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An Interview with Author Sandra McKay


Sandra McKay is the author of A Place For Me, An Orphan’s Journey Home, a historical novel based on her grandmother’s story, who rode the Orphan Train. Sandra spent two years conducting research in preparation to write A Place For Me, An Orphan’s Journey Home, which revealed a much bigger story than passed down in family lore. While writing, she had scheduled coaching sessions with a developmental editor, and she worked with a professional designer on the book cover and formatting. She benefitted from their knowledge and experience on how to produce a book for publication, and the final product is competitive with books produced by traditional publishing houses.

Prior to becoming an author, Sandra’s writing primarily involved business writing, although her first published work was a story about a girl and her horse that her father sent to the Weekly Reader when she was nine years old. In addition to university Creative Writing courses, Sandra has participated in three workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa. She has participated in numerous events for readings and promotion of her book at libraries and numerous Barnes and Noble stores. Recently, she was invited to a two-day event, featuring her and her book, at the Galveston Railway Museum in Galveston, TX.

Sandra is currently working on two projects, a children’s book and a second historical novel. She lives with her husband, Don, in Flossmoor, Illinois. Find out more at

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I have always had a passion for writing. My first published work was a short story that I wrote when I was nine years old. My father, who was a pastor, was my influencer. We actually went to school together; he was working on his doctorate while I was in high school. That and a number of conversations while we bank-fished were inspirations.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

Before she died, my grandmother told me she was writing the story of her life. When she died, I asked for her writings, which had been hidden in a drawer for more than 20 years. One Sunday, I was cleaning out drawers and my husband asked what I was holding. When I told him, he said, “Well, you have to write it for her.” I worked with a genealogist, conducting two and a half years of research, and we discovered a much bigger story that no one in our family knew about. What originally started to be a small book for family turned into a 400-page historical novel.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The title of my book is the result of a brainstorming session with my husband, editor, and two friends.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

There are some Irish songs that Dora’s father sang to her and her brothers. The lyrics are in the book.

Describe your dream book cover.

Numerous people, including some publishers, have commented on the quality of the design of my book cover. It shows a little girl with a doll in her hand. Dora was forced to leave her doll behind.

It is absolutely perfect!

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I have had an extensive career in the railroad industry, working for three Class I railroads. My last position was General Manager, Marketing & Sales. In 1996, I founded a transportation consulting firm and have gained a reputation as the industry’s leading rail expert. I have written and presented testimony in numerous proceedings before government agencies.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Once I launched this project, I became a voracious reader, so I probably have read more than fifty books. Some that come to mind include Showing v. Telling, The First 50 Pages, Maggie, and The Glass Castle.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

More than 200,000 children rode the Orphan Train; more tragic, 95% of those children were actually not orphans but children who were given up because their parents could not care for them. How this impacted their lives and their feelings is a story that had to be told. Also, there was a misconception about who funded the development of the Graham Hospital in Canton. When I presented evidence from our research, the hospital took their website down and they corrected the History page, giving credit to Joseph Murphy, who took my grandmother in to raise when she was nine years old. He died four years later, and she was subsequently forced into servitude by Mr. Murphy’s housekeeper. Readers will learn not to give up on life, and that they can overcome obstacles and tragedy. I envision my perfect reader as someone who will connect emotionally with Dora. Some of them have told me they could not put the book down.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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