Montana for Real

The blog also known as Montana for Real.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On the Mend


November may be fall in most places, but for us it is traditionally the first month of winter. Each year we engage in our annual race to finish any and all maintenance or improvement projects that cannot be done once the ground freezes--driving fence posts, repairing roads, cleaning feedlots--and every year we push it right to the limit. One fall my husband trenched in the plumbing for our new porch in the dark, as the snow fell and the temperature dropped. By morning the ground was frozen solid. The next fall we scrambled to get the foundation for the same porch poured before the weather got too cold for concrete to set properly. (This is a sterling example of the rate at which home improvement occurs around here, by the way.)

This year my husband rented a backhoe for the fall fix-it rush. His last project, again completed as the snow began to fall, was cleaning out the south reservoir. The soil out there is a gumbo clay that stuck in the bucket, then partially froze overnight. Before hauling the backhoe to town he spent most of an afternoon chiseling muck with a crowbar. Then he hauled a few hundred pounds of salt and mineral out to the cows. Then he pitched hay in all of the round bale feeders. The next morning, he couldn't bend his left elbow.

A few days before all this, we got our initial warning blast of snow--the week we all weaned and shipped calves, as per usual. While helping my cousins gather, my horse stepped in a snow-covered badger hole and pancaked, slamming me down on my right side. Thanks to the five layers of clothes that made it nearly impossible to climb on said horse, I bounced pretty well, but it sored my shoulder up enough that for the first few days it was difficult to reach over my head or behind my back.

Yesterday we stopped by the house for a Pepsi break and Greg proudly demonstrated that he is now able to bend his elbow far enough to reach his mouth. He asked how my shoulder was doing.

I said it was much better, and in my usual, high brow fashion added, "We're both doing great. You can pick your nose and I can wipe my butt."

Merry Thanksgiving!

If nothing else, you can be glad you're not here.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

You Inspire Me


As a writer, I am often asked where I find the inspiration for my stories. The answer--everywhere. News stories, family gossip, conversations overheard at the dentist's office, and most of all life. It's all around us, you just have to pay attention.

One of my favorite nuggets, though, came courtesy of long time writer friend Patty Blount, who made me spit Pepsi all over my computer by declaring on Twitter that she'd just given herself a minor concussion trying to remove her sports bra at the gym. Her tale of woe sounded just like something that would happen to a character I was writing at the time, so I asked if I could borrow it. She graciously agreed. 

In honor of a great friend and an award-winning writer (check out her books at who is celebrating the beginning of a shiny new half century of life tomorrow, here's a sneak peek at the scene she inspired, now a part of my novel Reckless in Texas, due to for mass market release by Sourcebooks in August 2016.

The Set Up: Immediately prior to this scene, Violet has suffered a fall from a horse in a muddy arena, causing a mild case of whiplash. Joe has been given the job of seeing that she gets safely to her camper and tucked into bed.

The parking lot outside the emergency room had a wicked tilt to it. Or maybe that was Violet, because when Joe wrapped his arm around her shoulders and tipped her to the left, the ground flattened out. 
“You’re a mess.”
She wanted to smack him for laughing at her, but she needed all her concentration to climb into the pickup without braining herself on the door frame.
Joe buckled her seatbelt and shut the door. When he climbed behind the wheel, he asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Do you mind if I swing through a hamburger stand on the way?”
 He cranked the engine and she hunkered into her seat, letting her eyelids droop so the lights along the main drag zoomed past in streaks like when a movie spaceship jumped into hyperspeed. She was stoned. More stoned than she’d ever been in her life, including the day she gave birth and the night her son was conceived. And the second one didn’t count because she was drunk, not stoned, and they were totally different. Weren’t they? Except in that Johnny Cash song about Sunday morning, but she was kinda young and na├»ve back then so maybe she just thought he was stoned on beer.
Anyway, this was nothing like being drunk. More like floating. Really high. She could still feel the pain in her neck—the real pain, not Joe, who was annoying her with the bossing and pushing and all—but neither pain bothered her if she didn’t move too fast. Joe didn’t ask if she wanted her prescription filled, just pulled into an all night pharmacy and left her in the pickup while he jogged inside. Just for that, she ate most of his French fries while she waited.
When he parked at the rodeo grounds, she slid out of the pickup only to discover her legs had gone on strike. Joe caught her, propped her up and steered her in the direction of her trailer. Violet yelped when something popped out from under the fender and went straight for her knee. Katie jammed her head under Violet’s hand, stubby tail doing double time. Joe scratched the dog’s ears while Violet turned her head one careful degree at a time. Where Katie went…
Cole unfolded from one of the lawn chairs in the black void under the awning. He looked at Violet, frowned, then looked at Joe. “What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s got whiplash and she’s zonked to the eyeballs on pain meds.”
“And they left her with you?”
Joe made a face as if he couldn’t believe his bad luck, either.
“How’s Delon?” Cole asked.
“Good enough to ask if he won a check,” Joe said.
“Guess he’ll live then.”
The rigid set of Cole’s shoulders relaxed a touch, the equivalent of a normal person’s giddy smile. Violet ground her teeth. Of course he hadn’t come to the emergency room. Instead, he’d sat alone in the dark, brooding. The big dumbass. She shrugged free of Joe’s arm and stumbled over to plant a hand square in the middle of Cole’s chest, both for balance and emphasis.
“You are a jerk,” she said, giving each word its own space.
“I know.”
She slid her arms around his waist and burrowed her head into his shoulder. “I love you anyway.”
He stood, stiff as a statue, as she clung to him. After a few seconds his hand came to rest on her back, patting awkwardly. “You scared the shit outta me.”
“Join the club.” She gave him another squeeze then let go and turned on her heel, sending her head spinning off into hyperspace again.
Joe grabbed an arm and swung her around to face the steps. “Up you go. Say goodnight, Violet.”
“G’night, Violet,” she repeated, then giggled.
“Geezus. She’s wrecked.” Cole whistled to his dog. “Let’s get outta here, Katie.”
“Appreciate the help, buddy,” Joe called after him, then manhandled her up the steps and through the door, propping her against the nearest wall while he found a light switch. “Which bed is yours?”
“I need to clean up first.”
Joe made an exasperated noise, but helped her to the bathroom door. He inspected the interior and grunted. “It’s so small you probably can’t fall over.”
 But she could faint, and almost did when she got a look at herself in the mirror. She peeled off Joe’s coat, hung it on a towel hook and shrugged off the hospital gown. A shower was beyond her. She’d have to settle for combing the mud out of her hair and swabbing her face and neck with a washcloth. First, though, she had to lose the sports bra. The clammy elastic dug into her shoulders and ribcage like steel cable. She hooked her fingers under the bottom band and tried to peel it up. The bra didn’t budge. She pulled harder, gritting her teeth against the arrow of pain that shot down her neck. Her fingers popped loose and her hand flew up to cold-cock her square in the chin. The toilet hit the back of her legs, buckling her knees, and her shoulders slammed into the wall. She slid down like a bird on a windshield.
Joe yanked the door open as her butt hit the toilet lid. “What the hell—” 

