Talking With South Dakota Cowgirl & Writer B. K. Kopman

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I ran into BK on Twitter and I have to say she’s a cowgirl that I really like and I think you will too. She epitomizes what this blog is all about with her love of horses and her out of the box thinking on writing. Mark my word — I think she’s on to something with her stories and will be taking the publishing world by storm!

Tell us about you and your family? What is your life like? 

I grew up in Duluth, MN in a six kid family. I have amazing parents who encouraged my love of reading and horses even though they didn’t understand it. They’re still a bit surprised that horses didn’t turn out to be some little girl phase (sorry folks, I’m a lifer). About three years ago when I finished my third year of college, I met a South Dakota farm boy at a friend’s wedding and it was Cloud 9 and unicorns after that. We’re married now and live outside the small town of Lake Norden, SD. We reside in a little rented farm house on forty acres of prairie with our two dogs and one horse.

I work three jobs currently. I am an administrative assistant at a government land conservation office (NRCS), a part-time colt starter and horse trainer (I usually only take on three horses at a time due to not having my own facility yet), and am a writer in any spare time the first two jobs leave me.

 How did you get involved with horses?

I was a dog person as a kid. Then my mother made the mistake of drawing a horse for me on a fogged up bathroom mirror. I fell hard and even though we lived in town, begged for a pony every Christmas. When I entered sixth grade, my parents bought a thirty acre farm and we began to board a friend’s horses. Whenever that friend was around, I would beg him to teach me something about his wild paint horses. After a while he bought his own place and moved his horses (saddest day of my young life!) and our pasture sat empty for a few years. I was lucky we had neighbors that took my horse poor self in and taught me to ride on their wonderful foxtrotters. Eventually in eighth grade, I wore my parents down and we bought an old appaloosa mare who taught me a great deal about confidence.

I worked for a few stables in the area, honing my skills and learning, before I hit upon horse job heaven: exercise rider for a cutting horse barn three miles down the road. I spent almost four years immersed in the sport of cutting, drinking in the dust and cattle, living for the thrill of riding an athletic horse as it dodged catlike after a cow. One of the hardest things about getting married and moving was leaving that job! To date, those were a few of the most important years in my horse life. What I learned there impacted how I start colts and tune horses now.

If you had to tell us about only one horse you’ve dealt with, which one would it be and why?

Hands down it would be a little Arab/Quarter horse crossed named Lassie. She was the first horse I ever trained, and boy, was she a handful. Lassie was and still is, the friendliest horse I ever met, but she was hot and nervous. I got Lassie as a four year old filly when I was a junior in high school. I was outgrowing my first horse’s athletic ability; I wanted to go riding all day, every day and the 23 year old mare just wasn’t up for it.

Some friends of ours were getting out of horses (seriously, who does that!?) and happily sold me the spunky Lassie. I loved her even though she’d dump me at the first sign of trouble. After a year of fighting, I finally buckled down and read some Clinton Anderson, delved into Buck Branamen and poured over Ray Hunt’s writings. Lassie and I worked our tails off and after a few months, she was as bombproof as could be and I could ride her bareback and bridleless. I was on top of the world! I felt like Stacey Westfall! I was as pleased as punch at our success. But Lassie wasn’t done teaching me yet.

The summer after my freshman year in college, Lassie bowed both her back tendons during turnout. I was devastated. To me, this was the end of my horse. I had little knowledge of horse leg injuries because  my horses had never gotten more than a minor cut. But even though I thought Lassie would never be ridden again, I resolved to give her the best possible care. I threw myself at Google’s feet, I prostrated myself in the lap of every veterinary hand book and bribed my own vet with muffins for every drop of knowledge about bowed tendons. A year later, Lassie was pronounced sound! I sadly but happily (bittersweetly?) prepared her for her next home in wake of my engagement. She is now a little girl’s barrel horse and is living a pampered life!

What type of writing do you do and what is your latest project?

