ranch

Talking Rodeo History & Ranch Life With Author Heidi M. Thomas

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After the last blog post with female bronc rider Kaila Mussell, author Heidi M. Thomas contacted me about doing an interview. I won’t spoil the surprise, but Heidi’s background is a perfect follow-up to a bronc riding story, especially since the NFR 2015 has just started! Not only an award-winning prolific writer and editor, she’s an author with a strong western heritage that I think all of us horse lovers can relate to.

Heidi small Author Photo

Heidi at Silver spur tableTell us about your childhood growing up on a working ranch in Montana. What were some of your favorite things about growing up ranching?

I loved the sense of freedom of living miles from a town, being able to run and play with no restrictions as a kid. Working with my parents taught me a sense of self-reliance, strong work-ethic and independence. Being around cows, horses, dogs and cats gave me a love for animals. And being without “technical amenities” gave me a love for reading and writing.

 Peregrine signing

You also had a grandmother that rode bucking stock. What was it like growing up with a grandmother that rode roughstock?

I knew she loved riding and being outdoors more than anything in the world and we rode horses together numerous times. But I didn’t know she was a rodeo cowgirl until she passed away when I was 12. My dad and I were going through photo albums and he casually remarked, “Did you know your grandma rode bucking stock in rodeos?” Whoa! How cool was that! I filed that away in my brain until many years later when I was ready to write about her life.

CowgirlDreams Front Cover 1x1.5What do you think made her decide to ride roughstock, and what were some of the challenges that she faced?

I wish I could’ve asked her questions about that, but through stories my dad told me and my research, I learned that many girls naturally gravitated toward that sport. They, like my grandmother, grew up on ranches, riding with their dads, brothers and later, husbands out of necessity. Then when the men got together and decided to see who could stay on the back of that bucking bronc the longest, the girls said, “We can do that too!” Many started competing around age 14. Their families sometimes were accepting and sometimes not. It was socially unacceptable to wear men’s pants, travel and compete with men, and it was dangerous. The “old-time” cowboys didn’t think “girls” could ride and they didn’t like it when they were outridden by a woman.

 

What impact has your grandmother, and growing up on a ranch had on your writing?

It’s had a huge impact. From that casual remark by my dad have come four published books! Her life and my growing up on a ranch gave me a love and a first-hand feeling for the setting, which I think is an important part of my writing.

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When did you start writing, and what were some of your challenges you faced when you started?

I like to say I was born with ink in my veins. I’ve been writing since I could form letters. I did get my degree in journalism from the University of Montana and worked for the newspaper in Missoula, then did several years of freelance writing for other publications. When I started writing fiction seriously, I found that although I had a good foundation through journalism, I had to learn to “show, not tell” and not to write so spare in the “Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity” mode. After I’d written and polished my first manuscript to the best of my ability, I started to send it out and collect rejections. In that process I learned that I needed to study and practice my craft more, so I took a two-year certification course through the University of Washington in fiction writing. Then, it was a matter of finding a publisher once I was ready to submit. It took ten years from the time I started the book until it was published. I now have four published books: Cowgirl Dreams (1920s), Follow the Dream (1930s), Dare to Dream (1940s), and the nonfiction book, Cowgirl Up: A History of Rodeo Women.

 What was your first book that was published? What was it like to finally see your work in print?

My first book was Cowgirl Dreams, the first of my “Dreams” trilogy, based on my grandmother. It was such a huge thrill to hold that first book in my hands! I was so excited and felt validated, that my dream was coming to fruition after all the years of hard work.

Are you a full-time writer? (If so, tell us how you got there, if not tell us your writing goals)

Yes, I consider that my vocation (as well as my avocation), along with freelance editing for other authors. I didn’t start writing books until after I had “retired” from a “regular” job, and I had a husband who was extremely supportive in all ways—my number one fan and cheerleader.

When do you do your best writing, and why? 

I’m not a morning person, and I don’t have a set schedule, although I keep telling myself I need to! Mid-day and early afternoon are my best times. Also, I think from my journalism background, I find I write best with a deadline! I belong to a critique group that meets once a week, so that gives me my motivation!

You have written several books that have won awards. Tell us about those & the inspiration behind them. 

They are a part of my “Cowgirl Dreams” trilogy. Cowgirl Dreams won an EPIC (Electronic Publishing) award and was a finalist in the USA Best Books competition. The sequel, Follow the Dream, won the coveted WILLA (named for Willa Cather) award from Women Writing the West. And of course, both are based on my grandmother’s life.

