitary activity, and that's true. Writing this, I'm sitting at my computer in the company of Plumpkin and Sherlock, our two rescue cats. (I count this as a solitary activity due to the almost complete disdain shown my work by the felines.) Effective research, on the other hand, takes a village. For me, The Keeneland Library and the staff are essential parts of my village.