One of my favorite parts of the writing process is deciding on and creating settings for my books. When I’m deciding on a setting, I consider interesting places I’ve visited and places my readers will find exciting and unique. In order for me to portray a setting realistically, it’s important for me to feel comfortable with the setting details. Where do these details come from? Often, details come from first-hand experience.
Happy Farm Life Memories
Farms have played an important role in my life. My family has a farm in Pennsylvania that has been in our family for over 150 years. While I grew up in California, I spent a few weeks every summer visiting my grandpa’s farm in PA.
I rode tractors and combines, graded and bagged potatoes, swam in the nearby creek and hiked through the woods behind the farm. Now, my parents live on this farm. My children and I visit the farm several times each year. It’s a special place for me, full of fond childhood memories, beauty, and the warmth and love of family.
When I wrote A Tale Magnolious and Shake It Off, my grandfather’s farm was never far from my thoughts.
Nitty and Magnolious discover family, love, and freedom on the magical farm in A Tale Magnolious.
In Shake It Off, main character Bria makes important discoveries about herself on the farm. She grows more comfortable with who she is and is able, through her experiences on the farm, to become a better and more loyal friend.
Family-owned farms were once a staple in our nation. They were one of our greatest food sources. Sadly, it is becoming more and more difficult for family-owned and operated farms to survive in modern times. Like Dawson’s dairy farm in Shake It Off, many family farms today are threatened by large, corporate agricultural operations.
When I was writing these two books, I wanted to convey how special and truly unique family farms are. However, my grandpa’s farm was a potato farm. For Shake It Off, I also needed to learn about dairy farms and tourist-driven farming operations as well.
Visiting and Researching Family Farms
Luckily, I have three children! Having children makes doing first-hand research easier and more fun! When our children were younger, we visited Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I was able to see some of the milking operations and eat delicious homemade ice cream in their creamery.
The kids also got to take rides on a “train” made of hollowed out feed barrels.
More recently, I’ve visited the sprawling and activity-filled Barton Orchards in Poughquag, New York. The orchard boasts an enormous corn maze, a petting zoo, acres of orchards and sunflowers, a farm stand, a haunted house, and bakery, and a food concessions.
I’ve gotten properly lost in the corn maze, screamed my way through the haunted house, and picked bags full of crisp apples. I even ran into a goat that reminded me of “Tulip the Goat” in Shake it Off.
The red buildings at Barton Orchards were similar to the ones I pictured for Dawson’s Dairy and Creamery in Shake It Off. But the creamery itself was inspired by my experience eating at the creamery at Young’s Jersey Dairy.
A Kaleidoscope of Experiences Make a Setting
More often than not, inspiration for setting comes from a combination of real-life locations, experiences, and memories. Sometimes, as in the case of A Tale Magnolious, the setting itself is entirely fictional. Still, the emotions it invokes and the atmosphere it creates in the story come from deep within my heart.
They are the same warm emotions I felt whenever I visited my grandpa’s farm as a child. His farm was a place I felt welcomed and loved and safe. I wanted Nitty and Magnolious to feel this way on Windle’s farm in A Tale Magnolious. I wanted Bria to learn to love the farm in Shake It Off so that she could feel the magic of it, too.
Farms will always hold a special place in my heart. I hope you sense that when you read these two books. The next time you come upon or, better yet, visit a family-owned and operated farm, soak up its rare and wonderful charm with a smile.
More Fun Farm-Life Reading
If you’re in the market for more fun books about farm life, give these a try:
Squashed, by Joan Bauer, is a charming and delightful coming-of-age about friends, farm life, and gigantic pumpkins.
Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell, is a fast-paced, sweet and quirky YA graphic novel about pumpkin patches, hayrides, and rogue goats gone wild.