The Widow Smalls
by Jamie Lisa Forbes
Publisher: Pronghorn Press (October 20, 2014)
Category: Short Stories, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Available in: Print & ebook, 231 Pages
Thirty years of browbeating from rancher Bud Smalls has penned his wife, Leah, into emotional isolation. Now Bud is gone and Leah owns the ranch, but there is no help forthcoming from Bud’s brothers who want to force her out and take the ranch for themselves. When their attempt to humiliate her instead becomes her opportunity to succeed, Leah begins to find her way back to herself and learns how much she can gain by opening her heart.
The Widow Smalls is just one of the stories in this collection by the WILLA Award winning author of Unbroken, Jamie Lisa Forbes, who writes about the hardships of making a living from the land with an understanding that comes from first-hand experience.
Her deftly drawn characters include star-crossed lovers, a young rancher facing his first test of moral courage, an inscrutable ranch hand claiming an impressive relative, a father making one last grasp for his daughter’s love and a child’s struggle to make sense of the world around her. Each will pull you into the middle of their stories and keep you turning the pages.
I read the sky right. It snowed on Friday. Saturday morning, frost patches covered the windows and the world sparkled. Everyone was clamoring to get out on the ice rink, Tessie too, so Mother agreed to watch her baby.
Ally went to the phone to invite Kit and Beth. I told her it was a waste of time. I watched her face while he droned on about how he couldn’t leave his bean-counting, blah, blah, blah. The boy’s changed—now that he’s a pillar of the community. He can’t divvy out a slice of time to this family anymore. With every word from him, her voice dropped lower. ‘Bout time she found out what it’s like when a loved one don’t measure up.
By the time we got there, the sun was high and bright colors spun round the rink like flakes in a kaleidoscope. Bing found his clan, a bunch of rangy boys like him, and they skated round the outer edge. Mick and Tessie skated together, holding hands. And Ally was everywhere. The old Ally was back, the fairy-child that could make a stump smile. She talked and laughed with everyone. Everyone recognized her. Everyone was glad to see her. They flocked to her like honeybees to clover. Everyone wanted a snatch of her.
I watched all of ’em from the warmin’ hut. My children. All growed now. When they were little, we’d come out to this rink and play crack-the-whip. Their little faces would sparkle with excitement and I’d tell ’em to hang on and I’d lead ’em in a big snake trail while they giggled until I’d crack a sharp turn and send one or two of them flying. Oh, how they’d laugh!
Kit did get his arm broke one time.
I put on my skates and went out into the snappy air. I worked up some speed, came up behind Tessie and Mick and jerked her away from him.
“Daddy!” she hollered, “What are you doing?”
“Stealing you away for a minute or two. You don’t mind five minutes with your old dad, do you?”
“You’re hurting my arm.” She turned to look over her shoulder. “Where’s Mick?” Then she caught an edge and fell.
“Sorry, honey,” I said as I held out a hand to help her up.
Mick skated up. “What are you doing, Paul?”
“Nothing. It’s just a little accident is all.”
“You know what, Paul?” he said. His face was red and bloated. “They hate you, do you know that? All of ’em. Kit, Ally, Tess, Bing. All of ’em.”
“What the heck’s gotten into you, son?”
He stood there, fuming, and I shoved him. Damned if he didn’t shove back. I lost my balance and fell hard on my shoulder.
Ally skated up. Mick backed away quick, like he was scared of me, the little runt, as he shoulda been. I wanted to get up and beat the crap out of him, but I’d lost my wind.
Ally squatted next to me. “Are you all right?”
“I’m all right.”
“I’ll help you up.”
“No, damn it, I can handle myself, Ally. Just leave me be.”
She backed off to where Mick and Tessie stood. I hauled myself to my feet and the three of ’em looked at me like I’d grown horns. I bent over a second until I could breathe again.
“Maybe you’re right, Mick. Maybe Kit and Ally and your wife all hate me. But you know what? It don’t hurt me none. It’s going to hurt every one of them as they try to live with themselves all the years to come.”
