Last week TSB had a chance to catch up with Dorie McCullough Lawson before she and her family left the East Coast for a visit to Wyoming for a wedding. We asked her about her new children’s book TEX, as well as the Wranglers that appear regularly within it, the olives in her fridge, and the importance of inspiring imagination in young people. TEX is now available, and you can order your copy from the TSB bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE!
TSB: Your new children’s book TEX is based, in part, on the adventures your son Luke had on the Wymont Ranch in Wyoming during his early childhood. How did you come to know the Wymont Ranch, and do you still regularly visit?
DL: Wyoming is a big part of our lives because my husband—the painter T. Allen Lawson—was born and raised in Sheridan, and we lived there for many years. Wymont Ranch is owned by our wonderful friends, the Tates, and we spend as much time there as we possibly can. Luke imagined he was “Tex” (the main character in my new children’s book), but when he got to Wymont, Tex found his “home” and really came to life.
TSB: The photographs that appear in TEX are incredibly charming, and your son seems for the most part unaware of the presence of a camera. How did the photos in the book come about? Were any of them “staged”?
DL: The photographs in the book were not staged at all. Instead of staging shots, I just followed “Tex” around and photographed everything. The story came out of the photographs. Occasionally, we would put Tex in situations that might lead to some good photographs, but they weren’t staged.
The picture of Honey Pooh (aka “Thunder” in the book) in the ranch house was somewhat of a subdued photograph given how often the pony was really in the house. One time the Tates were having a party for the Belmont Stakes with a lot of people over. “Tex” took it upon himself to go get the pony and walked him right through the kitchen, hallway, and living room, over and over. The best part was no one really seemed to take much notice!
People are often interested in the photograph that’s on the cover of the book. They ask me, “How did you get ‘Tex’ to make that face?” I didn’t get him to do anything! In that particular shot, he was walking with his rope out into that field and we were following him. Mimi Tate said, “Hey Tex, what are you doing?” He turned around and faced us with that stance and that face and said, “I’m goin’ to rope that cow!”
He wore the clothes he wears in the book every single day, and I just followed him around and got as many photographs as I could. I think there are more than 3,000 photos!
TSB: Speaking of his clothes, perhaps most convincing is the real “Cowboy Gear,” including Wranglers, boots, and hat, in which Luke (“Tex”) appears. Was this his natural choice of wardrobe at all times when he was five, or just when you were visiting Wyoming?
DL: The clothes “Tex” is wearing in the book are the clothes he wore on-and-off for about two years, from the time he was about four to around six. Any time we were in Wyoming, he wore only those clothes, every day. It was a little bit of a laundry challenge.
TSB: This is your third book, although your first for children. Where does your writing passion lie—in books for “grownups” or a younger readership?
DL: If I have a writing passion it lies entirely with the idea that is compelling me at the time. I don’t look for ideas or plan for books, I wait until something strikes me, and if the idea survives and continues to occupy my thoughts and develop in my mind, then maybe it will be a book.
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?
DL: Generally, I like sturdy little horses like Quarter Horses and Connemaras. I notice that the older I get, the littler I like my horses! I’m currently on a Haflinger kick, so that’s what I would have on a desert island.
For a book, I would choose Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton to remind me of New England’s bleak winters and Spartan people.
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
DL: Riding on a beautiful September day.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.
DL: I have no memory of my first time sitting on a horse and I have a pretty good memory, so I must have been young.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.
DL: I remember falling off a pony when I was about three years old. I was in Vermont headed up a hill, riding double with our babysitter, Gloria. I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember the shock of being on the horse and then on the ground in an instant. Gloria was a fantastic horsewoman and she was from Sheridan, Wyoming. I think my interest in the West must have started with Gloria.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?
TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?
DL: I would love to ride an upper level dressage horse. I dream of it!
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?
DL: A big, loud meal with my family.
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
DL: I love horses and I love the West, but for a vacation, nothing beats the beach.
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?
DL: This is a question I can only answer if I feel I can answer it differently tomorrow. One person just isn’t enough!
Today, I would say Charlotte Mason. Charlotte Mason was an important nineteenth century English educator. She had fascinating and wonderful ideas about educating young children and how to spark the imagination in the realm of history and literature. Imagination is entirely essential and I don’t think we as a culture give nearly enough attention to its development, nor to its importance.