Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Meet Guest Author, Heidi Thomas

I'd like to welcome our special guest author today, Heidi M. Thomas. Heidi is a long-time writer with multiple publishing credits in journalism. Her first novel, "Cowgirl Dreams" is loosely based on her grandmother's life.

Heidi, would you please give us an overview of "Cowgirl Dreams?" And tell us what about your grandmother's life spurred you to write this book.

Heidi: The fact that she had ridden steers in rodeos during the 1920s fascinated me and kept gelling in my mind as an adult until I decided I had to write about her.

In "Cowgirl Dreams," 14-year-old Nettie discovers the excitement of successfully riding a steer at an informal neighborhood rodeo. Already a "tomboy" who loves to ride, she is hooked, and being a rodeo star becomes her dream. But, her mother echoes polite society's view that rodeo cowgirls are "loose women," and she would prefer that her daughter stay at home and learn to run a household instead.

This becomes a story of how Nettie overcomes the many obstacles to her dream and includes a romance with a young cowboy who raises rodeo stock and rides broncs.

Katie: Tell us what took you from journalism and writing articles to writing fiction.

Heidi: I've loved "making up" stories since I was a little girl. The practical side of me led me to study journalism as a career, but I always nurtured the idea that I'd like to write a novel.

Katie: You mention that "Cowgirl Dreams" is the first in a series. Tell us why decided to create a series. How many books do you anticipate in this series?

Heidi: I have a sequel to "Cowgirl Dreams," working title "Follow the Dream," which follows Nettie's (and my grandmother's) life through the drought and depression of the thirties, all the while still focusing on her rodeo dream. The series idea came about because the first novel manuscript I wrote was based on my mother (who came from Germany after WWI) and my dad. And I have started a fourth novel, "Rescuing Samantha," which is pure fiction, but would be Nettie's great-granddaughter returning to the old family ranch. So, it will be a "family saga" series, stories of strong, independent Montana women.

Katie: Are you planning on using "Cowgirl Dreams" as a sort of template for your next books?

Heidi: Not really. I don't want all my books to seem like the same story with different characters. Although, I intend to continue writing "clean" books that I hope will be suitable for the young adult audience as well as adults.

Katie: You have said that your main character, Nettie, is a strong, independent woman. What strengths and weaknesses does she have?

Heidi: Nettie is determined. She is the kind of young woman who, when faced with an obstacle, tries to figure out a way around, over or under it. She doesn't give up. Her weakness is the tendency, with this tenacity, to become more self-absorbed than she intends.

Katie: How long did it take you to write "Cowgirl Dreams?" Did you experience writer's block along the way? If so, what brought you out of it? If not, how do you stay focused on your book?

Heidi: I started writing it in 1999 and it took me about three years to complete the first draft. I did experience writer's block. I reached the point where I could see where I wanted to go down the road, but couldn't figure out how to get there. That, plus some valuable feedback in my rejections from my first manuscript--that my characters were "flat"--led me to take a fiction class through the University of Washington's extension program. The instructor taught me that I did not have to write linearly, but could go ahead and write that future scene, which would then give me the ideas I needed to fill in the gap.

Katie: How much research did you have to do? Do you enjoy the researching aspects of writing? Why or why not?

Heidi: I read all the books I could get my hands on about the cowgirls of that era, collected newspaper articles, and talked at length with my dad, who told me many stories about growing up with the rancher/rodeo parents. I also took a trip back to Montana and found the ranch where my grandparents had lived when they were first married. The house was still standing, although it was in bad repair. But it was such a wonderful feeling to be there and imagine what my grandmother must have done and how she felt, living there.

Katie: Many authors give kudos to critique groups that they're a part of as being instrumental in getting their manuscripts ready for publication. Do you belong to a critique group? Why or why not?

Heidi: Yes, I belong to two active weekly groups and I find them invaluable. They are both safe, comfortable and positive places to share my work and I truly believe I would not be published without my fellow "critters" input.

Katie: Aspiring authors always want to know what it is that takes you from not being published to being published. What is your take on this and what advice would you give to non-published authors?

Heidi: Study and hone your writing craft--keep learning, keep growing, keep practicing. My favorite writing quote is from Ernest Hemingway, "There are no great writers, only great re-writers." I believe that! Finish and polish your manuscript the best you can before submitting it. Make a list of publishers or agents and when you get a rejection, send it out right away to the next one on the list. And if you are lucky enough to get a personal comment back with a rejection, that is GOLD. Perseverance is key. Don't give up.

Katie: Thanks, Heidi for being on my blog today. Books can be ordered from her publisher or from her website.


Morgan Mandel said...

A lot of us authors started early on making up stories in our heads. Something we can't seem to stop.

Morgan Mandel

Nancy Famolari said...

Cowgirl Dreams sounds like a very interesting story. I'm fascinated by stories of the west because my mother grew up on a ranch and old us stories. I loved hearing about a very different kind of life. (We lived in the east.)

Great interview, Katie!


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Hey, I know that author!

And Ernest was right - it's all about being a good re-writer.

A rejection letter with a comment - Heidi is right, those are rare!

L. Diane Wolfe

elysabeth said...

Nice interview. Almost a female version of Buddy Roberts from Prairie Dog Cowboy in a sense. Except that time is a bit different and the male version is a farmer/rancher who wants to be a cowboy and the female version wants to be a rodeo star. Lots of similarities and lots of differences.

I'll have to see if my library can get the books so I can read them as they come out.

If you'd like to see some of the similarities and differences, check out my blog posting following Prairie Dog Cowboy on its virtual tour - See you all in the postings - E :)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I know what Heidi means as I also received a reject with comments. It was so helpful. I enjoyed the interview.

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Mayra Calvani said...

Great interview, Katie and Heidi.
Funny that you mention that quote from Hemingway. I just read a book, The First Five Pages, and the author quotes him as well. :-)

Anonymous said...

Katie, thank you for hosting me on your blog. Nice interview. And thank you all for visiting & leaving comments. I appreciate every one! Yes, if you would contact your libraries and ask them to stock my book, that would be awesome.

Mary E. Trimble said...

Katie -- You've done a great job presenting Heidi Thomas. I have reviewed Cowgirl Dreams and can testify to its supreme writing.
Mary Trimble

Cynthia S. Becker said...

Great interview Katie and Heidi! I'm going to put Cowgirl Dreams on my reading list.

Cynthia Becker