Montana for Real

The blog also known as Montana for Real.

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.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Hay, I've Hit it Big with the Forage Growers

Once upon a time I started a blog, and my friends and family said "That's amazing!" Or at least, "Wow, that's not so bad." So I printed up my favorite posts and pitched them to a local newspaper conglomerate and much to my surprise and shock, they said, "Cool. We'll take 'em." And lo and behold, after a while I actually acquired fans, which is sort of bizarre but also awesome.

Four years later, my little humor column has gone NATIONAL, in the Progressive Forage Growers magazine e-supplement. Word is I'm a big hit with the people who are obsessed by hay. Check it out:


Monday, August 17, 2015

New and Free--Does it Get Any Better?

Getting published can be both the best and most frustrating experience of your life. Because YAY, an editor loves my book enough to take it on, but *SIGH* the waiting never ends, and patience? Not my greatest virtue.

As many of you know, I sold three book series (now semi-officially called the Texas Rodeo books because nothing is truly official until the book is actually printed) to Sourcebooks last November. Because these are rodeo books and the first is set in the summer, their marketing department strongly believes it'll sell best if released during the summer. BUT, there wasn't enough time to get it out there this year, which means waiting clear until next summer for the series debut, semi-officially titled Reckless in Texas, to hit the shelves.

Yes, dear readers, SHELVES. If all goes as planned you'll be able to pick this one up at your bookstore. Or even WalMart or your grocery story. But not my local grocery store (sorry people who live in my town) because I have it on supreme authority from a million-selling author that your book will never be on the shelves in your grocery store. It is an immutable law of the universe. 

In the meantime, people who've read and loved The Long Ride Home have been pestering me for something new. Since I finished the preliminary draft of Book Two of the Texas Rodeo series and have yet to get a real clue where to start Book Three (or possibly who the main characters will be), I dug out an old novella that I've always been rather fond of, gave it a serious tune-up, and posted it on Wattpad. 

For those who aren't familiar, Wattpad is like an online American Idol for writers. You put a story up and readers get to comment-- either on a particular line or at the end of the chapter--and they also get to vote at the end of each chapter, a sort of virtual thumbs up if you liked it. The more reads and votes you get, the more likely Wattpad will put your story on the front page of their website, which hopefully generates more reads and more votes and attracts brand new fans.

So, if you're looking for a quick, fun read and would like to help make me a star without having to hear me sing (believe me, none of us want that) come and join my Wattpad experiment. Read. Vote. And if you like it, use the Twitter, Facebook and other social media buttons to encourage your friends to come along for the ride. From a purely selfish standpoint, if you like my stuff, the more successful this experiment turns out, the more likely I'll make the time to do it again every three or four months until Reckless in Texas is released.

Here's the link to get you started: To Steal A Cowboy's Heart

Also, a huge ovation for Polly Icenoggle who took the cover photo. Is that awesome or what?

Friday, August 14, 2015

On Subways and Suitcases and the Big Apple


Traveling would be awesome if it didn’t require luggage. Imagine, waltzing through airports with nothing but a wallet and the clothes on your back—at least until you reach the security line, where they take half of those. Air travel with suitcases is the sole reason the term ‘baggage’ has come to refer to hauling around a heavy emotional load.

Last week’s trip to New York City for a writer’s convention was no exception. Before flying out of Bozeman I dropped my son at my sister’s house for a week of quality aunt time. Upon arrival, we discovered his suitcase was back home on his bedroom floor. Thank the stars that I have a male child, and he’d stuffed his iPad and toothbrush in his backpack. Buy two changes of underwear and a pair of swimming trunks and he was set for a week long vacation.

