A Montana Book and Research Tour

I recently returned to my native state of Montana for a mini book and research tour–another enjoyable “Thelma and Louise” trip with my sister-in-law. I always love traveling through Big Sky Country.Hittin’ the open road.

Flathead Lake at Lakeside, MT.

One day it was 73 degrees and the next… Only in Montana!

My research led me to a stop in Ovando, MT at Trixi’s Antler Saloon and at a museum dedicated to the 1940s world-renowned trick rider.

Not only did she do tricks on horseback…

But when the stage was too small, she twirled her ropes while riding a unicycle!

Another stop took me to a museum dedicated to World Champion Bronc Rider Fannie Sperry Steele.

Fannie’s “dress” chaps, made of calfskin and still in pristine condition.

Fannie Sperry Steele’s house on the ranch at Gates of the Mountains near Helena, MT

My tour ended in Missoula at the Montana Festival of the Book, where I helped work the Women Writing the West table with Beth Hodder and Pam Tartaglio.

What a fun trip. And now I’m off to Albuquerque, NM for the WWW conference!

Meet Award-winning Author Beth Hodder

My guest this week is Beth Hodder, author of the WILLA Literary Award Finalist children’s/young adult novel, Stealing the Wild.

Stealing the Wild is an entertaining, informative story of life at a ranger station. Jessie Scott, 12, hopes to enjoy time with new friends at Jessie’s home in the remote Schafer Meadows Ranger Station within the Great Bear Wilderness in Montana. This sequel to the award-winning novel, The Ghost of Schafer Meadows, finds the three friends and Jessie’s dog, Oriole, unwittingly hunting for whoever is poaching wildlife in the wilderness.

Beth, you have worked for the U.S. Forest Service. Tell us what inspired you to write these books?

Part of my job with the Forest Service included surveying the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex in northwest Montana for rare plants. I also was in charge of the native plant program for the Flathead National Forest, and we did rehab work in backcountry campgrounds. My husband, Al, was the wilderness ranger at the Schafer Meadows Ranger Station, deep in the heart of the Great Bear Wilderness, which is part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. I had the opportunity to spend lots of time at Schafer Meadows when I was working. I also traveled there on some weekends to visit Al. I love the area. It’s like going back in time to the 1920s or ‘30s. There is no electricity, telephone or cell service, Internet, or TV. To get there, people must hike 14 or more miles, depending on the trail; fly to a grassy airstrip; or ride on horseback. When I began thinking about writing a novel, Schafer Meadows presented itself as a natural place to start. Writers are told to write about what they know, and this was it for me.

Why did you decide to write for young adults?

I have a friend who asked me to edit a manuscript she had written. The protagonist was a 16-year-old girl. To help me understand what writers need to know when writing for younger audiences, I read a Nancy Drew mystery. I loved them as a kid. I found myself drawn to that age group, thinking it would be easier to write novels for young people than for adults (not so). I remembered what it was like being a kid and believed I had the ability to connect with younger readers.

You have been very successful at self-publishing these two novels. Tell us what made you decide to go that route.

When I wrote my first book, there were two things that really drew me to self-publishing. First, I was anxious to get the book into the hands of readers. I knew finding a publisher could take a long time, and I was impatient. Second, I didn’t know if I had a good enough product to be picked up by a publisher. I didn’t have confidence in myself as a writer. I had never taken any writing classes, and I had only attended one two-hour session with a writing group. I sent the manuscript to as many people as I could to get their opinions. In the end, a friend who had self-published suggested that route to me. She had self-published her own book and watched other writers she knew who sat waiting to find a publisher while her book was out making money. She walked me through everything I needed to know, and I decided that was what I should do for my own book. After I published The Ghost of Schafer Meadows and it became successful, I was already on my way to self-publishing my second book, Stealing the Wild.

What kind of marketing, etc., have you done for your series?

I sell most books to individual people. I have attended many festivals, have done book signings, and attend a local farmer’s and artisan’s market weekly in the summer. I am fortunate to have Glacier National Park nearby, so I have a constant supply of new people who learn of my books, rather than local people. I wrote a marketing plan and have Baker & Taylor as a wholesaler, which allows me to get my books into national chains. My books sell well in local bookstores, gift shops, and ma and pa stores. I also visit schools, libraries, and other places, and have put in for book awards. Marketing is the most difficult part of the writing process for me. It takes time and effort and it’s where I feel I’m weakest.

Do you have a third book underway?

Yes. I have the draft completed for a third book in the series. Unofficially titled Out of the Ashes, Jessie and her mother and Oriole go camping in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and get caught in an arson-caused fire. I decided to write the book away from Schafer Meadows this time because I wanted to have airplanes and helicopters in the story and didn’t want to have to have them at Schafer Meadows. The airstrip there is one of a handful in the entire U.S. that’s within a designated wilderness area. Aircraft are monitored closely for use. I didn’t want to intrude on that use. The aircraft in my story can take off and land at the Spotted Bear airstrip, outside of wilderness.

This story also pits Jessie against her mother and makes her mother a strong character in the book. Mom is a writer and spent a lot of time in the first two books as a secondary character, much of the time in the background. I wanted to develop her more in this book.

When did you first start writing?

I tried writing years ago, when I was in my 20s and 30s, but I wasn’t very successful. I guess I actually “became” a writer in 2004, when I started to write The Ghost of Schafer Meadows. That’s when I knuckled down and kept at it.

What motivates you to write?

Friends, readers, and my husband and other family members help keep me on track. I’m not a dedicated writer—one who writes every day or on a set schedule—so I find inspiration in knowing that others like my books.

Are there authors who inspire you?

Ivan Doig, who lives in the Seattle area but who was born and raised in Montana, is one of the writers whom I admire most. I love his style of writing, which creates a strong sense of place with lyrical language. His book, This House of Sky, which was a 1979 National Book Award Finalist, is my favorite of his. I also loved Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and being a writer of mysteries, I’m drawn to mystery writers. Recently I’ve been reading the Charlie Moon mysteries by James D. Doss. We lived in New Mexico for 5-1/2 years, and Doss is from Los Alamos and Taos. His books are likened to Tony Hillerman’s stories, although Charlie Moon and characters are Utes, not Navajos. Doss infuses a lot of humor in his books, which I like.

Doig is also one of my inspirational authors.

Where can people go to learn more about your work, or purchase your books?

Please visit my website, Grizzly Ridge Publishing,  to find out how to order my books directly through me. I’ll be glad to personally sign any that are ordered that way if you wish. They’re also available at Amazon.com, both in paperback and on Kindle, through Smashwords.com, and at some retail stores.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Beth.

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