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Bismarck writer Dopson lends a woman’s point of view to the oil boom

BISMARCK -- From the start of the oil boom, the Bakken has been fertile ground for reality TV, journalists, documentarians and non-fiction writers of every sort. But since the slowdown in the oil industry, fiction has begun to emerge as the oil p...

BISMARCK -- From the start of the oil boom, the Bakken has been fertile ground for reality TV, journalists, documentarians and non-fiction writers of every sort. But since the slowdown in the oil industry, fiction has begun to emerge as the oil patch's preferred media product, as the ABC drama "Blood & Oil", and the film, "Roughnecks", which concluded shooting last weekend in Williston, can attest.

What, to the best of anyone's knowledge, has yet to be attempted is a romance novel. Now, thanks to the inspiration of Bismarck-based counselor, Lorraine Dopson, whose new book "Hard Road Home" tells the story of life and love in the heyday of the boom times in all its steamy and libidinous glory.

"It's both a coming-of-age story and a romance," Dopson explained. "My main heroine, Amanda Swinson is a naive, young redhead, who is a 23-year-old receptionist in Bismarck. She's working in a medical clinic and one day she runs into a tight-lipped trucker named Clayton Sloan. His goal is to drive an oil truck 80 hours a week to save the family farm. He has no time or interest in women; he's just straight ahead and doesn't want to be bothered. But one thing leads to another; he can't help but notice Amanda and she has noticed him in a big way."

From there, Dopson insists, the book drives for a tone of sensual literariness, not cheap smut.

"She has a strong sexual feeling for this guy and she tries to fit into his life, to see if she can't crack through the hard exterior," Dopson said. "It's about his struggle to figure out what he wants and her struggle to get what she wants. It's a romance book and there's a strong sexual tension in it, but kind of a literary sexual tension... It's not a sleazy romance book."

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Dopson, whose previously published works "The Light at the End of the World", a scientific and spiritual book exploring lives at the end of the last Ice Age,' and "Visions from Heaven", a non-fiction book based on hospital bed interviews with a dying cancer patient, began research for what would be her first work of fiction without even knowing it.

At the height of the boom, when people were jamming into Williston day after day with little to no services to accommodate them, Dopson's husband, a neurologist with more than three decades of experience, would do weekend warrior duty at the El Rancho Motel.

"Sometimes I went along with him and got a sense of the patients he was seeing," said Dopson, herself a PhD from the University of North Dakota. "My husband was dealing more of those with chronic pain that was work-related so I got to see that element of the Williston development, too. I talked with some of his truck driver patients, spent some time in Watford City, researched online and reading."

Dopson had also acquired some counseling experience of her own, doing some statistical analysis of affected workers for the North Dakota Department of Labor during the 1980s oil boom. Both experiences informed her narrative of the true hero and victim of booms, then and now.

"There's always big money in oil excitement, but the working man sort of gets left by the wayside," she said. "He comes here to make a new life, but the workers are always the tail getting wagged by the dog. My point in writing this is partly to let them have a voice, too."

Also frequently lost in the boomtown narrative is the voice of women. And in observing media portrayals of the Bakken, it dawned on Dopson to give her novel a distinctly feminine point of view.

"Three years ago the state was just pulsating with Bakken, Bakken, Bakken," she said. "It was the midst of a testosterone rush where thousands of innocent young men, mostly, were pouring into the state. I know there are a lot of dark things that happened in terms of sex and drugs and those stories have been told really well in fiction and nonfiction. I was kind of feeling that one way to put it as a strong sexual vibe was from the point of view of a female character. It seemed like exploring the romantic angle would be an interesting way of telling the current story about the Bakken, address some of the energy and tension rising up in the state."

With "Hard Road Home" in print and book signing events around the state littering her calendar well into 2016, Dopson hasn't given second thought to what's next.

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"People always ask after the first book, 'when's the sequel?'" Dopson said. "But my first book took a good four years out of my life and this one took another three years. I've got a lot of catching up to do and right now, my emphasis is on getting out and telling people about the book and seeing how far I can go with it."

For more information about "Hard Road Home" or to purchase any of Dopson's books, visit lorrainedopson.com

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