Traveling the Big Sky Country

I recently returned to my home state of Montana for a book tour, to visit old friends and family, and to drink in the beauty that is “Big Sky country. My sister-in-law (Thelma, or Louise, depending on who’s addressing whom) traveled with me.

Big Sky

We even had a taste of SNOW as we traveled from Great Falls to Helena:

Snow day

 

A display of a one-room schoolhouse at Ft. Missoula brought back memories of my grade school days:

One-room school Ft. Missoula

Stopped in at the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls:

CM Russell Museum

Signed books in Helena, where the state’s governor bought a copy of Cowgirl Up! for his daughter.

Signing in Helena

Another signing at the Miles City Saddlery:

Miles City Saddlery sign

Visited the tiny (pop, 14, plus 2 seasonal) town of Ingomar, near where my grandparents ranched in the ’40s and ’50s. It’s main business is the Jersey Lilly Saloon and Cafe:

Jersey Lilly

And the “conveniences” are located out back:

Out back Jersey Lilly

All in all, a fun trip and a total of 5,000 miles of driving! I’ll be posting more on my travels later.

Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 6:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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What is the scariest thing that has happened to you?

I’m participating in a round-robin blog this week about scary things. Please also visit the other participants listed at the end of this post.
We all have had heart-pounding, stomach-clenching moments that live permanently in our memories. In the past, I’ve only had a few  scary experiences.

Ski hill

  • Perched at the top of a black diamond ski run, thinking I should’ve stuck to the bunny hill.
  • Climbing to the top of a 75-foot platform at the water slide park and looking down at that nearly vertical drop. Can I just climb back down?
  • Performing a piano solo at a music competition. Why didn’t I practice more? What if I forget the notes?
  • Giving a talk in front of a large crowd. What if I sound stupid?

All these instances created that flight-or-fight, adrenaline-producing, momentary fear response. But each of these experiences turned into something thrilling, something I would do again. I learned from each scary moment

Now I face the scariest experience of all. My husband—best friend and soul-mate—of 40+ years is gone, and I’m facing life at the top of another one of those seemingly impossible peaks. Do I have the courage, the strength, the stick-to-itiveness it takes to pass through grief and recreate my life without him?

Those scary experiences that now seem so mundane did teach me that I could pause, take a deep breath, and call on some deep inner strength. I learned I had the courage to do it, that I could live through it, and that I came out the other side stronger than I was before.

I hold on to that thought, and it doesn’t seem as scary.

 

Now, please visit the following participants and see what scares them!

Skye Taylor  http://www.skye-writer.com/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Rachael Kosnski http://the-doodling-booktease.tumblr.com/
Margaret Fieland http://www.margaretfieland.com/blog1/
Geeta Kakade http://geetakakade.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.webs.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Ginger Simpson http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/

Published in: on October 25, 2014 at 12:05 am  Comments (5)  
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Navigating the Writing Path: Start to Finish

Blank notepad over laptop and coffee cup on office wooden table

Welcome to the I C Publishing Summer Blog Tour on navigating our writing paths from start to finish. Jonnie Martin, author of Wrangle invited me to participate in this fun tour. Read her blog post here. www.jonniemartin.com

Here are my answers to the Blog Tour questions:

How do you start your (writing) projects?

My novels are historical, so I usually do quite a bit of research before I start writing. They’re also based on a real person, my grandmother, so that helps formulate the storyline. I don’t do a formal outline, but I may jot down notes or an informal timeline. When I have my idea of how to start, I’m in that state of excitement about a new project, and I can’t wait to get going!

How do you continue your writing projects?

I often continue research as I’m writing, as questions will crop up and I need specific historical details to ground my characters or the incidents in the story. I belong to a critique group, so that helps keep me on a deadline. I know that every week I have to bring several pages, and the feedback also keeps me on track or gives me ideas where to go from here.

How do you finish your project?

