Welcome to the Dames of Dialogue, Heidi! We’re happy you could join us today. Tell us about your latest release, Follow the Dream, the second in your Dare to Dream series.
The story takes place in the 1930s, with Nettie married to her cowboy and her dream future lies ahead of her. They’re planning a busy rodeo season and Nettie has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to London with the Tex Austin Wild West Troupe. But, life during the Great Depression gets in the way of her dreams. Family responsibility, extreme drought, and personal tragedy challenge and threaten to break this strong woman. It’s a story that encourages one to not only continue to pursue a dream, but also to be able to change the dream if necessary.
You say on your website that the first two books in your series, Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream, are based on your grandmother’s life. My sister and I just co-wrote a book based on our great aunt’s life growing up in the small mountain town of Hot Springs, NC. It took three years and a lot of that time was spent researching. Tell us how you researched the idea for your grandmother’s story and why you felt compelled to write it.
That’s great! Family history can be full of material for our books. I knew my grandmother until she died when I was 12, and I was aware that she loved riding and outdoor work more than anything. My dad told me later that she had actually ridden bucking stock in rodeos during the 1920s. She was not your stereotypical, cookie-baking grandma! This piece of information fascinated me, and later in my life, when I started writing fiction, I decided to base a novel on her. My dad told me many stories of growing up with his rodeo/ranching parents, and I had a scrapbook and a couple of short pieces my grandmother had written about her horses and how she and grandpa met. I read all the non-fiction books I could find about the rodeo cowgirls of that era and found many common threads in their stories, which I could weave into my novels. I also went back to the eastern Montana area where she grew up and found the old ranch house where my grandparents lived when they were first married.
I was around 12 when Great-aunt Bessie died, too. I remember so much about her and was always fascinated by her life as a mountain woman. Can you tell us about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I am working on the third book in the series, working title Nettie’s Cowgirls, which takes place in the 1940s. This tells the story of the demise of rodeo, especially for women with the advent of World War II.
I hope you’ll let us know when it comes out. I love almost everything about the 1940s, it was an interesting time in history and a time when women stepped up to the plate and proved they could be just as valuable in the workforce as men. Speaking of work, in addition to writing, you also offer manuscript services for authors, including editing and preparing electronic files for printing, you teach several writing classes, and you have an active blog. In other words, you’re a very busy woman. It makes me tired just thinking about all that you have going on. How do you juggle it all and still find time to write?
That is always the $64,000 question! With all of my editing, blogging, and teaching activities, sometimes my own writing gets pushed to the back burner. I keep trying to change that, but I, like many writers, find that self-discipline for writing is a difficult thing to achieve. I admire those who get up at 0 dark-thirty and write for several hours. I’m not a morning person, so that does not work for me! I seem to work best under a deadline, so belonging to critique groups where I’m expected to read pages each week is a good motivator.
I was recently talking with a fellow writer who told me he gets up at 6 every morning and writes for 2 hours before he starts his day job. I have no idea how people do that and like you, I admire that kind of drive. Are the characters in the driver’s seat when you’re writing or do you take control of the wheel and guide them where you want them to go?
A little of both, I think. I am a “pantser”. I don’t do a formal outline, but I have an idea in my mind of where I want to go, and I do allow my characters to take me down roads I hadn’t considered. It’s a lot of fun to sit down with a general idea of what I want to write and see where it leads me. Sometimes it turns out much differently that I’d thought (and sometimes better).
Oh yeah, that’s exactly what I do. It can be frustrating at times but overall, it’s much more fun! In your bio on your website, you say you were “born with ink running through your veins” and that even before you could read or write you “wove many tall tales.” Tell us about the first story you remember writing.
Gosh, I had so many running through my mind when I was a kid. I didn’t have other kids my age to play with, so I made up my own companions and scenarios. I listened to “The Lone Ranger” and “Roy Rogers and Dale Evans” on the radio, and I would often make up my own stories based on the programs. Likewise with books my parents read to me or that I later read. I do remember writing a haunted house mystery in red pen and using a lot of description that included the word “red,” so I could underline it! My teacher told me I had a “wild imagination.”
