In the midst of breaking up with a boyfriend back in Los Angeles, Ree Drummond did not have romance on her mind when she met friends for a drink during a visit to her hometown of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Nevertheless, that fateful night, a handsome, soft-spoken, fourth-generation cattle rancher unexpectedly entered her life. As Drummond writes in her new memoir, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story, this sexy “Marlboro Man” (her nickname for him) would go on to steal her heart and turn her life upside down faster than you can say “boots, chaps, and cowboy hats.”
Now a popular blogger known as “The Pioneer Woman,” Drummond has made a career of sharing her life on the Oklahoma prairie with millions of readers. The blog, which she began in 2006, includes self-deprecating descriptions of her often ill-fated attempts to master life on a working cattle ranch, hearty recipes (all of which are illustrated with Drummond’s own step-by-step photo instructions and many of which understandably involve a cut of beef), home-schooling tips, and adventures in child-rearing. (Drummond and the Marlboro Man have four children.) It has proven to be a wildly successful formula: in 2009 The Pioneer Woman was Weblog of the Year; the same year Drummond’s first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl hit the top spot on The New York Times bestsellers list. Last year Columbia Pictures bought film rights to the blog—and then-unpublished memoir—as a star vehicle for Nashville native Reese Witherspoon.
Drummond’s success is due in part to her companionable persona as a next-door neighbor, trading recipes and swapping stories over the virtual backyard fence. The atmosphere is comfortable and homey—or, in the words of one longtime fan, “an island of normal in the internet sea of crazy.” Her new memoir, which began as a series of blog posts about her romance with her husband, is a country twist on a classic tale of opposites attracting.
Drummond describes how the Marlboro Man swept her off her feet with a combination of intense physical attraction and the down-to-earth sensitivity of a true country gentleman. She vividly portrays the rapture of falling desperately and unexpectedly in love—without sparing any of the misunderstandings, missteps, and mishaps along the way. (Many of them involve sweat, vomit, or manure, and sometimes all three.) Drummond’s ability to portray her fish-out-of-water experiences in a lightly comical style gives the reader permission to laugh along with her, in complete assurance that the ending will be happy:
This was what we brought each other, I realized. He showed me a slower pace, and permission to be comfortable in the absence of exciting plans on the horizon. I gave him, I realized, something different. Different from the girls he’d dated before—girls who actually knew a thing or two about country life. … [M]aybe he looked forward to experiencing life with someone who’d see the country with fresh eyes. Someone who’d appreciate how miraculously countercultural, how strange and set apart it all really is. Someone who couldn’t ride to save her life. Who didn’t know north from south, or east from west. If that defined his criteria for a life partner, I was definitely the woman for the job.
Drummond recently answered a few questions by email from Chapter 16.
Chapter 16: Marlboro Man comes across in this book as a very private and unassuming person. What does he think about the success of your blog and the attention that comes with it?
Drummond: He’s been very supportive of what I’ve done with Pioneer Woman. Our daily lives on the ranch are, essentially, the same. The only attention we get out here is from bovine animals who want to be fed!
Chapter 16: As you juggle marriage, motherhood, home-schooling, writing, and traveling to book events across the country, how do you cope with all the demands on your time and energy?
Drummond: Right now I’m blogging a little more lightly for awhile so I can make sure I have the time for home-schooling and motherhood—my most important gig!
Chapter 16: Blogging is by its nature a solitary occupation. What is it like to step out of the virtual world and meet your fans face-to-face at book signings?
Drummond: I don’t enjoy the travel, but the signings themselves make it worth it. I feel like I’m meeting old friends. We’re not all the same, but we all have common interests: food, family, humor.
Chapter 16: When you travel, do you still hear the siren song of the city at all–perhaps indulge in a little shopping and sushi on the side?
Drummond: Ironically, I hardly ever have time to go out to eat or shop when I’m traveling. I usually stay in the hotel room, do some writing, and rest. I’m so exciting!
Chapter 16: Food figures prominently in your story, and you include a number of recipes at the end of the book. I am thinking in particular of a touching scene in which you and your sister make a cinnamon roll recipe of your mother’s during a difficult time. Why was it important to you to make these recipes available to your readers?
Drummond: I love sharing recipes because it’s a tangible “takeaway.” I didn’t want to mention all those dishes without offering the recipes; when I read about people eating food, I always think, “I wish I had the recipe for that.”
[Updated on September 5, 2014, with new event information.]
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina LoTufo has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.