Interview with Susan Spence, author of ‘A Story of the West’

Susen SpenceSusan Spence has always been intrigued with life in the west in the 1880s. She researched historical accounts and first-person narratives as she prepared to write A Story of the West. A lifelong resident of the west, she currently lives in Montana on an old sheep shearing station with lots of furry critters and one partially furry critter. This is her first novel, and she is busily working on a sequel due out in late spring.

You can visit her website at


A Story of the WestMatt Daly’s eyes narrowed as he faced the stranger in front of him. “I know I don’t have a quarrel with you because I don’t know you,” he growled.

“But I know you,” the menacing outlaw sneered back, clearly ready to use the Colt revolver hanging from his hip.

Only a few years earlier Matt and his father had trailed a herd of longhorns north from Texas into Montana Territory. Upon arriving, they decided to stay and raise cattle on the fertile grasslands.

Shortly after the Northern Pacific rail line was completed and it became easier for people to head west. Lavina Lavold stepped off the train in Miles City with her family and immediately caught Matt’s eye. When they fall in love, Matt’s life seems perfect.

There are unscrupulous men, however, determined to build cattle empires. A ruthless neighbor decides he wants the Daly’s claim, and he will stop at nothing to acquire their ranch. Since the entire area is undeeded land, it is up for grabs and there is no law on the rough frontier to prevent a range war. When Matt refuses to back down, his life takes a dangerous turn.

Forced to abandon his family, his travels take him down a long road of misery. An encounter with an Indian medicine man helps him to regain his sense of self, but not until after he gives in to his desperation.

A Story of the West depicts life during the open range ranching days of the Wild West. Besides plenty of action, I have added a women’s perspective to settling the American West. I researched the era to ensure historical accuracy and have written an accurate portrayal of life during this time, as well as an exciting read.

Q: Thanks for this interview, Susan!  Can you tell us briefly what you do for a living besides write?

I live on a ranch, so there is always plenty to do. I don’t think I could just write as I don’t like sitting in one place for long periods of time. When I was younger I enjoyed moving around, as there are so many wonderful places to live. I have had many jobs in my lifetime, from being a telephone operator, to cleaning fish, to driving carriages. I think many life experiences have influenced my writing, not just jobs, but also the different people I’ve met along the way.

Q: Is A Story of the West your first book and how did you come up for the idea to write it?

I wrote A Story of the West, my first book, when an idea came to me and I decided to attempt writing about it. It was the pivotal moment in my hero’s life and has to do with whether the decision to die is the only way out of a life someone believes they have no control over.

Q: Can you tell us what A Story of the West is about?

A Story of the West takes place back in the 1880s in, what was then, Montana Territory during the time of the open range ranching era. A father and son trail cattle up from Texas to start a cattle ranch. Since there was very little law on the frontier during that time, people were sometimes put in the position of protecting, not only their homes, but also their lives, from the aggressors. The Dalys get caught up in one of these situations and since they refuse to back down, things become dangerous.

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a sequel that takes place in more recent times. The ranch is now run by a fourth generation Daly . Times have changed and new problems now threaten the ranch.

Q: It’s often hard to combine family and writing.  How do you do it?

My husband is feeling ignored right now, as I am pushing to finish my sequel, as well as promoting my first book. I frequently stay up late since he is an early riser. Staggering our sleeping gives me a time to work when the house is quiet. Once I finish the sequel and my book tour, I will have time for other things.

Q: Do you find a little of your own qualities are showing up in your characters?

I believe that we write about what we know. It may not be a personal experience, but on some level, even by just hearing about an incident, we absorb aspects of it. In that sense I think my characters all have a bit of me in them.

Q: What kind of books did you read when you were growing up?

Growing up, I read anything I could get my hands on. My favorite books were horse related and many took place during the same time period as A Story of the West. There are so many bits and pieces of stories I remember of kids and their horses, or about families traveling in covered wagons. I wish I remembered the names of those books.

Q: Who is your favorite author and genre now?

Barbara Kingsolver is a favorite right now. I don’t have a favorite genre. If a plot holds my interest, the where and when becomes secondary.

Q: Does where you live make a difference in what setting you chose for A Story of the West?

The setting of both my books is the area where I now live in Montana. Maybe it was moving here a few years ago that inspired me to write.

Q: Where do you usually write?

Right now I write on a laptop at a desk that is up against a large picture window. I can look out and watch the donkey that is staying with us, as well as a pond where the ducks and geese swim. I can look up on the hill and view wildlife. Coyotes and foxes as well as deer and antelope are among the species that pass through.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to change regarding publishing your book that you would have liked to have changed?

That’s a tough question. I don’t have any regrets about my life in general, as I believe that, whether we’re aware of it or not, we create our own destiny. For a while, after I self-published A Story of the West and then realized what it meant to be branded an Indie Author, I did wonder if I should have tried the traditional route. Now, listening to the stories of other authors and seeing the direction the publishing industry seems to be headed, I’m not so sure. It seems people are enjoying reading self-published works because of their originality. Yesterday I read about an author who was offered a contract, but was told she would have to rewrite her book the way the publisher wanted it done. She refused and self-published. I would do the same thing.

Q: How does it feel to be a published author?

Don’t we all imagine that once we publish, everything will be rosy? What I have found is that there are ups and downs. When I’m in town running errands and I run into someone who tells me they enjoyed reading my book, I feel wonderful. On the other hand, being tied to my computer for long periods of time can be an energy drain.

Thank you for this interview, Susan!

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