I scribble off a few lines of poetry here and there and pen some song lyrics occasionally, but what I really love writing are westerns with a twist. While an avid student of Louie L’Amour, William Johnstone and Elmer Kelton, I also love fantasy and steampunk. You can just bet I’ve read every Harry Potter book more than three times. As a result of this, I’ve started several stories where cowboys end up in odd places and have to use their bronc riding, sharp shooting, cattle mustering skills to get themselves out of a sticky situation. It wasn’t until lately that a particular group of characters had finally had enough of my false starts and demanded a full adventure. I’m at the editing-the-fourth-draft phase and have declared it’s genre to be “western steampunk” and its working title is “Maker”. Maker is set in the northern region of Montana in 1890, where a young cowboy and a talking mountain lion join forces to defeat and discover why a mechanical killer cougar has been slaughtering local ranchers’ cattle.

My main focus with any of the stories I write is staying true to most aspects of the old and modern cowboy way of life, and gearing them toward the young adult and middle grade reader. Many kids these days don’t get to experience life outside of the city and traditional western books may appear to be an archaic or uninteresting read. I want to introduce these young readers to the world of the west without boring them with the typical gunfights and long cattle drives. Don’t get me wrong, I love those aspects of traditional westerns, but my gut tells me today’s younger generation finds them less endearing. I feel current writing project a gateway book for children to grow into avid readers of all westerns, a genre I don’t want to see die or phased out.

How do horses factor into your writing? 

Actually a lot less than I thought. My characters always get a good horse and I make sure to describe gear and movements correctly, but they aren’t the headlining act. I tried to feature horses more prominently a few times but the cowboys kept trumping them in every scene so I backed off. I still have it in my heart to write a story based around cutting horses and riders but until then, my horses just play a supporting role. They have presence, but my characters aren’t as bug-eyed about them as I am.

When did you start writing?

 I’ve written and kept journals since grade school but as much as I loved writing, it honestly never entered my mind that I could actually write a book. It was during college when I rubbed elbows with a few aspiring writers that I realized authors were normal (I use that word in the loosest sense) people like me and not some awesome word gods in the sky. That’s when I buckled down and started learning everything I could about writing.

Do you have any unique writing rituals, and if so what are they?

I don’t have any specific rituals or needs to get in the writing mood. I write anywhere and everywhere I can. Between the office job and the horse training, I don’t have a ton of time to waste setting up to write, so I’ve learned to write when I can no matter what is going on around me. I’ve been known to write an idea in the arena dirt and yell “don’t ride over this!” and then bolt for the tack room to find a pen. I’m always listening to the way people say things because if they say it in a particularly clever or blunt way, I’ll end up discreetly scribbling down their words on my hand or chanting them in my head to memorize them.

How do you handle writer’s block?

 If I hit a blank spot, I don’t stress. I stand up, walk away from wherever I was writing and go do something else for a while. Sometimes I’ll just write nonsense words like Dr. Suess or start narrating everything I do in a loud voice for the next hour. That last one throws my husband for a loop but I always end up with a phrase or sentence that sparks my imagination and then it’s back to the writing desk.

Of all the pieces you’ve written, which one is your favorite?

 My favorite story I’ve written is definitely my current project “Maker”. I love my characters even if I am a bit hard on them.

I have penned a favorite poem, too.  My dad, in a weak moment, confessed that he had always dreamed about having a stout little pony to pull him around in a cart. The image of a forty-seven year old man asking for a pony drove me straight to my notebook. On his next birthday, I presented  him with a hilarious poem about a rough and tough tractor mechanic asking for a pony for Christmas. It’s one of the few times I’ve gotten my dad to roar with laughter over something I’ve written, so I’ll always cherish that one.

How can people find your work?

 I’m pretty disconnected compared to a lot of people I know, but I just joined Twitter (@BKKopman) and Instagram (@bkkopman) after I got read the riot act from a fellow writer friend about platform building. There you can find snippets of my current works and lines of occasional poetry. As I get more comfortable with all this technology, I might be persuaded to start a blog, but until then, 140 characters and the occasional picture is about all I can handle.

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