How Long Have You Been Writing?
Always. That’s the short answer. The long answer is that I’ve been writing and publishing short stories in little literary magazines for years and years. Then in 1994, I sold my first novel-actually I sold three novels at once to Pocket Books as a series of popular stories about the new view of what women were really to doing in the American West.
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
Getting ideas has never been a problem. It’s working those ideas up into all the fully-developed scenes that requires work and patience. But in the case of these novels, I read The Women’s West edited by Susan Armitage and Elizabeth Jameson and immediately realized that the real stories of women in the American West had rarely been told. I wanted to popularize those stories. The rest of the answer to this question is that I keep files and files of clippings and notes. Eventually some of those notes begin to attract other notes and ideas until I know I have something big enough to be a novel.
How do you work?
I prefer to work late at night. The phone stops ringing after 10 p.m. and I often do my best work between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. I’m definitely not a morning person. I use a computer, of course. I think about my work as scenes. I write a scene until I’m happy with it. Then I write another. When several scenes have formed a chapter, I often go back and rework to get the flow right. I’m a better re-writer than a writer. Nobody sees my first draft. And I frequently throw out as much as two-thirds of what I write. Often I have to write scenes that I need to understand the story but that never actually make it into the final book. Creative work is not efficient. I think of it as “playing with the words.” I work from a detailed outline which is essentially a description of what goes in each chapter. My outlines can run 30 pages single spaced for one novel. But by the time I finish a novel, it will be quite different from the original outline. That’s good. It means the work has grown in the process of becoming.
Even your short stories show careful research. How do you do the research?
I believe that a researched element gives an added dimension to fiction, even in short stories. I think most readers appreciate learning something interesting if it is woven into the story in a way that is essential to the fiction. In my case, I usually start with an interesting background first. Then I form a plot and then I let the characters emerge from that background and plot. That means the interesting background (the researched element) is truly an intregal part of my fiction. Not everyone works this way and in fact the additional-researched element-can be a burden getting in the way of the story if it’s not handled carefully. I begin my research by going to the children’s library. I swear you can find a basic book on almost any subject in the children’s section of your local library. Wonderful resource. Then once I’ve got the basics down, I interview experts and do follow up research. I do quite a bit of research before I start a novel, but I also do on-going research as I’m writing because I will discover a need for more information. At the end of a project, I always have a file of interesting tidbits that I’d hoped would get into the story, but never did. Oh, well . . .
Have you always lived in Colorado?
No. I grew up in Idaho on a ranch originally homesteaded by my great grandparents. My mother still runs the largest remaining piece of that ranch-1500 acres between Bone and Soda Springs, Idaho. You’ll need a detailed map to find those places. I graduate from Bonneville High School in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado I have a master’s degree (MFA) from the University of Oregon My family and I lived in Oregon and New Jersey and New Mexico as well as Colorado.
Do you travel to the places you write about?
Yes. I do the “book research” but then I like to “walk the ground.” Places have a certain sense about them. Most recently I spent time traveling and talking to people (law enforcement officers, ranchers, and environmentalists) who live and work on the Owyhee desert in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.
How long does it take for you to write a novel?
My first one took two years to write and about that long to sell. The second and third novels took about eighteen months to write. The current novel has taken years, partly because I was also working on a nonfiction title and taking my photography to a professional level. It takes about as long to put together a solo gallery show as to write a book. Excuses, excuses, I suspect. Truth is, I know other writers who churn books out at a much faster pace. Don’t know what makes the difference.
When you’re writing a novel, do the characters come alive and seem like real people?
Absolutely. They’re better than friends because I can hear them think and I usually know why they’re doing things. Can’t say the same for family and friends no matter how well I think I know them!
How often do you teach fiction seminars?
I used to do more of them. I like teaching. I suspect I’ll get back to this.
Do you like the covers on your books?
No. To make a long story short, I think they are too romance-novel. I have explained this to my publisher over and over again. Publishers figure they know how to sell books and what will sell. Maybe they’re right. Personally I hate pink flowers and I know lots and lots of women to feel the same way. It is a fact that newspapers in the country dropped their women’s pages in order to increase their women’s readership. I think the same thing needs to happen in fiction. Women represent 60-70 of all book buyers. Covers don’t need to be patronizingly feminine to attract these buyers.
If you could have one wish, what would it be? More time.
Which of your novels do you like the best?
The one I’m working on.
What do you like best about writing?
The sense of discovery. Discovering the story. Discovering the characters. Discovering the ending.
Do you have other interests?
Photography. I consider myself as much a photographer as a writer. I like music, especially modern composers. I like to go to coffee-shop poetry readings. Lots of the stuff is awful, but every once in awhile a single line can make the whole evening worthwhile. I love theater. I have season tickets to almost everything in this area.