Once I’ve finished my first draft and have gone through it with my group, I go back over it and do an initial rewrite or two. Then I have a couple of Beta readers read and critique it and then I do another rewrite before submitting it to my publisher.

Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.

One thing I learned in a writing class is to give yourself permission to write out of chronological order. If you get to a certain point and are stuck, but you know where you want to be in future pages, go ahead and write that future scene. That helps bridge the gap, and gives you an idea of what you need to do to get from Point A to Point B.

I’m the author of  a “Dreams” novel trilogy: Cowgirl Dreams, Follow the Dream, and Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book which has just been released, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women. You can order autographed copies through my website.

Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women is Here!

CowgirlUp Cover 3x5

It’s official: Cowgirl Up! has been released. I received my author copies last night, so I’m now in business! I’ll kick off my release with a panel discussion “Women Who Broke the Mold” Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Peregrine Bookstore in Prescott AZ, along with WWW friends Amy Hale Auker and Carolyn Niethammer.

And my launch party will be at the Phippen Museum next Saturday, Sept. 13, at 1 p.m. I’ll give a PowerPoint presentation on women’s rodeo history, we’ll have refreshments and fun! Then I’ll be on tour in Washington and Montana.

You can order books through my website, on Amazon, and from your local bookstores (please request that they carry it, if they don’t have it in stock!)

Hope to see you all soon!

Review: “Heidi Thomas’s story struck a resounding chord with me as I began chapter twelve. I loved the book up to that point, but on page 111 the stories of rodeo women intersected the story I tell, about the forgotten women pilots of World War II, the WASP. The seat hit the saddle and the rubber met the runway. From early in the twentieth century, women began ‘making it’ in the rodeo, in aviation — in life — but the Depression followed by the War changed everything. The years since are witness to a world where women have had to re-earn what they were on the verge of having in the early 1940s. Here, a descendant of a rodeo cowgirl spins a fascinating tale of hard-won accomplishment, and she tells it artfully, with love, honesty, and respect.”
—Sarah Byrn Rickman, author of five fiction and nonfiction books about the WASP of World War II

Rodeo ‘No Place for Women’?

I’m expecting my author copies of Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women any day now! You can order autographed copies through my website, and pre-order on Amazon. Here’s an excerpt:

Chapter One: Rodeo is No Place for Women

“Ruins the events for us men”

 Dust filled the air, giving the clear blue sky a brownish haze. Steers bawled in their pens, broncs kicked their stalls, and the rodeo announcer bellowed out the name of the next rider.

A baby let out a lusty yell. Margie Greenough Henson turned to the wooden apple box, where her son lay on a pillow, and picked him up, clucking and shushing.

Her sister, Alice, called from the chutes, “You’re up next, and I’m after you.”

The slender red-haired Margie waved her acknowledgement and turned to a lanky cowboy standing nearby. “Here, would you hold Chuck for me while I ride? It’s only for eight seconds.”

Alice Greenough riding broncThe Greenough sisters, who are listed in both the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, epitomized the Montana cowgirls of the early 1900s and bridged the final transition between the Old West and the modern era.

A woman bronc rider earned her living by beating competitors (often men), wearing men’s clothing, and living around cowboys. She had to be tough, otherwise she’d have been squeezed out. Home was on the plains and on the road, with little room for fluff. But this life didn’t necessarily make her “hard-boiled.”

Montana’s Greenough sisters, Fannie Sperry Steele, Marie Gibson, Bobby Brooks Kramer, Jane Burnett Smith, the Brander sisters, trick riders Birdie Askin and Trixi McCormick, and pick-up rider Ann Secrest Hanson proved that athleticism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.

The London Evening News validated these accomplishments in its report of the cowgirls in the Tex Austin Wild West Troupe in 1924:

“… It is amazing to see these slips of girls take fearful tosses while fighting outlaw horses, and then half an hour later it is still more amazing to see these same girls strolling out to tea in their Parisian frocks.”CowgirlUp Cover 3x5

The following quote about Lucille Mulhall of Oklahoma in a 1900 New York World article could also have described most of these Montana women: “…only ninety pounds, can break a bronc, lasso and brand a steer, and shoot a coyote at 500 yards. She can also play Chopin, quote Browning, and make mayonnaise.”

