Author Interview: Meet Jamie Lisa Forbes

My guest this week is Jamie Lisa Forbes, author of the WILLA Literary Award-winning novel, Unbroken. Congratulations on your award, Jamie. It was great meeting you at the Women Writing the West Conference, and I loved reading your book. I identified with many similar experiences from growing up on a ranch.

I enjoyed meeting you as well, Heidi, and thank you for this opportunity to share with your readers.

Synopsis: Ranching is a life of extremes, perhaps even more so on the high plains near Laramie, Wyoming. And no one knows that better than Gwen Swan, who married both her husband Will and his family ranch where she works hard beside the men and struggles to raise her two children. There is little time for reflection on anyone’s part as the wheel of the seasons grinds relentlessly onward bringing disasters and triumphs and a rough road for all concerned. Relationships shift, old resentments resurface and friendships are strained and tested as everyone finds themselves struggling against the elements and each other to continue their way of life. In this remarkable debut novel the author presents us with fully formed characters that ring as clear and true as the picture of ranch life she paints as a background for the universal struggles we all confront.

Read a review at  Mary Trimble Books.

Jamie, this is your first published novel. Have you always wanted to write?

I had a ranch childhood very much like the children I describe in my novel.  I grew up as those children did, learning to put up hay, ride and brand, but I also spent a great deal of time reading and from reading, I went into writing my own stories and poems.  I wrote almost from the time I could read.  And I have written continuously ever since.

I was struck by the fact that winters seem to dominate the story, and I realized from my eastern Montana ranching background how true this is. Winters can last for six months some years, and summers seem so fleeting in comparison. Tell us where the inspiration for this book came from.

I got the idea for this novel in 1990, while I was still working on the ranch.  By that time, I had ranched as an adult for over ten years.  I had become more and more troubled by the fact that literature about the West was dominated by cowboy myths, when all around me, there were women whose lives of quiet courage went unrecognized.  Ten years later, long after I had left ranching, the idea of this novel just would not let me go and I sat down to write the story that had been in my head for years.

For ranch wives like Gwen, hard work beside the men along with juggling meals and family in relative isolation, is a fact of life. Do you think ranch women are tougher than average?

That is a great question and now that I live in the southeast, I often think about this, especially now that I am writing a novel that takes place in North Carolina.

I think that what makes successful ranching women unique is their self-sufficiency and independence. They can make do with less and not feel troubled by it. Ranching women, in my experience, are also very stoic. They meet the twists and turns of their lives more with a sense of dark humor than complaint or self-pity.

Having said that, I have met remarkable, ambitious and successful women outside of ranching who are certainly tough in the worlds they inhabit.

Is there a message in your novel you want readers to grasp?

In the face of the unknowns of life, every one of our relationships is important and should be treated with respect and care.

Are you working on another project?

Yes, I am working on a novel that takes place in rural North Carolina about a relationship between a teenage boy and an abused little girl who is rescued by his family.

What books or authors have influenced you?

Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky was a huge influence on me.  His memoir, which I read in the early 1980’s, convinced me that stories about ranching life could have a broad appeal to readers.

(I love Doig’s writing too.)

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was also a huge influence.  What I learned from Melville is that once the reader learns the rhythms of the life that is depicted–in his case, the harvesting of whales, and in my case, ranching–then those rhythms can be used as the drumbeat to drive the plot to its climax.

What do you find challenging in writing?

I think writing is very hard.  The way I work is I conceive of a plot broadly and then break it down into scenes and then break each scene down to its elements focusing on the characters I want to spotlight.  But this process of cobbling together sympathetic characters in a believable and engaging story is to me the most challenging part of writing.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered through writing?

That you often cannot control your characters. They end up acting like themselves and send the plot in directions you didn’t imagine.  As an example of this, when I originally started Unbroken, I thought I was writing about Meg.  She was going to be my heroine.  But Gwen, the character I intended to be a secondary character, hijacked the novel and took it over.  I think all my readers are glad she did.

I am going through the same experience with my second novel.  My characters are taking it in directions that I did not expect at the outset.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Do not stop reading.  Do not stop writing.

Unbroken may be found at Jamie’s website and her publisher, Pronghorn Press,  Pronghorn Press also sells an audio version of Unbroken and the audio version is very moving. Also check out Jamie’s author page on Amazon.

Once again, thank  you for this opportunity, Heidi, and good luck in your writing endeavors.

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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