I was 12 when my grandmother died, and when my dad and I went through her photo albums, he casually mentioned, “Your grandma rode steers in rodeos, and she competed with Marie Gibson (a world-champion bronc rider from Montana in the 1920s and ’30s).”
That was a surprise to me, although I knew she loved riding the range and preferred the back of a horse to a dustmop any day. But I thought that was pretty cool, to have a rodeo-riding grandmother.
I stored that tidbit of information away in the back of my mind for many years. I went on to a career in journalism (when I figured if I ever wrote a book it would be non-fiction), several years as a freelancer, and a non-creative 13 years as a 9-1-1 dispatcher. When I hungered for creativity in my life again, I took a class in writing for children, just to see if I still liked to write. I did.
The instructor told us that biographies were great for kids, and they didn’t need to be about famous people. My cowgirl grandmother immediately came to mind. But the idea still needed several more years to gel.
When I was ready to try my hand at writing a book, I tried writing vignettes for a straight biography. But it wasn’t working. Grandma hadn’t become a world-champion bronc or bull rider, and my characterization was coming off too flat. I was too close to the subject.
When I gave myself permission to write her story as fiction, it came alive. I was able to fill in the gaps, create emotion and conflict, and write a character that was well-rounded, likeable and active. The result has been a trilogy: Cowgirl Dreams, Follow the Dream, and Dare to Dream.
After all the research I did for my three novels, based on my grandmother’s life, I had enough information to try my hand at that non-fiction book. Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women has just been released.
From a casual conversation and one tiny bit of family history has come four published books!
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award, and Dare to Dream rounds out the trilogy. In addition a non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women has just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of the Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing, edits, and blogs.