Tuesday, June 24, 2014


                                                  GAIL L. JENNER

Gail L. Jenner is the wife of a fourth generation cattle rancher. They have three married children and seven grandchildren and live on the original family homestead where history is part of everyday life. A former history and English teacher, Gail is the author of five nonfiction titles and two novels, including the WILLA Award-winning novel, ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS. Gail writes for NPR/Jefferson Public Radio’s historical series and appeared in 2011 on History Channel’s “How the States Got their Shapes.” Her work has appeared in magazines and she has placed in a number of competitions, including The William Faulkner Short Story Contest, the Jack London Novel Contest, two Writer’s Digest competitions, and several screenplay contests. 


What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? 
GJ: Although it didn’t feel adventurous to me then, because I was so madly in love and I was only 20, marrying a cowboy/rancher and moving to a remote rural area was probably pretty adventurous. Many of my friends at the time thought I was crazy. Our house was an 1860s farmhouse that had not been remodeled since the 1920s – but I thought it so romantic, nothing deterred me!

What adventure would you like to have that you haven’t done yet if money and skill were no problem?
GJ: Traveling to more places with my husband, including Alaska and parts of Canada and the U.S. that I haven’t seen – places where we can camp and explore and take horses. I’ve traveled to a number of places, but generally without my husband!

Who are some of your favorite authors?  What commonality do you see in them?
GJ: I’ve been a fan of Debbie Macomber and Jane Kirkpatrick and also Vella Munn and Cindy Leal Massey. Mostly, I love powerful, historical novels like THE HELP, SARAH’S KEY, and WIDOW OF THE SOUTH. I used to read a lot of Catherine Coulter and Nora Roberts, and I often return to the classics, including Jane Austen and Willa Cather. I’ve begun reading several Prairie Rose authors since joining their publishing community, including Cheryl Pierson and Livia Washburn, and I’m excited to read more! Typically, I look for strong characters and a strong story, and for me, historicals are a plus!

I believe color says something about a person’s personality.  What’s your favorite color?
GJ: I am fickle, but I tend to lean toward blues and pinks, but I love combinations of colors, like blue and yellow. In my house, I tend to neutrals because I’m slow to change décor and color schemes, so I find neutrals soothing. In clothes, I’ve been told I look great in blue, lavender, pink, and some shades of green.

If you could have a do-over life, what one thing would you do differently?  What would you do again?
GJ: I would pay more attention to the details in life – at an earlier age! I would sit for longer stretches with the oldsters in my family and listen to their stories and wisdom about life more closely – take down stories and write the names of people on old photos! I would pay better attention to people in general. What would I do again? Everything I’ve done!

What is your writing process from conception to finished MS?
GJ: I started out as a ‘panster’ and then moved to be more of a plotter. I like having a strong sense of my character before starting. Character for me is much more important than plot – or, rather, my plot and conflict originates with my characters and what I hope they learn or experience as they move through the story. I want them to overcome, to succeed – even if they fail at something – but the emphasis is on character arc and development/change. That said, I begin with strong character charts and throw flaws or issues into their lives, all the time doing research into the history of time and place that provides the backdrop. The process for me tends to be cyclical, as characters, research, conflict weave me back to the beginning or plunge me further ahead. I go back a lot in the beginning then I find my “plane” and push on. The conclusion usually slows me down as I throw out situations or details that take me off my path.

Are you a planner, panster or both? 
GJ: As I stated, I started out as a full-fledged panster, but that led to too many delays and rabbit trails, so I am now both. I start strong and then let the characters dictate our journey…I do struggle to maintain a plan as the story evolves, but I’m always keeping the end in front of me.

How did you research for your book?
GJ: For my two published novels, both involved a lot of historical research, especially primary documents and visiting locations/sites of importance. I did an excessive amount of reading, research, etc. For ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS, a story that was centered around Baker’s Massacre and the Blackfeet, I traveled to Montana with my sister, my mother, and four of our children – in an old 1969 pickup truck with old camper! It was an adventure all by itself. For the nonfiction books I’ve coauthored, I did a lot of research into archives and interviewed a number of old storytellers and local historians.

