In The Real Thing by Tina Ann Forkner, we meet Manda as she learns to be a cowgirl through the ups and downs of her new marriage to a rodeo star, Keith and the specter of his missing ex-wife, Violet. While the ride isn’t always smooth, readers can enjoy how Manda learns to take the reins in this metaphoric rodeo.
How did you find Manda? How did her story unfold for you as a writer?
I am a stepmom and in a second marriage myself, so Manda first came to me because I wanted to write about the challenges and joys of being a stepmom, but as a writer I had to disconnect myself from her. I did this by giving her an opposite personality than me and by changing up her family dynamics.
All stepfamilies are different, so that part wasn’t too difficult, but the insecurity and uncertainty that one can easily fall into in a second marriage with children was a little bit close to home. Instead I thought about what I might have told myself if I could go back to the early years of my more than eleven years of marriage. Manda wrestles with what I feel are often universal themes for “second” wives and stepmoms. In fact, some of those themes, including broken trust, fear of infidelity, and living with regret, are universal in the journey of any marriage.
How does the rodeo work as a metaphor for the challenges this couple faces?
When a bronco rider gets on a wild horse, no matter how well-prepared he is, he never knows what will happen. That is very true in the marriage of Manda and her bronco-riding husband, Keith. In the same way that the bronco begins bucking the second the chute flies open, Manda and Keith are flung into a ready-made family situation. Manda is trying with all her strength to hang on to her family. Anyone who has ever observed bronco riding at a rodeo knows how hard the cowboy falls when he’s thrown off, but Manda is doing her best not to lose her grip. She wants a marriage that lasts more than eight seconds, but life’s unexpected twists and turns keep catching her off guard.
Manda loves her clothes and being sexy for Keith. How did you decide which fabulous outfits for her to wear?
This aspect of the novel was so much fun! I live in Cheyenne, Wyoming and we have an annual rodeo called Cheyenne Frontier Days. During that time the town is teaming with western wear. Even ladies who aren’t really western don the most fun western clothing you’ll ever see. I also asked a rodeo queen friend what was hot in women’s western apparel, especially for the part-time cowgirls, and she helped me do things like add fringe and rhinestones when needed.
But this book isn’t all rhinestone rodeo clothes and steamy love scenes, Manda and Keith face some tough choices. How did you decide on the path they choose to take? What do you think gives them strength?
Without giving too much of the plot away, Manda and Keith face some decisions that are definitely uncommon, and yet, the test of true love is really not an uncommon thing. True love is tested all the time, or break ups would never happen in relationships, but the choices we make when tough times come along in our lives reflect our true character and strength, no matter what decisions we make.
Some people might not have made the same decision Keith and Manda made, but I feel like they made the decision together because no matter how silly their disagreements are, there is a depth to them that is only revealed when their relationship is tested. What gives them that depth and strength is their ability to learn from past mistakes and to take wrangle their pain and land on their feet, much like the cowboy side of Keith does when he’s on a bucking horse.
What message do you hope The Real Thing sends about family? How does this connect to your own experiences at building a family?
Love and family are worth fighting for. A particular family may not be perfect or conventional, but in whatever form family comes to us, whether it is a single parent situation, an adoption, a stepfamily, or we are grafted into someone else’s family, our family matters.
For me, I’ve been in a stepfamily for more than a decade, and while it is not traditional because our love is not the product of a first marriage and our children are not all biologically related to us, it is our family. If other people don’t get that, then too bad. At the end of the day, the family that is my own is what matters most in the world to me, and that includes my husband, daughter, and two sons, even though I am a stepmom to some of our children. I think that’s a universal thing.
You can catch up with Tina Ann Forkner:
At Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tinaannforknerauthor
On Twitter @ tinaannforkner
And at Tall Poppy Writers: http://tallpoppies.org/team/tina-ann-forkner/
Brandi Megan Granett is an author and writing coach. Morrow published her first novel, My Intended, in 2000. Her next novel, Triple Love Score, will be published by Wyatt MacKenzie in Fall 2016. Her short fiction appeared in Pebble Lake Review, Folio, Pleiades, and other literary magazines and is collected in the volume, Cars and Other Things That Get Around. She is a proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers and the Women Fiction Writers Association. When she is not writing or teaching or mothering, you will find her on the archery range.
She can be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BrandiMeganGranett/
and Twitter @brandigranett