What is your latest book project?

I’m working on “the next generation” trilogy, based on my mother who came from Germany after WWII.

 Any words of wisdom for other writers and those that aspire to write?

From my own experience, I’m glad my first novel did not get published when I first sent it out. Today, it’s become much easier to self-publish and it doesn’t carry the stigma it used to. But don’t be in a big hurry to publish your book. Learn and practice your craft. Take classes, read how-to books, and join or create a critique group. And when you’ve rewritten it for the 50th time and polished it to the best of your ability, hire an editor to go through it. Above all, perseverance is key. Don’t give up!

 

If you want to keep up with Heidi you can find her on social media –

Website: http://www.heidimthomas.com

Facebook: search Heidi M. Thomas, Author

Twitter: @heidiwriter

Publisher buy-link: www.rowman.com

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Heidi-M.-Thomas/e/B004QT2N4M/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1448835070&sr=1-2-ent

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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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Talking With Romance Author Stephanie Berget

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This week I’m talking with romance author and fellow barrel racer, Stephanie Berget. Nothing like talking with a gal that enjoys the need for speed and a little hot romance!

Tell me about your family.

I was born and raised a city kid with an overwhelming love of horses. I was lucky enough to marry my cowboy sweetheart and have a wonderful daughter and two terrific sons. My folks are still trying to figure out where the love of horses came from. I think it was a gift from my maternal grandfather. He was a sheriff in North Dakota and a horse gypo.

What type of stories do you write & how many books have you sold?

I write stories about cowboys, mostly rodeo cowboys, and the women who love them and also contemporary romance. My first book is titled Sugarwater Ranch and is set in the central Oregon ranching country. The hero, bullrider Sean O’Connell, isn’t a very nice guy at the beginning of the book. But as his life is falling apart, Catherine Silvera, a woman battling her own demons, helps him learn that riding bulls isn’t the only valuable thing in his life.

You can find Sugarwater Ranch here:

Amazon Sugarwater Ranch

Barnes & Noble http://buff.ly/1de9PRo

Evernight Publishing http://buff.ly/GNYivD

Tell me about how you got into riding horses and what accomplishments you’ve had with them.

When I was 15, after years and years of whining, my parents gave in and bought me a horse. They knew nothing about horses and neither did I, but I fell in love with barrel racing and rodeo in general. I was lucky enough to live near some of the best trainers in the country, Larry and Kay Davis, and they generously gave their time and expertise to help me learn. I’ve had many horses, but three were really special and helped me become a better trainer.

Ruff’s King Tut was a little sorrel gelding with a great big heart. Ruff was born on our place and I won rodeos sanctioned by the Idaho Cowboys Assn and the Northwest Rodeo Assn on him. If I turned him loose and opened the trailer door, he’d load himself. Guess he loved to rodeo as much as I did.

Arnold was a big, high-powered chestnut gelding that my husband bought to team rope on. He ran barrels and poles like a champ and went on to take a young girl to the National High School rodeo.

The horse that stole my heart was a brown mare named Suzy’s Last Flight, or as we called her, Olive. Olive’s sire was Dinner Flight. Many of his colts were born to barrel race and Olive was one of the best. She liked to pin her ears back and act like a bad-ass, but she didn’t have a mean bone in her body.

How do horses fit into your stories?

In Sugarwater Ranch, Sean works with a spooky blue roan colt that he calls Roany Blue Pony. The cowboy may have some problems in his life, but he is a natural horseman. The desire to understand the colt helps him to understand himself and the world around him better.

Where do you get the inspiration for the characters in your books?

Mostly I wake up during the night and have an idea for a character. In Radio Rose, I woke up thinking about what Betty White would be like if she chain-smoked and was a real grouch.

Then, as I write, they introduce themselves to me and tell me what they want to do in the book. As the book evolves, more characters show up and demand my attention.

Besides writing and riding, what are your other interests that most people may not know you have?

Wow, writing and riding take up most of my time, but I love playing with my grandkids and watching football. Go Broncos!

What are your two most important pieces of advice for a new writer?

#1-Finish the Book! You can’t sell it unless you finish it. #2-Write what you love.

 

You can visit Stephanie’s blog and keep up with her progress on her series! 

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