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the public image of rodeo cowgirls was as “loose women”, because they participated in a tough, dangerous men’s occupation, traveled around the country with men, and often wore men’s clothing. They were generally not thought of as wives and mothers, and rodeo riding was considered detrimental to women’s reproductive organs, but most of them did have children, like Margie Greenough Henson. In fact, she told the Arizona Daily Star in a 1994 interview, “In the fall of 1930, I was riding bucking broncs and he (her son, Chuck) was born in February of ’31.”

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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Cover Reveal for Cowgirl Up!

CowgirlUp Cover 3x5

My newest book and first non-fiction, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, will be released September 2. I’m very pleased with the cover and the inside layout done by my publisher, Globe Pequot Press/Twodot.

After researching old-time rodeo cowgirls for my novels, which are based on my grandmother, I thought I would like to tell the stories of the women from Montana who went on to become world champion bronc riders, trick ropers and riders. They are a fascinating a courageous bunch, women to be admired, women ahead of their time. Here are their stories.

Synopsis: When someone says “Cowgirl Up!” it means rise to the occasion, don’t give up, and do it all without whining or complaining. And the cowgirls of the early twentieth century did it all, just like the men, only wearing skirts and sometimes with a baby waiting behind the chutes. Women learned to rope and ride out of necessity, helping their fathers, brothers, and husbands with the ranch work.

But for some women, it went further than that. They caught the fever of freedom, the thirst for adrenaline, and the thrill of competition, and many started their rodeo careers as early as age fourteen. From Alice and Margie Greenough of Red Lodge, whose father told them “If you can’t ride ‘em, walk,” to Jane Burnett Smith of Gilt Edge who sneaked off to ride in rodeos at age eleven, women made wide inroads into the masculine world of rodeo.

Montana boasts its share of women who “busted broncs” and broke ranks in the macho world of rodeo during the early to mid- 1900s. Cowgirl Up! is the history of these cowgirls, their courage, and their accomplishments.

You can pre-order from my website with free shipping until Sept. 2.

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 7:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Western Roundup Giveaway Hop

Western Roundup Giveaway Hop_2013_smWelcome to the third annual Western Roundup Giveaway Hop, running July 19-31st. After you check out my blog post, please go to Books and Benches  to find out who else is giving away awesome books and visit their blogs as well!

At the end of this of this Roundup, I will draw a name from my commenters (please include your e-mail address!) and the winner will receive your choice of one of my “Dreams” novels: Cowgirl Dreams,  Follow the Dream or Dare to Dream.

3 book covers

Cowgirl Dreams: Defying family and social pressure, Nettie Brady bucks 1920s convention with her dream of becoming a rodeo star. That means competing with men, and cowgirls who ride the rodeo circuit are considered “loose women.” Addicted to the thrill of pitting her strength and wits against a half-ton steer in a rodeo, Nettie exchanges skirts for pants, rides with her brothers on their Montana ranch, and competes in neighborhood rodeos.

Broken bones, killer influenza, flash floods, and family hardship team up to keep Nettie from her dreams. Then she meets a young neighbor cowboy who rides broncs and raises rodeo stock. Will this be Nettie’s ticket to freedom and happiness? Will her rodeo dreams come true? Based on the life of the author’s grandmother, a real Montana cowgirl.

Follow the Dream continues with the rodeo and ranching dream, but as the terrible drought of the “dirty thirties” progressed, Nettie and Jake (based on my grandparents) moved more than 20 times and finallytrailed their herd of horses 400 miles from Cut Bank, Montana to Salmon, Idaho to find grass.

