Friday, September 26, 2008

Author Interview: Jean Henry-Mead

Today I have the honor of shining my spotlight on an outstanding author on Western themes, Jean Henry-Mead, and her new novel, Escape. Jean is a novelist and award-winning photojournalist. She began her writing career as a news reporter and photographer in California. She later worked for the statewide newspaper in Wyoming where she also served as a magazine editor, freelance photojournalist and editor. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad and have earned a number of regional and national writing awards. Her novels have been published under the name Jean Henry; her nonfiction books and magazine articles as Jean Mead, S. Jean Mead and Jean Henry-Mead. She makes her home in Wyoming. I'm delighted to call her my friend.

Jean is giving away a $40 gift certificate from Barnes and Noble, and a copy of her book to two readers who comment here or on her book's blog. She also blogs and hosts guest writers at the Western Historical Happenings blog. Escape is available in several ebook formats at and as a paperback book at

Welcome Jean. How long have you been writing? What made you start?

I began writing professionally in 1968 while editor of my college newspaper and working as a cub reporter for a local California daily newspaper. I was a journalism/English major and the divorced mother of four young daughters. I didn’t like secretarial work but loved writing so the newspaper job was a God send.

When did you sell your first book?

My first book was published in 1981. It was more or less a Who’s Who of Wyoming. I moved here following my second marriage and was interested in everything about the area. I interviewed Governor Herschler, U.S. senators (who were much more accessible then), as well as writers, artists, craftsmen, educators, and media personalities. I traveled all over the state and had some pretty interesting experiences, including getting trapped behind a road stripper all the way through Yellowstone Park during tourist season, and in the middle of a mortician’s convention in Jackson.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

I’m definitely a seat of the pants writer when it comes to fiction. I sit down with a vague idea of the plot and who my characters are. I then give them free rein. By that I mean I envision them in my mind’s eye, then type as fast as I can to keep up with their dialogue, and dialogue is my forte. I’ve lived in eight states and have an ear for regional vernacular, which comes in handy because you don’t want your characters to all sound alike.

How do you choose your characters' names?

I select names that I like, then look them up on the internet in the “Find People” sections to make sure that no one else has that name, particularly my villains or antagonists. So I’ve come up with some creative last names.

What is your daily schedule like?

I’m up by 7 a.m., sometimes earlier, feed my two rambunctious dogs, water plants in my greenhouse, eat breakfast and am at my computer by 8:00. I then work until noon, have lunch, and am back to work until 3:00, when I feed the dogs again and do my housework, etc.

How do you handle life interruptions?

The phone rings all day. If I’m in a muse I let the answering machine pick up. It’s something I expect and try not to let bother me. Fortunately, we live in the country, so there are few people knocking on the door during the week.

Do you write with music playing? If so, is the music likely to be songs with lyrics or only instrumentals?

I love music and it was a major part of my life when I was younger. I love 60s rock and roll and rhythm and blues, but can’t write when there are lyrics playing. I like to have a good instrumental playing or a soft rendition of Mozart in the background, especially if the writing isn’t going well that day.

What food or snack keeps the words flowing?

It used to be chocolate but I ate so much of it that I’m now allergic to anything faintly resembling chocolate. Usually I have a couple of cups of green tea and a small muffin or a couple of cookies while I’m writing. Sometimes grapes and other fruit.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?

The freedom to express myself through my characters, and the ability to solve problems that will hopefully help my readers in some way. I enjoy rewriting even more. Polishing the original draft is pure pleasure. Marketing my work is something I’m usually not comfortable with, but now that internet marketing is available, I enjoy writing advertising copy from home, sometimes in my pajamas. Basically, I’m a shy person and would rather be sitting at my computer.

Tell us about your new novel, Escape.

I spent nearly four years researching a Wyoming centennial book by reading and scanning 97 years’ worth of microfilmed newspapers. The result was a 202-page coffee table book titled, Casper Country: Wyoming’s Heartland. I literally had an 18-inch stack of typed research material left over and I decided to put it to good use by writing a historical novel. I was always interested in Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch and I came across some surprising and little known research about Cassidy and his gang members. So I set the plot in 1896 when the Four-State Governor’s Pact to exterminate outlaws began, and closely followed the actual historical events that ensued for the story’s background. I began the book with a 17-year-old orphaned heiress who is living with her grandparents on a sheep ranch in central Wyoming, when a group of men claiming to be possemen arrive in the midst of a blizzard.