My baggage and I arrived simultaneously in the Big Apple, which is always nice, and I’d arranged a car directly from the airport to the friend’s doorstep where I’d be spending the first night. No sweat.
Then came Wednesday, when I had to get from her apartment to the convention hotel. I considered the cost of a taxi. Then I considered that I could board the subway two blocks from her house and be spit out two block s from the hotel for a mere three dollars. I did not consider that the subway system wasn’t designed for people with luggage. I bought my ticket from the vending machine, swiped it, and promptly got my suitcase wedged in the turnstile. A long-suffering woman in the glass booth shouted at me to back out, then let me through the handicapped door with a ‘Stupid tourist’ eye roll.

New Yorkers are masters of the eye roll. I know. I saw them do it a lot.

I proudly de-trained at the Times Square station, only to realize there were seven exits and I had no clue which was closest to my hotel. I made my best guess and hauled my bag of bricks up three flights of grubby stairs while wearing a skirt and sandals, emerging into the tourist mob without a clue where I was in relation to the Marriot. On the plus side, this is an excellent way to meet handsome, helpful members of the NYPD.

I have no idea how many toes I ran over slogging through the crowd, but I did eventually arrive at the right hotel—word to the wise, there are actually three Marriot hotels in the vicinity of Times Square—dumped my luggage on the first bellman who would take it and keeled over on the nearest couch. 

Not only had I arrived, but I could skip that trip to the hotel gym.

Four days later, I re-packed and headed for home, feeling smug. I had downloaded the Delta app on my phone, checked in online and paid for my bags. I couldn’t be more prepared. The shuttle dumped me out at Terminal Four and I started following signs to the Delta check in, which appeared to be up two floors. As I made for the elevator, a helpful airport employee flagged me down and instructed me to just bop around the corner, where there was a convenient ground level baggage check.

Yay! I barely reached the line when a guy came along waving and shouting at a whole herd of us to march down the terminal—hurry, hurry, hurry—to where another dude was grabbing suitcases and tossing them onto a conveyor belt. I handed over my first bag, expecting him to ask to scan my boarding pass, but he just tossed it on the conveyor with the rest. He started to reach for the second. I kept a death grip on the handle.

“How do you even know that was my bag and where it’s going?” I demanded.

He looked down at the bag we were currently wrestling over. “It isn’t tagged? They’re supposed to be tagged.”

“I haven’t checked them yet,” I said.

He looked at me as if I was the idiot. “You have to go upstairs for that.”

NO KIDDING. Which was why I tried to go there in the first place, instead of this zoo where they were rechecking bags for connecting flights from other terminals. In the meantime, my untagged suitcase had disappeared into the bowels of the airport. Congratulations, JFK, for being the only airport to lose my luggage before I even set foot on a plane.

I hiked half a mile upstairs, where clerks did some truly exceptional eye-rolling and agreed the recheck guys were idiots but could offer no solution. I hiked another half a mile downstairs to baggage services, where a third clerk confirmed their opinion—along with the eyeroll—and made a phone call to see if someone could grab my bag before it dropped into the pit of no return. She did not appear optimistic that such a feat could be accomplished. There was mention of filing a claim at my destination and possibly being reunited with my belongings at some unspecified future date, but no one made any promises.

I dragged my aching feet another mile back upstairs, through security and to my gate, defeated. Just before midnight, I stumbled down the jetway in Bozeman to stare blearily at the baggage carousel, when what to my wondering eyes should appear than my missing suitcase. My fellow passengers didn’t seem to appreciate the magnitude of this modern day miracle. From their expressions, you’d think none of them had ever seen a woman hug a Samsonite before.

Writer friend Patty Blount, my very first little black dress, and yet 
another reason I would have wept if I lost my suitcase forever.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Wait and Hurry Up


Back when I worked in sports medicine as an athletic trainer, we used to say the job was comprised of thousands of hours of boredom interrupted by brief moments of sheer panic. You'd stand on the sidelines day after day watching game after game, and the most thrilling challenge you faced was trotting out on the field with a rack of water bottles during a time out and trying not to trip and fall on your face.

