Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lately I have been working on the Nevada pages of the curriculum unit. I wrote The Orange Slipknot because I wanted to share my love of Nevada--not the glitz of Las Vegas, but the beauty and uniqueness of buckaroo country. I grew up in California, so Nevada is my adopted state. I was a town girl, not a country girl. I never imagined I would grow up to marry a cowboy and raise my kids 50 miles from a town. Life here was so different from what I had known. My letters home to family and friends were filled with adventures and anecdotes that had them shaking their heads. More than once I was told I should write a book. Those letters contained the seeds of stories to come.

When I started my journey into writing, I began by reading books about writing for children. They all advised, "Write about what you know and feel passionately about." I knew I would write about kids growing up in Nevada. My first piece of writing was called "The Best Thing About Nevada," in which a boy tells about all the things he loves about living in Nevada and cowboying with his dad. I didn't know it then, but it was "Ben" in disguise! So many elements from that essay found their way into The Orange Slipknot years later.

Not too long after that I took a course on writing for children. Several of my assignments became Nevada pieces of one sort or another. The first piece that I sold was a magazine article about kids and horses. It would be a few years before I came up with a story that I thought I could develop into a book, but this book was destined to be about growing up in Nevada's cowboy country.

Cowboy country is ranching country, and ranching means beef cattle. As I got more and more interested in sharing my ideas with kids unfamiliar with this lifestyle, I began to realize that many kids don't even know where hamburger comes from. I got involved with Ag in the Classroom and started reading Range magazine. I began to think about how I could use stories to help educate kids about agriculture while entertaining them with cowboy tales.

Agricultural roots were once strong in this country, but now most people are so far from that lifestyle that they have little concept of the relationship between ranching and our food supply. Much of what people do hear about ranching is filtered through the environmentalist view that ranching on public lands is evil and that ranchers are rich free-loaders. Many people probably associate cowboys with either the past or with rodeos, not realizing that this lifestyle is still alive and well in the contemporary West.

I was fairly sure that few juvenile publishers were interested in my topic, preferring urban and multi-cultural settings. When I found Raven Publishing's website and read that the publisher was from a ranching background, my hopes rose. Finally I found a publisher who shared my values!