I didn't read one of my favorite children's novels as a child; I read it when I was twenty. I had just spent my first year overseas: my brain was teeming with images and ideas and plans. Back home in Texas, I joined my family on a road trip to Montana, to mark out a little of the Lewis and Clark trail from our hired minivan. I had the soundtrack to Almost Famous in my transportable CD-player, and the wide vistas of last frontier out the windows. That's when I read the novel Sarah, Plain and Tall.
After all the theology and philosophy and literature I had read that past year (all really good stuff, igniting deep fires in the brain), Sarah, Plain, and Tall arrived like a goldfinch, at first - gold, bright, melodic. Then, it went deeper. The story settled within me, like ballast.
The story is a healing one, a story about trust and love, told in simple terms and kind words.
With Sarah, Plain and Tall on one side - Simon and Garfunkel's "America" in my ears - and the long spread of green, mellow pastures with rising mountains in the distance on my other side: I started writing The River Boy. It was in an old school spiral. I wrote double-spaced, the thick line of empty paper between each line of words, markings in pencil.
Good stories alight. Great stories settle in. They change us, help us. And sometimes, they even compel us to see etchings of another story - a new one, our own. Characters never seen before ask to come closer. Props like quilts and stones and rivers are suddenly at hand, eager to be used. The cadence of words sound out along the lines of what hopes to be a good story . . .