But always, in the back of your mind, was the knowledge that any moment could be THAT moment, when an athlete fell and didn't get up. When you raced onto the field reciting the A-B-C's of basic life support, replaying CPR class in your head, and running through a checklist of how to treat a spinal chord injury. In fifteen years, I'm happy to say I never needed to apply any of those skills, though there were times we immobilized and back-boarded a player as what turned out to be an unnecessary, precautionary measure. And I can honestly say, there's nothing that'll get the ol' adrenaline rushing like the sound of a human bone snapping with enough force to be heard from forty yards away.

Then it was back to the sidelines to observe a few hundred more hours of football or baseball or soccer without having to deal with anything more life threatening than a blister.

You're probably wondering where I'm going with this. Me, too. Give me a few minutes and maybe I'll remember what the point was when I started.

Oh, right. I was thinking how really, working with book publishers isn't all that different. In movies, the heroine gets a big book deal and is instantly whisked off on a glamorous tour of the world where thousands of adoring fans line up to fawn over her. Which actually happens to some authors, I've heard, but they skip over a few things. Namely, the months between when you sign on the dotted line and when something actually happens, because the gap between selling your book and actually seeing it on the shelf can easily stretch to a year. Or two.

Scheduling a book release isn't as simple as scribbling your name in an open slot on the calendar. A savvy publisher is looking at all kinds of factors. What other books are they releasing at the same time that could compete with yours because it's aimed at the same audience? Or, if they've picked yours as a book that's going to get an extra promotional boost, they'll want to avoid releasing on the same day as one of their big name authors who'll be monopolizing a lot of marketing resources. What books are other publishers releasing that might overshadow yours, especially if you're a relative unknown? What time of year do books like yours sell the best? (Yes, good marketing people know these things.) Plus a hundred other factors unknown to anyone outside the publisher's inner sanctum.

All of this to say that yes, I signed a contract for a new, three book series with Sourcebooks back in November. And then...nothing. Well, mostly nothing, at least concerning the first book, which is already complete. I got to meet the whole Sourcebooks team and my lovely editor at both the Romantic Times and Romance Writers of America conferences and learned that due to reasons stated above, the first book is tentatively scheduled to be released in June or July of 2016. I gave them a few chapters and an outline of book two and floated some book three ideas past my editor. Other than that, I've just been cooling my heels over here on the sidelines. And writing another book that I fervently hope they won't hate on sight.

Then yesterday, POW. First email from the editorial/marketing/art department with a list of what they needed from me. Author Bio, character descriptions, book blurb, etc., etc., and by the way, is there any way you can get that back to us by Friday? Or before would be better.

I felt like I'd flashed back to my athletic trainer days. Wait, wait, wait, wait.....OH MY GOD WE NEED YOU NOW.

My first reaction was, "EEK, IT'S STARTING!" And my second was, "Oh...dear...Lord....I have to look into that manuscript I haven't opened in over a year and what if it has moldered into a pile of drivel in the dank basement of my hard drive?"

I'm happy to say, it didn't spit in my face for ignoring it. And in the process of reminding myself how I described these long ago characters, I even found a few things I liked. This line of description in particular, a welcome surprise considering character description is my least favorite part of writing. If I had my way, I'd start every book with photos of the guy and the girl and say, "Refer to this as necessary".

Anyway, the line goes like so:

"This close she could smell the clean sweat that had his hair hanging in damp clumps around his face, and see that his eyes were green. The color of luck, and money, and the grass on the other side of the fence."

I like to think the description tells you something about his character, and how the person doing the describing feels about him. That's the goal with good physical description, anyway, to reveal something of the character of both the subject and the person looking at them, not just an inventory of parts.

The other bit of good news is, I've already done this once before and knew what to expect, so I had most of what my publisher needed already in mind, if not on hand. One frantic email to my agent's office got me the hardest bit, so for once in my life I got my homework done and handed in ahead of time.

If only I'd learned this lesson sooner. Perhaps I wouldn't have procrastinated my way through eight years of college. Or not. Sometimes it's more exciting to just be ready to take the leap at a moment's notice.