In her next book, author Brenda McClain intends to keep a promise to a herd of “mama” cows while preserving her father’s memories of a blue-ribbon victory at a county fair in 1941.

McClain, of Nashville, is a farmer’s daughter and former journalist who attended the 2009 Boyd County Fair to fill her notebooks with impressions about all of the smells, sights and sounds at a county fair as well as the thoughts of the kids who’ve worked to raise animals for the fair’s auction.

The primary character in her forthcoming book will be a 10-year-old boy named Emerson Bridge, based on her father and his 1941 county grand champion title at the Anderson County Fair during a time when South Carolina farmers were switching from cotton to cattle to earn their livings.

“That was a monumental thing for my father. He is now 82 years old,” McClain said, later adding her research for the book has provided she and her father much to talk about.

The young people working in the Boyd County barns and show rings gave the writer exactly what she was looking for.

“I’ve been mostly talking to the kids ... and some adults,” she said. “I’ve been reading their faces and discussing what they want to do with the money from the auction and about parting with their babies. I love to hear them talk about responsibility and what they’re learning.”

Conclusions and lessons weren’t hard to find, McClain said.

“I learned this matters a whole lot to these kids. They’re putting their heart and soul into it. For some it will be difficult parting with their animals, but they know what that money will bring,” she said, citing a young man who said he hoped to get enough money from his animal to buy a laptop computer to assist with management of a 100-acre farm.

“They work really hard and I admire their dedication,” she said.

In addition to her father’s memories, McClain said her next book will also reflect her own relatively recent impressions from weaning time at a family-operated cattle farm.

“In the middle of the night — the sounds of the mamas ... so loud, just bellowing for their children, who were up on the hill bellowing for their mamas,” she said, shaking her head slightly as she spoke and explaining she plans to use cows as a literary device to represent redemption and healing.

While listening to the heartbreaking sounds of the separated animals, McClain said she told the mamas she would do her best to tell their story.

“I made a promise to those mothers,” she said. “I told them I would honor them and tell as many people as would listen.”

Another of the book’s key characters, McClain said, will be a cow named Mama Red, based on a real-life bovine she met on the farm.

“I love cows,” she continued, adding “I’m finding people here who also love and respect cows. That is not a universal thing.”

The author is debating the merits of two working titles for the book, and finds herself divided between “Laying Bare the Bones,” and “To Spare One.”

Her goal is to have a working draft of the book ready for a November meeting with her publisher in New York, although “I’m still getting the story,” she said, adding she is confident the book’s final title will be evident once she “has it all on the page.”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at or at (606) 326-2651.

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