 Dare to Dream travels on to the 1940s when Nettie, Jake, and Neil are settled on a ranch near Ingomar, Montana. The town was established in 1908 as a station stop on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Although the land around Ingomar attracted numerous homesteaders during the decade following the railroad’s completion, the region proved to be far too arid and inhospitable for intensive agricultural use, and the town declined. The railroad through the area was abandoned in 1980, and only a handful of people remain in Ingomar today.

Synopsis: Nettie has recovered from the loss of her friend Marie Gibson in a freak rodeo accident and is ready to ride again. To her dismay, the male-dominated Rodeo Association of America enforces its rule barring women from riding rough stock and denies her the chance to ride. Her fury at the discrimination can’t change things for women—yet.

The “Dreams” series is available from the author’s website http://www.heidimthomas.com, on Amazon, and from the publisher, Globe-Pequot/Twodot Press http://www.globepequot.com/dare_to_dream-9780762797004.

 Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a ranch in eastern Montana, writing stories and riding horses. From one small piece of information about her grandmother has come three novels and one soon-to-be-released non-fiction book about old-time rodeo cowgirls, Cowgirl Up! Heidi’s first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, won an EPIC award and the sequel, Follow the Dream won the WILLA Literary Award. She is a freelance editor, teaches community classes in memoir and beginning fiction writing in north-central Arizona where she also enjoys hiking the Granite Dells.

Please visit these blogs:


June Round Robin: An Explosive Scene

Round Robin bannerThis excerpt is from Follow the Dream, book two in my “Cowgirl Dreams” trilogy. Jake and Nettie have tried to put on a rodeo but had low attendance and poor earnings, so many cowboys didn’t get paid or were paid very little. I don’t have many “big” explosive moments in my novels, but this was fun to write.

A funereal mood enveloped Nettie along with the smell of stale cigarettes and yeasty beer when they walked though the swinging doors of the Ranchers Bar. She braced herself. This was the last place she wanted to be. She wished they could just go home.

Usually, after a rodeo, the saloon rollicked with laughter and shouts as the cowboys relived the highlights of their rides, embellishing the successes with each telling. Today the crowd was hushed. Men sat hunched over their drinks, and only a few forced laughs punctuated the low murmur.

Jake and Nettie settled on stools at the bar, and Jake summoned the bartender. “A round for the house, on me.” He downed his whiskey in one gulp, then turned to the room. “Gents, ladies, I’m very sorry about today’s poor purse. I’d like to buy you a drink to make it up to you.”

The pitch of the conversation rose a notch. Somebody shouted. “Hear, hear.”Dream Cover Final

“That’s the least you can do.” Another voice sang out.

A burly cowboy stepped up beside Jake. “It’ll take more’n one drink to make up for this.” With the speed of a rattlesnake, he drove his fist into Jake’s jaw.

“No!” Nettie shouted.

Jake’s head rocked back and he fell against the bar. His hand came up instinctively to feel for the damage to his face. Driving his weight forward, Jake ducked under a second punch. His return jab glanced off the cowboy’s shoulder. The man spun to the side. He recovered his balance with a roundhouse to Jake’s upraised arm.

The room erupted into a mare’s nest of shouts and commotion. The crowd surged forward to surround the two men. Nettie scrambled over the top of the bar, her drink flying, to land beside the bartender. She grabbed his arm. “Help. Stop them!”

He merely shrugged.

The two men rolled on the floor. Grunts punctuated slaps. She couldn’t tell who was landing punches where. The burly cowboy had Jake down.

No, now Jake rolled on top. He punched the cowboy in the nose. Blood squirted.

The cowboy heaved Jake off and swung a left to Jake’s eye. The onlookers shouted encouragement. “Git ’im. Punch his lights out.”

Nettie screamed. The din and confusion overwhelmed her with total helplessness. This couldn’t be happening. She had to stop this insanity. Where were the other women? Gone. No help from them.

Nettie slipped from behind the bar and out the back door. Her boot heels thundering on the wooden sidewalk, she ran down the street to the Sheriff’s office and yanked open the door.

