Friday, August 3, 2012



“What is it that sparks a story?” A reader asked me that question recently. For some writers it can be how an experience made them feel, an article they can’t get out of their mind, or a culmination of similar experiences that build until they’re strong enough to compound and shape a story.

For me it was the look of a nine-year-old boy I barely knew in the 4-H barn at the county fair.

He’d just finished telling me about his mischievous show calf and how the steer would bolt into the field when the trailer came out, putting the boy’s father in a patch full of pricker bushes. Shortly after telling me that story, the boy was told to lead his calf—the first one he’d ever shown--into the ring to sell at the auction. I followed behind and overheard an older competitor give the boy some advice: “Leave a bucket of water and the halter on the hay bale after its sold and you’re done!”

The inspiration for ELI in my novel, LITTLE JOE
When the boy and his calf entered the show ring, the boy looked as if he’d seen a ghost. Around and around he went with his show animal, until the bidding stopped.

I’ll never forget the look of that young boy once he’d sold his calf. He’d fled into the midway after letting go of the reins, but not before revealing his pain. And I knew I had to write about what he’d been feeling. That I had the end of my story, and now I had to go back to the beginning.

That was four years ago today. It was also a picture book manuscript-turned-into-a-middle-grade novel, later. The Wayne County Fair in Honesdale, Pennsylvania begins this weekend, and it’s where I found my story. The tiny, rural community near Scranton also shaped the first ten years of my married life and enabled me to become a writer, in an office surrounded by cow pastures and wildlife I could see up close for the first time.

I think about the hundreds of kids I watched compete at that Fair back then--sometimes for 10 days at a time--of how much I learned, and how they inspired so many characters in my novel,  Little Joe.


  1. Great story, Sandra. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi, Andy,

    So happy you enjoyed reading about the "birth" of my story, LITTLE JOE. Maybe you even got to the Wayne County Fair last week, as you live so close, I bet you could almost smell the kettle corn! I think about that fair every year at this time with fond memories--from those melty ice-cream waffle sandwiches, to the frenetic activity in the Beef and Hog barns. Thanks for commenting, Andy.I hope things are going well.

  3. Awe, such a sweet story! I love the spontaneity of writing and how you just never know what is going to spark that flame of inspiration. Congratulations on Little Joe! I will have to get a copy for my two little boys. They will love it! :)


  4. Hi Melissa,

    Hope you enjoy LITTLE JOE. (P.S. In case you don't know, I now blog on my website & am running a CONTEST TO WIN A FREE COPY OF LITTLE JOE right now. Just like the post on FACEBOOK and your entered!

    Visit me at