Mom, musician and writer Jessie Veeder talks about her inspiration and more
Veeder is currently touring throughout North Dakota to promote her children's book and new album.
FARGO — Jessie Veeder began writing a children's book years before she ever had kids of her own.
Ten years ago when Veeder and her husband, Chad, moved from Montana to Veeder's family ranch in western North Dakota, she spent that first summer experiencing a familiar place anew as she contemplated what her new life on the ranch would look like.
The result of that freedom was a poem she wrote from the perspective of herself as a young girl living at the ranch .
"We thought we'd come back at retirement age because we thought in the '90s that we had to leave in order to be successful," Veeder shared. "So that first summer I was just getting reenergized and getting in touch with the real me."
After completing the poem, Veeder enlisted a friend's young daughter to serve as a model for possible art to accompany the poem, and the child was a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl.
Fast forward a few years: Veeder and her husband (both brunettes and brown eyes) welcomed a daugther — with blond hair and blue eyes. As they started reading children's books to their daughter, Veeder thought back to that poem she'd tucked away, wondering if it could be something more meaningful, like a children's book.
Knowing she had the reference photos, Veeder contemplated how the poem could come to life through images. "I'd always envisioned 'Prairie Princess' as art," she said.
Through Veeder's work at the Long X Arts Foundation , which Veeder founded to provide arts programming in McKenzie County, she knew many talented artists who could bring her vision to life. But one artist named Daphne Johnson Clark stood out.
"She's a humble artist who paints every day, and she depicts rural living and ranch life in such a beautiful way," Veeder explained. "She knows what ranch life is like here in the heartland, that it shows families and everyone in that family out getting the job done."
Though Johnson Clark had never illustrated a book before, she signed on and worked with Veeder on what the images would look like. And that little blond-haired, blue-eyed baby had grown up to serve as a perfect inspiration for the new artwork. Veeder's daughter Edie, now 6, even added her own personality by insisting that a prairie princess would be wearing a pink tutu in addition to her jeans, cowboy hat and boots.
And "Prairie Princess" was off and running.
A sense of place
When Veeder sat down in a Fargo coffee shop late in January, she was on the tail end of a busy book tour that took her across North Dakota talking about how her children's book came to life. She shared that the pandemic nearly derailed the project because of Johnson Clark's day job as a public health professional. Veeder also dealt with her own personal disruption through a cancer diagnosis she successfully overcame (though it certainly delayed progress at times).
Through it all, Veeder reflected on her journey home and how grateful she was to be right where she should be . "Ten years ago I thought I'd be doing vacation tours, and I had no idea then that I could live in the middle of nowhere and have a creative career," Veeder said. "But that's my life — it's built around the threads you follow and all the things you do and experience... how cool is it that I can do this?"
Although Veeder didn't realize back when she returned to her family's ranch how her life would take shape, she knew even back then music and telling important stories would also be a part of her life.
"Chad and I moved to Missoula after we got married, and I didn't write a single song there; that was not my place," Veeder explained. "When I moved back to the ranch, I got my spark back."
Her love of music and storytelling is also making its way to the next generation of ranchers through her daughters, Edie and Rosie, 4. Edie loves to perform and Veeder shared that Rosie asks her every day to be in a band with her. And don't ask them if they want to grow up to be a singer — both girls insist they already are. Edie even joins her mother on one of the tracks of Veeder's 2020 album, "Playing Favorites."
As far as the children's book goes, the girls are typical children. "They love anything about themselves!" Veeder joked. She shared that after it published, she brought "Prairie Princess" to Edie's kindergarten class to read and Edie was delighted that her classmates could get a glimpse of her life on the ranch. "She said they didn't believe that she was a cowgirl," Veeder said.
While "Prairie Princess" is certainly a lovely story about the beauty of growing up on a ranch, the book also offers an opportunity to teach children (and parents or grandparents) about the importance of caring for the land and animals that live on it .
"In my mind, the book is art being a chance to speak to agriculture," Veeder said. "It's another step to connecting with children after connecting to adults through my column and music... it's a way for (parents and grandparents) to connect what they know and love with a child."
During her book stops, Veeder incorporated a creative workshop to give kids and adults the chance to consider their favorite place and create a picture that depicts it.
"It's a lesson and learning about being a part of the places you love and to be proud of them," Veeder said. "That's how I was raised. My dad told me to not apologize for where you're from because it's an interesting part of you."
And now where Veeder is from is part of her profession. Talk about full circle. But she's not done either. Veeder shared that she's working on another children's book, this one more centered on her younger daughter, Rosie, and how she solves a problem with the help of her pony.
She'll continue working with the arts foundation, and Veeder shared that her family will start construction this spring on an event space on the ranch. They already have a cabin where people stay, but they want to be able to host more people on the land on they love so much. "We want to welcome people to our place and give them that experience," she said. "There are not a lot of natural places left in the world, but we want to share what we can."
Want to know more?
Veeder continues to promote "Prairie Princess" as well as her album throughout the state and will do so into the summer. You can purchase a copy on her website or at local bookstores such as Ferguson Books and More in West Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck; Zandbroz in Fargo; as well as in stores in Williston and online at Dakota Book Net .
If you're interested in having Veeder stop by a school or community event to read the book and facilitate her creative workshop, contact her at email@example.com.