I love county fairs, so it’s no surprise that I see them as writing inspiration.
Part of that love comes from nostalgia. In the county where I grew up in eastern Ohio, the county fair arrived the week after Labor Day. The fairgrounds were right across from my elementary school, and I always looked forward to the afternoon when we left the classroom and took a walking field trip to the fair. I was also eaten up by envy at the kids from the farms who got out of school to show their animals in 4-H competitions. I competed but in baking and won five blue ribbons.
When I discovered that the county where my husband and I built our home holds its fair in September, it felt just right. And when my kids won their own ribbons at the fair, I had a satisfying feeling of coming full circle.
That feeling could inspire a story of a parent or grandparent passing on a tradition which includes going to the county fair for some reason, not just competition.
Another thing I love about county fairs is how it brings together the land, animals, and people of a community. You don’t get that at a state fair. Too many strangers. But at the county fair, you run into so many friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that it feels like an enormous family reunion. When my family and I visit the fair, we make a point of reading the names fastened to the pens and cages of the 4-H animals, so we can see the animals kids from school and church have entered. It also reminds me that, no matter how sophisticated we become, we still depend on the land to produce crops and sustain animals and on our neighbors who farm and manage it all.
Those themes of community, family reunion, or ties to the land could be explored in a story set at the fair.
A special feature of our fair is the prominence of harness racing. Our fair really has a split personality. The front half, where the barns, rides, and buildings for exhibits are located, is for the local people. The back half has the stadium and barns for the horses that come to race. I can thoroughly enjoy the fair and never venture into the back half, which has a completely different atmosphere. The harness racing is business, as well as the gambling, so I feel no sense of community, but I’m an outsider looking in. I’m sure the members of the harness racing business probably feel differently.
I recently watched the film noir from 1956, The Killing. In this heist movie, a gang of crooks plot to rob a racetrack. One of them shoots a horse in an important race to create chaos while the robbery is executed. I’ve been wondering if I could write a story about a robbery at county fair with harness racing. I don’t know enough about how the betting is done to know if there’s enough cash on hand to make it worthwhile. But it would be interesting to research.
I like to research small, local events like a county fair and see if they have unique or unusual aspects to them, like harness racing. These quirks can ignite all kinds of inspiration and set my story apart from others.
Do you have a particular community celebration where you live? How can it inspire your writing?