Share something about your family
I’m married to the guy I met when I was 19-years-old. He’s a science/business type. His career is the reason we’ve moved around the country. I have two sons. One is an animator with Disney. The other does sound and music for video games. I have three grandchildren.
WHO: Jerrie Hurd
LITERARY CONTRIBUTIONS: Three novels in a genre called “the women’s West”: “Kate Burke Shoots the Old West,” “Miss Ellie’s Purple Sage Saloon” and “The Lady Pinkerton Gets Her Man.” Hurd got her start writing short stories, most with a contemporary setting and “all with a Western flavor. We have this idea that women sort of reluctantly followed men west, but many came because they knew they could do things here that they’d never done before. It was a conscious decision.”
LOCAL CONNECTION: Hurd lives in Boulder, Colo., but she lived in Lake Oswego for 10 years. She come back to Oregon once a year for a writing group in Cannon Beach.
OCCUPATIONS: In addition to writing full time, Hurd serves on the board of trustees of the Women of the West Museum, a project under way in Boulder. She also is president of Women Writing the West, an organization she helped found about four years ago. “It’s grown to over 400 members, most of them published. Editors, agents, publishers, jointly trying to bring attention to this genre.”
APPROPRIATE BACKGROUND: Hurd grew up on a 1,500 acre Idaho ranch that once was managed by her great-grandmother. The largest remaining piece of that ranch is now run by her mother. “It was a unique way to grow up but, like most people, I didn’t appreciate it at the time. As a kid, I’d come home and flop down in front of the television and watch Westerns!”
NEXT PROJECTS: A nonfiction book on the women in her family. The working title is “Pay Attention to the Fairy Godmother.” Hurd is also working on a fourth novel. This one is about a woman sheriff in a large rural county and takes place in modern times–“Rainbow Horses.”
–Nancy Dow for the Oregonian
Author Cindy Bonner interviews Jerrie Hurd–common interest, women’s history in the American West.
Cindy Bonner Asks: Q: How important to you is the accuracy of the history in your novels, and how much do you research?
A: Very important. But I’m talking about a novelist’s kind of accuracy. Historian and WHA President, Glenda Riley asked me to speak at the Western History Association the year they met in Minneapolis. She thought historians would enjoy knowing how novelists use historical research in their stories. I agreed but I went with fear and trembling. I expected professional historians to take exception to my leaps of creativity. For example, I have Allan Pinkerton appear in my novel THE LADY PINKERTON GETS HER MAN. Pinkerton never traveled West although he and his detective organization were a major influences on the development of mining and railroads here. In the discussion that followed my speech, it was clear that most of my audience recognized the dramatic demands of story and appreciated how I’d woven research and drama together.
Q: Your novels have at their core a strong, independent woman. Since your novels to this point have all been historical, how do you keep this kind of woman from seeming like an anachronism, or from becoming the stereotypical “woman in pants” seen so often today in genre fiction and film?
A: I use my family as models. I come from four generations of women who ran a working ranch in Idaho. I grew up there. My mother is still running the last remaining 1500 acres of that ranch. A writer can only write what she knows, and the women I know never wore buckskin or strapped on guns, the way Hollywood sometimes portrays western women, but they never stepped back and waited to be rescued either.
Q: Do you think you will ever write anything but novels dealing with a certain aspect of history. How about one in the present?
A: It’s like you’re reading my mind. I’m writing a modern-day novel right now, RAINBOW HORSES. My protagonist is the elected sheriff of Drinkwater County, Idaho (a made-up name for a real place) who is the daughter of ranchers.
Q: You told me that you often burn the midnight oil. Describe your typical working day. Do you have a prescribed amount of time that you spend at your desk? Do you have self-imposed deadlines or goals?
A: I often work until 2 a.m. I walk the dogs, return calls and check e-mail before noon. I try to schedule meetings and appointments in early the afternoon. So it’s evening before I get to my “real work” and 10 p.m. before it gets quiet enough to get really creative. Does anyone really care about this stuff? I don’t log a specific number of hours at the desk and I tell people I don’t have goals because I think that defeats the purpose of being your own boss. In fact, I work long hours most days and I do have a pretty definite sense of where I’m going.
Q: What are your goals?
A: If I had answered the above question, “no.” I could have skipped this one. My goal is to change the story of the West. Instead of the lone cowboy riding into the sunset, I want to be part of leaving a richer legacy of story attached to my region. Is that lofty enough?
Q: You have been known to spend time at writers’ retreats. What do you get from these places that you feel helps your creativity?
A: A chance to enter my story and live there for a while without interruption. I find it really hard near the end of writing a novel to hold the story, with all its myriad details, in my head and bring it to a conclusion. It really helps to have several weeks when I don’t have to think about anything other than the story. Besides, it makes my friends really jealous. My last retreat was in the south of France.