When the doctor told Dawn Nelson that she had cancer in 2005, she was six months pregnant with her first child. Test results had revealed a cancerous tumor in her stomach, and Nelson was informed that she probably wouldn't live to meet her baby girl.
Out of a desire to have her baby know who she was, Nelson began to write a memoir of her life. Unknown to Nelson, this book would change the course of her career.
“We decided to go ahead and have her [the baby]. And I started writing my first book so that she would know who I was,” explained Nelson.
A fourth generation rancher, Nelson had acquired a hat-full of stories on the ranch to write about in her first book. In fact, the cancer that was threatening her life originated from a horse kicking her in the stomach when she was four.
Nelson had grown up hard by the Canadian border on a ranch in tiny Danville. She lived close enough to the border that Nelson's mother went to a hospital in Grand Forks, B.C. to give birth to her because it was only four miles from the ranch.
After she grew into adulthood, Nelson married a fifth generation rancher and the two of them continued the family business by building their own ranch of 150 cows at Creston.
Despite her battle with cancer, Nelson finished the memoir for her child. And she brought the baby to full term. It wasn’t until after her doctor had performed a double bi-lateral mastectomy that Nelson found out the tumor (though it did contain cancer cells) was not as life-threatening as she had been informed. Nelson was told that she was now cancer free.
However, the cancer had started something new in Nelson's life that couldn't be stopped. Not only did Nelson give birth to her child, but, unknown to her, she had given life to a new career as well. Nelson's close friend took the memoir and showed it to a publisher in Spokane. He liked the book, called Nelson, and asked to publish it. Nelson named the book that she had created “A Cowgirl Remembers When.”
“One of my good friends took up that book and took it into the publisher. And the publisher liked it and called me and said he would publish it,” stated Nelson.
The release of Nelson's memoir launched her into a writing career. The book won the awards the Academy of Western Artists 2010 Buck Ramsey Book Award, and was the first runner-up in the New York book festival. It was published in 2009.
After the publication of her first book, Nelson began to write with renewed vigor and ambition. She wrote two books every year. Presently, Nelson has now written and published three memoirs, four fictional books in her Rancher series, and a cookbook. She has also written, composed, and published a CD which was number two on the western music play-list charts.
Nelson even took a book tour in the summer of 2012, but she does not plan to tour in the summer of 2013.
“I went on a two-month tour last summer and it about wore me out. I'm going to take a year of rest this summer,” explained Nelson.
To rest, she plans on finishing two books that will be published in 2013 and then plans on starting and finishing two more books to be published at the end of 2013. She will complete four books while she is “resting.”
After discussing the success of her writing, Nelson stated that her writing had not always been received with a positive reception. She has received criticism as well as applause for her writing. Nelson remembers an English teacher in high school who said Nelson “would be better off not pursuing a career in writing.”
Plenty of support
But she has also had supporters throughout her school years. Nelson recently found an encouraging note from a second grade teacher on the bottom of one of her report cards.
“I had a second grade teacher who was sure I was going to be a writer,” said Nelson. “I never knew it at the time, but she had it written on the bottom of my report card, 'I think she has a great writing career ahead of her.'
“I actually contacted her the other day just to tell her that I was impressed that she had picked that up at such a young age,” Nelson stated.
Even though this second grade teacher foresaw the potential in Nelson, it seemed that adversity had to bring out the writer in Nelson. But Nelson is looking forward to her new career with eager excitement.
“I guess every day is just a new adventure,” she figured. “You never know what the next day is going to bring. I'm always looking forward to the next step. I'm looking forward to the next writing adventure.”
And what is Nelson's newest writing adventure? For the first time, Nelson does not think that her next adventure will have a western backdrop.
“I'm working on a little more of the murder mystery. This is my first step away from the western genre. I love it and it is something different for me.”