I shifted to look at Ally. How those eyes shone. I had her attention this time all right.
“But you’re wrong about Bing. He’s the one, the only one of ‘em, who looks up at me as a child should—I know that.”
That night Mother fixed ham and scalloped potatoes for supper. It was quiet, not the quiet after a happy day out in the fresh air, but quiet like someone was about to tell me something I didn’t want to hear.
Ally spoke up. Her cheeks were rosy from the skating rink. “I won’t be home for Christmas.”
“You’ll be missed.” I said it as flat as I could. No point anymore in showing her how mad or sad I was.
“After graduation, Bing’s coming with me.”
I looked over to him. He dropped his head and his hair fell in his eyes.
“Is that true?”
He glanced at Ally and nodded.
I turned to her. “You talked him into this, didn’t you?”
Unlike Bing’s, her eyes met me head on. “Yes.”
“He has a job, you know. Here. Working for H-G Excavating.”
“I’ve been thinking Dad, before Ally came home,” Bing said, “I don’t know if that’s what I want for the rest of my life. You’ve always say you want me to have a better life.”
“What are you listening to her for? Stay here. There’s a community college here.”
“Then he’d have to live with you and he doesn’t want that.”
“Can the boy speak for himself, Ally?”
Bing jumped to his feet. It startled me so to see him standing over me. I didn’t recognize him.
It is my pleasure to welcome Jamie Lisa Forbes, author of The Widow Smalls and Other Stories, to Room With Books.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I would like to have a life where writing was a daily activity and the rest of my activities could be planned around it. As it is, I have to fit my writing in with my “day job”. In addition to that, I am very involved with my children and grandchildren, which I wouldn’t miss for the world. I also have my little one acre “mini-ranch” which requires constant attention. Plus Cody and Reb, my loyal and true horse and dog companions. And I also love to play old-time fiddle. So the better question is how do I manage to write at all.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Books that were hugely influential to me, and shaped my writing career were:
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Let us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and
This House of Sky by Ivan Doig.
I was also hugely influenced by the work of Eudora Welty.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Challenge is a good way to describe the process. I think my biggest challenge, at the time, which was around 2007, was figuring out what my options were and trying to find the best way to go about promoting the book. Eventually, I arrived at a method that worked as far as getting the book published. My sense of the publishing world currently is that there have been huge changes since 2007 and I think any writer’s best chance of success now lies in researching all of his or her options, plus attending writing conferences to meet professionals in the business. I believe that if a writer is serious about getting their work in print, he or she has to do the research about where and how to be published before ever sending out the first query letter.
If you could have any superpower what would you choose?
The power to get people to extend understanding and compassion to one another.
What was your first job?
I went into the hayfields at age 11.
What types of books do you write?
My first book was a novel. My second book is a collection of short stories. Although I prefer writing short stories, I have dived back into writing a new novel.
Who’s your main audience?
Based on the reviews of my work and the letters I receive from readers, women are my main audience, although I do have male readers as well. What I’ve noticed about my male readers is that they seem to enjoy my work if they have had some connection to ranching or rural life. Women, regardless of background, are able to appreciate my work, which tells me I have been successful in bringing a universality to the lives of people on the High Plains.
Out of all your characters, which is your favorite? Why?
That is really a tough question, because they are all my favorites. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written about them.
If I am forced to answer, I’d have to say Gwen Swan from my first novel, Unbroken. And I guess she would be my favorite because of the lessons I learned from her, my fictional heroine. When I was in ranching myself, I was concerned with gender equality. I wanted to work alongside the men and I wanted to be recognized for it. In the heat of that endeavor, I now see that I minimized the life of the traditional ranch wife and mother. As I wrote and described the details of Gwen Swan’s every day, I began to see what heroines all women like her really are.
What does your writing schedule look like?
