Have you ever given a surprise party? Have you been the guest of honor at one? Several months ago my sister-in-law called me about a surprise party for my brother’s 50th birthday. They live in Denver, so it’s been awhile since we’ve all gotten together. No way would I miss it! But oh my goodness! Keeping the trip to Denver a secret for that long nearly did me in. I had visions of talking on the phone and blurting, “See you in September!”
Well, I managed to keep quiet and I’m so glad I did. My sister-in-law planned the best-ever surprise. She sent my brother on a scavenger hunt with a series of clues. Instead of finding trinkets, he found people. I was Clue #5. The clue directed him to the place were he works and told him to look for a loved one. He saw his wife first and said, “Where’s my clue?”
“I don’t have it,” she answered. “Keep looking.”
My brother works at a western supply store. Among other things, they sell cowboy boots. I was seated on a bench with boots in hand. To anyone else, I looked like a customer trying on a pair of Tony Lamas. They were cool boots but not nearly as cool as the moment my brother spotted me. It’s not often you get a chance to completely shock someone, but that’s what happened. I’ll never forget that moment…It was the highlight of my trip to Denver.
The good times just kept coming. After the big birthday bash, we did a mini-tour of the mountains around Castle Rock. Some of you will remember Bounty Hunter’s Bride and the final scene with Beau Morgan and outlaw Clay Johnson in a canyon. The book is set in Castle Rock, Colorado, so a lot of my research consisted of calling my brother for info on the terrain. A cowboy at heart, he’s ridden all over the area and he told me about a particular place on the Platte River.
On Sunday we piled into his big truck and and drove to the place he described. What a glorious feeling to kick off my sandals, wade into the river and feel the reality of my characters from the book! I could picture Beau riding up the river and then into a side canyon. The dirt was as red as I’d imagined, the walls of the canyon as steep. Rocks jutted just like my brother had described. Fiction came alive for me in those moments.
It also came alive in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Wyoming Lawman is on the shelves now. The first chapter takes place in a fictional place called the Dryer Hotel. Before the surprise party, my husband and I detoured to Cheyenne where we spent a night at the Plains Hotel. The lobby has been maintained in the style fitting the year it was built. I could practically see my hero and heroine sitting on the chairs while the heroine made braids for the hero’s five-year-old daughter.
The last stop on the Wyoming journey was the Wyoming Territorial Prison. My all time favorite hero, the Reverend John Leaf from Abbie’s Outlaw, spent time in this place. Online research provided the facts, but walking through the prison yard, seeing the monstrous walls and the dying grass, brought the place to life in a new way. The cells were what I’d imagined, and I got to see where the women were housed. Did you know the first chaplain for the prison was a woman? She’s definitely blog-worthy, if not a heroine worthy of her own book.
So that’s my trip to Cheyenne and Denver . . . I had a great time combining research with a family celebration. About the boots I was trying on when I met my brother . . . I wear them all the time and I love them!