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!


Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Punny Interview that Sinks to the Depths: THE NEPTUNE PROJECT

When I invited Polly Holyoke to come on board and submit to an interview, she had a better idea...little did I know she has a gift for puns and a subject - her debut novel THE NEPTUNE PROJECT - that lends itself to that kind of riff. 

Not that the story itself is funny; it sounds like an underseas thrill ride, and as someone with a degree in oceanography, I'm totally hooked. Here's the synopsis:

"Nere is one of a group of kids who have been genetically altered to survive in the ocean. These products of the "Neptune Project" are supposed to build a better future under the waves, safe from the terrible famines and wars that rock the surface world.

But there are some big challenges ahead of her: no one ever asked Nere if she wanted to be part of a science experiment; the other Neptune kids aren't exactly the friendliest bunch, and in order to reach the safe haven of the Neptune colony, Nere and her fellow mutates must swim across hundreds of miles of dangerous ocean, relying on their wits, their loyal dolphins and one another to evade terrifying undersea creatures and a government that will stop at nothing to capture the Neptune kids...dead or alive."

And here's Polly:

So, Polly, I'm going to dive right in with my questions. Do you really think The Neptune Project is going to make a splash?

Well, I hope the book will reel in young readers and that they will read it in schools. It’s always great if a book can make waves. I think the tide of public opinion is finally shifting, and people are starting to realize that climate change is truly a problem.

Not to carp on the topic, but what if your sales plunge because you’ve tackled a difficult environmental issue?"

I doubt that happens, but I have no regrets. I had a whale of a time writing The Neptune Project.

Why do you think The Neptune Project sold in the first place?

I did go against the current by writing a book that is set almost entirely in the sea, if you catch my drift.

Did you have any problems finding a reputable agent? There are lots of sharks out there.

No, I was lucky to land the fabulous and very reputable Douglas Stewart at Sterling Lord Literistic on my first cast. He’s truly a pearl of an agent.

You must have been so pleased when KIRKUS gave Neptune a nice review. It’s like getting their SEAL of approval. How is your current book progressing?

I have to say it’s going swimmingly.

Do you have any fin-al words? Please don’t clam up on me now.

I’d like to dedicate this blog interview to my esteemed British Agent Shirley Stewart, who won our last sea pun engagement fins down. But we Yanks are a stubborn bunch, and I haven’t given up yet. I also want to thank you for letting me indulge my fondness for this punishing kind of humor.

I don’t think either of us or our readers can take much more of this. We really shouldn’t go overboard. We are fin-ally fin-ished here.

All right! I'm ready to dive in, so here's the link: 

Monday, May 13, 2013

SIRENS In the Time of Gatsby

When blogger Gabrielle Carolina - one of the sweetest bloggers out there - asked if I'd like to participate in a blog tour highlighting SIRENS around the release of Baz Luhrmann's new film version of The Great Gatsby, I jumped for joy. For one thing, Gabrielle has treated me royally in the past. For another, I was thrilled to support her in her new enterprise, ModPodgeMarketing.

She suggested that I write guest posts for each of ten stops. I decided to make them kind of "mini-lessons" on the 1920s - hopefully not dry lessons, but interesting little facts and tidbits. They are, in a way, linked; if you are curious, you might want to read them in sequence.

Sybil's pants! Downton Abbey
So...we're on the tour now, and here are the stops and the topics en route. And I want to give a shout-out to the fabulous bloggers who participated - and those who reblogged or reposted - THANK YOU!!

1. Alice Marvels blog - How the "Great War" (World War 1) led directly into the Roaring Twenties.

2. Mod Podge Bookshelf - Women's Suffrage in 1920 and those awful corsets (gone forever, we hope.)

3. Rebecca's Book Blog - Women's fashion in the 1920s (one of my favorite subjects): Coco Chanel and those sweet slinky styles.

One of the best clubs of the '20s
4. Chapter By Chapter - How flappers and gents of the 1920s partied like it was 1999.

5. Reading Teen - Prohibition! Or...why speakeasies were also called "blind pigs."

6. Little Library Muse - Gangsters may be cool but really...not. And their molls lived equally short lives.

7. Mundie Moms - There was a Wall Street bombing in 1920? Yes, and the similarities are uncanny.

8. Fire & Ice - Ghosts, spirits, life after death, and Harry Houdini - and what that had to do with the Roaring Twenties.

9. The Book Rat - All that jazz. Satchmo and more. Yeah, baby.

10. Pieces of Whimsy - The Gatsby itself: Scott and Zelda, the novel, the times.

I hope you enjoy these "histories" because I had fun putting them together!

And if you like 1920s fashion, as I do, check out this cool video:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

More Facebook Hints For Authors

Note: this information pertains to professional author pages, not to personal Facebook profiles. To set up a pro author page, see this post for some basic tips. Again, I want to acknowledge the Romance Writers of America community for sharing their finds and clever ideas.

