Friday, May 23, 2014

A Sense of Place: Guest Post by Author Heidi M. Thomas

A Sense of Place
by Heidi M. Thomas
Montana is my inspiration—for my books and many other things in my life. The “Big Sky” stretches from horizon to horizon like a great blue dome. Its sunsets are unequaled, with streaks of orange and gold painting the edges. In spring, green-tinged hills roll through the landscape, buttered with bright yellow wildflowers. White-faced reddish-brown calves frolic through the meadow pastures, happy to be alive. 

Spring in Montana often comes late, after a long, snow-filled winter that seems to last forever. After four or five months of isolation, cabin-fever, and bone-numbing cold, spring is the new awakening, a new beginning, a season of hope.
As the saying goes, “You can take the girl out of Montana, but you can’t take the Montana out of the girl.”

Montana is the setting for my “Dreams” trilogy based on my grandmother who rode in rodeos during the 1920s: Cowgirl Dreams, Follow the Dream, and the newest novel, Dare to Dream.

When I began researching the first book in 1999, I wanted to find the ranch where my grandparents had lived when they were married in 1923. The only thing I knew was that it was the "old Davis Place under the rims" near Sunburst. After being referred from one “old-timer” to another, I finally located a cousin who could tell me exactly where it was.

Imagine my surprise and awe to find the house still standing, although in bad repair, and being used as a cattle shelter. I spent about an hour there, taking pictures and imagining what the newlyweds must have felt like, living in this beautiful place "under the rims." This is the backdrop for Cowgirl Dreams, where the dreams began.

Follow the Dream continues with the rodeo and ranching dream, but as the terrible drought of the “dirty thirties” progressed, Nettie and Jake (based on my grandparents) moved more than 20 times and finally trailed their herd of horses 400 miles from Cut Bank, Montana to Salmon, Idaho to find grass.

Dare to Dream travels on to the 1940s when Nettie, Jake, and Neil are settled on a ranch near Ingomar, Montana. The town was established in 1908 as a station stop on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Although the land around Ingomar attracted numerous homesteaders during the decade following the railroad's completion, the region proved to be far too arid and inhospitable for intensive agricultural use, and the town declined. The railroad through the area was abandoned in 1980, and only a handful of people remain in Ingomar today.

Book Synopsis: Nettie has recovered from the loss of her friend Marie Gibson in a freak rodeo accident and is ready to ride again. To her dismay, the male-dominated Rodeo Association of America enforces its rule barring women from riding rough stock and denies her the chance to ride. Her fury at the discrimination can’t change things for women—yet.

Dare to Dream is available from the author’s website, on Amazon, and from the publisher, Globe-Pequot/Twodot Press, along with her re-published first two novels, Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream.

Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a ranch in eastern Montana, writing stories and riding horses. From one small piece of information about her grandmother has come three novels and one soon-to-be-released non-fiction book about old-time rodeo cowgirls, Cowgirl Up! Heidi’s first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, won an EPIC award and the sequel, Follow the Dream won the WILLA Literary Award. She is a freelance editor, teaches community classes in memoir and beginning fiction writing in north-central Arizona where she also enjoys hiking the Granite Dells.


  1. Welcome to the blog, Heidi, and great post! How fascinating that you were able to see and visit their old farm. Even more interesting is that you based the stories on your grandparents. Now that would be fun research.

  2. Thank you for hosting me today, MK! This has been a fun blog tour. That research trip was so rewarding and I was blessed to find my grandparents' first home.

  3. Heidi, I love your post, with your expression of your deep ties to your Montana roots. It's beautifully written. Touches the heart. So wonderful you found your grandparents' place. Must have been some echoes there. I understand your sense of place from my own Oregon roots, and the fond memories of my sojourn in Montana, where I lived for about three wonderful years.

    1. Thank you, Janet. Montana will always be "home" to me. I'd heard so much about my grands' first home and I was so thrilled to find it.

  4. Lovely post, Heidi. The rich sentiment you show about the place and your grandparents is to be treasured. It must have been hard to leave the house behind.

    1. Thank you, Arletta. My grandparents moved more than 20 times during the horrible drought years in the '30s, I can only imagine how much my grandmother would've wanted to finally have a place of their own!

  5. Heidi - I can't imagine the mix of emotions you must have experienced upon discovering your grandparents home. Makes your writing all the more poignant, I'd think, and full of a sense of place. Great post!

  6. To have found your grandparents first home still standing is so neat, Heidi. I smiled when you said it had been used for a shelter for cattle. When I first visited the tiny, fenced in cemetery in Wyoming where my grandparents and a two other relatives are buried, I learned that some rancher had been using it for a catch pen for his cattle until he was found out and persuaded to cease operations there. I have enjoyed Nettie's stories. You may recall that I was born and raised in Montana and even after all these years, my heart still harbors a quiet longing for my old home.