Research…sounds sorta dry, doesn’t it? Maybe for some. But give me a cute cowboy, the vast ranch lands of Texas or Montana, or the incredible Rockies, and I’m totally lost in the world of the West! And the research is as much fun as the writing of the actual book.
Do you ever wonder how an author does research for a book? I think I started my general research when I was six years old. My dad bought me an elderly mare and bridle for $75.00 (no saddle for a couple years–the old horse trader down the road said that was the only way to learn!) and turned me loose–and from then on, I was on horseback from dawn to dusk, unless I had to be in school. It was like giving a six-year-old the car keys!
I grew up riding bareback throughout half the county, with all of my horse-owning friends. We played Civil War and were cowboys and Indians. We were little girls in pigtails, racing across meadows and followed every gravel road we could find. It was a magical childhood, before the times when parents became afraid to let their kids out of sight. I rode in rain and heavy snow, and loved loping across snow drifted fields–and now look back and can only be thankful that my guardian angel was working overtime! Eventually, I began to do a lot of showing, and starting raising and training my own horses…and then worked as a demonstration rider for a while, for a horseman who traveled the USA giving horse training clinics. Later, my husband and I raised quarter horses, then thoroughbreds. It all proved to be great research for writing books set in the West!
Many of my horses (and other pets, like my son’s pet corn snake, Igor…or my husband’s beloved Schipperke, the Grandma Bitin’ Dog) have become major elements in my books. Cherry who appeared in A MONTANA FAMILY.
Cherry was a seventeen-hand Thoroughbred-Clydesdale cross, bred to be a heavy hunter, I suppose, back in the day before the large influx of imported warm bloods. He had the color pattern of Budweiser horse, with a broad white blaze and white socks, the lankiness of a Thoroughbred, and personality to burn. Tall as he was, he would lay down and shimmy under fences to escape, and he did that on a regular basis. He loved to go sight-seeing at night, and was particularly fascinated by houses and the people inside. His own brand of Horse TV, I guess. Scared a few people out of a few years, I’m sure. One night, a couple looked outside and saw an eerie white form with glowing eyes “floating” outside their window–spying on them. Terrified that they were seeing an alien, they called the sheriff and several patrol cars arrived with lights and sirens…only to find Cherry standing on the couple’s bushes, watching them through the window.
Another horse loved to play hide-and-go-seek out in the pasture. He would hide his head (all that matters, right?!) behind a bush, and when I would run out to “find” him, he would take off bucking at the last minute. Then I would hide, and he’d come looking for me! He would play for an hour. I went Trick or Treating on him, which he loved, because he got to share the treats. And when I rode him to the post office, he liked that too–because I often got him a maple nut ice cream cone from the drugstore next door. It was the only flavor he liked!
A lifetime with horses has been such a blessing…and even now, there’s nothing more satisfying than looking outside at the horses out in the pasture, and ahhh….the memories! Can you imagine what it would be like to feel as if you are dancing on air? Get on a good cutting horse, point him in the right direction and give him his head–and that magical experience will live on in your heart forever! Riding in the surf south of San Diego….or through maple forests aflame with color in Northern Minnesota–incredible.
Something out of my usual realm was the research for RODEO! Through a chain of fortunate events, I met a rodeo contractor who let me ride with him and his wife to observe their work first-hand, and also met the wife of a man who was heavily involved in producing PBR rodeos. The notes from those interviews were a book in themselves, and the chance to spend a lot of time in the back lot, interviewing clowns and bull riders (so cute and shy, and so young!) were perfect research for picking up on the nuances of speech, and gesture and attitude that I needed.
And that brings up a good point. People are almost always so gracious and, well, delighted to talk about their lives and careers! And there’s nothing like interviews to really get into the personality of a character. To those of you who are writers–don’t hesitate to ask people. It isn’t hard to find people who are willing, either. Try your local sheriff….firemen…doctors….private investigators. Others can be tracked down through the Internet, by googling websites.
I’ve met the loveliest people that way! Ranch women. Finger print analysts. DEA agents (ending up doing a four book series on them!) Veterinarians, lawyers and funeral home directors (I set one book in that world– OPERATION: SECOND CHANCE–which was fun!) But of course, my true love is the West…ranching and horses and those strong, independent men and women who live there. What could be more perfect than a cowboy? I’ve written nineteen books, now. Ten of them have been set in Wyoming, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Montana, and each time I start a book involving livestock, heroes wearing a Stetson, and the West, I feel like I’ve come home again.
My last four books were LONE STAR LEGACY, a Superromance set in Texas ranch country, that came out last September, followed by The Snow Canyon Ranch trilogy. In the trilogy, each story involves a daughter of an indomitable, tough widow who fought to hold her ranch together, and raised her family against all odds. Old wounds drove the family apart years ago, but Claire’s failing health has now brought her daughters together.
In HARD EVIDENCE (December, 2007), Janna plans to refurbish an abandoned guest lodge on a distant part of the family’s Snow Canyon Ranch, with hopes of starting a new life for herself and her young daughter. It’s a great plan, until skeletal remains are discovered at the lodge, and the murderer resurfaces
In VENDETTA (February, 2008), Leigh returns to establish a veterinary clinic. She loves the challenge of dealing with everyone from grizzled old cowhands to the super-elite settling in the area with their pampered horses and pets–but someone wants her to fail, and won’t stop at murder to see it happen. The hero–you guessed it–is a rancher!
In WILDFIRE (March, 2008), Tessa is living out her dreams, running the family’s horse and cattle ranch, and operating a high country outfitting business on the side. It’s going well, until a vagabond photographer shows up and dangers mount…
Those of you who post questions or comments will be entered in a drawing for three prizes– autographed copies of LONE STAR LEGACY or HARD EVIDENCE–or books of your choosing from all of the ones listed at my websites at www.roxannerustand.com or www.shoutlife.com/roxannerustand
I have copies of most of my past releases but not all, so the winners can email several choices and I’ll do my best.Happy trails to all of you!Roxanne Rustand