How a calf, 4H and a ranch made her a writer

August 6, 2017

My fantasy ranch, not hers. Miles of open space.

She was raised on a ranch in Alberta and I would have never encountered her in my day to day life. But social media connect us with a broad range of people and that’s how I met Diane Stringam Tolley. 

I began reading her blog, On The Border, referring to ranching life on the Alberta/Montana boarder. Her childhood stories fascinated me—Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn Canadian style . It was wholesome, family-oriented, land-based and just so different than mine.
My secret fantasy has always been to live that kind of life for a day. (Just a day.)  Her stories on her blog take me there. Every day. So we connected, Diane and I.


Diane says this is her favorite picture of herself. With her calf at 4H. Did I say wholesome?

Diane’s an accomplished fiction writer –good fiction–  with a number of published books to her name. I’ll be featuring her and her books every month on my blog, because I think she’s amazing and also because her life has been so interesting. She’s funny, too. And fun!  Follow her blog and see if you don’t agree.

I write nonfiction and first person essays (I think fiction is way harder) and I’ve always wondered how fiction writers get started. In her words:  

How did it all start?
I began creating stories almost before I could ride. (And if you know ranching folk, you are riding before you walk, so it was early!) Some of my stories were attempts to create a plausible scenario in which I wasn’t a guilty party, but that would simply take too long to discuss. All others were the result of a very active mind and an “I wonder what would happen if…” attitude.


Diane at age 1.

My writing career grew from those seeds. The desire to put onto paper the thoughts that kept me awake and entertained during the boring periods of life. (ie. Parental lectures. Teacher lectures. Stranger lectures. I’m seeing a lot of lectures here. I hope you don’t read too much into it…)

My actual career started when I looked at a simple picture of Santa Claus in his famous sleigh, coloured by one of my grandchildren. Followed by the equally simple thought, “I wonder where Santa got his sleigh?” Carving Angels was born. The manuscript had barely begun its flight before one of the publishers responded with the words that still shake me to my core: “Congratulations! We love your book and would love to publish it!”

That’s an email I’ll never forget! Since then, I’ve published ten novels of differing genres (three with the same publisher) and thoroughly enjoyed my writing career!


Diane’s parents and older siblings Chris and Jerry

How would you characterize your growing up on the ranch?

For me, life on the ranch was idyllic. Yes, there was a lot of work. With over 2000 head of cattle, 200 horses and 92+ square miles of land, the work is unending. But it was peaceful. One could go the whole day during roundup without talking to another soul. The vistas were spectacular—treeless, rolling prairie ending abruptly in dramatic coulees and washes.


Diane, Blair (left) and Anita (in the chair) with Ally, one of the smaller ranch people and a four-footed friend named, aptly, Bambi. 1963

Streams that meandered serenely in summer or thundered by, a threat to man and beast in spring. The smell of sage, baking in the hot, summer sun. Or, conversely, the whine of unchecked winter winds. The ranch was like a small village in itself. A family. Producing much of its own food and all of its entertainment — sometimes we didn’t make the trek to the nearest town for weeks at a time. People who lived and worked there never forgot it. Sixty and even seventy years later, I still come across men and women who remember it as THE place. Where they discovered themselves. Where they grew up. Certainly it was all those things for me.

The old Milk River Ranch—where most of her memories live. 1959

What was day to day life like as a kid and then as you grew up?

Life should have been an unending series of chores, but I remember the wonderful times. When chores were done and everyone gathered to visit. Or play ball. Mealtimes were a chance for storytelling. Some true. Some—mostly true. I remember gathering eggs. Riding pigs (don’t tell dad), playing in the hayloft, baling, swimming in the river, tobogganing, skating, bike riding, following the hired men, and, most of all—riding, riding, riding. What I remember most was doing everything together, the work and the play.

How did your parents differ from what you see kids having nowadays?  What roles did they play in the family?

My parents never worked away from home. They had their roles clearly set in their minds. Dad worked outside in the yard or fields or in his office. Chores, ranchwork. Mom spent her days running the household. Oh there were plenty of times when those roles crossed over—when Dad was needed for some emergency inside and Mom had to fill a saddle. But one or the other was always there for us kids. Always.

Good fiction

Ranch-style entertainment

How many siblings do you have and do any of them write?

There are six of us. Three boys, three girls. I am in the exact center with a sister seven years older and a sister seven years younger. The boys are spread on either side of me. We were everything to each other and, though we are spread across the continent, that closeness is still there. All are great storytellers. Three of us are published authors. Something we inherited from our author mother.


A great ‘tween gift idea!

This book came out in June 2016 and Diane says it’s loads of fun. I believe her!

It’s a ‘tween novel about a 12-year-old girl living in a haunted hotel who solves a 50 year old crime. Uprooted from the life she loves, Tabby finds herself starting over in the spooky old hotel that her father now manages. Almost immediately, Tabby is introduced to the resident ghost, a small spirit who seems to be drawn to Tabby. What is the spirit’s purpose? Is there a task that only Tabby can do? Or is something darker happening?  

When I was growing up, I read the story, The Ghost of Dibble Hollow, purchased for $.45 in 1965 when I was 10. I LOVED it. I must had read it a dozen times!

From then on, I wanted to write a ghost story. Ghost of the Overlook was the result of my lifelong desire to write fiction for the 10-year-olds (like the 10-year-old I was) who want a bit of a scare. Just a bit. With a main character their age. And, of course, a big old hotel to ramble through.

Why write for ‘tweens?
Overlook is definitely not my first Tween novel. I love the age group. A little knowledgeable but not quite jaded by the world. The perfect age!

Got a ‘tween in your life? A perfect birthday or holiday gift. Find it on Amazon.

Oh, and here is Diane’s author’s website, which talks about her books and awards. She’s made her dream come true–and is a real inspiration. You’ll be reading more about her here as the year goes on.

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6 comments on “How a calf, 4H and a ranch made her a writer
  1. Donna says:

    Since your recommendation for reading Ismael’s Daughter I have connected with Diane to speak to a group of women about the book. The local bookstore asked me to write a review after reading her book so I have become all things Diane, just in your recommendation. Thank you so much

  2. Haralee says:

    Yes Diane is great. Her Monday poetry blogs are either sweet or funny but usually both!It is so interesting her life on the ranch then and now. She is wonderful and I am glad you are highlighting her today in your interview!

  3. Diane says:

    Absolutely wonderful, Carol! I’d like to meet her! Can you arrange it! 😉

  4. Jennifer says:

    She sounds all kinds of interesting. Now I have another blog and write to check out. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for interviewing her! I love Diane’s blog and her stories. They stay with me. I’m a Texas girl who lived in the country for 10 years… just moved back to the city a year ago. There’s nothing better to get centered and realize what’s important in life than to live and work on the land. Brenda

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