Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Heidi Thomas and COWGIRL DREAMS: An Interview

A pair of novels featuring a strong young woman, and set in 1920s Montana? Absolutely!! And both of Heidi Thomas’s novels are award-winners, too. Here’s a summary of the first, Cowgirl Dreams:

Nettie Brady should have been born a boy. She wants to do everything her brothers can on their Montana ranch. When, at age 14, she successfully rides a steer at a neighborhood rodeo, her life is changed forever. She wants to be a rodeo star. 

The problem is, her mother thinks rodeo cowgirls of the 1920s are “loose women” and that Nettie needs to learn how to be a lady by playing the piano, doing needlework and cooking. Nettie could care less about these ladylike pursuits and takes every opportunity to defy her mother, sneaking out to participate in rodeos, helping her brothers train roping horses, and going to work for a neighbor who raises rodeo stock. 

Add to her obstacles the death of a baby sister from influenza, Nettie’s broken wrist from riding a steer, and her older sisters’ skepticism. Nettie’s dream keeps getting put on hold.

After meeting young, handsome neighbor Jake Moser, Nettie gets a job with him, gradually falls in love, and they elope to escape Mama’s plans for an elaborate, fancy wedding. Mama shuns Nettie, afraid of neighborhood gossip that may ruin the family's good name. 

Eventually, Nettie returns home and reunites with her mother. She rides in a rodeo, with her family’s blessing. Finally, she realizes being a girl isn’t so bad. 

Her dreams are about to come true.

And here's Heidi:

Cowgirl Dreams and its sequel, Follow the Dream, were inspired by family history. Can you tell readers a bit about that inspiration? 

After my grandmother died when I was 12, my dad mentioned that she had ridden bucking steers in rodeos when she was young, alongside Montana’s World Champion Bronc Rider, Marie Gibson. I thought that was a pretty cool thing for a grandma to have done, and I filed that tidbit of information away until years later when I began to write fiction. So far I have two novels published and a third coming soon (all loosely based on my grandmother’s life), plus I’m writing a non-fiction book about those old-time cowgirls of Montana. Four books resulting from an off-hand piece of family history fifty years ago!

I understand you grew up in rural Montana. It sounds like an idyllic childhood, one that directly influences your work. How much of your experiences play into your stories? 

First of all, I like to attribute my sense of independence and my inner strength to the way I was raised on a ranch in isolated, rural eastern Montana. My parents taught me to think for myself, stick to my convictions, and live the Golden Rule. Also, we lived under similar circumstances to my grandparents when they were young—no electricity until I was six years old, attending a one-room country school with a total of four students, no TV until I was 12, and no indoor bathroom until I was a junior in high school (where I lived in a dormitory during the week). Because of that, I could identify with how my grandmother grew up and had to run her household. In addition, I grew up with a strong sense of place for the high plains prairie, an understanding of the people and the courage it took to live there, and a love of animals.

Can you tell readers a bit about how you got your start in writing? 

I often tell people I think I was born with ink in my veins. My parents read to me and I loved stories. I made up little stories and then when I learned my ABCs, I started to write them down. I remember setting up a little “office” in the abandoned coal shed near the house, with a wooden box for a desk, a lined tablet and several sharpened pencils. I was a “writer.” So I’ve always loved to write, and I went on to earn my degree in Journalism at the University of Montana, worked for a newspaper for many years, then did freelance work, and then returned to my first love—fiction.

Your books could be classified as “new adult” – a cross between YA and adult. Would you agree with that? 

I like that term. I did write the books for adults, but kept it suitable for young adult readers. I hope they can serve as inspiration for young readers—whether they like “western” stories or not—to follow their dreams.

What’s your favorite bit of writerly advice? 

Perseverance. Read a LOT, study and practice the craft, and keep on submitting. When I started sending out fiction, I decided I would try to collect 100 rejections, because I’d heard that some big-name authors had received that many. And, I thought it might soften the blow of getting numerous “No’s”. I actually had collected about 35 by the time my first book was published, so I felt like I was a little ahead of the game.

I see that you have a couple of sequels planned in your series. Can you tell us a bit about them? When can readers find them in bookstores? 

My third book, Dare to Dream, is a continuation of the Nettie Moser story, set in the 1940s, when women’s participation in rodeo was reduced from competing with men on bucking broncs and bulls to the role of “Ranch Glamour Girls” (or non-competing rodeo queens). I was hoping it would be out this year, but because of a change in publishers, it will probably not be published until early next year. My non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! is also scheduled to come out in late 2014. The fourth book in my “Dare to Dream” series will feature the next generation and a new heroine, based on my mother who emigrated from Germany after WWII. And the fifth book in the series will be the great-granddaughter of the original character and more of a contemporary piece of fiction.

What’s the best place to learn more about you? 

My website is and I blog at I’m also on Facebook and on Twitter @Heidiwriter

Thank you for hosting me, Janet. It’s always great to connect with another Montana gal!



Morgan Mandel said...

Your grandmother was very spunky for her day! She forged the way for others later who dared to be lawyers instead of secretaries!

Morgan Mandel

Janet Fox said...

She was, wasn't she, Morgan? And how great that Heidi could capture her story.

Heidiwriter said...

I'm so fascinated by the cowgirls of that era. The more research I do, the more impressed I am!

LinWash said...

This series sounds awesome. Your grandmother was definitely a pioneer in many ways.

Janet Fox said...

I agree, Linda. This part of the world makes strong women, but that was a time when you had to have superhero strength!

Karen Casey Fitzjerrell said...

Heidi - your next books sound as fascinating as your first two. Can't wait to get my hands on them. Keep us all informed!

Janet Fox said...

Karen - thanks so much for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Nice interview, Heidi and Janet! I loved reading Cowgirl Dreams, and look forward to reading more from Heidi. I'm interested in the term "new adult" for a combo of YA and adult reading, and hope my work on historical biographies might fit into that genre. Do you think it will catch on? I know there is a trend for some adults to read YA or to gravitate toward YA books. I can see it in bookstores who position YA titles for adult traffic!
Best wishes -- Joyce L.

Anonymous said...

Heidi, I loved reading Cowgirl Dreams and look forward to reading more from you! I am interested in the reference to "new adult" as a genre. Do you think it will catch on?? I see that bookstores position YA for adult traffic now, and I'm hoping this applies to my area in historical biographies. Keep the cowgirl novels coming! Best wishes, Joyce L.

Janet Fox said...

I definitely see a lot of attention paid to "new adult" and maybe that does reflect the fact that more adults are turning to YA lit.

And historical bio is really important for that market, as the new curriculum guidelines attest.