"Where do you get your ideas?" It's the question writers are asked most often.
The most obvious clues to the inspirations for THE SEVEN WONDERS OF SASSAFRAS SPRINGS are right there in the book's dedication:

To the many wonderful storytellers in my family,
especially my father, Ed Griesbaum,
who has preserved the stories of two families
and carved a magic village of his own.

To the memory of my grandmother,
Ella Hinson Mohrmann,
who enthralled and delighted my sister and me
with her stories of growing up in the country.

To the memory of my mother,
Ella Mohrmann Griesbaum,
and her father, Herman Mohrmann,
who both always loved to pass along a good story.

To my editor Caitlyn Dlouhy,
the eighth wonder of Sassafras Springs

And to good storytellers everywhere.

Let's take a look at that more carefully.

My father, Ed Griesbaum, has not only told stories of his childhood in the country ... and of his harrowing experiences in World War II ... but he also took the time to write down all kinds of little stories from both his family and my mother's.

But did he really carve a magic village of his own? Absolutely. Before my sister and I were born, he carved an elaborate Christmas village to put beneath the tree. The prospect of a tree, of stockings, presents and school vacation paled in comparison with the anticipation of setting up the village! To read more about it, click here. Hometown, Missouri, may not have predicted the future ... but it did end up inspiring an important part of THE SEVEN WONDERS OF SASSAFRAS SPRINGS.

Christmas Village

As much as we loved Dad's stories of life on the farm as a young boy, my sister and I were equally fascinated with Grandma's tales of the country. Ella Hinson Mohrmann didn't mind stretching the truth a little if it made the story better. She was interested in the effect her story made on her audience - just like a writer!

There were tales of quicksand and jaguars, and of a table that walked through a graveyard. (That should sound familiar to those who've read the book.) And stories about a sleepwalking man riding off in the night on his horse, sound asleep ... and children's pranks, like sewing a teacher's pant legs together. Nothing had more influence on SASSAFRAS SPRINGS than Grandma's tales of Lonedell, Missouri. Grandma also loved to crochet and bake pies ... which sounds a lot like Aunt Pretty. Unlike Aunt Pretty, she moved to the city at a young age, fell in love and married. Of course, she married a good storyteller!

My grandfather, Herman Mohrmann and his siblings could more than hold their own with thumping good stories of growing up in the city of St. Louis. Again, the details were often altered to make the story a little more interesting. My mother, Ella Mohrmann Griesbaum, passed on the stories of both her parents with lots of humor, which was her specialty. I miss laughing with her most of all, but my sister Janet and I still enjoy telling stories about her!

Then along came an editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, who bought the first version of THE SEVEN WONDERS OF SASSAFRAS SPRINGS. It was about half the length of the final book, and she urged me to expand it to what it is today. Once she called Sassafras Springs "the most wonderful place that never existed ... but you wish it did." That statement really helped me "grow" the story. Many people think editors just rewrite sentences and fix grammar and punctuation and make sure a book gets printed on time and has a cover to go with it. But Caitlyn proved that the right editor paired with the right book can be an inspiration to the writer - and an invaluable help.

Finally, to good storytellers everywhere: that would include my Great Aunt Irene, Great Uncle Raymond, Great Aunt Minnie and her daughter, Pat Pree, Great Uncle Fred, my husband, Frank Birney, our old family friend, Kim, my neighbors, Don and Mary Specht, a guy named Chuck Ferrara I worked with in Chicago ... and I hope it includes you! Pass on the funny, scary, eerie and true stories you know. Some day, they might even grow into a book!

Another storyteller who influenced this book is Richard Halliburton, an adventurer who wrote books for children recounting his explorations in the 1920s and 1930s. We still have his BOOK OF MARVELS on our shelf and my husband was entranced by it as a child.

Book of Marvels

It's just the kind of book that Eben might have been reading on the front porch that night and yes, it does include the Seven Wonders of the World. I also acknowledge the undeniable influence of my fellow Missourian, Mark Twain, and his masterful creation, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, which is still my favorite book, and Edgar Lee Masters, whose SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY hauntingly details extraordinary events in the lives of ordinary people in a small Illinois town in the form of poems. I directed a theatrical version of this book as a play in high school.

And if my son, Walshe, hadn't been intrigued by the Seven Wonders of the World as a child, illustrated by Matt PhelanI might never have dreamed up Eben McAllister. Now, at age 20, Walshe is already a world traveler, having traveled extensively in the United States, and has visited Canada, Mexico, Finland, St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia, Paris, Zurich ... and spent a whole semester in Thessaloniki, Greece, on the Aegean Sea. He speaks Russian, French and Greek. Wouldn't Eben like that?

And by the way, there's more than one way to tell a story ... as illustrator Matt Phelan proved with his wonderful drawings for THE SEVEN WONDERS OF SASSAFRAS SPRINGS.