An interview with Ruth Logan Herne,
Author of Back in the Saddle
Family relationships are never easy, and loss, grief and greed can compound normal everyday tensions. Ruth Logan Herne offers hope for hurting families with the messages contained in her new book, Back in the Saddle (Multnomah Books/March 15, 2016/ ISBN: 978-1601427762/$9.99).
Q: Your latest release, Back in the Saddle, is a modern twist on the biblical parable of the prodigal son. Can you tell us a little bit about the story?
Take one smokin’ hot hero with a chip on his shoulder, turn his hard-won world upside down at the same time his estranged father is diagnosed with deteriorating liver disease and watch the sparks fly!
Colt Stafford grew up with resentment burned into his soul. His mother told him to trust God with all his little heart and soul, and when Colt lost her to a tragic car wreck, he realized that if God existed, he sure wasn’t anyone who could be trusted. He was left with a power-loving, money-hungry father who saw gold in establishing a new kind of beef empire, but Sam’s quest for world beef domination left little for his son. When he tried to rectify that mistake with more mistakes, their relationship dissolved.
But grown-ups see things through a different reality lens, and Colt’s return sets a new normal in motion. His presence disrupts the status quo for the better, and when he gets beyond his initial affront of having a woman running part of the show at the Double S, he realizes that maybe God does exist. And maybe, just maybe, that imperfect timing of his youth was pretty perfect after all.
Q: Your leading man, Colt Stafford, is a proud man who has to return home in disgrace after a personal misfortune. How did you tap into some of your own life experiences to paint his character?
Great question! I took that time I was crazy rich and gambled it all on one roll of the dice and rolled snake eyes. . . . OK, I wasn’t ever rich, and I don’t throw dice, but I have two sons living in Manhattan. I watched their skilled, brilliant friends get rolled under a financial bus with the crash of 2008, and examining the underpinnings of what went wrong, I saw an area ripe for character development.
And that’s where Colt came from. But the expert advice on pegging Colt in Lower Manhattan came from my youngest son, Luke, who is currently working in hedge funds. Fans of Michael Lewis books will recognize that Wall Street doesn’t talk easily or freely, so having an insider point of view was clutch for developing Colt’s career and his downfall with accuracy. I did buy Luke a lot of coffee out of gratitude!
Q: When you’re caught at a crossroads in life, such as a couple of your characters were, what process do you have for weighing your options and making a decision?
Then or now?
Because younger people might go at this very differently than a mother who’s raised six kids through various levels of Ivy League education while waitressing in a Greek diner.
When I was younger, I tended to jump first, ask questions later, and I was pretty sure I was right. Maybe for that time I was, because what working mother of six has time to think? So I acted often on instinct, but when faced with a particularly tough crossroads, I always turned to prayer and patience. The prayer was easy. Sitting back and letting God take lead? I have found that smart folks have a hard time with that initially, and when I finally broke through the “But I should be able to do this!” wall I erected, life got calmer. I got calmer. It wasn’t age; it was learning I don’t have to do it all. Sometimes, I can simply be an enthusiastic (or sad) bystander. And that was OK.
Q: For the Stafford family, marriages don’t seem to last a lifetime. What advice do you have for those who want a healthy marriage but didn’t have the opportunity to observe one in their own family?
Marriage is work.
Let me repeat that.
Marriage is work.
And in that work comes the essence of love, patience, grace, forgiveness (lots of that on both sides, I reckon!) and joy.
Now having said that, I think there is a formula. First, marry the right person as best you’re able. People don’t mature at the same rate, and the ideas of twenty-somethings are rarely the reality of thirty-somethings. That State Farm commercial “All the Nevers in Life” is a perfect example! What we say “no” to initially often comes back to be our new normal.
I believe faith is a huge binder, but faith alone can’t hold two people together. But faith, love, respect, flexibility, understanding and forgiveness go a long way. I’m a firm believer that you should always marry someone who loves different snacks than you do. For instance, if you like ice cream, marry someone who’d rather have something salty — such as potato chips. I’ll tell you why. At the end of the day, when you want that last half-cup of Chunky Monkey, and you’re tired and you’ve been thinking of it all day while eating celery leaves and twigs to fit into your jeans, working your job and tending kids, house, taxi service for sports and dancing, committees and shopping for the packaged cookies your kid needs for school tomorrow, it is in everyone’s best interest if your husband, when faced with a choice, wolfed down the half-bag of chips instead of the Chunky Monkey.
That’s all I’m saying.
Q: Sibling rivalry is one of the major themes in Back in Saddle. What do you find is the best way to handle tension in family relationships?
OK, now that I’m up off the floor, let me just say that the newly visible accidents of genetics should give us a much better idea of how diverse siblings are and how amazingly blessed we are when any of them get along!
“Daughters! You think it’s going to be like Little Women, and they’re at each other’s throats every day!” —Cora Crawley, Downton Abbey
Laughter. Honestly, give them a good faith base to help offset the chronic craziness of an instant gratification world around them, but beyond that, help them learn not to sweat the small stuff while expecting them to respect one another. They don’t have to be best buddies, but respect is a huge component. A dear friend of mine, a Sister of St. Joseph, once said that holding grudges in families is one of the most grievous of sins because how can we expect to change the world if we can’t forgive one another? I’ve always held that close to my heart. Forgive, put a smile on your face and move on.
