She was sitting by the door one night with a gun, waiting for her abusive man to come home from jail.

She once stalked an ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend and confronted them in a pool hall. It wasn't pretty.

She threatened another guy who cheated on her, saying she'd burn down his house with kerosene.

Miranda Lambert is one tough cookie. At least in her songs. She makes up those stories, people. Really she does. She's not some wacko scouring Nashville with her rifle, looking for her lover in all the wrong places.

The craziest thing she ever did to a boyfriend -- that she's willing to talk about, anyway -- was in high school, said Lambert, who makes her first Twin Cities headline appearance Saturday at Mystic Lake Casino. On the phone one night, he told her he planned to stay home for the evening -- but when he mentioned he was ironing a shirt, she got suspicious.

"There was this nasty bar that I knew he was going to," Lambert recalled. "So I drove with my friends to see his car, and I put a picture of myself on his windshield so when he came out he knew I was there. And the next day I dressed up really cute and broke up with him."

By her count, she has five ex-boyfriends but "only one or two would say I'm crazy." And not all her exes live in Texas, her home state.

Her father, who was a narcotics cop/aspiring country singer, started a private-investigation business with her mother. In fact, they were hired by Paula Jones' litigation team to investigate Bill Clinton in the 1990s. So Lambert was exposed to two things at a young age: guns and cheating couples.

"Our dinner conversations were about divorce cases and who was cheatin' on who," said Lambert, whose latest single, "Gunpowder & Lead," is the one about that battered woman gunning for her jailbird man. "My family took in abused women and their kids for about two years. So 'Gunpowder & Lead' didn't happen to me, but I saw firsthand what it could do to a family."

Sort of a one-woman Dixie Chicks, Lambert was country's runaway critics' darling in 2007. In a poll of 96 country critics by the weekly Nashville Scene, Lambert captured top album ("Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"), single ("Famous in a Small Town"), songwriter, female vocalist and overall artist of the year.

"I did a photo shoot for it and I didn't know what it was for," she said, "and when I saw the article it was 'Holy crap! Nobody told me I got all this stuff.' For me, it was huge. It's kind of surreal. How did I get all this? But, you know, it's a really good feeling."

The Nashville Scene story drew parallels between Lambert, 24, and Carrie Underwood, 25. Both are blonds who grew up on Southern farms and just released their second albums after getting their big break on a TV talent show ("American Idol" and "Nashville Star," respectively). Each scored a big hit about getting even with a no-good guy ("Before He Cheats" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend").

But the comparison Lambert liked best was one to Merle Haggard, for her confrontational approach, rough-edged arrangements and mixed-message lyrics. After she read that section, "the whole article was a blur," she said with glee.

Along with Underwood and Taylor Swift, Lambert is one of country's fastest-rising female stars. While Underwood cleans up at the award shows and on the bestseller charts and Swift crosses over to pop, Lambert has earned the respect of the country establishment for her blend of blistering bar-band rockers and traditional country ballads.

"I think she's great," said Martina McBride, the Country Music Association's four-time female vocalist of the year. "I think she's got a lot of talent and she's got a lot of attitude and stage presence. I like her songs."

Donna Valentine, a morning personality on Twin Cities country station K102, calls "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" the best country album of the past couple of years.

"I love this album because it is a solid mix of traditional and edgy tunes with a nice balance of ballads," Valentine said. "Miranda is a standout in this format because she is the real deal. She lives the lifestyle, promotes the lifestyle, she's got the talent, the looks and is definitely country."

Feisty in a small town

Growing up on a farm in the tiny East Texas town of Lindale, she was feisty as a teenager. After she failed to rejoin the cheerleading squad her sophomore year in high school, she decided she wanted to sing in the choir. Trouble was, her school didn't have one. So she wrote a letter to the school board, lobbied the superintendent and a choir was created.

"Sixty people signed up the first day," Lambert recalled.

A lifelong country-music fan, she sang in talent shows at age 16. After getting a house gig at a nearby honky-tonk, she took her GED test in the fall of her senior year and hit the Texas bar circuit, which led to "Nashville Star" on the USA Network, a third-place finish and a record contract with Sony BMG.

On her 2005 debut, "Kerosene," Lambert wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 11 tunes. Even though the album reached No. 1 on the country chart, the best she did on the singles list was No. 16 with the scorching title track. Similarly, her second album climbed to No. 1 but her single, the medium-tempo "Famous in a Small Town," peaked at No. 14. The latest single, the explosive "Gunpowder & Lead," is rising, too.

Perhaps she should release a ballad that shows something other than an aggressive, angry young woman.

"There's so much more to me, but if you don't have my album, you haven't heard it yet," Lambert said. "I'm a tomboy but I'm a 24-year-old girl. I cry and throw fits and love makeup and I've had my heart broken. My whole album is about strength, about being a strong woman. I think it takes strength to say 'I'm vulnerable' and I think it takes confidence to say 'I'm desperate for you,' which is the song 'Desperation.'"

Wine and hunting

She's a businesswoman, too; at the time of the interview, she recently had to weigh decisions about adding a tour bus and an extra musician to her band. She also has a line of wine that her parents created. Each is named after one of her songs.

"Red 55 is my favorite; it's a merlot," she said. "Also, we're in a dry county. So we're the only alcohol you can buy in the store in the whole county, which is kind of ironic," considering her father's law-enforcement background.

Guys and gals both relate to Lambert, Valentine says: "Women like her energy, song content and sassiness. And, hello? Guys like girls who like guy things. Plus she's gorgeous. That helps."

Yes, Lambert enjoys guns and hunting. She got a BB gun when she was 7 and learned how to shoot a real rifle at 12 or 13. A couple of years ago, she took a handgun class with her father (she keeps a gun on her tour bus), and the instructor was talking about the elements of firearms. That sparked the line "gunpowder and lead."

Lambert is a serious hunter, whether she goes with her dad, a gal pal or her boyfriend, country singer Blake Shelton. She started bow-hunting last year.

"I mostly deer-hunt and turkey-hunt," she said. "Usually during deer season I try to take Mondays through Thursdays off for a couple of weeks to go hunting. I went down to Texas and I got a couple of deer, one with a bow and one with a rifle.

"My biggest one is a 145 last year. [For you non-hunters, that's a point total based on antlers.] I've got some trophy mounts. The first deer I killed with a bow was like a terrible-looking, sick deer that needed to be taken away from the Earth. Bless its heart; it had been run over [by a vehicle]. But I killed it with my bow and I definitely kept the horns from that one."

Maybe that tragedy will inspire a song, too.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719