Women Writing the West

I just returned, on a grand high, from the annual WWW conference, held this year in San Antonio, Texas. Writing conferences are an excellent way to connect with fellow scribes–to network, to share, to learn, and to commiserate about the writing/publishing life.

I have made so many good friends through this group, not to mention meeting agents, editors, film-makers, and I made my connection to my publisher through WWW. Workshops give new information or reinforce ideas lurking in the back of one’s head. Speakers provide inspiration–“You can do it too!” And WWW is one of the most supportive, enthusiastic and caring groups I’ve been privileged to be a part of.

Books. Ah, books. There is so much truth to the saying, “So many books, so little time.” We always have a bookstore with members’ books for sale, and every year I have to rein myself in. I want to buy one of each. Next year mine, Cowgirl Dreams, will be there!

Women Writing the West was birthed in the early 1990s by Jerrie Hurd and Sybil Downing at an organizational meeting of the Women of the West Museum. It has since grown to more than 300 members and conducts a renowned writing contest, the WILLA Literary Awards, named for Willa Cather.

It is open to women and men writing about the west or in the west, and includes well-known western and historical authors, such asĀ  Sandra Dallas, Molly Gloss, Louise Erdrich. and Jane Kirkpatrick.

American Cowgirls

A petite young woman mounts a 750-pound steer, and hangs on to nothing but a rope tight-wrapped around one hand. That she stays on this bucking, twisting, snorting beast for ten seconds, eight seconds or even two seconds, seems a miracle.

This is the intriguing picture of my grandmother I have carried in the back of my mind since I was a little girl. Ever since I began to explore fiction writing as opposed to journalism, this idea has been nagging at me, telling me I needed to write about her.

And so, in 1999, I began a novel, with the working title Cowgirl Dreams, hopefully to be published in 2009–ten years after I started writing it.

My grandmother, Olive May “Tootsie” Bailey, grew up the daughter of homesteaders during the early 1900s in the Sunburst-Cut Bank area of Montana, near the Canadian border and east of the Rocky Mountains.

Although she no longer rode in rodeos when I came along, “Gramma” was an avid horsewoman and ranch wife, equally at-home on the back of a horse as she was in a dress and heels. She and my grandfather, Otto Gasser, were equal partners in rural Montana ranching.

She died when I was only twelve, so I never got to talk to her about life as a rodeo cowgirl. But she had taken many pictures, created photo albums, scrapbooks and journals, from which a story emerged. My dad also told me stories about his growing up in the 1920s and ’30s. The spark grew to a flame, and I was hooked.

The 1920s were the heyday of rodeo, where the cowgirl was as much a part of the festivities as the cowboy. This decade is where I chose to start my story. While my grandmother apparently rode only in small town and neighborhood rodeos, she was friends with, and competed against fellow Montanans, Alice and Margie Greenough, Fannie Sperry Steele, and Marie Gibson. Trixie McCormick was another Montana trick rider who performed during the 1940s.

Fame and fortune was as much of a dream then as now, and those dreams became the backdrop for Nettie’s story in Cowgirl Dreams.

I recently ran across a wonderful link to a video entitled American Cowgirl http://www.americancowgirl.com/film.htm Check it out. It tells the story.

Published in: on August 11, 2008 at 12:52 am  Comments (5)  
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