What is your all-time favorite movie?  TV show?
GJ: I think I never tire of watching “Pride and Prejudice” or “Tombstone” and I’ve watched “Lonesome Dove” dozens of times. I love “The Patriot” although sometimes it’s just too sad. I’m a fan of romantic comedies, like “While You Were Sleeping” and “Bridget Jones” or “The Holiday.” Recent movies I’ve loved include “Heathens & Thieves” and the adaptation of “The Help.” TV shows include HGTV and Food Network, along with History Channel specials, and series like Downtown Abbey.

How important do feel writing workshops are to any writer?
GJ: Incredibly important! Can’t emphasize enough what I’ve learned and gained through workshops, courses (online or in person), and conferences! The networking, the new ideas and re-invigoration that results is immeasurable. I’ve saved myself an incredible about of time and I’ve met editors, agents, and other authors who have been either an inspiration or have offered me writing jobs!

If you could learn one new skill, fear and money no deterrent, what would it be?
GJ: To become an accomplished Natural Horsemanship trainer! I have been working with a few young horses over the years, but the process is so much more than what I’ve done and it takes TIME, TIME, and TIME to really see results and develop the confidence I hope to have someday! And along with that, I’d love to race barrels!

If you had a million dollars to donate to any one charity, what would it be?
GJ: Hand of Hope or another Christian charity that helps those in desperate places in concrete ways, eg: building water systems, improving agriculture. Or to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation because the 18 month old daughter of a dear friend of ours have gone through so much trying to build their little daughter’s strength. CF does not get the kind of funding that cancer research or diabetes foundations get and the disease is so frightening and life-curtailing, it needs more support.

What advice would you like to give to an aspiring writer?
GJ: KEEP WRITING. The real difference between a published author and an aspiring author is a completed manuscript! Put that way, the task of finishing is the most important step in getting published. Of course, editing and revising are part of those necessary evils that take a completed ms. out of the slush pile, but the story must be FINISHED first!

Did anyone mentor you or help you along the way?  Please tell us about your mentor and what you feel they contributed to your writing career.
GJ: I did not have any single mentor, but the writers I met through critique groups and writing groups filled those roles. And I read every WRITERS’ DIGEST I could get my hands on and bought writing books by the bucket load – also attended a number of courses early on. I have since mentored other younger or newer writers, and as an English teacher, I have spent my career writing or critiquing others. But I started as a young girl and have never stopped writing…never! In that vein, the encouragement I got at that early age was from my family and my teachers who saw in me the drive to write.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
GJ: #1: Keep writing!  #2: Plaster your walls with every rejection slip you get; by the time you reach 100, or 1000, you will have also sold something! The message: Do not give up and do not get discouraged. Failure only leads to success, if you are ready to keep moving forward.

If you could live anywhere in the world you wanted to, where would it be? (Language is no barrier)
GJ: Right here, on our fifth-generation cattle ranch, overlooking nearly 3,000 acres of ranchland, with a slough rich in wildlife and surrounded by mountains outside my window. Our valley has been called Shangri-la – and that’s what it represents to me still, even after almost 43 years.

Where do you write? 
GJ: Upstairs in our “office/hobby room,” overlooking our ¼ acre garden area, with the mountains (often snow-peaked) beyond the ranch that surrounds me. Sometimes I sit in the bay window of our living room that sits on the opposite side of our farmhouse and peer out in a south-westerly direction. From that window, I look out on the hundreds of head of cattle that we run and more mountains.

How much time do you devote to writing each week?  Do you have a day every week that you take off?
GJ: I generally write a portion of every day. If not writing, then I’m editing or researching. Or I’m marketing. On the ranch, however, my days are erratic and I’ve given up closing the door to family and ranching issues; that only leads to frustration and confusion. But my mind is almost always occupied by my WIP or by questions/concerns about writing. I have learned to take notebook/pen with me so that no matter where I’m at, I have some kind of tool with me!

