Today, I’d like to welcome Milt Toby, a guest on Walker Author Tours. He’s here to talk about his book, Noor — the story of a race horse. Welcome, Toby.
Tell us about your book.
Noor is the best Thoroughbred no one remembers. He was owned by Charles S. Howard, who is most famous as Seabiscuit’s owner, but in 1950 Noor was as good as any horse, anywhere. He defeated Citation four times in California that year, set three world records in the process, and would have been Horse of the Year if the voting had taken place after the Hollywood Gold Cup rather than before the race. Noor died after a mediocre career at stud, and he was buried in an unmarked grave on a Northern California farm. No one gave the horse another thought until a few years ago, when commercial development threatened the farm. An avid race fan named Charlotte Farmer wanted Noor’s memory preserved and she spearheaded a campaign to locate the horse’s grave, exhume the remains, and ship them to Kentucky for reburial. Noor now lies at Old Friends, a Thoroughbred retirement farm a few miles from my house. Noor: A Champion Thoroughbred’s Unlikely Journey from California to Kentucky is Noor’s story, and Charlotte’s.
Where can we find out more about you and buy your book?
My website is www.miltonctoby.com, where readers can find biographical information, read excerpts from my most recent books about Noor and Dancer’s Image, and order signed copies.
Where did you get the idea for the story?
Noor is two related stories, separated in time by more than half-century. The culmination of Charlotte Farmer’s campaign to locate Noor’s unmarked gravesite in California and move the horse’s remains to another site for reburial was a cross-country trek to Old Friends near Georgetown, Kentucky. I live a few miles from Old Friends, and I was at the ceremony when Noor’s remains arrived. After talking with Charlotte for a while, I realized this was a fascinating story that needed to be told.
What is your greatest writing challenge?
It depends on where I am in the life of the project. Early on, it’s coming up with a viable idea, which often is the most difficult part of the entire process. Then it’s deciding what research needs to be done and how to locate those resources. Then it’s deciding what’s relevant to the story and what isn’t. Getting things on paper is last, and sometimes the hardest, but by then I have a pretty good picture in my mind about where the story is going.
What do you find most rewarding in writing a book?
Going beyond what people think they know about a subject.
Tell us about your previous work.
Noor is my seventh book, all non-fiction, all relating in some way to horse racing or equine law. (I’m an attorney in another life.) Dancer’s Image: The Forgotten Story of the 1968 Kentucky Derby, won the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award as the best book about Thoroughbred racing published in 2011 and an American Horse Publications editorial award as the best equine book of the year. The Complete Equine Law & Business Handbook is being used in undergraduate equine law courses at several colleges and universities. Ruffian, part of the Legends series published by Eclipse Press, is a biography of the ill-fated filly that I think was the best race horse ever.
I have two novels that I’m shopping to agents and publishers, and a short story, Victims, was published in a recent issue of Hardboiled magazine.
What other projects do you have coming up?
Noor was published in September 2012, and I’ve spent the last couple of months looking for the next book idea. I haven’t settled on anything yet, but I’m intrigued by the kidnapping of the Thoroughbred stallion Shergar in Ireland in the early 1980s—who doesn’t want to spend some time in Ireland—and by a Breeders Cup betting scandal that probably never would have been discovered if a 40-1 longshot hadn’t won the Classic.
I’ve also got queries out to s few military history magazines pitching an article about a little mare named Reckless that became a decorated hero during the Korean War.
Do you write full time? If so, tell us how you manage it. If not, what is your day job?
Yes and no, depending on how you define “write.” For me, the majority of my time is spent thinking about whatever project I’m working on at the time, whether it’s a book or magazine article, or a book proposal or query, which seldom involves sitting in front of a computer. The downside of that approach is that thinking often looks more like goofing off than it looks like working.
Being able to devote as much time as necessary to a project—within the constraints of publisher-imposed deadlines, of course—is a luxury I enjoy because of the most supportive spouse on the planet. She has far more faith in what I write than I do!
I also have a law practice, although I’ve been scaling that part of my life back during the last few years. When my practice was in full gear, I spent most of my time representing inmates on Death Row. I also teach an equine law class in the University of Louisville’s equine program.
What is your writing process like–do you outline first or just start writing, etc.?
With non-fiction, you sell an idea rather than a completed manuscript, so it’s necessary to have a fairly detailed outline to show a potential publisher. I start with a very general idea of where the book or article is going, but my research always leads me off in some other direction. Sometimes that works, sometimes not so much. The end result always resembles what I had in mind when I came up with the idea, but the structure is shaped by the research. You have to be organized enough to draft a comprehensive outline, but flexible enough to toss the outline in the trash if necessary.
Do you work with a writing group or mentor? Why or why not? If you do, what do you get out of it?
I’ve tried writing groups and a very good mentor, and the feedback was useful. In the end, though, I think there is a danger of putting too much stock in what others say about your work. With non-fiction, one of the most important things is to have someone who is familiar with the subject read the manuscript. When I haven’t paid enough attention to this step in the past, I’ve regretted it because embarrassing errors creep in no matter how careful you are. Once you decide a statement is true—or well written—you don’t notice the mistake any more.