Q: What inspired you to write The Night Ride, and how did you create your character Sonnia?
A: When I was 10 years old, I was completely obsessed with horses.
As I started thinking about and writing The Night Ride, I had one simple goal: write a book that 10-year-old me would have had all the grabbyhands for. The book she would have checked out repeatedly from the library and spent some precious birthday money on.
That book had to have plenty of horses, with horses at the center, and plenty of action.
Ten-year-old me also loved when a character had to make hard choices and sacrifices, and she would have related to Sonnia’s overriding devotion to Ricochet, the horse she loves.
Q: How did you research this book, and what particularly intrigued you in the course of your research?
A: As a kid, most of my understanding and knowledge of horses came from books. I didn’t own a horse, and I got to be near them only infrequently during trail rides.
For this project, I prevailed on friends and acquaintances with access to horses to share their experiences as caretakers, and I was delighted to learn some of the mischievous and silly things horses do. Several of Ricochet’s habits – such as licking Sonnia’s face like a dog – come from those stories.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between Sonnia and Ricochet?
A: Sonnia is deeply attached to Ricochet, even though he’s not technically her horse. He represents the world beyond in her impoverished neighborhood, someone to pour her hopes and dreams into, who can’t disappoint her or let her down.
Horses are empathetic creatures who can and do form strong bonds with their human caregivers, and Ricochet is attached to Sonnia as well. Their friendship is central to The Night Ride, since many of Sonnia’s choices hinge on his well-being.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: One theme of the story is how and why and whether people change their minds when they learn new information that challenges their established worldview. Sonnia spends a considerable portion of the book trying to rationalize her choices until she simply can’t anymore.
I hope readers take this to heart and have the courage to change their minds if they realize they were wrong, or misled, or misguided about something – even if admitting as much is hard.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now I’m working on several projects that I hope to be able to talk about soon.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with J. Anderson Coats.