What is a genre that you have not attempted that you would like to try?
GJ: I’m pretty eclectic and diverse at this point in my writing. I have written and sold two novels, 6 nonfiction books, and a number of feature/profiles and articles, short stories, recipes, poetry and children’s stories. I have not sold, but have written and placed in a number of script-writing contests.
The one genre of novel writing I have not done that I’d like to do, though, is contemporary romance (my novels are historical). My second novel was a YA and I’d like to pursue more YA stories or perhaps try this “New Adult” genre, too.

Is there anything you would like readers to know about you?
GJ: I love the fact that writing fiction – though some consider it “not real” – is, in my mind, a powerful tool for delving into the human heart and our common human struggles. I think authors and writers have a unique opportunity to influence others in positive ways and are vehicles for connecting us or re-connecting us. Story is a basic fundamental activity of all humans. My college degree was in Anthropology and English and I realized early on that story and the story form (whether oral or written) is essential to human interaction and development. I believe in that regard, we have a powerful “weapon” in our hands! Never think of writing as a secondary kind of career choice.

I’d like to give away a downloadable copy of my award-winning novel, recently re-released by PRP to a commenter!

Winner, WILLA Literary Award, from Women Writing the West
CHAPTER 1 Montana Territory, September 1869

                Liza stirred restlessly, trying to make herself more comfortable. Was she home in her own bed? She opened her eyes, then closed them, remembering where she was. She drew the wool blanket up to her chin, frowning. Her dreams had deceived her again. St. Louis was a lifetime away.
                She crawled out from under the blankets and took a deep breath, pushing aside the tears that threatened to weaken her spirit. She had to remain strong, or the fear that followed like a shadow might overwhelm her.
                Stepping carefully over the rocky soil, Liza felt her way to the fire, spreading her hands out over the glowing coals. Glancing up at the moonless sky, handfuls of stars glittered like fool's gold, and she found herself wondering if this journey wasn't just a fool's dream. If only she'd remained in St. Louis. Perhaps, if she'd said no to Father, he would have reconsidered. He might have changed his mind altogether, and then, Mother – Mother would be alive, even now...
                That instant Liza felt, rather than heard, a faint rustle. It tickled her spine like the brush of a feather. Was that the distant pounding of hooves? She drew herself up and peered into the night, but it was impossible to see past the sleeping figures of her father and Giles. The scout, a giant of a man, turned and mumbled something unintelligible. Liza relaxed. It had probably been nothing – just the ghosts that seemed to haunt prairie nights.



TracyG said...

Good morning, Gail. I'm really enjoying these interviews - I'm "meeting" my fellow PRP authors all over again.

My 20 year old heart was lost in the romance, too. Except we packed a U-Haul and moved from Illinois to Texas to begin graduate school. lol

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Gail, I really enjoyed this excerpt. Parts of it read like poetry.
I'm an HGTV fanatic. I love the romance stories and the seasonal series they produce. I have tried to get into Downton Abby on PBS, but I just can't--love Sherlock Holmes though. Tombstone and Pride and Prejudice are both movies I could watch over and over again.
I liked your answer to the charity question. Sometimes we forget about the practical things that improve all our lives like water systems and agriculture.
Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. It's been a pleasure. I wish you continued success and happiness.

Unknown said...

Hi, Gail--I've seen your name often but this is the first time I feel as though I'm talking with you.
I believe you are an All-American Girl/woman....who loves the simple things in life and cherishes the older things in life.
If you though living in an 1860s farmhouse that hadn't be updated since 1920, you must have been madly, blindly in love. But of course--you would fall in love with a true blue American cowboy!
Funny, I mentioned Willa Cather this morning on FB in answer to the question about what is a "strong woman" in fiction. To me, it was Alexandra in "O Pioneers."
We must be somewhat kindred souls.

Unknown said...

Great excerpt Gail. You have a beautiful way with words. Good luck

Unknown said...

