Heartland Inspiration

While some may look across the rolling Heartland plains and see quiet, solemn emptiness, rising young adult author Sara Walsh saw a panoramic backdrop perfect for an epic, romantic fantasy.

“You can’t help but be inspired,” says Walsh of the land that she describes as remote, vast and beautiful.

Originally from Britain, Walsh moved to Prairie Village, Kan., with her American husband in 2007. While she had graduated from college with a degree in psychology and went on to work in a British high school for seven years, a creative muse beckoned.

“I have always written,” says Walsh. “But I have always done more adult writing.”

Sara Walsh and her newly-released young adult book, “The Dark Light.”

She notes that she has long enjoyed working with teens and is drawn to the energy and immediacy inherent in teen fiction.

So perhaps it was not surprising that in a perfect storm of creative revelation, her passion for writing, interest in young adults and time spent in the Sunflower State fused together in what Walsh later described as a “lightning bolt moment.” Her vision eventually came to fruition in her newly-released young adult book, “The Dark Light” (Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse, 2012).

“We were actually on a road trip from Kansas City to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming,” explains Walsh. “There had been a dreadful story in the news about a young boy who had gone missing at about age 4 or 5 and then turned up alive 10 years later. We got to talking about that story in the car, and I started looking at the plains and empty spaces. We were in the middle of nowhere. It got me to thinking about all the places where a person could disappear. What might really be out there and what might happen if someone stumbled into those places? These two ideas came together in ‘The Dark Light.’”

Walsh says her experience in the Heartland was a dramatic departure from life in Britain.

“We don’t have these kinds of open spaces in Britain,” says Walsh. “The Midwest is such a unique part of the country. The land is so overwhelming and almost other-worldly.”

Walsh was working on other story projects during her nearly three years in the Kansas City area and did not start writing “The Dark Light” until two years ago when she and her husband moved to Annapolis, Md.

However, her husband and in-laws’ roots in Iowa and Nebraska helped fuel her imagination as she put her Nebraska-based story to paper on the East Coast.

In a whirlwind sequence of events, Walsh penned “The Dark Light” within five or six months, then queried agents and before she knew it, the book was sold. It has been in production for the past 18 months.

Walsh hints that the book gives some discreet nods to Kansas City. For example, Mia, the 17-year-old main character in “The Dark Light,” waitresses at a restaurant called Mickey’s, which was loosely modeled after an iconic Kansas City dining establishment.

“It was like giving a little wink to Stroud’s,” Walsh says.

On August 28, 2012, Walsh celebrated the book’s official release and subsequently appeared at Barnes and Noble at Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kan., on September 9, 2012 to sign autographs for eager fans.

Copies of “The Dark Light,” which is aimed at the age 14 and older market, sold out that day to enthusiastic crowds.

“It was really neat coming back for the book signing,” says Walsh.’” The Dark Light’ was conceived and outlined while I was in the Kansas City area and the book really came full circle with my Kansas City signing.”

Today, Walsh is back to doing what she does best: writing several hours a day, promoting her hot-off-the-press fantasy novel, drinking Earl Grey tea (she is a self-professed “tea fiend”) and spending time with her husband and 165-pound St. Bernard, Rosie.

As with any great story, the next chapter of Walsh’s life is surely destined to be a magical one.

Watch for a special Barnes & Noble in-store promotion at Oak Park Mall that will offer a limited number of signed posters and bookmarks with the purchase of “The Dark Light.”

photos: Tamela Kemp