M.J. Evans is the author of 22 books, most of which are centered on horses or horse-fantasy creatures. As a life-long equestrian, she loves combining her love of horses with her passion for writing. Born and raised in Oregon and a graduate of Oregon State University, she is a former junior high and high school teacher. She now lives in Colorado with her husband, a standard poodle, and two horses. Visit her at www.dancinghorsepress.com.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
M.J. Evans: As a life-long equestrian, I love combining my addiction to horses with my passion for writing. I am always on the lookout for interesting and little-known horse stories. I stumbled across “The Sand Pounders,” the U.S. Coast Guard’s mounted beach patrol during World War II, when someone sent me a picture of them and said I should use them as the basis for a novel. I was curious and started researching.
I had never heard of the Sand Pounders before and was eager to learn about them. The more I searched, the more excited I became. I was even able to acquire the declassified report the Coast Guard filed after the war. The story quickly began to form in my brain and I knew I had found my next book.
SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Evans: I selected two short excerpts from the beginning of the book that introduce the themes in the story. Jane, the protagonist, is a high school senior at the beginning of the book, facing the challenges imposed upon her with the advent of the U.S. involvement in World War II and how it affects her life and the lives of those around her.
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A subplot in the story is about the internment of those of Japanese heritage who were sent to camps during the war. I introduce this through her friendship with her Japanese neighbors.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write?
Evans: I grew up in Oregon. My father had served briefly in World War II and took us to visit Fort Stevens on the Oregon Coast. Fort Stevens was the only place on the continental U.S. that was shelled during the war.
Having grown up in Oregon, I am very familiar with the Oregon coast. I selected Tillamook as the site for the book not only because of its proximity to Fort Stevens and a large Coast Guard station but also because it was the location of the hangers where the blimps were built. Thus, the war very much impacted the lives of those living in Tillamook. (Plus, they make great cheese!)
The Sand Pounders patrolled beaches on horseback for two years, from 1942 to 1944. The Oregon beaches were some of those where the Sand Pounders patrolled as the men kept an eye out for possible invasions.
Having lived in Oregon, I was very familiar with people whose families had been sent to Japanese internment camps. This sad part of our history greatly affected the many Japanese living on the West Coast. I had a sorority sister in college whose parents and grandparents had their lives upended and their homes and business confiscated. Because the story was set in Oregon, it made sense to include this subplot.
“The Sand Pounder”
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SunLit present new excerpts from some of the best Colorado authors that not only spin engaging narratives but also illuminate who we are as a community. Read more.
And, of course, let’s not forget the horses! If a story has horses in it, I’m all over it!
SunLit: Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
Evans: I create my stories from beginning to end all in my head before I ever type a single word. Therefore, it is rare that my story goes off task. I had “The Sand Pounder” all figured out before I sat down to write.
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Evans: Writing a horse story presents its own unique set of challenges. Namely, how to write a story that will still be interesting to non-horse people. How much defining of horse lingo should I do without slowing down or interrupting the flow of the story?
SunLit: Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them? People talk to me about what they liked in the story.
Evans: “The Sand Pounder” has won seven literary awards. It is nice to know that my writing is loved by professionals. However, my heart is made the happiest when my readers tell me that it is their favorite of all my books.
Jane is a likable young woman who wants to serve her country with the skills she has as an equestrian. So what should she do when she learns that the Coast Guard is only taking men? Another part of the book that is well received by the readers is the information about how the war affected people “back home.” The lessons to be learned through the internment of the Japanese is also poignant to readers. I am proud of our country, even with the mistakes we have made in the past and continue to make now. The key is learning from history, not hiding it or rewriting it.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Evans: I take my career as an author very seriously. I schedule 3 to 4 hours of writing time nearly every day. (I have to leave some time for riding, however!) I have an office in my home where I do all of my work. I get up early and start writing so I have an hour or so in before I go out to take care of my horses. Then I come back in and write some more.
As I write, I don’t look back. I don’t edit as I go along. I write and write and write until I have the whole first draft done. That is my foundation. Only after I have typed the last word do I go back and start revising from the beginning. But, until I have the whole story out of my head and on paper, I don’t have a book. I only have an idea.
SunLit: How long does it take to write a book?
Evans: Including research time, it takes me a year or even two to finish a book. Historical fiction novels, such as “The Sand Pounder” and “PINTO!” based upon the true story of the longest horseback ride in history, have each taken two years as the research is very time-consuming and often involves travel. During the time I am working on a book, and I only work on one book at a time, I am constantly thinking about it.
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Evans: I am so excited about my current project. Yes, it is another horse story and, yes, it is another historical fiction. Again, set in World War II but this time in Czechoslovakia, I am using the life of a famous Polish Arabian stallion that was stolen by the Nazis as the basis for my story.
I am combining this with my knowledge of the healing power of horses for autistic children and adults at a time when very little was known about the disorder. The stallion was named Witez II. He was one of the horses rescued by the Americans in the last days of the war. Had he not been rescued, he would most likely have been killed and eaten by the approaching Red Army.
He was declared a “spoils of war” and brought to the U.S. where he became one of the great foundation studs in the American Arabian breeding program. I think you will love it!