Ranching is hard work. Its nice you found time to write. Your book sounds wonderful. Good luck with sales.

gail jenner said...

Hi Tracy: Thankfully no one said I was too young to really know what love could be at 20 (almost 21~) because I wouldn't have listened anyway! But I wasn't rational, to be sure, and I've often felt that God had a hand in our selection. We've had some rough times, like many couples, BUT leaving was not a choice for me. Toughing it out and finding answers was our choice. My heart breaks for anyone who cannot find answers....and sometimes, that is the only choice :-( I feel blessed I made the RIGHT choice for me, in spite of my crazy streak!

gail jenner said...

Sarah: Thank you for this opportunity to "talk" -- I think this is a great venue. And thank you for your kind remarks about the excerpt. That ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS won a WILLA Award meant a great deal -- Willa Cather has been an inspiration to me and I can't recall how many revisions the story went through before I sold it! It actually took me a number of years... And yes, being married to a man who knows how to make or engineer most anything, I've also come to value the very practical response to issues! And agriculture is so close to my heart these days, it feels tragic to me that more and more people have lost that connection. We even have people who now view ranchers and farmers as almost "criminal" or radical! REALLY??? We recycle and reuse everything -- we invented it .... I mean my practical hubby (before we did any remodeling) used to NAIL the Christmas tree to the old linoleum floor!!! And baling wire and twine have held a lot of things together over the years :-) Doug even repaired a broken car window, that wouldn't go up or down, using JUST the spring out of old pen!!!

gail jenner said...

Hi Celia: I enjoyed your interview! I guess I do really enjoy the simple things in life the most. My kids used to laugh at me; I put on an apron first thing in the morning and I even go into town with it on... it's so handy :-) I can't maintain my garden or my kitchen without one! And Doug IS the epitome of an All - American cowboy. Quiet, reserved, but gutsy (rode bulls -- never ever got thrown!!) and gritty. I've seen him dive into the cold slough in winter to rescue a calf that wandered too close and give it mouth to mouth...and yes, I loved O Pioneers and My Antonia. Taught them in soph. and junior English courses...another reason why I was so thrilled to win the WILLA Award from Women Writing the West.

gail jenner said...

Hi JoAnne -
Thanks for stopping by! I have been blessed to have a hubby who truly supports my desire to write -- although he hasn't read any of my novels ;-) He loves my nonfiction histories because they feature local history and his family is such a part of the heritage here....we are now a five generation ranch. And I do tend to carve out time where I can, including burning the candle into the night... but writing is my addiction, but ranching and family are my first responsibility, and I cook for 4-6 guys several days each week (all year 'round!) and I love to garden and I often help out with the grandkids (now up to 7 with one more on the way!)...so my plate is full. I also work as a volunteer librarian and museum curator and do substitute during the school year....hmmmm, sounds like a crazy person some days!! Oh, and I work part-time at my b-i-l's law office at least one day a week ;-0 But life is to BE LIVED!!

Unknown said...

Gail, have I mentioned how much I envy you that cattle ranch? What a great view you must have, and ranching is a tradition that seems to be disappearing as more "factory farms" take over. Y'all keep up the family business out there!

I keep meaning to read ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS, but I haven't burrowed down through the TBR pile far enough to find it yet. GAH! Can't wait to dive into it, though. :-)

Kaye Spencer said...


From your vivid description of your ranch and the view you have from your writing window, I pictured it so clearly in my mind. I grew up on a ranch, and though I left it many, many years ago, I can still 'see' our cattle and horses grazing on the rolling prairie hills. *sigh* Thank you for the little trip down memory lane. ;-)

I also like your advice, "The real difference between a published author and an aspiring author is a completed manuscript!" This is also a reminder to me that if I want to keep my published author status fresh and vibrant for my readers, I have to let go of the manuscripts I have filed away (for various reasons), spruce them up, and set them free. lol Thanks for the nudge.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

I could picture exactly you sitting by your window writing, with a view of the mountains and cattle. Lovely!

