Ivett asked Sara Gruen:

What was your inspiration for ''Water for Elephants''? By the way I love your work so so much!

Sara Gruen I opened the paper one Sunday morning and found a huge vintage circus photograph staring me in the face. It was like a bolt of lightning. I was about a third of the way through a different novel and had just returned from a research trip, but when I laid eyes on that photo, I knew what I was going to do next. My husband sensed that something was up and was pacing nervously in the background when I stabbed the picture with my finger and said, “This! This is where I have to set my next book!”

The camera was custom built by Edward J. Kelty, a WWI vet who followed and photographed circuses across the country during the 1920s and early 30s (after the Crash of ‘29, there were only three left to follow). His camera was enormous, capable of producing negatives that were something like 12 x 24 inches. That’s the negatives, so his photographs were capable of capturing a huge amount of detail, even when he was filming hundreds of people at one time. He used to set up the camera on the top of a ladder on the bed of his pickup truck and the take the pictures from up at the top. The picture that shook my world featured a round-up of all the Ringling employees, and I could see the individual rhinestones in the women’s barrettes, the wrinkles in their stockings, the individual fronds in costume feathers. I was completely and instantly mesmerized.

And last but not least, thank you very much for the compliment! I can honestly say it made my day.

Sara Gruen

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