They’re actually members of the Wild Bunch. When the grandmother recognizes a gang member from his wanted poster, she disguises the girl as a 12-year-old boy. The outlaws kidnap Andrea--Andy, as she calls herself--and take her to the infamous Hole in the Wall hideout in the Big Horn Mountains. She manages to hide her gender while listening to the outlaws plan their ill-fated Belle Fourche bank robbery. Tom “Peep” O’Day, an alcoholic horsethief, bungles the robbery and was my favorite character to write about. He provides a lot of humor and nearly stole the book from the other characters.

What is your next project?

I just finished my third mystery novel which is under consideration at a major publisher, and started work on a children’s novel titled The Mystery of Spider Mountain. It’s a dramatized story of my childhood. I also have another mystery coming out in a few months from epress-online and

What is your advice for other writers?

Read as much as possible, study other writers’ techniques and write what interests you, not what is currently selling in the marketplace. If you feel strongly about a subject, your readers probably will too. I published several nonfiction books before I wrote my first novel, and I studied the works of Dean R. Koontz because I love the way he strings his words together. He taught me the language of fiction. I was also fortunate that Fred Grove encouraged me by reading my first primitive chapters and offering advice. Richard S. Wheeler than read the completed manuscript, offered advice and a nice blurb for the published book. Not every fledgling writer is that fortunate.

What other work of yours has been published?

Wyoming in Profile, 1981, Pruett Publishing Co., Boulder, CO
Casper Country: Wyoming’s Heartland, 1987, Pruett
Maverick Writers: Candid Comments by the Best Western Writers, 1989, Caxton, Caldwell, ID
Escape on the Wind, 1999, Pagefree Publishing, MI
Shirl Lock & Holmes, 1999, Pagefree Publishing, MI
What Our Parents Should Know: Advice From Teens (edit); 2003, Medallion Books, Casper, WY
Westerners: Candid and Historic Interviews, 2004, Medallion
Wyoming Cowboy Poets and Their Poetry, 2004, Medallion
Wyoming Historical Trivia, 2005, Medallion
The ABCs of Murder, 2007, Medallion
Escape, 2008, epress-online,

Thank you for the Interview.

Thank you, Marsha!

Escape’s first chapter may be read at: I hope everyone will leave a comment. I’ll be giving away a $40 gift certificate from Barnes and Noble as well as a copy of my book to two readers who comment on one of my blog tour host’s sites.


  1. Thank you, Marsha, for a great interview. I hope your "viewers" appreciate all the work you do to not only promote other writers' work, but to help us connect with our readers.

  2. Velda Brotherton11:58 AM

    Jean and Marsha, Terrific interview. I learned more about Jean and her book, which I'm going to order. Always late to the table, but I get there. Thanks for the interview.

  3. Thanks, both of you, for the interview. I appreciate the insight into a writer's life. And the new book sounds great, too!

  4. Excellent interview. You don't see historical fiction on Wyoming too often, and it is such a beautiful, fascinating state that I wish more was written. I'll have to check this out.

  5. Thank you, Sarah and historicalfiction fan, for your nice comments. I hope you'll be able to read ESCAPE soon.

  6. I enjoyed reading your interview. I'll have to check out some of your books. I grew up in southwestern Wyoming (Cokeville, to be exact), so Wyoming will always be near and dear to my heart.

  7. Great interview! I love historical fiction. I can't write to music with lyrics either - it's too distracting, but Mozart really does seem to bring out my creative side.

  8. I don't know if the cover art for Escape matches your story. It doesn't look like the Bighorn Mountains whatsoever. But I have to say it is a beautiful painting! I love the art, the way it doesn't glare out at you, and the entire way it is put together. I am a very visual person, doing my artwork for all ten of my own novels so far, and a cover always attracts me first (in spite of the old advice not to judge a book by its cover!). I hope you sell millions.

  9. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. And yes, Kirby, it's not the Big Horn Mountains but the rider is supposed to be Tom "Peep" O'Day, the alcoholic outlaw who bungled the Belle Fourche bank robbery for the Wild Bunch. He nearly stole the novel because he was so much fun to write about. And I agree that the cover art attracts readers. Your artwork, BTW, is fantastic!

  10. Really enjoyed the interview. I found I related to Jean, in writing habits. When she talked about Butch Cassidy, it reminded me that my great-grandfather was the Judge in central Utah when Butch Cassidy robbed a train in Castle Gate. GGrandpa Cox held court in his home, and my grandmother remembers watching from the top of the stairs when Butch Cassidy and his partner were brought into the house, under arrest.

  11. Thank you, Joann. What a wonderful story! I wish I had known that when I wrote the book.


I welcome your comments.

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