August 28, 2020

Imaginary Friends Put Into Books

Kim Vogel Sawyer

When I was a little girl, my parents tell me, I had myriad imaginary friends with whom I carried on conversations and brought along on every excursion. Well, here I am, well past my “little girl” age, and I still have imaginary friends. I just put them into my stories.

A lot of writers are plot-driven. They come up with a scenario and then place characters into the situation. I’m character-driven. I see a vintage photograph in an antique store or a picture in a magazine, and something in the person’s expression captures my attention. Then curiosity compels me to learn that person’s backstory. As imagination takes a flight of fancy, the character develops in my mind and begins to reveal his or her situation, as odd as that might sound to people who are normal (you know, people who don’t write fiction for a living). And that is how Addie Cowherd, Bettina Webber, Nanny Fay Tuckett, and Emmett Tharp came to life in my head and subsequently on the page.

A couple years ago, I saw a photograph of a young woman on horseback handing a book over a cabin’s railing to another woman. The caption indicated it was a Pack Horse Library delivery. With my curiosity stirred, I did a little research about the program; and before long the woman on horseback in the photograph introduced herself as Bettina Webber, a life-long resident of Boone’s Hollow, Kentucky. Bettina harbored two secrets, and the money she earned as a pack horse librarian was going to take her out of the hills and to a big city before anyone in Boone’s Hollow could uncover those secrets.

As I usually do when the elements of story are cooking in the back of my mind, I did an online search for photographs of the Depression Era. I found a winsome-faced young woman who raised her hand and timidly requested to be included in the story. So city-dweller Addie Cowherd joined the band of horseback librarians…but not by choice. This job was a thorough distraction from her goal of finishing college and becoming a novelist.

A serious-looking young man also caught my eye. He grew up in Boone’s Hollow and—thanks to scholarships—earned a college education, but how was he supposed to make use of it during a time when jobs are scarce? Returning to Boone’s Hollow, where men made their living running illegal moonshine or laboring in the coal mines, was never his intention. But sometimes life takes us in directions we couldn’t foresee.

One last image—a woman with snow white hair and a gentle expression full of smile lines—grabbed hold of my heart. I knew she belonged in the story. Because she didn’t have anywhere else to belong. She’d faced endless rejection during her lifetime, but maybe…just maybe…she would find a friend in this city gal who’s come to help with the book-carryin’. Wouldn’t that be something?

It never ceases to amaze me how people in a one-dimensional image become three-dimensional in my mind. But they do. And somehow in the course of telling their stories, I learn something along the way. One of the themes that grew intrinsically from these characters’ interactions is how each of us possess a deep need for love and acceptance. So often, like Bettina, we try to force someone to love us, and sometimes that “someone” doesn’t have our best interests at heart. Or, if we’re more like Emmett, we try to earn love by turning ourselves into someone we really aren’t, and our heart’s call gets trampled in the process. Love is a wonderful thing, but it fails to satisfy us when we look for it in wrong directions.

Nanny Fay’s life was rife with disappointment, yet despite her many heartaches, she was content. She leaned into the source of love that never fails, never rejects, never demands, and never ends. She taught me that no human relationship, no matter how wonderful, will last forever. Everything of earth is temporal, but the relationship she had with her Source of Love is eternal. Because she had tapped into the true Source of Love, she was able to share His love with those around her. Her tenacity to be kind even the face of unkindness challenged me to follow the biblical instruction of being kind even to one’s enemies. Oh, how I fell in love with this woman who let life’s hardships make her better instead of bitter.

I truly wish Nanny Fay lived next door to me. I’d invite her for coffee every day. Since that isn’t possible, I’ll just visit her on the pages of The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow. I suspect she’ll welcome me as openly as she welcomed Addie. Won’t that be something?

Best-selling, award-winning author Kim Vogel Sawyer is highly acclaimed for her “gentle stories of hope.” Readers and reviewers alike are drawn to her books and the life lessons contained within the pages. Kim dreamed of being a writer from her earliest memories, and her little-girl dream came true in 2006 with the release of Waiting for Summer’s Return. Now with over 1.5 million books in print in six different languages, she praises God for blessing her far beyond her imaginings. When Kim isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling with her retired military hubby, quilting, performing in community theater, and spoiling her quiverful of granddarlings.


  1. I can't wait to read this book! You find your characters like I do mine. I have so many photos from that era, and a couple from family archives I'll share with you. You might find a new "friend."

  2. Kim,

    Thank you for this remarkable backstory and insight about how you find some of your stories. Boone Hollow is fascinating and as someone who has deep family roots in Kentucky, your piece makes me eager to read about it (probably one of the results you hoped from writing this piece--so well-done).

    author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

  3. Ane, I would love to see those family photos! And, Terry, I hope I did your family's "stompin' grounds" justice. :) Thanks for popping in!

  4. Thank you Kim, a wonderful post. I enjoy character driver stories.