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.

Code of the West

This is a wonderful video that shows the heart and passion of the West. My home state of Montana is very similar to Wyoming.

The Code of the West: Alive & Well in Wyoming – Trailer

from Havey Productions on Vimeo.

And, from one of my favorite blogs, is this article:

Cowboy Ethics
I just finished reading Cowboy Ethics, a book focused on showing the financial world how far they have moved away from the values and principles that some of this country’s greatest heros lived for. I originally bought the book because I was intrigued by the photography of the American West, but as soon as I opened the book I began reading, and an hour later I finished the book.

It really made me take into consideration the Code of the West that the author presents. True, some of the legendaryness (that may not be a real word, but it sure fits this spot) of the American Cowboy may be stretched or idolized, but the true message of the story comes through loud and clear. The message may be aimed toward the financial leaders of the country, but the story is for all Americans to read and to take into account.

The Code of the West that the author implies is as follows:
Live Each Day with Courage
Take Pride in Your Work
Always Finish What You Start
Do What Has to be Done
Be Tough, But Fair
When You Make a Promise, Keep It
Ride for the Brand
Talk Less and Say More
Remember That Some Things Aren’t for Sale
Know Where to Draw the Line

These may sound like a fantisized lyric from some ole worn out country song, but after reading through the story from the author I got to thinking about where my priorities are set and how I treat myself and those around me. So I strongly reccomend this book by author James P. Owen as a good read for those interested in an encouarging read, and not to mention the awe-stirring photos of the American Western Rancher from David R. Stoecklein. I would even consider this as a great gift for those you feel the need to share the message with.

What is your opinion/thoughts on these Cowboy Ethics and the Code of the West and where do you think the ag community stands on these things?


Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (3)  
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Escape, A Wyoming Historical Novel

jeanhenrymeadphotoMy guest today is the author of three novels, including Escape, A Wyoming Historical. She’s also the author of seven nonfiction books and numerous award-winning magazine articles.

Escape is the story of a young girl, masquerading as a boy, kidnapped by the Hole-in-the-Wall gang (or Wild Bunch), which includes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Where did you come up with the idea for this book?

I began with the Four-State Governor’s Pact to eliminate outlaws during the mid to late 1890s. With that premise in mind, I decided that some of the outlaws would stop at an outlying sheep ranch in the middle of a ground blizzard, with a posse in pursuit. I then came up with a feisty little southern woman and her orphaned granddaughter who are awaiting the return of the woman’s husband. I’m a seat of the pants novelist who doesn’t outline, so I just give my characters free rein. I had previously researched a centennial history of central Wyoming, so I was well acquainted with the history of the area and the people involved. And the novel is based on actual historical events and people, primarily Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

Is there any basis in the gang’s history for this premise?

Yes, they eventually fled the country because war had been waged on all outlaws, and they did rob the Belle Fourche bank in South Dakota, which is the central theme of my book. The young, kidnapped girl listens to the gang plan the robbery and it was actually bungled by alcoholic horsethief, Tom “Peep” O’Day. Following the robbery the girl and the youngest outlaw take horses to Spearfish, South Dakota, in preparation for the gang’s escape from jail. Also, I include a lot information about Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Harve Logan, the main members of the Wild Bunch as well as a ten-page epilogue which details the outlaw’s actual fates.

You’ve done a good job of developing the characters and dispelling the myth that the Sundance Kid was a fun-loving, benign Robert Redford-type. I imagine you did a lot of research about this infamous gang.

Thank you, Heidi. I did a lot of research and make a couple of trips to the old outlaw hideout, The escapefcaltHole in the Wall, in central Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. There I talked to an old outlaw who had known some of the gang members. He had also talked to Robert Redford back in the 1970s while Redford was researching his book, The Outlaw Trail. I researched in other ways and learned that Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid, was from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and a member of the literary society there before he traveled west to Wyoming. He was a surly character, not the happy-go-lucky- guy portrayed in the film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

I enjoyed the character Tom Peep O’Day, a bumbling drunkard outlaw, who provides humor in the midst of serious danger. Was he a real person?

Yes, he was, and my favorite character to write about. He was lovable in a pathetic sort of way and he nearly stole the book from the other characters.

I was thinking Billy might have been based on Billy the Kid. Is there any basis for my idea?

Billy Blackburn is a fictional character and named for my son, Billy. And Jettie Wilson, the grandmother, was patterned after my own maternal grandmother.

Do you have a long-time interest in writing about history?

I became interested in Wyoming history after moving from southern California to Wyoming during the 1970s. There is such rich history in Wyoming, with the Oregon, California and Mormon trails, the Indian hunting grounds and battles with soldiers, the Pony Express and intercontinental telegraph lines. I wrote a number of books about the area.

Has your background in newspaper and magazine writing helped in researching and writing your books?

Absolutely. I researched my centennial history by reading 97-years worth of microfilmed newspapers for Casper Country: Wyoming’s Heartland, and had so many research notes left over that I used them to write Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel.

Have you always aspired to be a writer?

I wrote my first novel in fourth grade with pencil on construction paper and took a chapter a day to school to read to my friends. Fortunately, it was never published. I worked as a reporter for my high school newspaper and served as editor in chief of my college paper while a cub reporter for the local daily newspaper. I was a 28-year-old divorced mother of four daughters at that time and often took my youngest to class with me when I didn’t have a babysitter.

Are your non-fiction books mostly on Western history?

Three of my nonfiction books are interviews, the rest are historical. My first book was a collection of interviews with well-known Wyoming residents, including Dick Cheney, attorney Gerry Spence, Governor Ed Herchler, U.S. Senators Simpson and Wallop, Buffalo Bill’s grandson, sportscaster Kurt Gowdy and a number of others.

I understand you have a new novel coming out soon. What are your other novels about?

A Village Shattered, my senior sleuth novel, is the first of my Logan & Cafferty series, which features two 60-year-old widows living in a California retirement village. Dana Logan is a mystery novel buff and her friend, Sarah Cafferty is a private investigator’s widow. When they discover their club members are being murdered alphabetically and the inexperienced sheriff is botching the investigation, they decide to put their crime solving experience to work, but not before Dana’s beautiful daughter is nearly killed in the process. The second novel in the series, Diary of Murder, will be released next spring. I’m also working on a historical novel about the hanging of Cattle Kate as well as a children’s book, The Mystery of Spider Mountain.

Which do you like writing the most-fiction or non-fiction?

I enjoy both but prefer fiction because it’s so liberating and I don’t have to stick to the facts. I have a vivid imagination that conjures up all kinds of problems for my characters. And that’s what novel writing is all about: problem solving.

What is the most important marketing tool you’ve employed?

The internet. You can reach readers all over the world by promoting your work in your pajamas, if you want. There are many author-reader sites online where you connect with people who like to read, such as Goodreads, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.  Twitter is my favorite place to promote books and my blog sites. Blog touring, or virtual book tours, have also become a great way to promote your work. I’m having my own virtual tour from December 1-15 and have set up a special blog site to advertise the schedule. It’s located at:  Everyone’s invited to stop by and sign my virtual guestbook at the bottom of the page. Those who leave a comment are eligible to win one of three of my signed copies of A Village Shattered, or if they prefer, my western historical novel, Escape.

I also have a blog titled, “A Western Historical Happening,” at    My web page is at

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