My dear friend and fellow writer Kayla Dawn Thomas joins us today to talk about growing up a country girl, finding herself, and her new book!
Picture this: rolling pastures extending for acres before running up against a dense tree line, mountains climbing up to the sky with patches of snow at their peaks until July, horses swishing their tails as they graze, three little girls stuffing wildflowers into the cracks in the walls of an abandoned outhouse turned fort.
That was a snapshot of one of my childhood summers. My Dad worked, still does, on a cattle ranch in Idaho. In my early years, we wintered along the Snake River in the bottom of Hells Canyon. School was a windy one-hour bus ride away. I couldn’t have been happier than when we started wintering in Weiser, Idaho, my first year of high school. We were only fifteen minutes from town. I used to laugh at my friends when they would complain about how far out we lived.
Summers were always spent in Bear, Idaho. No TV, no Internet in those days. Of course, my parents got both hooked up the minute I moved out on my own. I smile about it now, grateful for those screen-free summers.
My sisters and I played outside, rode horses, went to work with Dad when we were older, and played a lot of cards. I read books at every opportunity. I remember reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series in cow camp one summer. It was easy to identify with their ruggedly simple life when there were real live bears clamoring around in the crab apple trees just off porch of the cabin where we slept. My reading evolved in the No Business Basin camp. It went from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Danielle Steel in the blink of an eye. I remember reading Message from Nam in the back bedroom where the sound of the rushing creek and its cool air through the open window brought some respite from the triple digit heat.
It’s easy to make ranch life sound romantic and picturesque, but in reality it’s a tough life. To be honest, I’ve never been super outdoorsy, and was content to keep close to the house whenever I could. I was terrified of cows until my middle school years, and even then I gave their superior size healthy respect. Sometimes we had to share our bathtub with half frozen, muddy calves in the winter and early spring. That always made getting ready for school an event. There was no shortage of stories to tell during classroom sharing time.
People were injured a lot too. I can’t count how many times Mom had to haul Dad to the emergency room with a broken leg or dislocated shoulder. My senior year of high school I had to drive Mom to the ER with a ruptured spleen after she’d been bucked off a paint horse with spring fever. The ranching lifestyle is not for sissies!
And here I am now, an eighteen-year town dweller, reflecting fondly on the place I thought I wanted to escape. It took growing up to realize how blessed I was to spend my formative years in such a unique way and place. Living in the boonies teaches you self-reliance and common sense that is hard to pick up anywhere else. Our community was small, so my sisters and I learned early the value of good friends and helping others. We learned to love and respect nature in all her forms.
Though I wasn’t cut out to be a rancher’s wife or a rodeo queen as an adult, I do love going back to visit. Breathing in the potpourri of pine, cow poop, hay, and dust roots me. I return to a simpler time in my life and treasure every moment I get to visit.
Writing my newest novel, Tackling Summer, was like traveling back in time. I was able to let my memories of the place wash over me giving me almost a movie-like experience as I wove together my characters’ story. Because the setting is so personal, the entire story is very close to my heart.
As I write this, I’m at the tail end of a five-day stay in Bear. This has been one of my best trips up here in nearly two decades. After reliving ranch life through prose, I was ready to experience it again in real life. In fact, instead of spending all my time relaxing on the patio, I saddled up with my Dad and went out on the range one afternoon to wrangle a bull. You can read about that adventure over on my blog.
It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself when you write. For years, I thought I was a town girl inside and out, but I allowed myself to go deeper and discovered there’s a touch of country in there that likes to come out and play from time to time.
Kayla writes general and women’s fiction, as well as chick lit novels and novellas. Her mission is to give her readers an escape, from a chronically busy, overwhelmed world offering them the opportunity to settle in and discover someplace new, maybe crack a smile, and find a little romance.
She’s been a storyteller all her life. Before she knew how to write, she told stories to a jump rope. Thankfully that stage ended once she learned how to work a pencil. Now she’s blessed to be able to write full time and looks forward to sharing her crazy ideas with readers.
Always a romantic, Kayla managed to marry her high school sweetheart. They have a very bright, active nine-year-old daughter.
When not writing or being mom, Kayla can most likely be found in a cozy spot with a good book. Reading, sunshine, and hanging out with family and friends bring her joy.
Following my dream one word at a time.