Violet blinked up at him. Them. Multiple versions of his face wobbled though her field of vision. “I believe I’m gonna need a hand here,” she said.




Sunday, October 25, 2015

In Praise of a Good Wreck

My latest latest blog post is available at Progressive Forage Growers, in which I cogitate on all the wisdom I've accumulated from questionable choices:  A Good Wreck.

And while you're there, check out the other blogs. If you enjoy mine I suspect you'll get a chuckle from some of their other humorists.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sucking It Up


The trouble with being the person on the ranch with the least mechanical expertise is you get stuck with the jobs that don't require any, especially on the days when there are five pieces of equipment that require repairs and you may have had a hand in breaking two of them. For the record, nobody mentioned I shouldn't tilt the bucket down past level while setting big round bales on the stack, so the broken strap on the grapple fork is totally not my fault. And that thing with the hoist on the grain truck would NOT have happened if my husband hadn't been rushing me.

Basically I get the menial labor jobs, like when big globs of algae/moss grow inside the tank on the water truck and will plug up dozens of nozzles if they're allowed to get into the sprayer. My mission (and nobody asked if I chose to accept it)--clean the inside of an eight hundred gallon tank through an opening the size of a dinner plate.

The answer--Shop Vac, naturally. If you've been hanging around here for a while, you'll know either Shop Vac or duct tape is my answer to everything. (See Of Moths and Madness for one example).

And thus....

So this weekend when you gather 'round for your tailgate party, keep in mind some ranch wife may have Shop-Vacced a water tank so you could enjoy those steaks and burgers.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Next Stop, Insanity


First off, I wrote the title to this blog post and had my fingers poised above the keyboard when my husband burst in the door and asked, "Wanna see some bears?" People, there are no words in the English language important enough to keep me at my desk under those circumstances. Especially when said bears are a sow grizzly with three cubs and they're A MILE FROM MY HOUSE.

We've known there were grizzlies around for the past several years. The neighbors see them. We find bear scat on the road and around the grain bins up on the ridge, but this is our first actual sighting. Unfortunately, we didn't get within camera range. Or maybe fortunately because SOW GRIZZLY WITH CUBS. We do have very good binoculars, though, and it was an amazing sight. Also, I now feel totally justified for carrying bear spray to walk across the yard to my mother's house after sunset.


Back to my previously scheduled post, which now seems pretty dull by comparison. This week I started a brand new book. Just me and a blank white page, upon which I am expected to paint an entire world, beginning with a couple hundred words:

(Note: Click on the image to enlarge. If you read my first book, The Long Ride Home
you've already realized from this snippet that the new series isn't quite so squeaky clean.)

At this moment, I always feel as if there should be a chorus of angels, or at the very least that tinkling sound magic spells make in Disney movies, and sparkles floating around in the air. Because really, writing fiction is a sort of magic. The essence of creation, as miraculous as the act of conception (yep, there's more of that in these books, too). I am giving birth to not one, but a whole cast of humans.

