More on Missionville

Book excerpt: Missionville: Chapter 4

What do you want to accomplish with Missionville?
I wanted to use fiction to further my passion for horses, and the welfare of horses. Missionville basically illustrates the horse racing industry at its lower-end. I don’t think this has been exhaustively covered in other fiction, with a few exceptions.

But I also wanted to show that not everyone in the industry is bad, nor is everyone good. I hope the interactions that Amanda has, with some of the horsemen on the backside, are a good illustration of this. I also try to show that we are a product of our environment, and it’s our environment, in this case the racetrack and its rules, that helps dictate our behavior.

Tell us more about Missionville, the place.
Missionville is a racetrack, in a town by the same name, which is a small fictional town in rural Pennsylvania. Missionville, the town, used to be a thriving mining community through to the mid-80s. The mining plant has since closed, and many local jobs have gone with it.

The town has its own newspaper, the Missionville Times; its circulation has been hit heavily by the flight of its population to larger cities on the east coast, as well as a result of the internet. The town also has a bar that is popular with the racetrack crowd, Jessup’s. It has a good Italian restaurant, Zucchini’s, a local bank, gas station, and a drug store. Most other businesses have either closed down or left.

The racetrack has steadily declined over the years, despite getting a casino license eight years ago. Not many people attend the races. Life on the backside is tough, with many horsemen barely surviving from pay check to pay check. The racetrack bar, Poker’s, which is adjacent to the paddock, is where the racetrack guys tend to hang out, when at the races.

Missionville is about an hour’s drive from Owenscreek, a market town, which hosts a horse auction each Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes, thoroughbreds from Missionville are sold through this auction.

What inspired your settings in Missionville?
I have worked at Missionville, but it’s not a fictionalization of one particular track I worked at; it’s a combination of Penn National (there’s a bar adjacent to the paddock at Penn National, for example), Woodbine (at least two characters are based on people I met at Woodbine), Sam Houston Race Park, Presque Isle Downs, Oaklawn Park, Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

I have visited Owenscreek on a number of occasions, but it’s not a fictionalization of one particular auction; it’s a combination of Sugarcreek, OH, OLEX, Waterloo, CA, New Holland, PA, and Shipshewana, IN.

The Missionville Times is based off my experience with the Cecil Whig. The local bank, where Amanda works, is based off my own bank in the United States, Cecil Bank. Zucchini’s is oddly a lovely Italian restaurant, just outside of Gweek, in Cornwall, UK.

Who is Pete?
Pete’s a good looking guy, so he’s not me! But there is a piece of me in Pete, in terms of how his character evolves. Like Pete, I was pretty oblivious of the plight of horses, once they were no longer in my care. Like Pete, once I more fully realized their plight, I tried to make a difference. A few of my friends – if they read the book – might see a little of themselves in Pete, that’s not coincidental.

Who is Amanda?
Amanda represents the many people who work on the off-track side, rehabbing or retiring racehorses. There are many organizations and people committed to this work.

Why write the book?
Honestly, I thought writing fiction would be an interesting challenge. Most of my writing, to date, has been non-fiction. So I enrolled in a local course for creative writing, I also joined a local writers’ group. I learned some of the essence of writing fiction, and then embarked on this journey.

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Praise for Missionville

Missionville: a horse racing novel

Missionville is available on, and

“There are two versions of horse racing in the American narrative: the sunny version where everyone loves their horses like children and a stakes win is just a dream away, and the dark clouds version where every horse is marked for death from the day it is foaled, handled by so-called horsemen who couldn’t care less as long as there’s a pay check. Naturally the truth lays well in-between. In Missionville, racing insider Alex Brown tells it like it is: a deeply flawed industry where even passionate horsemen and women can be dragged down by a tough lifestyle, hopeless options, and sheer hard luck. Unflinching and yet not overwrought, this book lays bare a fractured world of horses, the people who love them, and the people who exploit them, which somehow isn’t yet beyond redemption.”
-Natalie Keller Reinert, Author of Turning for Home

“Alex Brown, a lifelong horseman, takes you on a journey few are capable of providing, to life on the backside of a hardscrabble Pennsylvania racetrack, showing the pressures that bear on both the horses and the humans, and the possibilities for it all going off the track. He takes you to the real underbelly of the sport. He gives you characters you can root for as they face moral dilemmas. He tells a good tale while he’s giving you the tour. A terrific read.”
–Mike Jensen, journalist, Philadelphia Inquirer, winner of an Eclipse Award