How funny, especially given that most writers hate the dreaded “red pen.” Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
I read a LOT. When I find one of those books that paint word pictures and create music with the written word while keeping my on the edge of my seat with the storyline, I want to just soak it up like a sponge and figure out “how do they do that?” I’m also inspired by nature. When I get stuck in my writing, I try to follow Julia Cameron’s (The Artist’s Way) advice and “refill my well” by taking an afternoon to sit by the water or walk in the woods. It’s amazing how much that helps.
I’m a big believer in “refilling my well.” I used to walk in the woods when I lived in Maine and it never failed to rejuvenate my creativity. These days, I take a walk with my dog or garden or simply sit on the swing on my front porch and daydream for a while.
Promotion is a big part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
I’m active on the internet with the social media sites, I write a blog, do guest blog posts, and I visit and comment on as many (topic-related) blogs as I can. I’ve made many great contacts that way. I’ve done the virtual blog tour as well as a “reality” driving tour through Montana. The internet is mostly “marketing” in hopes of creating sales. But I actually do most of my selling one-on-one, at craft fairs, at authors’ or book events, speaking engagements, school visits, etc.
Christy and I are getting ready to do a reality driving tour, as you put it, through the mountains of western North Carolina to promote Whistling Woman, the book we wrote about our great-aunt. Here’s hoping it works as well for us as it does for you.
I enjoyed reading about your first visit to the library when you were a child. You said you remember wishing your parents would go home and leave you there with all those wonderful books. I remember my first visit to our small public library too. I felt as if I’d discovered heaven on earth and like you, I wanted to live there with the books. Who were your favorite childhood authors? Have they influenced your writing in any way?
Books certainly have been my passion all my life. Your question about what I first wrote made me realize that I had a foundation in western writing, even though I never set out to write a “western”. I just wanted to tell my grandmother’s story. But I read a lot of Zane Gray in elementary school, as well as listening to the programs I mentioned. I also read Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi (of course), Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn—all the “classics”.
Christy and I never thought we would write historical fiction either, but like you, we really wanted to tell our Great-aunt Bessie’s story. Now that you’re all grown up, who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
Two of my favorites: Montana author Ivan Doig, who writes about my home state in such an engaging way to put you “there,” and Jane Kirkpatrick, historical novelist, tells heart stories of real women, their dreams and struggles. I also enjoy women authors such as Anne Rivers Siddons, Anne Tyler, and Ursula Hege. I read lots of what I call “escape” fiction, too, the police procedurals, courtroom dramas (John Grisham), and thrillers such as Harlen Coben and Dean Koontz.
Some of my favorites, too! Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
I think it has to be described in layers, as in building a foundation. First I had parents who read to me and encouraged me to read and learn. I had a wonderful teacher for the first through third grades in my one-room country school who was innovative in her teaching methods and encouraged my writing. Another high school English teacher got me involved in working on the school newspaper and encouraged me to pursue journalism. The instructors in the fiction writing classes I took helped me to hone my craft, and the writers’ and critique groups I belong to now take me to a higher level with each project I undertake.
Parents who were avid readers and teachers who believed in encouraging their students to write—the world needs more of both! What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
There are many, from just having a good word-flow day to getting that first “yes” after a series of “no thanks.” But I think what makes me feel the most satisfied is when I get feedback from a reader (woman or man) who says “I tasted the dust, and smelled the manure, and felt that steer bucking, and I cried when…” That’s when I know I’ve done a good job.
Great answer! Thanks for joining us, Heidi. I hope you’ll come back and visit us often.
For more information on Heidi Thomas and her books, visit:
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Heidi-M-Thomas-Author/113945861994671
Books are available through Heidi’s website (autographed) and from her publisher http://www.trebleheartbooks.com. Cowgirl Dreams is available for Nook and Follow the Dream is on Kindle.