Thank you for inviting me to Petticoats and Pistols ! I’m flattered that so many wonderful Western writers want me to come play at their house—even though my heroines are more likely to wear Wrangler jeans than petticoats. A first-time guest should always bring a hostess gift, so I brought two copies of Cowboy Fever along to give away.
What I really want to talk about is cowboys, but since this is my first visit, I should probably introduce myself first. My name is Joanne Kennedy, and I write contemporary Western romance for Sourcebooks. My books include Cowboy Trouble, Cowboy Fever, and 2010 RITA nominee One Fine Cowboy. My next release, Tall, Dark and Cowboy, hits the bookstore shelves November 1st.
I’m not a native Westerner, but I should have been. I figured that out twenty years ago and ran away from home to the Wild West. I’ve always loved Western history, horses, and wide-open spaces, and I was thrilled to discover that real cowboys still walk the streets of Cheyenne. My new hometown’s surprising blend of past and present is the inspiration for my books, which are light contemporaries set in the traditional worlds of ranching and rodeo.
There aren’t as many real-life working cowboys here as there used to be, but the ones that are left still wear the same clothes, talk with the same deliberate drawl, and ride with the same grace they did back when the West was wild. While other occupations have been mechanized and modernized, a cowboy’s work has stayed the same.
Partly, that’s due to the stubborn and cussedly unchanging nature of cattle. Though a lot of ranch work is done with pickup trucks and other machines, you can’t cut a mama cow and her calf from the herd with a four-wheeler. A modern Black Angus or Hereford might carry a lot more beef than an old-time Longhorn, but a cow is still a cow, and bovines tend to get riled up when they’re set upon by a roaring, growling machine.
But the main reason cowboy culture sticks to tradition is that there’s no reason to mess with perfection. Watching a true cowboy work cattle from horseback, it’s obvious that the best techniques for doing the job were perfected long, long ago.
True, some ranchers wear John Deere caps instead of Stetsons—but a little sunburn on the back of your neck provides a quick lesson in the proper design of a cowboy hat. And while Western boots have become a fashionable accessory for city folk, they were designed because you can catch a stirrup on that pointy toe, and the slanted heel keeps your foot from getting trapped in the stirrup if (or in my case, when) you fall off your horse. Denim jeans, chaps and chinks, and all the other tools of the trade have remained unchanged for the same reason – they work.
The only way cowboys have changed is in the way they break and train their horses. Rather than riding broncs to a stand-still and forcing them to perform through aggressive training methods, modern horsemen have learned to form a true partnership with their animals. It takes a certain sensitivity to work this way, and a man who doesn’t embody the virtues of patience, sensitivity and understanding doesn’t last long in the contemporary cowboy business.
So while I love the world of the Old West, I think today’s cowboys are even better than history’s tough cowpokes and sexy outlaws. They still have old-fashioned values centered on land, love and family, but they have tighter jeans, more opportunities to bathe, and pickup trucks. You’ll see in Tall, Dark and Cowboy just how much I love pickup trucks and how handy that bed in the back can be!
I want to know all about your ideal cowboy. Is he historical or modern-day? A clean-cut hero or a sexy outlaw? Does he drive a pickup truck or a covered wagon? Tell me all about him in the comments and I’ll send two commenters free signed copies of Cowboy Fever.