I agree about that storytelling is a necessary part of being human, and that this medium has been used for eons to teach, to share, and to heal. I think that's why romances are so popular, alongside sweeping sagas featuring strong women. It's in these stories that we find pieces of ourselves we may have lost.

Have a great day!

gail jenner said...

Hi Kathleen:

Thanks for your note. Actually, if I could correct one idea (that is so popular these days???) -- there are NO factory cattle farms. ALL cattle are raised for the first 12-15 months of life on pasture and farms. The ONLY time they are penned is at a feedlot and it is for a short time. Of course, many may find that not to their liking, but in contrast to other kinds of livestock, cattle live a wide open existence. They are fed hay, grass, and some grain and more and more cattlemen are choosing natural over anything else. We have raised 100% natural, with no antibiotics or hormones, for years (you can check out our 'retail' end, www.jennerfamilybeef.com for more about us....we are the woman-end of the cattle business!). Contrary to what the media and many anti-livestock people would have you believe, beef is one of the cleanest and purest forms of protein there is, esp. if you are natural or organic. There are more than 900 byproducts that come from a single cow and cattle are effective and awesome fire retardants, converting dry fuel (like grass and dry tinder) into a healthy and powerful protein source. Cattle co-exist beautifully with wildlife; in fact, 75% of all wild waterfowl are protected by ranches and farms, NOT by federal lands. Having cattle preserves open space, even more than crops, etc.. But enough of my soap box :-) I get pretty excited about our cows ....cheers!

gail jenner said...

Hi Kaye:
I think it would be so hard to leave the ranch at this point in my life! I know so many women who have had to move into urban areas, but their hearts remain attached to the land! I just leave the peace that is attached to this lifestyle -- in spite of long hours or conditions. Truly, most people work very hard at whatever job they have and we'd certainly not want to commute and spend hours on freeways, etc. THAT, to me, would be HARD work :-0 Of course, like on the prairie holds a very different energy, I imagine! We are pretty insulated and "protected" by the mountains that surround us!

gail jenner said...

Hi Kristy!

I agree that the romance genre holds a special power for people, even a few men I think it does speak to our hearts, in those places where we long to connect and be loved. I love a good romance and can get lost in it very quickly. Here's to continuing the tradition!

gail jenner said...

Okay, after tossing the names around, it comes up as CELIA YEARY as the WINNER of a free download of ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS! CONGRATULATIONS, CELIA!

I hope you enjoy the story and the characters, their struggle to find love pitted against the backdrop of the infamous Marias Massacre in MT. It's a story about love of many kinds....and what happens when a people are betrayed, as well.

Thanks for stopping by everyone! I also love getting to know so many awesome women --- and look forward to getting through MY list of TBR!!

Cynthia Leal Massey said...

Gail, As I was reading your interview, I again was reminded about why we have always gotten on so well. The answers you gave for your favorite films and writers mirrored what I would have answered! And thank you for including me as one if your favorite writers. What a compliment! I have often wondered how you find the time to write on your ranch with everything else you do. Your answer resonated with me. I too am always mulling about my story, or research, or character, even when I am doing something else. Like you! A little plug: Gail's novel Across the Sweet Grass Hills is a great read!

Cheryl Pierson said...

Gail! I finally made it! LOL Loved to learn more about you and your life. You are so busy, I don't know how you fit it all in--or where you boundless energy comes from!

My hubby doesn't read my books, either.

The Patriot is one of my favorite movies, too, but oh, sometimes I just can't think of watching it because it IS so sad. But the first time I watched it, it made a huge impression on me, and I bought it...will pull it out from time to time.

I like to write out in our Florida room--looks out on to the backyard/ pool, but sometimes I get really, really distracted. LOL

This was a wonderful interview--I'm sorry to be late to the party, but I wanted you to know, I sure did enjoy learning more about you. And I'm so glad you've thrown in your hat with us at PRP. Across the Sweet Grass Hills was such a good read.