1.     On using real names versus pen names: if you want your Facebook fan page to show up under your pen name, you must create it through your personal profile (Facebook does not like it when you set up an independent page under an assumed name, and may remove such a page.) On your personal profile page, go to the flywheel on the upper right, and select “Account Settings.” At the bottom of that page, click the “Create Page” link. You can set that page up under any name, including the titles of your books.
2.     Have a big announcement? Want a post to show up like a banner, across the entire page width? Hover over the top portion of the post (where your name shows up) and you’ll see two things emerge – an edit pencil and a “highlight” star. Clicking the star turns the post into a banner that spans the width. You can convert that post back to the standard single column width by clicking the star again.

Above you can see the banner I posted announcing my blog tour. In a few days, I'll return it to normal width.
3.     To increase your reach: Facebook likes it best if you create original material, right there. Rather than link to external material, post your own pictures, videos, or original content. Of course, sometimes it’s essential to link out from Facebook, but you’ll notice fewer page views on those posts.
4.     As with all social media, balance informative material about your writing/your books with informative material of general interest. Think of yourself as an “expert” in some aspect of your interests and be an educator, not a broadcaster/sales person. To that end, one great way to engage interest in your page is to pose questions that are not necessarily about your writing, but perhaps about the writing life, creative work, craft. Questions engage reader interest. Note: always reply to readers. Remember, this is "social" media.
5.     You can add apps to your professional page, including apps about your books. Just under your banner you’ll see a line of small windows: “photos,” “likes,” “videos,” and so on. Click the number button to the right and you’ll open all the windows you have (assuming you have more than four) and one with a +. You can add apps to the + window by clicking on the +, and then “add more apps.” The picture below shows my windows open to the second row.

I've opened the apps to show everything I have added currently. Soon I'll be adding more!

Now, I've discovered that finding the right apps can be a challenge from within Facebook; I found the Bookpulse app, which I use as you can see above, and am very happy with, after hearing a recommendation. In a future post, I’ll try and give you a list of interesting apps you might consider. For the moment, if you do nothing else, add a video app and link to or upload your book trailers, etc., as videos attract more attention in search engines.

More soon!!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Guest Post by Lyn Miller-Lachmann: What’s So Funny About Disability? Using Humor in Portraying Characters with Special Needs

One of the talented fellow students I met at Vermont College of Fine Arts was Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Her award-winning first young adult novel Gringolandia is a powerful story drawn right from today's headlines. Her second novel, due out this month, sounds equally compelling: Rogue is a coming-of-age story about a girl with Asperger's syndrome. I have a deep and personal fondness for books about special needs kids. I'm delighted to host Lyn on my blog this week as she addresses humor in books featuring special needs characters.

An interviewer for my local newspaper asked me how I dealt with the sadness of my protagonist’s situation—the fact that Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome and cannot keep friends, and her parents, struggling musicians, are of little help because they must travel for work. I answered that she draws comfort from her special interest in the X-Men and her belief that one day she too will discover her special power. I also said that Kiara finds humor in her situation, a quirky humor that may be difficult for some readers to understand but that nonetheless makes her real and, hopefully, likable.

An example: In the first chapter of Rogue, Kiara attempts to sit with the popular girls at lunch, and one of the girls pushes her tray to the floor. (This actually happened to me, by the way.) Enraged, Kiara picks up the tray and slams it into the girl’s face. For that act, she is suspended from school for the rest of the year. Several weeks later, she meets a slightly younger boy who has just moved to her neighborhood, but she soon learns that her reputation has preceded her:

Chad whirls around so fast that strands of hair stick to his lips. “Hey, wait. Aren’t you”—he snaps his fingers—“the psycho eighth-grader that got kicked out for throwing a lunch tray and busting someone’s nose?”

“That’s someone else. I, uh, travel with the band.” Truth is, I didn’t throw the tray. I slammed it—hands still on the tray.

People usually laugh when I read the passage, in part because of Kiara’s tendency to be very literal about everything, and in part because, despite the consequences, she’s still proud of having fought back against the girl who humiliated her. In her justifiable lack of remorse, readers and listeners laugh with her, even though they might laugh at her literalness as well.

One of my pet peeves related to outsiders who write about characters with Asperger’s syndrome is their overreliance on humor that draws on our tendency to take idiomatic expressions literally and to fail to understand when people are being sarcastic. It really hurts when other people laugh at us. Seriously. Humor can help to defuse the discomfort that people feel in the presence of disability and distress, but writers have to be careful not to create humor at the expense of the character. The character should be the one who initiates the joke.

One of the best examples of humor in a novel featuring characters with disabilities is Jordan Sonnenblick’s Schneider Award-winning After Ever After (Scholastic, 2010), which portrays a cancer survivor with lingering physical and neurological impairments and his best friend, who has also survived cancer.  Both boys have a self-deprecating sense of humor, though protagonist Jeffrey makes jokes about himself and his academic struggles and friend Tad says the things about their sometimes-clueless classmates that Jeffrey wishes he could have said. Like my protagonist, Jeffrey and Tad suffer pain, uncertainty, and feelings of isolation, and the author uses humor to leaven the story and build connections between the characters and readers who may not know what it is like to live with a disability.

There is a danger in trying to portray characters with disabilities as cheerfully accepting their fate and not wanting those around them to feel bad. Still, while it’s important to show sadness and struggle, we should also include moments of triumph and plain old fun.

You can find out more about Lyn and her excellent books at