Out on the range 

Mickey Minner puts the cowgirl back in the Old West

Local author Mickey Minner grew up a fan of old black-and-white cowboy films, dime novel Westerns and the Saturday morning shows of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. But as she devoured the tall tales and dusty yarns, or heard Autry list his signature Cowboy Commandments—“He must help people in distress; He must be a good worker; He must always tell the truth,” etc.—Minner always felt there was something missing. Too much “he” and not any “she.”

As a lesbian romance writer, Minner is quickly rectifying that situation. She’s debuted with a three-part Western series, which was originally written as a single 1,000-page book. The first novel, Sweetwater, was released last November, and her second, Rolling Thunder, is due out later this summer. The third, Fireweed, is almost complete but has not yet been submitted to publishers.

“I grew up loving these old shows and always wanted to see women in them, and there never were any,” says Minner in her first in-person interview. “So I thought, let’s put a couple of women in the story and go from there.”

Minner makes the “go from there” part seem easy. The 15-year Missoula resident works full-time as a researcher for USIS conducting employee background checks, and has moved in with her parents to help provide care for her ailing father. Finding time to write is a challenge, but she’s been successful ever since she made the choice to pursue writing novels.

“I’ve been writing my whole life, but sort of got away from it,” she says. “Then I started writing fan fiction on the Internet. Fan fiction is usually based on a television show [a fan spins fantasy stories about specific characters who, more often than not, develop romantic relationships with each other], but I never really got into that part of it since my stories are all original characters. But I started posting my stories on the sites just to see what people said.”

What Minner found was an audience willing to read her work, offer feedback, make suggestions and, eventually, become her fan base. Now, she usually keeps her uncorrected first drafts online at her personal web site (mickeyminner.com), invites fans to “Stick a Pin in Mickey” with an online guest map (more than 150 entries include postings from Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Greece) and writes short stories by request, including a recent vampire-themed romance available only through her web site. For a relative novice like Minner, cultivating her fan base is a vital part of the business, especially in the romance genre.

“I really love my fans and I love to do things for them,” says Minner, who counts everyone from pre-teens to women in their 60s and 70s—not to mention a few men—as devoted readers. “I’m getting new readers all the time. This is how you build a following.”

In fact, it was a fan suggestion that led Minner to write her first non-Western romance. Fast Break, which is due out in January 2008, is about a fictitious women’s professional basketball team based in Missoula. Minner jumped at the idea since she’s a longtime Lady Griz fan and was looking for a new challenge after her Western series. Next up: she’s working on a sci-fi romance.

“My stories focus on more of the day-to-day life of the characters,” she says. “I’m not one to address the real big social issues. I like to show women just living their life, to show that these are just two people. It doesn’t matter the time period or the setting as much as how the relationship develops.”

Sweetwater, for instance, tells the story of two women, a schoolteacher and a rancher, who meet in a small Montana town in the late 1880s. The book is far from a stereotypical steamy romance novel, instead patiently focusing on the two women’s mounting attraction for one another. Even the moment of discovery is understated:

Jennifer.” Jesse paused before continuing awkwardly, “What would you think if I said that I was having feelings for you?”

Jennifer’s heart leaped into her throat. Was it possible that Jesse felt the same way about her that she felt for the rancher? She was afraid to ask but she had to know, “What kind of feelings?”

“The kind of feelings a woman must have for a man when she wants to spend the rest of her life with him.”

They end up holding each other.

Minner is hoping to write more short stories and novels as time allows. With three books already done, two waiting to be released—she’s signed with lesbian-owned and operated P.D. Publishing out of North Carolina—and two more close to complete, she’s at no loss for tales to tell.

“I plan to write a lot more books,” she says.

In the meantime, Minner is focused on balancing her writing pursuits with a full-time job and caring for her father. The latter has been a particularly tough struggle. In the dedication of Sweetwater, Minner thanks her parents, writing, “even when they didn’t understand, [they] continued to love and support me.”

“When I first came out, they had trouble with it,” Minner says. “It’s gotten a lot better. But one thing they did is they never stopped supporting me. No matter what.”

And do they read her books?

“My mom does, but my dad never has,” she says. “He says he’s waiting for me to write a straight romance…I wish he did read them, though, because I think he’d be proud of what they are.”
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