I am definitely a morning person. I like to be able to write the first 3 or 4 hours of the morning. I don’t make myself work longer than that. I find that I’ve totally used up my concentration in that block of time.
Do you use your OWN experiences?
Yes, I do, but I modify them a lot to suit the characters I am working with.
Was it easy to pick the title for your book?
It was very easy. I had no title at all. My editor had already accepted the story collection for publication, but she’d asked me to write one more story. I wrote “The Widow Smalls.” She received that story, read it and said it would be the title of the book.
If you could pick one profession other than author, what would it be?
Well I already have had a lot of professions. Rancher, paralegal, lawyer. Heck, I really want to be an author!
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a new novel. And it will be about North Carolina, which is where I live now.
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Jamoca.
Night owl or early bird? Early bird.
Red or white wine? Red. This brings up an interesting anecdote. We have a very nice independent bookstore here called Scuppernong Books. They also sell wine and one week, they had a clever display of wine and book “pairings.” This prompted my friends and I to think about what alcoholic beverage could be “paired” with either of my books. If you are one of my readers, let me know what you think: www.jamielisaforbes.com
Roller coasters or water rides? Water rides, specifically, the “Lazy River.” No, my children, I will not get out of the “Lazy River” to go down the 60 ft. water slide with you.
Swimming in the ocean or pool? Ocean.
Walking or fitness club? Fitness club.
Any last words?
Thank you for hosting my book.
Thank you for taking time to let our readers get to know you a bit better, and for accepting Room With Books as part of your tour.
Praise for ‘Unbroken’:
“Throughout this beautifully written story, I pictured the scenes, the characters, and visualized it all as if I walked among them. Five stars.”-Laurel Rain-Snow, Rainy Days and Mondays
“Unbroken is a powerful, absorbing book from the first page to the last. Forbes’ Wyoming ranch background adds rich flavors to the story. The author draws realistic, complex characters. Unbroken is an unvarnished testimonial to a way of life that few of us know.”– Mary E. Trimble, author of ‘ TUBOB: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps’
“The author brings to life the setting in this story. I could easily envision ranch life, and how being responsible for the land could consume someone. The harshness of the elements, or the struggles of managing livestock seemed so realistic. I found myself being drawn into this story right away. There was so much to this story, the author not only allowed a very realistic look at ranch life, but also paints a story of family drama and broken relationships. A story well worth reading.”– Brenda Casto, VW Stitcher
“The writing is realistic and true to the nature of life in rural Wyoming. Harsh winters, endless wind, and dependence on neighbors to survive form the backdrop of this novel. Ms. Forbes writes with a sparseness of prose to match the landscape. This book is one that opens a window onto a way of life few people experience.”- Suzanne Lilly the TeacherWriter
“Unbroken was a very satisfying read for me. I found myself putting off eating so I could read “just one more chapter” because I was so involved in the lives of the characters. Ms. Forbes has a way of drawing you into the lives of the characters and making you feel like you are there living and working beside them, being friends with them. It’s wonderful and when the book is over you feel sad, because you want more of the story even though the story has come to its conclusion. But you want more because you don’t want to leave the characters.
To me that is the mark of a good book, when the characters and the storyline stay with me after finishing. When I’m still thinking about something they said or did or wondering about a point the author was making or even applying something to my life. Unbroken has something for everyone. Descriptions of ranching life, romance, friendship, parenting, tough decisions and so much more. There is never a lull in the plot and I found it to be an amazing read.”- Crystal Fulcher, My Reading Room
Jamie Lisa Forbes was raised on a family ranch in southeastern Wyoming. She graduated from the University of Colorado with honors in 1977 and then lived in Israel until 1979, when she returned to her family’s ranch and raised her own family over the next fifteen years. Today, she writes and practices law in Greensboro, North Carolina. She enjoys spending time with her grandsons and playing old time Appalachian fiddle. With her Arabian horse, Cody, and her cattle dog, Reb, she still devotes part of her life to the outdoors.