“Bar fight. Help!” she yelled and ran back to the saloon. Sheriff Ingram lumbered behind.

 

boxingNow, please visit the following blogs for more on explosive scenes!

* Margaret Fieland at http://margaretfieland.com/my_blog

*Anne Stenhouse http://goo.gl/ILNek6

* Lynn Crain at http://lynncrain.blogspot.co.at/
* Beverley Bateman at http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
* Kay Sisk  http://kaysisk.blogspot.com
* Connie Vines at http://connievines.blogspot.com/
* Ginger Simpson at http://mizging.blogspot.com
* Rhobin Courtright at http://rhobinleecourtright.com

Published in: on June 28, 2014 at 6:29 am  Comments (8)  
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Does Nettie Dare to Dream?

Dare Cover Final“Ready or not, rodeo world, I’m back. Nettie Moser inhaled the smell of rodeo—dust, animal sweat, manure—the scent of pure happiness. She strode to the arena fence near the chutes and climbed onto the top rail to watch the color guard parade the flag. A pretty teenaged cowgirl, long blonde curls bouncing under a white hat, led a group of equally lovely, brightly-clad ladies through their paces. The rodeo queen and her court.

Nettie shook her head. Some like the pomp and falderal, but I’ll take a rangy steer any day. She looked around at the crowd. Wonder where the other women riders are. She hopped down from her perch and headed for the registration booth where Jake already waited in line. “Here I am, ready to ride.”

It had been a long five years since her dear friend Marie Gibson was killed when her bronc collided with the pickup man’s horse. That accident had shattered Nettie’s rodeo dream but she finally overcame her fear with the help of her mentor’s unforgettable advice: Live your life, follow your dream.

“And I’m glad.” Jake pulled her into the circle of one arm. “But did you get a look at those steers, little gal? They look pretty big.” He winked at her.

Nettie took a couple of exaggerated, swaggering steps. “Never met a steer who could get the best of me.” She laughed out loud. It felt so good to be here in Cheyenne. The snorts and squeals and bawls of the rough stock in the pens, the shouts and cheers and curses of the cowboys were music to her ears. Anticipation skittering inside, she could almost feel the steer’s rough hide through her denims. She stuffed her leather gloves into her back pocket and leaned over to check pull the straps on her spurs tighter. She couldn’t wait to be on the back of a bucking, writhing animal, pitting her wiry102 pounds against its half-ton of muscle and bone.

Grandma on Horse

Montana cowgirl Nettie Brady Moser has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the journey toward her dream of being a professional rodeo rider. In the 1920s she struggled against her family’s expectations and social prejudice against rodeo cowgirls. During the Great Depression, marrying Jake Moser and then raising their son took priority over rodeos. And then she was devastated by the death of her friend and mentor in a rodeo accident.

In the spring of 1941, Nettie, now age 36, is regaining her heart and spirit, and she is determined to ride again at an event in Cheyenne, Wyoming. To her dismay, the male-dominated Rodeo Association of America enforces its rule barring women from riding rough stock and denies her the chance to ride. Her fury at the discrimination can’t change things for women—yet.

Based on the life of my grandmother, who rode rough stock in Montana in the 1920s, this  rodeo saga parallels the evolution of women’s rodeo from the golden years of the 1920s, producing many world champion riders, and shows its decline, beginning in the 1930s and ending with World War II in 1941.

Published in: on June 20, 2014 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dishwater Tree Grows From Seed of Conversation

dishwater treeSeveral months ago, I had the opportunity for a sneak preview of Angela Janacaro’s debut novel, The Dishwater Tree, and enjoyed the story so much. Now that it is out, I wanted to share her journey with my readers.

Welcome, Angela. Where did this story come from?

