A Special Guest Today

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipt for the Million, 1857?

782. Management of a Horse.

Fourteen pounds of hay in one day, or one hundred pounds a week, with three feeds of corn a day, are sufficient for a horse that is not over-worked. In traveling, after the principal feed, let a horse have not less than two hours’ rest, that his food may have time to digest.

Welcome Award Winning Author Heidi Thomas

Today my guest is Heidi Thomas, author of Follow The Dream and my critique writing buddy and friend. Welcome.

1) First of all, congratulations on winning a WILLA award for this novel. I can’t tell you how excited I am for you. I have loved your female protagonist, Nettie Brady Moser, ever since I heard you read her adventures, dreaming of riding bulls in rodeos in 1920, and finding the guy of her dreams instead.  Tell us, what was it like to hear that you won this award?

At first, I couldn’t believe it. I had to re-read the message several times to see if I was a finalist or a winner. Then it was a rocket ship ride to Cloud Ten and higher, where I floated for about a week. It’s a wonderful “high” and it is so nice to receive validation that what you’ve written is considered “good.”

2) That’s both funny and exciting. Well, the fuss is about Follow The Dream, a novel which won in the YA category but really is a great read for all ages. Could you give us a summary of the story?

This book starts out with Nettie’s cowgirl dream come true—married to her rodeo cowboy, plans to ride the rodeo circuit, and a coveted invitation to join the Tex Austin Wild West Troupe in London. But she soon discovers that she will now have family responsibilities, and then drought and the Depression forces them into years of continuous moves to find grass to feed their horse herd. Nettie experiences severe challenges to her dream, including tragedy, loss and fear. Nettie must learn that sometimes dreams need to be changed, but to never give up.

3) What is especially strong about the novel is the backdrop of the story: Prohibition, the Great Depression and the terrible environmental conditions of the times that challenged ranchers in Montana. Against it all is Jake and Nettie making things meet. What stories or research did you draw on to show life during this time and place?

Well, as a kid, I read Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, of course, but Montana had its own set of problems and ways of dealing with that era. My dad told me many anecdotes about growing up in 1930s Montana, which I drew on for my book.

4) At one point, Jake gets involved in bringing boot leg booze into Montana from Canada. Tell us something about that and the cowboys who might have gotten into it when times were rough economically.

Montana law enforcement did, for the most part, “look the other way” when it came to serving alcohol in the back room of saloons, but it was still illegal. Because Cut Bank (where my grandparents lived) was so close to the Canadian border, cowboys crossed to compete in rodeos and many sought to improve their financial status by bringing some extra bottles back home.

5) For me one of the most memorable sections of Follow The Dream is when Nettie, Jake and their young son drive fifty horses from their home in eastern Montana to greener grass in Salmon, Idaho.  Part of the trip goes through Glacier National Park, which was pretty new back then and the wild country with hard luck towns and dried up homesteads. I understand this based on a true story of your grandparents. What’s the story behind this dramatic part of the book?

My grandparents did raise cross-bred Percheron horses for draft work and for rodeo stock. During the early ’30s, Montana experienced an extreme drought and a grasshopper infestation that my dad said ate everything in their path, including fenceposts. My grandparents were desperate to save their horses and heard there was grass in the mountains of Idaho. So they set off on this three-month, 400-mile trip over steep mountain passes with only three other cowboys and Shorty, the cook. My dad told me of this adventure, which he remembered vividly, although he was only six years old. It must have taken great courage to undertake this journey, not really knowing what lay ahead.

6) Another thing I’ve loved about both novels in this series is your descriptions of horses and livestock and how they move and react. (Wonderful scenes of riding bulls, riding horses and herding cattle.) For writers who might be writing about times when horses and wagons were the main type of transportation, what suggestions do you have for bringing to life these animals and their gear. You just can’t write “and she got on her horse and took off.”  Wouldn’t you have to know the era? How would a lady ride in 1900? 1820? How does a horse react to someone who might not know how to ride?

I would advise someone writing about horses to go visit a working ranch, to observe the animals and the riders, and even try riding one yourself, if you are brave enough! Being there, you get the full effect of the smell of horse sweat, the sounds of cattle, the taste of dust, and how the cowboys act and react to situations. For writing about a by-gone era, I recommend doing lots of reading—books that describe how life was then.

How women rode in the 1800s and early 1900s is an interesting question. Women started out riding side saddle, because it was most unseemly (even considered detrimental to their health) that they would ride astraddle. But ranch girls and wives learned that wearing split skirts and riding regular saddles was so much more comfortable and practical. Split skirts and pants were still scandalous attire in public in the early 1900s, as Evelyn Cameron, British-born Montana photographer discovered when she was nearly arrested for dressing that way in town.

Wow. And then there was the issue of girls wearing pants in high school in the 1960s.

Thanks again for the interview, Heidi. Can’t wait for the banquet when you get your honor. I’ll be there in the front row of tables rooting for you.

Thank you, Janet. My books, Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream are available from my website, my publisher Trebleheart Books , and Follow the Dream is available on Kindle. Heidi is a member of Women Writing the West. You can find the WILLA  at the WWW website.


15 thoughts on “A Special Guest Today

  1. What a wonderful post. I love the description of experiences that are similar to those of my own grandparents during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. My great grandfather on my mother’s side was a teamster, and he alway had Clydesdales.

  2. Heidi –
    I marketed a historical last year about the Jewish Mafia in 30’s Cleveland, which was full of bootleggers, but I never knew there were cowboy bootleggers. Thanks for the interview and enjoy your time in the limelight!
    Your friend in Texas,
    Stephanie Barko

    • Thanks to all of you for commenting. I’ve listen to Nettie and her adventures for some time in our critique. So excited that Heidi has won this award.

  3. What a special kind of growing-up you experienced, Heidi! Parents and grandparents who settled the west! When my parents brought my sister and me west to Colorado from Minneapolis, I instantly latched onto the unique surroundings here, the mountains and the friendly mix of people.
    You undoubtedly capture that adventurous and courageious family experience in your historical series. Congrats again on your WILLA Award! Just sorry I won’t make the WWW Conference this year.

  4. I appreciated this discussion of Heidi’s book. What a great read! It is easy to relate to Nettie as she copes with the highs and lows of her life. Thanks, Heidi, for bringing Nettie and her family and their adventures to life for us.
    Wilma Smith

  5. Janet – Heidi, Thanks for sharing the background of Follow The Dream. Heidi, how wonderful to have had an “inside link” to the past via your father and grand parents experiences. I’ll be hooting right along with Janet, if not in the front row, somewhere close by!

    Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

  6. Janet, I had the priviledge of reading Heidi’s work and as a male reader who likes mainly, westerns and adventure stories, he book kept me interested from begining to end. I will recommend it to all my friends. Jared McVay: Bears, Bicycles & Broomsticks & The Legend of Joe, Willy & Red

  7. First, a big congratulations Heidi, on winning a WILLA for this incredible book. My love affair with Montana began with research long before I was privileged to visit the state. And reading this book is a must for me after enjoying this interview. Wish I could be at the WWW conference and cheer you on. What an honor and how much you’re going to enjoy accepting that award. Cheers.

  8. Great interview, Heidi and Janet,
    I love the Idaho trip your father told you about. Is it in the new book? What an adventure for a 6-year old but I bet his parents had a somewhat different take on it. I’ll look forward to getting my coopy at the WWW conference and cheering you on about your Willa!

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