Q: Despite all of the challenges the families face in Back in the Saddle, when push comes to shove, they stick together. How has the love of family been important to you?
Well, cowboy lore dictates that we might die separately but most assuredly we will all stand together, and I think that’s a good backbone for family dynamics.
I look at the good and the bad of the families I know, see and work with, then I try to build on the good and minimize the bad. That’s really not a difficult concept if you simply adopt it as your go-to methodology.
My children are a God-send, a huge blessing to me. I see their uniqueness, and I love their diversity. It makes me laugh that out of one set of parents, so many variances emerge. However, now that we can actually see gene sequencing, it makes perfect sense! They grew up in complete ignorance of my parents’ alcoholism and depression problems until they were old enough that they needed to know. I like a little bit of fairyland for kids so they can grow those imaginations. Reality hits all too soon, and I wanted them to have a chance to know and love the grandparents on both sides. If that meant I had to eat a little humble pie and do some strategic planning, that was OK.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your heroine, Angelina? Will readers find any parts of your own personality in hers?
That’s a loaded question! I like strong heroines. I like strong women. I like championing for strong women, and even if a heroine has reason to cave, my goal as an author is to show how she picks herself up and gets back on her feet. And if there’s a wonderful hero to make the picture complete, better yet!
There’s a little bit of me in every heroine, but I had to make Detective Mary Angela (Angelina) even more self-protective, defensive and tough than, let’s say, a kindergarten teacher. So I took a little bit of me, a dash of Kate Beckett on Castle, a hint of the household staffs from The Help and a smidge of Catherine Zeta Jones from Zorro. A woman cop, skilled in negotiation techniques and trained in undercover work, is the perfect setup for dealing with a huge, busy ranch kitchen filled with sometimes-clueless men. One of my greatest joys is how women are loving Angelina as a heroine because I was pretty much guaranteed they’d love Colt. But to have them embrace and cheer on a tough-girl image heroine, that’s awesome!
Q: Is there a way to balance meeting one’s own needs with the biblical principle of putting others first?
I think so. It’s called sacrificial love or selflessness. I think that’s a missing component in too much of today’s society, and worry about self and meeting our own needs is far too prevalent. How easily we talk about the sparrows and the birds of the air in Scripture and how readily God cares for them, but then we freak out if our iPhone breaks down or we have to wait 30 minutes for a doctor’s appointment because we’ve grown accustomed to here-and-now, instant answers.
We taught JOY to junior high kids in religious education classes — Jesus, others, you. The simplicity is perfect and mind-bogglingly easy, but it’s tough to do because we tend to be somewhat selfish creatures.
Q: You talk on your blog about your upbringing and how you were born into poverty. In what ways did your early life experiences shape the writer you are today?
I cannot even begin to say what a huge influence all of that was on my life as a wife, mother, employee and now author. I see all of that as God’s preparation for me for the job he and I both knew I would do some day: write books people love and help women see and build their inner strengths through faith and love.
It is so easy to blame the past and let it wither us. Far too easy. Parts of society actually encourage that.
No. Grab those bootstraps, avoid negative people, surround yourself with positives and thank God daily for all the wonderfulness in your life, no matter how big or how small! No matter how menial the job, do your best every day.
I’ve held a great many nametag and hairnet jobs in my time, and the blessing of that was a paycheck to help put shoes on my kids’ feet . . . and research for books! Take those down times and use them to minister to others.
Take the good and run with it. The rest is up to you!
Q: Other than writing, what are some of your interests? Tell us about your roadside vegetable stand back home in upstate New York.
My love for gardening comes straight from my grandma Myrtle Herne. It’s funny how things get passed down, but I could literally live in a garden if time allowed — and it hasn’t for many years. However, my husband is retiring this year, and he’s started up our truck farm again. We’d done it for a dozen years when our kids were younger, and that gave us lots of field hands when they weren’t playing soccer, tennis or baseball or running track-and-field or cross-country.
A truck farm is an old-school name for a small farm that trucks this, that and the other thing to roadside stands, so in front of our big, old farmhouse (160 years old, and when you fix one thing, you break two others!) we haul out the produce stand every spring . . . and it begins. We have a henhouse of nearly 50 laying hens I handle, and the initial farm work comes down to my husband, Dave, our son Seth, and son-in-law Jon. In the fall during pumpkin and squash season, it’s all hands on deck! A great pumpkin year is a wonderful thing, and there are no worries about staying in shape when you’re hauling 30-pound pumpkins from the field to the tractor path! It’s so pretty to fill the yard with hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins and watch folks drive in with little kids and fill their trunk.
When there’s time I bake bread and cookies for the produce stand . . . and the customers love it, so I don’t tell them that bread’s supposed to be bad for them!
Q: Can you give us a hint as to your plans for the Home on the Range, the next book in the Double S Ranch series?
I love Home on the Range! Oh, poor Nick, he is just so beside himself with what he thinks he wants and the image he’s tried so hard to portray of the modern-day cattle breeder with one foot in suburbia and one on the rugged terrain of the Double S. He was so sure he could do it right and best his father, but one marriage later and two very unhappy little girls means that somehow, someway, Nick’s got to get his life back in order.
Who better than an emotionally-tanked therapist, leading a reclusive life while hiding in the woods in a hobbit-style house because she can’t come to terms with life, to do it? It sure sounds like a match made in heaven to me!