Thank you, Heidi. This story came to me by way of a ninety-two year old woman who happened to mention a trip she and her husband were taking back to the Miles City, MT area to view her childhood homestead. When she returned I asked what she had seen and her reply was, “The only thing left was my mother’s dishwater tree.” Although I had never heard such a description of a tree, I knew immediately what it meant and it struck a chord with me and ignited my imagination.

 Have you always wanted to write? How did you get started?

I have always written, but never considered myself a writer. For me writing has always been a way to express something I am unable to verbalize. When I started having children, my writing increased exponentially because I had so many emotions for my children and my life as a stay-at-home mother. I began writing after the children’s bedtime and during naptime as a creative and emotional outlet. I also enrolled in an adult education course for writing. It met every month and I was required to bring something to class which set the sideboards on what I could realistically accomplish during the month. The most difficult aspect of the class was sharing what I had written with others because it felt so deeply personal to me. After a few classes, I discovered people responded well to my words and stories and it gave me the confidence to believe there was a novel in the pages I had written.

 

What did you learn from writing The Dishwater Tree? And what would you like your readers to learn from it?

Writing this book was such a wonderful experience! I know it sounds cliché, but it amazes me a seed of an idea could be given to me by way of a conversation with a friend, and it could grow into the story of The Dishwater Tree. I learned the emotions, situations and characteristics I write about are universal and embraced by anyone who reads this book. First and foremost, I want the readers of The Dishwater Tree to be immersed and entertained. Secondly, if a reader takes anything from the story I hope it is the feeling that life is beautiful. If we all had the privilege to make it to the epilogue of our own lives I think we would find both the bad and the good meant something, and brought us, and those we loved full circle.    

 Who is your favorite character, and why?

Hmmm….tough question because I love them all! It’s almost like answering which of my four children I love the most. My favorite character is Josephine Rourke. She is everything we all aspire to be; beautiful, rich, kind and loving. Yet, she also endures terrible hardship and loss which is something we can all relate to in our own lives.     

Do you write in chronological order or do you bounce around within the manuscript?

I have been asked that question many times and I can understand why because it’s almost as if there are two novels under one cover. I wrote the story from prologue to epilogue. While I was writing a chapter with Josephine and Jimmy in 1922 I knew what would have to happen in the following chapter with Worthy and Marie in 2002. Because the characters are so intertwined, the thought process flowed easily for me. I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but because I am such a rookie writer, I did not even use an outline.

 What books or authors have most influenced your life most?

The book, Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig because of its sweeping descriptions of the Montana landscape and raw human emotions. The author, Mildred Walker because her characters are so relatable and her writing style is clean and concise.

 What is the wisest thing anyone has said to you?AngelaJanacaroMed

“You’ll never know until you try.”

 How did you find your publisher, Raven Press?

My sister knew that I had a manuscript hidden away in a desk drawer and that I had never done anything with it because I really didn’t know what to do. She shared a newspaper article about Janet Muirhead Hill and Raven Publishing. I sent in a query, and the rest is history.

 Do you have another writing project underway?

I do! I am working on a book about a lifelong best friend relationship which is tested because of poor decisions made earlier in life and truths left untold.

The Dishwater Tree is available through Raven Publishing and Amazon.com

Synopsis: It’s 2002, and Worthy Chambers’ days are as numbered as the leaves on the dishwater tree at the end of Confederate Lane. Her final wish is to know who left her on the orphanage’s steps nearly eighty years ago. With few clues to follow and the clock ticking, her daughter Marie agrees to help in the search. Life-long questions are answered, love is rekindled, and secrets are revealed.

Alternating chapters take the reader back to 1922 to share in the life of Josephine Rourke, a young woman pledged by her parents to marry a hot-tempered man she doesn’t love. Meanwhile, a young Irish activist for the copper miners of Butte, MT, flees to Wallace, Idaho, to escape the threat of death. When he and Josephine fall in love, trouble brews for both of them.
The weeping willow tree on a barren hill in Miles City, Montana, plays a part in the hopes and dreams of three generations.

 

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