“Behind the grandeur and pageantry of American horse racing there is a dark secret playing out. Author Alex Brown transports his readers to rural Pennsylvania, where heart-pounding action and heartbreak intertwine at the Missionville Racetrack. A captivating read, Missionville excels in its narrative of love, life – and death – on the racetrack’s backside.”
–Jordan Schatz, Sports Editor, Cecil Whig

“Alex Brown’s Missionville takes an unwavering look at a beloved sport. You probably remember Brown’s affecting writing about Barbaro, the doomed 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, and here he takes on a portrait of a downtrodden fictional racetrack. Brown writes with a true insider’s understanding of the depth of passion that people have for horses and watching them run. It isn’t an easy read—slaughter, drugs, and real desperation are all here—but Missionville gives readers a compelling look into the simultaneously troubled and beautiful world of horse racing.”
-Eliza McGraw, Author of Here Comes Exterminator!

“Set at the Missionville Racetrack, this novel is a close-up look at the backside culture at a racetrack that lets us in on the worries, triumphs, and concerns for the horses that are at the mercies of their owners. This is a fast-paced read that is educational as well as entertaining.”
–Shelley Mickle, author of Barbaro and American Pharoah

“An intriguing horse mystery written by someone who obviously knows the industry. A great mix of horse knowledge, racing highlights, romance and an inside scoop on the controversial slaughtering of retired racehorses.”
–Christine Meunier, author of the Thoroughbred Breeders series

“While bringing such rich life to the largely hidden world of Missionville Racetrack, Alex Brown turns an unflinching eye on the modern horse racing industry, its flaws along with its many virtues. A must read for anyone with even a passing interest in the sport.”
–Dan Ross, journalist with bylines in Newsweek and the Guardian

“Missionville is a fast-paced read that grips the reader from the start and provides a ride that is both eye-opening and entertaining. It’s not easy to make the seedy underground network that drives horse racing and horse slaughter entertaining, but Brown manages to pull it off with vivid characters and a gripping storyline. In the end, he presents no easy answers for the complexities of the issue, but leaves the reader with hope for the future of the nation’s horses. Highly recommend; a great piece of work.”
–Sharon Boeckle, filmmaker, director and producer, From the Kill Pen

“Alex Brown is a prominent opponent of horse slaughter whose blog posts about Barbaro held the Kentucky Derby winner’s fans in thrall as the colt struggled, and ultimately failed, to recover from a broken leg. Brown’s fans will be glad to see his byline again, this time on a novel that reports from one of Thoroughbred racing’s low rungs: the fictional Missionville Racetrack in Pennsylvania, where denizens of the track confront, and sometimes challenge, their own moral decay in a world where horses are used, discarded, and ‘disappear’ into the slaughter pipeline, even as others try to adhere to their love for the animals and protect them from such a fate. Brown’s first effort as a novelist provides a rare insight into the little-covered nuts and bolts of how horses once considered valuable can end up in a dreadful situation, as well as the thought processes of the people who put them there, the people who come to question those decisions, and those who work to change a world where desperation can lead to serious moral peril. It is a bleak tale, but not without a few happy endings, some human redemption, and an education for the reader.”
–Glenye Cain Oakford, author of The Home Run Horse

Missionville is fiction based on fact, but don’t think Alex Brown’s book in any way exaggerates or distorts the truth to make it more sensationalist, far from it. Brown has worked in the industry and knows at first-hand what goes on. Brown tells it like it is, and tells it very well.”
–Will Jones, author of The Black Horse Inside Coolmore

“I could not put it down. It is a riveting read, a thrilling equine literary ride. Alex Brown illustrates a realistic narrative of the racing world culture and paints a wonderful landscape of the backside dynamics. Brown’s book also provides a clear lens into the equine slaughter pipeline.”
–Kristen Halverson, author of A Horse’s Magical Neigh

“Alex Brown provides an authentic insight into what lies beneath the glamour of horse racing. Brown holds a mirror up to a disturbing side of the horse industry, exposing deep flaws and depraved deeds.”
–Caitlin Taylor, OTTB Designs