And yes, sometimes it's a lot like being in labor, except without the epidural. I have very fond memories of the epidural. Beer isn't nearly as effective, unless you use it to wash down a couple of shots of tequila, and then I just experience a different kind of pain while getting reacquainted with my lunch. Which is a real disappointment, because I thought a high tolerance for alcohol was part of the package when I became a writer, along with the voices in my head and a nearly irresistible urge to edit magnetic signboards in public places.

For the love of God, people, learn to mind your apostrophes before I'm forced to do it for you, which would be embarrassing because I am not good at stealthy and the Chief of Police knows my parents.


Writers tend to sort themselves into two categories: Plotters and Pantsers. Before committing a single word to the page, Plotters spends days, weeks, or months developing a detailed outline, in depth character sketches, maybe even a collage of photos that represent the people and places in the book. When not writing, I assume they iron their socks and alphabetize their canned goods.

Pansters are so-named because they prefer to fly by the seat of their pants, making it all up as they go along. You can probably guess by this aimless, rambling post which group I belong to--or so I thought. Turns out, I'm a hybrid. Or possibly an undercover Plotter who's just too lazy to write it all down.

My normal process is to start with a situation that piques my interest--a true story about a high-caliber rope horse that goes missing then shows up years later, ridden by an oblivious teenager (see The Long Ride Home)--then spend months letting it rattle around inside my head, conjuring up the people who would be most damaged by this situation, Then I dream up several key scenes from the beginning, middle and end that act as my guideposts. And then I start to write, figuring out as I go along how to get from one key scene to the next.

(Note to writers, aspiring or otherwise: This is basically three act structure, without the whiteboard chart, index cards or sticky notes. Again, too lazy for all that, unless I've written myself onto the edge of a cliff and it's the only safety line. If you want to know more, ask me in the comments and I'll hook you up with some links.)

Along comes my three book contract with Sourcebooks. Book One (now pretty much officially known as Reckless in Texas and pretty much officially set for an August 2016 release) was complete before we started pitching it to publishing houses, which is the norm for fiction. I'd written the first few chapters of Book Two and had the situation, the characters and my key scenes firmly embedded in my mind, in hopes that someone would want a series. Book Two, working title Tangled Up in Texas, is now complete and will be off to my editor by the weekend.

Which brings us to Book Three. It must share the general setting and star at least one secondary character from the first two books. So here I sit, aimed a hundred and eighty degrees from my usual starting position. I've got these people, now I have to figure out what to do with them.

Like I said, I thought I was a Pantster, but I've always sort of scoffed at the writers who claim they sit down at their computer every day to see what happens because they don't know until it appears on the page. Surely, I reasoned, they must have a sketchy outline in their head. They can't really end every scene with no idea where the story is going next.

Yeah. I was wrong about that, too. I have only one key scene in mind for this book, and it's still up for debate. But I no longer have the luxury to mull things over until it all comes clear. I have this thing called a deadline and it demands I put words on the page now, so I just bailed in and started writing.

It's very much like taking a cross-country road trip with people I've only known for a month. Usually I would have a map with a route drawn out and we'd all have the same destination in mind. From here to Great Falls to Rapid City to Chicago to Cleveland and finally the Big Apple, for example. And I'd know who was most likely to navigate rush hour traffic without accidentally taking an off ramp into drug gang turf or squashing a smug hipster in a Smart Car like a gopher, possibly on purpose.

With this book, we climb in the pickup every morning, look at each other and say, "Keep heading east, we're bound to hit some part of the coast eventually. When you see the big water, stop. And for crying out loud, don't let Hank drive or we'll end up in New Orleans throwing beads at topless women."


P.S.- Since I failed to get photos of this morning's bears, you can have this one from our Sunday drive up in Glacier National Park instead. He was smaller, cuter, and polite enough to stand alongside the road almost totally ignoring the tourists who climbed out of their cars and offered themselves up as an afternoon snack.

P.P.S. - THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT! Can you hear my inner editor screaming?  But it is funny.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All the Seasons


So, you want to visit Montana or southern Alberta but you just can't decide which season you prefer? Come in late August or early September, you can have them all.

August 22 at our ranch (NOT in the mountains), 32 degrees.....

August 23rd, Whoop-Up Days, Lethbridge, Alberta, mid sixties...

September 5th, Claresholm, Alberta, forty-five degrees and three inches of cold rain....

September 12th, Brooks, Alberta, eighty-degrees....

And today, forty and foggy with fall color starting to show....

This is why we have a very large porch. We have to have coats/gloves/boots on hand for every kind of weather, every day.


Monday, September 07, 2015

The Camper's Curse


Dear Visitors to Glacier National Park,

I suspect your Labor Day camp outs were pretty much ruined by the weather over the past three days. I wish I could say I was sorry, but really I'd like to thank you on behalf of the entire local population. Such a large swarm of people determined to enjoy themselves in the great outdoors is an irresistible target for Mother Nature's contrary sense of humor, and she obliged by dumping up to ten inches of snow in our mountains (which have been ablaze for weeks) and two inches of sorely needed rain on the adjacent plains.

Also, a shout out to my cousin who did his part by not entering any of the rodeos this weekend because he planned to be home harvesting grain.

I do feel badly for those who traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to revel in the Park's natural beauty. Please do come back next year. We'll probably need more of your weather karma by then.